Heatwave continues, and our farmers are feeling the heat...

A parched field off Cottonmill Lane. Picture: DANNY LOO

A parched field off Cottonmill Lane. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

There may have been a momentary respite thanks to last weekend’s rainfall, but after temperatures climbed again over the past few days the hot weather is continuing to take its toll across the district.

Will Dickinson at Cross Farm in Harpenden

Will Dickinson at Cross Farm in Harpenden - Credit: Debbie White

The extended period of dry weather and extreme temperatures has caused a number of issues for owners of farms and natural areas.

“Our biggest problem is the risk of fire,” said Henry Holland Hibbert, owner of Bricket Wood Common and Munden Farm.

“Munden Farm has had two fires, one due to a discarded cigarette and one deliberately set by some young lads, probably having a barbecue.

“All it takes is a discarded cigarette and just a bit of wind and you’ll be amazed how fast a fire can start.”

After long stretches without rainfall, including periods of up to 16 days, Henry remains optimistic about his agricultural interest: The crops are doing okay but we could do with a lot more rain… we’ll still get a farm full of wheat and corn but it won’t be as good as some years, but that’s farming, you get ups and downs.

“Everyone’s welcome to visit the Common,” he added, “but please be careful, if we lose crops due to fire then that’s it… That’s our business.”

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The risk of fire seems to be a consistent worry for other farmers, as Will Dickinson, owner of Cross Farm in Harpenden, explained: “There are an awful lot of very dry crops around, tinder dry… I am acutely conscious of the fact that we need everybody to be very, very careful - smokers and such.”

But Will has more problems with grass drying up, leaving livestock with nothing to eat: “The sheep are running out of food. We’re using winter food already, it’s very scary.”

Emma Roberts, from Hammonds End Farm, also in Harpenden, said they were experiencing similar troubles with farming in the heat: “The harvest is in full swing much earlier than usual, it is usually the first week of August before we properly get going but the crops are well ahead of that and a lot is already being harvested.”

“Our chicken flock have lots of natural shade in their paddock so are coping quite well but we are having to refill their water four times a day instead of the usual two. There is also very little grass growth for out small cattle herd so we are needing to take them extra food out. All in all we are coping but there are extra jobs and challenges.”

She also reiterated the fire warning: “We are very nervous about the potential fire risk while harvesting as we are aware nationally more combines have caught fire this year with everything so hot and dry.”

The extended period of heat has prompted many older farmers to flashback to the summer of 1976, when Hertfordshire saw 15 days of heat in excess of 25 degrees, 10 of which peaked at 30 degrees. At that time, the country suffered a severe drought, prompting the government to pass the Drought Act of 1976, whilst crops failed and forest fires broke out in parts of southern England.

“It’s getting comparable,” said Tony Scott, a data analyst for the Rothamstead Research Met Office, “but some areas of the UK in 1976 had 15 days in excess of 30 degrees.”

In the current run of scorching weather, Herts has experienced over 45 days where temperatures were above 23 degrees but only a few in excess of 30 degrees, although this Friday and Saturday are expected to reach that peak.

Herts county executive member for public health and prevention, Cllr Richard Roberts, has issued advice to residents during the heatwave: “While many people enjoy hot weather, high temperatures can be dangerous, especially for people who may be particularly vulnerable such as older people, young children and those with serious illnesses.”

For more advice on how to stay cool during the heatwave, go to https://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/about-the-council/news/news-archive.aspx#/take-extra-care-during-the-heatwave