Thousands of farmers will need to take part of their land out of agricultural use to keep rivers healthy, according to a new report.
A coalition made up of the Angling Trust, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Rivers Trust has put together the report, which is due to be published later this month, but Farmers Guardian has seen a preliminary briefing which has been sent to Defra Secretary Michael Gove.
The briefing suggests around 10 per cent of land currently farmed would need to be used to plant woodlands, create wetland habitats, be converted from temporary to permanent grass or be taken out of arable rotations in order to ensure rivers meet their health objectives.
A rough analysis undertaken by the coalition estimated farmers would need to be compensated about £290 million a year based on an annual subsidy payment of £475 per hectare.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust, said: “This report is about making an investment of a few million pounds to change the management of millions of acres of land and deliver billions of pounds of benefits to society.
“It is a no-brainer staring us in the face.”
The briefing contains a number of recommendations aimed at tackling sediment, nutrient, chemical and slurry pollution from farms.
It says Defra’s new Farming Rules for Water are a step in the right direction, but claims modelling shows they will only deal with a ‘fraction’ of the agricultural pollution problem and demands they be strengthened before they are reviewed in three years.
The coalition has also called for all slurry storage facilities which were built or upgraded before 1991 and are currently exempt from legislation controlling slurry pollution to have their exemption removed.
Mr Lloyd added: “Managing soils and agricultural pollutants better would reduce flooding, lock up significant amounts of carbon, produce healthier food, safeguard future production, cut water treatment costs and reduce the widespread and endemic pollution of rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
“Achieving this will require a change of behaviour by 100,000 farmers at a time of profound change for the sector.
“It will require a mixture of regulation, enforcement, advice and incentives and a real political commitment to make it a reality.”