Farmers should use Environment Agency inspections as an opportunity to receive advice on making improvements to protect watercourses, says the NFU.
Receiving an unexpected letter from the Environment Agency can be concerning, says the union. It says it wants to help members make an inspection an opportunity to receive advice on making improvements where possible.
The agency has been working to increase its inspection rates for agriculture. It has employed an extra 84 officers to undertake more farm inspections and provide support to farmers in protecting the environment.
As part of this expanded coverage, the agency says it has been focusing on delivering an advice-led approach that aims to help farmers make improvements, rather than seeking prosecutions.
The NFU has been working with the agency so farmers can best prepare themselves for a visit. This approach, in coordination with Catchment Sensitive Farming, has helped deliver benefits to farmers across England.
Inspectors check farmers are complying with environmental regulations, including those controlling slurry, silage, nitrate, and diffuse pollution. Farms are chosen for a variety of reasons, usually due to concerns over the water quality in the local rivers.
Being selected for an inspection doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong, says the Environment Agency. Many farm inspections that take place, are selected on a risk basis, rather than because of anything untoward.
The agency says it continually monitors main watercourses with high or increasing nitrate or phosphate levels. All farms in a river catchment could be visited with farmers advised on potential pollution issues or ways to improve farming practices.
“We are not here to catch you out,” says senior agency officer Karen Price.
“We are here to help you understand what the regulations mean, assess if you are complying with them and, if you aren’t, to work with you to make changes to protect the environment and reach compliance.”