East Anglia’s continuing lack of rainfall has left river levels low, caused crop concerns for farmers, and sparked longer-term fears for wildlife if the dry spell turns into a summer drought.
A report by the Environment Agency says the East of England saw 16mm of rainfall in April, just 35pc of the long-term average, ensuring the effects of a dry winter extended into the spring.
As a result, river flows at 16 of the agency’s 41 indicator sites across England are rated as “notably low”, including the Ely Ouse monitoring station in Cambridgeshire.
With groundwater supplies also below usual levels, agricultural irrigation has started early in some areas and farmers have reported seeing signs of drought stress in cereal crops, which could have an impact on their yield at harvest time.
However, domestic water providers said the region’s reservoirs are almost full and there is no prospect of a hosepipe ban in the Anglia region, while wildlife groups said there is no environmental concern at the moment – unless the prolonged dry spell continues.
Guy Smith, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said: “The situation is patchy with farmers, particularly in the South and East, reporting as low as 10pc of their expected March and April rainfall. While decent rains in May and June will put many crops back on track, some crops like spring barley have clearly already lost their full potential. Some farmers and growers are looking at the ‘changeable’ forecast for the end of this week hoping it brings much needed rain.
“We are growing increasingly concerned about the fruit and vegetable sector, but reservoirs are full and abstracted water sources are still available, albeit at lower that normal levels.
“The livestock sector has also been hit with the dry weather leading to a shortage of grass, so there will potentially be an impact on silage crops.
“While there are currently no environmental or water supply issues, the NFU is working closely with the Environment Agency, public water supply companies, Defra and The Met Office to assess the situation as this spell of dry weather continues.”
The Met Office’s three-month outlook up to July says above-average precipitation is considered “slightly more probable than below-average” in the coming months, but the NFU says this shows “no strong signals that the precipitation deficit across many parts of the UK is likely to diminish”.
Anglian Water (AW) says its reservoirs are at 94pc capacity and groundwater levels are close to average, so there are “no signs of any water shortage yet”.
A blog posted by AW’s social media manager Nik Shelton says: “While we have had a very dry year so far raising concerns of water shortages in some parts of the country this summer, Anglian Water has good stores across our region and there are no plans for a hosepipe ban this summer.
“This winter and early spring has been much drier than usual, however we plan years in advance and a single dry winter should not give immediate cause for concern.
“Around half of the water in this region comes from groundwater, while the other half comes from reservoirs which have been built for this purpose. Groundwater levels are low because there’s been little rain to filter through to them, but our reservoirs are all at healthy levels.”