High Court dismisses NFU Cymru case against Welsh Agricultural Pollution Regulations

23 March 2022

Environment Water quality
NFU Cymru President Aled Jones

NFU Cymru’s judicial review of Welsh Government’s decision to introduce new water quality regulations across the whole of Wales has been dismissed, following a judgment handed down today.

The Judge, Sir Wynn Williams, found that the Welsh Government had not acted unlawfully in making the water quality regulations, having heard the parties’ arguments during a virtual hearing spread over three days towards the end of last year. In particular, the Judge concluded that farmers did not have a ‘legitimate expectation’ that an 80% grassland derogation which applies in England and Northern Ireland would be available to them under the regulations.

Incredibly disappointing

This is an incredibly disappointing result for Welsh farmers as it means that the new water quality regulations, which came into force across Wales on 1st April 2021, will remain in place in their current form. NFU Cymru believes that these regulations are unworkable and pose a significant threat to the economic viability of Welsh farming, the overall impact of which cannot be underestimated. These regulations make the whole of Wales an NVZ, attracting disproportionate requirements which will be detrimental to the whole farming sector.

NFU Cymru President Aled Jones said:

“I am obviously very disappointed with today’s judgment, but I am proud that NFU Cymru has been able to stand up for all farmers across Wales to hold Welsh Government to account in its decision-making. This case was not about seeking to ignore agricultural pollution incidents or trying to reduce environmental protection; it was about ensuring that when the government makes decisions which impact the Welsh farming industry, it does so based on a proper assessment and understanding of those impacts. I hope that the arguments raised during this case will have made Welsh Government take notice of the impact these regulations will have on Welsh farmers, and we will continue to look for opportunities to find ways to reduce the burden on farmers.

“A good starting point would be for Welsh Government to increase the support offered to farmers in order to be able to comply with these regulations. Welsh farmers face having to find up-front costs of £360 million and ongoing yearly costs of £14 million a year. The package of support to farmers to make these drastic changes is, in our view, woefully inadequate and I hope that Welsh Government will increase the existing funding available to support farmers in complying with the regulations. Unfortunately, we are already aware of farming families leaving the industry as a direct consequence of the regulations.

Extremely proud

“Despite the ultimate outcome of the case, I am extremely proud of the leadership NFU Cymru has shown in being the organisation to take on this legal challenge on behalf of the whole Welsh agricultural industry. I would like to pay tribute to the dedication and expertise of NFU Cymru staff, the union’s in-house legal team, our legal panel firm JCP, Counsel at Essex Court Chambers and the NFU’s Legal Assistance Scheme in ensuring that the voice of Welsh farming was heard in the High Court.

The judgement

Read the judgement from the High Court.

Video reaction

Watch the reaction in English here
Gwyliwch yr ymateb yn Gymraeg yma

Timeline of activity

Our work on water quality since 2016

March 2022

High Court dismisses NFU Cymru case against Welsh Agricultural Pollution Regulations

April 2021

NFU Cymru finalising preparations to launch legal challenge over ‘damaging’ NVZ regulations

February 2021

NFU Cymru begins a campaign to urge Members of the Senedd to vote against damaging NVZ regulations

Nearly 12,000 emails are sent to MSs from concerned farmers urging them to vote against the regulations.

The motion to annul all-Wales NVZs was narrowly lost in the Senedd on 3 March .

January 2021

Joint letter by farming and supply chain organisations to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

A broad coalition of organisations across farming and the supply chain who have an interest in a thriving and sustainable food and farming industry in Wales wrote to the Minister. All agreed that farming’s role in improving water quality must be central to that vision. Whilst the evidence shows that agriculture is not the only factor affecting water quality in Wales, we are clear that farming has a key role to play in reducing its impact through addressing current levels of point source and diffuse pollution.

March 2020

The Farmer-led approach to nutrient management concludes with findings and proposals for Welsh Government

This project was funded by NFU Cymru and NRW with support on the project Steering board from Dwr Cymru, Welsh Government and Farmers’ Union of Wales. The project aimed to collate the industry's appetite to engage with water quality on farm through good nutrient management and the understanding of risk within their holding from diffuse and point source pollution. This culminated in the creation of the Water Standard document.

February 2020

Results of FOI request by NFU Cymru cast further doubt on NVZ proposals

Information obtained by NFU Cymru from NRW added to the union’s growing concerns that a decision on Welsh Government’s all-Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone proposals was being taken without a comprehensive understanding of costs and impacts. In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for information on the advice and evidence provided by NRW to Welsh Government relating to regulatory proposals, NRW supplied its comments on the adequacy of the draft Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA); also making a number of points in relation to reputational risks to NRW and Welsh Government should a whole territory NVZ approach be taken forward.

January 2020

NFU Cymru produces NVZ lobbying document

NFU Cymru continued to stress that any decision by Welsh Government on future water quality regulations must be made based on the available evidence, science and a robust impact assessment.

January 2020

NFU Cymru asks for information justifying NVZ approach to be made public

NFU Cymru called upon Welsh Government to make publicly available key information relating to the proposed introduction of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) across the whole of Wales in 2020.

December 2019

NFU Cymru board calls out Welsh Government on proposed all-Wales NVZ approach

NFU Cymru’s Rural Affairs Board criticised Welsh Government on its plans and approach to introducing an all-Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) in Wales

November 2019

NFU Cymru outlines lack of preparation by Welsh Government for proposed NVZ approach

Information obtained by NFU Cymru under an official information request highlighted significant deficiencies in Welsh Government’s preparations for the proposed introduction of all Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ).

November 2019

Briefing on Welsh Government Written Statement

This briefing provided an update for members following the Welsh Government Written Statement.

September 2019

Summary of evidence to Minister

NFU Cymru submitted available evidence to the Minister which included analysis of a broad range of environment, economic, social and cultural factors.

July 2019

Royal Welsh Show dedicated water quality seminar

NFU Cymru held a dedicated seminar at the Royal Welsh Show to discuss water quality and the voluntary farmer-led approach to nutrient management.

March 2019

Industry-wide project group, spearheaded by NFU Cymru looks at nutrient management best practice

The initiative, the first of its kind in Wales, was led by Water Quality/Nutrient Management Project Manager Lorna Davis and overseen by two key stakeholder groups; the project steering board and the water quality task and finish group.

26 February 2019

NFU Cymru advances legal concerns over new rules

Following the release of the details of the new regulations by Welsh Government and subsequent meetings with the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, NFU Cymru’s lawyers, working with legal panel firm JCP Solicitors and Counsel, raised with Welsh Government their concerns about the lawfulness of the proposed approach. Alongside NFU Cymru’s legal arguments, the Union flagged other worries about the new proposals.

February 2019

NFU Cymru appoints Lorna Davis to the position of Water Quality/Nutrient Management Project Manager

The position was joint-funded with Natural Resources Wales and focussed on taking forward the work of the NRW Agri-Pollution Sub Group to develop farmer-led voluntary approaches to nutrient management. Lorna’s appointment was evidence of the ambition within NFU Cymru, and indeed the Welsh agricultural industry, to provide workable, farmer-led solutions to the issues affecting water quality in Wales.

November 2018

Written Statement by Minister Lesley Griffiths on Agricultural Pollution and Regulatory Reform

The Minister outlined her intention to introduce regulations to tackle agricultural pollution that will apply across the whole of Wales. The regulations were set to come into force in January 2020, with transitional periods for some elements to allow farmers time to adapt and ensure compliance. The regulations will include the following measures:

  • Nutrient management planning;
  • Sustainable fertiliser applications linked to the requirement of the crop;
  • Protection of water from pollution related to when, where and how fertilisers are spread; and
  • Manure storage standards.
August 2018

NFU Cymru arranges for Carmarthenshire farmers and fisherman come together to discuss ways to improve water quality

‘Farmers and fishermen have a shared interest in the condition of our water courses and are committed to working together to maintain and enhance water quality in Wales’. That was the message from NFU Cymru and the Carmarthenshire Fishermen’s Federation at a special farm walk held on-farm in Cwmifor, Llandeilo.

December 2017

NFU Cymru submits its vision for improved water quality in Wales

The role of Welsh agriculture in maintaining and enhancing water quality in Wales was set out by NFU Cymru in their paper entitled ‘A vision for improved water quality in Wales’. The paper, shared with Welsh Government and NRW, identified the immediate opportunities to support the sector to make water quality improvements through a series of twenty recommendations around the themes of advice and guidance; improved investment support; as well as facilitating the uptake of technology and innovative approaches.

December 2017

Written Statement by Minister Lesley Griffiths on the NVZ consultation

In this statement the Minster stated that she was minded to introduce a whole Wales approach to tackling nitrate pollution from agriculture.

October 2017

Union puts forward 'workable alternative' to further NVZ designation

NFU Cymru urged Welsh Government to consider a ‘workable alternative’ to reducing nitrates from agriculture to prevent further extension of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) in Wales.

The new option put forward by NFU Cymru was designed by farmers and builds on an off-set scheme that has been operating successfully by a group of First Milk dairy farmers in the Cleddau Catchment in Pembrokeshire.

December 2016

NFU Cymru’s NVZ consultation response

NFU Cymru responds to the Welsh Governments Nitrate Vulnerable Zones in Wales consultation.

December 2016

NFU Cymru’s briefing event at the Senedd

NFU Cymru held a briefing event with Assembly Members to reveal the results of a survey showing members’ strong opposition to Welsh Government’s NVZ proposals.

November 2016

NFU Cymru polls farmers on NVZ proposals

NFU Cymru joined forces with a Pembrokeshire campaigner to canvas views on the Welsh Government’s NVZ proposals. The survey collated views and helped further understand the impact across the agricultural sector of the proposals put forward as part of Welsh Government’s consultation on the Nitrate Directive in Wales.

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