Farms scramble for cash to cut water pollution

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The number of farmers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park bidding for cash to cut water pollution has more than doubled this year.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’s Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) initiative aims to cut pollution in rivers and other aquatic habitats caused by farming operations in 74 priority catchments around the country.

The number of applicants for a CSF capital grant scheme has more than doubled this year, says the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Grants worth up to £10,000 per farm are being made available through Defra.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Farm Conservation Team and the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust have been running the Semerwater and Upper Lune Catchment Partnership since 2009.

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s senior farm conservation officer, Helen Keep, said: “The project has really taken off and word has spread about the service we and the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust are offering.

“Interest in the grant scheme has doubled since last year.

“Farmers who were successful then have been great ambassadors for it as they have been able to tell others how beneficial the capital works have been to their farm business and to the land. We have already had about 40 farmers interested in applying for this year.

“And our training courses have been popular – 30 farmers received national qualifications in sheep dip practice and pesticide spraying and we organised a trip to the Scottish Agricultural College dairy research farm at Dumfries, which we are going to repeat in June.

“We also set up two demonstration farms last year to look at problems of soil compaction and best practice in grassland management and we’ll continue work on the trial plots this year, especially as the exceptionally wet seasons have caused major problems with soil compaction, poor grass growth and poor grass quality.”

The authority’s involvement with CSF initially began as two separate projects – one covering the Semerwater catchment and one covering the Upper Lune catchment – before they were combined into one last year.

A CSF Capital Grant Scheme was introduced last year that provided £143,000 towards improving infrastructure on 16 farms.

This included new roofs for muck and slurry storage and to cover silage clamps and livestock gathering areas.

Other farms received funding for new concrete yards and drainage, rainwater collection goods, sheep dip improvements, new tracks and watercourse fencing.

The partnership covers two catchments of 360 square kilometres – the Upper Lune forms part of the wider Lune catchment, which has been designated due to failing bathing water quality in Morecambe Bay, while the Semerwater catchment has been designated due to the Semerwater lake Site of Special Scientific Interest failing its water quality condition assessment.

Pollution from agricultural practices may be one cause, so help to address the problem has been offered.

More than 100 farmers in the affected areas have received advice, training and funding over the last two years.

Future events will cover issues surrounding phosphate levels in cattle feed, looking at soil condition across the farm and ways to improve it and additional part-funded training courses.

In recent years farmers in the Dales have had to cope with increasing environmental regulation, most notable Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, which impose restrictions on how dairy farms handle waste. A crackdown on red tape and bureaucracy was carried out by the coalition government upon assuming office.