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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Controller

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is a busy and varied role w...

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style