The recent serious slurry incident in South East Wales is a harsh and sobering wake-up call to all of us who are involved with the Welsh countryside.
As much as 450,000 litres of slurry was sent careering towards a stream after the slurry store wall appeared to collapse.
Thankfully, quick thinking by the farmer in reporting this serious incident to us and an immediate reaction from our partner agencies prevented this serious incident from becoming a major pollution event.
But it could have been so very different.
Slurry is a major pollutant that strips oxygen from water, killing most river life in its path as it descends down tributaries to main rivers.
The importance of our rivers
And these same rivers provide us with a huge range of benefits. These include use for business, public water supply and recreation – all of it relying on a high water quality that also provides important places for wildlife.
Thankfully, prompt reporting of the incident meant that we, and our partners at Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and, as it was a cross-border incident, the Environment Agency, could take immediate action.
We diverted a stream around the main pollution area and dug ditches and trenches to catch around three quarters of the slurry before it reached the Honddu river.
The farmer involved contacted us as soon as he became of what was happening. This is how it should be.
And we would encourage every other farmer to do the same if they suspect their slurry may be leaking into the wider environment.
But the point is that we want to avoid situations like this arising in the first instance.
We’d much rather work with farmers before any incident such as this one happens – and avoid them becoming caught up in any subsequent enforcement action.
Causing pollution can lead to heavy fines and it will always be much better if there is no need for such a drastic course of action.
Practical advice for farmers
There is a huge amount of practical guidance that we can offer including advice on the size of slurry store required, and even how to reduce the amounts of slurry produced in the first place.
We can also explain the rules about things such as the age of any slurry store, design and performance standards it must comply with and where it is located.
We’d encourage any farmer to contact us to discuss how we can help, or to visit our website.
And it’s a win/win situation for all concerned because slurry, and the nutrients it contains, can be a valuable free commodity for the farm when used well.
Managed and used correctly, it can help reduce costs, increase efficiency and yields and directly boost the profitability of the business.
Farming Connect offers 80% funding for one-to-one nutrient management advice (on 0845 600 0813) and 100% funding for group advice. For farms located within a nitrate vulnerable zone there is also a Welsh Government confidential free helpline on 01974 847000.
But it’s not just about storage either. Deciding on when to spread and carefully choosing your target crops can also make a big difference. In particular avoid spreading of slurry on saturated ground or 48 hours before predicted rainfall.
When using contractors to spread slurry it’s sensible to discuss and agree contingency plans in the event of something going wrong. For example does the contractor have access to a digger and materials such as bales which could create bunds to prevent slurry getting into a local stream?
Spreading risk maps, or manure management plans as they are often referred to, are a great tool to give contractors who may be spreading on your behalf. Information on these is available through Farming Connect and the Tried and Tested Professional Nutrient Management website.
Natural Resources Wales has produced a simple online leaflet with advice written in layman’s terms. There is also lots more advice available from the Welsh Government.
We’d encourage any farmer to contact NRW on 0300 065 3000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help.