Drought will cause a 'wildlife tragedy', says Environment Agency

Exceptional dry spell threatens species from trees to tadpoles

A A A

Much of Britain's wildlife, from dragonflies to water voles, faces a difficult summer because of the drought, the Environment Agency has warned.

Click here to see the 'The species at risk' graphic

Water levels in rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands are so low – and getting lower – that a whole series of species may be unable to breed or may die if the rain stays away, the agency says.

For example, it says, the traditional summer scene of dragonflies skimming over a glistening stream could be a rare sight in parts of England this year. Other species that will be severely affected if the drought continues include freshwater fish, great crested newts and wading birds such as curlews and lapwings.

Some parts of the country have seen the driest 18 months since records began, and in drought-affected areas it is likely that some streams, ponds and shallow lakes will be completely dry before aquatic insects such as dragonflies are fully formed, and the insects will consequently perish.

Newly hatched tadpoles from toads, frogs and the protected great crested newts face a similar fate, while the agency has already seen a number of fish deaths this year caused by dry weather, and is stepping up river monitoring and increasing its supplies of water-aeration and fish-rescue equipment in order to respond quickly to reports of distressed fish.

Wading birds will also suffer as suitable wetland breeding sites dry up. Waders such as the snipe, redshank, lapwing, curlew and black-tailed godwit all need moist soils to probe with their long bills to extract food such as worms. These species have declined rapidly in much of England in recent decades and this spring drought could be the final straw at some of the smaller breeding sites.

Falling water levels in ditches and streams will leave water-vole burrows exposed to predators such as stoats and weasels. Long dry spells and low soil-moisture levels can also lead to the death of some trees – especially beech and birch – and the fruits of trees and shrubs are likely to be smaller in size. Forest fires also become an increasing concern.

"The amount of water that we use at home and in our businesses has a direct effect on the amount of water available in our rivers and for wildlife," said Alastair Driver, the Environment Agency's national conservation manager. "We would urge all water users – including consumers, businesses and farmers – to use water wisely to help protect our valuable natural environment."

The agency will announce new drought-related measures this week to help to protect nationally important wildlife sites, including provisions to extend the licence season, make use of unused licensed water, or allowing higher pumping rates to capture water during any rainfall periods that occur.

Last week, the Environment Agency published its drought-prospects report, which warned that the drought could spread as far north as East Yorkshire and as far west as the Hampshire-Wiltshire border, if the dry weather continues this spring. The whole of the South-east and East Anglia are already in drought.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...