The Environment Agency has been accused of failing to deal with critical pollution incidents while imposing ‘inappropriate’ restrictions on farmers.
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has raised concerns that the agency is ‘focusing on the wrong targets’ in its role of pollution control.
The TFA said the agency was “allowing a relatively small number of serious pollution incidents to occur and continue amid inappropriate blanket restrictions on farming.”
Members of the tenant farming body reported that the EA had been “failing to deal with situations where there are critical pollution control incidents, and that such incidents have been allowed to carry on for months and in some cases years.”
TFA adviser, Kathleen Wolton, said: “Whilst the vast majority of farms seek to adhere to high pollution control standards, from time to time incidents do occur and on very rare occasions we know that there are some incidents of pollution control caused by the recklessness or negligence of individuals.
“The TFA has always been clear that these incidents need to be tackled head on. However, what we are finding is that the EA is not acting with the urgency required.”
Ms. Wolton explained that such critical incidents decimated the livelihoods of neighboring farmers, with some no longer able to keep stock due to polluted water sources.
The TFA has been in ‘unproductive dialogue’ with the EA to understand what practically could be done to stop the pollution from continuing, she added.
“We have received no response other than to say that resource is stretched and that it is focused on priority matters,” Ms. Wolton said.
“Not only are these incidents devastating to farmers impacted by upstream pollution, sensitive, designated habitats have also been adversely impacted and yet the EA still permits it to continue.”
In contrast, she noted that there had been a significant rise in the number of EA employed Agriculture Regulatory Inspection Officers, leading to an increase in the number of on farm inspections.
And some farmers were reporting an “aggressive, heavy-handed approach in relation to minor issues, such as incomplete records”.
“We have received feedback that demonstrates a lack of understanding of legislative matters but more concerning a lack of empathy with the farming community,” said Ms. Wolton.
“The TFA feels that the scrutiny the EFRA Committee can bring would be helpful in refocusing the priorities of the EA to direct intervention on critical pollution incidents, rather than taking a heavy-handed approach with those already acting responsibly.”