The Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) shows that the Government only has a target for nutrient pollution, and that target is unambitious. Other dangerous pollutants have no target at all:
A 2022 report from the Environmental Audit Committee finds that pollution from agriculture is the main cause of water bodies failing to meet ‘Good Ecological Status’. Agricultural pollution is causing 40% of water bodies to fail followed by sewage and waste water at 36%.
Unambitious targets on nitrogen and phosphorus
This pollution is devastating wild plant populations that are of critical importance to the wildlife food chain, including insects, birds and mammals. Excessive nitrogen in the environment is damaging soil and threatening our food security by killing microbes and other soil biodiversity, increasing acidity and causing declining fertility. The EIP recognises that soil health is a problem but contains no legally binding target to reverse this.
No Target for Pesticide Use
There are no legal targets to reduce pesticide use, despite UK having signed up to the COP15 pledge to reduce impact of pesticide by 50% by 2030. This gap will result in the failure of the ‘apex’ biodiversity target and the target for the ecological status of water bodies. A joint Soil Association and PAN UK study found that two thirds of river samples contained over 10 pesticides. Pesticides, along with habitat loss and climate change are devastating our wildlife. The RSPB reports that at least 150 different active ingredients were used on British farmland in 2020.
The Government is not tackling the sources of pollution through their targets. There is no target or timescale for the reduction and phasing out of pesticide or fertiliser use in the UK. Evidence shows that the UK pesticide use has been rising in recent years and the environment is saturated with a cocktail of chemicals in soil, water and air. Chemicals have accumulated in soils with extreme adverse effects:
- Damaging soil structure, preventing it from retaining water and growing without the use of chemicals
- Killing soil biodiversity, the basis of the food chain, also destroying soil’s ability to support our food system
- Toxins are leaching into ground water and running off into surface water
- Chemicals are combined creating a ‘cocktail effect’ greatly increasing toxicity of the individual compounds
- Pesticides are now so widespread that they are available to all types of wildlife in virtually all ecosystems.
Pesticides in our Food
- A European study called the Pesticide Atlas has confirmed that 83% of UK soil samples contain pesticide residues which can remain in soil more than 20 years after converting to organics.
- PAN UK reported in 2022 that the proportion of bread containing two or more pesticides has almost doubled in a year to 50%
- Children are exposed to pesticides – unacceptable levels were present in the food provided through the the Department of Health’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS).
- The Soil Association and PAN UK reported in 2019 how the ‘cocktail effect’ is threatening human food and the environment. Finding that flowering plants, soil and river water, can contain 10 or more different pesticides in a single sample
No targets on livestock waste
Land and waterways are being polluted by animal waste, from grazing livestock as well as manure spreading. A 2018 Government report shows that ammonia, mostly from fertiliser and livestock waste, is polluting more than 60% of the UK’s land area—including statutory protected sites—and causing severe damage to biodiversity. Critical carbon sinks such as peatlands, woodlands and species-rich grasslands are particularly susceptible.
No targets on microplastic pollution or antimicrobial resistance
Plastics and human medicines, such as hormones and antibiotics, typically found in sewage sludge which is spread on land as fertiliser, finds its way back into the water system through run-off. The EIP acknowledges this but there is no plan to ban the practice.
There is no target or measure for monitoring and reducing plastic pollution in soil or in water bodies, including the sea.
OEP – ‘too much uncertainty to assess targets’
In its report assessing the Government’s progress on the environment, the Office for Environmental Protections says that it cannot assess the viability of the Government’s targets for water because they would need to be linked to guaranteed results delivered by the Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs). But it says: “The status of land management schemes, which are critical for delivering this target, remains uncertain.” It also considers the release of land from agriculture (at least 20%) to be critical for water and biodiversity targets, as advocated by Natural England and the Climate Change Committee.