8 March 1996

Confusing buffer zone spray policy to come under review

MAFFS pesticide advisers, the Pesticide Safety Directorate, are reviewing the use of buffer or "no spray" zones next to watercourses.

Buffer zone restrictions are being introduced at the moment through the pesticide product approval process. But the policy is causing confusion among growers.

Alan Barnden, National Rivers Authority water quality adviser for the Anglian region told a Farmers Link conference in Norwich that new products may have a 6m (20ft) buffer zone restriction but an older product, with the same active ingredient may not.

"So if you want to know if a pesticide has a restriction read the label," he advised.

The NRA has suggested wider consideration should be given to buffer strips around watercourses for all pesticides – except those approved for use in or near water.

Mr Barnden said that policy may be simpler but the legal definition of a watercourse included any ditch that connected to a river, even if it was dry. "That may mean the imposition of 6m buffer strips is a practical impossibility and that is being reviewed at the moment," said Mr Barnden.

The conference also heard that recent MAFF sponsored research had shown buffer zones may not prevent pollutants moving into watercourses.

Dr Keith Goulding, of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, Rothamsted, said buffers, which were usually grass or woodland strips, may not prevent nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into water in every case.