Global Agriculture

Funding boost for farmers to tackle water pollution

04 August 2021, UK: Farmers across the country will be given additional support to take action to reduce water and air pollution from their land, the Government has announced today.

Over the last 15 years, the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) programme has been one of the main ways to help farmers tackle pollution which results from manure, fertiliser and soil running off into rivers when it rains.

The programme – which is a partnership between Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency – provides free 1-2-1 advice to farmers to help them reduce water and air pollution through management of farmyard manure and soils among other things.

Farmers have an important role to help protect the environment which is demonstrated by the success of Catchment Sensitive Farming – in recent years it has reduced the number of serious water pollution incidents by almost a fifth, and helped farmers access £100m in grants.

The funding for the programme will now be almost doubled, with an additional £17m over the next three years. The new annual budget will be £30m, up from £16.6m in 2020 / 21.

This means it will cover 100% of England’s farmland, up from 40% of its current coverage, with every farmer able to access advice and support by March 2023 to help them access a range of solutions to reduce pollution.

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The extra funding will provide more Natural England advisers to help farmers implement practical solutions to reduce pollution, including planting new grassland buffer strips to improve drainage, establishing river side trees to reduce run off into rivers and using better slurry storage facilities to avoid accidental spillage.

Natural England teams will also help farmers apply for grants to invest in new equipment and technology, such as precision farming tools that reduce the use of fertilisers and better protect the soil.

Today’s announcement sits alongside other steps the Government is taking to tackle water pollution, including new legislation in the Environment Bill to reduce the use of storm overflows and £144m of new, additional investment from water companies on storm overflows within the current 5-year planning period (2020 – 2025).

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

“Catchment Sensitive Farming has been hugely successful in tackling water pollution, giving farmers practical advice tailored to their own land and grants to support the investment in infrastructure that protects watercourses.

“There are currently around 40 per cent of farmers involved in the scheme, but today we are doubling the funding available and we aim to have every farmer in the country taking part by 2023.”

One farmer who has engaged with Catchment Sensitive Farming for a number of years is Henry Pym of Higher Blindmoor Farm in Somerset. His small family dairy farm is at the headwater of the River Yarty, which runs into the River Axe – a priority catchment for improvement. As a result of the advice received, he has successfully applied for grants to grow herbal leys (grassland), which have helped with soil health, structure and drainage. The herbal leys mean no fertiliser is needed, cutting operating costs and preventing fertiliser run-off. The quality and output of milk from his dairy herd has also benefitted from the grassland that he’s planted.

Henry Pym from Higher Blindmoor Farm in Somerset, said:

“The advice from the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme and the Environment Agency has helped us better understand how to improve the water, soil and air quality around the farm. Alongside the support of CSF grants, we have been able to carry out the necessary improvements to make our practices more environmentally sustainable for the future.

“For example, herbal leys have been a real bonus as they are not only very environmentally beneficial, but also have agricultural benefits from increased intakes due to their diverse species. The herbal leys receive no artificial fertiliser which is a win-win for the farm and the environment!”

Marian Spain, Chief Executive of Natural England, said:

“Farmers and landowners have an important role in ensuring our watercourses are protected from pollution and in improving the quality of our rivers and wetlands as part of nature’s recovery. Cleaner more wildlife rich water is vital to restore lost biodiversity and ensure people can enjoy our precious rivers, streams and ponds.

“With the expansion of the Catchment Sensitive Farming partnership to cover 100% of farmed land, all farmers can now go further than ever in reducing diffuse water pollution by seeking technical advice and grant support to create a healthy water environment as part of a sustainable farming business.”

In addition, Defra has announced it will allocate the Environment Agency £1.2 million to significantly increase the number of inspectors visiting farmers to reduce diffuse water pollution, with 50 additional full time employees recruited for inspections.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said:

“Over the last 25 years there has been huge progress in enhancing the water environment but there is more to do.

“The announcements made today will help us continue to engage with farmers to reduce the risk of pollution incidents and work towards cleaner and healthier rivers for all.

“Funding for 50 new Environment Agency inspectors is also a welcome development. We have said before that additional investment in our monitoring and inspection capability is fundamental to delivering the government’s priorities on the environment.”