Drought fears: Bury St Edmunds farmers agree to voluntarily cut amount of water they take from River Lark

A GROUP of farmers in the west of Suffolk and east Cambridgeshire have voluntarily agreed to cut the amount of water they take from the River Lark as the area battles with drought conditions following a ‘dry’ winter.

Around 50 farmers from the Lark Abstractors group met last night and agreed to voluntarily reduce the amount of water abstracted from ground water in the Lark by a fifth, with immediate effect.

This will save enough water to fill 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The decision follows a visit earlier this week to the Euston Estate near Thetford by National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall, as East Anglia emerged from its second dry winter in a row, and its driest five months on record.

He talked to worried farmers about how they were coping with drought and how technology may be used to help them in future.

At this time of year, underground reserves of water are ordinarily replenished, and rivers returned to their optimum flow. But the extended lack of rainfall has drained the reservoirs and boreholes containing water supplies.

Lark Abstractors chairman Lindsay Hargreaves said they hoped last night’s agreement, reached by growers at a packed meeting at the NFU headquarters in Newmarket, would encourage other water users to act responsibly.

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“This decision wasn’t taken lightly but, after a long discussion, growers unanimously agreed to a 20% reduction with immediate effect,” he said.

“We now hope the Environment Agency can use this agreement to encourage all other water users to take an equally responsible approach in these difficult times.”

NFU senior policy adviser Paul Hammett said: “This decision is the clearest signal yet of the farming community’s determination to manage a path through a challenging situation.

“Voluntary action like this depends on building trust between farmers and the Environment Agency as regulator. As an attempt to make our water supply last as long as possible, it makes sound business sense and shows farmers’ commitment to protecting the environment.”

Among the abstractors voting for voluntary restrictions was Matt King from Upton Suffolk Farms at Herringswell, Bury St Edmunds.

He said: “It’s a proactive approach to a potentially worsening situation. It’s good to see growers joining together and agreeing to take this step.”

In anticipation of reduced water availability, the farm has reduced its onion crop from 100 hectares down to 70 hectares, and planted 50 hectares of parsnips earlier than usual to try and reduce the need to irrigate.