AGRICULTURAL pollution is a concern for every farmer.

A single pollution incident can cause huge harm to wildlife and the environment, while the steady, periodic or combined leaching of pollutants can lead to damaging concentrations of nitrates or other chemicals, resulting in problems such as algal blooms and the contamination of water supplies.

And, of course, pollution brings with it financial costs for farm businesses - whether directly, as a result of fines, or a result of the loss of valuable nutrients from soils and other adverse impacts.

Thankfully, the data available for agricultural pollution incidents from January 2010 to February 2018 shows only one per cent of farms in Wales have been recorded as having a substantiated pollution incident, but some of those that have been attributed to farming were catastrophic, adding to existing pressures from members of the public, charities and other bodies to tighten up farming regulations.

Such pressures, which have been exacerbated by unusually wet periods in recent years, come against a background of legislative pressure due to Nitrate Vulnerable Zone and Water Framework Directive legislation.

For these reasons, the FUW has worked with others for decades to help address agricultural pollution in a proportionate and targeted way.

In recent years, a large proportion of this work has been through the FUW’s membership of the Welsh Land Management Forum (WLMF), chaired by Natural Resources Wales, and in particular the WLMF agricultural pollution sub-group, which has met monthly over the past two years.

Following a consultation on the expansion of Wales’ Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and a request from Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths, in April 2018 the group submitted a detailed report and 45 recommendations to the cabinet secretary.

While work by the group continued, with a particular emphasis on targeting actions in areas where problems are known to exist, it seems that the work of the Welsh Government ground to a halt in terms of considering the recommendations or the results of a programme of NRW farm visits aimed at identifying problems and appropriate solutions.

Lesley Griffiths has neither met with the group nor responded to the recommendations. Rather, the Welsh Government announced in November that it intends to bring forward legislation for the whole of Wales which is, to all intents and purposes, a cut-and-paste of the NVZ rules - increasing the number of Welsh farm holdings subject to costly and restrictive legislation from an estimated 600 to more than 24,000.

While there are problems that must be addressed, such a move is wholly disproportionate, and would undermine efforts to target pollution in those areas where action is needed, while adding huge costs and burdens in vast areas where no problems exist.


FUW president