The CLA launched its long-awaited Water Strategy: a vision for the water environment to 2030 this week (18 June 2021). In developing this strategy, we wanted to think about what the water environment should look like over the coming decades.
We all know what we would like to see: clean rivers where wildlife is able to flourish, plenty of water in our rivers and aquifers for those who need it, and well-managed river catchments that reduce flood risk for those both upstream and downstream.
Our vision is that by 2030, all rural land-based businesses will have reliable access to water supplies for their current and future needs, are resilient to the risk of flood and drought, and are recognised for their stewardship of water quality and resources. This vision is designed to focus thinking on what actions we need in the short term, to make sure we are making the right decisions to transform the water environment in the long term, finding those solutions that have co-benefits for our net zero goals, public health, food production and resilience to the impacts of climate change.
This strategy aims to look at the water environment through a natural capital lens, thinking about the health of the water environment interconnected with net zero goals, public health, food production, adaptation to climate change and the economy. It also demonstrates how none of this is about farming alone – all sectors of the economy, businesses, individuals, government, local authorities, must consider how water is used and impacted to ensure we are protecting it together.
Some of the key issues tackled in the strategy include:
Drought and water resources
2020 was one of the hottest years on record, building on the temperature records broken in summer 2018 and 2019. Over the next 30 years, hot, dry summers will be more common, and combined with an estimated population increase of 6 million people in England and Wales by 2043, our water resources will be under unprecedented pressure.
The CLA’s strategy looks at how farmers and land managers can start building resilience to dry weather by increasing irrigation efficiency, investing in water storage solutions and changing land management practices to improve soil health. The government must support these actions with a flexible abstraction licencing system and grant funding for water security infrastructure.
A thriving water environment
Clean water in our rivers and aquifers should be non-negotiable, as rivers are one of our most valuable and varied ecosystems. However, in 2020 no rivers in England reached ‘good ecological status’.
To play our part in accelerating progress to reduce pollution from agriculture, there are a number of actions that farmers can take, such as improving soil health, using cover crops, and familiarising themselves with the Farming Rules for Water. Incentives for actions for clean water must be built into the Sustainable Farming Incentive in England and Sustainable Farming Scheme in Wales, alongside expansion of the successful Catchment Sensitive Farming and Farming Connect programmes of advice and grants.
Flooding and land drainage
This past winter’s flooding will still be fresh in many minds, and the Met Office estimates that climate change has increased the risk of floods in England and Wales by at least 20% and up to 90%.
Farmers and landowners are in a position to support the prevention and management of flooding through nature-based solutions like natural flood risk management. However, the very nature of flooding means that everyone, up and down stream, must work together to reduce risk.
These priorities are explored in much greater detail in the full Water Strategy document, available on the CLA website.