FARMING leaders in west Wales have expressed their relief after the Welsh Government announced it is considering an all-Wales approach to nitrate vulnerable zones.

Following an extensive consultation on nitrate vulnerable zones last year, the rural affairs cabinet secretary Lesley Griffiths said work would get underway with partners over the coming months to develop the right balance of comprehensive regulatory measures, voluntary measures and investment.

Landowners and farmers in Pembrokeshire had feared a more targeted approach would put a disproportionate burden on west Wales and, particularly farms in the Cleddau catchment area.

Ms Griffiths said she would explore further options to provide land managers with flexibility, where these would achieve the same or better outcomes than a regulatory approach.

Ms Griffiths said: “Most respondents recognised the significant impact nitrate pollution is having on our waters, businesses and human and environmental well-being throughout Wales and agreed further action was needed.

“Poor nutrient management is still a major problem across Wales. Pollution of this kind is entirely preventable and is simply not acceptable in the 21st century.

“We should not at the end of 2017 see significant stretches of some of our most well known and popular rivers largely devoid of fish, proving just how much work remains to be done."

FUW president Glyn Roberts gave a cautious welcome to the announcement.

“This seems to be a far more proportionate way forward than some of the options that had been proposed, but we need time to assess the details and their implications,” he said.

Mr Roberts said: “As a member of the three groups which will be looking at these approaches, the FUW looks forward to working on approaches which are proportionate proactive voluntary approaches which deliver positive outcomes.”

NFU Cymru president Stephen James said: “Farmers take their environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and NFU Cymru has always championed an approach that sees the union working in collaboration with Welsh Government and other partners.

“We are pleased that the cabinet secretary has made reference to the off-set scheme that has been operating successfully by a group of First Milk farmers in the Cleddau catchment. This scheme, championed by NFU Cymru members Will Prichard and Mike Smith, was highlighted in NFU Cymru’s consultation response, and subsequently, as an example of a workable alternative delivering measurable reductions in nitrates."

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Simon Thomas also expressed the hope the Welsh Government would take a voluntary approach to nitrate vulnerable zones.

The shadow cabinet secretary for rural affairs said: “There is a glimmer of hope that a voluntary approach like that advocated by First Milk of an off-set for nitrate vulnerable zones might be considered in the future."