Welcome news from Wales: New regulatory measures to tackle agricultural pollution
Following an extensive lobbying exercise, S&TC Cymru are greatly encouraged by the recent announcement by Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, to introduce regulatory measures to combat the growing threat to the freshwater environment from agricultural pollution.
The regulations will come into force in January 2020 with transitional periods for some elements to allow farmers time to adapt and ensure compliance. The regulations, to be confirmed next spring, will include the following measures:
- Nutrient management planning
- Sustainable fertiliser applications linked to the requirement of the crop
- Protection of water from pollution related to when, where and how fertilisers are spread
- Manure storage standards
A statement by Lesley Griffiths explained the the need for stricter regulations:
"...poor practice is leaving many stretches of rivers devoid of fish.
...In the long-term, we will develop a regulatory baseline, informed by responses to the Brexit and our Land consultation. But in the short term, we must take action now to deal with these unacceptable levels of agricultural pollution.
...The regulations will replicate good practice which many farms are already implementing routinely - this must become the norm.
...The regulations will enable firm and consistent enforcement to be taken. The regulations will also ensure there are no barriers to trade of agricultural produce with the European Union following Brexit and help us meet national and international obligations on water quality.
This is the right thing to do – for the environment, for the economy and for the reputation of farming in Wales.”
S&TC Cymru's observations
S&TC Cymru welcome this news; indeed our rivers and fish have told us for some time that stricter rules, and more stringent enforcement of such rules, is urgently needed to protect against bad agricultural practice.
Our National Officer for Wales, Richard Garner Williams, summarises our thoughts on the announcement below; following consultations with our environmental lawyer, who provides the legal analysis which supports our demands for revision of the law; and based upon professionally-analysed scientific evidence of direct impact on invertebrates and the freshwater ecosystem.
Above: Slurry spreading in wet weather, violating voluntary CoGAP.
Voluntary code is not enough
Unlike in Scotland and England, where basic measures or general binding rules place statutory constraints on the dispersal of, among other materials, farmyard slurry, the only guidance currently relating to such practices in Wales is the voluntary Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP).
A review by S&TC Cymru of this, and earlier codes, showed that little has changed since 1991 and, in some cases, since 1985, in the advice given to Welsh farmers on methods of practice that would avoid polluting our streams and rivers.
Above: Dead fish following a pollution incident in the Clywedog in September.
A minority of farmers
Regrettably, a minority of farmers have consistently chosen to disregard these codes, resulting in increased incidents of acute pollution and a rise in the pervasive effects of widespread diffuse pollution.
S&TC Cymru appreciates that the majority of farmers operate to commendable levels of stewardship, but there exists a minority who have ignored voluntary codes of practice and will probably ignore new basic measures as well. This results in reputational damage; not only to the Welsh agricultural sector, but also the wider rural economy and the international standing of Welsh produce.
Above:River water polluted with slurry following spreading on nearby fields.
Rigorous enforcement needed
The success or otherwise of new basic measures in addressing the persistent and pernicious effects of agricultural pollution will require more rigorous and regular inspection of farmed premises than at present, if we wish to see a change in the behaviour of this recidivist minority.
It is therefore essential that an undertaking is given to provide the necessary financial provision for Natural Resources Wales to fully exercise their authority as statutory environmental regulator from the outset, in order that the new measures can be enforced without delay.
Above: Highly poluuted water from the Cywyn in September, following a slurry pollution incident.
S&TC & agricultural pollution: next steps
Over recent years S&TC Cymru has committed a large proportion of its limited resources towards highlighting the impact of agricultural pollution on the wild fish of Wales, and we are relieved that Government has finally chosen to act.
We look forward to hearing the details of the Cabinet Secretary’s intentions in due course, and trust that they will fulfil our hopes for a reversal in the current troubling decline in numbers of our precious salmon and sewin.
In the meantime, you can learn more and help us tackle agricultural pollution by visiting our campaign page and following the instruction to report any incidents to us.