Defra has responded to a consultation it held earlier this year on ‘Improving our management of water in the environment.’
On the plus side there are moves to make it easier to form Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs), but less welcome for farmers will be Defra’s proposal that the Environment Agency should be able to remove or change some permanent abstraction licences without compensation.
Earlier this year, the CLA submitted a response to the Defra consultation. It says it has always been supportive of local IDBs and argued that they are often the best placed groups locally to manage water levels and reduce flood risk. In the CLA submission to Defra, the CLA supported the government proposal to look at a new funding methodology to make it easier for new IDBs to be formed where needed, and existing ones expanded.
The Defra response made it clear that this very likely to be going ahead, which is welcome news for many farmers, particularly for those in the North where there is a huge need, says CLA North rural surveyor Robert Frewen.
“We have been working very closely with the farming community in the North West to re-establish the IDBs that were abolished there in the 1970s, so this is a very welcome result on the back of years of lobbying by the CLA.
“Drainage and water level management is vitally important to ensure agricultural land remains fertile, whilst also reducing the risk of flooding, particularly in East Yorkshire where we’ve been working with partner organisations on the Humberside Flood Risk Management Strategy.”
As part of the consultation, Defra also proposed that the Environment Agency should be able to remove or change some permanent abstraction licences without compensation if the licence is unused, under-used or has the potential to cause environmental damage.
The CLA vociferously opposed this approach as it says abstraction licences are considered business assets that add value to land, allow for diversification and in future will help farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change. “It is therefore disappointing that Defra will be going ahead with their proposal to remove abstraction licences without compensation in certain circumstances,” says CLA.
While the CLA says it supports sustainable abstraction, it adds that it is important that farmers and landowners are properly compensated should these licences be changed or revoked.
However, it says it is heartened by Defra’s response that historic under-use should be looked at over a period of at least 10 years, that each licence should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, giving consideration to future business potential, and that the removal of an abstraction licence will be a last resort. However, the CLA says it will continue to argue that licence holders should be entitled to compensation to recognise the loss of property rights.
In its submission, the CLA says it suggested other measures to increase sustainable abstraction. These included:
The organisation says it considers it a major win in that the government made it clear after the consultation that water trading and flexible abstraction will be encouraged, there will be grants for farmers to invest in, for example, 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.