Angling Trust and WWF welcome new farming rules for water but call for more resources to enforce them
The Angling Trust and WWF have welcomed Defra’s announcement on Thursday 30th November that it will be introducing new rules in England to reduce widespread and endemic pollution from agriculture. However, the organisations have questioned whether enforcement agencies have either the resources or political support to enforce the new rules and whether they go far enough to tackle the deep seated problems with land and water management.
The rules will, with effect from 2 April 2018:
- promote good practice in managing fertilisers and manures;
- encourage land managers to take reasonable precautions to prevent diffuse pollution from runoff or soil erosion;
- require soil tests at least every 5 years.
Advice will be provided to farmers to help them comply, but experience shows that advice is much more likely to be followed if it is backed up with enforcement. Defra is currently writing the regulations to support these rules to give them legal force. However, the Angling Trust does not believe that the Environment Agency and Rural Payments Agency currently have the necessary resources or political support to enforce these new regulations rigorously, which puts the objectives at serious risk.
Governments in England and Wales have in recent years singled out farming for light touch regulation compared to other industries and they have repeatedly cut budgets for enforcement. As a result, there is widespread non-compliance with existing regulations throughout the countryside, so there is little hope that these new rules will be widely observed without additional funding and a change to guidance from Ministers.
The Angling Trust has written to Welsh Ministers demanding that new rules should also be introduced in Wales to tackle the appalling pollution of Welsh rivers and to avoid tenant farmers in England renting ground over the border to grow high-risk crops such as potatoes and maize and avoid the new regulations, which already occurs due to disparities in the existing regulations.
The new rules also fail to remove the exemption of slurry storage facilities built or significantly modified before 1991 from the relevant regulations, which has discouraged many farmers from upgrading them to provide greater capacity. This has led to widespread spills and catastrophic failures of slurry stores, and farmers being forced to spread slurry at times when the ground is too wet.
The Angling Trust and WWF responded to the consultation about the new rules in 2015 and both organisations have been campaigning vigorously for several years for tougher regulation of agriculture to control pollution from soil, slurry, manure, pesticides and fertilisers. This campaign has included two judicial reviews of the government, several meetings with Ministers and officials and media campaigns including a video by the Angling Trust that has been viewed on Facebook nearly 100,000 times.
Diffuse rural pollution, as it is known, is the second biggest reason why 86% of waterbodies fail to meet Good Ecological Status as defined by the Water Framework Directive. The agricultural sector is responsible for the highest number of serious pollution incidents of any sector – more than from sewage or industrial sources. Lawyers at Fish Legal report that they are dealing with record numbers of civil cases on behalf of its member angling clubs and fishery owners for agricultural pollution of lakes and rivers. Controlling agricultural pollution is one of the three priority actions of the Angling Trust’s Save our Salmon campaign launched in 2015, but it impacts severely on all other fish species and the food on which they rely.
Poor land management leads to more expensive water bills, flooding of homes and businesses, significant carbon emissions, less nutritious food and clean-up costs for local councils and port authorities. Soil erosion also threatens the very future of food production in this country. Many good farmers support new rules because they hate to see their neighbours damaging the environment, heaping costs onto the rest of the society and bringing the reputation of the industry into disrepute.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: “We are pleased to see these new rules being announced. The health of our rivers, lakes and estuaries depends largely on how we manage the land on which rain falls. Practices by a minority of farmers in recent decades have led to a very significant deterioration of water quality in many parts of the country and higher council tax, insurance and water bills for us all. However, we want to see more resources made available to the Environment Agency to enforce the regulations properly and a re-organisation of the farm inspection regime to ensure that these rules actually make a difference. We will also be pressing for a more comprehensive revision of agricultural policy in the Agriculture Bill scheduled for next year.”
Zoe Draisey, Water and Agriculture Policy Officer at WWF-UK said: “Agriculture and land management practices are responsible for 31% of all pressures preventing surface and ground water bodies reaching ‘good ecological status’ in England. The new rules are a welcome step in the right direction, but they will only go some way towards solving the problem. Enforcement of current regulations is not sufficiently robust or well-coordinated. For enforcement to be effective (and therefore regulation to be effective), it is essential that non-compliant farmers are systematically identified. Enforcement must also be seen within the context of active encouragement - future models in England should adopt a similar approach to Scotland’s ‘General Binding Rules’ where farmers are given a series of warnings before penalties are issued.”
The Water Minister Thérèse Coffey said: “These new rules are a win-win for farmers and the environment. They will help improve water quality, they will set a level playing field for farmers, they will help businesses save money from better resource efficiency and improve their resilience. Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and these new rules will help us deliver our plans for a Green Brexit along with a better future for farming businesses.”