Dry spell is tough on nature

While the extended warm weather has been good for the region's tourist attractions, the lack of rain has been tough on East Anglia's wildlife and habitats.

Cracked earth and parched banks are a common sight in places like drought-ridden Africa but this photograph is of the pond at Wacton Common, just 11 miles from Norwich.

Where once it was alive with fish and wildlife, the pond has dried up so that only a few small pools remain.

The fishermen have disappeared as has the herd of cattle which used to graze along its green grassy banks.

EDP reader David Brooks, a photographer and media relations specialist, took the pictures last week.

"I often take the dog up there but had not been for a few weeks and when I went back I was so shocked by the change that I took the photographs. We have only lived in the area for seven years and it has never been like this in my time but I spoke to someone who lives nearby and they said the last time it was like this was 1984 - so 25 years ago. They were very specific about that," he said.

"It was always quite an attractive pond: there were ducks and moor hens and occasionally one or two more exotic birds. And it was popular with fishermen. There are just a couple of tiny pools of water left at the moment."

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The Environment Agency is working with the RSPCA to see if anything can be done about the pond's water levels but said Wacton was the exception rather than the rule.

Bob Hillier, the agency's planning manager for water resources for the region, said: "We are picking up isolated examples because of the current dry conditions. There has been a third of the rainfall for September - it is unusual but not exceptional and we are monitoring the situation.

"The environment agency is currently working with the RSPCA to see if there is a way to provide additional water for Wacton."

The last drought in the region was 2005-06 and Mr Hillier said it was not being declared one at the moment.

But environmental experts say while it might look devastating - and clearly it is bad news for some wildlife - other species will revel in the conditions.

Heidi Thompson, ecology manager for Norfolk County Council, said: "It will seem quite disturbing for local people but rare great crested newts, for example, which like ephemeral ponds that do occasionally dry up, will love those conditions, which are quite widespread in the county at the moment."

But the newts might not be able to enjoy themselves for long with weather forecasters predicting rain on the way.

John Law, a forecaster with Weatherquest, which is based at the University of East Anglia, said: "It has been incredibly dry. I spoke to someone between Diss and Thetford who recorded 8.4mm of rain for September whereas the usual is about 50mm. In fact, in Marham in September there has been 14mm whereas the average is 55mm and the same for August where 29mm was recorded.

"As we go into the weekend it is going to be more unsettled and windy but it's still going to take a while for the rainfall we need."

The rain shortage is undoubtedly causing problems for wildlife and farmers but Anglian Water reports that, while some of its reservoirs are less full than normal, there is no cause for panic.

Collette Nicholls, of Anglian Water, said: "We have had two dry months, but in terms of an impact on our water resources it does take much longer than this before it begins to have a major effect on our supplies. Of course we are watching and monitoring and we all have our part to play in conserving water wherever we can and save it for those not so wet periods.

"Some of our reservoirs are less full than they would normally be at this time of the year - but then a wetter and milder winter is forecast. It makes good sense to follow advice such as taking a shower rather than a bath, washing your car with water from a bucket rather than a hose, and not allowing the tap to run while we brush our teeth.

"Reporting any leaks to Anglian Water as soon as possible will also help - and being vigilant about any leaks people may have on their own property. We have a process in place for managing leaks and prioritising them.

"Unless the leak is a categorised as an emergency it may look as if we are dragging our heels, but on almost every occasion there is always a good reason for this. Some leaks are repaired within five working days, some 10, under our agreed Level of Service process. Some repairs may involve major planning to avoid disruption to water supplies, or to apply for permission to put in traffic lights or even close a road."

However, the lack of water in other parts of the world is far worse.

Earlier this week, Oxfam launched a �9.5m emergency appeal to aid more than 23 million people who are being pushed towards severe hunger and destitution across East Africa.

A severe and persistent five-year drought, deepened by climate change, is now stretching across seven countries in the region and exacting a heavy human toll, made worse by high food prices and violent conflict.

The worst-affected countries are Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda - with Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania (a country EDP readers donated more than �70,000 to in 2006 to help children dying from lack of water) - also vulnerable.

To donate to the Oxfam appeal, visit www.oxfam.org.uk, your local shop or call 0300 200 1999.

Have you noticed rivers drying up in your area? Email your images to tara.greaves@archant.co.uk.

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