Drought declared for all of South West England after driest conditions in nearly 90 years

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All regions of South West England are now officially in drought, with the area suffering from some of the driest conditions in nearly 90 years.

Bristol, Somerset, Dorset, south Gloucestershire and parts of Wiltshire (referred to by the Environment Agency as the Wessex area) all moved to drought status on Tuesday, the government said.

Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly were declared to be in a drought earlier in August.

The public and businesses in Wessex have been advised to "use water wisely as the dry summer impacts the environment".

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The environment agency said that "while the area has had some rainfall over the last two weeks, this has not been sufficient to compensate for the long dry period in recent months".

The status reflects assessments of the region’s rainfall, river flows, groundwater levels, reservoir levels, and the dryness of soils, as well as the impacts these conditions have on the environment.

Reservoirs and rivers have been placed under strain by the recent hot spell and prolonged dry weather (Getty Images)
Reservoirs and rivers have been placed under strain by the recent hot spell and prolonged dry weather (Getty Images)

The Environment Agency also said water companies must increase focus on stopping leaks.

"While there is an important role for people to sustainably manage their usage, government expects water companies to act to reduce leakage and fix leaking pipes as quickly as possible," the agency’s statement said.

The agency said it will also work with companies and individuals who have abstraction licences allowing them to take water from rivers and groundwater boreholes to try to lower demand and reduce the impact on the environment.

Chris Paul, the Environment Agency’s area drought lead, said: "Despite some heavy rain over the past 2 weeks, it has not been enough to refill our rivers and aquifers.

Goats shelter in the shade on the cliffs above Bournemouth beach in Dorset, one of the counties were drought has been declared (PA)
Goats shelter in the shade on the cliffs above Bournemouth beach in Dorset, one of the counties were drought has been declared (PA)

"River levels across our Wessex area are exceptionally low – many showing the lowest flows on record.

"This places incredible strain on local wildlife and this is why we are moving to drought status. We are prioritising our local operations to minimise impacts on the environment."

A recent Environment Agency report found this year has seen the driest July across all of England since 1935, with monthly rainfall totals for the majority of river catchments classed as "exceptionally low" for the time of year.

There have now been five consecutive months of below average rainfall across all geographic regions in England and above average temperatures.

With Wessex now officially in drought, 11 of the 14 Environment Agency areas in England are now in drought status.

There are four classification the agency uses to manage arid conditions across these areas. They are: Prolonged dry weather, Drought, Severe drought and Recovering drought.

Eleven of the Environment Agency’s 14 areas are now officially in drought. They are:

  • Devon & Cornwall/Isles of Scilly

  • Solent and South Downs

  • Thames

  • Hertfordshire and north London

  • Kent and south London

  • East Anglia

  • Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire

  • East Midlands

  • West Midlands

  • Yorkshire

  • Wessex

Areas classed as being in ‘prolonged dry weather’:

  • Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire

  • The North East

  • The only area now at “normal water resource” status is Cumbria and Lancashire

  • A return to “normal water resource” elsewhere will require a return to sustained average or above average rainfall over the coming months, the agency said, with expectations the drought could last well into next year