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 860.

    "Drought may last until Christmas". Why? What's going to happen at christmas?

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    People dont want to face it but we are the cause of the problem. Even with 'normal' rainfall if extraction runs a ahead of it then 'drought' follows.

    So drought avoidance requires reduction in population and usage every bit as much as it requires investment in pipes, particularly in south. We are at the limit and we wont resolve the issue until we face up to it, as with so many other things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.

    @854: Santa Clause might be persuded to bring some, if prayers are spoken in churches of monopoly with the incantation of a sheperder holding an iron staff up on a hill in full thunderstorm, what i wouldn't think anyone could've conjured up on time. Well, one more fingersnip and the clouds, runes and tarot-cards gonna make a detour around me. What's your hobby?-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    In the good times water companies awarded bonuses to top executives & shareholders instead of investing in the service and now when times are bad we all have to suffer due to not invested in fixing enough leaking pipes.
    Scotland has so much water. Had we invested in some pipe system 20-30 years ago, we would probably have no droughts now. But executives and shareholders need their bonuses!

  • Comment number 856.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    The worst affected areas have had winter rainfall which is 75% of average.
    That should be more than enough rainfall unless the people (mis-)managing the water companies are expecting average rainfall every year.
    In which case someone should explain to them how an average is achieved...

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    "Drought may last until Christmas"

    I'd like to know witch meteorological forecasting organisation made that prediction?

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    Too many people
    Too many people
    Too many people
    Too many people

    and not enough rain
    And the pipes leak

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    You missed good excuses like:
    Redefining marridge
    Gordon brown
    And scotland
    I live in the last two of that list!

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    Put the price of water up!! That will encourage more investment in infrastructure and will ensure that supplies are directed towards those who most deserve water - those who work hardest.

    Why should malingerers & dole cheats have the same access to basic utilities as those who work for a living? They should not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    Alas water meters are only affective in reducing consumption for those who need to count the pennnies,the well off will use (waste ?) as much as they want to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    "Get real - clot!" & "I see, so private companies don't reinvest profits and tax payers have to subsidise them

    I'll "Get real - clot!" ~chuckles~, unless the water companies charge a fair price to cover supply costs and for future investing in infrastructure then they will not have the money to invest. The only reason for sharehd to invest is if they will receive a profit

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    Water companies waste 3.3 billion litres every day, Thames Water wastes 650m litres a day. It is a criminal waste a precious resource.

    Thames Water recently gave a 6 month divided of £180m plus soft loans. How much on fixing leaks? How about £180m more than they did?

    Some say that privitisation is a success, for off shore funds it certainly is. For us its just poor service and no water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    Far too many 'users' - it's that simple ... Welcome to 'Open Door' Britain ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    I've redesigned the downpipes of our house to become water storage, each (2) now has the ability to hold around 50 gallons of rainwater. This is used to top up toilet cisterns via a solar powered pump so flushing the loo does not use drinking quality water. I'm thinking of Patenting the design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    In North Devon we surely have enough rain for the whole of England. We always seem to be lumped in with South Devon even though the climate is quite different. I agree that metering should be compulsory rather than voluntary as it would make everyone aware of their actual consumption. Though I also think that the water companies should prioritise repair of leaks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    I have lived and worked down under where water shortages are very common place, there advice it 3 minuet showers, bath’s only for the pregnant, no hose pipes, use disinfectant in toilets if just peeing so no flushing, women wash your hair when needed, men turn the tap of for shaving etc; none of this is hard to do, you just have to get used to it, and as for people that ignore this fine them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    For the water shortage, I blame:
    the water companies
    Mrs. Thatcher
    my next-door neighbour.
    There, now. I have absolved myself of all responsibility. In fact, I'd wash my hands of the whole business, if there were any water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.


    What a very 'educated' point of view.
    I dare you to voice that opinion around your local housing estate. Word to the wise: have your dentist on speed-dial :-)

    Out of interest, does anybody know who gets the fine money? I'm getting so cynical these days what with revenue collecting private limited company police et al. I'd be genuinely interested if someone knows?

  • Comment number 841.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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