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Cautious welcome for Welsh Government pledge that it will finally act on agricultural pollution

19.11.18

Soil - Mud Washing Off Field through Gateway x500px

The Angling Trust has called on the Welsh Government to also take action on soil erosion which leaves many rivers covered in sediment

The Angling Trust has welcomed the Welsh Government’s announcement that it intends to introduce new regulations and enforcement to tackle the widespread and endemic pollution of rivers in Wales from agriculture.

The announcement follows several years of campaigning by the Angling Trust and environmental groups in Wales to highlight the increasing problem of soil erosion and slurry pollution in arable and dairy farming areas.

However, the Angling Trust has identified three key areas of concern about the announcement.

  1. There is no mention of new regulations to prevent soil erosion; many rivers are being smothered in sediment as a result of poor soil management associated particularly with over-grazing, and with stubble turnip, maize and winter wheat crops;
  2. Resources for enforcement have been cut repeatedly over the past decade and there will need to be substantial investment in additional resources for the environmental regulator Natural Resources Wales if these new regulations are to have the desired effect;
  3. The new regulations will not be in place until January 2020 and will have transitional periods to allow farmers time to adapt, which may mean that the benefits will not be felt for several years and a number of rivers in Wales are already at risk of ecological collapse and local extinctions of salmon after decades of inaction.

The Angling Trust will be raising these concerns at a meeting with the Welsh Government’s Environment Minister Hannah Blythin later this month, along with several other issues threatening Welsh fish stocks and fishing.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal said: “This is welcome news after years of us banging on the doors of Welsh Government to urge them to take urgent action to avert the environmental crisis on many Welsh rivers. We have several reports of angling clubs ceasing to exist because the rivers they once fished have become choked with sediment and excessive algal growth.

"We would like to see similar regulations introduced at the same time to stop soil erosion, which would also safeguard thousands of homes and businesses from flooding. New regulations only work if there is a credible threat of enforcement and so we will be pressing for additional resource to make this a reality as soon as possible.”

Welsh Government Press Release:

TITLE: Agricultural Pollution and Regulatory Reform
DATE: 14 November 2018
BY: Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs

In December 2017, I issued a statement outlining my intention to introduce a whole Wales approach to tackling nitrate pollution.

This year, we have seen an increase in the number and scale of agricultural pollution incidents, damaging both the environment and the reputation of the agriculture industry. Equally damaging, in the context of Brexit, is the impact such incidents have on the work underway on Sustainable Brand Values for Welsh Products.

As winter approaches, I am receiving reports of further incidents and of slurry spreading being carried out in unsuitable weather conditions. Not all slurry spreading is bad, but it must be done legally to avoid such destructive consequences.

Poor practice is leaving stretches of our rivers devoid of fish. Our rural communities, which depend on tourism, angling and food industries, must be protected. We must also protect the 80,000 people in Wales who rely on private water supplies.

I have considered the need to balance regulatory measures, voluntary initiatives and investment to address agricultural pollution. I have listened to the views of stakeholders and considered the reports produced by the Wales Land Management Forum sub-group, the Wales Environment Link and World Wildlife Foundation, The Rivers Trust and The Angling Trust. I have also taken account of responses to the consultations on NVZs, the storage of slurry and silage and the sustainable management of natural resources in Wales.

Of particular note is how well key stakeholders have come together in the Wales Land Management Forum sub group. The group is doing valuable work and I see an ongoing role for it in helping to take forward the action I am announcing.

In the longer-term, we will develop a regulatory baseline, informed by responses to the Brexit and Our Land Consultation. More immediately, in the spring of next year, I will introduce regulations to tackle agricultural pollution. These will apply across the whole of Wales to protect water quality from excessive nutrients. 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 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; and
  • Manure storage standards.

The regulations will replicate good practice measures which many farmers across Wales are already implementing routinely and for whom very little will change as a result of my statement.

Good practice must quickly become the norm across the agriculture industry as a whole. Support and advice to help achieve this is available through Farming Connect and our Strategic Production Grant. The SPG has already targeted support at agricultural pollution prevention and nutrient management with nearly 500 applications to that scheme now being processed.

The new regulations will enable firm, consistent and effective enforcement to be taken as industry and government work side-by-side to address the significant problems we are facing. They will help drive improvements, avoiding potential barriers to the trade of agricultural produce with the European Union after the UK leaves the EU and at the same time help us to meet our national and international obligations on water quality.

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