There has been coverage in The Times – as part of its Clean It Up campaign - relating to the Environment Agency and enforcement action around the Farming Rules for Water regulations. These regulations cover how manure can be spread on the land by farmers.
The piece focuses on the Farming Rules for Water regulations and does not reflect the wider hard work of Environment Agency staff to tackle water pollution from farms.
Agriculture is the biggest sector the Environment Agency regulates in terms of individual businesses, with around 100,000 premises covering 70% of the land in England.
To do this, EA carries out farm inspections, which are advice-led, with officers taking a proportionate approach that uses advice and guidance first, reflects individual circumstances and only seeks sanction where farmers fail to take necessary action.
An Environment Agency spokesperson said:
Whilst some aspects of water quality in our rivers are much better than 20 or 30 years ago – mainly due to good regulation, tougher rules and robust enforcement by the EA – we are still seeing too much pollution from agriculture.
The Farming Rules for Water are one of a number of regulations we use as part of our advice-led regulatory approach with farmers, to protect water quality and nature, and we have received a new share of national Government funding to help us do this.
There was an implementation period of one year for farmers to adjust to the Farming Rules for Water after it was brought in to enable farmers time to adapt and meet the new requirements.
However, since April 2021, we have undertaken 3,785 inspections, required 6,169 improvement actions on-farm in which time we have verified 2,791 have already been completed. We have started formal enforcement action against 140 farms.
At present, there have been no prosecutions or fines under the Farming Rules for Water - as in all cases, Environmental Agency advice and guidance and follow-up warning letters have resulted in appropriate action being taken, bringing farms back into compliance.
If advice is not heeded the Environment Agency will not hesitate to pursue whatever sanctions are necessary – including penalties, formal cautions or prosecutions. It is important to note that pollution from agriculture may breach other legislation than the Farming Rules for Water – for instance, the Environmental Permitting Regulations.