Water levels in the famous Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset are below their usual levels – a clear indication that the South West region faces drought conditions despite recent rainfall.
The owners of the famous showcaves say a witch’s broom used for years as a measuring stick show the water levels have been dropping year on year with 2012 showing a further drop.
Although scientists and the Environment Agency use sophisticated methods for measuring rainfall those who spend every day in the caves use notches on an old witches broomstick to gauge the extent of the water level decline.
Daniel Medley, General Manager at Wookey Hole Caves said: “For many years cave guides have dipped an old witches broomstick into the water at the same point and the notches on it show the water level. It is dropping year on year. It is not scientific but it shows that despite the rain we have had recently water levels are still very low.
“It has to be appreciated that this water has percolated down through 1,000 feet of limestone before visitors see it as the River Axe in the caves. Although it looks very still it is in fact flowing quite quickly and rises and falls depending on rainfall.
“What has been noticeable over the last few weeks is that although it seems to have been raining a lot the water is not getting down to the cave floor. It shows that the authorities are right in declaring a drought.”
Wookey Hole Caves have provided shelter from the rain for thousands of years and the wet weather saw thousands of people flock to the caves as somewhere dry to go with their children at weekends and in the school holidays.
Daniel Medley said: “Unlike many other tourist attractions the rain is not bad for us. People with children especially want somewhere where they can get out and about and burn off some energy but stay dry.
“As well as the caves we have the Big Wizard’s play castle and the Play Zone where kids can jump around inside for as long as they like! We also have an indoor circus show and the Old Penny Arcade – basically we are the largest indoor attraction in the region.”
Wookey Hole Caves were formed by rain from the Mendips carving out caverns in the limestone. Scientists believe one unique domed cavern was formed by the effects of swirling water thousands of years ago when the river was in flood.
The legend of the witch is believed to have started many hundreds of years ago who blamed an old woman who lived in the caves for the lack of water flowing on to their land during a previous drought.
A monk from Glastonbury dealt with the troublesome woman by sprinkling her with Holy Water and claiming she had turned to stone. Visitors can still see the stalagmite that locals believed was the petrified witch.
Issued on behalf of Wookey Hole Caves by Empica. For further information contact Martin Powell (01275) 394400.