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 440.

    Like a lot of other things in this country now , profit comes first , all utilities should never have been privatiesd water is not a luxury nor is keeping warm etc , money has become a god and all our mps worship at its door why on earth are they not ranting about this and about illegal immigration pc rubbish and selling our commodities abroad ? to keep the job with its perks, thats ok then .

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    Over the last 2 weeks we have had 3,000,000 gallons of water per square mile fall over Britain, what have the water companies done with it, let it flow into the sea, we haven't had a new resovior since I can remember but we have never paid such a high price for our water, I can't think of any privatised facility that has been beter value than when it was public owned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    @425.Rabid Right Wing Europhobe
    "Wow, so naive."

    Nearly everything is made in China. China is not part of the EU. We have no problems importing from China, and China has no problems importing from the EU.

    They are supposed to be bring down the protectionist barriers preventing trade between EU and external territories, not adding them, so again, your argument fails to hold up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    Water scarcity is a major macroeconomic trend; regardless of “dry winters” this is a real future threat on a Global scale. Invest in desalination plants.
    How about addressing the real issues.
    Population growth, carbon emissions and environmental destruction.
    Their is no long term future without addressing these.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    Still, as long as the profits keep rising, who cares.........

    Re-nationalise the companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    #423 I'm not suggesting we damn anything, I was just illustrating the water abundance in Scotland and the fact that you won't run out.

    In the UK many people only think of themselves, we have to work together, give and take both ways. e.g here in the Midlands most of us don't want a HS2 rail link that benefits us in no way, I'm too far from Birmingham to benefit but it's passing my doorstep!

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    The water companies have a monopoly, they should pay fines when they fail.

    Apply huge fines for hose bans and they'll soon resolve the problem!

    Why? How?

    If profits are threatened, they'll have to find an answer, or they'll go out of business, lose their money and others will take over.

    Penalties for imposing a hose ban should solve the problem completely!

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    Given the ever-increasing UK population and the demand for more housing that very few can afford anyway, water shortages will become a regular feature of everyday living. Some of this can be mitigated by bathing/showering less often (most people don't need to shower daily), and washing the car once a year, if needed at all. Domestic water heating systems need to be more efficient too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    There are several options that need to be considered; limits on extraction so drought tolerant crops, and tighter penalties on leaks from the Water companies. As such companies are so hopeless this is a revenue earner for government now we all need the extra money.

    Finally mandate water metering across all the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    I'm loving the drought, company employment contract states that my company car has to be hand washed once a week, I don't have to do it at least until Christmas now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    Another ploy to panic the population....I think the weather will just do what it does best....be erratic yet sort itself out in due course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    Water scarcity is a major macroeconomic trend; regardless of “dry winters” this is a real future threat on a Global scale. Invest in desalination plants, which build in a hydroelectric plants to physically generate the electricity needed to operate – the money going into oil and gas is not sustainable, we’re a little Island surrounded by water, we should invest in what we have in abundance

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    The problem with our media is that it makes a statement and the people believe every word and then panic. Plus, we have a population who cannot communicate, (411.Yant_the_atheist, case in point), thus a minor thing like a brief shortage of rain becomes a national trauma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    I remember a large wooden water butt at my great-grandmother’s house. It collected rain water for use in washing clothes in water warmed on the peat-heated stove. A loch close-by was used to wash big home-spun woollen blankets. It was a normal practice – no leccy or water then, all drinkable water was hand carried from another loch.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 425.


    Wow, so naive. You think we can ditch all the bad bits of the EU and keep all the good bits. Now THAT is absurd.

    Brits will still want to buy BMWs, Bosch and Meile white good etc but the EU will make it harder to sell Honda, Toyota, JLR cars etc. so they'll move production. The resulting balance of payments gap will then result in imposition of import restrictions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    Reduce the pay and bonuses of the water company bosses until they reach a bench mark of leak reduction set by an indipendent arbiter, government stand by and watch mismanagement of what is a natural rescource of our country, they interfere in everything else so why not water?
    Couldnt be cronyism could it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    #476 loch ness is a protected area as are the cairngorms we cant just dam anywhere for unecessary water south we have more than enough but we dont store much to preserve our enviroment and we dont give our water away for free im sorry but im not going to let our famous hills be filled with dams HEP pipes underground and in caves arefine. Cos we cant see them but we wont dam unecessarily.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    The privatised water companies fail yet again in their single responsibility and yet, like the banks, can to continue to extract profits from their income, while blame falls on the weather and the public bear the consequences without compensation. Shall we consider what this tells us about the relationship between big business and society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    @ 402. KCZ : maybe you could put a pipe on this and get it into your home - nobody could complain as it is 'waste water to releave pressue'.
    maybe you can bottle it and sell it as the FULLHAM stress relieve' healing spa water?


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