Drought could be declared today in 'quite a few regions', Sky News understands

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Droughts could be declared in "quite a few regions" of the country today, a source from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has told Sky News.

The news contradicts earlier suggestions that a drought would only be declared in the South West.

The drought declaration is not expected to cover the whole country, a source added.

Highs of 32C forecast as trouble looms for farmers - UK weather latest

Local water companies have their own plans for droughts and enact them if needed - which could include hosepipe bans like those already announced by Southern Water and South East Water.

It will mean residents affected can expect to see a series of restrictions on domestic and commercial use of water.

Much of the country is experiencing extreme heat and little rainfall, following England's driest July since 1935, during which the temperature rose above 40C for the first time, and waterways ran below normal levels.

An amber extreme heat warning has also been enforced across much of southern England and parts of eastern Wales.

Originally, it was due to end at 6pm on Sunday, but it has since been extended until Tuesday 16 August.

However, the Met Office has issued a yellow thunderstorm warning for most of the UK on Monday, warning of a "small chance" homes and businesses could become flooded quickly.

Experts have warned of an increased risk of flash flooding as the ground has become extremely dry, meaning it is less able to soak up water.

What is a drought?

There is no single definition for drought - so while it is caused by a period of low rainfall, each is different, with the nature, timing and impacts varying according to location and which sectors are affected such as public water supply, agriculture, the environment or industry.

The Environment Agency's National Drought Group (NDG) gets together and looks at statistics including rainfall, how much water is left in rivers, reservoirs and lakes, as well as temperature forecasts over the coming weeks to decide whether drought conditions have been reached.

No specific targets need to be reached - the NDG just decide whether all these factors together constitute a drought, and they can give an indication of how severe and long-lasting it will be.

The Environment Agency then decides whether to signal a drought or severe drought.

There are four stages of drought:

Prolonged dry weather stage (yellow) - where the possible impacts include a heightened risk of environmental damage such as a risk to wildlife and plants
Drought stage (amber) - stress on public and private water supply sources, reduced agricultural and horticultural crop yields, localised wildfires and long-term habitat and wildlife impacts
Severe drought stage (red) - widespread long-term environmental damage, widespread wildfires, failure of crops or plants and shortage of fodder and drinking water for livestock, failure of public and private water supplies
Recovering drought stage (amber) - which depends on the type and severity of the preceding drought

The two most recent droughts were declared in 2018 and a more severe one in 2011.

Read more:
Hosepipe bans: What are the rules - and what are the exemptions?
What and where is the 'exceptional' fire risk - and how to avoid one

The first heatwave earlier this year and the driest July on record in parts of the country have already seen England's drought level increased to the "prolonged dry weather stage".

This means there is a short-term risk to wildlife, plants and crops, and drought plans are being enacted by water companies.

At the most severe stage, private and public water supplies would be at risk and restrictions would be imposed.

Where have hosepipe bans been imposed?

Southern Water has imposed a hosepipe ban on customers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and temporary restrictions on water use are in place for South East Water customers in Kent and Sussex.

Similar rules announced by Welsh Water for Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire are due to be implemented later this month.

On 26 August, Yorkshire Water customers will be banned from using a hosepipe to water their gardens, clean their vehicles, fill their swimming pools or clean their homes.

However, they will still be permitted to complete those activities with tap water from a bucket or watering can, or using water that is not sourced from taps.

And Thames Water has signalled it will introduce a hosepipe ban in the coming weeks as the hot, parched summer continues to take its toll.

Almost half of EU land is under a drought warning

Nearly all of the UK received below-average rainfall in July, with the exception of the far north of Scotland.

The latest weather forecast has the UK on track for hotter than normal conditions and a heatwave pushing temperatures into the mid-30s in some areas this week, triggering health alerts.

And it is not just the UK that is affected.

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There are fears further dry weather forecasts for many countries across Europe for this month and next will exacerbate the already critical situation and impact on agriculture, energy and water supply.

Almost half of European Union land is currently under a drought warning or in the most severe "alert" status.

Scientists say the likelihood of droughts occurring is becoming higher due to climate change, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human activities.