According to the Environment Agency in England and its Scottish and Welsh counterparts, there have been in excess of 5,300 cases of agricultural pollution across Britain between 2010 and 2016, and they recorded 536 of the most severe incidents. The figures for Scotland refer to all livestock farms and in England and Wales they relate to pig, poultry and dairy farms.
The worse news is that, according to a recent investigation, even serious pollution incidents are not always prosecuted, and on top of that, farms that are known to have caused pollution continue to receive subsidies.
While there seems to be no official estimate of the cost of the damage caused, or the cost of clean-ups, it does seem as though breaches could be attributed to underinvestment in equipment such as slurry stores. Many farmers are in a constant struggle with the price of preventing pollution, and it is feared that this situation may worsen as farm incomes are threatened by Brexit.
The investigation found, amongst other things:
- The pollution of waterways and land by slurry, the inappropriate burial of carcasses, and the emission of noxious fumes.
- The majority of cases involve dairy farms, chiefly for leaks and spills of slurry that can kill fish and pollute land.
- The biggest number of serious incidents (125) was recorded in the south-west, followed by the Midlands (55).
- The number of prosecutions lags well behind the number of serious incidents, despite legal provisions for magistrates to fine farmers £50,000 or send them to prison for six months.
- Some of the serious incidents have been linked to megafarms, which can house hundreds of thousands of chickens or thousands of pigs and which are on the rise in the UK. The number of breaches at large intensive farms has risen in the last three years.
While the Environment Agency is known to have brought 134 prosecutions in total in England between 2010 and 2016, the real figure could be higher. Many farmers are struggling to comply with regulations because of the financial pressures they are under and while most farmers comply with the law, there are farms marked as “hostile” which are too risky for inspectors to visit unless there are two of them.
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