Managing our natural environment in South East Wales: our enforcement work
This Autumn, our Monmouthshire and Torfaen environment team have been taking us with them virtually to explore more about their work to help tackle the biodiversity crisis and look after our environment here in South East Wales.
This month, we join Anthony Bruten, one of environment officers, to talk more about our enforcement work and how environmental regulations help us to protect people, wildlife, land, and rivers across Monmouthshire.
Creating a cleaner, healthier, and safer environment
Being an environment officer is a really varied and interesting role and we experience all different elements of the landscape – from being a category 1 responder and attending pollution incidents 24/7, to spending time on urban and rural sites to check farmers and local businesses are complying with regulations.
It’s our job to help create a cleaner, healthier, and safer environment for communities and wildlife in South East Wales.
One of the ways we do this, is working with businesses, landowners and members of the public around Monmouthshire and Torfaen, to ensure they are operating safely and complying with environmental regulations, so they don’t pollute the environment or cause harm to people or wildlife.
We inspect permitted sites, such as sewage treatment works or intensive farms to ensure that they are compliant with regulatory requirements and attempt to resolve any non-compliance voluntarily in the first instance if there is a limited environmental impact. This helps to avoid costly investigations and court cases, allowing us to use our resources on more positive action.
What happens when we do need to undertake enforcement action?
We do investigate environmental offences and take enforcement action where our investigation indicates it is appropriate, or we find there has been a breach in any regulation.
Enforcement action is varied and can include anything from warning letters and notices to improve facilities, to formal cautions, and prosecutions.
Most of our enforcement work doesn’t make the headline because we try and resolve issues before they escalate, using a combination of advice and guidance, as well as working with businesses and farmers to improve knowledge and skills. We also regulate permits to check that holders are compliant with the conditions.
One incident we recently dealt with, was the prosecution of Persimmon Homes following their failure to prevent multiple pollution incidents, that impacted the River Gavenny, in Monmouthshire in 2019.
We will always take appropriate action against those who disregard regulations and jeopardise the natural environment we all know and love. In this instance Persimmon Homes was fined a total of £433, 331 – you can read more about this case in our press release here.
What about enforcement work that doesn’t make the headlines?
We publicise the bigger cases that we take to court, but where the environmental impact of an offence is low and the offender is cooperative, we initially focus our enforcement action to bring a site into compliance rather than to punish for the offence committed.
For example, our Environment Officers are regularly called upon to address issues with farms, such as the storage of slurry’s and sileage, storage of manure in field heaps and over poaching of fields particularly during wet winter months.
Our aim is to provide advice and guidance in the first instance. For example, with manure field heap storage, farmers must not store manure in any one area for any longer than 12 months and must not return it to the same foot print for 2 years. In addition, they must not be located within 10m of a watercourse, which helps to minimise the risk pollution.
This photograph shows poor located manure field heaps which caused run off and pollution to a watercourse. The farmer received a warning letter and moved the heaps to a better location.
Earlier this month, our officers also responded to reports from the public of a smell of sewage in a field in Monmouthshire.
The landowner had dug out an overgrown ditch and sewage was discharging from a septic tank and beginning to pool, having previously gone to ground. There was also a risk of contamination to the nearby water course in the event of heavy rain.
Our officers attended the site and provided advice and guidance to the landowner who installed a British Standard compliant drainage field, helping to mitigate any potential pollution incidents, as well as diverting discharge away from the ditch.
Remember you can report environmental concerns to us 24/7 by calling our Incident Communication Centre on 0300 065 3000 or using our online report it form:Natural Resources Wales / Report an incident
Read the previous blog from the team here: Natural Resources Wales / Managing our natural environment in South East Wales