Farmers will lose subsidies if they pollute rivers

More cows in sheds results in more slurry contamination of rivers

In the UK, rivers are becoming more polluted from farms and water company sewer overflows; 84% of rivers have failed to meet government targets concerning ecological standards. The Environment Agency has cut farm inspections by 66% since 2014-15. They failed to enforce rules introduced in 2018 to prevent farmers contaminating rivers with slurry and fertiliser.

More cows in sheds results in more slurry contamination of rivers

More cows in sheds results in more slurry contamination of rivers. Photo in public domain.

The government proposes to strip farmers of subsidies if they continue to pollute rivers. It is a plan to link water quality with payments. It will hit them in the pocket. Brexit i.e. leaving the EU, appears to be the instigator of this change in policy. The agency is being blamed for the deterioration in water quality.

The scheme will replace the European Union’s common agricultural policy which grants British farmers 3 billion annually and which is given on a per acre direct payment basis.

The government is piloting the scheme from 2021 before extending it in late 2024. Paying farmers direct will be phased out over a seven year transition period.

The government wants farmers to take a more responsible approach to the environment and if they’re being paid through taxpayers funds they should be pressured to behave more responsibly. The government does not want to pay money to farmers who are not “delivering baseline environmental outcomes and protection” according to Emma Howard Boyd, the chairman of the Environmental Land Management scheme.

She admitted that the Environment Agency needed to enforce the existing regulations with more commitment. Farm inspections are a third of what they used to be in 2015. When inspected the agency detected a sharp increase in pollution incidents causing environmental damage on farms. Farmers admitted to ignoring the rules because they are not being checked. The Salmon and Trout Conservation, a charity, said that the agency should focus on the existing rules. They don’t need to wait for the scheme to take place.

Stuart Roberts, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union said that the industry had made great strides in reducing water pollution.

A Times analysis found that there has been a sharp rise in serious breaches of environmental rules designed to protect wildlife from pollution. The Environment Agency regulations are being broken regularly and in greater numbers. Serious breaches of environmental permits in England rose by almost 50% to 988 in 2018.