In 2016, after a number of dry winters, the groundwater on Öland and in many other parts of Southern Sweden reached historically low levels. Certain areas required three times the normal annual rainfall to restore groundwater levels. The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) carried out a thorough climate analysis for Kalmar County during 2016. This analysis shows a trend of dryer weather on Öland all year round. It also indicates that there will be more frequent occasions of high water levels and flooding as a result of torrential rains, while at the same time the risk of water shortages during the summer period will increase.
Autumn 2017 was mild but periodically very rainy, which caused problems for autumn sowing in many parts of the county. The following winter was mild at the beginning but became cold and snowy in February. Spring 2018 was also colder than normal, which delayed spring farming. When temperatures finally started to rise in May, they were much higher than normal in the entire country. The summer was characterised by drought and record-breaking temperatures, with July being the hottest ever recorded in many places.
Groundwater levels at the start of the summer were not at the same low level as in 2016. However, the drought was devastating and resulted in drastically reduced crops for farmers on Southern Öland. Towards the end of the summer, both private property owners and agricultural businesses with private water sources were affected when their wells dried up. This was particularly problematic for dairy farmers as their businesses are highly dependent on water. In general, last summer’s drought has resulted in an extremely tough economic situation for many farmers in Kalmar County and Southern Öland in particular. Those who were forced to collect and transport water from elsewhere suffer the most.
The World Heritage Council has great concerns for the conditions on Southern Öland as a possible result of climate change. We already see the short-term consequences today.
Certain measures need to be taken to ensure a functioning water supply for all of our agricultural businesses. It also requires a continued effort to retain more of the precipitation on the island. If we fail to solve these problems, the future of farming will be under threat, people will lose their livelihoods and conditions for services in the community will deteriorate. In turn, this will affect the open and living agricultural landscape which is the heart of our world heritage site.
In order to preserve and develop the Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland, it needs a modern and living agriculture with grazing livestock. That is why the drought and water shortage that has plagued Sweden and our region during the past few years are a great threat to the core values of our world heritage.