Phosphate in the Wye and Lugg Catchments and the Nutrient Management Plan The Environment Agency is concerned about high phosphate levels in the Wye and Lugg Catchments. Alongside Natural England, we lead the Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) for the River Wye Special Area of Conservation. The NMP Board and Technical Advisory Group involves all key stakeholders (including Natural Resources Wales, water companies and farming support organisations). We are working together to address the causes and impacts of high phosphate levels, through a combination of advice and guidance, regulation and the delivery of projects to reduce phosphate inputs.
Environment Agency actions to reduce phosphate - overview Phosphate originates from two main sources. These are discharges from sewage treatment works which are regulated through Environmental Permits and from diffuse agricultural pollution, principally from livestock manure and nutrients washing into the river during rainfall events. As part of our advisory role, the Environment Agency is a partner in Farm Herefordshire - a group of organisations set up to support the farming community in delivering Nutrient Management Plan objectives, particularly from agricultural diffuse pollution.
Further details can be found here: http://wyecatchment.org/farm-herefordshire/ We also regulate the agriculture and water industries. More than 60% of phosphate (varying across the catchment) entering rivers is from agricultural runoff – please see graphics at the end of this document. The New Farming Rules for Water for all farmers in England were introduced by Defra in 2018. The rules are designed to help protect water quality by standardising good farm practices and require farmers to: keep soil on the land; match nutrients to crop, and soil needs, and keep livestock fertilisers and manures out of the water.
We initially took an advice and guidance approach with farmers and land managers to allow them time to absorb the Rules and actions needed. We are now prioritising our West Midlands agricultural enforcement work on the Wye and Lugg catchments. The Environment Agency is working with Dwr Cymru Welsh Water to reduce phosphate in the catchment from sewage treatment works. Dwr Cymr Welsh Water have a funded programme of investment on a number of sewage works in the catchment which will significantly reduce the contribution from sewage works by 2025. October 2020 River Wye water quality Larger sewage treatment works currently have (or will have by 2025) phosphate limits – and for example are adding phosphate strippers. With smaller works, initiatives such as the development of integrated wetlands are helping reduce their phosphate load. Regulatory role and enforcement - agriculture The Environment Agency adopts a targeted regulatory approach. This is in line with its enforcement and prosecution policy / guidelines and because it is not possible to check every one of the thousands of farms in the catchment.
Where land is identified as “at risk” of soil erosion and run off (where there is a high risk nutrients will be washed into watercourses by rain) - then landowners are contacted and preventative measures to reduce soil erosion are explained. This is then followed up through sense checking and enforcement action taken where necessary. On 23 September 2020 we wrote to 1200 farmers and land managers in the Lugg catchment of Herefordshire reminding them of their legal responsibilities and asking for their help in reducing phosphate levels in local rivers. A copy of this letter is attached.
We use monitoring data, together with real time satellite and drone information, runoff-risk maps and intelligence from previous incidents and public reports to target our regulatory and enforcement activity. As an example, on 29 September our “soil patrol” officers visited 65 locations identified as being at high risk of causing soil or phosphate pollution in local rivers. Many sites were maize fields and will be bare soil after harvest – we are strongly encouraging farmers to implement measures to prevent excessive runoff. That day officers identified at least 13 potential breaches of Farming Rules for Water. They will use information gathered to determine what regulatory response and advice is appropriate. We are seeing positive results from farmers and land managers who have taken the advice we have given during or after previous regulatory visits. We estimate this has resulted in improvements in over 300 hectares of fields. In the last few weeks we have re-visited sites which had previously had issues with excessive runoff. We saw examples were the farmer has undersown – that is, planted grass planted under the maize crop so the field is not bare after harvest. Another farmer had recognised the risk of soil and phosphate pollution to a nearby stream and left a generous buffer strip instead of ploughing right up to the hedge. There will be much less soil and phosphate getting into the River Wye as a result.
Monitoring The Environment Agency has long term data and trend information on phosphate in the English Wye and Lugg and will continue to add to this baseline information to support our working. We are monitoring water quality throughout the catchment but we are developing a new bespoke programme to allow better identification of hotspots, including in sub catchments, and cross border issues. We aim to be more flexible and agile in where we focus monitoring and investigative resources. This will enable us to respond more rapidly and effectively when at-risk areas are identified through intelligence from satellite images and other environmental monitoring (for example water quality issues identified during invertebrate and other catchment surveys or use of use of phosphate sondes detectors). In future we plan to also use the results of citizen science and third part monitoring to add to our catchment knowledge. Once the local impact of phosphate pathways has been identified and investigated we can follow up with remedy measures through advice and regulation. The Nutrient Management Plan Board considers cross border matters and recognises the need for a coordinated approach to data analysis and monitoring across the Wye/Lugg catchments.
Discussions between Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales are underway to develop a suitable programme. Phosphate levels from agriculture and sewage treatment works across the catchment Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution Regulations 2018 (England) Dear Sir or Madam, We are writing to you regarding the introduction of the above new Regulations as we believe you farm in the River Lugg catchment which is failing its conservation status due to phosphate levels. All farmers should satisfy themselves that they are complying with the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution Regulations 2018 (known as the “Farming Rules for Water”).
The farming rules introduce a new way of regulating farming activities. By way of example, soil run-off from agricultural land is now classified as an agricultural pollutant. If soil run-off enters a ditch or drain which leads to a watercourse, this is a breach of the Regulations and could result in enforcement action. Similarly the application of fertilizers to untested soil and exceeding crop requirements could also be a breach. For information please visit: www.gov.uk/defra/farmingrulesforwater There are eight rules, five about managing fertilisers and manures and three on managing soils. The rules require farmers or land managers (being any person who has custody or control of agricultural land) to avoid causing diffuse pollution by: • stopping soil erosion (see rules on necessary mitigation) • matching nutrients to crop and soil needs (see soil testing requirements) • keeping fertilisers and manures out of the water (see minimum distances) In Herefordshire, diffuse pollution (particularly phosphate) from agriculture is now a serious issue, causing significant damage to a number of the County’s sensitive watercourses.
We hope you can help protect our rivers from the slow accumulation of nutrients by following these simple rules. Over the coming months we will be targeting regulatory activity towards high risk areas (e.g. sloping fields with bare soil) and activities (e.g. spreading) and at locations where we have records of previous pollution incidents. We will be using satellite imagery to help us find bare soils in autumn. We are reminding farmers that they are legally obliged to test soils and to prevent significant soil run-off (e.g. by sowing a cover crop for the winter season). Extra care must be taken on steep fields with fine soils.
Any breach of the Regulations may result in an investigation and enforcement action being considered For queries or advice about how to comply with the new regulations please contact the Environment Agency, who will put you in touch with a local officer. Regards, Judy Smith Wye and Teme Land & Water Team Leader, Environment Agency email: Wye_and_lowerTemeLandW@environment-agency.gov.ukReduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution Regulations 2018 (England)