Farmers hit by water pollution crackdown

A A A

Thousands of English farmers may have to stop farming next to rivers, lakes and other water bodies in the biggest crackdown on agricultural pollution, which the Government will announce today.

Thousands of English farmers may have to stop farming next to rivers, lakes and other water bodies in the biggest crackdown on agricultural pollution, which the Government will announce today.

They will be caught in a tough new water quality regime that will aim to halt one of Britain's least visible but most serious environmental problems - the overloading of watercourses with fertilising chemicals washed off farmland.

The vast majority of England's 200,000 farmers will need to make significant changes to farming practice to comply with the new regime, such as altering the times at which their fertilisers are applied, or improving their drainage. But government officials believe that, in the most difficult cases where this is not sufficient - perhaps 10 to 15 per cent - farming in areas adjacent to water bodies will have to stop.

The problem of agricultural pollution has been increasing steadily since intensive farming got going 40 years ago. Scientists and wildlife campaigners have long claimed it is causing huge damage to plant and animal communities, often because of the resultant super-growth of harmful organisms such as algae.

Heavy loads of nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates, put on the land as fertilisers and subsequently washed off, have led to increasingly frequent "algal blooms", which are potentially poisonous and have caused lakes and reservoirs to be closed to the public. They have also upset the ecological balance of many rivers and reduced plant and insect life.

A report will describe in detail for the first time the damage done by agricultural pollution to water bodies, especially important aquatic wildlife sites, and a consultation document will invite opinions from the farming community and other interested parties on how best to tackle it.

Tackled it will have to be, not least because of a new and vigorous European water quality law being brought in over the next decade. The EU Water Framework Directive will, for the first time, demand "ecological" quality from all water bodies - meaning that they will have to be returned to something like their pristine natural state.

The Environment Agency is carrying out a massive survey of all water bodies in England and Wales to see how they fit in with this requirement, and government officials have been alarmed at the preliminary conclusion that most of them do not.

Another major driver for government action is the public commitment to return 95 per cent of Sites of Special Scientific Interest - the prime wildlife areas - to favourable status by 2010. Last December a report from English Nature, the conservation agency, showed that nearly half of them were in poor condition, and rivers were in the worst state of all. The 33 English rivers and streams scheduled as SSSIs had more than two-thirds of their area in poor condition, and this included stretches of some of the most prestigious and beautiful rivers, the chalk streams of the southern counties such as the Test, the Itchen and the Hampshire Avon.

There has been no detailed survey yet of what areas might be most radically affected, or their extent, but this is coming, because under the Water Framework Directive, detailed river basin management plans will have to be in place by 2009.

"This is a huge issue," said a government source. "We have invested billions on water quality improvement through sewage treatment works, but on agriculture pollution, virtually nothing."

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape