'Everywhere growth has stopped. Up on the plateau the biscuit- coloured vistas look more like Africa than England'

Stress is something normally associated with city life but now, with every day that the drought persists, it is becoming increasingly noticeable in the countryside. Around us it is the beech trees that are most obviously in trouble. Never mind that last winter was the wettest for years: those life-giving rains have long since drained down into the underground strata, leaving the surface of the ground desperately dry.

The beeches' response has been to produce immense crops of mast, or seed; and the whiskery little husks, festooning the branches in thousands, have given the trees a sickly, brownish appearance. According to a forester friend, this terrific output is a genetic reaction to emergency: sensing possible extinction, the trees are doing all they can to propagate their genes in future generations.

In fact, most will probably survive - but on some the leaves are already turning to autumnal copper and gold, two months ahead of schedule. Again, this is a crisis response: the sooner a tree can shed its leaves, the less water it needs to survive. The only real loss is that of its annual growth, which this year will be minimal.

In the great heat, woods have been consistently cooler than sun-baked fields, yet even in the shade of their canopy, the ground vegetation has withered and died in a way I have never seen before. Streams are still running, but only just, and all the higher springs have ceased to flow.

In many forest areas the danger of fire is now acute. Forestry Commission staff are on standby over the weekend and, to reduce the risk of accidental blazes, large areas of the Forest of Dean have been closed to the public altogether.

With the farmland baked as hard as concrete, earthworms cannot come to the surface and this has forced a change of diet on badgers. When their staple food was cut off, they no doubt switched for a while to wheat; but that, too, has gone, harvested in record time, and Brock is reduced to a diet of insects and wasp larvae, both luckily abundant. In a normal year, badgers would be moving on to fruit but here, too, they are going to be short: blackberries are ripe already, but small and hard as bullets, and elderberries look as if they are going to shrivel away without ever maturing. Moles and hedgehogs, which also feed on worms, are having a similarly hard time.

Predators such as foxes, stoats and buzzards, on the other hand, are having a bonanza - not because of the fine weather, but because the seasonal upsurge of myxomatosis, which breaks out every August, is rendering rabbits slow, stupid and easily caught.

Grassland is in a sorry state: our own fields, on the north-facing slope of a valley, retain tinges of green but up on the plateau the tawny, biscuit- coloured vistas look more like Africa than England. Everywhere, growth has stopped dead. Our neighbouring dairy farmer was hoping for a second cut of hay off 35 acres, but already his cows have eaten that grass - and if rain does not come within the next couple of weeks, he will have to start feeding his precious hay.

Because of the dearth of fodder, there is every sign that during the winter the price of hay will rise to unprecedented heights. Last year, its maximum in our area was just over pounds 2 for a traditional small bale. Now, already, it is pounds 3-pounds 4. Merchants pre-dict that it will reach pounds 6-pounds 8 by Christmas - and if that happens, many horse-owners are going to be in trouble.

Farmers complain that the ground is so dry and hard that it is wearing away their ploughshares in record time. Crops of broad beans have withered on the stalk and are scarcely worth harvesting. But, as always, there are compensations. Barley and wheat have yielded surprisingly well, and growers have saved up to pounds 10 a ton from not having to dry the grain with electrically-generated heat. In the orchards, apple and pear trees are so heavily loaded that owners are having to prop up the boughs to stop them breaking under the weight.

Of course, everyone is asking one question. Is this summer a freak, or is it the shape of things to come? As a boy, I loved the story of how, whenever the vicar prayed for rain, the gaffer in the side pew always piped up, "Arrr, but you won't get 'ee till the wind do go in the west."

It is alarming to sense that the time for such comfortable old adages has gone. The wind blows hot from north, south, east and west, and still no rain comes to our relief.

Suggested Topics
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition