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Drought continues in U.K., threatening crops, reserves, industries

Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2012

With its southeast already in the grip of a nearly two-year-long drought, the United Kingdom is nervously weighing the consequences of a rainless spring.

Officials say that, if the country does not receive significant rainfall in the next few weeks, its nature reserves, agriculture and other related industries could be severely affected.

After two winters of low rainfall, public and private water stores are already stressed. That stress could increase as the country moves into the summer, as higher temperatures lead to more evaporation and higher water demand from crops.

"Last year was the longest irrigation season in my memory -- we had to irrigate from April onwards and did not finish until October," said Richard Solari, a farmer in east Shropshire. Although he has reserves, Solari still has to pump water from a local river to offset the dry conditions.

Solari and other farmers worry that they will not be able to sell their potatoes for anything but livestock feed if rain does not restore a more normal balance of soil moisture soon.

The nation's breweries, which historically have been among the biggest consumers of water, are taking steps to reduce their consumption. However, they could be affected further by rising prices for hops and barley if those crops are reduced by the ongoing drought.

Meanwhile, British conservationists are worried about the effects the drought will have on the country's wildlife refuges. If rain doesn't come by May, they fear, it will mean fewer insects -- and, subsequently, less food for birds and fish.

"By June the water levels will have dropped further and the wet areas will have started to dry out," said Robert Coleman, senior manager at the Titchwell Marsh nature reserve. "By then the water voles will find it hard to get 'round the ditches, and the moths and insects will be suffering. That will impact on the fish that feed on them and the birds, like the bitterns, which eat the fish" (Vidal/Harvey,  London Guardian, March 12). -- NM

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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