“Water for food production really is a big deal, locally, here in the Fens.”

“Members of the jury, ladies, gentlemen, Fenlanders, thank you for inviting me join you, this evening. I’m Paul Hammett. I have national responsibility for water resources, irrigation and droughts. But I happen to live on the southeast corner of The Fens, in Chippenham. I would ask you to reflect, just for second, that’s quite important in the farming community that somebody with national responsibility, me, spends a lot of time on The Fens. My story this evening is to give some local, Fenland stories of agriculture, some national context and some national significance.

It strikes me that, when we think about how we use water, what happens when there is not enough water, that’s when the issues start to build. Because what happens when there’s not enough to go round? Who gets the water? Who decides and how? And, in my experience, when there is not enough water, we are all special cases. So these decisions are very, very difficult. Now, obviously water is essential for all life. We need water to drink, for sanitation, for the environment, for industry and to grow our food. And water for food production really is a big deal, locally, here in The Fens. The Fens produces a third of our national vegetable crop and a quarter of all the potatoes grown, in England. And, because we grow so much of those vegetables here, we support an enormous food manufacturing and processing sector that the factories are built locally because that’s where the wholesome, well grown crops are. And so the farmers who use water to grow crops here are part of the food and farming industry, on The Fens, that accounts for something like 50,000 jobs and an annual turnover of £3 billion. So this is really important.

But, as I said, when we have dry times and when we have droughts there is competition for limited water. And what I want to think about is, how that works. How does that pan out? Let’s go back to the nearly drought in 2012. I know it rained and it’s been described, since, as the wettest drought on record but, in March 2012, some of you might recall things were very, very serious. We’d had exceptionally dry winters, for the last two years. Aquifers and our drains and our rivers where all low. And we really didn’t know what we were going to do. You know, in March, for the spring and summer, when our plants needed water. And this was the national phenomena. And the government got really worried. And government called the major users of water around the table. The conservationists, the water companies and the farmers. The government invited the conservationists to talk about what was happening. A conservationist said that the rivers were running low and there were serious risks of fish dying, and our wetlands are drying out. And the government acknowledged the importance of our environment and said that our strong environmental laws would be upheld, through this drought. And then the government called upon to the public water companies to have their say. The water companies were very, very worried about low pressure of water. They thought that it might even lead to civil unrest. And they were worried about the idea of stand pipes, in the streets of London, during an Olympic year. And the government said, we can’t allow that to happen we’ve got to find special exemptions for public supply. And then the farmers were invited to talk and they said, as we’ve heard from Luke already, our crops will not have enough water and they might die. The implications of our crops dying is there may not be enough food in the shops. Another consequences of not enough food at being in the shops might be that prices might rise. And the government said, we are a wealthy nation. We will import our food.

I invite you to think, your honour, members of the jury, that in future, in future droughts, because there will be droughts in the future, in future droughts we need a reliable, fair system for allocation of water, when there is not enough to go around. And of course our environment is precious. Of course the need of homes for drinking water and sanitation must come first. But there is a role in this for water, for farmers to grow our food.”

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