Yorkshire’s driest winter for decades prompts water and fire warnings

A countrywide plea for people to make careful use of tap water has been issued by the Environment Agency, following the driest winter period in 20 years.

The conditions are worst in southern parts of England where they are proving challenging for farmers - with a warning that some crops are suffering from the lack of rainfall - but Yorkshire Water confirmed that a number of watercourses in this region were also at lower levels than they usually are at this time of the year.

John Culley from Otley sits down with his dog Floss on the dried out River Wharfe at Yockenthwaite Bridge, Yockenthwaite near Buckden. Picture by Simon Hulme.

John Culley from Otley sits down with his dog Floss on the dried out River Wharfe at Yockenthwaite Bridge, Yockenthwaite near Buckden. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Environment Agency officials visited the River Wharfe this week after reports of low water levels at Buckden, while visitors to the North York Moors National Park this weekend have been warned to be vigilant because the recent dry weather has led to an increased risk of moorland and forest fires.

The National Park Authority was putting fire risk warning signs up on key sites advising people what they can do to help to reduce the risk. The signs will remain in place until the fire risk passes.

Visitors are being asked to avoid lighting fires and barbecues, and not to discard cigarettes, matches or glass bottles, nor to throw cigarette butts out of car windows.

The UK experienced less than half the average rainfall for April and the period between October and March was the driest since 1995-96.

Paul Carter, political engagement manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “It’s been a relatively dry winter and so some rivers, groundwaters and reservoirs are lower than normal for the time of year.

“We’ll continue to monitor water levels closely over the coming months and together with The Environment Agency, other water companies, businesses and farmers we’ll work together to minimise any potential impacts to people and the environment should the dry weather continue.

“In Yorkshire, as always, we encourage our customers to use water wisely and to take advantage of the free water saving packs available to order on our website.”

The National Farmers’ Union said “rain-fed crops such as cereals are beginning to suffer from low soil moisture”, but that the affected farmers in the south and east were remaining calm about the weather conditions.

A spokesman for Affinity Water, which supplies an average 900 million litres of water daily to customers in parts of southern England, said it is advising people to do their bit to reduce the likelihood of having restrictions placed on them this summer.

He said: “Since July 2016, our region has received just over half of the normal rainfall that we would usually expect. Due to the low rainfall, many rivers across the south east of England have seen flows decrease.

“Our ground water sources have also been affected by the low rainfall, which is where 60 per cent of the water we supply to our customers comes from.”

Southern Water said it did not believe it would need to make Temporary Use Bans, previously known as hosepipe bans, in its water supply areas over the coming months.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said there are no current water supply issues, but added that they are “carefully monitoring the situation and will take action to manage any environmental impacts”.

After a wetter patch towards the middle of this month, dry conditions are likely to return by the end of May, Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge said.

“I can say that in the next few days it does not look like there is going to be anything particularly meaningful in terms of rainfall,” Mr Madge said.

“After some rainfall in the middle of May, it looks likely drier than average conditions will return towards the end of May.”