GWCT Wales are disappointed with Welsh Government’s announcement that the whole of Wales will be made into a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone. Sue Evans said “We were hoping that Welsh Government would come back with a more imaginative tailored solution to the agri pollution problems we face in Wales. One that works for farmers and makes a real difference in solving the problems. NVZ regulation is a dated piece of legislation which focuses mainly on nitrogen applied to the land, whereas we are facing far wider problems with phosphates, sediment and chemicals entering the watercourses from many activities carried out on the land within the effects of climate change.
There is a definite and immediate need for action to tackle both point source and diffuse pollution to our watercourses; most of which are currently failing to meet basic good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive and to focus actions where problems are most acute. This is causing a catastrophic loss of fish and biodiversity in many of our rivers.
NVZ’s are not going to deal with the fact that Wales is in a high rainfall area with much sloping ground, exacerbated by the effects of climate change. The additional bureaucracy and form filling for all farmers in this approach is unwelcome and we do not believe that it will actually solve the current pollution problems.
Nitrogen is a valuable resource to farmers and its efficient use particularly when spread as muck or slurry needs further promotion by Welsh Government. In addition to this we need to rethink the way that we farm in conjunction with climate change. Soil is one of the most if not the most important asset on a farm which no farmer wants to lose. Therefore, soil protection measures are key to the future of farming.
Sue Evans goes on to say that for regulation to succeed it needs to be easier for farmers to do the right thing rather than the alternative. Alongside future focused regulation is the need for enforcement and proportionate fines to ensure that those few and frequent offenders are adequately disincentivised to continue polluting.
We also need to ensure that moves aimed at tackling pollution are taken in conjunction with an appraisal of the impact on the viability of farming systems particularly those which are important for conservation, for example where the grazing of cattle plays an important role in maintaining habitats and species in upland areas.
GWCT have a toolbox of actions to help farmers, including training on practices which minimise the run-off into our streams and rivers. For example, direct drilling of crops to keep land stable and reducing run off in heavy rain. We need to ensure that there are no areas of bare soil especially on slopes for erosion to take place. There should be riparian strips next to watercourses with tussocky perennial grass and shrub to stop any diffuse pollution for which farmers will require payment.
We have found that working with farmers through a bottom-up farmer cluster approach, where the farmers agree on the best way to work, is often the best way to meet objectives outlined by regulation. This effective approach often then leads to higher aspirations across the group helping them all improve practices. We would also like to see schemes provided where there is real value in farming using alternative environmentally sustainable methods.
With new NVZ to be introduced in April, the GWCT is asking WG to reconsider developing better futureproof regulation. We cannot emphasise enough our disappointment that WG doesn’t have greater ambition to get on top of this problem and work constructively with farmers and landowners beyond imposing a dated piece of legislation. The GWCT would welcome the opportunity to discuss its four-point plan of a better approach to the problem of farm diffuse pollution.
- Better regulation
- Effective enforcement
- Proportionate fines
- Collaborative effort