THE DRIEST WEEKS FOR PARTS OF ENGLAND since 1935 have left nature under pressure with wildfires devastating landscapes, habitats left parched, and wildlife endangered by concentrated levels of pollutants in low-flowing rivers.
The Wildlife Trusts are extremely concerned about the impacts on natural areas – in particular, on rivers, wetlands, and streams.
Ali Morse, water policy manager for The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Nature is really struggling with extreme weather, and we need to act now to ensure our parched landscapes and rivers – the natural environment that provides us with food and water – are more resilient in the future. It is critical to create more space for nature to keep land from drying out and give support to landowners for projects, such as beaver releases, that help ecosystems to recover.
“Water bosses should unite and impose a country-wide hosepipe ban to reduce non-essential use and avoid the worst impacts of drought on rivers and wildlife, rather than relying on more damaging measures later. Water companies must also invest in water storage infrastructure, tackle leaks, and improve water efficiency – it’s a scandal that so much water is wasted every day. Government must ensure that new homes are water-efficient and bring in universal water metering to help all customers limit their water use.”
The Trusts highlight the vast quantities of water used and leaked in England:
- Every day in England, 14,000,000,000 (fourteen billion) litres of water are taken from the environment and put into supply by water companies. That is equivalent to taking all the water that flows past Teddington on the River Thames each day, three times over. Around a fifth is used to supply non-household premises (businesses, schools, industry) and the remainder is used to supply domestic customers.
- Almost 2,400 million litres of the water abstracted (extracted for people to use) is lost to leakage every day.
The Wildlife Trusts believe more action is needed to tackle leaks, and that water companies should help businesses and householders to waste less. Water companies should also improve capacity to store water when it is plentiful so that less is extracted from rivers – particularly in times of drought when nature needs it most.
The Wildlife Trusts have reported on the impacts of drought, wildfires and extreme temperatures on nature reserves and wildlife across the UK. They include:
- Peatlands in some areas are exceptionally dry, which is bad for nature and climate as dry peat is much more prone to wildfire and emits more carbon when degraded.
- Sphagnum moss that covers peat is turning white instead of green in many places. Lots of birds, mammals and insects rely on the mosses being wet.
- Wildfires have broken out in recent weeks at nature reserves across the UK. They include a 650-hectare fire at Pirbright Ranges in Surrey, several hectares of damage at Gutteridge Woods, London, and a fire at Toby’s Hill in Lincolnshire which damaged valuable sand dunes.
- Ponds, scrapes, and streams are drying up, forcing dragonflies and other insects into smaller bodies of water, which can affect their reproductive potential for next year.
- Chalk streams are very low across Hertfordshire and other parts of southern England. These internationally important habitats support a wide variety of species including otters, water voles and kingfishers.
- Extended periods of low rainfall are expected to affect the availability of food for wildlife later in the year, with many plants having matured and fruited early.
- Mammals are struggling for food – for example badgers are unable to reach earthworms, one of their staple foods, which have gone deeper in the earth to find moisture.
- Soil invertebrates and detritivores that recycle organic matter are being driven deeper into the soil, which can contribute to soil erosion in exposed places.
The Wildlife Trusts want to see increased effort from governments, business, and other landowners on climate change adaptation, including greater investment in nature-based solutions and a specific focus on resilience.
Kathryn Brown, director of climate change and evidence at The Wildlife Trusts, says: “It is vital that Government prevents the irreversible degradation of nature and consequences for food and water security by protecting at least 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030.
“Our recent report, Changing Nature, concluded that an enormous effort is needed to create more space for nature everywhere to enable natural ecosystems to function properly, create habitats for wildlife, and build diversity and flexibility for the future.”