‘Disproportionate’ NVZ agriculture pollution regulations ‘wrong answer to the right question’

Opposition parties and farming unions says Welsh Government’s agricultural pollution solution will cause more harm, with Plaid’s Llŷr Gruffydd calling plans the ‘wrong answer to the right question’.

Welsh Conservative, Janet Finch-Saunders said ‘farmers will be bitterly disappointed’ after the Labour-LibDem Government reneged on promises not to introduce Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ’s) during the pandemic.

Farmers Union of Wales say tenants, young farmers, new entrants and small and medium family farms will go out of business in huge numbers as a result of the new water regulations.

Llŷr Gruffydd MS

The Welsh Government’s regulations to control agricultural pollution in Welsh waterways have been challenged by Plaid Cymru’s Llŷr Gruffydd as the “wrong answer to the right question.”

Mr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs, has proposed a motion to the Senedd that the regulations should be annulled, with the final vote to be held this Wednesday (3 March 2021).

In an open letter to fellow Members of the Senedd, Mr Gruffydd outlines the reasons why the controversial Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) regulations should be annulled.

The letter explains that Natural Resources Wales recommends that 8% of Wales should be placed in NVZ’s up from the current 2% to target problem areas. The Welsh Government instead plan to introduce the NVZ regulations to 100% of Wales.

These regulations, says Mr Gruffydd, are “disproportionate, they will have unintended consequences for the environment, and they will undermine the viability of many Welsh farms.”

One such example of how the regulations could cause more harm is the farming-by-calendar approach. Mr Gruffydd points out that using calendar dates rather than weather conditions to dictate when slurry can be spread is an “absurd proposition.” There will be times during the open period where slurry spreading could have serious consequences for the environment. Farmers all over Wales will be emptying their overflowing stores simultaneously at the end of closed periods. This will cause huge spikes in nitrate levels, risking pollution in areas that have not experienced previous problems.

Opposition parties criticise the implementation of NVZ’s across the whole of Wales as disproportionate

Mr Gruffydd fears that the desire to “rush” these regulations through in the final days of the current Senedd term will cause “significant unintended environmental, economic and social consequences”. 

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Llŷr Gruffydd MS said: “Plaid Cymru supports regulating on river pollution. The issue is that the regulations proposed by the Welsh Government are the wrong answer to the right question.

“Notwithstanding the Minister’s broken promise that these regulations would not be introduced in the middle of a pandemic, they are disproportionate. Natural Resources Wales has recommended that 8% of Wales should be designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. It is extremely disappointing that the Labour Welsh Government has ignored their advice by bringing in a blanket approach covering 100% of the country.

“The adverse impact to the environment that cannot be overstated. The farming-by-calendar approach will see farmers clearing their slurry stores immediately before and after the closed periods. This risks creating new pollution issues even in areas where there are no problems currently.

“The capital investment required to meet these regulations will drive many out of cattle farming. The subsequent loss of cattle from the uplands will undermine the controlled grazing that has contributed so much to improving habitats and restoring biodiversity.

“I oppose these regulations not because there is no water quality problem in some parts of Wales – rather, these are impractical regulations. They will cause significant unintended environmental, economic and social consequences, and they must not be rushed through in the final days of this Senedd.”

Opposition parties claim Natural Resources Wales recommendations that just 8% of Wales should be placed in NVZ’s up from the current 2% to target problem areas has been ignored.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales’ Milk and Dairy Produce committee says tenants, young farmers, new entrants and small and medium family farms will go out of business in huge numbers as a result of new water regulations, while industrial scale dairy farming will be boosted.

The conclusion came during a virtual meeting of the union’s Milk and Dairy Produce Committee on Wednesday 24 February.

Dai Miles, Farmers Union of Wales Milk and Dairy Produce committee Chairman

Speaking after the meeting, FUW Milk and Dairy Produce committee Chairman Dai Miles said: “These regulations will have massive financial and production impacts for dairy farms of all size and type, but the overwhelming view of the committee was that it will be tenants and the small and medium family dairy farms that will be most likely to go out of production as a result of these regulations.

“For many family farms this will be the end of production, as the level of investment needed will be the final straw. These regulations will decimate the tenanted dairy sector and scupper the plans of many young farmers and farmworkers who want to get a foothold on the dairying career ladder. Senedd Members need to understand that when they vote on this issue on the 3 March.”

Mr Miles said that while the Union was certainly not opposed to those who had decided to expand their herds, and that those large herds would also struggle with the impacts of the regulations – and some may even go out of business – Senedd members needed to understand how the regulations were likely to impact the structure of Wales’ dairy industry and rural communities.

“The average dairy business will not be able to afford the extra land and infrastructure needed and will likely be taken over by large companies operating mega dairies that can afford slurry treatment plants and use the redundant small farms as dumping ground for the treated manure.

“A number of Senedd Members have spoken out against large herds and ‘super dairies’, and those individuals need to fully understand the implications of supporting these regulations. The knock on effect to large parts of the rural economy will be even more dramatic and the effect on suppliers and those other up-stream industries will have far reaching consequences,” he said.

Mr Miles said that the FUW has been calling for the Welsh Government to find more effective, more targeted approaches, as was proposed by the industry and environmental groups in a detailed report given to Minister Lesley Griffiths almost three years ago.

“Advice from experts and results from other NVZ areas conclude that there will be no improvement in water quality in many areas and a number of problems are likely to get worse, so why are they doing this?”

A scientific analysis of areas designated as NVZs for between 12 and 15 years showed that 69% of NVZs showed no significant improvement in surface water concentrations even after 15 years and that compared to a control (non-NVZ) area, 29% of NVZs showed a significant improvement but 31% showed a significant worsening.

Mr Miles added that the Welsh Government had yet to respond to the 45 recommendations in the report, despite having had 34 months to do so and questioned the motives behind the regulations.

Janet Finch-Saunders MS

Meanwhile, Janet Finch-Saunders MS, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, launched a broadside against Labour and the Lib Dems, after they voted against or abstained in the Welsh Conservative debate on reversing the blanket nitrate-vulnerable zone (NVZ) ruling for Wales, saying: “Farmers across Wales will be bitterly disappointed with the actions of Labour and the LibDems. 

“On numerous occasions in the Chamber, Labour’s minister said that NVZs would not be introduced in Wales while the pandemic continues, but has reneged on that promise.

“We called that a betrayal of Welsh farmers by the Labour Minister, but her party, propped up by the LibDems, have now clearly abandoned our farming industry, which will cost jobs, livelihoods, and farms.

“Labour and the Lib Dems are guilty of an astounding dereliction of duty to our farmers, and those involved in agriculture in Wales and the thousands more who see the incredible contribution the sector makes to our economy, will remember this at the ballot box in May.”

Leave a Reply