Tag Archives: Water use

water-supply-irrigation-direct drilling

If it is like this on top, what is it like deep down? Much of the crps in the South east and East Anglia depend on extraction from rivers and boreholes. there really is a question of how long this can be sustained.

On 24 August 2017m the Water Resources Institute published a piece on their website looking at “7 Reasons We’re Facing a Global Water Crisis” in a piece written by Leah Schleifer.  With credit to them, I try here to relate those lessons to British farming and maybe farming elsewhere in developed counties that do not really think water may be a significant economic problem sooner rather than later.


Reason 3. Groundwater Is Being Depleted.

About 30 percent of Earth’s fresh water lies deep underground in aquifers.

The south east of England is an area of particular concern. It is a highly populated area with relatively low annual rainfall. As a result, the supply of water in the south east of England is limited. Some parts have less usable water per person than countries such as Syria.  Generally, the water level in the aquifers in the chalk areas of the UK are experiencing falling.   The falling level of water near our bore-holes is not going to be helped by more rainfall because high intensity rain tends to run off into the rivers and to sea.

Conservation farming action;

  1. Increase soil organic matter and reduce cultivations.
  2. Trees are a mixed water-blessing; they will reduce water run-off and reduce flash-flooding lower down, and they will respire around 50 % more than a cereal crop.
  3. Look for crops that need less water or are deep-rooted (such as forage maize instead of grass).

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd.,  September 17


More People means more water

There is a real question about global and UK population. It is not about race, it is about numbers.


On 24 August 2017m the Water Resources Institute published a piece on their website looking at “7 Reasons We’re Facing a Global Water Crisis” in a piece written by Leah Schleifer.  With credit to them, I try here to relate those lessons to British farming and maybe farming elsewhere in developed counties that do not really think water may be a significant economic problem sooner rather than later.


Reason 2. More People + More Money = More Water Demand.

The Yorkshire Post reports that: “There has been a net loss nationally of 7,000 hectares of agricultural land in the UK between 2006 and 2012”. The Guardian has reported that: “Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years”. There is an insidious water consumption in the UK.  While our own water consumption is rising with population growth (net plus 0.5 million people in 2016!) and what we each spend is continually, our consumption of “virtual water” (i.e. that which is involved with production overseas of what we import) is 30 times as much as UK water used, and the WWF reports that; “Taking virtual water into account, each of us soaks up 4,645 litres a day”.  That makes us the 6th largest water importer in the world.

Yes, there is a looming crisis.

Conservation farming action;

  1. Build water storage if you can. (There is some useful USA experience in building dams using old tyres.)
  2. Harvest water from roofs and concrete.
  3. Subsoil to allow roots to go deeper and move to reduced tillage – develop understanding and skills in direct drilling (or what is otherwise called “zero till”).


Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd.,  September 17


Survival, Water & Farming

Farming, food production and water are not only global issues, they are already significant in the UK’s green and pleasant land.

I took this picture earlier this evening, on the top of chalk downs near Devizes in Wiltshire. What happened to April showers? The spring-sown crops are struggling.  Whatever Donald Trump says, the climate is changing and there are visible consequences.

Read about these issues. Put “Survival Bill Butterworth Amazon” into your search engine or try Kindle instead of Amazon.  The book is free to download for the next 4 Sundays – 16, 23, 30 April and & May.and not much to buy anytime.  The paperback version is OK to read but if you download, it is better on a big screen because of some of the tables and diagrams.

Land Research Ltd, 13 April 2017



Global warming is destroying food production in central Africa. We had better be careful.

The news reports of starvation in central Africa are pitiful. But this is a picture of the human race not paying attention to its future. The devastation will not stop in central Africa unless we are much more active in heading off the crisis and it is not just a question of sending a bit of cash and feeding a few people.  Logically (this will sound awful and it is), we should abandon the area (we will do that of course). We need to put our own house in order. Produce food at home right here in the UK whenever possible.  Do it with much less energy. Stop building on farm land. Wind up production using wastes rather than fertilisers made using energy.

Remember one figure and think about it.  1 tonne of Nitrogen fertiliser (say 3 tonnes of ammonium nitrate) made in a modern, relatively efficient, USA factory, according to UN sponsored research, takes 21,000 KW hours of electricity to make it and deliver it.

We urgently need to change the way we do things and value farming and our future.


Bill Butterworth,   Land Research Ltd,   March 2017

HMIP, NRA and LA’s


In its day 30 years ago, the NRA managed flood risk substantially and successfully. Where is the NRA now?

Some of us are old enough to remember that until the grandness of the Environment Agency was created as a monument in Whitehall, there were a number of smaller bodies.

HMIP, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Pollution, was widely respected as doing a pretty good job. The NRA, National Rivers Authority, similarly and after being beefed up after the 1954 floods, did a really good job in managing water supply and preventing floods. The LA’s, Local Authorities, took care of wastes at a local level – officers patrolled their local patch and if there was a complaint they sorted it. (Anybody heard of “localism?)

Why is it that the Civil Service thinks it has the management skills to run big, centralised organisations? Mostly, centralisation doubles costs and halves effects. Why not just go back to HMIP, NRA and LA waste management?

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 2 Nov 16

Shale gas & pollution – what goes down the well.

Bentonite dispensing

Dispensing Bentonite into the drilling fluid of a deep drilling operation. Just how environmentally friendly is this?

There are two things that can be said about shale gas and pollution.  The first is that there is a lot of rubbish, some deliberately so, talked about the dangers of drilling for shale gas.  The second is that all, repeat all, activity (and, indeed, all inactivity) has its dangers.  Basically and first of all, the dangers of pollution depend on the mechanics of the drilling operation first and the strata drilled through. Secondly, what gets put down the hole and what is done with what comes out. Over the next few weeks, this blog will be looking at some of the experience – here and overseas.

For starters, what does and does not go down the well at drilling?

Nobody ever puts radioactive material (such as Radon gas) down the well. Not ever, under any circumstances.  Historically and possibly in the USA, oil-based drilling fluids were used.  Here in the UK, the drilling fluids are normally water-based.  Some are even drinkable. Bentonite is often added.  This is a natural clay and you can eat it.  (You would quickly become constipated if you ate much but it isn’t toxic.)

There are other additives that are sometimes added but by no means always.  Sometimes, because of high temperatures, pesticides may be added but, in the UK, these are added under strict controls which demand a high degree of environmental friendliness and lack of persistence. Many thousands of gallons of water are pumped down these wells and that frequently gives rise for concern.  In the UK, there are controls which limit what happens and there is a major concern by the industry to recycle water and new technologies are being developed to help this.

Questions to ask;

  1. What does go down the well and what happens to it down there?
  2. How much water is used and where does it come from?
  3. Is there an independent body monitoring what goes on?


Bill Butterworth  3rd January 2016

Next week;  What about leaks from the system?


Reclaiming the desert

Desert +mountains

Dry, hot deserts are getting bigger and yet they used to be covered in trees – maybe as little as 5000 years ago. Could we reverse that trend without using unavailable amounts of water?

At the request of a connection in the Middle East, I have gone back in my development mind to reclaiming desert using urban wastes. The basic concept of “submerged bed reservoirs” indicates that the very top layer of soil is not much use in desert soils in the sense that it will often be too high a temperature for root and biological activity, lose water quickly and have its organic matter rapidly oxidised.  However, it does have a real value as an insulating layer. So, the next step is to design the depth and material of that insulating layer.  The second step is to design a submerged bed to hold water.  Sand will hold its own weight of water.  Clay twice its own weight.  Compost with high organic matter will hold up to ten times its own weight sometimes more up to 16 times. So, design the insulating layer, the amount of compost and the irrigation distribution and quantity, so as to establish the crop (so as to allow its roots to tap into the submerged bed) and, at the same time, charge up the bed (reservoir) to minimise or eliminate the need for further irrigation before harvest.

Logically, it is possible to reduce irrigation need by a factor of 10, maybe 20 because evaporation is dramatically reduced.  The submerged bed?  Compost made from urban wastes.

Bill Butterworth  19 December 2015