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Alex McMenemy

Are you up to Speed on the Farming Rules for Water?

Water pollution legislation that farmers are required to comply with is constantly changing and H&H Land & Estates is aware how challenging this can be for those working in the agricultural sector to be sure that they are compliant with the current rules in place, which were updated in May 2018.

Although two years on, there still appears to be doubt amongst some farmers about whether they are compliant, which is evidenced in the high levels of attendance that can be seen at events held for farmers and agricultural professionals around the region.

Diffuse pollution is the release of potential pollutants from a range of activities including agriculture, which can physically damage wildlife in our rivers and seas, as well as contribute to higher water bills due to water requiring greater levels of treatments. Alex McMenemy, Graduate Surveyor for H&H Land & Estates, explains what the legislation means day-to-day for the farming community:

“The rules have been drawn up to be practical and risk-based and include the concept of “reasonable precaution” which encourages farmers to decide what actions are needed to keep valuable topsoil on fields and to apply fertilisers only when it is appropriate. 

“Farmers are able to comply by being more efficient with the use of fertilisers alongside good farming practice. In short, it makes economic sense for farmers to comply with the regulations.”

Prior to these rules coming in, many in the sector were following good farming practice regarding water pollution, with those in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) having to comply with NVZ rules. However, since the legislation has changed, all farmers and landowners ought to be working under these new rules, with a summary below of guidance for complying with DEFRA’s legislation:


  • Plan your use of manures and fertilisers in advance of application, considering the results of soil tests no older than 5 years
  • Soil test for macro and micronutrients such as sulphur and boron to get the most out of your soil
  • Measure organic soil matter
  • Take reasonable precautions to prevent soil erosion and runoff from the application of organic manure and manufactured fertiliser by checking your spreading equipment for leaks and calibration ahead of use and incorporating manure and fertiliser into the soil within 12 hours of application.
  • Take reasonable precautions to prevent soil erosion and runoff from land management and cultivation practices, as well as poaching by livestock. Addressing soil compaction by establishing crops in a timely fashion to ensure good soil structure, as well as moving livestock regularly will help keep you compliant.
  • Protect any land within 5 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters from significant soil erosion by preventing poaching by livestock.


  • Store or apply organic manures or fertilisers within 10m of inland freshwaters or coastal waters, 50m of a spring, well or borehole or where there is a significant risk of pollution or runoff entering a watercourse
  • Apply manure or fertiliser if the soil is waterlogged, flooded or snow-covered. If the soil has been frozen for more than 12 hours in the previous 24 hours or if there is a significant risk of causing agricultural diffuse pollution from the application
  • Position livestock feeders within 10 metres of any inland freshwaters or coastal waters, within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole, or where there is a significant risk of pollution from poaching around the feeder entering any inland freshwaters or coastal waters.


The Environment Agency has also highlighted the issue about land spreading of imported organic materials. Farmers are regularly offered a variety of organic sources of (mainly) Nitrogen, including liquid anaerobic digestate (AD), but the main message here is to check whether the AD is classed as waste, as the land spreading of this is controlled by the Environmental Permitting Regulations, which allows the Environment Agency to ensure that there is a genuine agricultural benefit from the application.  There are some instances where the spreading of AD will not require the Environment Agency to be notified, but if you can’t be sure there is a need for an application of digestate, or spreading conditions are poor, it is best to err on the side of caution.

Alex concludes:

“The Environment Agency will provide advice on how to comply with the regulations and help farmers to understand them.  The aim is for enforcement to be proportionate and fair, with the emphasis on working with farmers to achieve compliance.

“We have outlined the basic terms of the new rules clearly, however, we appreciate that further clarification may be required and welcome enquiries regarding the legislation.”

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