Cracking up as the heat goes on

The effects of one of the driest and warmest Aprils on record are beginning to bite, with lawns and field crops starting to suffer - and a potential crisis around the corner.

It has so far been simply enjoyed by most of us, but the effects of one of the driest and warmest Aprils on record are beginning to bite, with lawns and field crops starting to suffer - and a potential crisis around the corner.

While the warm, sunny weather is playing into the hands of certain groups of farmers, many are deeply concerned about the lack of rain.

Typical rainfall figures for April would have seen nearly 50mm, or two inches, fall in Norfolk during the month. But weather experts at Marham registered just 1.2mm last month.

National figures released yesterday by Meteogroup said last month was the warmest since records began in 1659, based on average all-day temperatures.

In East Anglia, a different measurement of the average maximum daily temperature revealed a figure of 16.7C, far higher than the recent average of 12.2C.

Gardeners are already watering their lawns and flower beds and growers who would not normally irrigate for several more weeks have already started.

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A wet autumn and winter has boosted water levels in reservoirs and aquifers, but even those with easily available water stocks may be uncomfortable with the idea of dipping into those reserves quite so early in the season.

“The situation is not yet desperate for most people, although it very much depends on local conditions, what you are growing and when it was put in the ground,” said Norfolk NFU chairman Bob Young.

“In the south west of the county we have had no rain since March 20, or at least nothing we have been able to measure.

“Things could be put right providing there is regular rainfall in the coming weeks, but there are some concerned people out there.”

With longer term concerns about climate change increasing, growers have already invested huge amounts in reservoirs and water storage and were looking to plant breeders to improve the drought resistance of crops, added Mr Young.

The weather is, however, providing a boost to some growers.

Tim Place, who heads the family business Place UK at Tunstead, mainly grows soft fruit including strawberries and raspberries. His season is already looking good because of the warmth and an efficient irrigation system which waters direct to the roots.

“We are hoping to start picking strawberries 10 days to a fortnight earlier than normal. Our season will be longer and not crammed into the short period it has been in recent years.

“In short seasons the same amount of fruit can be picked, but is harder to sell because there is so much about at the same time. So this year we hope to sell all of it instead of, say, 80pc.”

Emma Coombs of Weatherquest, based at the University of East Anglia, said: “It wasn't the driest April ever but it was very close.

“We found a handful of years in the records where a similar amount of rain fell in April, including a couple of years in the 1970s, but that is all.

“The comparison of average temperatures is perhaps of more note. In April the average maximum was 4.5C higher than the 30-year average. Since May last year every month has been above its 30-year average, except for August.”

The weekend looks set to be dry, with some showery rain forecast overnight on Sunday into Monday, although the amount set to fall cannot be predicted.

The drought has also made life, and the ground, hard for gardeners.

May is the biggest month of the year for bedding plant sales, but if it did not rain there could be a slump in sales - hitting garden centres and nurseries - said Mike Tacchi, who runs the Priory Maze and Gardens at Beeston Regis near Sheringham

“We need two inches of rain in the next seven to 10 days,” he added.

Without rain gardeners would be put off buying bedding plants because of the prospect of having to keep watering them, said Mr Tacchi.

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