UK: Restrictions on water amid mounting fears of drought

In the UK, water restrictions are already being imposed on farmers amid mounting concerns over a lack of significant rain and low river flows. North Yorkshire potato grower Andrew Wilson said his first irrigation licence restriction arrived on 13 April.

Cumulative rainfall totals for April range from about 18% of the monthly long-term average in East Anglia to 68% in south-west England. River flows range from “below normal” to “exceptionally low” across much of eastern England, from Essex to Yorkshire.

River flows were very close to threshold, added Mr Wilson, who said he expected a “no abstraction” notice to follow within days. So-called hands-off flow conditions – which stop or limit abstraction in streams and rivers when water flows are low – are already active in three North Yorkshire catchment areas: the Swale, Seven and Cod Beck at Thirsk.

Challenging year
In East Anglia, NFU national water specialist Paul Hammett said restrictions on groundwater abstraction were unlikely. But he warned: “We are definitely not panicking, but it is an early irrigation season and we are bracing ourselves for another challenging year.” Many reservoirs were full, but time was running out to fill the remainder, added Hammett.

Melvyn Kay, of the UK Irrigation Association, said some areas had received above-average rainfall, but others had received much less: “It’s worrying – some parts of the country have not had much rain at all so there will be limits on how much water people can abstract.”

There is little suggestion of any significant rain soon. Rising pressure and south-easterly winds, bringing warmer air from mainland Europe, are expected to push temperatures above 20C for Easter weekend – with the Met Office forecasting dry and sunny weather across the UK. quoted Met Office chief meteorologist Steve Willington as saying: “With temperatures usually around 10-13C at this time of year, it’s certainly going to be significantly warmer than average – and quite a contrast to the colder weather we have seen so far this month.”

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