Environment Agency accused of aggressive handling of farmers’ cases

A government-level review of the Environment Agency’s (EA) work is being demanded amid reports of an “aggressive, heavy-handed approach” to minor breaches of regulations by farmers while it fails to act on ongoing serious pollution incidents.

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has increasing concerns that the EA is targeting the wrong infringements in its role as pollution control regulator.

See also: Environment Agency cuts back on minor pollution inspections

While penalising farmers for what the TFA says are “minor infringements’’, such as having incomplete records, it allows “critical’’ pollution incidents to continue.

It is understood that one incident involved farm pollution which had forced a neighbouring farm to destock because of the risk to livestock from contaminated water sources.

“The TFA has always been clear that these incidents need to be tackled head on,” said TFA adviser Kathleen Wolton. “However, what we are finding is that the EA is not acting with the urgency required.”

Some incidents had continued for months, even years, without action from the EA, she suggested.

“Whilst the vast majority of farms and farmers seek to adhere to high pollution control standards, from time to time incidents do occur, and on very rare occasions we know that there are some incidents of pollution caused by the recklessness or negligence of individuals,” said Ms Wolton.

“Not only are these incidents devastating to farmers impacted by upstream pollution, but sensitive, designated habitats have also been adversely impacted – and yet the EA still permits it to continue.”


The TFA has raised this issue with the EA, but described that dialogue as “unproductive”.

“We have received no response other than to say that resource is stretched and that it is focused on priority matters,” said Ms Wolton.

This is against a backdrop of the EA expanding its team of agriculture regulatory inspection officers following a recent recruitment drive.

While this had resulted in more on-farm inspections, the TFA said the wrong farmers were being targeted.

“We have received feedback that demonstrates a lack of understanding of legislative matters, but more concerningly a lack of empathy with the farming community,” said Ms Wolton.

The TFA is now demanding that the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee holds a specific evidence session to review the work of the EA.

“The TFA feels that the scrutiny the Efra committee can bring would be helpful in refocusing the priorities of the EA to direct intervention on critical pollution incidents, rather than taking a heavy handed approach with those already acting responsibly,” said Ms Wolton.

The EA has been invited to give a response.