Drought will be declared in wide swathes England after a meeting of experts, the Guardian learned.

The prolonged dry conditionswhen parts of the country did not receive significant rainfall all summer, prompted the National Drought Panel to declare an official drought, according to leaked documents from a Friday meeting seen by the Guardian.

The Environment Agency will deal with drought in eight of the 14 areas: Devon and Cornwall, Solent and South Downs, Kent and South London, Hertfordshire and North London, East Anglia, Thames, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire and the East Midlands.

The leaked documents show they expect two more areas to be dry later in August. These are Yorkshire and the West Midlands.

The group met earlier this summer to discuss the lack of rainfall and decided to move the country into “prolonged dry weather status”, the first of four extreme stages of dry weather and a step closer to drought. Now the country has entered the second stage.

This means water rationing can happen across the country, with fewer barriers to water companies wanting to ban customers from using hoses and washing cars with tap water. At this stage, stricter measures may also be introduced, including a ban on the use of sprinklers to wash buildings, vehicles and windows.

Participants of the meeting were shown the appalling statistics of food security in England. Half the potato crop is expected to die because it cannot be irrigated, and even drought-tolerant crops such as corn have failed.

The group was told that “irrigation options are shrinking as reservoirs rapidly deplete”, and losses of between 10% and 50% are expected for crops including carrots, onions, sugar beets, apples and hops. The country’s milk production is also declining due to a lack of food for cows, and wildfires are putting large areas of farmland at risk.

Parched fields and meadows in Finedon, Northamptonshire. Photo: Joe Giddens/Pennsylvania

Farmers are deciding whether to plant next year’s crops, and there are fears many will decide not to, with dire consequences for the 2023 crop.

The group includes representatives from water companies, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency (EA), the National Farmers Union, Natural England, CCW, Ofwat, water of Great Britain and the Drinking Water Inspectorate, as well as the Angling Trust and the Rivers Trust.

While the previous dry summer was offset by a wet autumn, meaning that water supplies were not worst affected, those at the meeting were told that this was unlikely this year, with dry conditions forecast to persist due to a worsening climate.

The EA slides state: “The increased likelihood of warming from August to October is consistent with increased westerly flow from warmer-than-average seas and our warming climate. With a typical northwest (wetter) to southeast (drier) precipitation gradient, there are likely no strong signals for a significant improvement in current drought conditions.”

Catherine Sefton, hydrologist at the UK’s Center for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “In south-east England, continued dry weather means many river flows remain markedly or exceptionally low, and hydrological forecasts show that this will continue throughout the year. next few months.

“Where rivers are supported by groundwater recharge during the winter months, the impact of dry weather is reduced. But continued below-average precipitation in a second winter will likely result in a severe hydrological and environmental drought, further increasing the water supply constraints and fish rescues we are beginning to see across the Southeast.”

The last time a drought was declared in 2018, when water companies across the country banned hoses. Although research has yet to be done to determine whether this year’s drought was caused by climate change, the Met Office found that dry conditions and extreme heat in 2018 were 30 times more likely due to climate change.

Scotland and Wales have similar drought response teams, which are expected to meet this summer after drier than normal conditions.

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