GROWERS that hold a water abstraction licence need to collate and send their data returns to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency by December 31, 2019.

NFU Scotland has highlighted the deadline as only 20% of expected returns have been received so far. At this point last year, more than 50% of returns were in.

Such data returns are a mandatory requirement for licence holders, to ensure that their abstraction of water doesn’t impact on the ecology of Scotland’s rivers and reservoirs. The data is also a key indicator of compliance and forms an important component of SEPA’s annual Compliance Assessment Scheme.

This is the first year when abstraction licence holders haven’t received a written reminder from SEPA at this time of year, although the data deadline is listed in the licence applications and renewals issued earlier in the year.

NFUS stressed that completing and submitting a data return is a simple process. The document can be downloaded at and can either be posted or emailed to

Those who do not return data by December 31 could be liable to enforcement action, resulting in a penalty being applied to support scheme payments administered by the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division.

When planning for the 2020 season, licence holders who do not intend to abstract water for irrigation can apply for a cessation of charges by notifying their local SEPA office before the end of February, using the notification form on the SEPA webpage.

NFUS environmental regulations policy manager Jenny Brunton said: “SEPA has previously written to all abstraction licence holders to remind them to return their data returns but have not done so in 2019. That may have had an impact on the low number of returns received when compared against previous years.

“We want to remind those licence holders yet to submit data that they can do so in a paper form to the office stated on their licence or submit electronically by email. Even if no water has been abstracted for any period, a nil return must still be submitted to SEPA using the abstraction data returns form.

“It is important that data returns are submitted to SEPA in order to allow them to make an accurate assessment of the impact of irrigation on watercourses over the summer. We remind members that a failure to submit data returns is considered a non-compliance with the conditions of the licence and could affect payments under the Basic Payment Scheme or result in a Cross-Compliance inspection.”