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Defra announces new rules to protect water quality

1st Dec 2017 / By Alistair Driver

Defra has announced that new rules to protect water quality on farms in England will be introduced next spring. 

water qualityFrom 2 April 2018, the new rules for all farmers in England will be introduced to help protect water quality, by standardising good farm practices that many are already performing and offering a new approach to regulation.

In essence the rules require farmers to:

  • keep soil on the land;
  • match nutrients to crop, and soil needs, and
  • keep livestock fertilisers and manures out of the water.

Defra said farmers and land managers will be able to determine what approach is best for their land by, for example, deciding when it is safe to spread fertilisers.

The farming rules for water were drawn up with farming and environment stakeholders to recognise and build on the good progress that a great many farmers have made in trying to tackle pollution, the Department said.

There are eight rules, five about managing fertilisers and manures and three on managing soils.

The fertiliser rules require farmers to test their soils, then plan and apply their fertiliser or manure to improve soil nutrient levels and meet crop needs. They include minimum storage and spreading distances from water bodies. They also require the farmer to assess weather and soil conditions to reduce the risk of runoff and soil erosion.

The remaining rules require farmers to manage livestock by protecting land within five metres of water and reducing livestock poaching.

In addition to these rules, farmers are encouraged to incorporate organic fertilisers into the soil within 12 hours of spreading to significantly reduce ammonia pollution.

The Environment Agency will roll out the rules through an advice led approach, working with farmers to meet the requirements before enforcement action is taken, Defra added.

Win-win

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said the new rules were a 'win-win for farmers and the environment', helping to improve water quality, setting a level playing field for all farmers and helping businesses save money from better resource efficiency, while  improving their resilience.

"Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and these new rules will help us deliver our plans for a Green Brexit along with a better future for farming business," she said.F

The new rules will not only benefit farming businesses: clean water helps tourism, fishing and shellfish businesses to thrive, reduces the cost of treatment and protects biodiversity.

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