Is Britain headed for drought and will there be a snake ban?

England and Wales have seen the driest start to the year since 1976 – when water rationing was introduced.

Concerns have been raised that Britain could be heading for a drought.

Why have there been drought warnings in 2022?

The National Drought Group moved England to ‘Prolonged Dry Weather’ status – the stage before a drought – at an emergency meeting.

In the first three months of the year, rainfall in England was down 26%, and in Wales it was down 22%.

This meant, even before summer started, that the average river flow was “below normal” or “exceptionally low”.

Map showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

Map showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

In July, temperature records were broken several times, and precipitation is down 76%. Further periods of dry and hot weather have been forecast by the Met Office.

These conditions have been exacerbated by overuse of water. More than 28% of underground water sources are overused, the government says.

What is a drought?

A drought has been declared by the Norwegian Environment Agency, which coordinates the national response with the water companies.

Many people define a drought as a prolonged period without water.

But the Royal Meteorological Society says it’s not always that simple. For example, there may be agricultural droughts where there is not enough water to grow a crop.

Could there be a snake ban?

Individual water companies are allowed to introduce hose bans to reduce water demand.

These may be announced in response to low river levels.

Southern Water is introducing a hose ban on August 5 for customers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

So far no other companies have announced hose bans – but customers in the south of England and the Midlands have been urged to use less water.

The BBC understands some companies are re-examining their advice following the National Drought Group’s announcement.

What is the impact of drought?

The effects of drought can include:

The Farmers’ Association is monitoring the situation closely. Berry farmers have already reported losing some of their crop.

Vegetables such as potatoes – which will be harvested next month – are particularly vulnerable due to their high water content.

The effects can be felt into next year, as farmers postpone planting crops such as canola because the soil is too dry.

The recent record high temperatures and very dry conditions led to several fires, with significant damage to homes and grasslands.

The Environment Agency oversees the management of Britain’s aquatic life, and will move fish to other rivers if water levels fall too low – as it did in Yorkshire in July.

Outside the UK, places such as northern Italy and Portugal declared drought crises earlier this summer and imposed water restrictions.

France, Spain and Portugal have also faced significant forest fires due to the dry conditions.

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

What happened in the droughts of 1976 and 2018?

In 1976 and 2018, the UK experienced severe droughts that lasted for months.

They were caused by a prolonged period of dry weather through the spring and then an unusually hot summer.

In 1976, the Drought Act created emergency powers to shut off water supplies to households and industry.

In 2018, the widespread drought led to crop failure, which increased food prices. Several water restrictions were put in place.

This year there have been similar conditions, with little rainfall and temperatures above average in July.

Conditions in August will be a major factor in whether the UK goes back into drought.

Could we see more droughts in the future?

The National Infrastructure Commission – which advises the government – recently said there could be more water shortages in the future due to population growth and climate change.

It called for changes in water consumption and reductions in water loss.

In the UK, up to three billion liters of water is lost every day – enough to feed 20 million people.

The government’s 25-year environmental plan aims to tackle these problems by investing in existing infrastructure and improving efficiency in homes and businesses.

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