Top politicians back joint campaign to tackle agricultural pollution to restore rivers
The Angling Trust, WWF and The Rivers Trust have launched a widely-praised report Saving the Earth in the House of Commons, calling for fundamental changes in the way land is managed to protect rivers, lakes and estuaries from pollution and to reduce costs to society from flooding, water shortages, dredging and water treatment.
The event, chaired by Angling Trust Head of Campaigns Martin Salter, was attended by top politicians from all parties including ministers, shadow ministers and chairs of select committees.
The report calls for:
- Firm but fair enforcement of existing and new regulations to outlaw excessive soil erosion, water run-off and pollution;
- Local, well-trained, expert farm advisors providing free, advice targeted at the higher risk landowners;
- Targeted incentives to compensate farmers for changing land use in high-risk areas of the catchment (usually less than 10% of land area);
- A catchment-based and integrated planning process to ensure all organisations are working to the same, clear objectives.
Environment Minister George Eustice said at the event: “Soil is full of living things such as fungi, worms and bacteria. If you look after the soil then it is possible to use less pesticides and fertilisers, produce healthier food and lock up significant amounts of atmospheric carbon.”
He confirmed the government’s intention to phase out area-based payments in favour of subsidies for land-use change. He stopped short of committing the additional £10 million of investment in enforcement and advice the report says will be required to reduce the £1.2 billion cost to society of mismanaged soils, claiming that the Environment Agency could direct more of its existing staff to managing water quality.
Watch the film that supported the launch by the Angling Trust here:
Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, said that “we have to stop treating our soil like dirt” and called on the Environment Minister to ensure that there is a clear process for the enforcement of legislation on the face of the new Environment Bill and clear, quantifiable targets to which government can be called to account. She highlighted the fact that the Environment Agency has suffered cuts of 25% in recent years and does not have the resources to enforce regulations properly.
Sue Hayman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, welcomed the report and urged the government to implement its findings urgently to reduce the many costs to society from badly-managed soils and agricultural pollutants. She said she had seen the difference that well-managed soils can make to managing flood risk in her Cumbrian constituency.
The meeting also heard from Liz Lowe, from Coca-Cola, who emphasised the need for sustainable management of soils and water to protect the supply chain of industries.
Richard Aylard, from Thames Water, reported that water companies spend large amounts of money removing agricultural pollutants from water for supply to customers, which puts pressure on water bills.
Saya Harvey, from the National Farmers Union, noted that a vanguard of farmers were already changing and that soil is currently a hot topic in farming circles. She called for regulations to be more common sense and less bureaucratic.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Committee, and Charles Walker MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group, were also among the cross-party MPs who attended the event hosted by Oliver Heald MP.
Rockstar Feargal Sharkey and TV presenter Matthew Wright, both keen anglers, spoke passionately about the need to protect rivers from agricultural pollution.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: “Our current regulatory and enforcement regimes are not fit for purpose and are fundamental to a successful land management policy that would have enormous benefits not just for our threatened fish and wildlife, but to the rest of society. This is an epic no-brainer and we should get on and make it happen.”