How Sustainable Is The British Horseracing Industry?
As with any industry these days, it is fast becoming essential for British horseracing to review its operations and see if there are any improvements that can be pushed through to help reduce the sport’s environmental impact and start doing business in a more sustainable way.
A new report from White Griffin, commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority, the Racecourse Association and the Thoroughbred Group, has set out the environmental risks facing racing and breeding, as well as challenges and opportunities to help inform planning for the long-term future of the sport.
As is explained in the white paper, horseracing is entirely dependent on the natural environment – which makes it ideally placed to demonstrate strong leadership and innovation where sustainability is concerned.
The report calls for racing and breeding to adopt a strategic and coordinated environmental approach, following a long-term plan that contains clear goals and objectives, supported by an effective funding framework and strong, unified leadership.
Sustainability should be the core focus for commercial and operational decisions in racing, both at individual business and industry level, with the relevant people empowered to deliver this step change and implement a measuring and monitoring system to baseline and track progress.
In addition, the report argues that communication, education and engagement will need to be at the heart of racing strategy, sharing best practice to develop a standard set of knowledge, skills and expertise.
By embracing this kind of approach, the racing industry will be able to successfully mitigate climate risks and take advantage of opportunities to come, safeguarding the sector and its people, horses and businesses for the future.
The water footprint of British horseracing
As is abundantly clear these days, there is a strong and discernable link between climate change and extreme/intense weather conditions.
The UK’s climate is beginning to change, with warmer, drier conditions now becoming more commonplace year after year, coupled with bouts of heavy rainfall, which increases flood risks when landing on hard, dry ground.
For horseracing, the pressure being put on water supplies in line with temperature increases will certainly have an impact on how the sector operates, given that it’s the British leisure industry’s third largest consumer of water.
Resources are required for sanitation, catering, food production, animal care, irrigation for racing and training grounds… without water, the industry would simply grind to a halt.
Problems facing the sector where water is concerned include waterlogging and flash flooding following heavy and intense rainfall. Between 2017 and 2019, there were 91 fixture abandonments because of waterlogged tracks, while 14 fixtures had to be called off because of firm ground.
One possible solution to this problem could be the use of artificial racing and training surfaces, which are more resilient in the face of extreme weather conditions – and it’s expected that use of such products will become more frequent in the future.
All British racecourses have now committed to responsible and sustainable water use, with water resilience plans in development to shore up future operations.
Other considerations linked to climate change include spikes in temperature that could affect horse health and an increase in equine diseases such as African Horse sickness and West Nile Virus.
It is also possible that temperature increases could cause problems where horse transportation is concerned, with the government already considering air-conditioning requirements when travelling in temperatures above 30 degrees C.
Some racecourses are already making changes to how they work, such as Ascot Racecourse, which recently set up a circular water system to harvest rainwater falling in the roof to feed into its reservoir, helping it to become more self-sufficient.
Other racecourses now enjoy access to onsite boreholes and reservoirs, with one even drawing 100 per cent of its water from such sources, reducing its reliance on mains water supplies entirely.
Furthermore, indoor and outdoor water management systems are now in use across some sites, including water limiters in toilet cisterns when not racing. And one training yard has brought in automated waterers to help reduce waste and monitor usage and consumption.
The report did identify some existing barriers that could hinder progress, such as the cost of new infrastructure to manage water supply and protect against flooding. Site restrictions could also prove to be a hindrance, with some unable to install reservoirs or sink boreholes because of their topography or position.
Water extraction rules may affect operations, as well, with boreholes subject to Environment Agency restrictions on extraction at times of high demand in the local community.
Further recommendations by White Griffin include conducting a study into water supply and usage at venues to gain a deeper understanding of supply methods. This could then be used to manage or minimise usage across racecourses and other sites.
Once water audits have been carried out, the sites that come top in terms of mains water usage should be identified and support offered to them in the form of an infrastructure improvement strategy.
And further research into extreme weather impacts on the industry could also be beneficiary, particularly where drought and flooding are concerned.
Weather-related disruption has huge financial implications, with flooding one of the biggest risks facing the sector… and such events have already been seen in the last ten years or so, including at Worcester, Southwell and Huntingdon.
As well as safeguarding racing operations in the future, being proactive where the environment and sustainability is concerned can help British racing capture the next generation of customers, investors and employees… all through the adoption of a more sustainable operating model.