The effects of the drought on freshwater life (and other drought stories)

MORE DROUGHT STUFF THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT: The European Drought Centre, including this rather pretty updated map of how dry soils are all over Europe: for once, GB seems to be leading Europe.

UPDATE: Environment Agency current water status report: basically, calm down chaps (4 May 2011).

UPDATE: Leicestershire strawberry farmer’s weather fears (hmmm…this is getting silly).

UPDATE: Cameron to discuss farmer drought fears.

UPDATE: Worcestershire wetlands flooded after dry spell. Hope they checked the quality of the reservoir water first – I’d think twice about putting such potentially polluted water in my nature reserve.

UPDATE: Those with an appetite for historical detail might like to read: The 1975-76 Drought – a contemporary and retrospective review, recently published by CEH.

The Fowl's Pill in Oxfordshire is one of the country's best ponds: its wonderful wildlife depends on the combination of drying out in summer and outstandingly clean water. This is how it looked in July 2010.

With an unusually warm spring, and the weather still dry, I’ll be rounding-up the effects of the developing drought on freshwater life.

The prevailing view is that it’s automatically going to be bad news – but it’s nothing like as simple as this, not least because some of our most important watery wildlife sites are places that dry out regularly, and maybe half of all freshwater plants and animals tolerate or actually require drought.

Because droughts are perfectly natural events, and even climate warming looks to be having winners and losers, there’s a complicated story to unravel.

So far we have stories on:

– Fairy Shrimps, which are temporary pond specialists, having a topsy-turvy, but apparently successful, year. There’ll be more about this in the next few days in the Pond Conservation spring newsletter.

– Dragonflies being especially early in Oxfordshire this year and also in Northamptonshire as reported by Mark Tyrell on the BDS site reports where he said “10 species recorded [as adults] in April in the County, a new record.”

– Exceptionally early spawning of Sea Lamprey in the R. Teifi in Wales, at the start of May. Tristan Hatton-Ellis of the Countryside Council for Wales comments:

Sea lampreys generally spawn in summer, so spawning this early is likely [to be] a response to high water temperatures caused by low flows and warm weather. Other sightings would be welcome: please send them to your local records centre as well so we get a better picture of the distribution of this species, which we think is under-recorded in Wales.”

See pictures here: taken by Colin Chapman of the Teifi Rivers Trust.

– An exceptional display of Water-violets at a key Oxfordshire site (pictures coming later today).

– Shallow garden ponds needing a regular top up to get the tadpoles through to metamorphosis. My Old Pond has had one major top up so far: luckily I’ve got about 4 water butts full still to get me through until June time, even if it never rains again!

– April hottest in recent history: on the Beeb website here.

And the Daily Mail has been keeping close watch on some of the more eye-catching events as the ‘Wettest place in Britain has suddenly become the driest after no rainfall for a month‘ providing a neat picture of a short length of the River Derwent in the Lake District that has dried out.

They also couldn’t resist pictures of the ‘official’ source of the Thames having dried up – although there’s nothing really surprising about this as the headwaters of all rivers move up and down depending on the weather.

And there are low flows in quite a few rivers now: the latest data from the Environment Agency can be seen here:

And for a global perspective today:

All this prompts the inevitable call for a water grid:

Do let me know of any more interesting stories.

And if that doesn’t make it rain, nothing will.


April 22 2011: Thames Water testing drought busting desalination plant – no hosepipe bans here, please!


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