GLOUCESTERSHIRE is officially in drought and water shortages could continue until Christmas.

After the driest year since records began, the Environment Agency has declared a drought across the Midlands and South West region today.

The water shortage could be the most severe since 1976 and officials have said it could take rainfall comparable to that experienced in the 2007 floods to bring levels back to normal.

Despite the expanding drought conditions, customers of Severn Trent Water will not be faced with a hosepipe ban seen elsewhere in the Cotswolds for Thames Water customers.

Water shortages are expected to last until Christmas but officials say drinking water will not be affected.

Drought conditions in the Midlands apply to Gloucestershire, the River Severn, Trent and Wye catchments in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

The South West region covers Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire, parts of Hampshire and most of Wiltshire.

Drought restrictions have already been declared in south-east England, East Anglia and Yorkshire.

Paul Crockett, Midlands Drought Manager, said: “The whole of the Midlands is now in drought, reflecting the impact of the extremely dry last 18 months on the environment. We are already seeing early impacts on the environment and a dry summer will make this worse.

“The amount of water we use has a direct effect on the amount of water available in rivers and for wildlife. River levels are already very low for this time of year and we expect to see some drying up, which will affect people who use those waterways, as well as fish and other wildlife “The Environment Agency must balance the water needs of people, farmers, businesses and the environment and we are working with all sectors to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued environmental drought.”

Reduced river flow, low water levels and higher water temperatures can cause great problems for wildlife, particularly fish and wading birds. The Environment Agency will increase river monitoring and abstraction licence inspections and will rescue fish in distress where possible.

Sections of streams, rivers and wetlands could run very low or dry leading to the loss of valuable habitats which support a unique range of wildlife. The Environment Agency has already advised water abstractors on how they can conserve water and announced new measures to protect important wildlife sites.

It is also working to help farmers top up their storage reservoirs, to ensure there are better supplies for the summer months.

People have been urged to keep a look out for problems with the water environment and wildlife and to report any concerns to the incident hotline on 0800 807060.