Heatwave: 13 rivers in England at lowest level ever recorded as nation suffers from crippling drought

Most of England’s rivers classed as ‘notably low’ after driest July in nearly 90 years

Jane Dalton
Friday 12 August 2022 21:32 BST
<p>Rivers such as the Mole in Surrey are drying out, leaving wildlife struggling to survive </p>

Rivers such as the Mole in Surrey are drying out, leaving wildlife struggling to survive

Thirteen rivers in England are at their lowest ever recorded levels, officials say, as the nation suffers from its driest July in nearly 90 years.

As authorities declared a drought across swathes of England, a report by the Environment Agency found that monthly mean river flows last month fell at most of the sites it monitors compared with June.

The state of Britain’s waterways has increasingly alarmed environmentalists, with water companies extracting water from chalk streams and discharging sewage into rivers.

Most of England’s rivers were classed as notably low for July, and more than a quarter were classed as exceptionally low for the time of year.

Reservoir stocks also fell last month at all reservoirs the Environment Agency reports on.

Sheep shelter in the shade underneath an oak tree in another scorching day at the Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve

Drought destroys river ecosystems by killing off species such as fish, plants and other organisms, making high levels of pollution even more concentrated, while heatwaves reduce oxygen levels, causing algal blooms.

“With the exception of the River Lune in northwest England, which remains classed as normal, and the Great Stour, which is classed as exceptionally low, all other regional index site monthly mean flows were classed as below normal or notably low for the time of year,” the report says.

Members of the public stand on what was an ancient packhorse bridge exposed by low water levels at Baitings Reservoir in Yorkshire as record high temperatures are seen in the UK, Ripponden, England

Last month was the driest July across England since 1935, with monthly rainfall totals in most catchments classed as exceptionally low for the time of year, the agency said.

Farmers have been sounding the alarm over their capacity to produce crops and feed livestock because of the increasingly dry ground after five consecutive months of below-average rainfall in England.

Soil was much drier than would typically be expected for the time of year, the report noted.

The Environment Agency has been rescuing fish from low rivers in Shropshire, Dorset and Derbyshire.

The water level at Beacons Reservoir lies low during the current heat wave in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

Green Party peer Natalie Bennett said that, with the state of nature “already parlous, among the worst in the world”, the effect of shrinking rivers on biodiversity would be serious.

There are fears that some rivers, such as the River Ver in Hertfordshire, could dry up permanently and disappear.

Concern over the drought has become so heightened that one supermarket has rationed the number of water bottles customers may buy.

This week, experts said there was no running water or sign of marine life within almost 10 miles of the usual source of the River Thames, and the temporary shift could become permanent.

And the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology warned Britain’s rivers would run low until November, and "exceptionally so" in central and southern England.

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