Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland


Manage your soils when growing crops

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)

SEE ALSO: Land and soil management

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