The figures are the key finding of the 14th Scottish Agricultural Pollution Review, published by the Scottish Agricultural Pollution Group (SAPG), which encourages more sustainable farming and advises the Scottish Executive on draft legislation. “The latest figures are disappointing,” commented SAPG group chairman, Allan Virtue. “The collection and storage of silage effluent and slurry continued to pose significant environmental risks in certain parts of the country, and together accounted for over 220 pollution incidents.”

The wet weather of 2000, where, in major agricultural areas such as the Scottish borders, rainfall was as much as 150% above average, was blamed for the increase in incidents. The apparent inability of collection and storage systems to cope with the rain, shown by increased discharges of dirty water, livestock slurry and silage effluent, is described as “worrying and a possible sign that investment in storage capacity has been neglected on some farms”.

Overall, 21% of all incidents were caused by structural failures, the highest percentage for four years which, the report says, may reflect “a low priority among farmers for maintaining and repairing farm buildings in the current economic situation”, while operational failures accounted for the other 79% of pollution incidents. Livestock manures and slurries were the largest single source of incidents, accounting for 31%, followed by silage effluent (27.5%), run-off (10%) and agricultural fuel oil and carcass disposal (8%).

Last year also witnessed a 3% rise in the number of incidents classed as ‘major’, to 16%, with sheep dip pollution showing a particularly dramatic increase, polluting “tens of kilometres of pristine watercourse”. A ban on Organophosphate (OP) dips on perceived health grounds last year resulted in many farmers switching to Synthetic Pyrethroid dips, which are significantly more environmentally-toxic, although SAPG says that another OP-based dip, Diazinon, is now to be used.

Of the 519 farms visited for the study, 79% were assessed as being ‘satisfactory’ in terms of the risk of pollution, and of those classed as ‘unsatisfactory’, most had risks associated with dungsteads, silage effluent tanks or sheep dipping facilities. There is also a suggestion that there is a general lack of appreciation by farmers of the impact that spillages, leaks or losses of agricultural fuel can have on the environment.

“However, there is still much to be positive about,” Virtue added. “The Scottish Agricultural Pollution Group believes that the greatest strength of the Scottish agricultural industry is the high quality of its products and the link these have to a high quality environment. Accordingly, the Review stresses that the Group will continue to work with others towards achieving the protection and improvement of Scotland’s environment.”

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