WHAT a wonderful world! That was my thought as a splendid dawn chorus woke me at 4.30am, although I certainly was not expert enough to recognise all the species involved.

Half an hour later I knew the neighbours’ cat had arrived for its morning ablutions as I heard the blackbirds switch to their alarm call.

Then the first queen wasp of the morning flew in the open window, frustratingly banging itself against the closed panes after briefly searching the bedroom for a nesting site.

Most creatures have already decided on this summer’s abode but yesterday a male cuckoo spent four hours in a lofty tree nearby, vainly calling for a mate.

It is of course only the male that makes the most evocative call of early summer but sadly he heard no females giving their gurgling response and by midday had apparently moved off to try his luck elsewhere.

As a farmer, the most disappointing feature of the morning sounds was the absence of the promised raindrops falling.

As I write, the last seven months has produced just 214 millimetres. Compared with the same period in the wet winter of 2001 when I recorded 655mm here, the difference is stark.

Farmers are used to worrying about the weather but the present drought is starting to cause serious concern.

The occasional shower is not really going to solve the issue. Irrigation is not an option for most growers. The huge costs involved can only be justified for high value crops, even though there would be some benefit for cereals.

Costs involved are the planning and construction of reservoirs, the underground mains required, irrigation equipment and the labour involved in setting up and moving the equipment. Total annual cost is around £45 per inch of water applied per acre and a crop of potatoes will require approximately six acre inches of irrigation in a normal
year. One local farmer told me he has licences for around 330 million gallons per year which equates to 14,500 acre inches, an enormous investment, which is only worthwhile on the best vegetable and root crop land. Most farmers growing cereals and other combinable crops simply have to accept that they are at the mercy of the weather.

The Environment Agency no longer grants licences for summer extraction from the river and where they still exist the cost is about £700 per million gallons.

This is why storage reservoirs are required so that when rivers are “in flood” during the winter, excess water can be stored. The other water source is from underground aquifers but, again, this is very strictly controlled.

The obvious difficulty this year is that it was not possible to completely fill all the reservoirs, resulting in farmers’ reluctance to use too much water too early.

Now summer has officially arrived much of the rainfall could be localised and heavy, resulting in variations between one farmer’s perspective and another. One farmer grumbling, another happy.

Either way, we must count our blessings, it’s still a wonderful world.