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Action taken to protect Hull, Ouse and Derwent rivers from slug pellet contamination

Yorkshire Water is calling on local farmers based on catchment land near the Hull, Ouse and Derwent rivers to carefully manage the use of slug control pesticides in a bid to reduce the impact they have on drinking water.

Slug pellets are commonly used by farmers as an effective means of controlling slugs, which would otherwise eat away at crops and are capable of wiping out entire yields.

However, the pellets’ active ingredient, a chemical called metaldehyde, can seep from the farmland and find its way into drinking water. This is a problem because existing water treatment processes are unable to extract it from the water.

Although the chemical is harmless and poses little health risk at the concentrations it is occassionally found at, Yorkshire Water and partners including Natural England are calling on local farmers in these three areas to improve slug control practices to ensure drinking water quality sourced from these rivers is protected.

Andrew Walker, Catchment Strategy Manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “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 environmental and water quality impact. This way, crops will continue to be protected from nuisance slugs without adversely affecting raw water supplies.

“Best practice when applying metaldehyde pellets is to avoid applying them within six metres of a watercourse, carrying out precision pelleting so it is only used where needed, and to apply the minimum amount needed to avoid drainage and run-off losses.

“Finally, farmers should continue to consider more water-friendly pellets, such as ferric phosphate ones, which trials in our catchments have shown are equally as effective as metaldehyde pellets.”

The Hull, Ouse and Derwent river catchments are the region’s metaldehyde hotspots, with concentration levels of the chemical occasionally breaching regulatory limits in these locations.

Paul Arnold, Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) Coordinator, said: “Tackling high levels of metaldehyde in drinking water is one of the most important issues facing arable farmers at the moment. Raising awareness of the issue is an important first step and we’re pleased that Yorkshire Water are also encouraging farmers to work with CSF.

“By working with CSF, farmers can keep up to date with best practice and receive advice and training that will allow them to make improvements to their farming practices and farm infrastructure to reduce metaldehyde losses to watercourses.”

Trials in some parts of the UK have shown that over 95% 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 company's key objectives to ensure customers are provided with water that is clean and safe to drink.

Managing our land and catchments in a socially & environmentally responsible manner.

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