Archive Article: 1997/07/19

19 July 1997




The Environment Agency holds the power to grant abstraction licences. Who better then to answer some of the most common questions on spray irrigation.

How do I get an abstraction licence?

First, approach your local Environment Agency. In some catchments water resources may be fully committed and additional abstraction would not be sustainable without causing unacceptable environmental damage, so it is best to talk things through first.

To obtain an abstraction licence for more than than 20cu m/day, an application must be advertised in the local paper and the London Gazette before being submitted. Notices have to be served also on the local water company and other bodies.

Before granting a new licence, the Agency assesses whether the water requirements are reasonable, and that no protected rights will be affected.

The potential effect of the abstraction on river flows and groundwater resources is assessed, as are effects on amenity value, public health, land drainage, navigation, fisheries and nature conservation.

What rights does the

abstraction licence give me?

A licence gives the holder a right to take water on the term specified in the document and it guarantees that no one else who would require a licence can lawfully take the share of water allocated to you.

However, the licence does not guarantee the quality of water, or that the quantity authorised for abstraction, will always be available.

Conditions can be placed on licences to protect the available water resource and to ensure adequate flows or levels in the river.

The Agency can help growers make the most of their spray irrigation licence depending on availability of water in their area. Certain changes can be made to the conditions of a licence.

Can I sell on water which I dont need to my neighbour?

With a normal spray irrigation licence, you can only do this if the other person uses the water on land covered by the licence (for example, the other person may be your tenant).

If you want to sell it away from that land, then you become a water supplier. This means modifying the licence.

How you might do this depends on your requirements. You could vary the licence so you become only a water supplier, or if you still need some water for spray irrigation, you can combine that with spray irrigation on your land. However, you will still be limited to an overall maximum quantity.

Another way is to vary your licence, so land covered by the licence includes the land where the water you want to sell will beused.

Can I club together with other farmers to hold a group licence, to allow us all to use water more flexibly?

In theory, yes. However, there are practical complications. For example, all the farmers must show rights of access to all the individual sources, everyone is responsible for everyone else obeying the licence conditions, and individual farmers may not want to surrender what they see as valuable individual rights belonging to their land.

It is probably better for the group to arrange for all the individual licences to be varied to cover everyone elses land.

Can I sell all or part of my licence if I no longer want what it allows me to abstract?

Licences cannot be bought and sold on the open market, owing to legal constraints protecting peoples rights and the water environment.

If you no longer want your licence, you can revoke it; or you can simply reduce the authorised quantity if it allows more than you need.

You should think carefully about doing this, however, because in some areas it may be impossible for someone else who might occupy your land and want to irrigate to get the licence back again, which may reduce the value of your land.

One way of selling on the water may be to increase the area of authorised land, or become a water supplier.

Although the Agency may have to add restrictive conditions to this sort of variation, at least you keep your asset.


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