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Last modified: 16 April 2012

Male lapwing in breeding habitat

Image: Andy Hay

Conservationists have welcomed the Environment Agency’s call for people across the West Country to use water wisely in the face of drought.

 One of the worst droughts in living memory is gripping southern England and RSPB experts are predicting breeding failures for some our most threatened wetland birds as well as the increased threat of fire facing wildlife rich heathlands.

Tony Whitehead speaking for the RSPB in the south west said “Wise use of water is an essential part of dealing with a crisis which could be devastating for wildlife in our countryside.

“Reducing demand now will help keep more water in the environment, keeping rivers flowing for longer and protecting their precious wildlife.

“Every indicator, whether river flow or groundwater level, is telling us that this is a very serious drought that could be worse than the infamous 1976 event. It is really important for us all to reduce the water we use in our homes and gardens now to hopefully avoid further environmental damage and restrictions in use later in the year.

“This is a serious and prolonged drought and if it continues will start to take its toll on RSPB wetland nature reserves in the region with dry conditions threatening to impact this spring’s breeding season in places such as the Somerset Levels and around the Exe Estuary. These are some of the last remaining homes in our countryside for breeding water birds such as snipe, redshank and lapwing.”

In the wider countryside, prospects are bleak for wildlife that needs moist soil conditions and healthy rivers. It is hoped however that pioneering work to restore and maintain important mires on Exmoor and Dartmoor led by Dartmoor national Park Authority and South West Water will enable these important habitats to be resilient to the worst excesses of drought. 

Conservationists are also concerned that heathland areas, such as in Dorset, East Devon and Cornwall,  home to threatened species like the nightjar and Dartford warbler, are also tinder-dry and exceptionally vulnerable to the risk of fire.  The public is being urged to take extra care while visiting the countryside over the coming months.

There are simple things that everyone can do to reduce the water they use in their home and garden, helping to protect rivers and wetlands:

Take short showers rather than baths

Use water butts and used water from washing up bowls and basins to water gardens and house plants

Only use washing machines and dishwashers when you have a full load

Please try not use hose-pipes or sprinklers in the garden or to clean your car

Contact your water company for water efficient shower heads and shower timers.

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