The Welsh Conservatives have launched an eleventh-hour bid to reverse government plans to that would limit the use of slurry and fertiliser on farmland to tackle river pollution.
Shadow rural affairs minister Janet Finch-Saunders has written to the Welsh government to urge that it “gives the voluntary approach a real chance” before imposing a Wales-wide nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ).
A Plaid Cymru motion to annul plans for the controversial NVZ rules was narrowly defeated by 30 votes to 27 in the Senedd last week.
The Labour-led Welsh government administration says the new regulations will apply from 1 April and be phased in over three-and-a-half years. It has insisted that the changes are necessary to tackle serious incidents of water pollution and protect water quality.
The regulations will include nutrient management planning; sustainable fertiliser applications linked to the requirement of the crop; limits on when, where and how fertilisers are spread; and upgrading slurry storage facilities to ensure farmers can store slurry for at least five months of the year.
But Welsh farming unions have slammed the measures as “draconian” and have warned they will cost Welsh farmers £360m in upfront infrastructure costs alone – and drive many farms out of business.
NFU Cymru has instructed its legal team to explore a legal challenge against the Welsh government’s decision to introduce the regulations.
In a cross-party letter (PDF), organised with Virginia Crosbie MP (Ynys Môn) and signed by 18 Welsh Conservative members, it was outlined that voluntary measures to tackle nitrate pollution from agriculture should be pursued.
The letter, sent to first minister Mark Drakeford, urges the Welsh government to look again at a farm certification scheme, similar to the “Blue Flag” beaches scheme, which would deliver farmer-led solutions to nitrate pollution.
Ministerial responses to reports and letters over the Water Standard and the Wales Land Management Forum sub-group on agricultural pollution were also not forthcoming, the letter adds.
Mrs Finch-Saunders, Conservative MS for Aberconwy, said the proposed all-Wales NVZ was a “regulatory overstep that should be halted”.
“The regulations are already having a detrimental effect on the mental health of many in agriculture,” she said.
“Sadly, instead of actively engaging with the Welsh farming sector as it sought to provide actionable recommendations on how best to protect the environment, no detailed reply was issued to the Water Standard and the Wales Land Management Forum sub-group on agricultural pollution.
“Our letter urges the first minister to renew his trust of our land custodians and give the voluntary approach a real chance. It is not too late to recognise the serious plight of our Welsh farmers and reel in this regulatory misstep.”