Blog: The practicalities of creating a farm reservoir

CLA Midlands Rural Surveyor John Greenshields look at the practicalities of creating a farm reservoir

The weather over the last few years has been extraordinary, with early 2020 appearing to represent the pinnacle of such a trend. Many farmers have struggled to sow their winter crops due to wet weather, which has continued from November well into February culminating in the devastating flooding, with the wettest February on record. Places such as Ironbridge on the River Severn were flooded several times during this period. Contrast that to May 2020 which was the driest on record following the fifth driest April since 1910. This demonstrates the increasingly extreme weather that rural businesses are forced to contend with.

One long-term solution that members are exploring, to reduce the impact of weather fluctuations on their business is by creating farm reservoirs. Although, this could be targeted at the arable sector, reservoirs may also be beneficial to livestock farmers due to water availability for livestock during drought periods. Furthermore, livestock farms upstream can use the infrastructure to mitigate flooding. In addition, the cumulative impact of several reservoirs in a catchment also benefits the public. Overall, the use of reservoirs could improve business resilience and long term profit prospects.  

Every day agriculture, along with industry and power generation, uses 1,000 million litres (of the 14,000 million litres of water supplied daily by water companies) of water daily. Furthermore, water demand is increasing with a growing population, changing societal demands and impacts of climate change. If the industry can take responsibility to sustainably capture and store water at times of peak flow will help limit soil erosion and flooding then it would be beneficial. However, if no action is taken, then approximately an extra 3,435 million litres of water a day will be needed (2025 to 2050). There is a real risk that CLA members will have severe water shortages within a generation.

Full planning permission is not usually required for smaller, on-farm reservoirs. Permitted development rights existing for farm reservoirs under Class A Part 6 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015

The carrying out on agricultural land comprised in an agricultural unit of 5 hectares or more in area of- (a) works for the erection, extension or alteration of a building; or (b) any excavation or engineering operations which are reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture within that unit.”

There are conditions and limitations set out in the order which members must first consider. It is also worth emphasizing that the circumstances of your farm may prohibit you from making use of these Permitted Development rights.

Any reservoir above ground with a capacity of 25,000 cubic meters will need to be overseen by a Civil Engineer as per the Reservoirs Act 1975. (All reservoirs over 25,000m3 in capacity must be registered with the EA.)It is likely that large reservoirs will require an Environmental Impact Assessment. Furthermore if minerals are extracted you should consult the local authority and if the minerals are a by-product of the works in creating the reservoir for agricultural purposes your application should not be prejudiced.

If there are local footpaths it should not affect planning but members should consider fencing, signage and should review public liability insurance. For more information the Health and Safety Executive have produced a document which can be found using the below link:

Abstraction licences
Members will need to consider how abstraction licences relate to the proposal. The Environment Agency can provide some free advice for calculating the required licence. There is a desire to shift the emphasis towards sustainable winter abstraction licences by extracting and storing water when it is plentiful. Thus, reducing the demand on water supplies when it is in shortage during dry periods. This may represent the best long term solution as the Government are looking to end unsustainable abstraction licences for agriculture, which can damage rivers and groundwater sources.         

For high value crops and the profitability of many rural businesses the need to improve water management cannot be overstated. Farmers will need to ask whether the capital cost of creating a reservoir is a worthwhile investment against the potential impacts of extreme weather over the coming decades.

There is a real risk that CLA members will have severe water shortages within a generation.

John Greenshields

Grants and tax benefits
It may be possible to get funding under the RDPE Countryside Productivity Scheme with the potential that future funding will be made available under the ELMS scheme. ELMS is expected to be introduced in 2024. ELMS funding will probably be targeted towards farmers who will provide public benefits by helping to stabilise river levels and reduce the magnitude of flash floods in urban environments.

There may be projects that will be led by water companies as £469 million will be made available to these companies to solve resilience challenges. Part of this challenge which is being discussed by the National Infrastructure Commission is the creation of infrastructure to transfer water to traditionally drier regions with greater demand in the south and east of the country. It will be interesting to see if there is any desire for national collaboration to move water in a comparable manner to some of the Victorian infrastructure.

In addition to the grants there are potential tax benefits under the structures and buildings allowance (SBA). The SBA has risen to 3% as of this April and it is possible that irrigation equipment falls within SBA. This can allow  members projects to be tax deductible.  

For further information contact John Greenshields at the CLA Midlands Office

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John Greenshields Rural Surveyor, CLA Midlands