Catchment sensitive farming officers start work

The Environment Department (DEFRA) has put dedicated farming advisers in each of the 40 river catchments in England at most risk from diffuse agricultural pollution.

The catchment sensitive farming officers are one strand of a two-year £25 million project announced last year (ENDS Report 372, p 39 ). They will work with farmers to identify possible sources of pollution and organise workshops and farm demonstration projects.

Catchment steering groups with representatives from farmers, environmental bodies and water firms are also being formed to oversee local delivery.

DEFRA is planning to make £5 million available for capital grants to farmers next year and has also allocated £886,000 to 20 "associate" projects in other catchments after a tendering process this summer.

It has also committed £100,000 to the industry-led Voluntary Initiative on pesticides to enable it to deliver extra support in catchments with particular pesticide issues: the rivers Teme and Lugg in the Severn river basin district; the Wensum, Yare and Waveney in the Anglia district; and the Yorkshire Ouse, Nidd and Swale in the Humber district.

Despite all this, DEFRA expects the project to come in under budget - with a projected cost of £8.6 million for 2006-07, and £13.2 million for 2007-08.

Farming has been blamed for 70% of nitrate, 40% of phosphate and most of the silt pollution in England’s rivers. However, scientists are disputing that farm phosphate sources are as significant as these figures suggest (ENDS Report 377, pp 17-18 ).