On Friday 5th June, we visited the Royal Cornwall Show, where we wanted to speak to people about water scarcity, water saving and their perception of drought in the UK.
Our question ‘Do you remember the drought in 1976?’ caught the attention of passers by and many told us of their vivid memories of the heat in the summer of this drought: of enjoying more visits from the ice cream van; of wanting to stay out later as a child and play in the sun; and of enjoying riding a new motorbike in the lovely weather.
Visitors to the show travel from all over Cornwall and further afield, and memories of the 1976 drought represented where people had lived at that time, so we heard about 80 degree classrooms in Jersey and potato farming in the Midlands. In Cornwall, the strong memories of drought related to the dryness of the land. One family remembered the ‘spikiness’ of the lawn after it had been mown and their daughter’s refusal to play on the grass. They remembered the fires in the grass fields and hedges near Crantock, Cornwall. Watering the fields on a Wadebridge farm with buckets of water was a recollection from another passer by, whilst one gentleman told us about his experience working in a campsite that year and the struggle to keep everything watered during hosepipe bans.
For some people, the strongest memory about this drought was actually the day the rain started again. Suzie remembered when everyone went out in to the street and danced in the rain in Surrey, whilst Jane in Wadebridge remembered everyone at a horse-riding event being relieved to see the rain. Howard from Stourbridge remembered this day for different reasons; he fell off his motorbike because the roads were slippery with the fresh rain on the dry surface. What was striking about people’s concern about future water scarcity was awareness about rising patterns in demand and usage of water related to population increase and changing behaviours (more houses, more washing machines, more showers).
During the day we also visited a number of organis
ations that had stands at the show. We noted how quickly the individuals we spoke to were able to offer suggestions to help with water management where they lived. During this two-day trip to Cornwall, we heard about different water saving practices or solutions with the primary driver being cost. One interesting conversation we had was with a Cornish-based gardening centre which make a link between energy saving and water saving – they associated saving energy with a cost saving but did not relate water to this same principle, presumably because they paid a set amount for water.
Our visit to Cornwall has made an important start in establishing a baseline of understanding about perceptions and practices related to UK drought and water management. It has highlighted the importance of considering the individual and local-level values that influence responses and begun to illustrate a ‘practical’ or ‘common sense’ knowledge about water saving that is not necessarily thought about in terms of drought or water scarcity.