Prevention of environmental pollution from agricultural activity: guidance

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

Section 9: pesticides


**1. Check that the pesticide is approved for the purpose and always follow the instructions on the product label before use.

**2. Comply with the Groundwater Regulations 1998 when disposing of waste pesticides and pesticide washings. Consult SEPA if in doubt.

**3. Ensure that all staff and contractors involved with pesticides are properly trained and where appropriate have Certificates of Competence.

**4. Follow the relevant Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Pesticides on Farms and Holdings.

5. Consult SEPA if you intend to use a pesticide in or near a watercourse.

6. Always consider alternative management strategies. If in doubt about the need to spray, take advice from a BASIS qualified adviser.

7. Carry out a Local Environmental Risk Assessment for Pesticides (LERAP) for "Category B" pesticide products with a buffer zone requirement if it is applied by a horizontal boom or broadcast air-assisted sprayer and if you want to reduce the aquatic buffer zone.

8. Contact your local SEERAD Office for further advice on LERAPs.

9. Prepare a Crop Protection Management Plan for your farm. Although voluntary, a CPMP will help to set clear management objectives in reducing the impact of pesticides on the environment.

10. Prevent drips, spillages and leaks when filling and mixing pesticides as the active ingredient can run-off into farm drains, surface and ground waters causing a significant pollution hazard.

11. Keep appropriate records of pesticide use (e.g. spraying, LERAPs).

12. Minimise the volumes of waste pesticide produced.

13. Have a contingency plan in case of accidental spillage. Carry out a COSHH assessment ("Control of Substances Hazardous to Health"). If in doubt seek professional advice.

14. Consider using a biobed to minimise the risk of pollution of watercourses from pesticide handling activities. A design manual for such areas is to be produced by the CPA under "The Voluntary Initiative".

15. Investigate the possibility of manufacturers and suppliers offering a recovery service for used containers.

16. Ensure that any waste pesticides sent off-farm for disposal or recovery are consigned under a special waste consignment note. The consignment notes are available from SEPA and attract a small fee to cover the costs of administering the special waste system. Contact SEPA for further details on these requirements.


**1. Don't apply any pesticide (unless approved for use in or near water) within 5m of the bank of a watercourse unless the LERAP demonstrates this is satisfactory.

**2. Don't bury empty pesticide containers on farm without obtaining a landfill permit.

3. Don't fill sprayers directly from burns, watercourses, ditches or a mains supply.

4. Don't handle pesticides without proper protective clothing.

5. Don't spray if too windy i.e. avoid spray drift.

6. Don't permit spray or spray drift to endanger sensitive habitats.

7. Don't leave foil seals or caps or empty chemical containers lying around, as these will all increase the risk of pollution of local watercourses.

8. Don't neglect routine maintenance and calibration of spray equipment.

9. Don't spray crops unless the weather conditions are right.

10. Don't spray crops without selecting the nozzle system to suit the product(s) being applied, the crop and spray volume. Use advice on the product label, Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) chart, Crop Protection Association (CPA) leaflets and British Crop Protection Council (BCPC) Handbooks.

11. Don't store more pesticide than is required for immediate use.

12. Don't burn empty plastic pesticide containers or other pesticide-contaminated material (e.g. clothing).


9.1 This section provides guidance to farmers and growers to ensure the safe use of pesticides so as to protect the environment and allow efficient farming activity. Pesticides have the potential to harm the environment and wildlife if poorly or inappropriately used. In arable farming areas, in particular, pesticides can contribute to diffuse pollution via field run-off, spray drift and accidental spillages. Users of pesticides and their advisers must therefore ensure that pesticides are used correctly.

What are pesticides?

9.2 For the purposes of this Code, pesticides include crop protection chemicals such as herbicides, fungicides, growth regulators and insecticides. They also include substances, preparations or organisms prepared or used as pesticides to protect plants or wood from harmful organisms or pests. In legislation some of these chemicals may be defined as "biocides".

What legislation must be complied with?

9.3 All elements of the safe use of pesticides are described in the Defra/HSE Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Pesticides on Farms and Holdings (the "Green Code"). It is strongly recommended that a copy of that Code is available on farms, and that all those who use or handle pesticides understand its requirements. A new version of that Code is in preparation, as is a Scottish version ; both are likely to be titled Codes of Practice for the Safe Use of Plant Protection Products.

9.4 The use of pesticides is controlled by a range of legislation made under Part III of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA). The requirements of legislation are covered in the above Code.

9.5 Compliance with the Plant Protection Products Directive is due to become a Cross Compliance requirement as from 1 January 2006. To receive the Single Farm Payment, farmers will not be allowed to retain products that are no longer approved for use. Also, farmers will have to carry out spray operations on approved crops only, and will have to follow the Green Code using the pesticide at the correct dosage levels and leaving sufficient "buffer zones" so that the spray does not enter watercourses.

Efficient use of pesticides

9.6 There are increasing demands on farmers and growers to apply pesticides only where they are justified. Furthermore, to minimise their use, pesticides should comprise part of an integrated control programme using alternative control methods wherever possible. An integrated approach reduces pesticide use, and associated environmental risks. A note of the reason or justification for pesticide use forms part of quality assurance schemes (e.g. through being asked to prepare a Crop Protection Management Plan) and is good practice for every farmer and grower.

9.7 In order to make sound decisions on pesticide use, crops need to be inspected regularly for disease, weed and pest infestation.

9.8 The label should always be read before using a pesticide. Pesticides should only be used for the purpose for which they are approved. Even if a pesticide is used regularly, the label should be consulted as revisions do occur including changes to the legal requirements. If in doubt about pesticide use, a BASIS qualified adviser should be consulted (see Annex D).

Sensitive habitats

9.9 There are certain areas on farmland which are particularly affected by pesticides. For example these might include arable field margins, the strips of land lying between cereal crops and field boundaries but also extending partly into the crops managed specifically for the benefit of farmland wildlife such as tree sparrow and song thrush. Field boundaries are another sensitive habitat as pesticide drift into hedges or ditches will reduce their value as wildlife refuges e.g. for bullfinch, brown hare and linnet. Any wetter habitats such as marshy grassland and rush pasture are also very sensitive to pesticide and herbicide drift. Published lists of Biodiversity Action Plans for species and habitats, with information on their sensitivity to pesticides, are available (see Annex D).

Crop Protection Management Plan

9.10 The pesticides industry Voluntary Initiative (VI) is a package of measures aimed at reducing the adverse environmental impact of pesticides use and improving farmland biodiversity. To further this aim the Crop Protection Association (CPA) and supporting organisations have developed the concept of Crop Protection Management Plans (CPMP), a measure that encourages farmers and growers to produce a CPMP for their businesses. A CPMP will set clear management objectives and identify specific issues that need to be addressed as well as the actions needed including alternatives to using pesticides. Guidance on preparing CPMPs is available from the NFU Scotland, the CPA, agricultural advisers and online (See Annex D).

9.11 Two further voluntary initiative measures are the National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS) and the National Register of Sprayer Operators (NRoSO). Farmers are advised to ensure that any contracted sprayers used are registered with the NRoSO and tested in accordance with the NSTS. Local advisers should be consulted for advice on these measures.


9.12 Everyone involved in the use of pesticides on a farm or holding must have adequate training in the safe, efficient use and disposal of pesticides - including emergency action in the event of spillages. Competence in the use of pesticides is a statutory requirement.

Pesticide pollution incidents

9.13 Pesticide pollution may occur accidentally or through inappropriate handling at any stage of use - during storage, mixing, application, or from subsequent disposal of the dilute pesticide washings or the used containers.

9.14 If any spillage occurs, immediate action should be taken to limit the effects and to warn others who may be affected (particularly downstream water users) and SEPA. Pesticide users should be prepared for spillage and have a contingency plan to deal with such incidents. The two key aspects to this plan are to have a list of all emergency contact numbers and sufficient absorbent materials to cope with any spillage. Also carry out a "Control of Substances Hazardous to Health" (COSHH) assessment. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

9.15 The disposal of solid waste arising from the clean-up of spillages, including pesticides, contaminated equipment, protective clothing and absorbents should be arranged through a licensed waste disposal contractor.


9.16 All pesticide stores should be designed and constructed to the highest standard. Stores should not be sited in areas where there is a risk of pollution to watercourses or groundwater. Local bylaws may impose restrictions on storing pesticides in certain catchments to protect drinking water supplies. Before erecting a new pesticide store or substantially altering existing storage arrangements, specialist advice should be sought. Guidance on the storage of approved pesticides is given in HSE Agricultural Information Sheet No 16 'Guidance on Storing Pesticides for Farmers and Other Professional Users'.

9.17 A chemical store should be large enough for its intended use and be constructed of fire resistant materials. The store should be designed to contain any leaks or spillages to the capacity of 110% of the maximum store contents. In areas where there are particular environmental concerns this will require to be increased to 180%.

9.18 Don't store more pesticide than is required for immediate use.

Mixing pesticides and filling sprayers

9.19 Recent studies have shown how easily pesticides can pollute the environment. Even during the careful opening of a pesticide container and pouring into a sprayer tank, small drops can create 'point' sources of pollution. These small amounts can cause pollution if they are allowed to run off into watercourses. The careful selection of the location of pesticide handling and wash down areas is important. At the steading, these operations should be carried out on areas specifically designed and constructed for this purpose. This may include biobeds or grassed areas provided an assessment has been made of the suitability of the site and this has been agreed with SEPA. In the field, these operations must be carried out at least 10m from watercourses and at least 50m from springs, wells and boreholes. Additionally every precaution should be taken to prevent spillage from entering field drains.

9.20 Where possible, full use should be made of equipment that reduces the risk of pollution when filling sprayers (e.g. induction hoppers, closed transfer systems, direct injection). Where possible, techniques such as closed-handling and pre-mixing of pesticides should be used.

9.21 Water for filling the sprayer should be drawn from an intermediate tank and never directly from the mains or a watercourse, as there is a danger of back-siphoning occurring.

9.22 Guidance on the design of pesticide handling and washdown areas is to be available from the CPA under the VI.

Record keeping

9.23 Records of the amounts, dates and location of applications of pesticides, together with the type used, should be kept in accordance with the "Green Code" (mentioned in paragraph 9.3 above).


9.24 Pesticides should only be used where there is justification and where conditions are suitable for application. Take the following actions prior to applying pesticides:

  • carry out a COSHH assessment

  • read the pesticide product label, paying particular attention to the Statutory Box

  • ensure the applicator is serviced and calibrated

  • check that the correct nozzles are attached

  • check the correct forward speed and boom height for spraying

  • ensure the correct water volume and application dose of pesticide

9.25 In addition to the information on the product label, help with selection of nozzle type is available on a Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) chart, in CPA leaflets and British Crop Protection Council (BCPC) Handbooks. When spraying near to a watercourse, low drift nozzles are advised to prevent contamination.

9.26 There are some circumstances when the approved use of a pesticide may present a risk to groundwater. Where groundwater is vulnerable (for example, because of a shallow water table, thin soil or very sandy soil), pesticides may move rapidly through the ground and enter groundwater. This may be of particular concern where the groundwater is feeding a drinking water supply. In general, persistent pesticides should not be applied within 50m of a spring, well or borehole used for water supply and you should consider the use of all pesticides carefully within these areas. SEPA can be consulted for site-specific advice on groundwater protection in such areas.

Local Environmental Risk Assessment for Pesticides (LERAP)

9.27 Advice on LERAPs is given in the Scottish Executive leaflets "Horizontal Boom Sprayers: Local Environment Risk Assessment for Pesticides" and "Keeping Pesticides out of Water : LERAP". For certain pesticides with a buffer zone requirement, which are applied via a ground crop sprayer, there is a legal obligation to carry out and record the results of a LERAP. By carrying out and complying with that LERAP, users may be able to reduce the size of the 5m buffer zone normally required to protect water, by taking account of the width of the watercourse and using approved low drift nozzles and/or reduced dose(s) of pesticides. You cannot reduce buffer zones designed to safeguard hedges, field margins, etc. While users retain the option to simply comply with the existing buffer zone, they still have an obligation to record that decision. 

Controlling drift

9.28 In order to minimise the impact of pesticide drift onto non-target crops, vegetation, wildlife habitats or watercourses, it is important to take account of droplet quality and weather conditions.

9.29 Where the wind speed is greater than Force 3 on the Beaufort Scale (4 to 6mph or 6.5 to 9.6kmh), conditions are unsuitable for spraying. Even at Force 3 there is an increased risk of spray drift and special care needs to be taken. Detailed guidance on these points is set out in the "Green Code".


Waste concentrates

9.30 It is not only a false economy to continue storing unused pesticides as an alternative to disposal, it is illegal if the approval for storage and use has been withdrawn. In some instances, it may be possible to return unwanted, unused pesticides to the supplier. Alternatively, holders of such materials will need to employ the services of a licensed waste disposal contractor. Such a contractor should be employed in order to dispose of obsolete pesticides. On no account may waste concentrates be diluted for disposal by the methods described below. Good stock control in store prevents waste.

Waste pesticide and pesticide washings

9.31 Whenever possible sprayers should be washed and rinsed out in the field where the pesticide has been used using the minimum amount of water necessary and ensuring that the maximum dose is not exceeded.

9.32 If the sprayer is washed out elsewhere and the resulting washings cannot be used on the treated crop, these washings should be collected for disposal under an authorisation issued by SEPA. The washing facilities provided must be designed to ensure that back siphoning of pesticides into the water supply cannot occur. Non-return valves should be fitted to any taps connected to spray equipment. Such activities will produce a relatively large volume of water contaminated at low concentration with pesticide. If suitable, the contaminated water may be used later for making a further batch of the same dilute pesticide. On completion of washdown, protective clothing involved in the operation should be cleaned, washed and rinsed within the area used for cleaning the sprayer. Single use coveralls should be stored in a separate locker prior to disposal.

9.33 Other acceptable options for dealing with waste pesticides and pesticide washings are:

  • if it is permissible under the terms of the product approval, the unused spray can be disposed of by applying to the treated crop, recognising that the efficacy of the previous application of pesticide may be impaired. As this operation will count as a separate application, it is important to check that the maximum number of applications permitted to any one crop or within any season and the maximum dose of product or active ingredient that may be applied to any one crop in a whole season. It is illegal to exceed the maximum dose stated on the label

  • subject to the product approval and in the absence of streams and watercourses nearby, application to previously untreated crop areas, within the permitted use of the pesticide

  • spray onto an area of uncropped land, of minimal wildlife value. Such an area of land will only be approved if it is capable of absorbing the volume of liquid to be applied without run-off, ponding or risk to wildlife, water or draining systems

  • use of suitable equipment designed to treat liquid waste containing pesticides, provided the treated effluent can be stored satisfactorily and reused or used for another purpose or disposed of by means acceptable to SEPA

  • subject to consent from Scottish Water, discharging the pesticide contaminated water to a sewer

  • storage of the waste in a suitable container pending collection by a licensed waste disposal contractor

Adherence to the Groundwater Regulations 1998 is a Cross Compliance statutory management requirement. This means that, prior to any waste pesticide washings being disposed of onto or into land, authorisation must be obtained from SEPA.


9.34 Farmers and growers should check whether manufacturers and suppliers of pesticides offer a recovery service for used containers. Empty pesticide containers should never be re-used for any purpose except where the manufacturer offers a refilling service. Containers of liquids, except those liable to produce hazardous gases, should always be thoroughly rinsed into the spray tank before disposal or return. Label instructions for cleaning should be followed or, in the absence of any instructions, the container should be thoroughly rinsed and the rinsing liquid added to form part of the spray dilution.

9.35 Once the container has been cleaned, all foils and seals should be placed within the container and the cap re-attached. The container should then be punctured in several places and crushed to make it unusable. If practicable, the labels should not be disfigured. Perforated or crushed containers should be stored in a secure compound pending their disposal. Such waste will generally be accepted at licensed disposal sites.

9.36 Empty pesticide containers and measuring vessels must be thoroughly rinsed out and the rinse water should be returned to the sprayer. The cleaned containers should never be reused or left lying about, as they can be a source of pollution and a potential safety hazard due to the presence of residues. Cleaned containers can be disposed of via the local authority waste collection service (if available) or by a registered waste disposal contractor. The burning on farm of empty, even rinsed, pesticide containers is not advised. Farmers should enquire as to whether any surplus concentrate may be returned to the supplier. Alternatively, surplus pesticide may be disposed of by using the services of a registered waste disposal contractor. The burial on farm of empty pesticide containers without a landfill permit is a contravention of the Landfill (Scotland) Regulations 2003.

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