CONCERN has been raised about the risk of pollution to the River Avon caused by farming methods used in fields in the Murray Walk area.
According to residents, crops are being planted too close to the river’s edge causing the river bank to collapse in some areas, polluting the water with silt.
They are also worried that pesticides and fertilisers are being used close to the water, which could cause harm to plants and wildlife in the area – claims strongly denied by farmer, Tim Farthing, who rents the land from Cooper Tire Europe.
Local resident Adrian Cooke said, “The farmer is disregarding official guidelines by ploughing, fertilising and using pesticides right up to the river edge; not adhering to the 4 to 5 metre distance needed to protect wildlife and to reduce pollution to the river. This is being done all the way to Lacock.”
In response to the claims, farmer Tim Farthing told Melksham News, “(This is) absolute rubbish – we do follow guidelines. Every time we have left a grass strip for walkers, they have walked on our maize crop. So it seemed silly leaving a grass strip if they are still going to walk on our maize. So last year we planted close to the river because they don’t use the grass strip alongside the river. But we left the necessary width according to the guidelines.”
An inspection of the area by the Environment Agency (EA) identified that in some places there was only two metres between the crop and the river bank.
However, the Environment Agency has told Melksham News that whilst Farming Rules for Water (FRfW) does state that artificial fertiliser must not be spread closer than two metres from a watercourse and slurry no closer than 10 metres; the same rules do not apply to pesticide applications, and the distance of the buffer between the river bank and the farmer’s crop.
But there are rules that say farmers must take steps to prevent soil loss to watercourses and take precautions to ensure diffuse pollution does not occur.
The agency said that it will monitor silt levels in the River Avon in that area and arrange for a farm liaison officer to meet with the farmer to provide advice on silt management.
The landlord, Cooper Tire Europe, has also said that it will meet with the farmer to discuss the concerns raised.
The fields in question have been at the centre of controversy since late 2017 when residents launched a campaign to protect the land after saying that the farmer’s methods had caused damage to trees, hedgerows and the habitats of protected species of wildlife.
The residents have also recently lobbied the town council to negotiate with Cooper Tire Europe to agree that the Melksham community be given first refusal to purchase the land, should they decide to put it up for sale.
Following the recent concern about risk of pollution, a statement given to Melksham News by the Environment Agency spokesperson said in full, “I can confirm two EA officers recently visited the site and noted the following: The fields looked as if they had just been cropped. Ground conditions suggested the crop was probably maize.
“In places there was only approximately 2 metres between the crop and the top of the bank.
“It looked like members of the public had established an informal footpath along the top of the bank.
“It was not possible to see any siltation as the river was high and heavily coloured.
“EA officers will monitor silt levels in that reach of the river and arrange for a farm liaison officer to meet with the farmer and provide him with advice on silt management.
“An Environment Officer with specialist agricultural knowledge provided the following information: Farming Rules for Water (FRfW) do not impose a buffer around the field for cropping. The rules set out minimum distances which must be followed when applying fertilisers, either organic manures or artificial fertiliser.
“The rules state that artificial fertiliser must not be spread closer than 2m from watercourse and slurry 10m (reduced to 6m if using precision equipment). Pesticide applications are not part of farming rules.
“Soil loss or erosion are also considered under FRfW. Farmers must take steps to prevent soil loss to watercourses and take precautions to ensure diffuse pollution does not occur.
“The same officer added: I haven’t seen the photographs but the EA would not normally respond to notifications of crops being planted close to a watercourse as there is only an offence if excessive soil or nutrients are washed off and are having a measureable impact on water quality. Herbicide applications are not something we routinely follow up on or investigate unless we have evidence of pollution.”
A spokesperson for Cooper Tire Europe said, “Cooper Europe is committed to the appropriate management of its properties in accordance with the needs of the local environment and applicable law. To the extent that the concerns expressed relate to land which is owned by Cooper Europe, the company will confer privately with its tenant farmer to ensure that his use of the company’s land remains aligned with that commitment.”