Pesticide decrease in waters of England and Wales

The level of pesticides found in rivers and reservoirs in England and Wales has decreased by 23%, according to figures from the Environment Agency's annual pesticide monitoring programme, compared with the average for the past five years.

This decrease could be down to a number of factors including improvements in the way farmers apply pesticides under the voluntary initiative which could have lowered run-off levels into freshwater.

Alternatively, the low levels of rainfall during the Autumn of 2003 could also have resulted in fewer pesticides being washed into watercourses.

Agriculture and horticulture account for more than 80% of all pesticides use in England and Wales and the top nine most frequently found pesticides in freshwater environments were all widely used herbicides including Mecoprop, Isoproturon and Diuron.

Of the top nine, only Chlorotoluron is rising in level, as it is increasingly used to control grass weeds in cereals as some of these are becoming resistant to other pesticides.

Sheep dip chemicals are still a significant and widespread problem impacting on river ecology and causing freshwater samples to fail environmental quality standards. Areas if concern are over dipping activities, especially in Wales and the north of England, and discharges from the wool processing industries centred in Yorkshire, the Agency said.

“We cannot be certain whether the reduced levels are down to better use of pesticides, or how big a factor the dry weather has been,” Andy Croxford, the Agency Pesticides Policy Manager said. “That is why we will continue to monitor the situation closely and to work with farmers and other pesticide users, together with the wool processing industries, to build on the improvements that have already been achieved. We will be particularly targeting those involved in sheep dipping.”

By David Hopkins

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