23 May 1997

Tradeable permits

TRADEABLE permits for water abstraction could improve the efficiency and allocation of water use by growers, according to a new report for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The report, by Cranfield University and Middlesex University, confirms that the current inflexible abstraction licensing system prevents some growers getting the water they needed, while others have more than enough.

It says locally tradeable permits, allowing growers to buy and sell rights to abstract water would go some way towards remedying this. But it could also lead to increased water abstraction and potential environmental damage.

Joe Morris, Cranfield University economist, said a tradeable permit system would help to ensure that available water was put to best use. But it would require overall regulation to safeguard environmental standards.

Barbara Young, RSPB chief executive, said that any new system would have to maintain water levels at key wetland sites and ensure protection of the wider aquatic environment.

The RSPB points out that wetland habitats have dramatically declined over the past 50 years with reed-beds falling by 70% and lowland wet grassland declining by 60%.

Populations of bird species relying on these habitats, including bitterns and lapwings and have also fallen. &#42