New Defra plan offers additional water investment for farmers

05 April 2023

Environment and climate
A photo of the River Alde in Suffolk.

New plans announced by Defra outline further support to farm infrastructure funds, aiming to support improved water supply, quality and management systems. 

The "Plan for Water: our integrated plan for delivering clean and plentiful water" was launched by Defra on 4 April 2023 at an event which took place at the London Wetland Centre.

The plan outlines the measures that Defra intends to take in order to transform the management of Britain's water system, clean up the water environment and create a sustainable supply of water for people, businesses and nature. 

It includes: 

  • More than doubling the funds available to farmers through the Slurry Infrastructure Grant to £33.9m
  • A further £10m support through the Water Management Grant to fund on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment
  • Support development of Agricultural Water Resources Management Plans through the Water for Food Group initiated by the NFU
  • Increased oversight and enforcement to ensure all sectors are fulfilling their legal responsibilities

More investment planned

The new plans from Defra show that further funds will be made available through the Slurry Infrastructure Grant, with a further two rounds to be opened in late 2023 and early 2024. 

A second round of the Water Management Grant has also been planned, which supports farmers with food production by enabling them to store more water on their land and fund better irrigation equipment.

The new plan also announces the launch of a Lowland Peat Research and Development programme, which aims to identify the best way to reduce emissions from lowland peatlands. 

For farms and other sites that rely on septic tanks, Defra will explore funding and other support options for improving septic tank activities. 

Using funds collected through water company fines and penalties for pollution, a new Water Restoration Fund will be created to support local groups and projects which hope to re-meander rivers and restore natural habitats. 

Further community-led schemes with aims to improve waterways and the surrounding ecosystems will also be provided with new funding through the scheme.

“Defra’s plan for water addresses some of the current and future water challenges facing farm businesses and will help farmers and growers build the essential on-farm infrastructure to prepare for the future.”

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw

Defra aims to increase the amount of water stored by the farming sector by 66% by 2050 to support food production and protect the water environment.  

In addition to helping farmers with the costs of building on-farm water reservoirs and irrigation equipment through the Water Management Grant, Defra will farmers access to water when needed in drought and enable them to refill reservoirs more frequently through the year, whilst still protecting the environment. 

They have also committed to support the development of new Agricultural Water Resources Management Plans through the Water for Food Group, initiated by the NFU. 

Securing the water supply for farmers 

The allocation of abstraction rights will be reviewed, making it quicker for farmers to obtain abstraction licences, and easier to trade water with farmers who do not have enough. 

A call for evidence will also be launched for evidence on the planning barriers faced to small reservoir holders, with a view to helping land managers with water supply.

Defra’s recently published Plan for Water highlights that water is ‘vital for food security’. In addition, we know water for food production underpins a number of wider benefits.

The NFU’s Water Resources infographic outlines the importance of water for food and it’s wider benefits and makes clear asks of Government to support resilience measures for these sectors and to meet the Government’s commitment to “at a minimum, maintain the current level of food we produce domestically.”

Smarter regulation and co-ordination

The announcement includes plans for a new National Policy Statement for Water Resources Infrastructure, which allows for faster decision making and fewer delays for water supply projects. 

This will allow new water supplies, such as reservoirs, water recycling, and water transfer schemes, to be built more quickly. 

Existing regulatory arrangements for private sewage discharges will be reviewed, for example, to allow for better registration going forwards. 

There will also be improved co-ordination between water regulators arm’s-length bodies to ensure that all sectors, including farming, are fulfilling their legal responsibilities when it comes to water regulation. 

Further co-ordination is also planned between water and flood planning, which Defra hopes will lead to bigger impacts in nature.

You can read the government's plan in full at: GOV.UK | Plan for Water: our integrated plan for delivering clean and plentiful water

More work needed to restore industry confidence

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: “Defra’s plan for water addresses some of the current and future water challenges facing farm businesses and will help farmers and growers build the essential on-farm infrastructure to prepare for the future.

“Increased funding for the Slurry Infrastructure Grant is welcome and will help farmers to continue to best manage this valuable resource.

“Funding for the Water Management Grant is also essential to help farmers to secure water supplies for food production. However more needs to be done to help restore the confidence. Currently the industry isn’t guaranteed access to water to fill winter storage reservoirs, and this needs to be addressed urgently.

“We look forward to hearing more about the funding and support for river catchment partnerships. Particularly where these can be farmer-led and integrated to address water resources, flood management and water quality.”

See our NFU manifesto asks

Our manifesto

Our general election manifesto – Farming for Britain's Future – outlines our key asks of the next government to ensure farmers and growers can continue to deliver for the environment, economy and local communities while producing more of the great British food we all enjoy.


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