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9 February 2024

Charity River Action has taken the Environment Agency to court over their failure to enforce legislation designed to protect waterways. Known as the Farming Rules for Water, the primary regulation applying to farm soil in England, the charity says the government has deliberately not enforced the rules which has led to the over-application of fertiliser, resulting in the pollution of the River Wye.  

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs minister has hinted that Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payments, which include specific actions for soil health, could be capped to ensure farmers continue to produce enough food. Speaking at the Norfolk Farming conference this week, Mark Spencer said the government may have to consider a limit on how much of a farm can be entered into a scheme to safeguard UK food security.  

It has been announced that Labour plan to scale back their green investment pledge, which would have seen £28 billion annual investment via the party’s Green Prosperity Plan if they were to win the next General Election. The rolling back of the investment is being blamed on continued economic uncertainty. This comes as the EU’s climate service announced that global average temperature rise has hit 1.5˚C for the first time.   

A briefing from NGO Wildlife and Countryside Link has argued that the end of cross compliance has left a regulatory gap which puts wildlife and the environment at risk. It warns that the government’s approach to replacing cross compliance is ‘piecemeal’, pointing to concerns around hedgerows and soil cover, and says that the recently updated Environmental Land Management schemes don’t go far enough to prevent damage.   

£1.3 million in new funding has been announced by the government to support projects working to improve lowland peat soils. The seven projects, based in the north of England, are led by organisations including the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and will see a wetter farming trial and the production of water-management plans for flood prevention.  

Concerns have been raised about the progress of Scotland’s peatland restoration projects which aim to restore 25,000 hectares of peatland each year between 2020 and 2030. The Scottish Government pledged to spend £250 million over ten years on interventions which stop wetlands from drying out, however, so far only 6,000 hectares have been restored, meaning the target is unlikely to be met.  

New research has shown that soil carbon sequestration cannot offset emissions from ruminant farming. The study demonstrates that 135 billion metric tons of carbon would need to be returned to soil to offset livestock emissions – a figure nearly twice the current carbon levels in managed grasslands. This could undermine claims that the livestock industry can be climate positive at scale.