Not raining but drowning: the true cost of our washout summer

It was meant to be a 'feelgood' summer. Then the rains came. As the great deluge continues, can Britain keep its head above water? Jonathan Brown counts the cost

Back in the fabled summer of 1976, Denis Howell had only been in his job as minister for drought for three days when the inevitable happened.

After weeks in which Britain had been slowly sautéed in its flares, while those workers who were not on strike were issued with salt tablets to stop them dehydrating and standpipes were set up in the streets, it began to pour.

No such luck for Caroline Spelman, who is rapidly becoming David Cameron's minister for rain.

The Environment Secretary has been meeting flood victims in the South-west and on Sunday was given a briefing by experts at the Met Office. The outlook was not, and is not, good.

After the wettest June on record, Britain is now on course to challenge the rain-lashed Edwardian summer of 1912 – the year when Scott was beaten to the Antarctic, the Titanic sank and 384.4mm of rain fell to make it the soggiest on record.

However, the good news for Ms Spelman, who has already announced a further £2bn to boost flood defences in the wake of the continuing deluge, is that there is still some way to go before 2012 rivals 1816 – the notorious "year without a summer". Then, before the advent of reliable data, summer frosts and 142 days of near continuous rain between May and September led to hunger and rioting.

It's not as bad as that yet – although, if some longer-term forecasts are to be believed, the current spate of Atlantic lows, ushered in on an unusually southerly jet stream, are expected to keep sweeping over us until the end of the month, doing to the Olympics what they have already done to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Already, it looks like the monsoon conditions might be dampening more than the Jubilee feelgood factor which the Government had hoped might help us ride out the double-dip recession in a warm glow of national well-being.

The British Retail Consortium yesterday said the four-day jubilee bank holiday weekend blowout helped retailers keep their head above water – but only just. Like-for-like sales during the first half of 2012 grew only 0.8 per cent on the previous year.

While sales of party food, alcohol, televisions and tablet devices were buoyant, traditional summer sellers such as barbecues, gardening equipment, outdoor furniture and summer clothing all suffered.

The one bright point was the continued growth in online sales, which rose 12 per cent as customers chose to stay dry and do their shopping indoors – or simply pass the time as they watched the raindrops roll down their windows. BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "Sadly the soggy celebrations over the Jubilee weekend itself, which heralded the start of the wettest June on record, were followed by far weaker business for the rest of the month."

By contrast Dunelm, the leading UK specialist homeware retailer, estimated it had benefited to the tune of £8m from the adverse weather during the last quarter, which included the wettest April for more than a hundred years, as consumers chose to concentrate their time and spending power indoors.

The full impact of the monsoon summer will only begin to be seen later this month, with the release of the second quarter's GDP figures, which will take in April and June.

In the meantime, there are indications that key sectors in the economy are being hit. Farmers in Yorkshire estimate they have seen the worst growing conditions for crops in nearly three decades.

Phil Bicknell, chief economist of the National Farmers Union, said harvests could be delayed by up to two weeks and that cold temperatures and low light levels more consistent with February than June could also have an adverse impact on growers.

The full effect of waterlogged fields and delays in silage and haymaking is not yet known. "It is important to look across the country. It can vary from region to region and from crop to crop. But this has been a challenging growing season – although when hasn't it been?" said Mr Bicknell.

Meanwhile, English winemakers, who enjoyed a bumper three million- bottle harvest last year, said the next 10 days would be crucial to the 2012 vintage, with sunshine and warmth urgently required to ripen grapes in southern vineyards.

The cost of flood damage is also likely to be severe. With some parts of the country receiving more than a month's rainfall in a day, there has been widespread damage to property, particularly in the South-west and North-east.

The Association of British insurers (ABI) has estimated the cost of flooding so far in the "low hundreds of millions" although this has yet to come close to 2007 – the third wettest summer on record – when rising waters caused devastation across parts of Yorkshire and Gloucestershire, leaving a bill of £3bn.

"It is too early to be definitive because in some parts of the country the rain is still falling and there seems to be no end in sight," said an ABI spokesman.

Transport has also been severely hit. Last month rail links between England and Scotland were severed when landslides closed both the East and West Coast mainlines. On Friday, services in Yorkshire and the North-west were disrupted by torrential rain, including the service between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.

Organisers of outdoor events have also been left out of pocket as they have been forced to pull the plug because of rain and waterlogged conditions.

Country shows from Cornwall to Cleveland have been cancelled while the Taste of Edinburgh Festival was also called off as a result of flooding. Although Wimbledon managed to keep to its timetable, other summer sporting schedules have been wrecked putting a financial strain on clubs and venues.

The British Horseracing Authority said 24 flat race meetings had been abandoned since the start of the season – costing the industry an estimated £1.2m.

Spectators were also urged to stay away from the practice round of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone at the weekend because of fears about safety.

Harewood House, near Leeds, was forced to refund 30,000 music fans after it cancelled MFEST, featuring Bob Geldof and Texas, because of weather warnings.

There are also fears about the condition of Hyde Park, which is due to host a number of open-air concerts featuring Madonna and Blur in the run-up to the Olympics. The park was a quagmire after the Wireless Festival.

And while the Olympics and the Jubilee are expected to help visitor numbers to the UK to remain stable, the number of Britons seeking some sunshine is rising.

The Association of British Travel Agents said holiday companies were reporting a 20 per cent increase in foreign searches in June. Online travel agent On the Beach reported a similar rise in sales to continental Europe.

But it is not only humans who have been having a lousy time. The rain coincided with the breeding season in the animal kingdom leading to reports of breeding failures among birds, months and butterflies. It prompted the head of the British Trust for Ornithology to describe it as the worst summer for birds he had experienced.

Winning in the rain: good news for some

Slug pellet producers: B&Q reported a 74 per cent rise as gardeners do battle with a plague of slugs.

Makers of "mood-boosting" supplements: Sales of St John's Wort rose by 115 per cent in June this year compared with June 2011.

Umbrella makers: Timpson Group reported a 47 per cent increase.

Proud car owners: They can begin washing their vehicles again after the last hosepipe bans were lifted.

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
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Extras
indybest
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

EYFS Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require an ex...

Year 3 Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home