16 June 2011
England has suffered its driest Spring for a century, leading to the Environment Agency confirming that parts of East Anglia and East Midlands are now affected by drought.
Fire continues to be a major risk to sites. The Dorset Heaths fire that broke out on 9th June affected Upton HeathSite of Special Scientific Interest, part of the Dorset Heaths Special Area of Conservation. Since then rain has led to reductions in the Met Office Fire Severity Index, with most areas showing values at ‘very low’ and ‘low’ (levels 1 and 2).
There was a major fire on Bowness Common (South Solway Mosses NNR) in Cumbria on 26 May, which affected 150 ha of heather dominated mire, 54 ha of which was on National Nature Reserve land (fire also affected the nearby RSPB reserve).
Public access may be restricted to land which is under CRoW Act Open Access to reduce the risk of fire; at present there are no access restrictions but we are keeping the situation under review. There are automatic restrictions on Open Access land if the Fire Severity Index reaches level 5 (‘exceptional’ risk).
Agri-environment scheme derogations
Natural England is prepared to offer derogations to farmers in Environmental Stewardship, subject to certain conditions. To date we have received two applications for HLS derogations and two for Entry Level Stewardship. Most applications relate to grassland options, eg the ability to cut hay early for fodder or issues with re-seeding areas for wildlife.
National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
Apart from managing fire risk (see above), the main issues on NNRs relate to providing water for livestock and the protection of vulnerable species. On The Lizard NNR bowsers have been introduced to water livestock while at Holkham NNR Natterjack toad tadpoles have been translocated from drying pools. At Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes NNR dune slacks (shallow ponds where the water table reaches the surface in hollows between dunes) have been artificially topped up with water for the benefit of Natterjacks tadpoles that are at a particularly vulnerable stage of development.
Drought orders or permits
Natural England has not received any formal consultations regarding drought orders or permits1, although relevant Environment Agency regions and water companies are keeping us informed as the situation develops.
Natural England held a meeting with NGOs on Tuesday 14 June in London to consider ways of reducing the impact of drought on biodiversity. One of the key steps will be to work out how best to reduce the risk of fire, which could include creating or improving firebreaks and ensuring existing ones are properly maintained. Raising public awareness of fire is also vital in reducing its threat.
1 Drought orders and drought permits – Drought permits and orders are drought management actions that, if granted, allow a water company to manage its water resources more flexibly for example by increasing water supply during a drought by taking water from new sources or through the modification or suspension of conditions contained in existing abstraction licences. Natural England is a statutory consultee on applications for orders and permits.
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