In November, Championing the Farmed Environment (CFE) came to Tedburn St Mary, Devon, with an event looking at protecting water quality on farms. Presentations from Ross Cherrington of the Westcountry Rivers Trust and Becky Hughes of FWAG highlighted how to conform with water protection regulations under Cross-compliance, the Farming Rules for Water and within Nitrate Vulnerable Zones; and how these practices benefit the wider environment.

  • Buffer strips along water courses
  • Reducing poaching, for example by considering placement of troughs
  • Avoiding fertiliser application in sloping fields in NVSs
  • Closed seasons for slurry spreading in NVSs and the need for slurry storage capacity
  • Soil testing and record keeping to inform manure and fertiliser planning
  • Preventing runoff from farmyards and manure heaps
  • The importance of calibrating spreaders
  • Improving infrastructure
  • Tree planting

The group discussed how advisors can work to increase their impact; highlighting the difficulties of reaching a wider audience, and identifying the need for positive examples of farm practices to be at the centre of engagement work. With all the complexities surrounding farm regulations and the lack of publicity of farming rules for water, it was not a surprise to hear from advisors that awareness of the rules is low. An excellent point was also raised about the efforts to improve water quality for the benefit of coastal bathing water quality, and the fact that farmers themselves have little time to enjoy such luxuries. Whenever someone is enjoying a day at the beach, they should remember those back on the farms working hard to produce your food while keeping your bathing waters clean!

A discussion about tree planting highlighted the benefits to water quality, but that we should avoid simply planting trees on our marginal land indiscriminately, where other habitats such as unimproved grassland may already have excellent water storage and filtration capacity, and where ecology would be lost through tree planting.

We also had a talk looking at Ammonia emissions. Did you know that ammonia emitted from a south west farm can impact people’s health in much of the country, especially urban areas where it combines with particulates in the atmosphere, with damaging results for those who breath it in? Other issues include the deposition of as much as 30kg of nitrogen per hectare, resulting the damage to sensitive habitats where the extra nutrients alter the vegetation type. Jeremy Sabel from Catchment Sensitive Farming spoke about this invisible issue and highlighted the many opportunities on beef and dairy, farms which can reduce ammonia emissions by as much as 80%.  

Remember that FWAG SW members can receive free telephone advice, so please get in touch if you would like to know more about protecting water quality on your farm.