The 1975-76 drought was considered at the time the most severe yet experienced across much of the UK.  Unusually, given its extreme intensity and broad spatial extent, the documentation of the drought remains relatively limited; this is particularly true in relation to material reviewing the wide range of its impacts.

To redress the balance, hydrologists Terry Marsh and John Rodda have co-authored a new, 58-page report providing a contemporary and retrospective review of the events of 1975 and 1976. The report (PDF, 12.9mb) is published this week by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH). 

The publication is particularly timely given the dry weather across much of the UK during recent months.

Part I of the publication comprises a report on the drought completed in 1977, but previously unpublished, by John Rodda (CEH Fellow and formerly Deputy Director of the Water Data Unit).

Part II, by Terry Marsh from CEH, capitalises on hydrometeorological data collected over the last 35 years to provide a retrospective review of the drought with a particular focus on whether the singular severity ascribed to the 1975-76 drought requires revision.

The 35-year period since the 1975-76 drought has been one of considerable hydrological volatility with notable drought episodes in 1984, 1989/90, 1991/92, 1995-97, 2003 and 2004-06.  The cluster of recent droughts, together with a continuing increase in temperatures has focused concern on the degree to which climate change may be increasing the vulnerability of the UK to periods of sustained rainfall deficiency.

The report concludes, “In relation to some manifestations of drought stress – the depletion of groundwater resources in particular – the 1976 drought’s severity has been at least matched during several protracted drought episodes in the last 20 years. However, the analyses presented here reinforce the primacy of the 1975-76 drought in terms of its hydrological severity, spatial extent and its range of impacts.”

Co-author Terry Marsh said, “Across most of the UK, and large parts of western Europe, the 1975-76 drought remains the primary benchmark for the design and development of drought alleviation strategies.”

Taken together, the contemporary and retrospective appraisals of the 1975-76 drought are intended to help those managing water resources, the environment, agriculture and other climate-sensitive areas of endeavour. They may assist politicians and policy-makers prepare for a future when changes in climate and water demand patterns are likely to present challenges of a comparable, or greater, magnitude than those encountered during the 1975-76 drought.

Additional information

The 1975-76 Drought - a contemporary and retrospective review [PDF download, 12.9 MB].

The report should be referenced as:

Rodda, J.C. and Marsh, T.J. 2011. The 1975-76 Drought - a contemporary and retrospective review. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. 58 pages.

Details of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme 

CEH’s Water Science Programme

Datasets hosted by CEH: National River Flow Archive, National Water Archive and others 

Media enquiries related to the Hydrological Summaries should be directed to the CEH Press Office. Our scientists can provide explanation and analysis of historic hydrological patterns, possible future scenarios under climate change and scientific understanding of the current situation. We are not able to comment on immediate operational issues.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology jointly operates the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP) in conjunction with the British Geological Survey. NHMP scientists produce the UK Monthly Hydrological Summary which assesses rainfall, river flows, groundwater and reservoir levels. They also operate the National River Flow archive. The NHMP has a remit to analyse major flood and drought events in the UK and analyse long term trends in UK hydrological data. The Programme was set up in 1988 and relies on the active co-operation of measuring authorities throughout the UK.

The National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP) produces reports, or webpages, on recent hydrological events of major significance. Some aim to comprehensively summarise the event and provide a historical record, whilst others are contemporary and often preliminary assessments of an unfolding episode, and their contents should be understood in this context.

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