19 January 1996


HOW close may you store solid fertiliser to a field drain or watercourse? If you dont know, you probably havent read MAFFs Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Water.*

This 79-page publication was launched in 1991 as the first of three booklets aimed at preventing pollution of water, soil and air.

"It is important that these codes are read and acted upon," says John Archer, ADAS soil scientist and consultant responsible to MAFF on fertiliser matters. Increasing environmental pressure on the industry means growers must be aware, he says.

"The Water Code is a practical guide to help farmers and growers avoid causing water pollution. You wont have broken the law if you do not follow it. But not doing so could count against you in any legal action."

The code describes the main risks from different agricultural activities and sources and outlines what can be done to minimise them, yet still allow economic practices to continue.

The 1991 Water Resources Act makes it an offence to discharge, knowingly or otherwise, poisonous, noxious or polluting matter or solid waste into "controlled waters" without proper authority, usually via the National Rivers Authority.

Effectively that covers all coastal and inland lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, canals and ditches. It also includes groundwater. "So, unless you are farming a desert, you are bound to be affected," says Mr Archer.

"If, for example, your stored fertiliser leaks into a drain and you are successfully prosecuted you could face a fine of up to £20,000 in a magistrates court," he warns. Farmers, employees and contractors are all equally responsible. Should proceedings go to the Crown Court fines are "unlimited".

"Farms must have a well thought through plan to deal with water pollution if it occurs," comments Mr Archer. The code states that farmers should know the telephone numbers of the NRA and people owning land or using water "downstream" of their farms. They should also have details of equipment they can use to contain problems until NRA staff arrive.

*Fertiliser can be stored no closer than 10m from a water course. &#42