The Rivers Trust welcomes the announcement from the Environment Agency that it is recruiting 50 new staff to undertake regulatory inspections of farms in England to ensure that there is compliance with pollution legislation. Agricultural pollution is the single biggest cause of poor water quality in England and Wales and resources for regulation have been progressively cut over the past 10-15 years to a point where an individual farm could expect to be inspected once every 236 years.
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, about which environmental NGOs have been deeply concerned over the past 10 years. The jobs will have 18-month employment contracts, pending further funding, and concerns were expressed that this might deter applicants and that it didn’t indicate a long term strategy by the government.
In 2018, The Rivers Trust, WWF and the Angling Trust published a joint report entitled Saving the Earth which was presented to the now Secretary of State for the Environment George Eustice in parliament when he was the Farming and Environment Minister. However, further cuts to regulation and monitoring followed, until this partial reinstatement of resources in 2021.
Enforcement is only one part of what needs to be a broad approach to improving environmental management of agricultural land; expert advice, grants and a reduction in pressure on prices from the supply chain are all needed if agriculture is going to clean up its act. The Rivers Trust has over 60 expert farm advisors who provide confidential and impartial advice to thousands of farmers every year. In the tough year of 2020 the Rivers Trust movement still managed to work on over 2,200 farms. However, a credible threat of enforcement is absolutely vital to drive farmers to take up advice, and to persuade the supply chain and bank managers that it really is necessary to invest in new machinery and facilities to comply with legislation.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of The Rivers Trust, said: “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. Hopefully, the additional funding to support this work will be found in the next spending review to make these roles permanent.”