At the end of a dirt road in the southwest of England, where the Thames once originated, there is now no sign of moisture… The start of the driest year in decades has changed the source of this river, so emblematic of Britain, just a few kilometers downstream. .
“We haven’t found the Thames yet,” says computer scientist Michael Sanders, 62, who came with his wife to walk along Thames Road, a designated trail that follows the river’s meandering course. “It’s completely dry in here. There are puddles and mud, but there is no water yet, and we hope to find the Thames downstream, but have not found anything yet,” he told AFP during an interview in the village of Ashton Keys, a few kilometers from the source.
In this picturesque area at the foot of the Cotswolds, near Wales, the river rises from a bulge at the water table and then meanders for about 350 km towards the North Sea, passing in the British capital on its way. But for those who have traditionally compared the English countryside to a sprawling golf course, their shock this summer is after a near-unprecedented drought last winter and spring since records began. “It’s like walking on the African savannah,” retired David Gibbons, 60, says as he walks with his wife and two friends along the road across from Michael, from the mouth of the river to its source.
A few hundred meters from his destination, he marvels at the wildlife he encounters along the waterway, which has been transformed from a strategic and industrial navigable artery in the London area into a tourist attraction for those who want to enjoy river and bird views. – look downstream.
“But for the last two or three days we have not seen any animals because there is no water. They disappeared about 10 miles (16 km) from here,” adds Gibbons. “We have never seen a river so dry and empty,” explains Andrew Jack, a 47-year-old provincial clerk who lives about 15 kilometers from Ashton Keynes, reached by narrow country roads lined with stone houses.
Between the main village street and the beautiful buildings, the river bed, topped by small bridges, is full of crevices over which the hornets fly, reminiscent of African swamp scenes during the dry seasons. There is increasing pressure from local authorities to conserve water, and a London water supply company has announced expected consumption restrictions to be added to those already in place in parts of the south of the country.
But David Gibbons doesn’t panic. “I’ve lived in England all my life, we’ve had droughts before,” he says. “I think it’ll be green again by autumn.” Andrew Jack, who came with his family for a walk along the riverbed, is more pessimistic. “Many English people say to themselves: ‘Great, let’s take advantage of the weather’ + (…), but that means something has changed for the worse,” he says.