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Future of farms safer after nitrate zone halt

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

  • IDYLLIC: Cattle on one of Devon County Council's tenant farms.

  • MUCKY: Making good use of slurry on a Torridgeside farm.

  • RELIEVED: Jeremy Yabsley.

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THE future for 75 council farms across Devon is brighter because of a crucial decision not to expand England's Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ).

Devon County Council had urged the Government not to include even more farms in the NVZ, because that would have meant huge expense in building slurry stores.

The council is already having to sell some of its agricultural properties to help pay the £2,500,000 cost of anti-pollution measures that came into force at the beginning of this year.

There had been fears that the whole of Devon would be included in the NVZ, increasing the council's capital outlay enormously.

Those fears were not realised and the chairman of the council's farms estate committee, Jeremy Yabsley, said: "The good news is that the decision won't significantly increase the need for capital expenditure.

"It's certainly a relief to us and our tenants."

The £2.5m already agreed for NVZ compliance will help to establish long-term viability of the council's farm estate.

It's a substantial outlay at a time when the county council has a long queue of people wanting to either enter farming or to further develop their farming skills and enterprise.

The NVZ regulations require farmers to build high capacity slurry stores.

They should be big enough to keep farmyard waste for up to five months on holdings within areas considered by the Environment Agency to be vulnerable to polluting rivers and streams.

The aim is to prevent any run off and to regulate field fertilisation.

Nearly one third of the cost of implementing the latest rules, £766,584, is being spent on the council's farms in North Devon.

Some farmers and farm leaders believe that the River Taw catchment is wrongly designated as a vulnerable zone.

They say the water quality pollution readings in the Taw Estuary are being misinterpreted by the Environment Agency as an effect of nitrogen from agricultural land.

Their argument is that the readings are heavily influenced by the sewage outfall from South West Water's Ashford works.

Members of the council's farm estates committee had voted to tell Defra it was a bad idea to extend the rules imposed on NVZs any further or to make the whole country a vulnerable zone.

The councillors said they would expect the department to be guided by scientific evidence rather than anecdotal evidence or even because it would make administration of the zones easier.

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