1. ITV Report

Drought threatens wildlife

Thousands of households across the Meridian region will be hit by a hosepipe ban within weeks as the drought continues. But in many ways we’re the lucky ones – getting our water on tap.

Wildlife depends on rivers and rain, so if the exceptionally dry weather continues it could spell disaster for our flora and fauna.

The Centre for Hydrology and Ecology says the average rainfall so far this winter has been the lowest since 1972. Reservoirs like Ardingly in Sussex and Bewl Water in Kent are less than half full, and some of our rivers and streams have all but dried up.

Bewl Water in Kent should be full at this time of the year Credit: Press Association

Wetland sites and the species they support could be hit hard, with the drought threatening their survival into the summer if rain doesn’t fall in the next few weeks.

Paul Spiers, warden at the RSPB Pulborough Brooks nature reserve in West Sussex said:

“Our natural spring lines and surface water runoff, have really slowed down. This is a worrying situation for this time of the year”.

“At the moment our water levels are down on average winter conditions, and we are taking steps to hang on to all the water we can on the reserve. If low rainfall persists, spring conditions for breeding waders on the reserve will be far from ideal.”

Highland Cattle enjoy marshy areas at Pulborough Brooks, but for how much longer? Credit: Malcolm Shaw

The offspring of birds that breed on wet meadows such as lapwings and redshanks must find their own food as soon as they hatch. Invertebrates get harder to find as fields dry out and the young are unable to fly to other sources of food until they fledge.

Food will be hard for birds to find under drought conditions. The abundance of insects is reduced as many need open water, or damp conditions, to breed.

Songbirds, even ones like sparrows that are mainly seed-eaters as adults, rely on invertebrates to feed their young. If adult birds have to travel greater distances to find food and water, feeding rates diminish and the chicks can suffer from malnutrition, dehydration or exposure.

House martins and swallows, those iconic birds of summer, which use mud to build their nests will struggle to finding building material, reducing their nesting success.

Birds like Swallows need a plentiful supply of mud to build their nests Credit: Mogens Engelund

And it’s not just birds that are at risk – so are many other species like amphibians, as Professor Trevor Beebee of Sussex University explains.