Farmers told to apply for water abstraction licences now

Farmers required to apply for an abstraction licence for previously exempt activities risk losing their right to abstract unless they get on with it before the end of the month.

New regulations came into effect on 1 January 2018 which ended the practice of taking water from the environment for certain uses and from certain sources without an abstraction licence (see “Who needs to apply?”).

Farmers in England and Wales who have previously been able to abstract water under an exemption were given a two-year window in which to get a new licence in place – also known as a new authorisation.

See also: Abstraction licence breaches could lead to BPS penalties 

But the Environment Agency has warned that it needs enough time to accept and validate applications before the final 31 December 2019 deadline, and this process can take up to three months.

To be valid, an application must contain all of the necessary information set out in the guidance notes.

An application will not be accepted as valid until the EA has confirmed that all the required information has been provided and that it is correct.

“This is why the Environment Agency and Defra have strongly advised those now needing a licence to submit their application by 30 September, as this allows sufficient time for any mistakes with the application to be rectified before the deadline,” said a Defra statement.

Alexandra Phillips, an associate at law firm MFG Solicitors, said farmers who continued to abstract after 31 December without the appropriate licence faced being left with hefty financial penalties or enforcement action.

“These new rules are coming in to help protect the environment and we want all landowners and farmers who take water from their land to have the correct abstraction licence in place,” she said.

“It is vital to apply now, as abstractors should benefit from the Environment Agency’s current ‘light touch’ approach, which means that most existing abstractors’ applications will be approved.

“The last thing people want is to be short of water if they are watering crops or feeding animals.

“Applying quickly for the new-look licence will therefore guard against any of those risks.”

Delayed applications

Farmers who get their validated applications in on time should have a licence granted based on their existing abstraction requirements.

The Environment Agency will still validate applications after the 31 December deadline, providing that the application has been received before the closing date.

If the application is correct and complete it will still be accepted as valid at this point.

However, if the application includes incorrect or incomplete information the applicant will not be able to benefit from the special transitional arrangements in place.

This means their application will be considered under more stringent regulations and licences will be granted on the basis of water availability.

As a result, farmers may risk losing their right to secure their current water supply where no new water is available.

Who needs to apply?

Farmers abstracting more than 20cu m on any one day for one of the previously exempt purposes listed below, and where the abstraction started before 1 January 2018, must apply to the Environment Agency for an abstraction licence.

  • All forms of irrigation, including trickle
  • Transfers into managed wetland systems to maintain field water levels
  • Abstractions within previously exempt areas – there are currently 11 of these dotted across England and Wales
  • Transferring water by a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority
  • Abstracting water into and between internal drainage districts
  • Dewatering mines, quarries and engineering works
  • Warping (abstraction of water containing silt for deposit onto agricultural land)
  • The majority of abstractions covered by Crown and visiting forces

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