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.

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit