Abstraction Licencing

What have we been doing?

Here in the Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire area we have been very busy trying to spread the word to everyone who needs to apply for a New Authorisation. We have been in touch with local NFU branches, the RSPB, local IDBs and many others to provide information and support. We are also attending the Lincolnshire Show in June, in order to reach as many people as possible with these details. Similar things are being done nationwide to ensure that people have the opportunity to be compliant with the changes in law.

Changes to abstraction licencing – New Authorisations

The Environment Agency is responsible for a wide range of licences and permits, and the law has changed recently around one of these areas. Abstraction, which in environmental terms means the removal of water from a river or other source, is subject to licencing or exemptions. The law changed in January 2018, and some of these exempt examples of abstraction now require a licence.

What does this mean?

If a person or organisation abstract more than 20m3 of water on any day, they will need an abstraction licence. This type of activity normally occurs for agriculture, horticulture, wetland systems, dewatering, internal drainage, warping and water transfer.

 Activity / method of application

All forms of irrigation

Transfers into managed wetland systems

Abstractions within previously exempt areas

Transferring water by a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority

Abstracting water into and between internal drainage districts

Dewatering mines, quarries and engineering works



Trickle irrigation, drip irrigation, capillary matting, hydroponics, sand beds, flood irrigation (of land and plants), ebb and flood, bubbler irrigation

Managed Wetland Systems are any area where water is allowed onto and held on an area of land for the benefit of that land. It covers, ‘Traditional’ water meadows, flood irrigation, wet fencing, Wetland creation for conservation

Geographic areas where the use of water from ground or surface water sources without the need for a licence was allowed under a licence exemption.

Water transfer from one inland water to another in the case of, or as a result of, operations carried out by a navigation harbour or conservancy authority.

Abstracting water into internal drainage districts, but not including land drainage activities.

Abstraction of ground or surface water to prevent interference with mining, quarrying, building, engineering or construction works.

The practice of letting turbid river water flood onto agricultural land, so that its suspended sediment can form a layer, before letting the water drain away.

If this type of abstraction is being carried out under a previous exemption, the application process is light-touch and the majority of licences will be granted based on existing requirements. This is a transitional arrangement known as New Authorisations.

This arrangement only applies to abstraction that has been taking place at any point in the last 7 years and will not cease before the end of December 2019. Any new activity requires a completely new licence.

The deadline for making a valid New Authorisations application is 31 December 2019, however we are recommending that applications are made by the end of October 2019 in order to ensure there is time for applications to be received and validated. Any issues could delay this process and lead to missing the deadline.

What happens if you don’t apply for a licence?

As with any activity requiring a licence, it’s your responsibility to apply if and when you need one and it is an offence to continue without a licence. The Environment Agency may take enforcement action against you if you continue to abstract without the correct licence.

Licences applied for after the transitional period will only be granted on a resource availability basis. These licences will require more stringent justification and are likely to have a number of restrictions.

Free Hotline Service

We have a Hotline service to help with drafting New Authorisation applications or to answer any questions you may have, such as whether this change to the law affects you.

To use the new free hotline and bookable appointments service today call the Environment Agency on 03708 506506 or email enquiries@environment‐agency.gov.uk with New Authorisations as the subject heading as soon as possible.

Alternatively, you can visit our website, https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/environment-and-business/removing-previously-exempt-abstraction-activities/ for more information.

Jade Harrison BSc (Hons)

Engagement Officer

Environment Agency - Lincolnshire & Northamptonshire Area