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UK could face droughts next spring after summer heatwave, experts warn

Water levels in reservoirs around Manchester, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent are very low

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Sunday 23 September 2018 14:21 BST
Why is it so hot in the UK and around the world?

Water companies, government bodies and environmental groups have warned that the extreme weather this summer could lead to a drought in spring next year.

Heatwaves across the country saw hosepipe bans come into force and put pressure on farmers, whose harvests were affected by the dry conditions.

The National Drought Group (NDG), which is made up of various water and environment organisations, gathered on Thursday to discuss how to maintain supplies in the event of a 2019 drought.

Despite recent rainfall, they warned that parts of the north of England are under particular strain as reservoirs around Manchester, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent are very low.

The current environmental situation is still fragile, and higher-than-average rainfall throughout autumn and winter will be necessary to avert spring water shortages.

If rainfall is below average, water restrictions for the British public will be likely in early 2019.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, chaired the NDG meeting and said that early action and planning would be necessary to avert this situation.

“Ensuring sufficient water for the public, the economy and the environment is one of biggest challenges we face as a country,” he said.

“The Environment Agency will continue to work actively with the water companies and other water users to seek to ensure that.”

Dry conditions over the summer were linked to devastating fires around Oldham and Bolton, and caused disruption to British wildlife including hedgehogs, birds and frogs.

The Environment Agency responded to more than 300 dry-weather related incidents over the past few months, more than three times the usual number for the summer.

Farmers accused the government of taking “little action” after environment secretary Michael Gove pledged to help them recover from the challenging summer conditions.

Recent efforts to save water combined with spells of rain have helped the sector recover, but for some crops and species the full effects of the summer are yet to be seen.

The heatwave has revealed hidden archaeological sites across Britain's countryside

Water companies say they are implementing measures such as reducing leaks and identifying new water sources to prepare for next year.

“But this is not just a matter for the organisations at National Drought Group,” said Sir James.

“We all use water, and everyone has a role to play in ensuring we continue to have reliable access to it, so we encourage everyone to please use water wisely.”

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