Wales introducing measures to protect water from agricultural pollution

10 December 2018

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The whole of Wales is to be subject to regulations to tackle nitrate pollution which will be introduced next spring. They will come into force in January 2020 after transitional periods for some elements to give farmers time to adapt and put good practice in place. Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, said that the regulations would protect water quality in Wales from agricultural pollution from slurry and fertiliser.

She said that many farms were already implementing them routinely, but this must now become compulsory as there had been an increase in the number of major polluting incidents in 2018. The measures would also help Wales to meet national and international obligations on water quality post-Brexit.

The EEC Nitrates Directive, designed to protect waters against nitrate pollution from agricultural sources, already requires EU members who do not opt for a whole territory approach, to identify waters which are, or could become, polluted by nitrates. They are also required to designate as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) all land that drains to those waters and which contribute to nitrate pollution. NVZs have been declared across the UK, but less than 3% of Wales has this status compared with 55% in England and the whole of Northern Ireland.

Chris Hyde, Associate Director with Land Agency at Cooke & Arkwright said, “There will be implications for farmers and landlords, particularly in respect of manure storage.  If the proposal comes into force the whole of Wales will be subject tor restrictions and controls aligned with, or broadly similar to, current NVZ restrictions. Failure to comply with legislation may put Basic Payment Scheme payments (or any successive payment scheme) in jeopardy and farmers may also be prosecuted for causing environmental damage.

“From our direct experience, we dealt with a dairy farm in South Wales which fell within a newly created NVZ. The farm did not have sufficient slurry storage capacity and we advised our clients on the investment required to construct a new slurry lagoon in order to comply with the regulations.”

Excessive use of nitrates in fertilisers works its way through groundwater tables leading to oxygen depletion in water and growth of algae blooms in oceans. It contributes to air pollution from nitrogen oxides and ammonia, and is harmful to human health and biodiversity. Both the Welsh and UK Governments have indicated that European standards will be upheld after Brexit.