Farmers’ use of water for irrigation is under greater scrutiny as time-limited licensing comes on stream.

Growers at last week’s UK Irrigation Association seminar in Peterborough were encouraged to audit water use and improve efficiency if they want to successfully renew abstraction licences.

The good news is that many already undertake the sort of auditing that the Environment Agency will need.

Outlining the three proposed tests that will need to be met when renewing licences or applying for new ones, the EA’s John Aldrick said irrigators already recorded much of the information likely to be required.

“What we don’t see is that information presented to the agency.”

Dr Aldrick said there had been a “very positive” response to recent consultation on proposed arrangements for administering time-limited licences.

“Water audits are widely practised,” he said.

But he offered what he likened to a policeman’s caution.

“We can’t make efficiency [of water use] a legal requirement, but it will come up at licence renewal.”

Neither could the EA compel water users to take specific actions to make better use of water, he explained.

But such actions would be considered when licences were renewed.

The Agency could always be challenged on its decisions, but that might not be cheap.

The possibility of licence trading was still to be explored, said Dr Aldrick.