Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
In December 2017, I issued a statement outlining my intention to introduce a whole Wales approach to tackling nitrate pollution.
This year, we have seen an increase in the number and scale of agricultural pollution incidents, damaging both the environment and the reputation of the agriculture industry. Equally damaging, in the context of Brexit, is the impact such incidents have on the work underway on Sustainable Brand Values for Welsh Products.
As winter approaches, I am receiving reports of further incidents and of slurry spreading being carried out in unsuitable weather conditions. Not all slurry spreading is bad, but it must be done legally to avoid such destructive consequences.
Poor practice is leaving stretches of our rivers devoid of fish. Our rural communities, which depend on tourism, angling and food industries, must be protected. We must also protect the 80,000 people in Wales who rely on private water supplies.
I have considered the need to balance regulatory measures, voluntary initiatives and investment to address agricultural pollution. I have listened to the views of stakeholders and considered the reports produced by the Wales Land Management Forum sub-group, the Wales Environment Link and World Wildlife Foundation, The Rivers Trust and The Angling Trusts. I have also taken account of responses to the consultations on NVZs, the storage of slurry and silage and the sustainable management of natural resources in Wales.
Of particular note is how well key stakeholders have come together in the Wales Land Management Forum sub group. The group is doing valuable work and I see an ongoing role for it in helping to take forward the action I am announcing.
In the longer-term, we will develop a regulatory baseline, informed by responses to the Brexit and Our Land Consultation. More immediately, in the spring of next year, I will introduce regulations to tackle agricultural pollution. These will apply across the whole of Wales to protect water quality from excessive nutrients. The regulations will come into force in January 2020, with transitional periods for some elements to allow farmers time to adapt and ensure compliance. The regulations will include the following measures:
• Nutrient management planning;
• Sustainable fertiliser applications linked to the requirement of the crop;
• Protection of water from pollution related to when, where and how fertilisers are spread; and
• Manure storage standards.
The regulations will replicate good practice measures which many farmers across Wales are already implementing routinely and for whom very little will change as a result of my statement.
Good practice must quickly become the norm across the agriculture industry as a whole. Support and advice to help achieve this is available through Farming Connect and our Sustainable Production Grant (SPG). I have already made £6 million available through the SPG which is targeted at supporting agricultural pollution prevention and nutrient management. This investment is critical.
The new regulations will enable firm, consistent and effective enforcement to be taken as industry and government work side-by-side to address the significant problems we are facing. They will help drive improvements, avoiding potential barriers to the trade of agricultural produce with the European Union after the UK leaves the EU and at the same time help us to meet our national and international obligations on water quality.