Sixty five percent of Scotland’s rivers could be at risk from failing Water Framework Directive requirements due to diffuse pollution from agriculture and forestry activities, say experts.

Speaking at the joint Scottish Agricultural College/Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) biennial conference (5 April), Edinburgh University’s Kate Heal said the control of diffuse pollution was an increasing concern among agencies looking to implement the directive.

“Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), suspended solids and faecal indicator organisms arising from diffuse agricultural run-off are a major cause of downgrading of rivers, lakes and coastal bathing waters.

The EC WFD requires the introduction of co-ordinated programmes of measures to achieve good ecological status in surface waters [by 2015].”

Cross compliance conditions such as GAEC and soil management plans went some way to addressing this legislation, but more would be required in the future, added SEPA’s Rob Morris.

Agencies across the UK were developing River Basin Management Plans that would establish the programme of measures to meet the objectives of the WFD, he said.

“We need the whole sector’s involvement to identify what the priorities are.

There’s a massive challenge ahead to educate, inform and involve farmers in the process.”

Once the broad objectives and priority areas had been established, it would then be down to individual catchment officers to help farmers develop practical remedial measures (such as buffer strips, ponds, reduced fertiliser use) on-farm, he said.

“DEFRA is already looking at this with Catchment Sensitive Farming in England and Wales and it’s definitely something we are interested in here in Scotland.”

He believed that much of the funding for any on-farm measures would come from government rural development funding.

Further pressure for better control of diffuse pollution would come from the tightening up of Nitrate Vulnerable Zone regulations across the UK, he added.

“The Scottish Executive is consulting in three weeks on tighter NVZ rules and this will undoubtedly pose some big challenges for farmers.”

What do you think?

Is there a need for tighter controls on diffuse pollution, or is enough being done already?

Let us know at www.fwi.co.uk/forums

paul.spackman@rbi.co.uk