Farmers have been banned from taking water from parts of the Scottish Borders area after it fell to a critical levels.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said water abstraction licences would be suspended from midnight on Thursday on parts of the River Tweed catchment, saying that the river continues to show "signs of stress and little improvement from limited recent rainfall".

A Significant Scarcity warning, the highest of four grades of alert, was issued for the river.

Mouthbridge at Blackadder Water - part of the Tweed system - dropped to its lowest flow since records began in 1974.

And Lyne Station recorded its fourth lowest flow in 53 years, only 2003 was lower.

A ban from taking water from the River Eden in Fife after it fell to a "critical" level has been now been lifted. It comes after river flows recovered after several days of wet weather.

The National Farmers Union had said it was "devastating" for vegetable growers.

SEPA said prolonged dry weather is forecast, which means any improvement in the situation is likely to be short-term and water users are being urged to continue being efficient.

It said that in the Scottish Borders the recent rainfall has not been enough to make up for longer-term deficits and recovery in the River Tweed It said the east of Scotland has been particularly affected by water scarcity with every area currently within the three highest grades of warning - Alert, Moderate Scarcity or Significant Scarcity.

The east of Scotland experienced the driest January in more than 80 years and groundwater levels are said to be at their lowest since records began in 2009.

In order for water levels to return to normal, SEPA says there needs to be up to double the amount of rainfall we would usually have in August.

The temporary suspensions in the Tweed will hit around 30 licence holders, predominantly within the agriculture sector.


SEPA warned that the combination of very low flows and high temperatures in watercourses leads to deaths of fish, invertebrates and plants.

It said that while some parts of river ecology can recover quickly, others such as fish and plant populations can take years to recover. Some populations, such as rare pearl mussels, could be permanently lost.

SEPA said: "This action is being taken to allow water levels to recover and to minimise potential long-term harm to the environment. SEPA is working with Scottish Government to assess the options for a small number of abstraction licences in other sectors.

"Those abstractors affected will receive suspension notices. These will be for the minimum time necessary and will be lifted as soon as possible. Continuing to abstract without a licence is an offence, and SEPA officers will be engaging with abstractors to ensure compliance. As soon as conditions improve sufficiently, the suspensions will be lifted.

"There is clear evidence for the need to suspend abstraction licenses to protect the sustainability of local water environments.

"Suspensions are part of Scotland’s National Water Scarcity Plan, which is designed to ensure the correct balance is struck between protecting the environment and providing resource for human and economic activity during prolonged dry periods. The plan clearly sets out what actions SEPA and abstractors are required to take at each stage of water scarcity."

Farmers warned of a "complete failure" of some crops, as a ban on taking river water came into force in Fife.

Iain Brown, chair of NFU Scotland's horticulture committee, called for irrigation to be permitted for high risk crops such as broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce.

Rob Morris, senior manager of the rural economy unit at SEPA, said they were pleased with how the farmers responded to the urgent water scarcity situation in the River Eden catchment.

He said it led to a significant 38% rise in the river level in just a few hours from when suspensions were imposed.

"This shows the impact their actions had, and their support has been critical in allowing water levels to recover to a point where suspensions are no longer required," he said.

“Suspending abstraction licences is only done when necessary and is not a decision we take lightly. While we stress that the suspensions on the River Tweed will last for as short a time as possible, the science is telling us that without action there is a substantial risk of impacts on fish populations, natural habitats and longer-term damage to watercourses. As shown in Fife, these will be in place for the shortest time possible.

“We’ll continue to monitor river levels across Scotland, and make our decisions based on science and the need to need to prevent long-term damage to local water environments that we rely on. With further dry weather in the forecast, it’s important that everyone abstracting water continues to manage their water use carefully.”