Drought will cause a 'wildlife tragedy', says Environment Agency
Exceptional dry spell threatens species from trees to tadpoles
Michael McCarthy, formerly the Independent’s longstanding Environment Editor, now its Environment Columnist, is one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment and the natural world. He has won a string of awards for his work, including Environment Journalist of the Year (three times) and Specialist Writer of the Year in the British Press Awards in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the RSPB for “Outstanding Services to Conservation,” in 2010 he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London, and in 2011 the Dilys Breeze Medal of the British Trust for Ornithology. In 2009 McCarthy published Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo (John Murray), a study of Britain’s declining migrant birds.
Monday 19 March 2012
Much of Britain's wildlife, from dragonflies to water voles, faces a difficult summer because of the drought, the Environment Agency has warned.
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.
Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around
Disappearing world: Global warming claims tropical island
Plastic rubbish heaps at sea pose bigger threat to Earth than climate change, claims ocean expert
Silence to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of last ever passenger pigeon
The top 10 weirdest animal mating rituals
- 1 Al Pacino on suffering from depression: 'It can last and it's terrifying'
- 2 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain
£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...
£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...
£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...