In Defence of our Environment
By Sam Egelstaff, 2021
It is shocking that the impact upon human, animal and environmental health, has been completely disregarded, during the Plaid Cymru and Welsh Conservative proposals to scrap the Nitrate Free Zone regulations, and therefore prevent the continuance of the Welsh Agricultural Bill. This Bill prevents slurry, the faecal by-product from cows, running off into our rivers and in some sad instances, being pumped directly into our Welsh watercourses and killing our rivers and fish.
I recently read the article ‘Why the government’s impractical NVZ regulations will undermine Welsh farming,’ published on 1st March 2021, just two days before the Plaid Cymru motion, in our Senedd, to end our environment saving Bill. When reading this, I was flabbergasted at the complete vacancy of the impact of mismanagement of slurry disposal upon our people of Wales, our rivers of Wales, the ecosystems and especially those that are impacted by flooding. At no point was there a thought for those people that are left struggling with slurry-infested floodwaters in their homes, in the streets and in their businesses.
At no point, was there a consideration of the negative impact upon fish and other species in our rivers. At no point did the writer mention the poor water quality that people are swimming in, enjoying leisure in, through which we attract so many tourists, year on year.
It goes without saying that agriculture is part of our heritage, a fundamental aspect of our economy and our identity. Similarly, Wales is maintained and bolstered by tourism. We are proud of our environment, our waterfalls, our green glades, our crashing waves upon the beaches. Why would we want the quality of our water to be tainted by the daily accidental slurry spillages that are running into our water, killing everything upon its way.
There are two types of slurry pollution, point-source and diffuse pollution. The first can be directly detected, the location can be pin-pointed. Diffuse pollution, is gradual, sustained and over time. This latter form is much harder to detect and is far more destructive. During Covid, there has been a huge increase in these slurry incidents. Not only is this due to ‘stay at home’ guidance, but it can be attributed to ill planning for the impact of Brexit.
In preparations for exiting the EU, there have been huge increases to dairy herds to cope with the loss of imports. From these ‘factory-style milking sheds,’ the increase in herd size creates increased slurry production. I have personally been contacted from small-holding farmers and people living within farming communities. They have told me about incidences where there have been slurry pumps placed directly into watercourses, streams and secondary rivers. This has a devastating effect upon our rivers.
We should be so proud of our salmon and trout spawning grounds, but through this utter disregard, and desperation in most instances, slurry faeces is left to run into the water, throughout the night, sometimes for days on end. I have been given maps with marked points, where these events have taken place. I have had phone calls from families begging me to do something about this. The ‘Code of Practice’ was not working, we needed legislation to restrict these poor farming methods quickly.
One member of the farming community said, ‘When I left to go to work, the spraying of the fields had started, and when I came home from work, the spraying was continuing. It’s also continual overnight.’ Personally, I have received videos of slurry-spraying onto flooded fields, during the previous Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis. Surely those spraying, know that it’s going to run off into the flood water that was seeping into people’s homes, our streets and businesses?
I was contacted by a family with a small baby that was repeatedly getting E. coli. They were convinced that it was caused by the stream that ran, past their kitchen door. This stream was ‘stinking’ and regularly showed obvious signs of slurry pollution.
It is important to note, that the people that have told me about these incidents, and that have filmed this happening, are people that are in farming households. They live within farming communities and have reiterated to me, that the majority of farmers want to create harmony between the environment, our people and animals, to ensure that we live in a clean and safe Wales.
They wanted me to reiterate and to explain to everyone that our whole Welsh farming culture is at threat by huge mass production factory farms, appearing with inadequate planning to manage slurry storage. The new builds and extensions are being rushed through, which is resulting in the destruction of species, of our environment, the killing of fish and create a huge threat to public health.
Our Welsh Agriculture Bill has been created because of the constant breaches of the code, daily all over Wales. Our water quality is reducing and it is not just internal lakes. The Afon Clwyd, suffered such intense slurry pollution, that bathing waters around the Rhyl coast were prohibited, due to the threat to public health. This is happening all over Wales (references below for links to incident maps). It is fundamental, that we take control of the situation. It is incumbent on all of us, to protect our environment and the future of our country, so that we can pass it on to our children, in a better state in which we found it.
This Agriculture Bill ensures that there will be compulsory boundary maps produced, that show areas of topography where slurry run-off can occur. These areas will be prohibited for slurry spraying. There will be improvements for the planning of slurry-storage during the winter months. This will prevent spraying onto flooded fields and therefore the incidences of poisonous by-products running into people’s homes, due to the ever-increasing threat of climate change and increased precipitation. There will be financial support to help develop safer farming practices, and we will work with farmers to help them create a healthier, secure and safer way of working within the environment. Now is the time to take control of the situation. Now, we need to be brave enough to move Wales forward.
Hayward, Will, 2019 The disgusting scale of man-made pollution killing Wales’ rivers.
WLMF (2018) report by the Wales Land Management Forum (WLMF) sub-group on agricultural pollution. https://cdn.cyfoethnaturiol.cymru/media/685890/interim-report-from-wlmf-subgroup-on-agricultural-pollution-final.pdf [accessed on 30/3/21]
Welsh Government. (2020) https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/consultations/2020-12/agriculture-wales-bill-white-paper.pdf [accessed on 30/3/21]
Gruffudd, Llyr. (2021) https://nation.cymru/opinion/why-the-governments-impractical-nvz-regulations-will-undermine-welsh-farming/ [accessed on 1/3/21]
Hodgson, Sarah. Poisonous slurry leaks into Denbighshire river sparking swimming ban during heatwave weekend (2017) https://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/poisonous-slurry-leaks-denbighshire-river-13197260 [accessed on 30/3/21]
NRW-National Resources Wales (2021) Agriculture Pollution Slurry. https://naturalresourceswales.gov.uk/search?lang=en&query=Agriculture+pollution+slurry [accessed on 30/3/21]
NRW (2018) Slurry Pollution Incident on Anglesey https://naturalresources.wales/about-us/news-and-events/news/slurry-pollution-incident/?lang=en
I prepared the attached motion sent to Welsh Labour to ask that they quickly address the issue.
Motion on Pollution from Intensive Dairy Units to Labour Conference 2021
Currently, there is an escalating serious, pollution problem, across the whole of Wales. Due to restrictions with current practice, adherence to ‘codes’, as opposed to legislation, and the pressure for ‘loosening’ of agricultural regulations, it seems authorities, including Natural Resources Wales (NRW) are currently unable to act sufficiently, to curtail and prevent the scale of the environmental damage.
Members of the farming community have drawn the attention of Aberconwy CLP to many intensive cattle units, primarily dairy, that have appeared all over Conwy County over the last two years; Farmers have expressed worry for the health and wellbeing of their families, the health and welfare of local communities, and the destruction of biodiversity, due to the way the units are being operated; When establishing dairy units (ranging from milking parlours to intensive factories), they should have sufficient facilities for storage of manures and slurries; Nevertheless, evidence has very recently ‘come to light,’ that huge quantities of slurry are being disposed of, in highly inappropriate and unethical ways, consequently because the units have inadequate storage; The Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2013 (Wales) were constructed to require landowners to follow an Action Programme of good agricultural practice, to limit the impact upon the environment, of spraying slurry and other materials onto fields. Such regulations instruct, the measures of how much spraying is advised, and the times in which ‘spraying’ should be done.
Furthermore, NRW is ‘responsible for enforcement of the Regulations and the Action Programme in Wales.’
It is noted that problems have arisen with the effectively voluntary Action Programme to tackle Nitrate Pollution in Wales, as the NRW is almost totally powerless to take any meaningful action; penalties are light, and timescales are such, that evidence can quickly disappear. It must further be noted that a severe nitrate increase onto land and waterways, of the likes that have been witnessed in Aberconwy, can have severe impacts upon drinking water, public health and aquatic ecosystems.
Conference applauds the First Minister of Wales, who told the Welsh Assembly on 21st January 2020, “…following years of voluntary scheme, agreed with the NFU, that if is not then honoured on the ground, we will move to regulate.”
Conference further notes:
Aberconwy CLP believes that there are approximately 20 new factory dairy units, quietly built in ‘out of the way’ areas of Conwy County, with 2,000 or more dairy cattle (a marked increase in herd sizes overall); When asked, through a Freedom of Information Request, Conwy County Borough Council said, that they could not tell how many have been given planning permission and they told the enquirer to look it up themselves on a national planning portal; Although farmers infer intensive factory dairy units have appeared across Wales, there are no all-Wales records, nor readily accessible local records; Many of the units for which planning history has been found, have had no provision for slurry storage and no planning applications for building of slurry storage; Farmers have informed Aberconwy CLP of huge slurry discharges into watercourses; one witnessed to be 100,000 litres of slurry pumped directly into Afon Conwy (10 x 10,000l slurry tankers), which at the discharge source, passes through a village. The Afon Conwy then meanders through several towns and villages, before leading to the magnificent Conwy Estuary; The Afon Conwy is a destination, not only for tourism, but also for recreation and for the renowned Conwy salmon and trout, as well as a wide range of other aquatic and bird species.
Aberconwy CLP has received witnessed reports and seen video of factory dairy operators spraying large amounts of slurry onto flooded fields, with a ‘full water-table,’ often at night. Those fields drain into watercourses and, at present, through analysis of map topography, into flooded areas like Llanrwst, which has been deluged by, not only rising river levels, but also by surface run-off, into homes and schools; Farmers have expressed that the intensive dairy farms are not ‘family farms,’ run in the way they expect. They insist that they are industrial operations, destroying rural communities and ruining their rural way of life.
Conference believes such methods of disposal of slurry is a direct threat to public health and the future of our environment, that is going unnoticed by the public.
As the First Minister said to the Welsh Assembly, polluters “… do damage to the environment, and they do damage to the reputation of the farming industry, just at the point where the reputation of food production here in Wales needs to be at its very best.”
Conference is grateful that the Welsh Assembly are to bring in new pollution control legislation, following consultation with the farming community.
Therefore, Conference calls for:
• The new law to include penalties large enough to discourage short-term profit-seeking, at the expense of public health and the environment;
• The new law is to include powers for the NRW to quickly control pollution events;
• For NRW to be given immediate new powers to close down flagrant slurry polluters now; and,
• For tighter planning regulation so that Local Planning Authorities, across Wales, cannot approve new or extended dairy production units, without adequate slurry storage facilities and disposal, as part of the same development.