Wildlife and Ag Disaster Looms as UK Drought Deepens

April 16, 2012


 As the US has seen one of the strangest springs ever, the UK sinks into one of the driest seasons in memory.  The continuing whipsaw from one extreme to  another will be the subject of my two new videos, to be released later today.


Though most of the South and East is in desperate need of rain, with hosepipe bans in place, if the deluge comes at once it could be more of a danger than a blessing.

April showers are expected to continue over the next few weeks. The real risk is at the end of summer when the ground is likely to be baked hard.

At the end of the last major water shortage in 1976, the minister of drought, Denis Howell, became minister of floods within days of his appointment as the heavens opened. The floods in the summer of 2007 also came after two years of dry weather made the ground hard. At the moment most of the east of the country, from the Humber to Kent, is in drought.

Four months of sustained rainfall will be required to refill reservoirs and rivers that are lower than they were in 1976.


Most of England is now in drought and the dry spell could last beyond Christmas, the Environment Agency will announce on Monday, as government officials started planning for a long-term water shortage that could be disastrous for wildlife, the landscape and farming.

Large swaths of the Midlands and the south-west have entered officialdrought status, meaning water companies in those areas can apply to place restrictions on water use for households and businesses. This could mean an extension of the hosepipe bans in the south of England.

The drought now extends from Cornwall to Kent, East Anglia to Shropshire and Herefordshire, and as far north as Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and North Yorkshire. Even parts of Wales – normally one of the wettest parts of the UK – are reporting ill-effects from the dry spell. The smattering of rain in many areas over Easter gave little respite from low river flows and falling groundwater levels, with only England’s northernmost counties still getting enough wet weather.

While rain over the summer and autumn could alleviate the water shortages, officials are planning for the third dry winter in a row, which could devastate wildlife and farming. Only a very wet autumn and winter could prevent the drought stretching into next year. Soils are so dry that they will need a prolonged heavy soaking to recover, while levels at reservoir across much of England are so low they will take time to replenish.

Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, warned the outlook was bleak. “A longer term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely, and we are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought,” he said. “While we’ve had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away and we would urge everyone – right across the country – to use water wisely now, which will help prevent more serious impacts next year.”


11 Responses to “Wildlife and Ag Disaster Looms as UK Drought Deepens”

  1. The UK’s Guardian newspaper is reporting a potential disaster in England due the the drought:


    Nigel Lawson of the GWPF really has a lot to answer for considering his role in the privatisation of the water industry in Britain. Water companies now are not interested in building resilience against droughts as their No.1 priority is profit. A hose pipe ban only serves to incrase their profits now as hardly anyone in Britain has a water meter, so saved water remains in their reservoirs.

    Things will start to turn extremely nasty when taps run dry and not just due to the stench of the unwashed. When people notice rich politicians benefiting from digging their own bore holes to water their lawns we can expect riots from the thirsty masses.

    One last note: Las Vegas is now competing with farmers for water. I really don’t want to see the results of that gamble.

  2. Digging boreholes doesn’t actually help. The problem is that rainfall in the SE of England has been low and is getting lower at the important times of the year, especially winter. The UK has built in resillience if we can organize ourselves to utilize it. While there has been a decrease in the South East, the North West of Scotland is getting wetter. There is also the elephant in the room of overpopulation. The problem of low rainfall is exacerbated by the fact that the South East is the most densely populated part of the country. The result of putting all of our eggs into one basket – London. There are more people in the greater London area than the whole of Scotland.

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  4. Time to start saving some rain for future use – check out your rain saving potential by drawing a box over your roof via Google high res imagery here: http://www.save-the-rain.com

  5. James Pavitt Says:

    The problem here in the UK is that we are beginning to see more record-breaking extremes – from the floods of 2007 to the bitter winter of 2010 to drought in 2012.

    Extremes are bad for crops – which are baked, frozen or drowned – so we are unlikely to die of thirst because of this drought, much more likely we’ll see the price of food go up even more than it has already. I see this as being the most obvious pattern by which climate change will become apparent here.

  6. fredeliot Says:

    I’m curious as to what steps have been take to reduce water usage, like low flow toilets and showers.

  7. James Pavitt Says:

    Hi Fredliot,

    We have very little incentive in the UK for low water usage as we pay ‘rates’ rather than have metered water. Some people do opt for metering – and it is becoming increasingly common – but it is not compulsory.

    When a drought is announced there are hose-pipe bans. You can be fined for using a hose-pipe in the garden. Most people who have gardens water them in other ways – using ‘grey’ water after they have had a bath or washing-up water. The main aim of a hose-pipe ban is to stop car washing.

    When water is restricted in this way the main people to suffer are the farmers. Until recently their response was to dig bore-holes, but the water table has fallen so low in many areas that for many it is no longer worth-while financially.

    The water companies are responsible for leaks. It is a constant battle to stay on top of this as much of the infrastructure in the UK is very old indeed. The water companies do their best to reduce demand – hippo bags etc, low flow taps and there are building regulations for new buildings to increase water efficiency, but I believe that until water is metered then most people will be happy to waste it.

  8. Martin Lack Says:

    Thanks for highlighting the UK situation.

    I can remember the drought of 1976 and, I really do hope this drouhgt will wake people from their sceptic-induced slumber (thanks to the paralysis induced by the generally sceptic-controlled media) to realise that the problem is not leaking water pipes (i.e. blame-shifting) it is, as pedantry says, the fact that we spend an awful lot of time treating water to make it drinkable and then don’t drink it… Rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling for all non-potable water use should be a mandatory requirement for all new buildings; and people living in other buildings should be given incentives to invest in such modifications.

    If the UK is soon to be a place where tobacco companies are unwelcome (a brave statement from a Health Minister Andrew Landsley)… How long will it be until fossil fuel burning and wasting water also become socially unacceptable and are acknowledged by government as being uneconomic?

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