Farmers 'cause £500m of environmental damage'

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Farmers are increasingly escaping without penalty for environmental crimes despite causing unnecessary damage to the countryside put at £500m every year.

Farmers are increasingly escaping without penalty for environmental crimes despite causing unnecessary damage to the countryside put at £500m every year.

The probability of any farmer being fined for an identified offence was only 0.4 per cent in England and Wales in 2000, the lowest level for many years, according to an Environment Agency report published yesterday.

While the worst incidents had dropped in the decade to 2000, less serious ones had gone up. However, there had been a marked cut in prosecutions across the board. The agency said the decline in prosecutions may need to be reversed and that farmers convicted of environmental offences could be publicly named in trade magazines. It called for on-the-spot fines for minor offences.

The report estimated that the cost of damage to natural resources caused by agriculture was £1.2bn, offset by benefits of up to £0.9bn.

It was estimated that in the short term £331m could be saved every year by adopting simple techniques and over a longer period savings could reach about £525m a year.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, said the figures were "nebulous" but conceded there was always more that farmers could do.

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