NFU Cymru has expressed astonishment at Welsh Government’s decision to publish draft regulations for an all-Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone while the country is gripped by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, as part of her Covid-19 response statement issued yesterday, said she is ‘minded to introduce the regulations once the crisis comes to an end’.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said the draft regulations would be ‘deeply concerning’ for Welsh farmers, adding that the timing of the announcement was ‘ill-judged and inconsiderate’.
Mr Davies said: “The EU Nitrates Directive has the specific purpose of protecting water quality by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters. We have repeatedly highlighted that based on the evidence from water quality monitoring undertaken by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), there can be no justification whatsoever for a whole Wales designation.
“Farmers will be deeply concerned that the Minister should seek to publish a draft of these contentious NVZ regulations now, at a time of crisis not just for Wales, but for countries across the globe. We are all united in playing our part in the battle against the very serious threats posed by the Coronavirus pandemic and farmers are rising to the challenge and doing their utmost to keep the nation fed and continually supplied with safe, high quality, traceable food.
“It is clear that Covid-19 has led to massive disruption in the supply chain for many sectors. We have to question why the Minister has chosen to add so significantly to the burden of stress and anxiety within the industry by publishing draft regulations now, at this time of crisis. There can be no doubt that the timing of this announcement is ill-judged and inconsiderate. It is astonishing that Welsh Government would think that the industry can spend time looking for these proposals on a website during a global health emergency.
“NFU Cymru is absolutely clear that an all Wales NVZ is indiscriminate and punitive. It will affect every farmer, every sector and every area of Wales. Farmers will be subject to draconian record keeping, complex restrictions on the day-to-day running of their businesses and, for many, exorbitant costs at a time when farm business incomes do not support this level of investment and when the industry is going to need significant time to recover from Covid-19 impacts.
“NFU Cymru is not, and never has, defended the status quo. We recognise that one pollution incident is one too many – we take our environmental responsibilities seriously. On behalf of our members we have invested significant time and resources in good faith in working with government, the regulator and other stakeholders on the development of a framework that enables farmers to take action to improve water quality where this is needed. NFU Cymru accepts that a regulatory backstop may be needed but this must recognise and take account of the regulation that is already operational in this sphere and it must be evidence based, proportionate to the risk and targeted to areas where water quality improvements have been shown to be needed.
“Following the Minister’s statement today we will continue to strongly oppose the introduction of this deeply damaging legislation. We will pursue every avenue available to us and continue to work tirelessly with our members in the hope that we can prevent the introduction of this damaging and disproportionate regulation. However, at this time of emergency for the nation, NFU Cymru’s prime focus and energy is on supporting our members through this crisis.”