Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

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There are codes of practice to help farmers protect their land and the environment from pollution. The codes are not law. However, whether you comply with the codes may be taken into account in any legal proceedings following a pollution incident.

Complying with the codes could greatly help your business

Northern Ireland

DAERA: Code of good agricultural practice for the prevention of pollution of water, air and soil

Scotland

Scottish Government: Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Agricultural Activities PEPFAA code 2005

The 'DOs and DON'Ts' guide is an abbreviated version of the PEPFAA Code.

Scottish Government: PEPFAA DOs and DON'Ts guide

You can obtain a free printed copy of the PEPFAA Code and the 'DOs and DON'Ts Guide'   from your local Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) area office.

Scottish Government: SGRPID area offices

Farmers must meet cross compliance requirements to claim payments under the single farm payment scheme (SFPS) in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The SFPS is an agricultural subsidy scheme for farmers.

To receive these payments, and payments under some other rural schemes, you must maintain certain standards on public, animal and plant health, the environment and animal welfare on your farm. This includes conserving habitats and managing soil and water.

The standards for cross compliance are:

  • statutory management requirements (SMRs)
  • keeping your land in good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC).

What you must do

Comply with the statutory management requirements

The SMRs relate to areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare.

You must comply with the SMRs to ensure you can claim all your SFPS payments. Even if you don't claim payments, you have a legal requirement to comply with these rules.

The environmental legislation SMRs are:

  • Protection of the Environment when Sewage and Septic Tank Sludge is used in Agriculture - SMR 4 in Northern Ireland, SMR 3 in Scotland: you must comply with the regulations on using sewage sludge on agricultural land .The aim is to ensure that here is no risk to human, animal or plant health and no harmful effects on soil.
  • Protection of Water against Nitrate Pollution - SMR 5 in Northern Ireland, SMR 4 in Scotland: you must comply with regulations for using fertilizers and storing and spreading manure in designated areas at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution. The aim is to reduce the pollution of waters caused by nitrates from agricultural sources and to prevent such pollution occurring in the future.
    Northern Ireland: Nitrate Action Programme and Phosphorus Regulations (as amended).
    Scotland: NVZ action programme

Your environmental regulator or payment authority could inspect your farm to check you are complying. If you do not meet the requirements for cross compliance you may not receive part or all of your SFPS payments.

DAERA: Cross compliance verifiable standards

DAERA Cross compliance guidance

Scottish Government: SMRs guidance

Keep your land in good agricultural and environmental condition

You must comply with the GAEC conditions to claim your SFPS payments. The environmental GAEC conditions require you to manage your soil, conserve habitats and protect water against pollution and run-off, and manage the use of water.

There are different GAECs for Northern Ireland and Scotland.

DAERA Cross compliance questions and answers

Scottish Government: Good Agricultural and environmental condition requirements and updates

Manage your soils

Good soil management is one of the main requirements of the GAEC conditions.

In Northern Ireland and Scotland you must protect your soils from erosion, maintain soil organic matter and protect soil structure.

Scottish Government: GAECs for soil erosion

Land and soil management for agricultural businesses

Comply with water abstraction regulations

A new GAEC requirement was introduced in 2010, for farmers and land managers who abstract water for irrigation. If you already have a water abstraction licence you must comply with its conditions. If you abstract water and don't have a licence, check if you need to get one in our guidance on water use and abstraction for farmers.

Groundwater

Since January 2014 the Protection of Groundwater against Pollution requirement, has moved from SMR to being GAEC. The aim of the requirements is to protect groundwater against pollution by controlling the discharge or disposal of hazardous substances or non-hazardous pollutants.

Guidance on GAECs

DAERA: Cross compliance verifiable standards

Scottish Government: GAEC guidance (Scotland)

Scottish Government: Cross Compliance Guidance Updates

Good practice

Agri-environment schemes

If you are a farmer or land manager and you manage your land well, you may be able to receive money from agri-environment schemes. The aims of agri-environment schemes are to:

  • conserve wildlife (biodiversity)
  • maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
  • protect the historic environment and natural resources
  • promote public access and understanding of the countryside
  • protect natural resources
  • manage the risk of flooding
  • conserve genetic diversity.

There are different schemes in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Northern Ireland agri-environment schemes

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland is responsible for the administration of a wide range of grants and subsidy schemes to support the local farming and fisheries industries.

DAERA: Agri-environment schemes

Scotland agri-environment schemes

The Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) offers support for economic, environmental and social activities to develop rural Scotland. The SDRP aims to improve:

  • competitiveness of agricultural and forestry businesses
  • environment and countryside
  • quality of life in rural areas and diversity of the rural economy.

Scottish Government: Scotland Rural Development Programme

Further information

Northern Ireland

DAERA: Cross compliance for farmers

DAERA: Cross Compliance Verifiable Standards

DAERA: Grants and funding

DAERA Frequently Asked Questions

Scotland

Scottish Government: Cross compliance notes for guidance (Adobe PDF - 463KB)

Scottish Government: Cross compliance guidance

Scottish Government: Cross Compliance Guidance Updates

Scottish Government: PEPFAA code of good practice

Farming and Water Scotland

You should cultivate your land carefully to avoid soil erosion and reduce run-off.

If run-off containing soil and sediment enters a watercourse it can:

  • kill insects in the bed of the watercourse due to lack of light and oxygen
  • kill fish due to sediment blocking their gills
  • reduce areas where fish can spawn
  • cause a nutrient imbalance in the water.

If you pollute the water environment, you are probably committing an offence.

In Scotland you must cultivate your land in a way which minimises the risk of pollution to the water environment.

You must not cultivate land for crop use that is:

  • within 2 metres of any surface water or wetland
  • within 5 metres of a borehole, well or spring that supplies water for human consumption unless capped to prevent ingress of water
  • waterlogged.

You must not mole land on slopes with a gradient of 4.5 degrees or more.

SRUC: Farming and water - Cultivation

What you must do

Soil management and protection is now subject to Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) and is part of cross compliance. If you are in receipt of the single payment scheme (SPS), you must meet GAEC.

Cross compliance and agri-environment schemes

Good practice

Use cultivation techniques that maintain good soil structure and reduce run-off, erosion and sediment loss.

Avoid cultivating wet soil, as the use of heavy machinery can cause soil compaction and adversely affect crop yields.

Assess fields regularly for signs of compaction, especially after previous difficult cultivation or harvest conditions.

Work across the slope whenever this is safe and possible, but beware of complex slope patterns that may channel run-off.

Prepare a risk map to highlight the areas of the farm that are most vulnerable to soil erosion and soil run-off. You should take into account slopes, soil types and risks to receptors (eg houses, roads and rivers).

Maintain crop cover for as long as you can over winter. This will limit soil erosion by wind.

In areas where soil capping is a problem leave seedbeds as coarse as possible.

Increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. This will improve the resistance of soil to erosion.

On fields that are more at risk to erosion and run-off, avoid sowing late harvested crops (for example, potatoes or sugar beet), or ensure that you harvest them first in drier conditions.

Consider planting trees, hedges or grass buffer strips to prevent soil erosion and to stop soil reaching sensitive receptors such as rivers and roads.

Watch our short videos:

How to protect soil and water on a farm

How to prevent diffuse pollution on a farm

Further information

The codes of good agricultural practice provide more information on how to prevent long term damage to soils.

In Northern Ireland, see the DARD code of good agricultural practice for water, air and soil.

DAERA: Code of good agricultural practice for the prevention of pollution of water, air and soil

In Scotland, see section 3 of the Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Agricultural Activity (PEPFAA) Code.

Scottish Government: Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Agricultural Activity (PEPFAA Code) 2005 (Scotland) (Adobe PDF - 486KB)

Soil is a farmer's biggest asset. Managing your land well and protecting the soils on your farm will help you:

  • save money
  • increase crop yields
  • increase your farm's profitability
  • avoid causing pollution and localised flooding
  • protect local habitats and species
  • reduce the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events
  • prepare your application forms for agri-environment schemes.

Why manage your soils?

When you manage your soils well, you can reduce the risk of losses, which saves you money.

Keeping your soils in good condition will help to protect your livelihood and boost your crop yields.

You can help reduce diffuse pollution and protect yourself from losses of topsoil, fertiliser and pesticides. Well-managed soils are easier to cultivate and more likely to retain water.

In Scotland measures to help reduce diffuse pollution have been included in the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR).

SEPA: Diffuse pollution

Information on preventing water pollution from farms is available from the Farming and Water Scotland website.

Farming and Water Scotland

Managing your soils well can also help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, by slowing down and storing excess water. You can reduce the risk of flooding, and reduce damage to your soil and crops by run-off during heavy rain.

Good soil management is one of the requirements for keeping your land in good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) under cross compliance. Preventing soil from eroding from fields, maintaining soil organic matter and maintaining a good soil structure are essential to meet the soil standard GAEC1.

See our guidance on cross compliance and agri-environment schemes.

Poor soil management can result in:

  • lower crop yields
  • limiting your choice for future land use
  • deposits of soil on roads due to run-off and erosion from fields
  • flocalised flooding caused by run-off from fields
  • reduced effectiveness of fertilisers and pesticides
  • loss of soil and fertility
  • water pollution caused by run-off from fields containing sediment, nutrients and farm chemicals
  • degradation of river habitats due to excessive sediment deposition
  • bacterial, fungal and algal growth in rivers, caused by run-off containing organic matter and nutrients.

If you pollute water or harm the environment because you have not managed the soil on your farm properly you may be committing an offence, and you could be prosecuted and fined.

Good practice

Identify your farm landscape

Make sure you understand how your farm landscape affects your soil management. The risk of run-off and erosion depends on the physical features of the farm, soil management and local weather conditions.

If you have sloping land you may have more problems with run-off and erosion, especially if the rain infiltration rate is low. Intense rainfall can cause flash flooding and severe erosion. It is important to maintain a good structure in the soil surface so that water can infiltrate. Even sandy soils can become compacted or capped and this can lead to run-off and possible erosion.

Make sure you know where all the watercourses are on your farm. This will help you to plan your fertiliser and pesticide use to avoid causing water pollution.

Prevent run-off from roads and tracks washing onto fields, this can cause erosion. Field tracks and tramlines can also provide an easy route for run-off, soil sediments and pollutants to enter watercourses.

Identify the soil types on your farm

You need to know your soils if you want to get the best from them. Soils can vary across farm holdings and even within individual fields. Nutrient requirements and soil management needs can also depend on soil type.

You can identify the soil types in your fields from the amounts of clay, silt and sand in the soil. Your soil may also be peaty if it has a very high content of organic matter. Monitor the condition of your soils.

Indirect observations, such as crop growth and development, as well as resistance to pests and diseases, can be a good indication of soil health. Direct observations in the field are a more reliable way of checking your soil's condition.

Surface observations include:

  • looking for signs of poaching, if land has been used for stock grazing
  • looking for signs of erosion or rills
  • comparing run-off with other fields
  • checking for silt deposition in fields, on roads or in streams
  • checking for ponding or water logging
  • looking for water loss or drought areas in the soil
  • looking for areas of poor crop growth.

To make observations of the top soil and subsoil, you will have to dig a small hole. You should check:

  • how porous the soil is
  • how many fissures there are
  • root structure to tell you how healthy your soil is, eg roots will spread less, or may grow horizontally, in compacted soil.

Take samples across all parts of a field, so that you get an accurate picture of the soil.

It pays to assess your soil structure and texture regularly, especially in winter, to identify appropriate management practices.

Consider weather conditions on your farm

The weather and climatic conditions on your farm will affect how you manage your soils.

If you are in an area with high levels of rainfall, you need to be more aware of the potential for flash flooding and erosion from water run-off, especially if you also farm on moderate to steep slopes.

If you have a sandy soil and are in a windy area, your fields may be at risk from wind erosion.

Change your land use to improve soil quality

How you use your land can have a significant impact on soil quality. By understanding the impact your land use has on soil you can identify good practice measures which can help to minimise these problems.

Grow crops which suit the type of land. Some crops are more likely than others to affect soil quality.

Crops which are harvested in the autumn, such as maize, will increase the risk of compaction in your soil and run-off. Consider growing earlier maturing varieties, and cultivate your soil after harvest to reduce this risk.

Avoid over-wintering of stock on waterlogged soils, spreading slurry in winter and harvesting in difficult conditions, which can lead to soil compaction, run-off and erosion. See our guidance on landspreading slurries.

Change your activities if possible to help protect your soils.

Improve your soil management

Avoid using heavy farm equipment on waterlogged soil.

Set yourself goals and prioritise your actions to improve the condition of your soils. If you set challenging targets now, you can help to reduce the impacts that climate change will have on your farm.

Loosen the soil after harvest to allow water to soak in rather than run off fields. In areas susceptible to wind erosion you can use nurse crops, or establish hedges and shelter belts to reduce erosion.

Use a farm map to identify where you can make a difference on your farm, and how any changes you make will affect watercourses.

This will benefit your business by increasing your farm's profitability, increasing your crop yields, and helping you to avoid causing water pollution.

Watch our short videos:

How to protect soil and water on a farm

How to make good use of nutrients on a farm

How to prevent diffuse pollution on a farm

Further information

Scotland: Farm Soils Plan

The Farm Soils Plan is for farmers, crofters and contractors across Scotland. It could help you to protect soils, meet environmental standards and benefit your farm business.

Scottish Government: Farm Soils Plan

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Northern Ireland

Any person intending to alter the use or management of areas of uncultivated or semi-natural land must obtain prior approval from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). DAERA will screen all such applications and any that are likely to have significant environmental effects will be requested to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment before a decision on whether the project can go ahead is given. It is an offence to carry out any such work without prior permission from DAERA.

Codes of good agricultural practice

Following the codes of good agricultural practice can help you to protect your soils.

Northern Ireland

DAERA: Code of good agricultural practice for the prevention of pollution of water, air and soil

Scotland

Scottish Government: Prevention of environmental pollution from agricultural activity (PEPFAA) code 2005

Scottish Government: PEPFAA DOs and DON'Ts guide

You can obtain a free printed copy of the PEPFAA Code and the 'DOs and DON'Ts Guide' from your local Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) area office.

Scottish Government: SGRPID area offices

Guidance for farmers on managing soils

Soil Association: Farmers and growers

Forestry Commission: Soil sustainability

Farming Futures: Soil management fact sheet

Farming Futures: Water management fact sheet

SEPA: Removal of sand, silt or clay from the bed of previously straightened rivers and burns which are ≥1m and <5m wide

Other relevant NetRegs guidance

Cross compliance and agri-environment schemes

For hunting, shooting and game breeding

Managing your land well will help you:

  • save money
  • avoid causing pollution
  • protect local habitats
  • reduce the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events
  • get funding through government grant schemes.

There are schemes which reward landowners who manage their land well.

Agri-environment schemes

Agri-environment schemes pay farmers and other land managers who demonstrate good environmental management on their land. For example you may receive funding for:

  • supporting natural habitats and biodiversity
  • enhancing the landscape
  • improving the water, air or soil quality.

There are different schemes in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

See our guidance on cross compliance and agri-environment schemes.

Single payment scheme and single farm payment scheme

If you meet the requirements of cross compliance, you may qualify to claim payments under the single farm payment scheme (SFPS).

To receive SFPS payments, and payments under some other rural schemes, you must maintain certain standards, known as statutory management requirements (SMRs), and keep your land in good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC). You will have to demonstrate that you meet standards on public, animal and plant health, the environment and animal welfare on your farm, and that you conserve habitats and manage soil and water.

See our guidance on cross compliance and agri-environment schemes.

Further information

British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC): Rural land - purchase and management

Other relevant NetRegs guidance

Land and soil management for agricultural businesses

The Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations

What you must do

All farmers in Northern Ireland must follow rules aimed at improving the use of nutrients on farms and reducing water pollution from agricultural sources.

You must comply with these regulations to avoid prosecution and possible fines, but also in order to meet the requirements of the Cross - Compliance, Verifiable Standards rules of the Single Farm Payment Scheme, and other direct payments from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).

On 1 January 2015 changes to the Nitrates Action Programme were made for the period 2015-2018. The new Regulations replace the NAP and Phosphorus Regulations 2011-2014. The NAP Regulations and Phosphorus Regulations apply to all agriculture land in Northern Ireland.

Cross compliance

Keep accurate records

You must prepare records for each calendar year by 30 June of the following year, and keep them for five years. These records must detail:

  • agricultural area, field size and location
  • cropping regimes and areas, Soil Nutrient Supply (SNS) index for crops other than grassland
  • livestock numbers, types, species and time kept
  • organic and chemical fertiliser details including imports and exports
  • from 1 January 2017, evidence of a crop phosphorus requirement from soil analysis if organic manure with over 0.25kg total phosphorus per 1kg total nitrogen is applied
  • capacity of livestock manure storage and where applicable the details of rented storage, farmyard manure production, out wintered livestock, manure separation and manure processing facilities utilised
  • evidence of control over the agricultural area and the right to graze common land
  • Records relating to the export of organic manure to be submitted annually to NIEA by 31 January of the following year

If you are operating under an approved derogation, you must keep your fertilisation plan on farm and have it ready for inspection by 1 March for that calendar year. Your fertilisation account for the previous calendar year must be received by NIEA by 1 March.

Comply with closed spreading periods

  • Chemical nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser must not be applied to grassland from midnight 15 September to midnight 31 January
  • All types of chemical fertiliser must not be applied to arable land from midnight 15 September to midnight 31 January, unless there is a demonstrable crop requirement
  • You must not apply farmyard manure (FYM) to any land between 31 October and midnight 31 January
  • There is no closed spreading period for dirty water.

Spread fertiliser correctly

All fertiliser types (including slurry, farmyard manure and nitrogen fertiliser, must be applied accurately and uniformly as possible and must not be applied in a location or manner, which would make it likely that it will directly or indirectly enter waterways.

Slurry can only be spread by inverted splashplate, bandspreaders, trailing hose, trailing shoe or soil injection. Dirty water can be spread by the same methods as slurry and by irrigation.

You must not use sludgigator type spreaders or upward facing splashplates.

Chemical fertiliser containing phosphorus must only be applied where soil analysis shows a crop requirement. Records must be kept to demonstrate this.

Do not apply chemical fertilisers, organic manure or dirty water when:

  • soil is waterlogged, flooded or likely to flood
  • soil is frozen hard or snow-covered
  • heavy rain is falling or forecast within the next 48 hours
  • you have steeply sloping fields (that is an average incline of 20% or more for grassland or an average incline of 15% or more on all other land) where other risks of water pollution exist. Risk factors to be considered include the proximity to waterways, the length of time to incorporation, the type and amount of fertiliser applied and/or the soil and weather conditions
  • On less steep slopes (with an average incline of 15% or more on grassland or 12% or more on all other land), organic manures must not be applied within 30m of lakes and 15m of other waterways, chemical fertilisers must not be applied within 10m of lakes and 5m of other waterways.

The new Nitrates Action Programme Guidance 2015-2018 Booklet includes additional advice on how to assess these risks.

Do not apply any type of chemical fertiliser within 2m of any waterway.

Do not apply organic manure or dirty water within:

  • 10m of a waterway, e.g. a river or field drain (the distance may be reduced to 3m of any waterway where the land has an average incline less than 10% towards the waterway and where organic manures are spread by bandspreaders, trailing shoe, trailing hose or soil injection or where the adjoining area is less than 1 ha in size or not more than 50m in width)
  • 15m of exposed, cavernous or karstified, limestone features (such as swallow-holes and collapse features)
  • 20m of lakes
  • 50m of a borehole, spring or well
  • 250m of a borehole used for a public water supply.

Comply with spreading limits

You must follow legal limits when spreading nitrogen.

Do not apply more than:

  • 272kgN/ha of chemical nitrogen fertiliser to grassland on dairy farms
  • 222kgN/ha of chemical nitrogen fertiliser to grassland on other farms

For non-grassland crops, maximum nitrogen applied (from all types of fertiliser, including livestock manure) must not exceed crop requirement and, for certain arable crops, an N-Max limit applies to the total crop area.

Unless you have been granted a nitrates derogation, you must not apply more than 170kg of nitrogen per hectare per year (N/ha/year) of livestock manure, including manure deposited directly by livestock.

Do not apply more than:

  • 50 tonnes per hectare of solid organic manure at one time. You must wait three weeks before spreading again.
  • 50 cubic metres (m³) per hectare of slurry at one time. You must wait three weeks before spreading again.
  • 50m³ per hectare of dirty water. You must wait two weeks before spreading again.

Slurry can only be spread close to the ground by inverted splashplate, bandspreading, trailing shoe, trailing hose, soil injection or soil incorporation methods.

Dirty water can be spread by the same methods as slurry and by irrigation.

Sludgigators must not be used.

High Phosphorus Manures

From 1 January 2017, organic manure with more than 0.25kg of total phosphorus per 1 kg of total nitrogen (e.g. some anaerobic digestates) can only be applied where soil analysis shows there is a crop requirement for phosphorus.

Nitrates Derogation

If you have a nitrates derogation you will be able to apply up to 250kg per hectare per year, as long as you apply by 1 March every year and:

  • have at least 80 percent grassland
  • have a farm phosphorus balance of no more than 10kg phosphorus per hectare per year
  • analyse the fertility of your soil
  • only apply the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that your crops require
  • produce annual fertilisation plans and keep them up to date
  • submit annual records of fertilisation to the NIEA.

Further Guidance on the Nitrates Directive Derogation is available from NIEA

Nitrates Directive Derogation Guidance Booklet 2015-2018

Comply with livestock manure and silage effluent storage requirements

You must provide enough storage for the livestock manure and silage effluent that you accumulate during the spreading closed period. You must also ensure that your storage is adequate to cover periods of adverse weather and soil conditions outside of the closed spreading period. You should account for likely adverse weather when you decide how much storage you need.

Livestock manure and silage effluent storage must be maintained and managed to prevent seepage or run-off. Silage bales must be stored at least 10m from any waterway and stored and managed in such a way as to prevent seepage onto the waterway.

You must have enough storage capacity for:

  • 26 weeks' livestock manure storage capacity for pig and poultry enterprises
  • Minimum of 22 weeks storage capacity for other enterprises.

You must ensure that any farmyard manure you store in a field is:

  • stored in a compact heap
  • spread in that field
  • not stored for more than 120 days
  • stored in a different location in the field each year
  • kept more than 20m from any waterways
  • kept more than 50m from any lake, borehole, spring, well, swallow-holes and collapse features
  • kept more than 250m from any borehole used for a public water supply.

Rules on the storage of poultry litter in field heaps.

You must ensure that any poultry litter you store in a field is:

  • stored in accordance with an authorisation granted by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency
  • stored in a compact heap
  • spread in that field
  • not stored for more than 120 days
  • stored in a different location in the field each year
  • covered with an impermeable membrane within 24 hours of being put in the field
  • kept more than 40m from any waterways
  • kept more than 100m from any lake
  • kept more than 50m from any borehole, spring, well, swallow-holes and collapse features
  • kept more than 250m from any borehole used for a public water supply.

You must ensure that all new, substantially enlarged or reconstructed facilities for storing slurry comply with the relevant regulations.

Storing slurry

Land management

Cover in winter

After harvesting a crop other than grass, you must ensure that from harvest until 15 January in the following year one of the following conditions is met on that land at any time:

The stubble of the harvested crop remains in the land; or

(a) the land is sown with a crop which will take up nitrogen from the soil,or

(b) where soil or weather conditions prevent a subsequent crop from being sown, appropriate measures are put in place to limit soil erosion.

Crop management

Where grass leys are grown in rotation with arable crops, you should sow the first crop as soon as possible after you have ploughed the grass.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Northern Ireland

Any person intending to alter the use or management of areas of uncultivated or semi-natural land must obtain prior approval from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). DAERA will screen all such applications and any that are likely to have significant environmental effects will be requested to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment before a decision on whether the project can go ahead is given. It is an offence to carry out any such work without prior permission from DAERA.

Further information

DOENI: Nitrates Directive

Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations guidance booklet

Nitrates Directive Derogation Guidance Booklet 2015-2018

Nitrates Action Programme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014

Nitrates Action Programme (Amendment) Regulations Northern Ireland) 2015

If your farm is in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ), an area designated as being at risk from nitrate pollution, you must comply with the nitrate vulnerable zone action programme rules. New NVZ action programme rules came into force in Scotland on 1 January 2009.

Farmers must comply with the NVZ action programme rules to be entitled to the full subsidy payment under the single farm payment scheme.

There are four NVZs in Scotland. You can find out if your farm is in an NVZ by looking at maps on the Scottish Government's website.

Scottish Government: NVZ maps

What you must do

Keep records and plans

You must keep accurate records for individual fields, and your farm as a whole, for three years. These must detail:

  • the area of your farm that is within an NVZ
  • the area of each field in hectares, and the soil type in the field
  • the crops grown in each field and the date of sowing
  • the quantity of each type of nitrogen fertiliser applied to each crop, and the date of application
  • the number of livestock kept on your farm
  • the movement of any livestock manure to or from your farm
  • an inventory of the manufactured nitrogen fertiliser that you buy, use and keep on your farm
  • the location of field heaps.

You must prepare a fertiliser and manure management plan before 1 March each year, for that calendar year, which contains:

  • a risk assessment plan (if you apply organic manure)
  • calculations showing that you have sufficient storage facilities for livestock manures
  • calculations showing the crop standard nitrogen requirement (Nmax) for each crop type grown on your land, including grassland.

You will need to refer to booklets 4, 5 and 6 of the Scottish Government's guidelines for farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones to prepare your fertiliser and manure management plan.

Scottish Government: Guidelines for farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Provide adequate storage capacity for livestock slurry and manure.

You must calculate your current storage capacity for livestock manures and slurries.

You must provide at least:

  • 26 weeks storage capacity for pig slurry
  • 26 weeks storage capacity for poultry manure, if not stored in a temporary field heap
  • 22 weeks storage capacity for all other livestock slurry.

Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) contact details

You must keep records of all your calculations for slurry storage requirements.

Produce a risk assessment plan

Your risk assessment plan must include a map of your farm showing:

  • the outline of every field
  • the area of every field in hectares
  • the locations of all surface waters, wells and boreholes
  • any area of land that has a slope of 12 degrees or more
  • the locations of any field heaps
  • any other area of high risk to the water environment, eg silos, slurry tanks.

Comply with spreading controls

You must not spread more than:

  • 250kg of nitrogen per hectare per year (N/ha/year) to any individual field within an NVZ. This includes nitrogen from all sources of organic manure.
  • 170kg N/ha/year from livestock manure averaged over the area of your farm
  • 500kg N/ha/24 month period for composts

Annual limits are calculated for the period between 19 December of one year to 18 December of the following year. They apply to all organic manure, including wastes such as sewage sludge and nitrogen deposited by grazing animals.

You must leave a period of 3 weeks between each application of livestock manure.

You must not use high trajectory raised splash plates for spreading slurry.

You must spread nitrogen fertilisers and organic manure accurately to your crops.

You must not apply:

  • organic manure within 10m of watercourses, or within 50m of a well, borehole or other water supply
  • nitrogen fertilisers or organic manure when the soil is waterlogged, flooded, frozen hard or snow-covered
  • nitrogen fertilisers or organic manure to steeply sloping fields, uncropped areas or hedges.
  • manufactured nitrogen fertiliser within 2m of surface water.

Derogation for livestock and grassland farmers

If you are a livestock or grassland farmer and meet certain conditions to help protect water, you may be able to apply for a derogation, allowing you to farm to a limit of 250kg N/ha/year from livestock manure.

All derogations will last until the end of the calendar year, and you will have to renew your derogation each year. If you are renewing your application, you must send details of your fertiliser use for the preceding year with your application.

Scottish Government: Derogation from 170kg N/ha farm loading limit and temporary storage requirement exemption

Observe closed periods

If your farm is in the Moray, Aberdeenshire, Banff and Buchan NVZ, you must not apply any chemical nitrogen fertilisers from:

  • 15 September to 20 February on any grassland
  • 1 September to 20 February to non-grassland.

If your farm is in any other NVZ, you must not apply any chemical nitrogen fertilisers from:

  • 15 September to 15 February to any grassland
  • 1 September to 15 February to non-grassland.

If you need to apply fertiliser during the closed period, you must notify your local Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) area office, in writing, within three days of applying the fertiliser.

Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) contact details

On sandy or shallow soils you must not apply organic manure with high available nitrogen content (eg cattle and pig slurry, poultry manure and liquid digested sewage sludge) between:

  • 1 September and 31 December to grassland
  • 1 August and 31 December to land that is not grassland. However you can apply it up to 15 September if the land is sown with a cereal crop before that date, or 30 September if it is sown with oil seed rape, a catch crop or a cover crop before that date.

On any other type of soil, you must not apply organic manure with high available nitrogen content between:

  • 15 October and 31 January to grassland
  • 1 October and 31 January to land which is not grassland.

Further information

The Scottish Government has produced detailed guidelines on the NVZ action programme rules and what you need to do to comply.

Scottish Government: Nitrate Vulnerable Zones - introduction

Scottish Government: Guidelines for farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Information on preventing water pollution from farms is available from the Farming and Water Scotland website.

Farming and Water Scotland

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