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Government Water White Paper NFU responds




The NFU has reacted to the publication of the Government’s Water White Paper today, welcoming it as an opportunity to work with farmers and growers and the Government to identify specific and appropriate measures to move to a sustainable water regime.

The paper, launched by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today, confirmed the Government’s pledge to value water as a precious resource and contained few surprises for the NFU, said water policy adviser Jenny Bashford.

“The NFU and its members recognise the way water is used and managed needs to change. Farmers and growers stand ready to play their part in moving to a more sustainable water management regime, as this is critical to secure and extend domestic food supply and quality,” she added.

“The White Paper contains a number of measures that are welcome such as those encouraging investment and innovation and water efficiency, however, the NFU does have significant concerns which we feel need to be addressed. In particular, we are concerned about government encouraging a single market in abstraction licence trading, because it could lead to a potential haemorrhaging of agricultural water rights. To guard against this, the NFU has long called for ring fenced water for farmers and growers who use such a small proportion, just one per cent, of abstracted water.

“We are also cautious about the statement about extrapolating from the 70 catchment scale pilot projects into a national scheme – water is a local issue and a ‘one size fits all’ policy approach will not deliver sustainable water management. In our view, Defra and the Environment Agency need to understand better how water moves through different ‘families’ of catchments, for the approach to produce the intended outcomes.

“The NFU also recognises there is much to do on the long term reform of the abstraction regime, and that the process could lead to the identification of real opportunities, such as seasonal exchange of water rights access within the farming sector. However, we find little comfort in the few details that have been proposed which seems to indicate that water costs will rise, particularly in areas where supply is short and demand is high, and that farmers will be encouraged to sell their abstraction licences when they are not growing a crop that needs irrigating.

“We welcome the opportunity this process provides for the NFU to continue working with government, specifically to identify appropriate measures to help move to a sustainable water regime and ensure a secure allocation of water rights is available for food production in England and Wales.”

In summary, the NFU is pleased to see:

1) References to incentives for funding to encourage water efficiency and management measures by farmers which is encouraging and something the NFU would welcome.

2) The Government’s commitment to take forward the new “catchment-based approach”, evidence so far indicates it encourages real partnership working and delivery of benefits to farmers and society;

3) The intention to provide clearer guidance from Defra to help farmers and growers understand how to safeguard local water quality this was something asked for by respondents to the NFU’s five year water survey launched last month;

4) The announcement of the 3.5million innovation competition in water security to be launched by the Technology Strategy Board in March next year. The NFU will be looking to secure benefits for farmers and growers from this initiative.

5) A commitment to look at sources of pollution, other than agriculture, such as private wastewater facilities and abandoned metal mines.

The full Water White Paper Water for Life can be viewed here.


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