Subscribe and save

Farmers Weekly from £127
Saving £36
In print AND tablet



We are in the process of making some changes to our website, which we are excited to be revealing soon. As part of these changes, the learning content provided by the Farmers Weekly Academy will soon be moved to the main site. If you have any queries please email

Pesticide legislation

Course: Spraying advice | Last Updates: 12th October 2015

Patrick Goldsworthy, MBE
Independent Consultant
Biography >>

Pesticide legislation reassures the consumer, ensures the safety of sprayer operators, bystanders and the environment.

Millions of pounds are spent on the testing that underpins pesticide product labels, which contain legal and practical information and ensure that the product is used correctly.

Pesticides are regulated in the UK by the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD).

A pesticide is not just a product that prevents, destroys or repels insect pests. The term also applies to herbicides, fungicides, plant growth regulators, soil sterilants and molluscicides. They are also known as plant protection products.

The active ingredient in each pesticide is the chemical that does the work. There are two classes of pesticide – professional (farming/amenity use)and amateur (gardening/home use). Regardless of user classification, everyone must comply with the product label.

Professional users

Anyone storing or using a professional pesticide product must take "all reasonable precautions" to ensure that their procedures are sufficiently rigorous to avoid danger to human health and the environment.

Sprayer operators should wear personal protective equipment for all pesticide applications and look after it, keeping it in good condition at all times.

Only authorised products can be used and there are a number of points which must be considered:

1. Storage

All pesticides must be kept in a secure, labelled agrochemical store with a bund, sited away from watercourses and built of fire-resistant materials.

The store contents should be checked every six months, with a record kept of what’s in the store. Fire prevention measures and an emergency action plan should be in place.

Further information and advice can be found in HSE Guidance Note: Safe Storage of Pesticides on Farms and Holdings (AIS 16).

2. Training and certification

The use of pesticides (including amateur pesticides) in a work situation requires all operators to be trained.

From 26 November 2015, anyone who uses a professional pesticide product must hold a specified certificate demonstrating that they have sufficient knowledge to apply chemicals safely.

From this date, anyone who purchases such a product must ensure it is applied by someone holding a specified certificate.

Currently, those born on or before 31 December 1964 need to be trained and competent, but don’t have to hold a certificate.

To get qualified, operators can either take the existing Level 2 Safe use of Pesticides (PA) Certificate, appropriate to the type of equipment used, or if they were born on or before December 31 1964, they can take the new Level 2 Award in the Safe Use of Pesticides Replacing Grandfathers Rights (Grandfather Certificate), which is designed to take into account the extensive experience that applicants have accumulated.

However, this qualification only permits the use of pesticides on your own land and is not for contracting.

Refresher training is recommended for all sprayer operators. Most will be members of NRoSO, which is a requirement of farm assurance schemes, so will be taking part in regular training updates.


Unless there’s a known issue, official inspections are unlikely to be more frequent than one year in seven.

Most farm assurance schemes inspect every year and will expect farmers to be complying with spraying legislation.

Neither the HSE nor the Environment Agency carry out routine inspections, but it is worth noting that the Rural Payments Agency can turn up on the farm without any notice.

While there are penalties for non-compliance, there is also the risk that they may pass information on to other regulators.

3. Product approvals

The label is central to how a product can be used. It will stipulate the crops that the product can be applied to, the dose rate, recommended water volume, spray quality, latest application dates, harvest intervals and so on.

It will also have a Mapp number on it, which can be used to check the product’s authorisation status.

These numbers change regularly, along with use up periods, so it’s important to keep up-to-date.

Your agronomist will be able to advise you – or you can search the CRD website by Mapp number.

Any products which are no longer authorised have to be removed from the farm by a licensed waste-disposal contractor.

4. Pesticide use

As well as the basic legal requirement to take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment, it is good practice to ensure that an integrated approach is taken to controlling weeds, pests and diseases.

There are three main sources of advice – the product label, the agronomist and the agronomist’s recommendation sheet.

The product label has all the key information on it, including any legal requirements.

The agronomist’s recommendation sheet will detail the pesticide and water rates that you should use when spraying, along with any tank-mix information.

Check that your agronomist is Basis-registered, as this is a requirement of farm-assurance schemes.

Always guard against complacency. Things do change, even with established products which have been used for many years.

Wear personal protective equipment for all pesticide applications and look after it, keeping it in good condition at all times.

Read further information on the Voluntary Initiative website.

5. Equipment testing

By 26 November 2016, all vehicle-mounted application equipment will need a National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS) test certificate.

Most arable farmers are testing their equipment annually – as part of their assurance scheme – but there may be some equipment that falls outside of this requirement.

Spray store contents should be checked every six months, with a record kept of what’s in the store.

This equipment has to be tested every five years, but from 2020 that will shorten to every three years.

Granule applicators, specialist equipment and boom sprayers of 3m or less will need testing every six years.

Exemptions include handheld equipment, which covers knapsack sprayers, although these must be checked and calibrated regularly.

On the day of testing, the equipment must be clean and fit for purpose. However, while the test checks nozzle flow rate, it doesn’t calibrate the sprayer, so this must still be carried out by the operator.

This is especially important when the machine has been repaired, or you are changing water rates and nozzle type.

During the spraying season, operators should regularly inspect their application equipment to ensure that it remains in good working order. A checklist is available on the NSTS website.

6. Risk assessment

Some basic assessments have to be undertaken before spraying. 

A Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) assessment is a legal requirement.

Others are risks to water, which includes Local Environment Risk Assessment for Pesticides (Lerap), the risk to neighbours/public, any risk to wildlife and to beekeepers.

Having a map of all the features on and around the farm is a good reference source.

This map can show any beehives and adjoining gardens, as well as watercourses, drains and wildlife areas.

A filling-area plan, detailing the drains, will highlight the fastest route of any spillages to water.

An emergency action plan should also be available in the event of any spillages.

7. Records

It is now a legal requirement to keep records of spray applications, although it has been a requirement of assurance schemes for many years.

Records should be kept on a field-by-field basis and these should include date and time, operator name, products name(s), dose(s), application details (volume, spray quality, speed), weather conditions and the reason for treatment.

Spray records should be kept for at least three years.

Please login or register to take this test.