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Hosepipe bans and crop failures: how drought may hit England

National Drought Group considering tough restrictions to deal with hot, dry weather

England is heading for a drought next month if the hot and dry weather continues, officials have warned. 

Most of the country is experiencing a “prolonged dry weather” period – defined by ITV News as “the step before drought is declared”. The conditions are “raising the spectre” of restrictions on household water usage, such as hosepipe bans. 

The National Drought Group (NDG)  is meeting today to discuss potential measures after last week’s heatwave “baked the soil” in England, said The Guardian’s environment reporter Helena Horton. The restrictions could include banning farmers from “watering their crops in the crucial period of August and September”, Horton reported.

Water quality and quantity

The NDG is made up of government officials and representatives from water companies and bodies including the National Farmers’ Union. The group last met in March and its next meeting “had been supposed to take place in October to plan for 2023”, said The Guardian’s Horton.

But the meeting has been brought forward as low river flows impact “the quality and quantity of water” in England, said ITV News. Reservoirs and groundwater levels are also low “following months of below-average rainfall”. 

A water scarcity risk alert has been issued in Scotland too, but as the neighbouring country is not represented by the National Drought Group, any restrictions will be decided on a local level. 

Hosepipe bans and crop restrictions 

If a drought plan is implemented in England by the government, households are likely to be asked to “cut down on non-essential water consumption”, said The Telegraph’s environment editor Emma Gatten. A hosepipe ban may be introduced, although the decision will be “left to individual water companies”.

Thames Water has already said that restrictions are likely unless rainfall increases in the coming months. 

Farmers may also face restrictions on crop irrigation. This could have a significant impact on crop production, “with root vegetables such as potatoes under particular threat”, said The Guardian’s Horton. A lack of water risks widespread crop failures, and dry soil may also hinder harvesting.

A drought was last declared in England in 2018, and before that, in 2011. But “the extremely dry conditions and hot weather mean the government is preparing for a worse outcome this year”, Horton reported.

According to an analysis by The Times of Met Office data, the first six months of this year were the driest since 1976. 

Wildfire warnings 

The public has been warned “not to be complacent about the threat of wildfires”, The Times reported, after blazes hit parts of England as temperatures soared over 40C last week. 

East Anglia experienced “ferocious fires” that “tore through homes, wildlife havens and acres of arable land”, said the Eastern Daily Press. And with water still in short supply, farmers have been warned that the fire risk remains. “Climate change remains a fundamental and urgent challenge for the industry,” the newspaper added.

Grass growth ‘hampered’

In a further blow to farmers, lack of rainfall has “hampered grass growth, which could hit feed supplies for the winter”, said the National Farmers’ Union’s deputy president, Tom Bradshaw. This could add “additional costs to livestock farming businesses at a time when costs are continuing to increase significantly”, he warned.

And the long-term outlook is equally worrying.

The Met Office is predicting that the UK will face “warmer and wetter winters and hotter, drier summers in the coming years”, amid rising global temperatures. Extreme weather events such as heavy floods and heatwaves are also expected to occur more frequently.

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