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

    Comment number 400.

    How can they say it may last 'til Xmas?
    Weather forecasting is limited by the available number of readings of current barometric pressure.
    Now I don't want to steal the ideas of some right-wing thinktank but how about this:
    Take the unemployed, give them all a boat, Sat-Nav and barometer and get them to row out into the Atlantic and radio in the air pressure.
    Better weather forecasting solved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    C Price @ 389.

    We can have desalination plants for fresh water and then use the salt from this process to put on the roads in the winter. Simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    Either the Environment Agency are treating the south west as one block area, or South West Water are telling porkies (and at present I'm inclined to believe the former) - SWW (covering the actual south west, Devon,Dorset,Cornwall,Somerset) give current reservoir levels at 84%, down by just 1% from last month when the BBC reported on it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-17414541

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    Making things scarce increases inequality and profitability

    simples !

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    @393.Ian Thomas
    "HS2 is a £33bn waste"

    Of course it is, that money would sort the water infrastructure AND sort out the housing bubble.

    What you have to realise is that ALL of the main political parties are in the pockets of global banks/megacorps and so will act for the interests of these parties and dress it up as being good for the people.

    At the next election, vote independant

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Here's a plan.
    All the board members of the water companies to wear a bucket strapped to their heads. When said bucket is full they go to their nearest regional offices where they will find a large funnel at the base of a giant image of our illustrious leader. On approach to said image they will bow, thus emptying the water down the funnel into a giant underground reservoir.

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    On Leakage, for the next 5 yrs, water charges are capped at the current levels + rate of inflation. Water companies are forced the "meter" their leakage rates & the Govt charges them at the same rate as a consumer water meter for the "usage". No water company with a leakage rate of more than 10% is allowed to pay out dividends. Hit them in their shareholders pockets in the short term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    HS2 is a £33bn waste and that is if the government could ever keep to a building budget which has never happened yet. The money could be spent much more wisely benefiting the entire country on a national water grid. It would bring prosperity to the north for the abundance of water they supply and stop all the unnecessary bans and water shortages? Politicians do something for us not yourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Whenever there is a water shortage, vested commercial interests use the situation to further their agenda to turn water into a commodity, which they own and we pay for by volume (ie water metering), rather than a free public good, where we pay only for the upkeep of the supply. The latter, which is rarely explained by the media, is the logical basis for the current flat-rate system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    I understood that water companies had to have 25 year plans reviewed every 5 years.

    Is there a Plan B , as awarding bonuses for companies that have failed to invest in infrastructure isn't working - they have thought about long term investment via their long term plans,presumably?

    Does Ofwat do anything - or is it just another characteristic of private sector efficiency?

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    And what did the romans ever do for us? The aquaduct? We dont do those unless scotland pays for them and gives us water for free and also even if they didnt vote for us we act like they did oh yeah and theyre a bbuch of fat, ginger scroungers. Wait water and oil please for free.
    I find this funny cos all us scots arent being 'efficiently' privatised dont worry only3 years remaining enjoy the cons

  • rate this

    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..

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Too many people all using far more water than we used to. We are overpopulated. Only government's fault, of both parties, for letting millions in, and still doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    Not much left to be flogged off

    Forests cased an uproar and even roads have been mooted

    The UK Fire Service College is set to be privatised, the government has said.


    You guys have been reduced to flogging off the floorboards of your house

    ...but privatisation is very efficient...lol lol lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    The chickens are coming home to roost! 1st off, the utility companies should never be in private ownership, thats why there are so many leaks, because maintenance & repair costs which cuts dividends to share holders. 2ndly, far too many people in this country especially the south east, funnily enough, the more people there are the more resouces get used up.
    Its not rocket science!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    As i sit here there are 5 anglia water people stood outside my house, there a 3 vans and no work being done, they are all sitting around chatting and reading the paper.
    This is privatisation at its best, id love to know how much they have earned in the 3hrs they have all been stood there.
    Id offer them all a cup of tea but what with the water shortage........

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    The sad reality of of this, and other privatised industries (power, oil, metals etc) is that scarcity in a product increases price. So, in a business, there is no incentive for water companies to improve efficiency as they can simply increase the price due to 'scarcity'. When is our government (of any colour) going to realise that somethings should be run for the public good, and not for profit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    OK, in adition to & more important than hose pipe bans, there has to be a SIGNIFICANT stepping up of resources for the tackling of leakage! Thames Water has 26% leakage !!! It is frankly UNacceptable to
    (a) ask the consumer to use less water, and
    (b) pay out profit dividends to the comany's investors and
    (c) NOT revise the targets to solve this issue substantially faster than currently planned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    #13 Come on Britain is not a country of drought its an over populated country with bad water management.
    Atlantic - the rivers are drying up - how did bad water management achieve that ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    I think water companies should freely supply filled water butts, pre-empting a humanitarian crisis. The govt would be sending such aid to far off lands quick enough, so why are they dithering helping England’s drought dilemma? I bet they’re waiting to set up a committee prior to any sensible action.


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