DCSIMG

Empty reservoirs, parched crops, a whisky shortage - Scotland's weather is becoming a more serious topic of conversation

IT BEGAN as a rare treat as the blue skies beamed down day after day across Scotland. However, as the rain continued to hold off across much of the country through April, then May and then June, many faces lit up by the sun began to look increasingly gloomy and overcast.

• Black Esk Reservoir in Dumfries and Galloway is one of several falling below levels that water authorities are happy with. Picture: Complimentary

Met Office data shows the country has just been through the driest first half to the year for nearly seven decades, and from farmers to anglers to whisky producers - and communities dependent on dwindling hydro plants to keep the lights on - the drought that has hit Scotland has started to take an unpleasant turn.

Atlantic weather systems that cross the UK, which usually bring bands of rain to western Scotland, have been absent this year, causing the dry conditions which have seen Scotland experience its driest January to June since 1941.

There have only been four drier years since records began in 1910. Across Scotland, rainfall in June was 42 per cent of the monthly average, at 36mm.

Farmers have been left fretting over their crops, amid warnings of higher priced vegetables on supermarket shelves this year. Anglers heading to Scotland have been disappointed by low flows in rivers, with signs salmon and sea trout are delaying their annual migration until water levels rise.

And in some areas, the lack of rain has hit entire communities. In Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Water is so worried about dwindling supplies in reservoirs they are urging people to take showers instead of baths, avoid hosepipes and take extra care to switch off taps when brushing their teeth. And from tomorrow millions of householders in the north west of England will face a hosepipe ban with a maximum fine of 1,000 for those who are caught flouting it.

Recent spells of rain over the past few days have led to hopes in some areas that the drought might be lifting. However, there are warnings that it will take more than a few days of rain to restock dwindling supplies.

According to NFU Scotland some farmers have been spending up to 1,000 a day irrigating their crops.

Bob Carruth, communications director, says: "June was probably one of the driest months in living memory for lots of farmers. It certainly has caused problems.

Some areas that are traditionally wet on the west coast where there are a lot of dairy farms have been struggling for water for their grass.

"A lot of the farmers towards the east coast involved in growing salad and vegetable crops have had to regularly irrigate their crops."

Allan Bowie, a potato and broccoli farmer from Anstruther, Fife, and vice-president of NFU Scotland, says he has never known conditions as dry for the 13 years he has been in business.

He is spending a few hundred pounds a day irrigating crops to avoid the dreaded "scab", caused by dry conditions leaving blemishes on potatoes.

But despite farmers' efforts, he believes the quality and yields will suffer, pushing up supermarket prices.

He says: "We might need to flag up that this year the quality might be a bit poorer than normal. There might be the odd blemish or a scab, and the supply and demand will affect the price."

Online angling blogs are full of moans about thwarted trips due to low flows in rivers, including parts of the Earn in Perthshire, the North Esk in north east Scotland, and the Ness, Beauly and Nairn in the Highlands.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, who speaks for much of the angling industry in Scotland, says the lack of rain has had an impact on salmon and sea trout migration.

"Low flows are generally bad for angling," he says. "Migratory fish can't access rivers easily and they tend to remain in the sea rather than running rivers with low water."

The whisky industry, dependent on local water for each distillery's unique taste, says overall it is holding up well.

However, there have been some difficulties in Islay. Mark Raynier, managing director of Bruichladdich Distillery, says he has had to drop off production due to lack of rain.

"The minute the peat bogs dry out the burns stop flowing and the lochs stop filling up," he says. "To rehydrate that peat sponge we need five to six days of heavy rain."

They have cut production to cater for the lack of water since April, making one "mash" at a time instead of five normally. However, as a private distillery that does not supply whisky to the blending industry, he says it matters less because they can make up production at wetter times of year.

And he adds that this is not unusual for this time of year: "It's a perennial problem. I discovered some letters written by William Harvey, who founded the distillery, written in 1904 moaning about the lack of water in June."

For Dumfries and Galloway, the dry weather has been more of a shock, with households urged to take action and even bombarded with details of "Save-a-Flush" toilet gadgets to save water.

Yesterday Scottish Water confirmed it would be applying for a drought order for parts of the area, after consulting with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.

If granted, it will be the first in Scotland for six years, since Dundee suffered water shortages in 2004.

It would allow the company to take water from rivers and lochs to bolster two dwindling reservoirs.

The Black Esk and Penwhirn reservoirs, which serve Annandale, Eskdale and Wigtownshire, have dropped to the two-thirds full mark, whereas the company prefers to keep them at 80 per cent or 90 per cent full in case of emergency.

Peter Farrer, Scottish Water's customer service delivery director, says: "We will not be imposing a hosepipe ban but we are appealing to customers to conserve supplies where possible and use a watering can or bucket for their gardens and washing the car."

He adds: "There are many small changes customers can make in their daily routine that make a real difference, such as showering instead of bathing, switching off the tap when brushing teeth and using a full load instead of a half-load in their washing machines."

He also said that the recent spell of rain had not been enough to fill up the reservoirs.

A spokesman for Scottish Water says other areas are coping well, though there is a "watching brief" in Ayrshire and Argyll and Bute. However, areas reliant on private water supplies have not fared so well.

In Mull, some guest houses have had to close due to lack of water. And a key tourist attraction, the island's steam train, Lady of the Isles, had to stop running for five weeks because of the water shortages. Fortunately, a recent spell of rain replenished its water source - a spring - sufficiently so it is running again.

Away from the problems, VisitScotland believes the drier weather could also have been a draw for some people keen to take their holidays in Scotland.

A spokeswoman says: "Holidaying on home turf is a growing trend and the good weather recently experienced across the country will likely have an impact on this.

She adds, however, that for foreign visitors, good weather is not a "prerequisite" for a successful trip to Scotland: "Often, when we do get blue skies and sunshine, it's a bonus that enhances what is already a stunning landscape peppered with a wealth of attractions."

FISHING ON HOLD

THE dry spell has seen many anglers forced to store away their fishing rods and tackle as they wait for rivers to recover.

Rivers across the country are suffering low flows and experts say this has an impact on salmon and sea trout migrations, which are normally at full pelt at this time of year.

Among rivers at a low ebb are the Earn in Perthshire, the North Esk in north-east Scotland, and the Ness, Beauly and Nairn in the Highlands.

A fishing industry representative says: "Migratory fish can't access rivers easily and they tend to remain in the sea rather than running rivers with low water."

STAYCATION TREND

FOR many people holidaying in Scotland, the chance of rain is a risk that has to be taken when venturing into the mountains or taking a city break.

However, this year tourism body VisitScotland thinks the dry weather has been enticing people out in even greater numbers as they are buoyed by the high chances of sunshine.

A spokeswoman says this has particularly been the case for Scots and people from south of the Border, who are taking holidays at home in higher numbers than ever.

However, she thinks fine weather is not a "prerequisite" for foreign tourists heading to Scotland.

Instead, she says the friendly locals and the stunning scenery are enough to attract them in their hordes; the sun is a bonus.

POWER SHORTAGES

The Isle of Eigg off Scotland's west coast has won countless awards for running almost entirely off renewable energy.

However, the community dubbed the UK's first "green" island was hit with difficulties when the rains stopped.

The mild weather led to a shortage of power and residents were asked to scale back their use of appliances such as kettles and toasters.

Water levels on the island's burns dropped uncharacteristically low, hampering the island's hydroelectricity supply.

The island had to revert to using old-fashioned diesel power to run a backup generator to keep the lights on.

And statistics from the Department of Energy and Climate Change suggest output from hydro schemes across the country has been generally low over the past six months.

FARMING

FARMERS across Scotland have been struggling to keep their crops watered, with some spending up to 1,000 a day irrigating vegetables.

Some farmers have had to irrigate their crops for the first time in 30 years as the sun blazed down.

In the east, salad and vegetable farmers have been particularly hit. In the west, where cattle farms are common, extra water has been needed to keep the grass growing to feed the livestock.

And there are warnings that the dry spell could impact prices on the supermarket shelves, particularly of crops such as potatoes that rely on regular water at this time of year.

Farmers are employing ingenious tactics in their efforts to avoid their crops being spoiled, even using sensors in the soil to test moisture levels.

However, for those farmers who rely on dwindling supplies from rivers for the water for their irrigation equipment, there may be little they can do unless the rains return soon.

WHISKY

SCOTLAND'S finest malts rely on local water from lochs and burns to give their drink their distinctive flavours.

So the industry has been anxious during the drought, but so far has mainly held up across most of the country.

However, in Islay some distilleries have been struggling as the peat bogs that store the rain like a sponge begin to dry out. One distillery, the Bruichladdich Distillery, above, has cut production until the rains replenish supplies.

ISLAND LIFE

TOURIST attractions and facilities have been struck by the lack of rain, with some island guesthouses forced to close due to dwindling supplies.

Mull was particularly affected by the drought, with much of the island depending on private water supplies.

When these dried up, Kinloch Hotel, Pennyghael and Killiechronan House, Loch na Keal were forced to stop taking bookings.

For an island whose residents usually cross their fingers for sun, they found themselves hoping desperately for rain.

The island's steam train, Lady of the Isles, above, had to stop running for the first time in 26 years due to the water shortage.

However, a recent spell of wet weather has returned conditions on the island closer to normality zz

 
 
 

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