A survey of the impact of summer droughts in southern and eastern England, 1200–1700

Pribyl, Kathleen

Droughts pose a climatic hazard that had profound impacts on past societies. Using documentary sources, this paper studies the occurrence and impacts of spring–summer droughts in pre-industrial England from 1200 to 1700. The types of records, source availability and changes in record keeping over time are described, and an overview of droughts in those 500 years is provided. The focus lies on a structural survey over the drought impacts most relevant to human livelihood. This includes the agricultural and pastoral sectors of agrarian production, health, the fire risk to settlements, and the drop in water levels or dwindling of water supplies. Due to the specific characteristics of wheat cultivation in medieval and early modern England, the grain production was comparatively resilient to drought, whereas livestock farming was under threat when rainfall fell noticeably below average. Nonetheless, the most important problem in warm and dry summers was the risk to health. Partly steeply raised mortality levels were associated with these conditions during the study period because malaria, gastrointestinal disease and plague showed an affinity to heat and drought. Adaptation strategies to reduce the stress posed by summer droughts are included in the study.

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Pribyl, Kathleen: A survey of the impact of summer droughts in southern and eastern England, 1200–1700. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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