14 November 1997

Anglian water grab plans will hit irrigation…

By Tony McDougal

EAST Anglia farmers claim plans by their local water company to increase winter abstractions from rivers could severely impair their crop irrigation supplies next spring.

They are infuriated by Anglian Waters proposals to increase abstraction from the rivers Ouse and Nene this winter to top up reservoirs which serve expanding towns as far afield as Milton Keynes.

Anglian Water says it needs to halve the minimum residual flow from this December to the end of May of the Ouse and Nene to assist in refilling Grafham and Pitsford reservoirs, which have been depleted by the long-term drought.

Scheme critics

But the NFU has joined the Environment Agency, English Nature and the RSPB in criticising the scheme. Paul Hammett, NFU East Anglia senior technical adviser, said reduced winter flows would affect farmers who wanted to irrigate next spring.

"The water in the Ouse is critical to major intensive businesses. Farmers have already been on restrictions for the past couple of years, and can only cut back so much before crop quality is affected."

One horticulture business which may be affected by Anglian Waters proposals is GS Shropshire and Sons (Norfolk), which is investing £150,000 in a 40m gallon reservoir at Rosedean Farm, Methwold Fen, near Southery, to combat drought.

Salads &celery

The 1011ha (2500-acre) business specialises in salads and celery for the big retailers. Peter Shropshire is concerned there could be a knock-on effect on his firms abstraction during the winter from the river Wissey, which is a tributary of the Ouse.

Mr Shropshire said his abstraction licence this year was restricted by the Environment Agency by 50% from June, and that the reservoir was essential.

"The nature of the crops, and the need to have a continuity of supplies for multiples, makes water essential to safeguard the business.

"We are getting to a stage when all parties are trying to grab the last drop, but it seems that agriculture is the first to lose out.

"We have to fund the reservoirs without grant aid and farmers are always the first to have their abstraction licences affected, while a hose-pipe ban seems a last resort," he added.

&#8226 Environment minister, Michael Meacher, is set to make a decision on Anglian Waters proposals in early December.