New Welsh water quality legislation described as being ‘like a criminal electronic tag for farmers’

Farming unions and opposition politicians have lined up to criticise the Welsh Government’s plans to designate the whole of Wales as an EU Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ), an area more than forty times bigger than the current Welsh NVZ area, and eleven times bigger than what was recommended by Natural Resources Wales.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales says Welsh Government water quality legislation fails to address Welsh concerns and needs. The NVZ rules are EU regulations currently in place only in intensively farmed areas.

FUW president Glyn Roberts 

FUW president Glyn Roberts said: “The blank sheet of devolution and Brexit allows Welsh Government to design a bespoke system which would target problem areas without being disproportionate and costing the farming industry hundreds of millions – including in areas where there are no problems.

“This was precisely the recommendation of NRW, the FUW and others in a report presented to Welsh Government in 2018.”

The FUW added that Natural Resources Wales had previously advised the Welsh Government against implementing the legislation, warning it could have the perverse outcome of making pollution worse, while also warning of the severe resource implications of such a draconian move.

Tractor and slurry tanker (Image: Geograph / Valtra Oy Ab)

The Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs – Janet Finch-Saunders MS – blasted Cardiff Bay’s recent NVZ regulation announcement as being “… like a criminal electronic tag for farmers.”

According to the record of the Welsh Parliament, the Labour administration had promised seven times to refrain from implementing such a change during the present pandemic. The most recent commitment came from Lesley Griffiths on October 14, 2020.

Janet Finch-Saunders MS

Mrs Finch-Saunders said: “The betrayal felt by our rural communities at this regulatory push, despite seven recorded promises to abstain from its implementation during the present pandemic, cannot be quantified. These new NVZ regulations are like a criminal electronic tag for farmers.

“These regulations are an unnecessary diversion at a time when public services are strained and the scrutiny abilities of the Senedd capped. It is important for us all to remember that, whilst the Welsh Government laid this new layer of bureaucratic red tape, 680 Coronavirus cases were being reported in Wales.

“It is also misguided, as surveys – including those conducted by AHDB – continue to show that farmers are commanding the deepest trust and viewed as environmentally beneficial. The severe lack of trust that these proposals place in our farming community is remarkable.

“In looking over the document in more detail, Regulation 15 shows that the Welsh Government does not believe farmers capable of using appropriate spreading equipment. Meanwhile, Regulations 34, 35, 36, 37, 40, 41, 42, and 43 show a desire to see farmers bogged down in paperwork.

“In spite of the Welsh Government publicly claiming that their new proposals are proportionate to the risks, NRW’s own Executive Director for Evidence, Policy and Permitting has spoken of a steady decline in pollution incidents in the last two years. Their approach to this issue is in disarray.

“NRW has published a map showing that huge swathes of Wales have had zero agricultural incidents to water since 2010. Pollution incidents are declining, so why have the Welsh Government decided to curtail farmers’ freedom to farm?

“Sadly, the £13 million being made available this year to assist with water quality and farm nutrient management infrastructure is merely a drop of slurry in a very large pit. This is why I asked the Minister to explain what assessment she has made of the number of farm businesses that will be forced to close as result of these regulations.”

(Lead image: Geograph / James T M Towill)

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