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Rules and Regulations

Large or small, all owners and managers of land are subject to environmental legislation and compliance.  Don’t assume just because you have a smallholding with a few sheep or some horses that you are exempt – look up the websites below and get advice. 

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

The objective of the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) is to protect waters against pollution by nitrates from agriculture to water and meet the EU Nitrates Directive.  All holdings in NVZ should have been in compliance with the new rules on the planning, storage and application of nitrogen containing materials, including calculations of nitrogen produced by grazing animals, from 1st January 2010. The information in the NVZ pack represents both the legal requirements and best practice for storage, application and optimum use of nitrogen containing manures and should be followed on your land. For example, NVZ regulations govern when, how and where you can spread and store fertilisers and manures on land next to ditches and watercourses.  No livestock manure can be spread (or stored in a field heap) within 10 m of a surface water and there are closed periods for some manures (bag fertilizer cannot be spread within 2m, closed periods also apply). NB. Any ‘occupier’ of the land is responsible for complying with the NVZ regulations, and the rules apply if you have your own animals.  Even letting land on a licence to a grazier may still leave you with the responsibility – obtain NVZ Fact Sheet 3 from the Environment Agency and check the details. 

For further information go to www.environment-agency.gov.uk/nvzs.

If you’re not sure about your Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) status the web site defranvz.adas.co.uk  shows the NVZ boundaries on OS maps.

Agricultural Waste Regulations

In 2006, agricultural waste became subject to the same controls which had applied to other sectors for many years. The vast majority of farmers carry out small scale waste management operations on their farm and need to register waste exemptions.  Exemptions cover activities such as:
• Burning hedge trimmings on a bonfire;
• Chipping and shredding wood;
• Using tyres as a silage clamp;
• Depositing dredgings cleared from farm ditches along the banks.
A new system has grouped exempt waste operations into four categories depending on what kind of activity is being carried out. A farm probably needs to register exemptions in a number of different categories.  If you have registered your waste exemptions under the old system, you have until 1st October 2013 to move into the new system. (There are different dates for certain operations which involve importing non-agricultural waste, for example landspreading industrial wastes such as paper sludge.) For further information go to the Environment Agency website.

Cross-compliance

Farmers and landholders receiving direct payments under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), must meet certain standards concerning public, animal and plant health, the environment and animal welfare and keep their land in good agricultural and environmental condition.  These consist of two elements - Statutory Management Requirements (SMR) - largely existing requirements - and maintaining land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC).  Holdings are inspected to check that they are meeting these standards and breaches may be subject to sanction. 

Under cross-compliance rules you must establish a protective buffer zone alongside hedges and seasonably wet watercourses, if such a zone does not already exist. This needs to measure two metres from the centre of the hedge or ditch and extend at least one metre from the top of a bank into the field.  You must not cultivate or apply fertilisers, dredgings, slurry, manure or pesticides within this zone, or trim hedgerows between 1 March and 31 July.  Small fields under two ha and hedges under five years old are exempt. Other conditions include maintaining all land classified as ‘agricultural’ in good condition (e.g. by controlling notable weed species and removing invasive scrub), and drawing up a simple soil risk assessment management plan to identify any vulnerable areas for soil erosion and sedimentation. Existing restrictions on overgrazing and supplementary feeding also apply, in addition to other conditions.

Injurious Weeds

Creeping and spear thistle, curled and broadleaved dock and ragwort are ‘injurious weeds under the Weeds Act 1959.  The Act puts the onus of control of these weeds on the landowner, but where threat of spread to neighbouring land exists, Defra is empowered to take enforcement action if necessary.   You are also required under cross-compliance ‘GAEC’ rules to take reasonable steps to control the spread of injurious and invasive weeds that can damage habitats and agricultural land.

For further information go to www.defra.gov.uk/farming-advice/cross-compliance