The Environment Agency said it would offer flexibility on water abstraction licensing to farmers to help with drought conditions following a series of meetings.

The flexibility, which would be on an emergency and short-term basis, follows representations from a range of groups, including the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), after the drought situation worsened.

Speaking at the NFU’s agricultural drought summit on Wednesday, August 1, Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “We are working closely with the NFU and the wider farming community to make sure farmers have access to water to produce food and run their businesses. We will provide flexible abstraction licensing where possible as long as we can be sure it does not adversely impact other water users and the environment.”

The news will be welcomed by growers who are swiftly running out of water for fruit and vegetable production as they use up their annual abstraction volumes, while livestock who rely on drinking water from abstracted sources are at risk.

NFU water specialist Paul Hammett told the summit that British growers achieve remarkably high levels of self-sufficiency in the production of fruit and vegetables.

“We are pleased that the agency has committed itself to rapid decision-making on short term abstractions,” he said.

The EA has stressed that no ‘blanket’ exemptions will be available and under no circumstances can abstractors operate outside the terms of their existing abstraction licences without prior approval.

It is expected that where proposals can be approved, decisions will be made in days and without the need to vary or modify existing licences.

Interested parties should contact the Environment Agency National Customer Contact Centre on 03708 506 506.