The lack of rainfall this year has prompted Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, to announced predictions that next year will likely be a dry one.

“This is a signal for everyone to get prepared, that if we don’t get good rainfall this winter it will be a challenge next spring and summer,” she said.

Spring 2011 was the driest in England for a century, with what seemed to be an early summer, as well as the unusually warmer weather in September. Rationing and hose-pipe bans look increasing likely to be enforced next summer.

Thames Water has switched to a backup of alternative water supplies already, and plans to use water restrictions in 2012.

Water companies, farmers and the public are being advised to prepare for water shortages with reservoirs at an exceptionally low level.

‘Today’s report urges all water users – especially farmers, businesses and water companies – to plan carefully how they store, use and share water.

“As we have seen over the spring and summer, drought has serious impacts on the environment, especially for wildlife, and we will continue to work with others to ensure a secure water supply, balancing the needs of people, businesses and the environment.” the chairman of the Environment Agency Lord Smith said.

Main photograph: Getty images