The water pollution blame game: governance and power relations in managing diffuse water pollution from agriculture

As intensive livestock farming has proliferated, externalities such as water pollution have become increasingly concerning, largely due to the associated biodiversity loss and human health risks. Government action to reduce the contributions of agriculture to water pollution is mobilised through a combination of regulation, incentives, and advice, with initiatives including Nutrient Management Plans and Catchment Sensitive Farming. However, under-resourced environmental agencies and local authorities have struggled to address agricultural pollution amidst contested rationalities.

Agricultural pollution is a signifier of countryside change and contested rural narratives (Lowe et al. 1997), and its cumulative impacts continue to be a focus of rural power struggles (Diaz et al. 2013; Stoddard 2015). Environmental actors are attempting to influence farmers to change their practices to reduce their contributions to water pollution, a difficult feat whilst much of the farming sector denies responsibility. In addition, cross-border inconsistencies and disconnects (from regional to international in scale) may emerge with catchment-based approaches.
We ask: how might water pollution from intensive livestock farming be better addressed? What is the likelihood of the current combination of a reluctant state (Lang 2020) and voluntary approach ceding to tougher regulation? Will calls for quantifying the true cost of these externalities be met (Dimbleby 2020)? How will Brexit affect water pollution policy?


Adrienne Attorp, (Newcastle University) Alison Caffyn, (Cardiff University) and Charlotte-Anne Chivers (University of Gloucestershire and Exeter University)