What are the rules?

15 March 2018

From April 2018 all farmers in England will need to follow a new set of farming rules for water. Defra are making regulations which will give these rules legal force from then.

There are 8 new rules which aim to:

  • promote good practice in managing fertilisers and manures
  • encourage land managers to take reasonable precautions to prevent diffuse pollution from runoff or soil erosion
  • require soil tests at least every 5 years

Cows grazing near St Benets Abbey_9825

Defra have agreed to work with farming industry partners and through existing advice channels so that everyone has the opportunity to understand the rules. They will introduce soil testing in a phased way so that soil testing undertaken during the four years before the rules come into effect can be taken into account.

Below is a summary of the rules. There will be more detail in the regulations, including some exceptions from certain rules if you use precision spreading equipment or if you manage farmland to support wildlife. Defra will publish detailed guidance on GOV.UK before the rules come into force.

Rule 1: planning use of manures and fertilisers

Application of organic manures and manufactured fertilisers to cultivated land must be planned in advance to meet soil and crop nutrient needs and not exceed these levels

Your planning must take into account where there is significant risk of pollution and the results of testing for Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, pH and Nitrogen levels in the soil, which must be done at least every 5 years. You may determine soil Nitrogen levels by assessing the soil Nitrogen supply instead of testing the soil.

In assessing whether there is ‘significant risk of pollution’ a person must take into account the following factors:

  • the slope of the agricultural land, especially if the slope is greater than 12 degrees
  • any ground cover
  • the proximity to inland fresh waters and coastal waters
  • the proximity to wetlands
  • the weather conditions and weather forecasts
  • the soil type and condition
  • the presence and condition of agricultural land drains

Rule 2: storing organic manures

Organic manures must not be stored on land:

  • within 10 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters
  • where there is significant risk of pollution entering inland freshwaters or coastal waters
  • within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole

Rule 3: applying manures or fertilisers

Organic manures or manufactured fertilisers must not be applied:

  • 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
  • if there is significant risk of causing pollution

Rule 4: where not to apply organic manures

Organic manures must not be applied:

  • within 10 metres of any inland freshwaters or coastal waters, or within 6 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters if precision equipment is used
  • within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole

Rule 5: where not to apply fertiliser

Manufactured fertiliser must not be applied within 2 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters.

Rule 6: reasonable precautions to prevent soil erosion

You must take all reasonable precautions to prevent significant soil erosion and runoff from:

  • the application of organic manure and manufactured fertiliser
  • land management and cultivation practices (such as seedbeds, tramlines, rows, beds, stubbles (including harvested land with haulm), polytunnels and irrigation)
  • poaching by livestock

Rule 7: protecting against soil erosion by livestock

Any land within 5 metres of inland freshwaters and coastal waters must be protected from significant soil erosion by preventing poaching by livestock.

Rule 8: position of livestock feeders

Livestock feeders must not be positioned:

  • within 10 metres of any inland freshwaters or coastal waters
  • within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole
  • where there is significant risk of pollution from poaching around the feeder entering any inland freshwaters or coastal waters.

Do I already comply with the rules?

You would need to check against each of the rules to see whether you meet the new requirements - there’s more details in the longer and more formal description of the rules we’ve published alongside this. We expect that most farmers are already likely to comply with the rules. You are responsible for making sure that you comply, as failure to do so after April 2018 may result in an enforcement action.

If you don’t already comply with the new rules then you should review your farming practice and consider what changes are needed so that you can meet the requirements.

How the rules will be enforced

The Environment Agency (EA) will be the regulator for these rules. It will check compliance through its existing programme of work with farmers.

The EA will work with farmers by providing advice on how to meet the rules and help make sure they are compliant. The EA can use their formal enforcement powers where necessary to ensure compliance and to prevent or stop pollution. We expect that most cases will be dealt with by issuing advice and if necessary, through the use of civil sanctions such as compliance notices, with prosecution reserved for where other enforcement actions have failed.

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