Environment Agency urge farmers in the Fens to water by night to beat the drought

FARMERS across the Fens are being told to water their crops by night as the Environment Agency draws up emergency plans to tackle a summer drought.

Ministers, farmers and utility companies are meeting this week to discuss the growing crisis. Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary, has even asked the Environment Agency (EA) to prepare a report on the impacts of the drought.

Farmers who abstract water from rivers and boreholes are licensed by the EA, which limits the amount they can take to irrigate their fields. Stuart Sampson, the EA’s national drought co-ordinator, said the agency had asked 140 licence holders for “voluntary restrictions” to safeguard supplies.

Mr Sampson said: “Farmers are irrigating during the night to reduce water lost to evaporation following agreement between us, farmers and other abstractors,

“Some licence holders across parts of England and Wales have had to stop abstracting due to conditions on their licence which are linked to low river flows.

“Dry weather will continue to increase the pressure on supplies and we would expect to start seeing more environment impacts such as dried-out ponds, fish struggling for oxygen and algal blooms.”

While most of southern England received between 58-64 per cent of its expected average rainfall last month, the East saw just 47 per cent – less than 5mm of rain since February in some areas.

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The EA’s chief drought officer said this week that East Anglia was the driest part of the country in May, however, Anglia Water has said it does not expect to put hosepipe bans in place this summer.

Farmers’ leaders fear a prolonged dry spell will reduce crop yields and push up food prices while soils are said to be the driest they have been for 50 years.