Environment Agency says it has taken numerous steps to protect the River Wye from agricultural pollution
The Environment Agency says it is taking a great number of steps to protect the River Wye from agricultural pollution - with numerous different factors affecting the quality of the river that are not in the control of the agency.
The charity River Action has taken the agency to the civil court along with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, arguing that both bodies have acted unlawfully in failing to enforce important environmental regulations, such as the Farming Rules for Water (FRfW), and in doing so have failed to protect the Special Area of Conservation of the River Wye from the huge levels of diffuse agricultural pollution.
Speaking on behalf of the Envionment Agency at Cardiff Civil Justice Centre on Thursday, Charles Streetne, said that the EA “only takes action when necessary” and its “overall approach is escalating guidance, from words of guidance to prosecution” which is a “normal position”.
He said: “You will start with advice and guidance and escalate through to prosecution as a last resort as necessary. There is nothing in any event that is unlawful”.
Mr Streeton added that the statutory guidance published by Defra outlines criteria that should be considered when taking enforcement action and it is not law.
He expanded that for farm inspections there are checklists that have to be completed. For example, before officers go, one aspect that is considered is whether the farm is “near a waterbody and a conservation designated area”.
River Action UK is represented by David Wolfe KC, who told the court that the EA had failed to require fixes, with no timeline given to become compliant.
He added that farmers were not told they were in breach of the law, telling the court: “It is not a regime which allows farmers time to come into compliance but a regime which in effect allows apparently open-ended non-compliance.”
Mr Wolfe said that there is “nothing” from the EA to tell farmers “you have got to do this by this date and enforcement will be taken”.