The resilience of potato and horticulture businesses to changes in abstraction licencing


CP 159 - The resilience of potato and horticulture businesses to changes in abstraction licencing

Start Date: 
Completion Date: 
Project Leader: 
Kate Ody, Ricardo Energy & Environment
CP 159

Industry Representatives: Martin Emmett (Binsted Nursery)Bruce Kerr (William Kerr (Farms) Ltd)Phillip Effingham (Greentech Consultancy Ltd), Paul Hammett (NFU) and Trevor Bishop (Environment Agency).

AHDB Horticulture Cost: £93,381


The AHDB is committed to ensuring that the agricultural and horticultural sectors plan and appropriately adapt to the way water resources are managed. To facilitate this, the AHDB is undertaking a project to evaluate the resilience of potato and horticulture businesses to changes in abstraction licensing in England, Scotland and Wales. 

Horticultural produce and potatoes are high value crops and have significant water demands. They are reliant on access to water to ensure quality, quantity and timely supply of produce, either through supplementation by abstracted water for rain fed-crops or via complete irrigation of protected crops. 

Defra and the Scottish and Welsh governments are revising the licensing system for abstracted water to comply with increasing pressures on water resources and EU environmental obligations. The volume of water available for abstraction is determined in England by the EA Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS); in Wales by Natural Resources Wales and in Scotland by SEPA through Water Resource Management Plans. The UK government reforms are applying three measures:

  • Resolution of unsustainable abstractions through voluntary and compulsory licence changes. 
  • Removal of current abstraction exceptions to regulate all abstractions. 
  • Introduction of a reformed abstraction licensing system to meet future water resource demand challenges.

Aim and Objective: 

To analyse and interpret the resilience of the potato and horticulture sectors to the proposed changes in water abstraction in Britain. 


The potential impact of abstraction reform on current licences has led to a degree of uncertainty within the agricultural sector, particularly the potato and horticultural sectors which are highly dependent on abstracted water. This study will assess the complexities of the opportunities and challenges that the proposed reforms will bring. The key objectives identified are: 

1. To undertake a survey of the sector levy members, ensuring that there is sufficient numerical representation to provide a detailed understanding of the current water regimes and water availability across Britain and management for the following sectors: 

a. Potatoes 

b. Field horticulture 

c. Protected horticulture 

d. Containerised plants grown outdoors. 

The survey will be conducted within the first seven months of the project. 

2. Identification of knowledge and infrastructure gaps. Survey questions will be tailored to gather data on sector preparations to reduce reliance on abstracted water. The answers collated will provide information on the knowledge and infrastructure gaps within the sectors and recommendations on areas to address will be provided to AHDB. 

3. Survey results and conclusions will be drawn in month eight and compared with other similar recent research. 

4. Develop stakeholder documents. Stakeholder documents will be produced offering clear guidance on the current abstraction licence system (relevant to each country e.g. Scotland,Wales). These will also detail proposed changes and the actions growers will have to take to ensure compliance. The documents will also provide applicable mitigation measures including water efficiency, advice based on maintenance, technological advancement and infrastructure investment. The stakeholder documents will be produced in accordance with an agreed timeframe at the inception meeting with the majority produced by month eleven, but it is suggested that one of the articles is published in month eight to correspond with the survey results. Documentation will be tailored to meet the different audiences as determined by AHDB, including growers, policy makers, and the water industry. It will be delivered ahead of project completion in month eleven.