Environment Agency report explains decision to declare drought in Fenland

A REPORT by Stuart Sampson, national drought co-ordinator, explains the Environment Agency’s decision to declare a state of drought in East Anglia.

Weather

June started dry and hot and temperatures reached 27C on Saturday June 4. The following day saw a band of cooler, wet weather move across England and Wales and this week there has been a combination of sunshine and showers, with the temperature dropping to around 15C.

Mr Sampson said: “The heavy thundery showers meant south east England received 30 per cent of its average monthly rainfall in just one week. However these showers have been localised and not everywhere has benefited from this rain.

“Wales, south west and eastern England all received around 11-14 per cent of their average rainfall for June. Central and northern England have received between four and six per cent of their monthly rainfall total so far.


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“The current unsettled weather is set to continue through the weekend, with sunshine and showers accompanied by cooler temperatures. We may experience some windy conditions, especially in northern England at the start of the week.

“Towards the end of next week, south east and eastern England may return to drier, warmer conditions with a light breeze.”

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Rivers and groundwater

The recent rainfall has had a limited impact on river flows. The majority of rivers across south west, central and eastern England have below average river flows.

Groundwater levels are now in decline, as we would normally expect for the time of year. However due to the early end of the recharge season, groundwater levels are below normal in parts of eastern, south west and central England and in parts of Wales.

Mr Sampson added: “In Lincolnshire some groundwater levels are now exceptionally low for the time of year. We would not usually expect groundwater levels to increase during the summer.”

Environmental impact

The cooler weather has helped to lessen impacts on the environment this week. However the heavy showers can cause problems with soil erosion and by flushing pollutants into streams and rivers. Rivers still have low flows and are not able to dilute pollutants as readily.

Mr Sampson said: “The Environment Agency is closely monitoring rivers so we can respond quickly to pollution incidents or wildlife stranded by the low flows in some rivers.”

Agriculture

Rainfall over the past week has been welcomed by farmers. However heavy downpours can cause damage to crops and the surge in water can erode soil. If this soil is then washed into rivers it can cause further environmental damage.

There are increasing problems facing farmers in parts of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, parts of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire and western Norfolk as drought takes hold.

Mr Sampson said: “We have asked nearly 100 farmers across this area to comply with conditions stated on their abstraction licences and to stop abstracting water.

“In Suffolk we have pre-warned around 200 farmers that we may need to introduce formal Section 571 (under Water Resources Act 1991) restrictions by the end of June.

“We continue to work closely with farmers to keep them up to date with the situation. Together with farmers and other abstractors, we are working to find ways to make existing water resources go further.”

Outlook

Continued dry weather will add further pressure on water resources and drought conditions may spread into central England and further east.

Additional formal restrictions on farmers who spray irrigate towards the end of June may be necessary.

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