Better value needed on control of farm waste

Date: Tuesday 26th September 2017

Sir, Out of 5,300 cases of farm-related pollution breaches from 2010 to 2016, only 536 severe incidents were prosecuted in the UK.

From published figures released by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism it is revealed that many incidents may not be prosecuted and those farms continue to receive subsidies carrying conditions that make environmentally sound practices a condition of grant payments.

Cumbria, and in particular the River Eden’s catchment area, is among the worst in the UK for slurry and silage spills, as records show. Our rural district had nine category one and two incidents (the worst kind) between 2011 and 2016.

In Eden they all related to the escape of slurry/silage liquors from farms, substances known, once entering watercourses, to have a catastrophic effect on wildlife and a risk to human health.

Much educational work by the Environment Agency, National Farmers’ Union and Eden Rivers Trust has taken place; sadly it seems a few farmers refuse to accept their responsibilities and they taint the industry with poor working practices. To be the worst in England is indeed a sad reflection on our county’s farming competence.

Cross compliance, the deterrent used to ensure farmers work in the best interests of our environment, is failing to control the situation, with only 2.28 per cent. of the incidents being prosecuted. The level of fine, only £1,012 on average, is also proving a poor deterrent.

Advanced levels of environmental care, the higher level stewardship (HLS) and its successor, the countryside stewardship (CS), carrying higher levels of grant payment, are not making great improvements to the environment in the county. Levels of take-up are only 418 CS and 1,047 HLS in Cumbria out of some 3,500 farmers.

The answer is to involve politicians more and instil upon them that this scenario is unacceptable. They must find an answer to control agricultural waste more effectively and give us all better value for our taxes. Yours etc,