Soil Erosion: An Advisory Leaflet for Preventing Soil Erosion Caused by Grazing Livestock in Lowland England (PB4091)

Soil Erosion: An Advisory Leaflet for Preventing Soil Erosion Cause by Grazing Livestock in Lowland England

1999, rev. 2005

Crown Copyright - This document is subject to Crown copyright protection & has been reproduced under licence from the controller of HMSO. The user may not supply copies to third parties nor publish / sell this material to others with out written consent of the Controller.

The ADLib Version - This document has been reproduced in full & the technical content is the same as the original. Presentation may vary from the original. Links in this document may take the user to publications other than those produced by government departments & agencies. Where this is the case the background colour of the document will change to white.

This chapter is based on the defra booklet 'Controlling soil erosion: a manual for the assessment and management of agricultural land at risk of water erosion in lowland England'.

It shows how livestock can cause soil erosion from fields and river banks. It explains how to avoid damaging fields, and how to reduce the pollution of rivers and damage to fisheries by preventing soil, dung and urine being washed into ditches and watercourses.

To prevent soil erosion from grazing livestock:

  • Manage grazing livestock to avoid poaching.
  • Take particular care when strip grazing grass and forage crops.
  • Maintain field drainage to keep soils drier where appropriate.
  • Site water troughs and feeding areas away from ditches and watercourses.
  • Protect river banks and watercourses from uncontrolled access by livestock.
  • Manage farm tracks to avoid polluting watercourses.

Stocking rates and grazing management

Problems of run off and erosion start in pasture when poaching by stock takes place. This is possible on all soil types, but is much more serious on naturally wet soils or land grazed during the winter.

The run off from poached land can cause pollution if the area drains to a watercourse.

From healthy pasture to mud can take just 2-3 days. When the soil dries out again, it is often badly compacted. This can lead to poor spring growth and loss of grass yield. Weeds and inferior grasses take over and poached areas often need to be re-seeded. As a guide, if hoof marks from cattle appear, which are deeper than 50 mm (2”) then move stock immediately from at risk sites.

To reduce soil damage and pollution risks:

  • Select drier fields for winter grazing.
  • Check fields regularly where stock are grazing.
  • In wet periods remove livestock from land which is susceptible to poaching and where run off and erosion can enter a ditch or watercourse.
  • Maintain or improve drainage to keep soils drier – where this is compatible with nature conservation objectives.

Stock feeding and watering areas

Fields can often become seriously poached around feeding and watering areas, especially during the wetter months.

The risk of pollution is particularly high because dung and urine collect in these areas and may be washed into watercourses.

To reduce soil damage and pollution risks:

  • Move feeders regularly where it is necessary to prevent pasture damage.
  • Where possible, site water troughs and feed areas along the tops of fields and away from watercourses and gateways.
  • Improve access on farm tracks to reduce wheelings in fields when supplying feed areas by tractor.
  • House stock during wet periods if the above measures are not effective.

Grazing of fodder crops and stubbles

Where fodder crops (kale, turnips, etc) are grazed, soil erosion can occur as the area of exposed soil increases. This should be taken into account when sowing and managing fodder crops, especially when strip grazing.

To reduce soil damage and pollution risks:

  • Do not grow fodder crops for grazing on fields at risk of soil erosion or where run off can enter a ditch or watercourse.
  • If this is not possible check fields regularly where stock are grazing, limit daily grazing time to reduce soil damage and be prepared to remove stock.
  • When grazing fodder crops on slopes, leave temporary ungrazed strips of crop across the slope to break the flow of surface run off.
  • On longer slopes consider growing grass strips 10-20 metres wide across the slope, or against any ditch or stream at the bottom of the field to help intercept run off.

River banks and watercourses

Grazing pressure on the banks of streams and rivers can be high especially where these are unfenced. Stock frequently gathers here in summer to drink and stand and will poach wetter areas of pasture which are often found adjacent to watercourses.

Where treading by livestock results in steep banks, these may be eroded by the river when water levels rise, resulting in increased sediment in the river and a loss of productive land.

To protect river banks and watercourses:

  • Fence them off to prevent stock access.
  • Provide a piped water supply or a livestock activated trough drawing from the stream.
  • If stock must drink from watercourses, the access areas should be fenced and stock prevented from standing in the main flow.
  • In some locations it might be possible to divert a small flow from the stream to a separate drinking area or trough.

Farm tracks

Disturbed soil and dung often build up on farm tracks. During heavy or prolonged rain this may be washed into watercourses.

Tracks can also intercept and channel run off which can cause further problems if this discharges to land prone to erosion.

Wheelings caused by machinery running over wet land can also lead to erosion and pollution.

To protect fields and rivers from run off:

  • Relocate any farm tracks if they could channel water and cause soil erosion.
  • Divert run off from tracks to grass fields where it can be intercepted and filtered.
  • Try to avoid moving stock on tracks where run off to watercourses can occur.
  • Prevent poaching and dunging at stream crossings – provide a bridge if possible.
  • Plan grazing management carefully, particularly with respect to often-used tracks.
  • Improve livestock paths in fields (e.g. where cows return to graze after milking) by laying concrete, stone, or bark-based tracks. These speed progress and dispersion of cows into the field, and result in less grass and foot damage.
  • Avoid rutting fields with machinery particularly when spreading manures and fertilisers.

Buffer strips

In some circumstances, it may be beneficial to create buffer zones alongside streams and watercourses. These are vegetated strips of land of perhaps 5-50 metres in width, located at the bottom of fields, which are managed separately from the rest of the field – normally by fencing and excluding livestock. They can help to protect the river bank from erosion through the stabilising effect of root systems and may also intercept dung and soil particles carried in run off.

In some situations, where grazing pressure is expected to be heavy, a temporary buffer zone some 10-20 metres wide should be left at the bottom of the field. This can be left for a conservation cut, or grazed where there is sufficient re-growth on the ground above and the risks of soil damage are lower.

Remember: Prevent damage to grassland to maintain yields and avoid extra feed costs.



DEFRA PB4091, 1999, revised 2005
© Crown Copyright. Reproduced for ADLib under Licence.

The following alternate versions of this document are available:

ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011