Tell Noah: After weeks of deluge, water levels are finally rising

The two-year drought affecting much of England was easing after the past month of exceptionally heavy rain, the Environment Agency said yesterday – but it was still too soon to expect a lifting of hosepipe bans.

April's rainfall, the highest monthly total in Britain since records began in 1910, has restored previous low flows in rivers to normal or above-average levels (with some serious flooding), helped increase reservoir stocks in all regions, and increased moisture in the soil, the agency said.

Crucially, it has also begun to increase heavily-depleted groundwater levels in some places, especially in the limestone and more responsive chalk aquifers. This has been the most serious aspect of the drought.

But it will take more time and more rain to undo the effects of two years of exceptionally dry weather on groundwater stores. "We would not be expecting to see hosepipe bans lifted yet," an agency spokeswoman said.

Forecasts show unseasonably cold and cloudy weather over much of Britain for the next few days, with some rain but no specific predictions of widespread downpours.

The hosepipe bans affecting millions of people were brought in by seven water companies at the start of April – just before the heavens opened. In a spring of topsy-turvy weather, while this was the wettest April on record, it followed the third driest March on record. And despite the recent downpours, most of England south of a diagonal line from Yorkshire to the River Severn remains officially in drought.

The April deluge has had other effects. Hundreds of nests of some of Britain's most threatened bird species were destroyed in the recent floods, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said yesterday.

Several of the RSPB's nature reserves have suffered severe flooding, including the Ouse Washes in East Anglia, home to the largest concentration of nesting wading birds in lowland England. The reserve is now under six feet of water and the nests and breeding attempts of an estimated 600 wading birds have been washed away.

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