Reflections on water


CLA Land Use Policy Adviser Alice Ritchie speaks out on the CLA wins in Defra's consultation, Improving our management of water in the environment and the continued pressure the CLA is applying

It goes without saying that water is essential for farms to be productive and profitable. It’s perhaps fitting that as I’m writing this blog we are due to hit record temperatures in the UK, bringing into sharp relief the importance of access to water for farmers and landowners.

Earlier this year, the CLA submitted a response to the Defra consultation, Improving our management of water in the environment. At the time, I wrote a blog outlining some of the key elements to our response. Defra has now published their own answers, indicating whether they intend to go ahead with the proposals.

Fantastically, there were numerous important wins for CLA members. Our response highlighted the importance of water trading, better options for water storage and the need to take into account all aspects of a farm business before considering reducing or revoking abstraction licences. All of this has been listened to, with the government making it clear that water trading and flexible abstraction will be encouraged, there will be grants for farmers to invest in things like on-farm reservoirs, and that any changes to abstraction licences will be done on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all aspects of a farm business.

The CLA has always been very supportive of local Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) and we strongly believe that they are often the best placed groups locally to manage water levels and reduce flood risk. We made this point in our submission, encouraging the government to look at a new funding methodology to make it easier for new IDBs to be formed where they are needed, and existing ones expanded. This looks very likely to be going ahead which is great news for many of our members, particularly for those in the North where there is a huge need.

The CLA, and many other farming groups, heavily criticised proposals to reduce or remove abstraction licences without providing compensation. We argued that permanent abstraction licences are property rights and business assets even when they are not in use. Climate change and growing population will mean it’s likely farmers will be using them in the future. Removing licences without compensation will have huge consequences for farmers across the country.

Despite our evidenced objections, and a unified voice from the sector, it looks likely that Defra will proceed with these proposals. Given the importance of licences to many farmers, we will explore all avenues, starting with returning to Defra and the Environment Agency as a matter of urgency stressing the need to review their current position.

While we will continue to make the case for our members on this particular issue, we are delighted to have secured some important wins on behalf of our members in the management and use of water.