Warmer temperatures often conjures up thoughts of al fresco dining, lazy days spent lounging in your local park and weekend BBQs. What many of us fail to think about is the impact the warm, dry weather has on the environment.
Farmers feel the heat
One group feeling the pressure is farmers. The combination of a harsh winter (remember the Beast from the East?) and a late spring means yields are down and forage production is low.
Naturally adaptable, the farming community is used to working within a changing environment but thanks to the lack of rain recently, they’re having to seek out alternative options and even diversifying and planting different crops at different times of the year.
Working with nature, farmers have always had to be good at conserving the resources they rely on. For instance, irrigating in the evening, washing down their parlours with a low volume hose and generally using water as efficiently as possible. Water is vital to their livelihood and without it, their crops, livestock and land will suffer.
With the dry weather set to continue (although sporadic bouts of rain expected intermediately), the Environment Agency is working really hard to take some of the pressure off.
Here are a few of the things we’re doing to support farmers:
A more flexible approach to water abstraction. We recently issued guidance to farmers setting out options to flex water abstraction licences if situations are becoming critical. Individual cases will be assessed to minimise impacts to the environment or the rights of other water users, but options include:
- Trading water allowances on a short-term basis, without the need to change their licence. This means farmers can work with others neighbouring farms to share their water allowances and ensure everyone has enough for their needs.
- Emergency and additional abstraction may be granted temporarily where there’s an imminent threat to crops and livestock.
In the East Anglia we are allowing abstractors to move water around through reservoir releases so that other farmers can use this water when their own licence conditions no longer enable them to abstract themselves.
We are also allowing short term trading of licences for the remainder of the 2018 irrigation season, in order for farmers to continue to water their crops for market.
- Developing extreme weather guidance for slurry and milk spreading on agricultural land. If farmers have to dispose of slurry or milk on their land, then this advice lets them know what action they need to take to avoid water pollution or minimise soil damage.
Farmers are urged to contact the Environment Agency directly for advice if their activity is at risk of causing pollution. Email: email@example.com. Telephone 03708 506 506. More information here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/preventing-agricultural-pollution-in-exceptional-weather
- Investigating illegal water abstractions. Illegal abstraction results in less water for farmers who are working within their licence conditions.
In East Anglia, we’ve had several reports of illegal abstraction, non-compliances and concerns about water usage. Recently officers carried out across the catchment to check licences. They found a number of non-compliances and have been giving advice and guidance to others.
- Following up on reports of illegal water impoundment. People impounding water means less water for farmers who are working within their licence conditions.
Case in point
EA teams worked with Anglian Water and local Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) to ensure that water was available to transfer into the Middle Level fenland system for as long as possible before water levels were too low and abstraction had to stop completely.
And when the rain does come?
Often dry spells will be followed by heavy rain, here’s our top tips for farmers:
- Move livestock away from areas which might flash flood
- Check farmyard drainage channels are clear and able to function
- Make sure that cracked ground won’t be a direct pathway for slurry to pass straight into land drains
- Ensure slurry and silage reception pits have capacity to take sudden rain fall
- If you see pollution or see fish in distress call the Environment Agency on our 24 hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60
We’re all in this together
With the sweltering temperatures and limited rainfall likely to continue, it’s important that we all consider the actions we can take to use water wisely. The al fresco fun, picnics and BBQs are great, but spare a thought to the environment and consider ways to conserve water.
Here at the EA, we’re doing our bit by not cleaning our fleet vehicles or office windows to avoid unnecessary water usage.
For handy tips, visit your local water company’s website or alternatively head to: www.waterwise.org.uk