TOUGHER POLLUTION controls could be imposed on farms from 2006, a senior Environment Agency official has warned.

David Griffiths, the agency’s diffuse pollution manager, said controls within Nitrate Vulnerable Zones had not reduced water pollution enough.

Nitrate and pesticide pollution of resources used for public water supplies was on the increase, he claimed.

Despite the introduction of NVZs and generally improved farm practices, there was evidence that the trend in nitrate and pesticide pollution was “upward”, Mr Griffiths said.

“It is not a uniform increase throughout the country, but we are concerned,” he added.

This meant water companies now faced footing a £400m bill for new equipment to tackle nitrates over the next five years and a £50m bill to reduce pesticides.

“When the rules are reviewed in 2006 we must see whether a programme of additional measures [on farms] is needed,” Mr Griffiths said.

Among the measures that would have to be considered is a rise in restrictions in NVZs where, currently, practices on only light and shallow land are targeted, he said. 

The controls would have to be broadened to include other soil types, he added.

Severn Trent Water’s Bob Breach said he was puzzled by some of the claims.

“I agree NVZs are not working. But we don’t want a knee-jerk reaction to diffuse water pollution that hammers farmers. We need a more targeted approach to tackling nitrates.

“In some areas it could be argued that controls are not stringent enough, but in others they are perhaps too stringent already.

“To claim pesticide pollution is on the increase is puzzling. I’m not sure that’s correct,” said Mr Breach.

The Environment Agency’s own figures confirmed that a decline in pesticide pollution from 1999 to 2002 had been achieved, a fact that Crop Protection Association chief executive Peter Sanguinetti was quick to stress.

“We are building bridges with the water authorities and Environment Agency and seeing tremendous results.

“The long-term figure is a decline of 30% in pesticide pollution. In some catchment areas we have achieved a 50% reduction. We are making great progress through the Voluntary Initiative and looking to accelerate the decline,” said Mr Sanguinetti.

“We have achieved all three of the targets that have been set for the initiative. Quite frankly Mr Griffiths‘ comments are unhelpful.”