A new national drought group has been formed that aims to produce measures to tackle the effects of the continuing dry weather.
The purpose of the group, chaired by the Environment Agency’s CEO Paul Leinster, is “to create a single, coherent, cross-sector team able to manage coordinated delivery of drought management activities.” The group includes senior executives from the water companies, DEFRA and Natural England.
It plans to meet on a bi-monthly basis and various working groups have been tasked with dealing with specific priorities.
The group was formed following high-level discussions at the Drought Summit in February, chaired by DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman.
Melvyn Kay, executive secretary of the UK Irrigation Authority, is pleased that representatives from agriculture are well represented on the board, including members from the UKIA, the NFU and Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs).
“We are now looking jointly at initiatives that will produce some deliverable policy proposals designed to help in drought situations that can be integrated into the next water bill,” said Mr Kay.
“The two main issues are on-farm storage and the formation of water abstractor groups, both of which are in fact the subject of ongoing research at Cranfield University, funded by DEFRA.”
The UKIA supported this work, in which some members were already actively involved, he added.
Meanwhile, the Environment Agency’s latest drought prospects report showed the dry conditions continued in March for many.
England and Wales respectively received 32% and 81% of its long-term rainfall average for March.
The report warned that a drought for much of the southern half of England was “inevitable” and the scale of the impact would be determined by the amount of rainfall received over the next six weeks.
The agency said the end of the recharge season had now been reached and groundwater levels, which are below normal or lower than normal in all but four agency indicator sites, were not expected to recover during the summer.
As many parts of the UK continue to be gripped by the drought, the number of restrictions on agricultural abstraction has also increased – with 105 in place in East Anglia, 205 in the South East and 77 in the Midlands.
In the South East, in particular, the Environment Agency reported many farmers had been contacting them to request extensions to winter abstraction periods into April. Where possible, the agency said it would use new flexible water abstraction plans to allow abstraction after the 31 March deadline.
Met Office forecaster, Dan Williams, said: “March has been dry and we have not seen significant rainfall for several days across the UK.
“In the short term, the dry weather looks set to continue. After the first few days of April, towards the middle and end of the month, it is likely we will see rainfall closer to average for the time of year.
“But as far as farmers are concerned, it’s not likely to be wetter than average or drier than average.”