Intensive Poultry Unit


If the Government Had Acted Sooner to Tackle Diffuse Agricultural Pollution…

30th August 2023

Yesterday, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced that they are thinking of changing the law that currently applies to developments that affect internationally protected rivers and wetlands. They’re testing the water to see how scrapping key provisions in the Habitats Regulations goes down with the public.

Many protected sites are already failing their water quality targets and getting worse.  Levels of nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) going into the water speed up the growth of some aquatic plants, which in turn can affect wildlife.  

But this is not news.  

In 2015, Fish Legal, WWF UK and the Angling Trust took the Government to court for failing to do more to tackle chronic agricultural pollution of protected rivers, lakes and wetlands.   

The Government was accused of seeing regulation to curb water pollution – in particular designating Water Protection Zones – as a last resort.    

To settle the claim, the Government promised in court to produce Diffuse Water Pollution Plans for a number of protected sites ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’.   These plans, the Government said, were a necessary first step before deciding whether a Water Protection Zone was needed to end agricultural diffuse pollution and for those sites to reach favourable conservation status.

Government Ministers signed a Consent Order that committed Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England to producing Diffuse Water Pollution Plans for 37 protected sites.

This is how long ago they made that binding promise in court…

My count-up

In 2021, Fish Legal, WWF UK and the Angling Trust took the Government back to court because they had only managed to produce four plans.

Defra blamed Covid, lack of funds and the work the department had to do to leave the European Union for the delay. They said they were doing lots to stop pollution such as bringing in the Farming Rules in England, but forgot to explain that they were not being enforced.  Since the 2021 court case only two more plans have been produced. So we’ve written to Therese Coffey to ask why Defra has gone quiet.

These are the protected sites.  The ones in green are the only ones where pollution plans are finished.  The ones in red are still a work in progress. The clock is ticking….

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