AS SUMMER finally starts, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency is encouraging farmers and land managers to play their part in improving water quality at Ayr South, one of Scotland’s busiest bathing beaches.

The agency noted that most farmers have already been working hard to reduce run-off pollution – but added that the 'small number' of farmers who continue not to comply could face Fixed Monetary Penalty of up to £600 per non-compliance.

Work by SEPA and local farmers since 2011 has led to a 50% reduction in the number of non-compliant sites in the catchment, and around 90% of farms in the area are now fully compliant in ensuring their practices are not negatively affecting watercourses.

Many farmers have undertaken new practices and spent significant sums of money on additional slurry storage facilities, fencing off stretches of watercourses to exclude livestock, and installing alternative means of livestock watering. Some have gone even further than is legally required, by planting riparian zones which move their farming activities further away from the water’s edge.

SEPA's current programme of work is targeting the remaining 40 or so farms which are still not fully compliant, while also reminding others of their ongoing responsibilities. The agency is asking farmers in both catchments to undertake the following practical steps throughout the bathing water season:

• Slurry spreading – ensure no slurry is spread within 10 metres of any river, burn or open ditch. When applying slurry on silage aftermath, check the weather forecast and if heavy rain is expected within 48 hours of spreading, delay slurry spreading by a day or two to reduce the potential for field run-off;

• Maintaining water course boundaries – check livestock fences in grazing fields to avoid livestock poaching within 10 metres of a river or burn;

• Steading drainage – check surface water drains to ensure no contaminated drainage is able to enter them from bedded sheds, cattle walkways or yards used periodically during the summer months. Ensure also that a clean roof and yard water are kept separate from dirty yards.

With Covid-19 restrictions easing, SEPA officers are being deployed back into the field to engage face-to-face with farmers. Farm inspections to non-compliant operators have been taking place since the end of April and will continue throughout the summer in both river catchments.

Land unit manager, Stephen Field, said: “SEPA has developed strong working relationships with farms in the River Ayr and Doon catchments and they regularly work with us to make improvements in their own environmental performance. In those rare cases where significant regulatory challenges remain, we will continue to engage these operators to make improvements to their operations and advance responsible, low-impact practices.

But Mr Field added: “We are clear that compliance is non-negotiable, and while we are keen to work with people, we are also making it clear to all that those who do not comply will feel the consequences in the shape of Fixed Monetary Penalties."

NFU Scotland Ayrshire regional manager, Christine Cuthbertson, commented: “It's a very busy time for our members but we would encourage them to plan slurry spreading, maintain water course boundaries and check steading drainage, which will help to prevent any run-off and keep our watercourses to a high standard.

"Whilst we hope to get some much awaited dry and sunny weather over the next few months, we know our weather can often be temperamental, so carrying out these simple checks and acting on them now, will be to everybody’s benefit."