coastal farmland       Issue-CAP3-byOrHiltch

Agriculture

Agriculture is by far the most significant pressure on the Irish water environment, and the sector is responsible for a large proportion of water bodies failing to achieve good status as required by the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Two thirds of Ireland’s land is in agricultural use. Certain agricultural practices result in water pollution due to the run-off of fertilisers, slurry, silt, chemicals and pathogens into rivers, streams and bays. This in turn leads to a reduction in water quality and the health of the water environment.

Eutrophication resulting from agriculture is responsible of much of the moderate water pollution in Ireland. This is caused both by the contamination of water with animal slurry, which has a high level of nutrients, and by inorganic nitrate and phosphate fertilisers. This kind of pollution promotes the growth of algae and bacteria at unnaturally rapid rates, stripping the water of oxygen. The spread of animal slurry due to inclement weather or close proximity to water bodies, the over-application of fertilisers on grasslands, and poor management of farmyard wastes are the main offenders.

Many riverside, lakeside and coastal wetlands in Ireland have been damaged or destroyed by activities such as field drainage (linked to intensive agriculture) and land reclamation for agricultural purposes. The resulting changes can impact negatively on a wide range of aquatic species and can also lead to the successful encroachment of invasive plant and animal species.

Continued agricultural intensification cannot be reconciled with Ireland’s commitments to protecting its water environment.

SWAN has highlighted years of irresponsible agricultural policy which promotes intensification as the driving force of water-polluting farming practices. An immediate shift towards an agricultural policy that works with nature is needed in order to protect the environment and public health.