Drought fears for Berkshire farmers and boat owners

A padlocked lock on the Avon and Kennet Canal
Image caption Closures could be put in place along the Kennet and Avon Canal due to water shortages

"We need grass to grow to feed the cattle that we've got," said Mike Bowden, who farms in Brimpton, Berkshire.

"If we don't get moisture our crops will just die and we won't get any seeds to harvest."

Mr Bowden is among the many farmers - along with anglers, boaters and other business owners - who could be badly affected if the drought in south-east England continues.

Water levels in the ground are at their lowest for 90 years, according to British Waterways and there are fears at least one canal could be closed to boats if the drought persists.

And farmers in Berkshire like Mr Bowden remain concerned about the water levels at their farms.

"We rely on rainfall to irrigate the crops," said Mr Bowden who has farmed at Manor Farm for 35 years.

"It will have severe financial implications for us if we don't get some rain."

'Continual rain'

He said he was hoping for "several wet months" in order to fill the streams, rivers and underground reservoirs, called aquifers, which provide water to the area.

"I know most people don't like wet days, but we need several wet months in order to fill the streams and the rivers and the aquifers, we really do need continual rain so it starts soaking into the ground," he said.

At the nearby Kennet and Avon Canal, there is talk of closing the canal at night and bringing in extra volunteer lock-keepers to conserve water.

The canal gets its water from the aquifers - which are running dry.

"The truth is the whole of the canal from its summit in Crofton to when it gets to Reading could have problems if we get into the season and the water levels are right down," said Mike Rodd, the chairman of Kennet and Avon Trust.

Image caption West Berkshire farmer Mike Bowden fears his crops will fail

"The source of the water for the whole of the section running into Reading is Wilton Water, which is fed from the aquifers. The canal does also pick up some water from the Kennet River, which is in serious trouble."

The Kennet and Avon Trust runs volunteer-led boat trips in Hungerford, Newbury, Devizes and Bradford which provides the charity with a "major income stream".

"It is very important to us, as a significant amount of our trust's income comes from our four boats," added Mr Rodd.

"If the canal is closed at night, that's a slight worry.

"Some of the nicer trips we do are on a summer evening going out of Hungerford."

'Cruising without trouble'

Nick Harborne, of Canal and Tipi Experience, has five boats moored at Burghfield.

"If the canals do dry up people will stop booking holidays and we'll have to make refunds if they can't go out," he said.

"We're well-placed in that we can send people out on to the Thames.

"At the moment, the trouble starts beyond Hungerford, so people can get a week's cruising without any trouble."

National Campaigns Co-ordinator for the Angling Trust, Martin Salter, said he also "fully expected" to see the Kennet and Avon Canal closed soon if the dry weather continued.

"Most of the River Kennet is fed from the chalk aquifer, which recharges during the winter," he said.

"If the aquifer goes low, the springs don't spring and the river doesn't flow, the fish die and the birds which eat the fish die."

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