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How farms and estates can stay ahead on water management

Farming | Published:

Staying on top of changes to the abstraction licence regime is becoming increasingly important for farms and estates at a time when the government is telling farmers they need to be actively planning for a drier future.

George Dickin is at the Shrewsbury office of Strutt & Parker

A recent government report highlighted that we take for granted a plentiful water supply in England, but our high population density means that the available water per person is actually less than in many Mediterranean countries.

The summer of 2018 highlighted the importance of farmers having access to water resources, with crops suffering in the dry conditions as daytime temperatures consistently reached 30C.

Against this backdrop, farms and estates will naturally want to do all they can to protect their rights to abstract water and avoid falling foul of a series of changes to the abstraction regime that have been introduced since 2014. The right to abstract water is a valuable business asset and farmers will want to take steps to ensure they protect their current and future needs.

For example, the two-year deadline for people to convert previously exempt activities into new authorisations is at the end of 2019.

Previously exempt activities which now require a licence include trickle irrigation and according to a recent DEFRA report many abstractors are yet to submit an application.

If an application for a new authorisation is not made by December 31 and validated in time, then the right to abstract will be automatically lost and the abstractor will be liable for enforcement action.

Meanwhile, growers with existing licences may want to investigate whether there is an opportunity to utilise the full summer extraction period, which runs from April 1 to October 30.

Some licensees may have licences which run from April to September or June to October and may not be aware that they can apply to the Environment Agency to change these dates.

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While there are no guarantees permission will be granted, and it will not mean a change in the amount they can abstract, it can offer growers greater flexibility.

Another key issue is where the holder of an abstraction licence is not using their full licensed quantity and are in an area which the EA is seeking to reduce licensed quantities or revoke licences at their renewal date.

These abstractors should be looking to utilise the water themselves for the remainder of the current licence period or alternatively they can look at options to trade some or all of the licence with a neighbour who does require the water.

Given the increased pressure on water resources, some landowners may want to consider investing in on-farm reservoirs to help their long-term water management.

George Dickin is at the Shrewsbury office of Strutt & Parker

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