Notice from the Environment Agency:-
We are aware that with recent wet weather some farms are concerned about their slurry storage capacity and whether this will be sufficient until the end of the NVZ closed period or until land is suitable for spreading. We have put this guide together to help you look at your options. The Environment Agency will work with you to find an outcome which poses the lowest environmental risk. Whilst we wish to avoid pollution and soil damage through spreading we also wish to avoid situations where slurry stores overspill and become sources of pollution too. If you are concerned we urge you to contact your local Environment Officer at the earliest opportunity.
Farms that are situated within an NVZ are limited by closed periods that restrict the spreading of slurry onto fields. These closed periods are in place to protect the rivers and groundwater from losses of nitrate during the winter months when crop uptake is low and rainfall is high. High nitrate in water can affect drinking water safety and aquatic habitats and species.
These closed periods are set out in law and application of slurry to land during these times is be an offence.
As a regulatory body, the Environment Agency must operate within the boundaries set by the regulatory system. We do not have the capacity to change legal requirements for individuals or organisations and we cannot give permission for an operator to spread in the closed period. However, our enforcement response may be influenced by any mitigation measures that have been taken.
If your slurry store is approaching full and the land is unsuitable for safely receiving slurry, or it will breach an NVZ condition we would expect you to consider the following options, and any other measures that you may be able to take.
Reducing the amount of slurry you produce
During exceptional weather you should reduce the amount of slurry (including lightly fouled water) you produce. You should consider and implement the following where possible:
- wash dairy parlours down with a low volume hose system (0.6 cubic metres per cow per month or 20 litres per cow per day)
- remove excess dung with a brush or squeegee before hosing down to reduce the amount of wash water you need to use
- keep animals on straw to produce solid manure rather than slurry
- divert uncontaminated surface water away from dirty yards
- keep or move livestock onto the smallest yard area necessary
- install, maintain or repair gutters and downpipes, especially on roofs that drain onto dirty yards
- consider covering exposed fouled yard areas
Temporary slurry storage
You must normally comply with SSAFO rules to store slurry.
However, the Environment Agency will waive the full SSAFO requirements if you want to store slurry for less than 12 months. You must only consider temporary storage where existing facilities are inadequate.
Temporary storage could include:
- reinstating disused stores
- reclaiming tanks
- new tanks
- earth bank lagoons
- lined lagoons
- slurry bags
To keep slurry in a temporary store you must:
- check planning requirements with your local planning authority
- contact the Environment Agency before construction
- agree each individual location with the Environment Agency
- install tanks, liners and slurry bags to manufacturer’s instructions
- make sure the base of earth bank lagoons is above the water table – there should be at least one metre of clay subsoil beneath the proposed base
- use a trial pit to confirm the depth of the clay layer – the resulting hole must be backfilled and puddled in
- use liners where there is doubt about soil permeability – lower grade liners should suffice for temporary storage but use high grade liners in high risk areas
- monitor it to make sure there are no leaks
- locate it at least 10 metres from watercourses and land drains – use temporary trial trenches if you’re unsure about the presence of land drains
- locate it at least 50 metres from groundwater sources
- de-commission it as soon as it’s no longer needed
If you’re using shared facilities you must:
- consider any biosecurity risks
- agree management arrangements
- agree where responsibility lies
For more information about storing slurry see CIRIA: Livestock manure and silage storage infrastructure for agriculture.
Other options for storage or treatment
You could explore alternative destinations for your slurry such as neighbouring farms, sewage treatment works or anaerobic digesters.
Spreading to low run-off risk land
If you need to spread to land we would require the following:
You must spread slurry:
- thinly and widely
- at an application rate not exceeding 20 m3 per hectare – you must use a lower application rate if run-off could enter surface water
You must only spread slurry on land with low run-off risk.
Low run-off risk land:
- has an average slope of less than 3 degrees
- does not have land drains other than sealed impermeable pipes
- has not been pipe drained, mole drained or sub-soiled in the last 12 months
- does not have a shallow soil less than 30cm above fissured rock
- has a sufficient depth and suitable type of soil above groundwater to prevent pollution
- is not within a designated groundwater source protection zone 1
- is at least 50 metres from surface water or a conduit leading to surface water
- is at least 50 metres from springs, wells and boreholes where groundwater is used for human consumption
- does not have compacted soil or a soil surface which is capped – you can only spread where the soil is permeable and has a good structure
- does not have cracked soil above a land drainage system or groundwater
When the Environment Agency may not take enforcement action
When exceptional weather stops you being able to comply with legislation and guidance, spreading to land may be your only viable option. If you spread slurry and milk during exceptional weather without causing pollution, the Environment Agency may decide not to take enforcement action.
- contact the Environment Agency before you spread any slurry to land
- agree with them that spreading is the only option available
- only spread the amount of slurry you need to reduce the risk of pollution
- carry out spreading at a rate of ≤ 20m3 per hectare and on the lowest risk land available – you may be able to export the slurry to neighbouring farms
- carry out regular checks before, during and after spreading to ensure there is no pollution taking place
You are still responsible for any pollution that you cause.
You should also be aware that breaching an NVZ condition or causing damage to soil may also be a breach of cross compliance rules and may affect your Basic Farm Payment.
If you are concerned please contact your local agricultural officer. We will ask you how you have considered these contingency options and we may ask to see the risk map of your farm identifying any low risk land which meets the criteria above. You will also be required to keep records of any spreading that takes place.
We wish to support you in ensuring that your business is resilient in coping with weather conditions and we will be able to offer you further advice on this to help prevent a reoccurrence in future.
Environment Agency National Contact Centre: 03708 506 506
Midlands Senior Agricultural Officers:
Sharon Chisholm: 020302 51692 (Shropshire, Hereford, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire)
Helen Cripps: 020302 51627 (Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands)