Spring drought has already put many rivers at a critical level

The driest spring for more than half a century has fuelled fears that angling could face yet another summer of parched rivers and widespread stillwater fish deaths.

Rainfall in March was the lowest since 1953, and with the situation having continued throughout April, the water in many rivers is already a foot below normal summer level.

Officials from both the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Met Office have admitted to being very concerned at the situation, which comes at what they term a ‘pivotal time of the year for rainfall’.

“The driest March for well over 50 years was followed by one of the driest Aprils ever recorded,” said a spokesperson for the former. “Rainfall for April was only around 16 per cent of the long-term average.”

One venue that really suffered through last year’s lack of rainfall was the River Wye, and the waterway is already showing signs that 2011 could see a repeat.

“In Hereford town centre the water is a good foot below summer level,” said Paul Woodward of Woody’s Tackle in Hereford.

“It gets worse each year. The big concern is that when the water gets very low the chub and barbel shoal up in deeper pools, making them vulnerable to predators and poachers. I just hope we have some heavy rainfall very soon.”

The Environment Agency has said that if the prolonged dry spell continues, action may have to be taken on the worst-hit rivers.

“There can be an environmental impact such as fish in distress which will need rescuing,” said a spokesperson.

Commercial fishery owners also face a difficult few months ahead, with dry weather and high temperatures leading to deoxygenation fears.

However, Phil Briscoe, who runs Larford Lakes in Stourport, says problems can be averted by proper management.

“We desperately need rain because April has warmed up too quickly. This is a vulnerable time for stocks, and there are already algal blooms at some fisheries.

Measures we use to prevent problems include net dipping, ensuring anglers don’t put too many fish in keepnets, and carrying out oxygen tests three times a day with the aerators on standby,” he said.