Environment Agency gives official go-ahead for pesticide biobeds

Biobeds have been given the green light by the Environment Agency – a long-awaited move widely welcomed across the industry.

Lined biobeds, essentially pits of mixed straw, compost and soil, can degrade pesticides and stop them getting into watercourses when filling and washing down sprayers.

Prolonged uncertainty over bio­beds’ status under the government’s Waste Management Regulations has seen only a few installed on farms.

But given the EA’s recent acceptance that from 2 May lined versions are exempt from those regulations, provided certain conditions are met (see panel below), the NFU hopes more farmers will adopt them, especially as they may qualify for grant aid in Catchment Sensitive Farming areas.

Describing the news as a real step forward, Cotswolds-based NFU pest­icides spokesman Julian Hasler said: “The EA’s wheels have ground slowly, but we’ve got to the right position in the end.”

Although establishing a biobed was not without cost, this could be spread over several years, he pointed out. “It should last for 10 years or more, so it’s not a lot of expense to provide better protection for the environment.”

The rule changes, which apply to England and Wales only, overcome what Voluntary Initiative water sub-group chairman Bob Breach called previous “ambiguity over the legislation”.

“The VI has worked well with the EA, PSD and DEFRA to show that biobeds are practical options.”

VI manager Patrick Goldsworthy added: “This is excellent news for farmers and the environment. Lined biobeds are a practical solution to help manage sprayer washings and run-off from filling areas.” They could remove more than 99.99% of residues from farmyard washings and run-off, he noted.


Independent consultant Bill Basford applauded the EA’s latest stance. “It’s welcome because it takes us forward – at last. I reckon there are still under 15 biobeds in the UK because everyone’s been hanging fire,” he said.

Mr Basford’s sole concern was that the new rules limited each biobed to treating no more than 15,000 litres a year.

It would need only 600mm (24in) of rain over a typical filling area of 7x5m to exceed that, he calculated. “It raises the issue of having a covered filling area.”

New guidelines on how to apply to create biobeds where they may be appropriate (a grid reference will be required) should be available from 2 May from the EA’s website or via its helpline 0845 603 3113.

For biobeds within priority catchment target areas grants of up to £2850 each are on offer, noted Natural England’s Nigel Simpson.

Scotland had had a free waste management exemption for bio­beds since last December, said Rob Morris of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

“SEPA has been a supporter of such systems for quite a few years now and it is good to see the regulations and guidance in place to allow for their wider uptake.”

  • Impermeable pavement and sealed drainage system required to direct all liquids to biobed
  • Biobed sited at least 10m from watercourse and 50m from spring, well or borehole
  • Lining must be impermeable
  • Contents must be suitable for treatment and turfed
  • 15,000 litres a year treatment limit per biobed
  • No more than 1500 litres of secure, covered pre-treatment storage
  • Biobed material (mix of straw, compost and biologically active soil) to be
    stored securely for 12 months before spreading
  • Spreading no closer to water than as for biobed siting (see above)
  • No spreading on recently frozen, waterlogged, flooded or snow-covered land
  • NVZ rules must be followed if applicable
  • Maximum annual dressing 50t/ha
  • No more than 50cu m stored at any one time
  • No waste stored more than three years