Water/Wastewater

  • Are UK Farming Laws 'Useless'?

Are UK Farming Laws 'Useless'?

Mar 24 2021

The laws designed to prevent farmers from contributing to the pollution of rivers, lakes and other waterways have been branded as “useless” by campaigners. The condemnation comes in the wake of revelations that there has not been a single prosecution or fine issued since the regulations came into place almost three years ago, despite hundreds of officially recorded transgressions.

By failing to penalise those who flout the rules, the Environment Agency is basically issuing the agricultural community with carte blanche to contaminate, according to the concerned campaigners. A major overhaul of the rules, along with greater resources to enforce them, is necessary in order to prevent this spiral of pollution from continuing unimpeded.

What the laws says

The legislation was updated in April 2018, when the government introduced its “Farming rules for water in England”. The regulations were put in place to provide a framework of good practices which farmers could abide by, thus managing their land more effectively and preventing run-off from their fields from entering into public waterways, which is responsible for up to 40% of all river pollution.

By and large, these rules concentrate on the storage and utilisation of fertilisers and animal waste, since these substances can be washed away via heavy rainfall and lead to an excess of phosphate in groundwater and waterways. When that happens, the nutritional imbalance can contribute to algal blooms, which inhibit the growth of other species and negatively impact biodiversity in the ecosystem.

All bark and no bite

Since their inception, the Environment Agency has recorded 243 violations to date, with Devon and Cornwall the area with the most transgression (75) and Wessex not far behind (52). The Agency is equipped with the power to impose fixed penalties of £100 or £300 for one-off offences, or “variable money penalties” amounting to a maximum of £250,000 for more serious breaches.

Despite this, the Agency has not issued a single fine or even prosecuted one party in the three years that the rules have been in place. In their defence, a spokesperson argued that 14 letters of warning had been distributed to transgressors, while the majority of wrongdoers were provided with educational material aimed at pointing them in the right direction.

“License to pollute”

While campaigners such as The Rivers Trust recognise the challenges of flood control, they believe that the Agency’s toothless approach on the matter has encouraged farmers to continue flouting the rules. “Originally, The Rivers Trust welcomed the rules. We thought that they would have a meaningful impact on farm pollution, but they haven’t been enforced, and this non-enforcement may well have led farmers to believe that they’ve got a licence to pollute,” explained Mark Lloyd, CEO of the Trust.

“Some are blatantly flouting the rules by going out and spreading slurry on days when it’s absolutely tipping down with rain, for instance. That’s not allowed under the rules, but they are doing it even though they know it’s against the law and it’s destroying rivers.”


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