The Environment Agency’s approach to tackling diffuse water pollution has not proved value for money and is based on “limited information”, according to the National Audit Office.
In a report published on Thursday (8 July) the NAO said the agency’s annual expenditure of £8m has had, to date, little impact.
In 2009, only 26% of rivers, lakes and other water bodies in England met the required levels of water quality, as set out in the European Water Framework Directive.
The report said DEFRA and the agency do not expect that all English water bodies will achieve these levels by the 2027 deadline. This could expose the UK to considerable financial penalties.
“The agency considers the agricultural sector to be the major contributor to diffuse pollution and this sector has been the focus of its activities,” said the report.
“But there is limited information on the impact of different farming activities on water pollution and so it is not possible to establish whether the agency is effectively targeting its resources.”
The report also highlighted that despite the agency’s efforts to persuade farmers to recognise their responsibilities for diffuse pollution, awareness remained low.
Seventy-two per cent of farmers that the NAO surveyed considered that agriculture contributed only a little or not at all to diffuse pollution, although 68% stated that they considered the impact on the water environment a fair amount or a great deal when making decisions on their farm.
The agency’s advice and the voluntary initiatives across government on changing farming practices have also had limited impact and need to be co-ordinated, said the report.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Poor water quality has serious financial and environmental costs. Many farmers remain unconvinced of their contribution to the problem, so the Environment Agency should intensify its efforts to raise awareness and change behaviour amongst farmers.”