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Warning after hundreds of farm pollution incidents reported in Wales

An agricultural expert is warning farmers about the risks of farm pollution, after official figures revealed 864 incidents occurred in Wales in the past decade. 

Farm pollution incidents can have a devasting impact on wildlife, ecosystems and, in some cases, human health – for example, silage effluent can be up to 200 times more toxic than untreated sewage if it finds its way into waterways.

In the wake of these figures, obtained from Natural Resources Wales through a Freedom of Information request, Charlotte Wilson, On Farm Account Executive with Farmers & Mercantile Insurance Brokers, says she is worried too many farmers are not aware of just how destructive farm pollution can be to the environment – or the severe penalties they face if prosecuted. 

“What many farmers don’t realise is that the latest sentencing guidelines mean they could be slapped with unlimited fines, or up to five years in prison, if found responsible for a pollution breach,” she said.

“Furthermore, with calls for more robust regulation and enforcement from Natural Resources Wales, farmers are set to face increasing pressure to take appropriate risk management measures.”

Wilson warned that, whilst insurance may cover the cost of any clean-ups, it is not available to cover the cost of substantial fines imposed when farmers don’t comply with the law.

“Agriculture remains one of the biggest sources of pollution incidents, with a large number of incidents relating to water pollution, with slurry, soil and chemicals running into water courses,” she said. 

“Much can be done, however, to mitigate the risks. First of all, farmers should ensure their knowledge of environmental legislation is up-to-date and that they closely follow guidance from Natural Resources Wales and the Environmental Agency.

“Risk assessments should be conducted, such as identifying low-lying areas and waterways vulnerable to effluent runoff, and checks should be routinely carried out, from ensuring silage clamps and slurry containers are sound and secure to examining nearby waterways for signs of pollution. 

“Adverse weather should be also taken into account, as heavy rainfall can increase the chance of toxic runoff.

“Contingency plans should put in place, in preparation for every eventuality, and all workers should be made aware of these. If there is a pollution incident, suspected or confirmed, Natural Resources Wales should be contacted immediately, followed by the insurance company. 

“It is worth bearing in mind that prevention not only provides peace of mind but may in the future reap benefits, if Natural Resources Wales realises its objectives to protect the environment for future generations.”