Sustainable water management: can landowners be part of the solution?


Alice Ritchie, CLA Land Use Policy Adviser, discusses the CLA response to the recent water management consultation, and why some of the proposals are both good news and bad news for landowners.

As we all know, having a reliable supply of water is crucial for farmers in the UK, particularly in places like the east of England, where this year our arable farmers are facing lower than usual levels of winter rain, on the back of 2018’s very dry summer. Climate change, population growth and consumer food demands are going to make this problem more acute.

So, wouldn’t it be great if England’s water companies took all that into account when making their Water Resources Management Plans? Fortunately, Defra has asked for views on that very question in their water management consultation: Improving our management of water in the environment. The CLA responded to the consultation last week, with a resounding ‘yes’ to that particular proposal. We hope this will result in a more holistic, collaborative approach to water management, where water for food production has equal status to public supply.

Unfortunately, the proposals for abstraction licences may not be as favourable for CLA members. Defra is proposing that the Environment Agency should be able to remove or change some permanent abstraction licences without compensation if the licence isn’t being used to capacity or if they think it might cause environmental damage.

Our response made it clear that this is not the right answer and may have some significant impacts on landowners. For our members, permanent abstraction licences are often considered capital assets that add value to their land. They are needed for business growth, dry weather years and diversification. Removing them without compensation could almost be equated to taking private land without compensation – unthinkable.

Our response made it clear that Defra has plenty of better options to achieve the same outcomes. These could include local water trading, incentives for winter storage solutions and a better planning process for on-farm reservoirs. It’s promising that many of our members submitted their own responses outlining the same concerns – there’s power in numbers, particularly when it comes to government consultations!

If you would like to read the CLA's full consultation response, click here.

If you would like to view Defra's consultation, click here.