Farmers are being warned about the risks of farm pollution, after figures revealed 50 incidents occurred in the North East and Yorkshire in the past decade.
Environment Agency figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, showed that more than one in 10 waste and water pollution incidents (11 per cent) in England took place in the region over a 10-year period.
Farm pollution incidents can have a devasting impact on wildlife, ecosystems and, in some cases, human health.
For example, silage effluent can be up to 200 times more toxic than untreated sewage if it gets into the waterways.
In the wake of these figures, Thomas Jones, on-farm account executive with Farmers & Mercantile Insurance Brokers, says he is worried too many farmers are not aware of just how destructive farm pollution can be to the environment – or the severe penalties they face if prosecuted.
“What many farmers don’t realise is that the latest sentencing guidelines mean they could be slapped with unlimited fines, or up to five years in prison, if found responsible for a pollution breach,” he said.
“Couple this with the fact that the Environment Agency are pushing for farmers who damage the environment to lose their government grants, and you have a situation which many farmers simply could not recover from.
“In summary, farmers’ businesses are being put in serious jeopardy because of carelessness. This is not a risk any farmer should be willing to take.”
Mr Jones warned that, while insurance may cover the cost of any clean-ups, it is not available to cover the cost of substantial fines imposed when farmers don’t comply with the law.”
He added: “It is worth bearing in mind that, as part of its crackdown on offenders, the Environment Agency is calling for incentives to be introduced for farmers who maintain a good environmental track record.
“So, prevention not only provides peace of mind but may in the future reap benefits, if the Environment Agency realises its objectives to protect the environment for future generations.”
Mr Jones’ advice to farmers includes: Ensure your knowledge of environmental legislation is up-to-date and closely follow the guidance from the Environment Agency; identify areas vulnerable to effluent run-off and ensure silage clamps and slurry containers are sound; if there is a pollution incident, suspected or confirmed, the Environment Agency should be contacted immediately, followed by the insurance company.