Prevention of environmental pollution from agricultural activity: guidance

Code of good practice, giving practical advice to farmers and others on minimising pollution.


1.1 The purpose of this Code is to provide practical guidance for farmers and those involved in agricultural activities, including farm advisers, on minimising the risks of environmental pollution from farming operations. Each section has been designed to be read separately. This should allow readers quicker access to the particular information which they require.

1.2 Many common agricultural practices pose a potential risk to the environment. This can be increased where poor standards of operation are in place. For example, the majority of reported farm pollution incidents are due to the escape of silage effluent or slurry. Of the incidents caused by structural failure, about half are related to silage clamps and silage effluent tanks. This Code builds upon the messages set out in the previous (1997) version, and also those in the shorter 'dos and don'ts guide' published in 2002. It expands and updates these messages, and has been designed to identify the principal risks and to offer straightforward practical solutions for use on farm.

1.3 Slurry, silage, agrochemicals and waste products can and do have a serious impact on air, water and soil quality unless they are stored, used and disposed of correctly. In some cases, there may also be human health implications, particularly from the effects of pesticides and sheep dips. All pesticides and sheep dip should be used in accordance with the label conditions and farmers should be aware of the statutory controls affecting use. The farming industry is a signatory to the "Voluntary Initiative" (a programme of measures aimed at promoting best practice and minimising the environmental impact of pesticides in the UK), and a range of guidance materials and best practice measures is being delivered under this programme, to complement the advice in this Code.

1.4 In the right place at the right time, livestock manures and slurries are a valuable source of nutrients, can improve soil quality and can save farmers money. In the wrong place, however, they can be highly polluting - for example they can cause the death of fish and invertebrates many kilometres down-stream from the pollution source. They can also be associated with microbiological contamination of surface waters and groundwaters and give rise to potential health risks to the public if insufficient precautions are taken.

1.5 At the start of sections 2 to 13 of this Code are boxes summarising dos and don'ts. The steps marked with two asterisks (**) are mandatory for all farm businesses affected by the relevant legislation. Complying with the steps marked with one asterisk (*) are a requirement for receipt of the Single Farm Payment (Paragraph 1.9 refers). The steps with no asterisk are voluntary, but if implemented will help minimise the risk of environmental pollution and, in many cases, will improve the quality of our environment.

Statutory requirements

1.6 It is a statutory offence to pollute "controlled" waters. This means all inland and coastal waters including lochs, ponds, rivers, other watercourses and groundwater. There is also a range of controls applicable to waste management activities on farms, which seeks to promote beneficial recycling and ensure that waste management operations do not pose a risk to the environment or to human health. Scottish Water also has byelaws to prevent water pollution, and these generally contain provisions relating to farming activities.

1.7 As far as the Code relates to preventing pollution of water, relevant sections have a statutory base under Section 51(1) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (as amended). This means that although contravention of this Code does not in itself give rise to any criminal or civil liability, it may be taken into account in any legal proceeding involving a water pollution offence. Compliance with the Code, however, will not operate as a defence in the event of water pollution. Other sections of the Code have a statutory basis in relation to other environmental or waste management legislation.

1.8 The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is mainly responsible for enforcing the environmental legislation highlighted in this Code, with the principal exception of nitrates legislation which is currently enforced by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD). SEPA, and agricultural advisers, can also offer advice on practical steps that can be taken to minimise the pollution risks from agricultural activities and on the design and siting of certain farm storage facilities, for example slurry stores, silos and sheep dipping facilities. Annex B has details of SEPA offices.

In the event of a pollution emergency your first point of contact should be SEPA - The Emergency Hotline Number is 0800 80 70 60

Cross Compliance

1.9 Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will give farmers greater freedom to decide what crops and livestock to produce. However, it is recognised that farmers in receipt of subsidy have important responsibilities towards the protection of the environment, as well as to animal health and welfare and to public health. The CAP Reform Agreement therefore requires farmers to observe certain conditions in return for receipt of the new Single Farm Payment. This requirement is known as "Cross Compliance".

1.10 The two aspects of Cross Compliance are:

  • compliance with a range of "Statutory Management Requirements" covering the environment, food safety, animal and plant health and welfare. These comprise a set of laws which are already in force throughout the EC. There are three laws which are of particular relevance to this Code and which must be complied with to be eligible for the Single Farm Payment. These are:

(a) Articles 4 and 5 of the EC Groundwater Directive (implemented by the Groundwater Regulations 1998)
(b) Article 3 of the EC Sewage Sludge Directive (implemented by the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989 (as amended))
(c) Articles 4 and 5 of the EC Nitrates Directive

  • compliance with a requirement to maintain the land in "Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition" (GAEC). GAEC standards relate to addressing soil erosion, soil organic matter, soil structure and minimum level of maintenance. Where relevant, GAEC requirements are highlighted in amber in this Code. Please see section 3 in particular.

Further details are available from SEERAD.

Good Farming Practice

1.11 Farmers and crofters who enter into an agri-environment commitment and those in receipt of LFASS payments are required to adhere to at least the standard of Good Farming Practice in relation to the whole farm or croft. Good Farming Practice comprises verifiable standards and a range of legislative requirements which are already in force. The legislative requirements include the following:

  • The Control of Pollution Act 1974

  • The Groundwater Regulations 1998

  • The Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) (Scotland) Regulations 2003

  • The Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (Scotland) Regulations 2003

General Environmental Conditions

1.12 The General Environmental Conditions apply to all agri-environment scheme participants . The conditions include a requirement to follow the guidance approved by Scottish Ministers for the avoidance of pollution.

Nitrates Directive

1.13 While this Code deals with advice on the minimisation of pollution of water, air and soil, it also acts as the relevant Code of Practice for the purposes of the Nitrates Directive. The Directive requires areas to be designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) where nitrate levels in surface water or groundwater exceed, or are likely to exceed, 50mg/l or where waters are or could become eutrophic. Section 6A of this Code sets out the measures that should be adopted by farmers within NVZs, with the mandatory measures set out in red.

1.14 Further, more detailed, guidance on what farmers need to do to comply with the NVZ "Action Programme" measures has been issued to every farming business within NVZs. Any questions relating to these should be addressed to the local SEERAD Area Office (See Annex A for details of local offices).

Odour Nuisance

1.15 In addition to the pollution risk, some farming practices are likely to give rise to strong odours which can spoil the public enjoyment of the countryside. In recent years this has been a growing concern. Every effort should be made to avoid creating an odour nuisance. Local authorities have powers to determine whether an agricultural activity represents a statutory nuisance. Where they believe this to be the case, they can serve an abatement notice requiring the cessation of the nuisance (or prohibiting or restricting its reoccurrence).


1.16 This Code is based on the best information available at the time of writing.

Short Guide

1.17 A shortened version of the main points of this Code has been prepared for farmers to refer to in the workplace.

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