Drought affecting parts of England could last beyond Christmas, warned the Environment Agency as it added 17 more English counties to the official drought zone.

The drought map has been extended to the Midlands and southwest and added to the already drought-stricken zones in London, the South East, East Anglia and parts of Yorkshire amid fears that England could suffer its worst water shortages since 1976.

Midlands region covers Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

The South West region covers Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire, parts of Hampshire and most of Wiltshire.

"A longer-term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely," the BBC quoted Head of water resources at the Environment Agency Trevor Bishop as saying.

"We are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought," he added.

It may not affect the public water supplies, but the lack of rainfall may take its toll on the environment and farmers - causing problems for wildlife, wetlands and crop production, the agency said in a statement.

Though they have no plans to impose restrictions on use of water, it is urging consumers to combat the dry conditions by using scarce water wisely.

"While we've had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away and we would urge everyone - right across the country - to use water wisely now, which will help to prevent more serious impacts next year," said Bishop.

Parts of England received less than 60 per cent of the average winter rainfall, though there was a hope of prolonged period of rainfall between last October and March.

The dry conditions have already led to fish rescues from the River Lathkill, Derbyshire in the Midlands. The rivers Tern, Sow, Soar and Leadon are at their lowest ever recorded levels, according to a BBC report.

Experts now hope for a steady winter rainfall in 2012-13 which could replenish the dry rivers and groundwater resources.

However the agency is not taking any chances and putting all efforts to deal with the situation. According to them, measures such as working with farmers to top up their storage reservoirs by taking additional water when river flows are high and advising water companies on options to share water and reduce leakage are already in place.