The Environment Agency tells us that the drought conditions in the Uk are adversely affecting the environment. Dead ducks and fish, toxic algal blooms and rivers being reduced to trickles are all becoming a common sight this summer as the drought takes its toll.
They point out that at more than 100 sites across England and Wales over the past two months, low water and oxygen levels have caused fish to gasp for air, turned ponds green, and stranded several types of insects that live in water, as rivers dry up.
In other examples of the worsening situation, rivers are silting up because of low flows, trees are shedding their leaves earlier than normal, and dry wetlands are causing problems for breeding waders who use the wetlands for food sources.
Dr David King is Director of Water Management at the Environment Agency and he said that after two dry winters and the more recent hot, dry summer weather, the environmental impacts of the drought were becoming more apparent.
“This drought is not only affecting people in the way we use water – we’ve now seen 21 months of below-average rain and the environment is suffering too. We’re seeing ponds and rivers drying up, fish becoming stranded and algal blooms,” he said.
“At first, we couldn’t see the impact of the drought around us, as the real problems were low groundwater levels in the south east. But the continued lack of rainfall, low water levels and recent high temperatures have put pressure on the environment right across England and Wales.
“It’s now clear that the impact of the drought is no longer just contained to the south east of England, where water shortages were impacting on people’s water use. The environmental problems are much more widespread.
“We’re all aware of the seriousness of this drought, especially in the south east where almost 13 million are affected by water restrictions. But if we get a third dry winter in the south east, and the dry conditions continue across the rest of England and Wales, we’re going to see our environment suffer even more.
“It’s our job to make sure that the impacts of water shortages are balanced between the environment and people. The Environment Agency responds immediately to reports of environmental incidents, carrying out fish rescues, increasing oxygen levels in water and monitoring water levels. But sometimes we can all take it for granted that the water that comes out of our taps ultimately comes from somewhere in our environment.
“With our water environment already under pressure, there are no excuses – we can all do our bit to save water.
“If you do see any environmental problems, like dead, dying or distressed fish, please report it to the Environment Agency.” Dr King said.
Just over the last two months the Environment Agency has reported:
- Outbreaks of botulism on the Bear Brook near Aylesbury, west of Oxford, and Hooks Marsh lake in Waltham Abbey, north London, because low flows and oxygen levels enabled the bacteria to flourish. At least 10 ducks died.
- Thousands of dead fish, including carp and salmon. More than 400 fish of mixed species died in the River Idle in Mattersey, west of Sheffield, and around 1,000 small fish were found dead in the Counter Drain in Welney, north of Cambridge.
- More than 20 fish rescues, including about 1,000 wild brown trout from the River Nadder, near Salisbury. The fish were moved further downstream.
- Aerators being installed in some rivers, lakes and ponds to help increase the oxygen and reduce the toxicity of algal blooms. Several sites are being monitored to ensure low water and oxygen levels do not cause more fish deaths.
- Low flows in the Thames, which means sea water is flowing further up the river than normal, causing problems for freshwater wildlife.
- Wetlands, ponds, rivers and lakes drying up, affecting the breeding success of frogs, waders and insects, and some invertebrate species, such as the mayfly, have not been found on chalk streams in the south, their normal breeding ground.
So it becomes more apparent that not only are the drought conditions affecting the whole of the UK, but also that they will become an increasing feature of our lives in the decades to come. Time for some real action on the part of our government and indeed every one of us.