Norfolk and Suffolk’s new Environment Agency boss warns farmers to avoid water pollution traps
- Credit: STEVE COOMBS
Many farmers are still unaware of rules which came into force in April 2018 around protecting water – with East Anglia’s large outdoor pig sector particularly vulnerable, the region’s new Environment Agency boss has warned.
Simon Hawkins, now area director for the region, said in his new role he is keen to ensure Norfolk and Suffolk farmers fully understand how they can prevent water pollution.
"It is important that farmers and land managers understand how these rules affect them. This is particularly true in East Anglia as this region has the second largest number of pigs in England - about 1m animals in total - and the sandy soils on the many outdoor pig farms are particularly vulnerable to erosion and run-off," he said.
Environment Agency staff visiting farms to check compliance will often refer farmers in priority areas to Catchment Sensitive Farming officers who can help identify further action and support, he said.
"Some of these actions could include pig farmers ensuring that fields which have livestock in are flat and situated away from any nearby streams or rivers and that livestock are moved regularly," he said.
He called on farmers to ensure efficient use of fertiliser and manure to prevent it running off into rivers and streams and causing pollution problems.
To comply with the rules, the region's arable farmers also needed to take precautions and plan their fertiliser applications well.
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"Planning and the correct use of well-maintained machinery can also help ensure that you only apply the nutrients needed and reduce the significant risk of causing pollution," he said. "Farmers can help prevent erosion of soils and run-off of fertilisers and manures from their land by planting crops across the slope, where safe to do so, rather than down the slope. In hilly fields, establishing grass buffer strips along the lower end of the field, especially next to rivers, can help. Sowing a cover crop by early autumn can also help stabilise soils after harvest."
Mr Hawkins, who was previously the Environment Agency director for Hertfordshire and north London and worked on a Revitalising the River project, said it was a 'privilege' to lead the agency in "such a richly agricultural part of the county where so many rural businesses are thriving".