Promise of cleaner rivers with more farm inspectors

Cuts over the past 10-15 years have meant an individual farm could expect to be inspected once every 236 years.

(And then you only get a slap on the wrist! – Owl)

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Ministers have announced plans to drive up water quality for wild swimming and wildlife by almost trebling the number of inspectors ordered to target farmers who pollute rivers.

They have ordered the Environment Agency to increase enforcement following an investigation last year by The Times which found the agency had cut farm inspections in England by two thirds since 2014-15 and was failing to enforce rules introduced in 2018 to stop farmers contaminating rivers with slurry and fertiliser.

The agency recorded 137 breaches of the rules but brought no prosecutions and issued no fines.

Slurry and fertiliser pollution from farms is the single biggest cause of poor water quality in England and Wales which results in 84 per cent of rivers failing to meet the government’s target for good ecological standards.

The agency is recruiting 50 staff to inspect farms in England for compliance with pollution legislation, raising the number of inspectors to 78.

The Rivers Trust, a conservation charity, welcomed the plans, saying that cuts over the past 10-15 years had meant an individual farm could expect to be inspected once every 236 years.

It said: “These new staff do not replace all those that have been lost over the years but the appointments are a very welcome reversal of a decline in enforcement of environmental legislation.”

It said the jobs would have 18-month employment contracts, pending further funding, and there were concerns that this might deter applicants and that it did not indicate a long term strategy by the government.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Rivers Trust, added: “After years of writing letters, campaigning and presenting evidence to ministers, we are delighted that the government has at last decided to fund this vital work to drive compliance with legislation passed by parliament to protect the rest of society from farm pollution.

“As we enter a new era of public money for public goods, it is unthinkable that an industry benefitting from a multi-billion pound public subsidy scheme would not be properly regulated.”

The agency said last year that it had sent 14 warning letters in response to the 137 breaches and the rest had resulted in “advice and guidance”, which it claimed all the farms had heeded.