Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Handbook 2013 (NE349)
ELS10_2_10

2.10 Managing your land for cleaner water and healthier soil


Why your farm is important

Soil is your farm's most valuable resource as the foundation for production. The most productive components of your soil lie in the top three to six inches of the profile – the layer most vulnerable to erosion. Erosion and run-off can result in valuable nutrients and environmentally damaging sediments, pesticides and disease organisms reaching water.

Water flowing over/through your farm can be almost as significant as the food you produce:

  • Clean water is valuable for irrigation of your crops and drinking water for you and your livestock. Private water supplies can be particularly at risk from farming practices.
  • Agricultural pollution can cause harm to aquatic life including fish, water plants and invertebrates.
  • Clean water and good-quality wildlife habitats attract people for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating and walking which are important for people and the rural economy.
  • Rural industries rely on clean water to ensure quality products and adherence to high standards.
  • Localised flooding can cause damage to roads, houses and farmland.

Good agronomic practices are essential, but sometimes more is needed to avoid soil erosion and run-off which transport sediment and other pollutants into water.

 

Priority areas for soil and water protection

This Environment Agency map shows areas where the quality of water in watercourses, open water and coastal areas is most affected by pollution from agriculture. It is intended to help you establish whether the soil and water options (explained on the following pages) are a priority for your farm. Most of this priority land is covered by Catchment Sensitive Farming through which you can get free detailed advice and other grants to help you manage your farm to protect water quality. For more information see: www.naturalengland.org.uk/csf.

If your farm is located in a priority area, then it is important to include appropriate options in your agreement to address soil erosion and run-off risks to help support cleaner water and healthier soil on and around your farm.

Note: This map is correct at the time of print; however, the Environment Agency regularly monitors water quality, which will result in changes to this map. More detailed regional maps (which are kept up to date with the latest Environment Agency data) are available on the Natural England website at www.naturalengland.org.uk/es.

 

What you can do to ensure cleaner water and healthier soil

Soil type, landscape and weather cannot be changed. However, land use and management can be adjusted and can make a big impact on reducing the amount of soil erosion and run-off from your farm.

Your Cross Compliance Soil Protection Review is a good starting-point for identifying potential problems. Measures you adopt as a result of this may go some way to preventing erosion and run-off, but you may also need to consider other options. You should always try to tackle the source of any problems. Where this is not possible you should aim to slow the pathway, and finally consider how to protect the water body.

 

Actions and options in the lowlands

The tables below summarise actions you could take and the ELS options available. The information has been split into options most suitable for those farming in the lowlands and those farming in the uplands.

 

Tackle the source of soil erosion and run-off
  • Manage maize crops to reduce soil erosion by reducing the likelihood of compaction and establishing a winter cover crop to protect soils that would otherwise be left bare.
  • Sow a winter cover crop to capture excess nitrogen, improve soil structure and reduce run-off. Cover crops can reduce nitrate leaching by 50 per cent, enabling you to reduce fertiliser application, increase organic matter and potentially save money.
Code Option description
EG1 Undersown spring cereals
EJ2 Management of maize crops to reduce soil erosion
EJ10 Enhanced management of maize crops to reduce soil erosion and run-off
EJ13 Winter cover crops

 

Slow the pathways of soil erosion and run-off
  • Grass field corners to slow down overland flow of water or where run-off collects and makes it difficult to farm.
  • Grass natural drainage pathways (eg valley bottoms) to reduce the channelling of run-off water that can cause soil erosion and produce rills or gullies.
Code Option description
EB14 Hedgerow restoration
EF1 Management of field corners
EF7 Beetle banks
EJ5 In-field grass areas to prevent erosion and run-off
EK1 Take field corners out of management
EK2 Permanent grass with low inputs
EK3 Permanent grass with very low inputs
EK4 Management of rush pastures
EK21 Legume- and herb-rich swards

 

Protect the water body
  • Fence watercourses to prevent livestock from contaminating and eroding river banks.
  • Create buffer strips to slow, filter and trap pollutants before they enter ditches/watercourses.
Code Option description
EE9 6 m buffer strips on cultivated land next to a watercourse
EE10 6 m buffer strips on intensive grassland next to a watercourse
EJ9 12 m buffer strips for watercourses on cultivated land
EJ11 Maintenance of watercourse fencing

 

Actions and options in the uplands

Peat soils in the uplands, besides supporting agriculture, are valuable stores of water and carbon but they are particularly susceptible to erosion. This can lead to greenhouse gas emissions and water colouration. The latter is a problem that needs costly treatment to make the water suitable for public consumption.

 

Tackle the source of soil erosion and run-off
  • Place supplementary feeding away from vulnerable parts of moorland and rough grazing, such as steep slopes and areas near to watercourses, to avoid problems from soil erosion.
  • Regularly move supplementary feeding sites to control poaching and compaction nd to help reduce soil erosion.
  • Fence livestock out of woodland on steep valley sides to allow the woodland to flourish. This helps to stabilise the soil and prevents erosion.
Code Option description
EL5 Enclosed rough grazing
EL6 Unenclosed moorland rough grazing
UC22 Woodland livestock exclusion
UL17 No supplementary feeding on moorland
UL22 Management of enclosed rough grazing for birds
UL23 Management of upland grassland for birds

 

Slow the pathways of soil erosion and run-off
  • Field boundaries can be very effective in slowing down overland flow of water. Placing a buffer strip, a strip of uncut grass or taller vegetation, against the boundary will enhance its effect.
  • Ensure there is a good continuous grass cover on natural drainage pathways, eg valley bottoms, to reduce the channelling of run-off water that can produce rills and gullies.
Code Option description
EB14 Hedgerow restoration
EE6 6 m buffer strips on intensive grassland
EF1 Management of field corners
EJ5 In-field grass areas to prevent erosion and run-off
EL1 Take field corners out of management in SDAs

 

Protect the water body
  • Fence watercourses to prevent livestock from contaminating and eroding river banks.
  • Create buffer strips to slow, filter and trap pollutants before they enter ditches / watercourses.
  • Manage waterside land with very low inputs and remove stock in winter to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment likely to get into watercourses.
Code Option description
EE9 6 m buffer strips on cultivated land next to a watercourse
EE10 6 m buffer strips on intensive grassland next to a watercourse
EJ11 Maintenance of watercourse fencing
EL3 Permanent grassland with very low inputs in SDAs
EL4 Management of rush pastures in SDAs
UJ3 Post and wire fencing along watercourses
UJ12 Winter livestock removal next to streams, rivers and lakes
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