Thousands at risk of NVZ breach

Thousands of farmers could find themselves in breach of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones legislation because of little-known rules about storing muck in fields with land drains, it has emerged.

NVZ rules, which come into force on 1 January 2012, will outlaw muck heaps within 10m of land drains – and Codes of Good Agricultural Practice already include this.

This will mean farmers on mixed farming systems – such as beef-and-arable farms – who may have thought they would be left relatively unscathed by NVZ rules – could find themselves facing significant investment or disruption to farm management practices.

The rules require farmers to store solid manure on an impermeable concrete platform, collecting any run-off, which must then be treated as slurry, or within an “appropriately located” field heap. This must not be within 10m of a land drain or within 50m of a borehole.

Peter Hoey of Fieldfare Training, a specialist in interpreting the regulations for farmers and farm managers, said the new NVZ rules were more strongly worded than before.

“Farmers in NVZs are required to complete a risk assessment map for spreading manure on fields. As part of that, they must indicate which fields are land drained and the exact sites of field storage heaps, and these maps must be available for inspections. So a land-drained field with a muck heap in it is going to be staring an Environment Agency inspector in the face.”


*Not within 10m of surface water or a land drain

*not within 50m of a spring, well or borehole

*Not on land likely to waterlog or flood

*Not in a single position for more than 12 months

*Not in the same place as an earlier heap within two years 

Early field drainage systems, such as those installed in the early 19th century, were unlikely to cause a problem, said Mr Hoey. But later ceramic tile or plastic drains should still be operating and farmers should be certain of their location, he added.

Even farmers who did not face the land drain issue would have to rotate field heaps every three years to stay compliant, Mr Hoey said.

Michael Payne, the NFU’s NVZ consultant, said UK farmers’ ability to store manure in field heaps was under scrutiny by the EU Commission. “We are fortunate we have been able to retain this so far and obviously it’s important for many farmers that we retain this facility into the future.”

* Struggling with Nitrate Vulnerable Zones legislation? Search FWI’s archive of articles on this subject and find out how the rules could affect you at


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