Farming leaders called for more action to secure water for food production after warnings that East Anglia's drought conditions could last beyond next spring.

Despite average rainfall in September, the Environment Agency (EA) has reported river and groundwater levels remain low, and reservoir stocks are continuing to fall.

It comes after this year's hot and dry summer led to a declaration of drought across the East of England in August.

At a meeting last week, the National Drought Group heard that if rainfall remains below average over winter, then drought conditions will remain beyond spring 2023.

Kelly Hewson-Fisher, water resources specialist for the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said: “The recent rain is welcome but it is not enough to make a significant impact on our depleted water bodies. We need above average rainfall throughout the winter.

“Farmers started this growing season with full reservoirs but now many of them are empty. They will be making cropping decisions based on expected water availability for irrigation and they will be looking for certainty that they will be able to refill those winter storage reservoirs.

“We have been talking to the Environment Agency about flexible abstraction, which would allow reservoirs to be filled at high flows and when water is available outside of the usual abstraction licence timings.

“In the longer term, more needs to be done with government to secure the water required for food production.”

The National Drought Group is made up of senior decision-makers from the EA, government, water companies, and farming and environmental groups.

At its recent meeting, the group heard that water companies were preparing to implement drought plans over the next six months to improve the resilience of water supplies.

EA chief executive and NDG chairman Sir James Bevan said the country needs urgent cross-sector investment in water infrastructure to ensure long-term water security.

"Climate change and population growth mean we need to take action now to ensure we have enough over the coming decades to manage everyday supplies, and more intense drought events," he said.

"We have a plan to do that and delivering it will require all of us to work together: government, water companies, regulators, farmers and businesses, and each of us as individuals."