England’s bread basket dries out

Friday 10th Jun 2011 by theWeather Club

It may be raining outside – but in the east of England an unusually dry spring has left whole swathes of farmland in a state of official drought.

According to figures released today by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), areas of East Anglia are in drought and parts of the Midlands, south-west and south-east in "near drought" conditions following a spring which meteorologists claim has been the driest in 20 years.

The Environment Agency has even been prompted by the shortage to issue advice on how best to reduce water waste – although as yet water companies in the drought-affected areas say there is no threat to public water supplies.

"Water companies are confident that supplies are high enough so that widespread restrictions to the public are unlikely," explained Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman – before going on to point out that "everyone can do their bit to use water more wisely, not only through the summer, but throughout the year."

DEFRA said the department was doing all it could to reduce the impact on agricultural and wildlife, the former of which has suffered severely at the hands of the rainfall shortage. In some parts of the Fens farmers and growers have volunteered to irrigate only at night to reduce evaporation, while those with an eye to the wider community have formed co-operatives to share what little water there is.

Earlier today the president of the National Farmers Union Peter Kendall told BBC's Today programme that there was a need to look at long-term solutions such as having enough reservoirs and "computer-controlled drip feed irrigation" – pointing out that farmers "would much rather say, 'Actually, it's getting low, you can have 30% or 40% of your water'" than have their supplies cut off completely.

Kendall hopes the government will continue to engage in talks with the farmers about their concerns. Indeed, the Environment secretary is set to hold a second drought summit to review the impacts of the continuing dry weather. In the meantime, though, green-fingered southerners can relax: London and the Thames Valley water company Thames Water has reassured its customers that hosepipe bans are unlikely this year.