Farmers face irrigation controls

FORMAL restrictions on the irrigation of crops have been imposed on farmers across wide areas of East Anglia as a result of continuing drought conditions.

FORMAL restrictions on the irrigation of crops have been imposed on farmers across wide areas of East Anglia as a result of continuing drought conditions.

The Environment Agency says it has been able to delay introducing controls as a result of co-operation with farmers to help them save water but, with June having brought only 30% of average rainfall, it now has no alternative but impose restriction.

Many farmers are licensed by the EA to take water from rivers for irrigation which, in normal years, causes no problems for the wider environment. However, when river flows are low, abstraction can add to the pressure on fish and other forms of wildlife.

As a result of current conditions, farmers in South Suffolk, Essex and the River Yare catchment area in Norfolk are being limited to irrigating every other day or to 50% of the licensed volume of water.


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In south Cambridgeshire, a complete ban on irrigation has been imposed around Bassingbourn Brook, a tributary of the River Rhee.

Sarah Fowler, regional strategy manager at the EA, said: “The water situation is difficult this year, but it has been manageable so far because of the excellent co-operation we have had from farmers and the public in trying to reduce water consumption.

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“We recognise the difficulty that further restrictions will cause for some farmers and are keeping restrictions to the minimum necessary. We are appealing to farmers not affected by the restrictions and the public to continue helping by limiting their water use as much as possible.”

Paul Hammett, the National Farmers' Union environment adviser for East Anglia, said: “We are now entering a crucial stage in the growth cycle of potatoes and other root crops. Harvest is still over a month away and water is essential for crop yield and quality.

“Farmers have been working closely with the Environment Agency for several months to prepare for this situation and many have been voluntarily abstracting much less water than they are legally entitled to use in an attempt to eke out supplies for as long as possible.

“During this next crucial stage it will be vital for the NFU and the agency to stay in close contact,” he added. “Farmers can see the deteriorating situation for themselves but will need to be reassured that any irrigation bans that are introduced are unavoidable.”

n Updates on the drought situation and river levels, plus tips on saving water, are available on the Environment Agency website: www.environment-agency.gov.uk .

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