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
    +5

    Comment number 600.

    Easy fix - stop using drinking water to wash your car or flush your toilet. Houses/workplaces should be modified to capture rain and cycle it through the house as "grey" water. We could then tap in only drinking water. Simple.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 599.

    England is over-populated and a substantial percentage of people living in England will have to emigrate to other countries. Not Scotland or Wales as the Scots and Welsh don't want or like them. Countries like New Zealand or Canada spring to mind. Unfortunately, I jest not.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 598.

    "...Drought may last until Christmas..."

    ===

    Nice and early to be getting into the festive mood, BBC.

    Of course it might. But then it might not, or even last longer. Met experts freely admit that seasonal forecasting is so error-prone as not to be worth publishing.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 597.

    591.Sixp
    "Enjoy your free market fantasy"

    The same could be said of socialists, "enjoy your strikes". We have unreast in the public sector currently, what if water was under their control and they went on strike for 24hours - no water at all, would that be any better? I'm not trying to be disrespectful but show nothing has a win/win solution it is always a choice of evils.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 596.

    "The water supply won't increase.. we are expecting it to support a population that increases year on year... sustainable? Nope".

    An "Editor's pick": an unsubstantiated claim that immigration is the cause of the water shortage (it doesn't have anything to with it). The same poster earlier used this association to assert a repatriation policy of "last in, first out". BBC: be ashamed.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 595.

    So there's not enought water to go around - so why the heck are the Government forcing through a new town the size of Milton Keynes - near to my home? With a minimum of 10,000 new homes planned for later this year?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 594.

    Just build desalination plants and sell the salt...
    Glad I'm in Scotland where we have plenty of water... mmm, nice long showers, watering the plants, washing the car.... ^_^

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 593.

    The water company's will not fix all the leaks in the system.Money still has to go to shareholders.The company's cannot afford to fix all the leaks and pay shareholders at the same time - something has to wait and that is the leaks.This is the price we all pay for the Cons privatising the utility company's and putting what was our assets into private hands so that the rich can get even richer.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 592.

    ref; 581. They have no common sense that's why, it's pretty obvious large shallow water reservoirs will be subject to wind and sun evaporation

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 591.

    571.Dazz Knowles
    To all those blaming privatisation, do you really think that a publicly owned 'water board' with no profit targets to drive up efficiency..
    ---
    There is no competition. Just a set of foreign owned private monopolies and a regulator.
    They will never have a nationwide view of the issue and will never invest massively to resolve the problem.
    Enjoy your free market fantasy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 590.

    Like everything in Britain, it'll rain for 4 weeks soon, you'll all complain about the weather, use up all the water again and be in this situation next year. Short term solutions in the UK as always.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 589.

    Why would I be surprised at this? How many times have we heard about water shortages over the years and that something must be done?

    But how many times have we heard any news about new reservoirs being built?

    So this is your research task that we'll all interested in, BBC... tell us by what percentage reservoir storage has been increased since 1976.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 588.

    This is not a "drought", it's mismanagement and greed leading to a shortage.
    This is what happens when you sell off vital services and infrastructure to corporate vultures who are interested in making money at all cost. This is what will happen with everything our government plans to sell to their business chums.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 587.

    Defer the bonus payments that the Water company CEO's are receiving and invest in fixing damaged pipework which leaks more than consumers use.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 586.

    574. Graphis
    12 MINUTES AGO
    It's the new oil. Now all the oil is running out, they need something else to charge us high prices for. In 50 years, we'll be invading other countries for their water, rather than their oil.

    ---

    Yes, unless there's another smash 'n grab of Scotland's water. Alternative - let's buy it from the Scots, like any other nation.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 585.

    Drought? What a load of tosh. We've just got a bit of a water shortage ... although, even that's hard to believe looking at the lush green grass outside my window.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 584.

    581.U212709

    Dredging the reservoirs for more capacity is easier said than done. There will be structural implications including water integrity and structural load bearing to consider. Thoase are at least my initial concerns/thoughts.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 583.

    "Phoenix Arizona is extremely hot and dry for most of the year, is located in the middle of a desert miles from the nearest accessible water, but never fails to ensure a clean and abundant supply is available for its population."

    And it does so, in part, by unsustainably extracting water from acquifers, faster than it is replenished. Life will get interesting when the last of this is used up.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 582.

    There is no drought in the UK just bad water supply and no leak management

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 581.

    Can anyone explain why, in times of water shortage, the water companies don't deepen the dried out reservoirs so they will store more water in times of plenty?

 

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