There are fears England could face another drought after experiencing the driest February for 30 years.
The National Drought Group (NDG), which advises the government, has cautioned that Britain is only one hot spell away from falling back into drought conditions where further hosepipe bans and restrictions on water would be needed.
The water shortage is likely to impact the availability of vegetables as major supermarkets place widespread restrictions on the purchase of selected fresh produce.
Only two of 14 regions in England monitored by the Environment Agency — East Anglia and Devon, and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly — remain officially in drought status, down from nine at the start of January. However, only four are considered to be at normal levels, with eight classified as recovering from drought.
The latest figures from the Environment Agency show that as of 21 February, England had received 17 per cent of the long-term average for the month. In the southeast, the figure was lower at 9 per cent.
Government officials and water companies had hoped for a wet February to help to recharge rivers and reservoirs before the weather turns warmer and drier.
February saw 63 per cent of rivers at below normal levels for the time of year, and some reservoirs “lower than anticipated”.
The Met Office said: “Up to 20 February, you'd expect to have around 71 per cent of the month's total average rainfall. However, the UK has currently had just 36 per cent (34.5mm) so far.
“While Scotland has so far had 59 per cent (83.5mm) of its average February rainfall, the south of England has had just 6 per cent (3.8mm).”
Provisional data supplied by the Met Office showed that there had been 168.4mm of rain in the UK this year. Based on long-term averages, it would have expected 217.7mm of rain by the end of February.
“It’s fair to say it has been a fairly dry start to the year, particularly spurred on by dry conditions being largely dominant from mid-January onwards,” a Met Office spokesman said.
At a 10 February meeting of the National Drought Group, which brings together government agencies, water firms, farmers and environment groups, experts warned that the country was only one hot and dry spell away from a return to widespread drought this summer.
The NDG said: “Members are planning for the worst case scenario of another hot, dry summer and are managing water resources to reduce the risk of drought measures being required.”