Drought grips parts of UK

"Intense" drought conditions are gripping parts of the UK after another month of scarce rainfall in some areas, experts said today.

The Government has declared an official state of drought in parts of eastern England after the country experienced the driest spring on record.

Farmers in drought-stricken areas have been hit with restrictions on water use, while others face controls in the next few weeks and there are fears of imminent hosepipe bans in Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

Severn Trent Water has told its customers they may face water restrictions in some parts of the region unless rainfall levels return to normal soon.

In its latest monthly summary on UK rainfall, river and water levels published today, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) said that a substantial proportion of eastern England saw less than a fifth of the normal levels of rainfall in May.

Some parts of Kent received just 4mm of rain during the last month.

While northern parts of the UK experienced "plentiful" rain last month - with Scotland recording its wettest May on record - most of it did not reach central and eastern England, compounding the previous two dry months, CEH said.

England had its driest spring in records going back 100 years, while England and Wales together had their second driest March to May in the record books.

The dry conditions have left Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, parts of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire and western Norfolk officially suffering from drought.

In addition parts of the South West, South East, Midlands and Wales are experiencing near-drought conditions, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

The figures from CEH showed Cambridge received just half the previous minimum rainfall it had ever had in spring in records dating back to 1848.

The summary from CEH said intense spring drought conditions also characterised parts of Yorkshire, the East Midlands and Sussex and Kent, and that the "very arid spring" extended a deficiency in rainfall that can be traced back to December 2009.

While rain has helped rivers in northern Britain recover, others in the South West, parts of the Midlands and Wales and Kent have experienced exceptionally low flows, and waterways across southern and central England and Wales were below normal, the CEH said.

Current unsettled weather is set to continue through the weekend, but towards the end of next week south east and eastern England could return to drier, warmer conditions.

The Environment Agency said that continued dry weather would add further pressure on water resources and drought conditions may spread into central England and further east.

The agency has already asked nearly 100 farmers to stop abstracting water in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Norfolk, while 200 farmers in Suffolk face restrictions by the end of June.

And 27 farmers have also been told they will have to stop abstracting water by June 20 in the Walland and Romney Marsh areas of Kent to protect a nearby site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

Farmers in England's "bread basket" have said they fear it will be only a matter of weeks before drought conditions are extended across the whole of East Anglia.

The East Anglian branch of the NFU said the region's cereal producers have been badly hit, and in some cases fruit and vegetable growers were also struggling.

Livestock farmers are also facing shortages of grazing and are having to use up their winter resources far too early.

But in the drought-affected areas, Anglian Water and Cambridge Water said there is no threat to public water supply as they have enough to get through the summer.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman is set to convene a second drought summit in the next 10 days to discuss what can be done to tackle the issue.

Today she said: "Once drought status is declared then the Environment Agency will go into talks with farmers about how to conserve as much of the remaining water supply as possible, and how to use it more judiciously.

"But that applies to all of us. Everybody knows how to do that and actually now is the time," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

With swathes of England facing drought, Friends of the Earth called for action to protect water resources, including stronger water efficiency standards for businesses, homes and appliances and tougher action on leaking pipes.

The green group also called for a duty on water firms to help less well-off customers save water, such as by fitting water-saving taps and showers, stricter planning controls on development to preserve local resources and an end to unsustainable abstraction licences.

Friends of the Earth's policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett said: "Despite growing water use and the prospect of drier summers successive Governments have failed to tackle the problem - leaving large parts of the nation facing the prospect of being left high and dry.

"Our water supplies have been taken for granted for far too long and now we're facing a drought that could devastate our wildlife, rivers and crops.

"Ministers must act to ensure we change the way we use our water instead of wasting it through badly designed buildings and appliances, poor planning and inadequate investment."

Fears have been raised that wildlife ranging from water voles to butterflies could be severely hit by the drought.

Dr Martin Warren, chief executive of wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, said: "The hot dry weather has so far been quite beneficial to butterflies, they have emerged earlier and in reasonable numbers. But the drought is a potential threat because it dries up the food plants on which the caterpillars feed.

"When we had a prolonged drought in the summer of 1976 numbers crashed.

"We could see a devastating impact on butterflies if the drought continues for a long time."

The Environment Agency is currently monitoring rivers to ensure fish do not become stranded as water levels fall and to protect wildlife against low oxygen levels and pollution incidents, which can be worsened by a lack of water in rivers.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: "People are concerned about the country's water situation and its impact on food production.

"Families are already feeling the squeeze from rising food prices, which hit a two-year high last month.

"The driest spring on record has already severely affected a fifth of the cereal harvest, which could lead to further price hikes for food and beer.

"The Government have dropped their plans for a Water Bill in this parliament, which means further delays in the changes we need to make to use water more efficiently.

"The Government needs to get a grip and reassure people that they have robust plans in place to deal with the drought."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions