SENEDD members have backed a review into the Wales-wide nitrate vulnerable zone regulations.

The controversial new Wales-wide policy, to limit the use of slurry and fertiliser on farmland, came into effect from April 1. The Control of Agricultural Pollution Regulations are being introduced in phased way over the next three years, after which farmers face being penalised.

It had angered agricultural leaders and bodies in Wales, who fear the new rules would be too onerous on farmers.

The Welsh Government has designated the whole of Wales a nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ) and introduced stricter rules on the storage and spread of slurry. Previously, only about 2.4 per cent of the land area of Wales was designated an NVZ.

Opposition parties have described the new rules as excessive, but previous efforts to see them scrapped have failed. Environmental and fishing groups have previously welcomed the new rules.

A joint Welsh Conservative-Plaid Cymru motion on Wednesday called for a Senedd committee to hold an “urgent” review of the new regulations.

Wednesday’s review – after an initial tied vote of 29-29 in the Senedd – gives the farming industry hope that the policy could now be amended or even scrapped.

During the debate, Brecon and Radnorshire MS James Evans described the regulations as “a lazy cut and paste from a 30-year-old EU Directive, which places more pressure on already hard-pressed farmers, who are dealing with Covid-19”.

Plaid Cymru spokesperson for agriculture and rural affairs, Cefin Campbell, said: “It is a victory for our farmers and unions and it is a victory for our rural communities.”

The opposition, including Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds, initially held Labour to a tied vote on the motion, which was then voted down by deputy presiding officer David Rees.

Labour then amended the motion removing criticism of the NVZ but keeping the call for a review, which then passed 58 votes to nil.

It follows a previous vote in early March, with Senedd members voting 30-27 against a Plaid Cymru motion to annul the regulations.

Commenting after the vote, Brecon and Radnorshire MS Mr Evans said: “When I was elected to represent the people of Brecon and Radnorshire, I promised I’d bring forward a debate on the NVZ regulations and I’m delighted the Welsh Conservatives had the opportunity to do so in the very first opposition debate of the sixth Senedd.

“Sadly, the Welsh Labour Government’s agricultural policies over the past few years have shown nothing but contempt for farmers and these draconian regulations will have a devastating impact on farms and livelihoods across rural Wales.

“We need a more flexible, evidence-based policy that secures the support of the industry, and we hope the relevant committee now performs their vital role in ensuring the best legislation possible is put through.

“As we move out of the pandemic, it’s important we now move forward together to ensure our beautiful country not only maintains, but improves our high food and environmental standards, working with farmers not against them.”

Calling the NVZ vote a “victory for common sense”, Mr Campbell added: “We have heard time and again why the regulations as they stand are not acceptable.

“Not only were they rushed through recklessly by a minister who promised that they would not be introduced while Wales was still in a pandemic, they were introduced against the expert recommendation of Natural Resources Wales who said regulations should be introduced in the 8 per cent most at-risk areas rather than on an all-Wales basis.

“Welsh farmers are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Plaid Cymru believe it’s time for the government to listen to them – and to the experts.”

Ms Dodds said the proposed new measures for water pollution would cause serious damage to farming communities across Wales.

“I have heard many farmers say that their cattle will have to go if these regulations are fully implemented,” said the Lib Dem Mid and West Wales MS.

“The consequences for our environment and rural economy will be catastrophic.

“There is an irresponsible spreading of slurry and poultry manure near watercourses and the gradual leaching of nitrate and phosphate into groundwater is a long-term problem. But there are other solutions, including ensuring Natural Resources Wales have the resources it needs to adequately police pollution incidents and prosecute offenders.

“The current plans amount to using a hammer to crack a nut. That’s why I welcome today's cross-party support calling for an urgent review of the planned regulations so we can find a way forward.

"Nobody questions the importance of healthy waterways, clean air, and a thriving environment; that is just as important to people in our towns and cities as it is in our rural communities.

“But the approach must be proportionate and support must be put in place to enable farmers to adapt to new ways of working, including training and financial support.”