A BAN on farmers taking water from the River Tweed has come into force despite heavy rain from Sunday to Tuesday.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) imposed suspensions on water abstraction licences in parts of the River Tweed catchment area from midnight on Thursday.

The move comes after a series of water scarcity warnings from the agency this year.

A SEPA spokesperson said: “The river continues to show signs of stress and little improvement from limited recent rainfall.

“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.”

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At Tweed Bridge in Peebles, where there is a depth marker, it showed the level at less than 12 inches on Wednesday morning.

The SEPA spokesperson added: “The water environment in parts of the River Tweed catchment reached ‘significant scarcity’ last week, the highest category for water scarcity defined by SEPA.”

Rob Morris, senior manager in SEPA’s rural economy unit, added: “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.

“The current conditions are a consequence of drier weather this year, with only four of the last 12 months recording above average rainfall. The east of Scotland also experienced the driest January in more than 80 years and groundwater levels are the lowest they have been since records began in 2009.

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“Although there has been some recent rainfall in the east and an immediate increase in river flows, it has not been enough to recover the longer-term deficits.”

The River Tweed Commission welcomed SEPA’s decision.

Jamie Stewart, clerk to the River Tweed Commission, said: “Climate change is already leading to significant variations in weather patterns with drier summers and wetter winters predicted to continue. While the River Tweed Commission welcomes the suspension announcement from SEPA, we believe that the current water scarcity plans are inadequate to protect fish stocks both in the short and longer term.

“We are deeply concerned at the significant problems being created by low water levels and high temperatures for Atlantic Salmon, sea and brown trout and are raising these concerns with SEPA and the Scottish Government in order to encourage a review of the system allowing the damaging extraction of water from the river by industry and agriculture during prolonged dry conditions.”