Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Fertiliser rules

Fertiliser Regulations

What you must do

Do not allow fertilisers to enter watercourses such as rivers, streams, burns, lakes and lochs or drainage ditches. If you do, you may be committing a pollution offence.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are designated areas that are particularly vulnerable to nitrate pollution.

In Northern Ireland all farmers must comply with rules under the Nitrate Action Programme Regulations and the Phosphorous Regulations.

Northern Ireland: Nitrate Action Programme Regulations

DAERA: Summary document – Nitrates Action Programme 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations

Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) – Activity Calendar

DAERA has produced an “Activity Calendar” This summarises the activity and date you need to take action by to ensure compliance with NAP.

Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) – Activity Calendar  

In Scotland you should find out whether you are within an NVZ. If you are within an NVZ you will need to follow certain rules, such as limiting the amount of organic and inorganic nitrogen fertiliser you use and keeping records.

Scotland: nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZs)

In Scotland you must not store any fertilisers:

  • within 10 metres of surface water or wetland
  • within 50 metres of any spring or borehole
  • on land that is waterlogged
  • on land with an average soil depth less than 40cm that overlies gravel or fissured rock.

In Scotland you must not apply organic fertilisers to:

  • land within 10 metres of any ditch, burn, river, loch, wetland or coastal water (on sloping ground a wider buffer zone maybe required)
  • land within 50 metres of any well, spring or borehole that supplies water for human consumption
  • land that is waterlogged or covered with snow
  • land with an average soil depth less than 40cm that overlies gravel or fissured rock

You must not apply livestock slurry on frozen land.

You must not apply inorganic fertilisers to land that:

  • is within 2 metres of any surface water or wetland
  • is within 5 metres of any well, spring or borehole that supplies water for human consumption or any well or borehole that is not adequately capped
  • has an average soil depth of less than 40 cm and overlies gravel or fissured rock
  • is frozen, waterlogged, or covered with snow.

In Scotland it is an offence to apply organic or inorganic fertiliser to land in excess of the nutrient needs of the crop.

SRUC: Storage and application of fertiliser

Good practice

Storage

You should store fertilisers:

  • under cover and away from combustible materials
  • where there is no risk of flooding
  • as far away as possible from watercourses or field drains
  • where the risks of vandalism and damage to tanks from vehicle movements are low.

In Scotland your fertiliser store must not be within 10m of any:

  • river
  • burn
  • ditch
  • loch
  • wetland or coastal water

or within 50m of any spring supplying water for human consumption or any uncapped borehole where the ingress of water is possible.

Clean up any fertiliser spills immediately.

Bund your storage tanks. The bund should be able to hold the contents of the tank plus an extra 10%.

Inspect your tanks and pipework regularly (at least once a year) for signs of damage.

Lock valves shut on tanks if the fertiliser could empty when the valve is opened accidentally or as a result of vandalism.

Use storage tanks that are resistant to corrosion from liquid fertiliser. If you use a mild steel tank to store nitrogen fertilisers, you can protect it from corrosion by first filling it with a phosphate-containing fertiliser. This creates a protective layer on the inside of the tank.

Application

Do not apply fertilisers:

  • to waterlogged, flooded, frozen or snow-covered soil
  • to very steep slopes
  • if heavy rain is forecast.

Assess all fields on a regular basis for soil nutrient (phosphate and potash) and lime requirements. This allows you to match the amount of nutrient you apply in fertilisers to the need of the crop.

Calibrate spinning disc spreaders for the correct spread width to ensure even application of fertilisers to fields.

In Scotland:

Organic fertilisers

In Scotland you must not apply organic fertilisers to:

  • land within 10 metres of any ditch, burn, river, loch, wetland or coastal water (on sloping ground a wider buffer zone may be required).
  • land within 50 metres of any well, spring or borehole that supplies water for human consumption
  • land that is waterlogged or covered with snow
  • land with an average soil depth less than 40cm that overlies gravel or fissured rock

For more information, download the following factsheet from Farming and Water Scotland:

Know the Rules: Slurry and Manure

Inorganic fertilisers

You must not apply inorganic fertilisers to land that:

  • is within 2 metres of any surface water or wetland
  • is within 5 metres of any well, spring or borehole that supplies water for human consumption or any well or borehole that is not adequately capped
  • has an average soil depth of less than 40 cm and overlies gravel or fissured rock

is frozen, waterlogged, or covered with snow.

Application of fertilisers

In Scotland it is an offence to apply organic or inorganic fertiliser to land in excess of the nutrient needs of the crop.

In Scotland you must ensure that the equipment used to apply organic or inorganic fertiliser is maintained and in a good state of repair.

For more information, download the following factsheet from Farming and Water Scotland:

Know the Rules: Inorganic Fertilisers

Watch our short videos:

How to protect soil and water on a farm

How to reduce costs on a farm

How to make good use of nutrients on a farm

Further information

The codes of good agricultural practice provide advice on how to prevent nitrates and phosphorous leaching from your fields into water.

In Northern Ireland, see the DAERA guidance on fertiliser controls.

DAERA: Nitrates Action Programme and Phosphorus Regulations 2015-2018 Guidance Booklet

In Scotland, see section 6 of the Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Agricultural Activity (PEPFAA) Code.

Scottish Government: Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Agricultural Activity (PEPFAA Code) 2005 (Scotland)

Defra provides guidance for Northern Ireland on fertilisers:

Defra: Fertiliser manual (Northern Ireland)

The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) publishes two codes of practice for solid and liquid fertilisers.

Agricultural Industries Confederation: Fertiliser publications

PEPFAA nitrogen and phosphorous supplement (Scotland) (Adobe PDF 11KB)

DAERA: Guidance on the requirements of the Nitrates Action Programme 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations

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