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 720.

    Most of the problem is down to leaks. BUT it's not all down to the water companies. A lot of it is down to the contractors they use to fix the leaks.
    If they fix them properly they have less work. Therefore they use materials that are not fit for purpose, don't fit them to a high enough standard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    Drought? So we're told we must use less water (unless of course you are a profitable sports club!).

    The fact is we are over-populated in this country. We allow the building of sprawling new housing estates - placing yet more demand on hopelessly mis-managed privatised water companies - who put profit before maintaining infrastructure and providing an efficient service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    Not interested in the hose pipe ban. For less than 10% of the cost of the rich ruling elite's new toy, "HS2" this perennial water shortage could have been permanently resolved with trans-country piping.

    Instead we have water deliberately metered and charged for when it should be a freely available resource like air. More control and manipulation from the NWO!

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    The UK has a water infrastructure system that has more leaks than a Public official at a dinner party with News International.

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    Oh what it must be like to be drowning..............

    in profits, dividends and downright lies.

    Oh I forgot the real drowning in wastage though leaks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    splish, splash, splish, splash, splish, splash, splish, splash, splish, splash, splish, splash, who says theres a drought, plenty of water in my pond!

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    Perhaps it would be best if folk moved out of suburban South East of England entirely and to reduce the demand on scant water supplies. Other parts of the UK are underpopulated yet enjoy a much higher quality of life, standard of living, than the home counties. It seems a pity that so many folk are crowded into one corner of the country, living in overpriced cupboards and shoe boxes, so anonymous!

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    "... profit to be made and that is the appalling and immoral truth behind this."

    Immoral to profit from basic requirements of life, so a workman working on providing water should not earn (make a profit) on his labour? To say 1 can but another can't is in itself immoral, or is it just we do not like who is making a profit? - just a thought.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    Obviously somebody has a crystal ball! Just appoint a minister for drought as in 1976, we will then have a deluge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    Not with summer round the corner, surely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.


    2 Hours ago

    Just build desalination plants and sell the salt...
    Glad I'm in Scotland where we have plenty of water... ]

    We have SUFFICIENT water, not an overabundance of it - and if we don't start watching our water use, we'll end up with a shortage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    We are running out of water because the country is bursting at the seams, end of.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 707.

    Someone posted earlier that Severn-Trent were going to sell Anglia some water. Can't believe, as ST supplies to the area that is all red on the map (in drought). Why can't the ST, with two of the largest rivers (+tributies) in the UK, supply water to their catchment area customers (West Mids & E Mids)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    You wont get any water from Wales or Scotland if you dont fix your leaking pipes,Oh yes they really cant see that leaky piping is the problem and of course overcrowding too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    Problem is our water companies and the Government will not take action until there is a clear profit to be made and that is the appalling and immoral truth behind this. There are few things in life that should never be privatised and water is one of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    Certainly, this dry weather is not helping the situation, but I fear the sole reason for the shortage of water is wastage. There are thousands of severe water leaks throughout the country pumping out litres and litres of water per minute yet not being repaired promptly. Also, when we have flooding in the UK we do not capture this water. We need better management of our water supply. Simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    The Olympic Park is permitted to use hosepipes!!! But a newly planted Childrens Orchard in an area of extreme poverty is not permitted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    Droughts come and go, there can't be anything for the BBC to talk about at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    Knowing our luck, I suppose the drought will end with 3 metres of snow in the South before Christmas.


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