Time running out to protect historic abstraction rights in previously 'exempt areas'

Picture of a dripping tap

The NFU is urging farmers and growers in ‘previously exempt areas’ who have been lawfully abstracting water outside regulatory control to submit an application for an abstraction licence without delay.

The need to hold a licence to abstract water has never applied to small but significant pockets of the country where abstractions have fallen outside regulatory control – until now.

The Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales have identified 11 areas of England and Wales where exemptions will come to a close on 31 December 2019, including:

  1. Scottish/English Border rivers such as the Tweed and Till
  2. Former ‘Northumbrian Water Act’ area covering catchments in Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham and Tees where, until now, licences have not been needed for groundwater abstractions of less than one million gallons per year
  3. River Usk ‘inland waters’ in Camarthen and Brecon areas
  4. Severn River Authority Order areas of Wales, together with specific parishes in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire
  5. Gwynedd River Authority groundwater abstractions
  6. South west Wales underground strata and Tennant canal in parts of the counties of Pembroke, Cardigan Camarthen, Brecknock, Montgomery, offshore islands; and the Tennant canal
  7. Dee and Clwyd Water Authority in areas of Denbigh, Flint, Merioneth, Montgomery, and Shropshire
  8. Great Ouse catchment within the urban area of Cambridge
  9. Bristol-Avonmouth Docks
  10. Various areas along the north Somerset coast and parishes
  11. Groundwater abstractions from specific parishes in Devon and Cornwall

In all these areas an abstraction licence will be required where the abstraction exceeds 20 cubic metres (4400 gallons) per day. Where this daily threshold is never exceeded, then a new licence should not be required.

NFU members can get more information on this topic in this member briefing.

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NFU water specialist Paul Hammett said that when introducing the new rules, the government made it clear that it recognises that abstractions in these previously exempt areas are lawful. It has therefore put special provisions in place to make it easier than usual for those needing to apply for a licence. But the application window closes soon. He said:

“These special provisions for licence applications apply only during the current transitional period which ends on 31 December 2019.
“Applications must be submitted to, and be validated by, the Environment Agency (or Natural Resources Wales) by that deadline. Since the Environment Agency says it could take up to three months to validate a licence application after submission, the Agency recommends that applications should be submitted by 1 October."

The new regulatory provisions apply to a wide range of abstraction activities as well as those in the previously geographically exempt areas including:

  • All forms of irrigation including trickle irrigation
  • Transfer of water by a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority
  • Transfer of water into and between internal drainage districts
  • Dewatering mines, quarries and engineering works
  • Warping (abstraction of water containing silt for deposit onto agricultural land)
  • Abstractions for managed wetland systems and water level management plans
  • Most abstractions operated by The Crown and visiting forces, and the Ministry of Defence

The regulatory process surrounding ‘new authorisations’ can be complicated and members should seek further information from the Environment Agency available online which explains how to apply for a new abstraction licence for a previously exempt abstraction.

For help with completing the application forms and for general information and guidance, phone the Environment Agency hotline on 03708 506506 or write to enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk

In order to safeguard existing rights of access to abstracted water, members should always consider seeking professional help and support.

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