In response to today’s publication of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report on environmental change on food security, which cites water pollution as a threat to UK food security, CEO of River Action James Wallace said,
“The EAC report recognises that poor river health affects the UK’s food security, and it calls for more steps to reduce water pollution that the intensive agriculture and food industries cause. Farmers rely on healthy habitats including rivers that provide the natural agents of successful farming such as abundant clean water and pollinators.
“The irony that agricultural pollution reduces food security is not lost on us. Rather than this obvious shot in the foot, we need the farming industry, government and consumers to understand that there is no healthy future for food systems if there are no healthy rivers.
“We welcome the inquiry’s report and recommendations for the Government to create the conditions needed to provide the UK with food security and healthy rivers. The two are not mutually exclusive.
“Firstly, we must not demonise farmers. Farmers are valued members of our communities and stewards of our land and rivers. They must be part of the solution. We need to support farmers by ensuring producers and supermarkets pay a fair price for the food they produce, so that they can afford the space and energy to invest in more sustainable farming.
“The Government should incentivise best practice through grants for farm waste management (e.g. slurry grants) and farm payment schemes that reward the adoption of regenerative agriculture and creation of space for nature such as riparian buffer zones.
“In addition, the Government should incentivise the development of supply chains to ensure that rather than farmers spreading manure on fields and losing key resources like nutrients and topsoil to rivers, instead they trade nutrient-laden manure between those farms in surplus and those in deficit. This common-sense, low-tech approach could resolve many of the issues facing rivers and therefore food security simply by treating waste as a resource.
However, over the past decade, this Government has consistently culled funding for regulation from the Environment Agency, leaving it barely able to enforce existing environmental laws.
“The farming rules have resulted in just one conviction in six years. This abject failure in regulation has resulted in a cascade of agricultural (and sewage) waste polluting rivers like the iconic River Wye and our internationally renowned chalk streams, many of which are threatened with ecological collapse.
In both of the above cases, be it carrot or stick, we call on the Government to invest in sustainable – river-friendly – agriculture and resource the agencies whose job it is under the law of this land to regulate polluters.
In the meantime, ecocidal crises on rivers like the Wye should be escalated by placing them in ‘special measures’ with catchment wide plans to expedite the urgent recovery of the river and wildlife. Defra promised such a plan by September this year and the community is still waiting.
“Unless we adequately fund the agencies with the responsibility to safeguard the environment and incentivise better farming practices, the outlook for our rivers will get worse, and so will the risks of food insecurity.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS
River Action is a registered charity founded in 2021 by its chairman Charles Watson to campaign for cleaner rivers across the UK. It has subsequently grown rapidly into one of the country’s leading environmental freshwater campaign groups. It has a mission to rescue Britain’s rivers from a toxic cocktail of agricultural, sewage and chemical pollution, as well as other threats such as excessive water abstraction.
With the active support of many leading figures of the UK environment movement through its advisory board, River Action’s campaigning is based around empowering communities to protect and restore their rivers; mobilising public opinion to influence policy and enforce river protection; as well as advocating for urgent government policy and changes in industry practice.