Farmers must use slug pellets carefully to protect River Derwent and Ouse

Posted: Monday 5th September 2016

Yorkshire Water is calling on farmers on land near the River Derwent and Ouse to carefully manage the use of slug control pesticides to reduce the impact they have on tap water quality.

The pellets can occasionally leak into the watercourses in parts of North and East Yorkshire, particularly near North Allerton, west of Haxby, Stamford Bridge, Elvington, Loftsome and Pocklington.

Slug pellets are commonly used by farmers during this time of the year to control slug infestations, which risk eating away at crops and damaging food production.

However, an active ingredient - metaldehyde - can sometimes runoff from the farmland or flow through field drains into the watercourse. Although this poses no danger to health or the environment, metaldehyde levels in the River Derwent and Ouse have occasionally breached EU drinking water standards.

As a result, Yorkshire Water and partners including Natural England and the National Farmers Union are encouraging farmers to follow best practice with metaldehyde slug pellets.

Andrew Walker, Catchment Strategy Manager at Yorkshire Water, said: "We are positively working with farmers on this issue as we recognise the demands they have to meet food production targets. So we are not saying to farmers to stop using slug pellets, but instead to ensure they are applied correctly and to consider alternative measures that have a lower water impact. This way, crops will continue to be protected from nuisance slugs without adversely affecting raw water supplies.

"We also want to raise awareness of the alternative ferric phosphate slug pellet, which trials in our catchments have shown are equally as effective as metaldehyde pellets."

Best practice when applying slug pellets is to avoid applying it within six metres of a watercourse and to apply the minimum amount needed to avoid drainage and run-off losses. Soil moisture is also a critical factor and pellets should not be applied when heavy rain is forecast.

Paul Arnold, Natural England's Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) Coordinator, said: "Great strides have been made in recent years in reducing metaldehyde losses to watercourses but it is important that farmers and contractors continue to think about whether fields are a high risk for losing metaldehyde and consider ways of reducing the risk."

James Copeland, Environment & Land Use Advisor at the National Farmers Union, said: "Farmers recognise the need to use slug pellets responsibly and for several years through the industry-led Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG) have been promoting best practice guidelines and exploring alternative methods of controlling slug numbers. The importance of ensuring correct application, avoiding sensitive areas adjoining watercourses and taking weather conditions into account is well understood and many farmers are also developing new approaches to slug control. This, for example can involve changes to cultivation techniques that reduce the need for chemical control measures.

"As a member of MSG, the NFU is committed to continuing work with its members to promote responsible use and best practice, however we must not underestimate the damage slugs can do to food production and this is something farmers need to be able to tackle effectively."

Trials in some parts of the UK have shown that 98.7% of metaldehyde contamination within rivers and streams comes via flowing field drains.

The efforts by Yorkshire Water to protect water quality is part of one of the firm's key objectives to ensure customers are provided with water that is clean and safe to drink.

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