100.We took evidence and heard from a range of witnesses on how the regime on nitrates, pollutants and water quality is monitored and enforced and the impact of this framework on efforts to reduce nitrate pollution.
101.The Environment Agency told us that in England there are 6,000 surface water monitoring points and 2,400 groundwater monitoring points which carry out 2 million tests a year. Samples are taken at sampling points around England and can be from coastal or estuarine waters, rivers, lakes, ponds, canals or groundwaters. They are taken for several purposes including compliance assessment against discharge permits, investigation of pollution incidents or environmental monitoring. The Agency supplied figures showing the number of samples and tests taken and costs involved, which suggest that the number of samples and tests carried out and funding have decreased:
102.We were told that the number of tests varied year from year. For example, monitoring activity peaked in 2012–13 due to extensive water quality investigations required for the first cycle of the Water Framework Directive, which informed River Basin Management Plans published in 2015. It also stated that since then it has “refined its monitoring programmes to make them more targeted, risk based and efficient” and aims to “only monitor where additional information is needed to justify improvements and effectively manage pressures on the water environment”. The Agency confirmed that the system rested on a mixture of monitoring and modelling. The Agency also said that it was midway through a strategic review of its monitoring, as it was assessing what sort of monitoring it would need to help deliver the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, though the Agency has previously noted that resources have become “stretched” requiring better use of information, including third party information.
103.We received evidence that questioned the efficacy of the current monitoring system. Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland reported that the number of surface water monitoring sites in Northern Ireland had decreased from 622 in 2008–2011 to 156 stations in 2015, while groundwater monitoring sites in Northern Ireland had reduced from 71 to 53. We also heard evidence from several witnesses who questioned the comprehensiveness of the monitoring regime. Professor Johnes questioned whether there were enough tests, at the right times (i.e. taking account of seasonal differences), in enough locations, that also took account of the three-dimensional nature of water bodies themselves (i.e. depth and distance from other land and water bodies). She thought that a lack of monitoring would lead to a poor evidence base and in turn poor policy and investment decisions. Professor Jarvie among others told us that she feared that there was too much focus on individual pollutants and that monitoring did not take a holistic view of pollutants and how they interacted, such as nitrates, phosphates and organic matter. She thought that the monitoring system was “not fit for purpose”. Several witnesses also contended that in some cases there was too much reliance on modelling and not enough on actual data, a point made by Dr Ward in relation to measurements of nitrate in groundwater, which he thought was “only just meeting the requirements”. Finally, the Agricultural Industries Association questioned what it saw as a lack of investment in national agricultural statistics because of funding cuts which meant that there was a paucity of evidence and data on farming practices which was undermining a good understanding of their impact on water quality and the success of pollution mitigation strategies.
104.The Environment Agency rejected the suggestion that the system was not fit for purpose and told us it offered a “world-class understanding of our water systems”.
105.We are concerned that a number of witnesses told us that the monitoring system for water quality was not fit for purpose and that figures supplied by the Environment Agency show that the numbers of samples taken, tests carried out and funding have decreased in recent years. Despite the Agency telling us that this is due to increased efficiency, we are troubled that this is occurring ahead of the UK leaving the EU and implementation of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, and before the 2018 New Farming Rules for Water have fully bedded in. We think that it is imperative that good monitoring is in place to provide a baseline against which these new policies can be measured.
106.The Environment Agency should publish the results of its Strategic Monitoring Review as soon as possible and provide evidence that its monitoring is comprehensive in terms of: the range and number of sites; the frequency of testing; the amount of third party information it is using; the full range of pollutants and their combined impact upon water quality; the impact of farming practices and pollution mitigation strategies; the correct balance between modelling and data. This is important as it provides the evidence base for policies and future investment decisions and ensures that Government policies can be scrutinised and progress can be monitored.
107.Farms in England are inspected by several agencies which ensure compliance with water quality and pollution regulations. The Environment Agency told that it was part of a number of activities led by Natural England, involving Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers that are “attempting to help farmers comply with legislation and reduce pollution”.
108.The Agency said that it had 80 to 100 officers involved in farm inspections that amounted to about 30 fulltime equivalents. The Minister told us that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) had about 400–500 staff, who inspected about 4,000 farms to ensure compliance with water quality and pollution reduction activities. It supplied figures on the total number and types of inspections carried out:
109.The Minister stated that the RPA used a risk-based model which included random visits to about 5% of farms alongside inspections of farms with a history of non-compliance. The Environment Agency told us that inspections were also carried out by voluntary assurance schemes such as the Red Tractor Scheme, which carried out about 45,000 inspections a year, and which included certification in areas such as managing animal waste and slurry, protecting water courses and responsible use of artificial fertilisers and manures.
110.The Environment Agency has a Sanctions and Enforcement Policy which aims to stop illegal activity; put right environmental harm; ensure compliance with the law; and punish offenders. The Policy states that the Agency “will normally consider all other options before considering criminal proceedings” and that “generally, prosecution is our last resort”.
111.We heard from several witnesses who told us that that the regulatory system was failing to ensure compliance, primarily because of a lack of resources. The Wildlife and Countryside link told us that while the Environment Agency had “the teeth” it did not have the resources to enforce compliance. Wessex Water said that though there were some “very, very good people” working for the Environment Agency, “resources wise it is struggling”, which meant that there was “no effective regulatory backstop to catchment management”. Wessex Water, along with several other submissions also said that there were particular problems around the Rural Payments Agency and its enforcement of cross-compliance and Nitrate Vulnerable Zone inspections. Along with other witnesses, it thought that part of the problem stemmed from a plethora of regulations and regulators which needed more regulatory alignment. We also heard concerns about enforcement in Northern Ireland in relation to both the funding and independence of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and cross compliance inspections.
112.Witnesses told us that one of the consequences of poor enforcement was that farmers would be more reluctant to use good practices if they suspected that neighbouring farmers were not doing the same. We also heard that poor compliance and enforcement was also problematic if the regulatory regime was changing, because it would be harder to pick up problems as a new system, such as the New Farming Rules for Water or the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, was introduced.
113.The Environment Agency told us that it was “very efficient” with the resources that it had. It accepted that it did “less farm inspections than [it] did in the past” though it maintained that current inspections were “very highly targeted”. The Agency said that there had been 20 prosecutions from 2012 to 2016 in terms of non-compliance with water quality regulations. However, it stated that prosecutions were not the best indication of the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement because they were at the end of a very long regulatory process and were rarely the best way to achieve a positive outcome and diverted Agency resources to pursue a case.
114.We are concerned that a number of witnesses suggested that the EA lacks the resources it needs to ensure compliance with the existing regime and rules. We do not believe that 30 FTE Inspectors to cover the whole of England is enough. The regime is also fragmented with various bodies involved, both regulators and market-led assurance bodies. Though prosecutions may not necessarily be the best guide to the effectiveness of the regime, only 20 prosecutions between 2012 and 2016 seems too low. There is a danger that a poorly regulated and resourced regime will discourage farmers and others to comply if they see neighbours flout the rules without a penalty. A poorly resourced and fragmented compliance regime also risks public money, especially in the form of cross compliance payments, being misused. A lack of resources will also undermine the credibility of the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment, and of any new system and the compliance body that will oversee it if the UK leaves the EU. The Government needs to bring forward plans and costings to indicate that it has sufficient resources to enable effective enforcement and oversight.
269 Helen Wakeham (Environment Agency) Q254.
270 Environment Agency, , (accessed 21 July 208).
271 Defra and Environment Agency NO30053.
272 Defra and Environment Agency NO30053 and Helen Wakeham (Environment Agency) Q261.
273 Helen Wakeham (Environment Agency) Q256.
274 Helen Wakeham (Environment Agency) Q259.
275 Environment Agency, , (February 2018). See also Dr. Hannah Green Senior Advisor (Integrated Water Planning) Environment Agency, (March 2018). Dr Green noted that key drivers for the strategic review of the Agency’s water monitoring were value for money and financial pressures.
276 Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland (NO30034)
277 Professor Johnes Q28–31.
278 Professor Johnes Q29.
279 Professor Jarvie Q10–11 and Q12. See also Jane Salter (Agricultural Industries Association) and Aileen Lawson (Ulster Farmers Union) Q135; Professor Johnes Q22.
280 Professor Jarvie Q25.
281 Dr Ward Q23 and Q32,
282 Jane Salter (Agricultural Industries Association) Q186–187.
283 Helen Wakeham (Environment Agency) Q254.
284 Helen Wakeham Q265.
285 Helen Wakeham Q267.
286 George Eustice MP Q273. E.g. cross-compliance rules.
287 Defra and Environment Agency NO30053.
288 George Eustice MP Q271.
289 Helen Wakeham Q277.
290 The Red Tractor Scheme incudes as part of its certification environmental protection and contamination controls including: measures to contain contamination from potential pollutants such as human sewage, sludge, anaerobic digestates, slurry and effluent; efficient and sensitive use of artificial fertilisers and manures. See: Red Tractor Scheme, Red Tractor Fresh Produce Standards, (accessed 20 July 2018).
291 Environment Agency, , (Updated May 2018).
292 As above.
293 David Johnson (Wildlife and Countryside link) Q57-Q60. Dr Lucinda Gilfoyle (Anglian Water) agreed the EA did not need any more power and that it was about making sure that baseline regulations were enforced. See also Will Andrews Tipper (Green Alliance) Q62.
294 Paul Stanfield (Wessex Water) Q118. See also Ms Sue Everett NO30003, Wildlife and Countryside Link NO30032 and Wessex Water (NO30007)
295 Paul Stanfield (Wessex Water) Q120. See also Ms Sue Everett NO30003, Wildlife and Countryside Link NO30032 and Wessex Water (NO30007). Wildlife and Country Link suggested in their submission that research for the World Wildlife Fund found that 20–30% of farmers were failing to comply with cross compliance standards.
296 Paul Stanfield (Wessex Water) Q121 and Dr Lucinda Gilfoyle (Anglian Water) Q121; Wildlife and Countryside Link NO30032.
297 Lagan Rivers Trust (NO30017) claimed that statutory bodies in the Northern Ireland were failing to acknowledge, implement or enforce current EU environmental directives. They claimed that only 6% of farms in the province had a cross-compliance inspection in 2016. See also Friends of Earth Northern Ireland (NO30034) and Northern Ireland Environment Link Freshwater Task Force (NO30039); Mrs Harriet Moore Boyd (NO30028).
298 David Johnson (Wildlife and Countryside link) Q57.
299 Will Andrews Tipper (Green Alliance) Q60.
300 Helen Wakeham Q265.
301 Helen Wakeham Q269. In a letter to the Chairman of the Lords European Energy and Environment Select Committee in July 2018, the Minister of State at Defra, George Eustice MP, responded to figures which showed that compliance rates for the Nitrates Directive had fallen from 95 to 77% in England and Wales. He reiterated that the main reason for non-compliance in England and Wales was record keeping and that better targeting of non-compliance undertaken by the Rural Payments Agency had improved detection of those not abiding by cross-compliance rules. He said that compliance rates in Scotland were very high. However, he stated that the main causes for breaches in Northern Ireland were due to poor management of slurry, effluent storage and application of slurry to fields. See: House of Lords European Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, , (July 2018).
302 Helen Wakeham Q269–270.
Published: 22 November 2018