More must be done to tackle sheep dip pollution
Sheep dip is, by its very nature, extremely effective at killing insects and other invertebrates but since even a tiny amount can cause ecological havoc if it reaches a water course, regulators and farmers have decided more must be done to reduce the risk of pollution.
Last Monday the group met for the first time and members heard from the NFU about its Stop every drop campaign which seeks to educate farmers about the importance of ensuring the potent pollutants don't reach rivers and streams.
The group is also preparing a sheep dip pollution reduction programme which will suggest a broad range of measures to find a pollution solution.
The dips used to treat sheep's fleeces, particularly those containing the chemical cypermethrin, can have a devastating effect on the environment.
The problem is well-documented and as long ago as July last year the Environment Agency told edie that even in extremely low concentrations - a few parts per trillion - cypermethrin can wipe out some species of insect in large stretches of streams and rivers (see related story).
This has a knock on effect on wildlife higher up the food chain, such as birds and fish, as food becomes scarce and what remains may be contaminated.
The VMD has since suspended the marketing of all dips containing the chemical - a decision it says was not taken lightly as sheep scab, the condition it protects the livestock from, is particularly nasty and not treating the problem has significant welfare implications.
Philip Rees, independent chairman of the new steering group, said: "The Sheep Dip Pollution Reduction Programme has a number of key actions to minimise the environmental risks from sheep dip chemicals, whilst also meeting the needs of the sheep farming industry.
"Over the next twelve months the Environment Agency and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate will work together with the industry and angling and conservation groups to tackle this problem.
"In 2005, pollution incidents involving sheep dips caused significant damage to our environment and attracted fines of up to £38,000."
Most pollution incidents were related to the day-to-day use of the dips, rather than inappropriate disposal, with run off soaking into the soil and eventually being washed into nearby water courses.
The problem is at it worst in Wales, due to the large amount of sheep farming, but the EA believes a similar situation would be found in any area where the animals are reared.
The new plan will include the monitoring of rivers and streams nationally in order to measure the extent of the problem and to provide a baseline against which improvements can be measured and carrying out research to provide strong evidence to support any decision making around sheep dip pollution.
The draft pollution reduction programme can be found on the VMD's website.