Diffuse Water Pollution Guidance

07 December 2016


What is diffuse pollution?

Diffuse pollution from agriculture and land management is one of the important reasons why some of our rivers, streams and lakes in the North East need to be improved to benefit both wildlife and protect drinking water.

Fertiliser, slurry / farmyard manure, soil and pesticides all have the potential to be washed off fields into ditches and ultimately into our rivers and coastal waters.  Dirty water from farm yards as well as from slurry, manure and silage stores are other potential sources of diffuse pollution.  Fertiliser and pesticides can also percolate down through the soil profile into ground water.  Bacteria (e.g. ecoli, and cryptosporidium) from livestock can cause problems for bathing waters and drinking water supplies.

By managing their fertiliser, soil and livestocks access to watercourses, farmers can make an important contribution to reducing the impact diffuse pollution has on the wildlife that lives in our rivers and coastal areas.  Many of the actions farmers can take also deliver real cost savings.

For more details on how to manage water more effectively go to water management: key actions for farmers

For more details on how to manage your soil more effectively go to Think soils

Understanding what is going on in the area you farm in

Where a water body is failing due to diffuse rural pollution you can find out from the Environment Agency’s online Catchment Data Explorer (CDE). This is a web application to help explore and obtain detailed information about local catchments and individual bodies of water.

Access Catchment Data Explorer at http://environment.data.gov.uk/catchment-planning/

The particular substances that are having the impact on wildlife are called “pressures”, the main pressures associated with agriculture are:

  • Ammonia (from fertiliser and slurry)
  • Nitrate (measured in estuaries and coastal waters)
  • Phosphate from fertiliser, slurry and manures
  • Sediment that is washed off fields
  • Various pesticides e.g. metaldhyde

The main farming activities and actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of these pressures and some of the benefits for the farm business are summarised in the following table:

Farm infrastructure
  • Make sure your slurry / manure store storage meet your business needs and comply with NVZ and Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil ?Regulations (SSAFO).

  • Notify the Environment Agency at least 14 days before you start constructing a new or expanded slurry or silage store

  • Reduce volumes of slurry by diverting clean roof water or yard water, roofing stores or using a slurry separator.

  • Maintain farm tracks to reduce soil loss and install cross drains to manage run off

  • Relocate gateways, tracks and feeders where runoff and soil erosion is a risk to water courses

  • To help manage run-off consider constructing a wetland or sustainable drainage system to reduce flooding, trap / treat pollutants and provide wetland habitat.
  • Peace of mind that your farm is not at risk of polluting your land, that of others and the wider environment

  • Reduce the risk to your business of lost earnings from basic payment penalties, lost contracts or from enforcement action

  • Reduce the risk of clean-up costs and damage to your reputation

Bank poaching – sheep.

Bank poaching cattle/beef.

  • Minimise soil and bank erosion by implementing appropriate measures (GAEC 5)

  • Provide an alternative water supply, for example troughs or pasture pumps, if primary concern is bank poaching

  • Position livestock feeders away from watercourses

  • Fence along margins of fields adjacent to watercourses, especially where there are sensitive bathing and shellfish waters.

  • Consider bridges to allow livestock to cross watercourses
  • Reduce the impact of livestock induced erosion to your land

  • Reduce the risk to your livestock from water-borne diseases injury or loss

  • Reduce the risk to your business of lost earnings from basic payment penalties, lost contracts or from enforcement action

Dairy / beef field.

Arable field

Sheep field

  • Protect your soil by preventing compaction, reducing run off-off and soil erosion

  • Carry out field operations at the right time, in the right conditions with the right machinery to protect soil structure

  • Regularly inspect soils, including grassland, for compaction prior to drilling / planting

  • Consider risk of soil loss in relation to runoff caused by slopes and post-harvest compaction

  • Analyse the nutrient content of manures, slurry and other materials applied to your land, such as digestate and sewage sludge

  • Plan your fertiliser use and record applications

  • Don’t spread slurry on soils with a Phosphate index greater than 3

  • Establish grass and / or woodland buffer strips alongside watercourses to intercept any overland flow and trap sediment  and nutrients

  • Apply pesticides and fertiliser efficiently and avoid direct contamination of water courses
  • Efficient use of nutrients avoids waste and reduces input costs

  • Slurry is a valuable source of nutrients for all crops including grass.  Maximising the financial value of your slurry and manure reduces artificial fertiliser costs

  • It’s easier to avoid soil damage than rectifying it afterwards

  • Healthy soil with good structure and biological activity increases root development, infiltration and yields

  • Have peace of mind that your farm is not at risk of polluting your land, that of others and the wider environment

  • Poorly managed soils can increase fuel, labour and machinery costs

  • Loss of valuable topsoil can increase watercourse maintenance costs

Catchment partnerships and the catchment based approach

Taking a catchment based approach helps to bridge the gap between strategic management planning at river basin district level and activity at the local water body scale. The catchment based approach aims to encourage groups to work together more effectively to deal with environmental problems locally.

Catchment partnerships are groups of organisations with an interest in improving the environment in their local area and are led by a catchment host organisation. They inform the river basin management planning process and help implement measures by:

  • Providing local evidence
  • Targeting and coordinating action
  • Identifying and accessing funding for improvements in the catchment
  • Incorporating river basin management planning into the wider environmental management of the catchment

To contact your local Catchment Partnership visit the CaBA website https://www.catchmentbasedapproach.org/catchment or email aW5mb0BjYXRjaG1lbnRiYXNlZGFwcHJvYWNoLm9yZw==

Other initiatives

The Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership works with farmers to tackle diffuse pollution through voluntary action. CSF offers free training, advice and support for grant applications to farmers in high priority areas across England to improve air and water quality, often with benefits to the farm business.

Free information and tools on nutrient management area is available via Tried & Tested.

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