Scottish farmers say they are fearful that restrictions on taking water from rivers imposed in parts of the country “will now be the end for some,” and that the decision will affect the vegetable sector for “weeks and months to come.”
On Saturday, Scotland’s water environmental agency SEPA banned farmers from abstracting water from the River Eden in Fife, east Scotland, saying that levels had become “critical” amid the ongoing heatwave.
‘Complete Crop Failure’
Major farming union NFU Scotland told The Epoch Times that the areas were some of the most important for farming in Scotland and that “without water for these crops growers will now have complete crop failure.”
The temporary suspension on water abstraction licences was being imposed from midnight on Aug. 13 for the vast majority of farmers in the River Eden catchment to allow levels to recover, authorities said.
A SEPA spokesperson told The Epoch Times by email that there are 56 full suspensions and 23 partial suspensions for the River Eden and North Fife Coastal catchment areas.
The 30-mile-long River Eden is one of Fife’s two principal rivers, along with the Leven.
The suspensions are part of Scotland’s National Water Scarcity Plan, which sets out how water resources will be managed prior to and during periods of prolonged dry weather.
In its net-zero plans (pdf), SEPA said that it has helped Scotland’s farmers prepare for “water scarcity.” This means that during dry periods it is required to “balance the need for sustainable water use whilst protecting the environment.”
‘A More Regular Occurrence’
In a statement, David Harley, interim chief officer for circular economy for SEPA, said that having to “impose suspensions on water abstractions underlines the severity of the conditions being experienced in the east of Scotland this summer. It is not a step we take lightly, but the evidence is clear, and it is one we can no longer avoid.”
“We’re working closely with Scottish farmers to ensure the sustainability of local water environments for all who rely on them. Without action, there is a substantial risk of impacts on fish populations, natural habitats and longer-term damage to watercourses,” he said.
Harley said that climate change will lead to “water scarcity becoming a more regular occurrence.”
On Aug. 15, the Met Office warned of large thunderstorms and heavy rain over most parts of Scotland.
A SEPA spokesperson told The Epoch Times by email that in terms of the weather, they are waiting to see what impact the storms will have “on the water scarcity situation.”
Scotland is a “Hydro Nation” where water resources are developed so as to bring the maximum benefit to the Scottish economy.
The first Hydro Nation strategy was created in February 2012 to fulfil the statutory duty outlined in the Water Resources (Scotland) Act 2013 for Scottish ministers to “take such reasonable steps as they consider appropriate for the purpose of ensuring the development of the value of Scotland’s water resources”.
‘Threaten the Viability of Their Businesses’
In a statement to The Epoch Times, NFU Scotland said that the economic impact of this decision will be felt for “weeks and months to come” and that “many crops will fail, jobs will be lost, and the viability of some farms is at risk.”
NFU Scotland added that it has “sought to find a way to allow irrigation to continue for the crops most at risk when water is unavailable.”
“We asked for high risk crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce to be prioritised and for leeway to be given emphasising that food security and economic concerns should play an important role in decision-making.”
It added that other catchments are being closely monitored for water bans.
NFU Scotland Horticulture Committee Chair Iain Brown said that without water for these crops growers will now have a complete crop failure, which will cost its members “millions of pounds of lost revenue and threaten the viability of their businesses.”
“The last few years have been difficult for many in the vegetable sector, and this will now be the end for some,” he said.
“Blanket abstraction bans are just wrong. Food production is critical and should be prioritised. More planning is required, and more resilience needs to be put in place to ensure crops can be grown,” added Brown.
‘Signs of Stress’
In England and Wales, water services are provided by privately-owned companies. In Scotland, the public corporation Scottish Water is accountable to Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament.
On Friday, a national drought was declared in England, after a prolonged period of low rainfall from January to July 2022, the lowest since 1976.
This has led to hosepipe bans in England and Wales and at one point, residents were encouraged to report their neighbours to water companies if they found them repeatedly breaching the outdoor water-use restrictions.
At the time, the NFU said many farmers were reporting crops such as sugar beet and maize were showing “signs of stress” because of the drought and field vegetables and potatoes, which need irrigation, were also struggling. If crops fail it could lead to an increase in the price of sugar, potatoes, carrots, and broccoli.
Alexander Zhang and Chris Summers contributed to this report.