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Tractor tracks running through drought affected field
Photograph: Shutterstock

The UK could be facing the ‘worst drought since 1976’ in August

A nationwide hosepipe ban could be introduced and domestic water use limited

Written by
Ellie Muir
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Have you visited a park recently and noticed how the once-lush grass has become yellow or even brown? Well, this is the first sign that a rather serious drought could on the way in August, according the Environment Agency.

After temperatures passed 40C during the record-breaking heatwave last week, farmers had to ramp up irrigation for crops after the sun quite literally baked the soil. Now, if the hot and dry weather persists over the coming weeks, swathes of the UK could face crop failures and bad harvest, along with hosepipe bans and curbs on domestic water use.

A drought would be jointly declared by the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Farmers could be banned from watering their crops during August and September, putting the harvest of root vegetables and potatoes under particular threat. 

The last time a drought was declared was in 2018. But it was in 1976 that the country faced a drought so severe that standpipes were deployed to provide water to homes. There were ten weeks of blazing 30C-plus temperatures that saw widespread drought, a hosepipe ban and even the pausing of the murder trial of the notorious ‘Black Panther’, after a woman suffering from heat exhaustion collapsed.

A spokesman for industry association Water UK said: ‘The ongoing dry, warm weather in much of the country follows the driest winter and spring since the 1970s, leading to reduced river flows that need to be protected.’

‘Water companies are continuing to see extremely high demand and are urging everyone to carefully consider the amount of water they are using at this time,’ the spokesperson told Mail Online.

Today, the National Drought Group, which is made up of government departments and other official bodies, will meet to create a plan of action to tackle to extreme dry conditions across the UK. Households should expect to be asked to reduce non-essential water consumption before any hosepipe ban comes in (a decision which would be made by the water companies themselves).

So, how will we know if the drought will happen or not? If this unusually (and persistently) hot weather continues, it’s looking very likely, and farmers will have a rough harvest ahead. And it’s up to the Environment Agency to make the call. Until then, let’s hope some rainfall comes, pronto. 

ICYMI: what will the British weather be like in 2050? We asked an expert.

Plus: here’s everything you need to know about this week’s UK rail strikes.

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