Water regulations for farmers

Water regulations are in place to protect ground and surface waters. Your buisness must follow these to prevent water becoming polluted.

To meet legislative requirements, you must consider your water use and the prevention of water pollution. Legislation exists to protect surface and groundwater, which, in turn, affects how land and farm businesses are managed. It also sets standards for the construction of farm facilities and the use of fertilisers, chemicals and manures.  

The Code of Good Agricultural Practice on protecting water, soil and air provides an overview of legislation. Find more information, including Rules for farmers and land managers to prevent water pollution, on the Defra website.

Farming rules for water

Since 2 April 2018 all farmers in England have needed to meet government rules to protect water quality. The 'farming rules for water' build upon the good practice already in operation and relate to managing fertilisers, manures and soils.

Find out more about the farming rules for water

What do the new guidelines for the Farming Rules for Water mean for farmers?

Farming rules for water: new guidance on manure applications

Farming rules for water podcast

In this episode of our podcast, we talk to the Environment Agency about farming rules for water and the measures you can take to manage manure, fertiliser and soil to prevent runoff, erosion and leaching, building on the good practice already in operation.

Order your 'Keep muck away from water' cab sticker

Boreholes and abstracted water

Many farms have their own water supply as a cost-effective alternative to the mains supply. Abstraction is governed by rules, which, because of increasing demand, are undergoing a process of review and modernisation.

For more information, see the government's advice on managing water abstraction.

Water byelaws and potable drinking water

Water byelaws control how water is stored and distributed on farms. They apply to all users of public water supplies. Livestock farms fall into the highest risk category for potential contamination.

The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) has produced a guide with information for anyone installing, modifying or maintaining plumbing installations.

Water Regulations Water Supply Industry Installation Guide

Drinking water safeguard zones

These are split into three risk categories based on the time taken for water, and any pollutants within it, to reach drinking water abstraction points. These have been established as part of the Water Framework Directive. For detailed information and a map of the zones, visit the Environment Agency website. If you are proposing new buildings or outdoor production sites, consult these maps first because they may influence your decisions.

Catchment Sensitive Farming

Catchment sensitive farming (CSF) is a scheme run by Natural England in partnership with the Environment Agency and Defra.

It raises awareness of diffuse water pollution from agriculture (DWPA) by giving free training and advice to farmers in selected areas in England to improve the environmental performance of farms. Visit the Catchment Sensitive Farming website for more information, including free advice and training to reduce diffuse water pollution from farming and to claim grants under the Capital Grant Scheme.

Nitrates Directive

The European Commission Nitrates Directive has set the safe limit for nitrates in surface and groundwaters as 50 mg/l. Surface and groundwaters in England and Wales are monitored and nitrate levels are recorded. Approximately 70% of agricultural land in England is designated as a nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ). Where nitrates are found to be consistently above the set limit and this is attributed to agriculture, an action programme is required to reduce these levels. The action programme must be revised every four years, therefore the rules change frequently.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.

Water pollution control

If you run a farm in England that stores silage, slurry or agricultural fuel oil, you will need to follow the Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil (England) (SSAFO) Regulations. These regulations are intended to minimise the risks of pollution from silage effluent, slurry and agricultural fuel oil by setting out standards for the design and construction of storage facilities on farms in England and Wales. They apply to all slurry stores and reception pits. In England, it is a legal requirement to pre-notify the Environment Agency 14 days before starting work on any new slurry store. Further guidance on soil erosion and runoff can be found on the South West Agricultural Resource Management website

Riverside ownership

If you have property or land adjacent to a river or other watercourse, you have several responsibilities. You can find information on owning a watercourse on the government's website. If you plan to carry out work on land adjacent to a watercourse, plans must be submitted to the Environment Agency and the local authority before starting.

Disposal of pesticides and disinfectants

UK groundwater regulations were introduced to protect groundwater. It is no longer permitted to dispose of tank washings containing pesticide residues to discard areas. Washings may only be applied to an untreated part of the crop. Further information can be found on the Voluntary Initiative website.

Useful links

View government information about environmental management

Key actions for farmers: Resource efficiency and waste (Environment Agency)

Key actions for farmers: water, soil, nutrients and pesticides (Environment Agency)

View advice and information from the Environment Agency

Waterwise on the farm: A simple guide to implementing a water management plan

  • Whittington, L. (2005). Tips for saving water. Prairie Swine Centre.
  • Nyachoti M., Kiarie E. Water in swine production: a review of its significance and conservation strategies. Department of Animal Science, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.