Water abstraction ban a ‘devastating blow’ for Fife veg growers

Farmers in parts of Fife are being banned from abstracting water after supplies reached critical levels.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is suspending water abstractions for most licence holders in mid- and north Fife after river and groundwater levels became critical in the east of Scotland. 

The water environment in the River Eden catchment reached “significant scarcity” last week – the highest category for water scarcity defined by Sepa – and is getting worse as the hot and dry weather continues.

See also: Editor’s view: We need a better plan for water security

NFU Scotland said Sepa’s decision to suspend surface water abstraction licences for farmers in the Eden catchment in north Fife from midnight on Saturday 13 August will be a “devastating blow” to vegetable growers, and risked crop failures.

Crop failure risk – NFUS

NFUS horticulture committee chairman Iain Brown said: “We asked Sepa to allow priority crops such as broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce to continue to be irrigated. In the past this has been possible albeit at reduced rates.  

“Without water for these crops growers will now have complete crop failure, which will cost our members millions of pounds of lost revenue and threaten the viability of their businesses. The past few years have been difficult for many in the vegetable sector, and this will now be the end for some.

“Blanket abstraction bans are just wrong. Food production is critical and should be prioritised. More planning is required, and more resilience needs to be put in place to ensure crops can be grown.”

NFUS said the economic effects of this decision would be felt for weeks and months to come and it warned that “many crops will fail, jobs will be lost, and the viability of some farms is at risk”. 

Sepa is closely monitoring other catchments and considering further temporary abstraction bans, including in the Tweed catchment in the Borders.

Suspension notices

All abstractors affected will receive suspension notices. Sepa warned that continuing to abstract without a licence is an offence and its officers will be visiting abstractors to ensure compliance. “As soon as conditions improve, we will lift the suspensions,” it said.

David Harley, interim chief officer circular economy for Sepa, said: “Having to impose suspensions on water abstractions underlines the severity of the conditions being experienced in the east of Scotland this summer.

“It is not a step we take lightly, but the evidence is clear, and it is one we can no longer avoid.

“We’re working closely with Scottish farmers to ensure the sustainability of local water environments for all who rely on them. Without action, there is a substantial risk of impacts on fish populations, natural habitats and longer-term damage to watercourses.”