Ministers call emergency summit as drought looms

One of the driest springs on record has sparked fears for agriculture and wildlife, while crews 'work to the point of exhaustion' to battle forest fires

A A A

Ministers are to hold an emergency drought summit in an attempt to avert a crisis caused by one of the driest springs on record.

A battle plan will be devised tomorrow, as Britain faces the prospect of hosepipe bans, food price rises and more forest fires sweeping the country. April had just 24 per cent of the average rainfall for the month, while several areas experienced the driest March for nearly 50 years.

Firefighters have already been working "to the point of exhaustion" to tackle forest fires, while farmers are warned that if river levels continue to fall the amount of water they can extract for crops may be limited.

It is not all bad news. Experts say a dry blossom season could help pollination for apple, cherry and pear trees, and there should be a bumper crop of strawberries in time for Wimbledon next month.

Tomorrow, Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will convene a high-level summit to draw up a blueprint for dealing with drought conditions this summer. "We need to be properly prepared for prolonged dry conditions – and anything that can be done now to lessen harm to crops, wildlife or rivers, and to minimise the effect on households, should be done – and done quickly," Ms Spelman said.

Among those attending the Whitehall talks are the industry body Water UK, the UK Irrigation Association, the National Farmers' Union, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Horticultural Trades Association and British Waterways. Officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government responsible for fire policy will also attend.

And on Friday water companies will publish reports on their preparedness for the likely impact of climate change, including wetter winters and hotter, drier summers.

Jenny Bashford, NFU water policy adviser, said: "Farmers and growers are once again facing some extreme conditions, but they are well versed in dealing with the vagaries of the weather. Whatever weather issues are faced, it is always the increased cost to the farm for feed, bedding, impacts on crop growth and price that cause concern."

The Fire Brigades Union claims the Government has so far failed to respond to the growing pressure posed by climate change. With fire services facing cuts of up to 25 per cent over four years, the risk of wild fires spreading out of control is growing. Matt Wrack, the FBU general secretary, said: "Increasingly dry and warm weather has created perfect conditions for the huge increase in wildfires so far this year. Fire crews have been working to the point of exhaustion to protect their local communities."

According to the latest statistics from the Environment Agency, just 61 per cent of expected rain fell in the past three months, leading to reduced river levels in some areas.

Some businesses that use river water have had to reduce the amount they take, while some reservoirs are below the expected level for the time of year.

The agency is also concerned about the impact on wildlife, including fish and plant life in and around rivers and lakes. Trevor Bishop, head of water resources, said: "During dry weather it is even more important that water is used efficiently, and the needs of the public, business and the environment are balanced."

Sarah Mukerjee, of Water UK, said conditions had been "exceptionally dry" in some places, and while water firms have not yet brought in hosepipe bans, if the current weather continues "they can't rule it out". She added: "Everyone's looking at the sky and thinking 'when is it going to rain?'"

David Cameron has admitted farmers face "real issues" as a result of the dry weather, and tomorrow Tory MP Therese Coffey will hold a Commons debate on the threat to agriculture.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

Ashdown Group: Reporting & Analytics Supervisor - Buckinghamshire - £36,000

£34000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Analytics & Reporting Tea...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future