Farmer loses appeal against estuary being a nitrate zone
A FARMING challenge from North Devon has failed to overturn the designation of the Taw river catchment as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ).
The case was a national test of agriculture's part in polluting the country's estuaries and rivers.
A judge dismissed the appeal by Richard Berry, that his Honeywell Farm at Muddiford, and its 100 pedigree Holsteins, should be designated in the NVZ.
The National Farmers' Union and the Farming Benevolent Fund believed the appeal was so important for farming they helped to pay some of the legal costs.
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Mr Berry said: "I wasn't surprised at the result but at least we've rattled a few cages."
But he fears that some family farms will be put out of business because of the cost of complyng with the regulations.
His farmland at the top of Whitefield Hill drains into Bradiford Water, part of the Taw Catchment.
Nitrate vulnerable zones are subject to strict rules about the storage and spread of slurry.
Mr Berry and the NFU had challenged the designation of the Taw catchment on the grounds that it cannot be proved that farm run-off contributes more to the estuary's eutrophication (a process where waterways receive excess nutrients that stimulate excessive plant growth) than human sewage discharges or atmospheric nitrogen.
The Environment Agency resisted the appeal.
It has the job of controlling pollution and monitors whether farmers have the right size slurry storage and when they should be allowed to spread it on the land.
The legislation is to stop over enrichment of the Taw Estuary by nitrogen compounds, which can cause accelerated growth of algae and higher forms of plant life disturbing the balance of organisms present in the water.
The judge said: "The aim of the Nitrates Directive is that this significant source of nitrate pollution (agriculture) should be controlled.
"The appellant's principal argument is that any nitrogen contribution from his and other agricultural activities in the catchment will be small, if any, and substantially exceeded by the contribution from septic tanks, other point sources and sewage treatment works."
In dismissing the appeal, the judge said: "We are satisfied that the contribution of agricultural activities to that pollution is significant and that it is not disproportionate for the appellant's holding to be included within the NVZ."
Dr Alwyn Hart, for the Environment Agency, said of the result: "The proposed zone has been scrutinised by the independent tribunal and they have agreed with our assessments that the water is polluted and which land drains to this water.
"The judge noted that 'diffuse pollution is the predominant source of nitrogen within the river, rather than the many sewage treatment works or fish farms'.
"The agency remains keen to work with farmers to protect and enhance our environment."
The acting regional director of the NFU, Andrew Butler, said: "We're very disappointed and we don't think the catchment should be designated as NVZ. It will have a significant impact on farms within the catchment."