ONE Somerset MP has accused the government's wildlife agency of trying to wipe out livestock farming in the county - but Natural England disagrees. 

Natural England has presented a paper to Somerset Council with suggestions on how to reduce high phosphorus concentrations in rivers and waterways on the Somerset Levels. According to MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, the agency suggests replacing livestock production with vegetable growing using paludiculture - farming on land with raised water tables.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said this response would 'anger' farmers, making them feel as though they were being 'scapegoated' for the failings of the water industry. 

But a spokesperson for Natural England said helping to combat pollution 'isn't just about water companies'.

They said: "All organisations that have a role to play in improving the water environment must work together to deliver the Government’s Plan for Water. Cleaning up England’s waters isn’t just about water companies – it includes agriculture, industry, and urban pollution, too.

"The agriculture sector has an important role to play in delivering improvements to our environment. We work constructively with the sector at every opportunity to improve environmental outcomes, develop nature-based solutions and support sustainable businesses.”

Water quality on the Somerset Levels has declined in recent years, which means in some areas the phosphorus levels are ten times the target level. Current polluting sources include livestock farming, as well as issues with sewage treatment plants. Wessex Water is investing an improved sewage treatment system. 

Mr Liddell-Grainger said farmers would be 'furious' that such 'sweeping changes' - such as switching from livestock farming to growing wet agricultural crops such as celery - could be imposed. 

“What has brought this issue into focus is that huge nutrient load that has been flowing into the rivers from sewage works which can no longer cope with the demands made on them,” he said.

“But that appears to have been totally downplayed with all the attention now focussed on farming.

“This is Natural England finally revealing its hidden agenda which is to turn the whole of the Levels back into a swamp. It came out unequivocally against pumping water out of the Levels at the time of the floods in 2014 when dozens of homes and businesses were wrecked by the worst floods in three centuries.

“The inescapable fact is that as we move into an era of heavier and more intensive rainfall only by keeping water tables low and continuing dredging are we going to keep settlements across the Levels dry and habitable.

“If Natural England gets its way on this issue hundreds of families across the area might as well start packing their bags and preparing to move out.”

The spokesperson from Natural England said they 'do not agree' with the comments made by Mr Liddell-Grainger. 

They added: "Natural England works transparently and openly with all partners. We recognise that the past year has been particularly difficult for the agricultural industry. We are working with businesses and residents to find long-term, sustainable solutions to the increasing challenges the area faces, exacerbated by climate change. 

"We are leading multiple projects in Somerset that will help to maintain economically viable and resilient communities. We are working with our partners to support farm businesses to adapt to climate change and support recovery of the Somerset levels and moors.  

"When it comes to flooding, we recognise the challenges families and businesses have faced in Somerset. That is why we are an active member of the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) and work to help deliver the SRA’s objectives, who have invested £29m in projects over the last 10 years to reduce the impact of flooding in Somerset on communities and businesses.  

"We support its partners in its monitoring and enforcement of companies that they find to be non-compliant with water quality regulations. The Environment Agency has launched a major criminal investigation into possible unauthorised spills at thousands of sewage treatment works, operated by all water companies that discharge into English waters."