A SOMERSET Member of Parliament has accused the Environment Agency of carrying a hidden agenda against farmers with livestock on the Somerset Levels.

The accusations come after a local farmer was given only 28 days to make improvements to effluent discharges from his farm after a visit from EA officials.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, believes the Environment Agency intends to force livestock and dairy farmers off the 150,000-acre internationally-protected zone in order to improve water quality.

He also defended farmers who have been accused as the main source of water pollution on the levels, citing the 2021 findings by Natural England.

The group found unfavourable water conditions on the Somerset Levels due to sewage from new housing developments - which resulted in an embargo being placed on further housebuilding in the local catchments.

Despite water companies only now investing in improving the water quality, Mr Liddell-Grainger believes the Environment Agency is using Somerset farmers as a scapegoat for the issue.

“Descending on a farmer like the Spanish Inquisition and demanding immediate improvements is not the way to achieve them,” he said.

“Farmers are not wilfully polluting the environment and it is unreasonable to abruptly impose higher compliance levels on them and demand results within a month when water companies are being given years.

 “Sadly it is the old story of the agency going after the soft targets: if it had displayed the same level of vigour in pursuing water companies instead of turning a blind eye to the steady decline in the quality of their discharges and hence the local waterways the Levels wouldn’t be in the mess they currently are.

“Not curbing the activities of the water companies was a massive failure by the Environment Agency and it’s not going to cover up that fact by getting unreasonably tough with farmers.

“If it has a secret agenda to clear livestock farming off the Levels then it needs to make it public - and do so immediately.”

However, the Environment Agency has remained consistent in their beliefs that rural pollution from agriculture is the most common reason for poor water quality on the Somerset Levels.

“The natural environment of the Somerset Levels and Moors is uniquely important.

"Agriculture is an integral part of the complex balance of land management practices that support the rich biodiversity of this catchment.

“But this balance is delicate.

"Cattle grazing helps the natural habitats of the area to flourish, but we also know that livestock farming presents risks to water quality if not managed carefully.

"Our assessments of water quality on the Levels and Moors show that where waterbodies do not achieve good status, the most common reason for that is rural pollution sources – such as agriculture."

The agency also explained why Somerset farmers with livestock on the levels are regulated, and stated urgent deadlines are only imposed on farms which are found to be polluting the land.

“We actively regulate farmers in this catchment to make sure that the risks of point-source pollution from slurry, manure and silage effluent are minimised, as well as the threats from long-term diffuse nutrient pollution from agriculture are reduced.

“If our officers inspect a farm and find practices that are non-compliant with the law, they will provide the farmer with advice and guidance, and a reasonable timeframe in which to make improvements.

"If that doesn’t happen, our regulation and enforcement activity will increase until the necessary compliance is achieved.

"If pollution is found they will impose a much more urgent deadline for corrective action, and potentially take enforcement action."

They also responded to claims of a "hidden agenda" against farmers on the Somerset Levels.

"The Environment Agency does not have a hidden agenda; we recognise the value and importance of agriculture to the landscape of Somerset, and we are committed to working in partnership with farmers to find the right balance.

"But we have a responsibility to ensure that farming does not cause pollution and will take action when it is necessary so that the precious environment of the Somerset Levels and Moors is protected and sustained."