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Farmers face more inspections and tighter enforcement in a bid to improve water quality and the sustainability of the river Deben in Suffolk. Farmers at forefront of plan for river Deben

Farmers face more inspections and tighter enforcement in a bid to improve water quality and the sustainability of the river Deben in Suffolk.

It follows a meeting with environment secretary Thérèse Coffey who met farmers and other stakeholders last month to discuss actions to clean up the river following publication of the government’s Plan for Water.

The river Deben flows through Debenham and Woodbridge before entering the North Sea at Felixstowe Ferry. As well as being environment secretary, Ms Coffey is MP for Suffolk Coastal, which includes much of the catchment.

The talks aim to bring increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation. Alongside farming representatives, they involved local community and environment groups, regulators, water company representatives and local councillors.

Farm visits

Action on the ground includes farm inspections, undertaken through the Catchment Sensitive Farming Initiative led by Natural England, to check compliance with all the relevant farming regulations.

Government funding for the programme has increased to £30m a year so all farms across the UK can access advice and support. Guidance is also being offered to local people to ensure waste water systems are legal and properly maintained.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Coffey said: “As someone who enjoys spending time by the River Deben, I share the passion for protecting and enhancing its waters shown by our partners today.

Local concerns

“One of the key parts of our Plan for Water is tailored long-term catchment plans with new funding for catchment groups. For this to succeed, collaboration at a local level is vital so we can all work towards improving the water system together.”

Key areas of discussions included the designation of local bathing sites in the area; pollution resulting from storm overflows; wastewater treatment; agriculture and  water resources.

Defra said the meeting was an opportunity for people to raise concerns and explore solutions to improve the river – and to discuss the Plan for Water. It will bring increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation to the water sector.

It covered how these issues may be addressed through catchment plans, actions where they deliver the greatest impact on water quality, flood management, and nature recovery.

Water quality

The talks also covered ongoing work by Defra, the Environment Agency and other partners to improve water quality along the river, and protect nationally significant saltmarsh habitats in the Deben estuary.

Water minister Rebecca Pow said it was clear the River Deben was a precious habitat but under pressure.

She added: “I look forward to greater collaboration from all parties locally as this is also vital if water quality is to imrove.

River water quality must improve and our new Plan for Water sets out how increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation is helping tackle every source of river pollution.

Local conversations

The meeting is part of a series of local conversations to improve water quality and increase water supply at rivers across England. Other rivers face similar challenges, so it is not the case that the Deben is being singled out.

Roundtable attendees included representatives from local councils, Essex & Suffolk Rivers Trust, the NFU, Natural England, the River Deben Association, and Anglian Water.

The past decade has seen significant improvements to bathing water quality at existing sites, thanks to regulation and investment.

Some 93% of bathing waters in England met the highest standards of good or excellent status in 2022, up from 76% in 2010.