Drought may last until Christmas: Environment Agency

 

Mark Green, who farms near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, said a lack of rainfall could affect both the yield and quality of his potato crop

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Official drought zones have been declared in a further 17 English counties, as a warning came that water shortages could last until Christmas.

The Environment Agency said dry weather over the past few months had left some rivers in England exceptionally low.

It has now extended its "drought map" into the Midlands and the South West.

Officials say public water supplies are unlikely to be affected by the continuing drought, but are reiterating calls for water to be used wisely.

England's South West and the Midlands have moved into official drought status after two dry winters "left rivers and ground waters depleted", the agency said.

Hosepipe ban

The Midlands region covers Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

Impact on wildlife

A water vole

Fish are dying in large numbers in shrinking waters, amphibians like frogs, toads and newts suffer as ponds and ditches dry out, and wading birds entering their breeding season have been hit by shrinking habitats and vanishing food supplies.

The Wildlife Trusts says prolonged drought not only reduces drinking and bathing water for birds, but makes it harder for birds, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles that feed on insects and worms.

Blackbirds, robins, thrushes, starlings, badgers, hedgehogs and shrews all find it hard to reach worms and soil-based insects during dry conditions, it said.

And water voles become more vulnerable to predators as water levels drop.

Bat species like the lesser and greater horseshoes are particularly associated with watery places and the insects they provide.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says wading birds like lapwings and redshank have been most directly affected by the conditions.

A spokesman said it expected a bad year for the "really important" population of black-tailed godwits at Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire.

Two or three poor seasons would have a serious impact on populations, he added.

The Angling Trust, meanwhile, warns that even when waters are not completely dried up, fish are unable to move around, migrate, or breed properly.

It says reduced flows lead to higher temperatures and less oxygen and make pollution more concentrated.

Dry conditions can expose fish eggs and kill baby fish.

The South West region covers Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire, parts of Hampshire and most of Wiltshire.

Drought restrictions were already in place in south-east England, East Anglia, parts of the South and Yorkshire.

The Environment Agency said the dry weather was taking its toll on the environment and farmers.

And BBC Midlands Environment Correspondent David Gregory said the impact on farmers was one of the reasons the Midlands was being regarded as a drought zone.

"Although the Midlands now joins the South East and other parts of the UK in drought, the reasons behind the Environment Agency's decision are slightly different," he said.

"For the parched South East it is ordinary consumers who are affected. But in the Midlands that is not the case. Water companies there are all confident there will be no need to introduce a hosepipe ban for customers this year.

"However, a drought can cause other problems apart from a hosepipe ban. In the Midlands the lack of rainfall has had a huge impact on rivers and farmers."

During winter, parts of England received less than 60% of the average seasonal rainfall.

Hosepipe bans affecting about 20 million customers, introduced by seven water authorities in parts of southern and eastern England, remain in place.

Head of water resources at the Environment Agency Trevor Bishop said: "A longer-term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely.

"We are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought.

"While we've had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away and we would urge everyone - right across the country - to use water wisely now, which will help to prevent more serious impacts next year."

The lack of rain had caused problems for wildlife, wetlands and crop production in the South West and Midlands, the agency said.

In the Midlands, it rescued fish from the River Lathkill in Derbyshire after it dried up.

Drought continues despite a wet week ahead. BBC Weather's Chris Fawkes has the details.

The rivers Tern, Sow, Soar and Leadon are at their lowest ever recorded levels.

In the South West, rivers are also suffering and nationally important chalk streams, such as the Dorset Avon and the Stour, which support rare trout and salmon species, are exceptionally low.

The agency said while rain over the spring and summer would help to water crops and gardens, it was "unlikely to improve the underlying drought situation".

The agency said it was working to help farmers top up their storage reservoirs, adding it had introduced a "fast track process" for farmers to apply to take additional water when river flows are high.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "As more areas of the UK move into drought it is vital that we use less water to protect the public's water supply in the driest areas of the country.

"It is for everyone to share the responsibility to save water."

Drought spreads across England
Map showing drought zones
 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 859.

    People dont want to face it but we are the cause of the problem. Even with 'normal' rainfall if extraction runs a ahead of it then 'drought' follows.

    So drought avoidance requires reduction in population and usage every bit as much as it requires investment in pipes, particularly in south. We are at the limit and we wont resolve the issue until we face up to it, as with so many other things.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 708.

    Water metering is the answer. People should pay according to their consumption. If you go over a certain threshold, then you pay a premium rate. It would certainly make me feel less aggrieved about my household's modest use costing the same as my neighbours who shower about 5 times a day and have their washing machine and dish washer running almost permanently.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 608.

    I feel so sorry for creatures that are already affected by a lack of water. Neither Govt nor companies appear to be doing anything to resolve the issue. Humans can find water, clean it and use as absolutely necessary, farmers and wildlife are trapped. A bigger disaster looms unless authorities take action to resolve the problem now.

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 426.

    Wastage, poor distribution and bad practice lead to water shortages. Pipes not being fixed fast enough, water not being piped to those who need it and people watering their gardens with drinking water, etc. are to blame. How many other European countries with our rainfall have the same problem?

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 389.

    It's a no brainer, we don't need desalination plants at massive expense with billions of tons of salt to dispose of safely, we have perfectly good water supplies in the north of the UK, pipelines are a worthwhile long term solution & funnily enough judging by many of the postings on here, probably a vote winner too, money into Scotland & water into the south, a wonderful legacy for our children..

 

Comments 5 of 11

 

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