Nottinghamshire farmers’ concerns regarding the future availability of water for agriculture were the centre of discussions at a CLA event in Mansfield on Wednesday (27 July).
They met with Defra’s Head of Abstraction Henry Leveson-Gower, and representatives from the Environment Agency and Severn Trent Water, plus CLA’s Senior Policy Adviser Jonathan Baker, to examine proposals to reform water abstraction regulation and what this would mean to them at a local level in the Idle and Torne river catchments.
The abstraction system is currently undergoing a revamp in an attempt to safeguard supplies and the environment in the face of climate change and increasing business demand. However, cconcerns have been raised by the agricultural industry that reforms could leave growers without enough water to irrigate crops in years of extreme drought or grow their businesses in the future – potentially leading to farms being unable to operate effectively.
CLA East Regional Director Ben Underwood said: “There has been a real need for Government to communicate the plans for reform more effectively; farmers are understandably concerned regarding what it all means to them and their businesses.
“The ability for them to continue abstracting the water they need to produce food is critical. If this important challenge is not met, UK food production and jobs will both be at risk, with shortfalls in domestic production being met by imports.
“We understand radical reform of such a complex system needs careful and thoughtful planning, but the time taken to advance plans has caused uncertainty. This ultimately leads to landowners and farmers lacking the confidence to make long-term capital investments in their businesses.
“Reform will inevitably mean there will be winners and losers, so it’s vital Defra, Environment Agency, and the water companies engage with farmers to better understand their needs and examine the potential for better collaboration.
“It is clear from this meeting that farmers are very keen to engage with the reform process and do what they can to help protect water and the environment. They are also keen to understand the opportunities it presents, such as working collaboratively with fellow farmers in river catchments, building on-farm reservoirs, and how water trading could work to the benefit of all those who require water at peak times.
“We will now be looking at how we can build on this initial meeting and move discussions forward so that local farmers and landowners can continue to have a real say in ensuring these proposals do not blight rural businesses.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Leveson-Gower was given a tour of a farm near Worksop owned by CLA Nottinghamshire branch committee member Tim Bradshaw, so he could better understand the needs of a farm business operating in an area where ground water supplies are under stress.
Mr Bradshaw said: “We live in one of most water stretched parts of the county, if not the region, and without fair access to water rural businesses could be squeezed out of the market.
“There have been lots of mixed messages and a lack of clarity regarding abstraction reform, but facilitating discussion through this meeting has certainly made me feel a lot less apprehensive about the reform as I was when I was first made aware of it.
“There is a desire between everyone who attended to keep the discussions going and continue to examine how local solutions can be implemented through collaborative working for the benefit of all.”