Report Synopsis

Maximising water’s worth in UK agriculture (2017 NSch)

“You never know the worth of water till the well is dry” ‘Thomas Fuller’

Over 97% of our planet’s water is held within our oceans and less than 1% is freely available as freshwater. This supplies the demand for food production, drinking water, industry and environment. As water is a finite resource, man’s impact on water quality through our behaviours is having a detrimental impact on quantity on a global scale.

The effects of the ever increasing need to produce goods and food is driving countries to increase demand on ‘available water’, whilst also accessing ‘unavailable water’ (non-replenishing aquifers and saltwater reserves) to supplement demand on their depleting supplies.

Britain’s maritime location and replenishing supplies provides a substantial advantage in the world market for goods and services. However, our ability to capture and manage water on land for flood risk and water scarcity has yet to be developed fully.

The government has set out an aspiration to achieve a productive natural and agricultural environment where land and water work in harmony: this would amend environmental degradation and provide a source for sustainable food alongside a flourishing environment. Looking at the complexities of directing funding to reward this dual result raises some pressing questions as to how we, as a society, understand and value our landscape, water and food. There is a lack of awareness of the negative impact which consumer demands are having on our own environmental infrastructure, and in that of the wider world.

Through my travels, I explored how others manage water in environments where scarcity and excess are daily issues to better understand the value they place on this resource and the methods used to deliver good water management through engagement, enforcement and education.

My report aims to illustrate how the value of water needs to be considered on a global scale and discusses methods which enable the agricultural industry to quantify and evidence its environmental impact. UK agriculture, by developing and demonstrating real water stewardship, could lead the change for government, retail and consumers to value its contribution and recognize and reward the sector as being an environmental leader of this global resource.

At present the UK government documents appear to focus on the provision of water for utility services to meet increasing domestic demands. This could lead to an emphasis only on environmental measures to be taken by the agricultural industry to deal with flood risk and water quality. Recognition of water as a valuable resource to be used effectively in sustainable food production would enable the agricultural industry to develop a resilient approach to the provisioning of food, water, environment and economy, alongside flood resilience to our growing population.

The challenge is to develop a cross sector, robust measurement system which acts as a conduit to enable change, bridging government silos of healthcare, environment, food and farming, and education. Globally this is proving complex because of the different weighting of the value of water and of the environment perceived and applied around the world.

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