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Geography in the News: Starving hedgehogs, dry rivers, parched farms - the toll of Europe’s worsening drought

Vicki Woolven

17th August 2022

Climate change means that we have seen another heat wave sweeping across the UK and much of Europe this week, with the worsening drought that has serious consequences for energy security, food prices, trade flows and biodiversity.

Approximately two-thirds of EU land is now covered by drought warnings. The European Drought Observatory’s latest map, a sea of red and orange, puts 47% of EU territory at the “warning” stage and 17% at the highest “alert” level.

Meanwhile in the UK many water companies have announced drought warnings and hosepipe bans as parts of South-east England approach 150 days with little or no rain.

The European Drought Observatory’s latest map, a sea of red and orange, puts 47% of EU territory at the “warning” stage and 17% at the highest “alert” level.

Across Europe, the high temperatures and lack of rainfall (linked to climate change) has led to many worrying impacts, across a number of sectors...

Energy security

The heat and drought are hitting Europe’s energy systems hard, which are already suffering from the gas crisis and exploding power prices. River and lake levels are at their lowest for over 20 years and are starving hydropower plants, reducing output by 20%. Less water also means hotter rivers, which disrupts cooling systems for nuclear plants - -France has had to halt nuclear energy production as a result. The lack of supply, and the surging power demand as people turn on air conditioning to escape the heat, are causing energy prices to skyrocket, with France and Germany seeing record costs this week.

The Loire River has almost dried up in places - source - Avenet Pascal/Abacapress

Trade flows

Dropping water levels on Europe’s major rivers are also causing problems for companies relying on them for transport and cooling purposes. Low depths on the River Rhine (a key transport route from Germany's industrial heartlands to the North Sea) are hindering the transportation of raw materials and finished goods, by reducing the capacity of barges, and putting further strain on supply chains. It is considered difficult to transport goods when the river levels fall to 130cm - they are currently at 46cm!


Warmer waters can also be lethal for marine ecosystems. Hundreds of fish died in Austria last month as heat drained the Zicksee lake. On land, too, Europe’s wildlife is struggling. French environmental associations have sounded the alarm over the impact on birds, while a Bavarian conservation association this month warned about starving hedgehogs as worms burrow deeper into dry soils in search of moisture.

We have also seen an increase of wild fires raging across Europe, destroying large swaths of forest, and with them, wildlife habitats, as well as releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. In total, Spain has lost an area more than double the size of Singapore to wildfires in the first seven months of the year; France has so far registered a loss of more than 50,000 hectares.

The biodiversity impact of heat, drought and wildfires comes at a time when scientists warn species decline is advancing at record speed — a development that could have devastating consequences for food chains with many species unable to adapt to the kind of extreme events we are seeing now.


The heatwave is also scorching harvests across Europe with farmers reporting huge losses, and seeing reduced yields in staples such as wheat, maize, sunflowers and soybeans.

Belgium’s farmers say crops such as potatoes and beans are being “burnt by the sun,” while in Italy rice farmers are seeing a drop of 30%, and corn farmers in Romania are seeing yields down by 35%. Additionally across Southern Europe olive oil and grape producers are seeing ruined harvests.

The hit to Europe’s agriculture comes as global food security is under strain and prices are soaring.


Across Europe inflation is rising faster than before with the combined effects on transport, energy and agriculture are pushing up power bills and prices for basic goods, fuelling discontent with governments. The continent has seen huge numbers of protests and strike action over soaring costs.

Right across Europe voters are worried about the heat and drought, facing water restrictions and in some cases actually not having access to drinking water, and are concerned that governments are not doing enough to combat climate change.

Read the full article here -

Vicki Woolven

Vicki Woolven is Subject Lead for Key Stage 4 Humanities at tutor2u. Vicki previously worked as a Head of Geography and Sociology for many years, leading her department to be one of the GA's first Centres of Excellent, and has been a content writer, senior examiner and local authority Key Practitioner for Humanities.

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