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Farmers warn of huge losses as crops refuse to grow in the 'desert fields' of Kent

By John Nurden

On the Isle of Sheppey one farmer is already predicting the drought could cost him more than £100,000 as he is forced to pull up dying crops.

Stephen Attwood, who farms more than 2,800 acres with his son James from headquarters at New Hook Farm, Eastchurch, said: “The crops are starting to wilt. The ground is as dry as a bone. This is very serious.

James Attwood

James Attwood

“This has been the driest winter I have ever known. We would normally have had 10 inches of rain by now but I don’t suppose we have had more than an inch since last summer.

“We had a good harvest last year but there is no water in any of the ditches and we are preparing to rip up fields of crops.”

Most affected are winter wheat, maize, winter beans and oil seed rape.

The desert fields of Sheppey

The "desert fields" of Sheppey

Mr Attwood, who also runs Parsonage Farm in Bredgar, near Sittingbourne, added: “None of our spring crop is growing. We just have bare fields where they should be green. There has been an area of high pressure over the south east blocking the rain for four to six months.”

He said irrigating large arable fields would need a massive investment and take millions of gallons of water.

He warned: “The definition of a desert is a place which receives less than 10 inches of rain a year. I’d say we are dangerously near to that unless we get prolonged rain soon.”

The desert fields of the Isle of Sheppey

The "desert fields" of the Isle of Sheppey

His warning came as supermarkets reported a national shortage of British grown vegetables because of the winter drought. The Met Office says England is in the grip of its driest winter for 20 years with the south east suffering the worst.

Southern Water says Bewl reservoir near Lamberhurst is only three-quarters full and is needing to be topped up by underground reserves.

Emma Goddard, head of environment at South East Water, said: “We are monitoring all our resources daily with the Environment Agency but at the moment our aquifers and surface water are in a good position. However, we would urge our customers to use water wisely.”

Water saving tips

In Devon, householders had to fill buckets from a water standpipe

In 1976 householders had to fill buckets from a water standpipe. Picture: PA/PA Archive

Advice includes turning off the tap when cleaning teeth, showering instead of taking baths and making sure dishwashers and washing machines are full before turning them on.

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