NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board Member, Tim Papworth, looks at the current dry winter and the impact that rescinding water abstraction licences will have.
This time last year I wrote an article which reflected the incredibly wet conditions we were facing and the impacts it was having on farm. The article was titled ‘Wet Wet Wet’ but this time it’s going to have to be called ‘Dry Dry Dry’! This dry spell and the lack of rain over winter so far has meant that many growers have not been able to fill their reservoirs. This, combined with the disastrous situation in my area where the Environment Agency are minded to revoke 21 agricultural water abstraction licences from the Bure, Ant and Thurne catchment, leaves the holders of both time limited and licences of right (permanent) with a very uncertain future.
In a recent letter to Baroness Byford from Lord Gardiner he states that the Environment Agency needs to balance the needs of people, business and the environment. But I feel the balance has now swung too far in favour of the environment and businesses and growers’ livelihoods are going to lose out massively. The battle is not yet lost, the NFU legal team are looking at how we can rebut this decision, but after the Catfield Fen debacle it feels like we are trying to push water uphill!
The present decision will see a huge effect on the local economy because fruit and veg cannot be grown without a secure supply of water. Nick Deane asked SOS Michael Gove a direct question at the recent NFU Conference and Mr Gove promised to write back to Nick once he had spoken to Sir James Beven, the head of the EA, next week. I for one will be very keen to see what the response will be. The EA does not have a great deal of evidence to back up the decline in the status of the SSSI’s but because they cannot rule abstraction out, they invoke the precautionary principle. This is an awful piece of legislation which means you are guilty until proven innocent! I started working on three of my time limited abstraction licences back in September 2017 and here we are in 2019 with no decision yet made. It is time for common sense to prevail.