A LEGAL challenge to new agricultural pollution rules brought in by the Welsh Government has failed at the High Court. 

The NFU Cymru farming union had launched a judicial review of the rules intended to limit pollution of waterways

The regulations effectively extended special regulations, which restrict and monitor farmers' use of products that may pose a risk to water quality, to cover the whole of Wales. 

Previously the areas covered by the stricter controls were known as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) and around 2.8 per cent of Welsh farmland was subject to the regulations. 

From April last year the Welsh Government effectively designated all of Wales as an NVZ and farmers have feared the financial burden of complying with the enhanced regulations. 

At the court, during a virtual hearing held over three days in October and November last year, NFU Cymru argued the Welsh Government had acted unlawfully in how it made the new regulations. 

The union had wanted the court to rule farms of which at least 80 per cent is grassland would have an exemption from the rules, similar to those in England and Northern Ireland in line with a “derogation” approved by the European Union related to the original rules on nitrate pollution agreed in 1991. 

Judge, Sir Wynn Williams, found that the Welsh Government had not acted unlawfully in making the water quality regulations. 

In particular, the judge concluded that farmers did not have a ‘legitimate expectation’ that the 80 per cent grassland derogation which applies in England and Northern Ireland would be available to them under the regulations. 

NFU Cymru said it still fears the regulations are unworkable and pose a significant threat to the economic viability of Welsh farming. 


President Aled Jones said: “I am obviously very disappointed with today’s judgment, but I am proud that NFU Cymru has been able to stand up for all farmers across Wales to hold Welsh Government to account in its decision-making.  

“This case was not about seeking to ignore agricultural pollution incidents or trying to reduce environmental protection; it was about ensuring that when the government makes decisions which impact the Welsh farming industry, it does so based on a proper assessment and understanding of those impacts.” 

He said he hoped the Welsh Government will still consider the arguments put forward by the union and it will continue to look at ways of reducing the burden they place on farmers. He also called for the Welsh Government to up its financial support to help farmers comply with the duties placed on them. 

“Welsh farmers face having to find up-front costs of £360 million and ongoing yearly costs of £14 million a year. The package of support to farmers to make these drastic changes is, in our view, woefully inadequate and I hope that Welsh Government will increase the existing funding available to support farmers in complying with the regulations.  

“Unfortunately, we are already aware of farming families leaving the industry as a direct consequence of the regulations.” 

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: “We welcome today’s judgment and remain committed to working with industry, partners and stakeholders to reduce the impact of agricultural and other pollutants. 

“What matters now is we all work together to tackle the continuing pollution in our waters and support our farming industry. We will work with the farming community to improve water quality and air quality, deploying the Water Resources Regulations 2021, taking an approach targeted at those activities known to cause pollution.

“Today’s judgment allows us to continue this important work.”

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