AN agricultural expert is warning farmers about the risks of farm pollution, after figures revealed 167 incidents occurred in the South West in the past decade.

Environmental Agency figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, showed that 36 per cent of waste and water pollution incidents in England took place in the region over a 10-year period.

Farm pollution incidents can have a devastating impact on wildlife, ecosystems and, in some cases, human health - for example, silage effluent can be up to 200 times more toxic than untreated sewage if it gets into the waterways.

Richard Beechener, account executive for Farmers & Mercantile Insurance Brokers, says he is worried too many farmers are not aware of just how destructive farm pollution can be to the environment – or the severe penalties they face if prosecuted.

“What many farmers don’t realise is that the latest sentencing guidelines mean they could be slapped with unlimited fines, or up to five years in prison, if found responsible for a pollution breach,” said Mr Beechener.

“Couple this with the fact that the Environment Agency are pushing for farmers who damage the environment to lose their government grants, and you have a situation which many farmers simply could not recover from."

Mr Beechener said it was no surprise agriculture was one of the biggest sources of pollution incidents given farmers are responsible for 75 per cent of the land in England, but said much could be done to mitigate the risks.

“Farmers should ensure their knowledge of environmental legislation is up-to-date and that they closely follow guidance from the Environmental Agency," Mr Beechener said.

“Risk assessments should be conducted, such as identifying low-lying areas and waterways vulnerable to effluent runoff, and checks should be routinely carried out, from ensuring silage clamps and slurry containers are sound and secure to examining nearby waterways for signs of pollution.

"Prevention not only provides peace of mind but may reap future benefits."