Essential to look after our waterways in summer heat

Date published: 05 July 2018

With a hose pipe ban in place and forecasters predicting the hot weather is set to continue farmers are being asked to help protect our waterways from pollution.


Agricultural inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) are appealing to farmers to take extra precautions as they harvest their summer silage and spread slurry.

“During this time of year, rivers are at greater risk of agricultural pollution with silage effluent having the potential to have a devastating impact in our streams and rivers,” Herbie Jones from DAERA’s Countryside Management Unit explained.

“Slurries and manures are a valuable source of nutrients to promote plant growth and if used optimally, reduce the need for artificial fertilisers. However, given the prolonged good weather it is important farmers think about the risk of potential water pollution and the loss of key nutrients to water.”

Farmers should also check beyond the farmyard for pollution.

“Check all waterways on the farm on a regular basis for signs of contamination. Indications of pollution include an unpleasant odour, discolouration or the presence of froth, foam or fungus. Pay particular attention to the appearance of the waterway above and below all discharge points as any change may indicate pollution,” Mr Jones added.

The Environment Agency’s Kerry Anderson said: “Some of the most serious agricultural pollution incidents have occurred during the summer months, with many occurring when field and weather conditions were perfect for slurry spreading.

“Silage effluent starves fish and invertebrate life of oxygen, resulting in potentially massive fish kills if it enters a watercourse. With water levels low during summertime and reduced oxygen levels, the ability to dilute any pollutants is reduced so the effect of a small leak can cause huge damage.

“Water is vital for life and our environment. Let’s do all we can to protect it,” he added.

Notes to editors: 

  1. In 2016, there were 1,836 pollution incidents investigated by NIEA of which 56% (1,027) had an impact on water quality.
  2. A total of 139 (14%) high and medium severity incidents were investigated during 2016 with farming accounting for the largest proportion (32%) of confirmed pollution incidents followed by domestic (21%), other (17%), industry (16%), Northern Ireland Water Ltd (13%) and transport (1%).
  3. In a recent DAERA survey households reported that water pollution was their second most important environmental problem, after fly-tipping.
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