Farming and Pollution
The Angling Trust is supporting a European campaign to reform farm subsidies, which has the support of a wide range of environmental charities. The aims of the campaign are to:
- Ensure all farmers and land managers undertake 'greening' measures that will help protect and restore nature in return for direct payments from the CAP
- Reject double subsidies where a landowner or manager would be paid twice for the same activity to ensure that public money is not wasted
- Reintroduce requirements for farmers and land managers to comply with EU environmental regulation, such as the Water Framework Directive which ensures our rivers are clean and healthy
- Provide dedicated support for nature-friendly farmers and land managers
However, thousands of farms across the country get paid substantial subsidies but they still cause significant damage to watercourses through pollution and over-abstraction. This is both an issue of badly-designed subsidy programmes and poor enforcement by the Environment Agency and the Rural Payments Agency, as well as a lack of knowledge in the farming community of the damage that they can do to rivers.
We believe that the farmers who are doing the right thing would like to see those who are cheating the system brought to book so that they are all operating on a level playing field.
How Bad is the Problem?
While there have been welcome initiatives, pollution from agriculture has actually increased in recent decades. The Environment Agency has recently identified diffuse pollution from agriculture as one of the two biggest problems facing rivers (the other being barriers to fish migration, which begs the question why it is supporting hydropower schemes, but that is another issue!). This pollution takes many forms at some dairy and arable farms:
- A lack of buffer strips around fields means that any loose soil, along with any pesticides and fertilisers in the soil, is washed into ditches and rivers whenever it rains.
- Cattle and sheep are allowed access to riverbanks where they cause major erosion by the action of their hooves on the soil. The animals also defecate directly into streams.
- Clean water from gutters on the roof is mixed with manure and other pollutants from the farmyard and surrounding roads to create vast quantities of highly-polluting run-off that can cause fish kills and invertebrate wipe-outs.
- Over-grazing through increased stock levels causes bare soil which, particularly on steep slopes, washes into streams, rivers and lakes.
There are many farmers now who view agriculture as a get-rich-quick pursuit rather than as a way of growing food in harmony with nature. Near the Angling Trust's office in Leominster, we have seen first-hand the impact of the Herefordshire potato barons, growing 2,000 acres of spuds on land rented on 1 year tenancies. The resulting lack of proper stewardship has led to steadily increased rates of soil loss since the 1970s.
Llangorse Lake receives water from a small, predominately livestock catchment. The increase in sediment accumulation is explained by the increase in stock densities as a result of the switch from hay to silage in the late 1970s, and then the increasing use of fodder crops such as maize and stubble turnips during the 1990s.
In the last decade, increasing machinery power and cost has allowed/forced farmers to take timeliness out of farming. This has had a major impact on soil structure. The problem has been getting worse for 30 years and the wet weather in 2012 caused numerous fields to wash out and into ditches and rivers. We hope that last year was the wakeup call so badly needed for the farming community and there are signs that things have changed this year. There is more evidence of planting on the contour, putting in organic material to improve soil structure and putting in 6m grass buffers along water courses. These people should be rewarded, and the bad farmers should stop getting a blanket payment from tax payers.
We're not trying to victimise farmers - there are big forces at work here that are driving this situation, including the supermarkets which demand cheap food. We just want to use the subsidies to try and encourage better management. Many of the solutions to these problems are quite cheap and there is funding available to help farmers build fences along riverbanks, install drinking points for stock, repair broken guttering and separate clean and dirty water. The future of our fishing depends on a dramatic change in policy and practice and the Angling Trust will be fighting for this.