Pesticides - Best Practice Guides


Pesticides and Conservation

Conservation is the responsibility of everyone. A huge variety of living organisms live on farmland, but only a very few are damaging pest species. Many of the remainder are beneficial. Modern cropping patterns and farming techniques have reduced the diversity and quality of many wildlife habitats with the result that some species are declining in number. It is in every one's interest to ensure that, in controlling the harmful minority, we do with the minimum impact on the natural environment.


  • Remember that set-aside and non-cropped areas are normally the richest wildlife havens on the farm. Aim to keep off these areas with pesticides, especially during the period of greatest activity for non-target species in the spring. Contact herbicides can be used on set-aside - leave as late in the season as possible.
  • Do not use herbicides in or near water unless absolutely necessary. Take expert advice and gain authorisation from the appropriate local  Environment Agency office before spraying.
  • Take care with the disposal of unwanted spray and sprayer washings. Follow the Code of Practice. Remember that polluting a watercourse can be a major threat to the environment as well as attracting punitive fines.
  • If relevant, take advantage of Government or industry - funded aid packages designed to help farmers carry out practices that benefit nature and landscape conservation. Examples for England are the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and payments to those in Environmentally Sensitive Areas which will be replaced during 2005 by the new 'Entry Level and Higher Tier' of the Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ESS). The other agri-environment schemes such as Tir Gofal (Wales), Countryside management Scheme (Northern Ireland) and Rural Stewardship Scheme (Scotland) may also change inline with ESS. 
  • Whenever in doubt always take professional advice i.e. from your adviser, FWAG, RSPB or Game Conservancy Trust contact.

Basic principles

  • Plan ahead - use Crop Protection Management Plans (CPMP), LEAF Audit, Environmental information Sheets (EIS) and whole farm planning to help with this.
  • Survey the farm and check past records. identify where the difficult pest problems are likley to occur.
  • Be aware of conservation areas and opportunities on the farm. Develop a whole-farm plan with a map of key habitats so you can protect them.
  • identify areas of special environmental risk (e.g. field margins, beetle banks, pods, hedgerows, woodland and specially designated areas).
  • Reduce reliance on pesticide usage by careful planning or rotations. Choose pest-resistant crop varieties. Consider herbicide tolerant varieties when they become available.
  • Keep watch on developing pest problems.
  • Always consider non-chemical control techniques but recognise that these may have the potential to harm wildlife and the environment.
  • Integrate other control methods into your farming wherever possible and practice Integrated Crop Management (ICM).
  • Where chemicals are to be used, plan to use as little as possible but as much as necessary. Choose products that have the least impact on the surrounding areas such as hedges, watercourses and key species of wildlife.
  • Consider using seed dressings in preference to spray treatments to reduce risk to soil living beneficial arthropods and aquatic life (note: be aware of the risk to wild birds and mammals from unburied seed - see below).

Before spraying:

  • Remember that some areas, for example Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) must by law be protected from possible adverse effects of using pesticides. Consult the appropriate nature conservation agency before you spray.
  • Use the products  Environmental information Sheets (EIS) to help select the correct product for the job. If there are special risks, like water courses or domestic gardens, take these into account. Always take professional advice from a  BASIS and BETA qualified advisor.
  • Ensure the sprayer is regularly maintained, calibrated and has a valid NSTS test certificate.
  • Ensure the operator is kept up to date with training (NRoSO) and is fully aware of the environmentally sensitive areas on the farm and and what to do to protect them.
  • Avoid last minute panic measures by regular monitoring and recording.
  • Identify the problem (diagnostic kits for some diseases are available).
  • Evaluate the risk (refer to any treatment thresholds) and make a decision about control. Aim to contain the problem at a non-damaging level rather than eliminate it.
  • Store pesticides on farm in a bunded store and create emergency plans for handling accidental spillage. Prevent spillages from entering drains or watercourses.
  • Using low-drift nozzles when ever appropriate.

When spraying

  • If spraying is necessary, act in good time. With prompt application it may be possible to use a lower dose.
  • Use the appropriate dose. Using too little is as bad as using too much. It is a waste of money, an unnecessary introduction of chemicals into the environment and may lead to resistance.
  • Avoid the temptation to achieve total pest control. Identify the damaging pests or weeds and target control measures at them. Leaving a few may be economically wise and provide food for wildlife.
  • Follow the Voluntary Initiatives Guidelines on the use of Insecticides.
  • Avoid spraying when crops or weeds are in flower unless absolutely necessary.
  • Notify local beekeepers if flowering crops are to be treated. Spray in the early morning or late evening when bees are not working.
  • Avoid drift. Keep the spray within the target area by such measures as avoiding windy conditions, reducing boom height, low-drift nozzles etc.
  • Alays comply with buffer zone and LERAP requirement near water. 

Make the most of the field margin

Because of the high performance of present day pesticides, where 90% pest control is commonly achieved, the main body of the field presents a sparse supply of shelter or food for birds and insects alike. Hence, conservation efforts have traditionally focused on this area. However, new research is finding easy ways in which crops can be grown to be more wildlife friendly without impacting yields (see and CPA guide on Undrilled Patches for Skylarks). A number of managment options can help protect and encourage field margin biodiversity:

  • Shut off the spray boom closest to the field margin when spraying along the edge. This is a statutory requirement for some insecticides.
  • Create a boundary strip (grass or cultivated) at the field edge to avoid the need for spraying close to the edge. This will prevent weed ingress as well as providing a habitat for beneficial insects.
  • Use the 6m or so of land between the first tramline and the edge of the field as a transition area on which pesticide inputs are selectively reduced (i.e. a conservation headland). NB. Conservation headlands are not unsprayed areas, but there are restrictions on pesticide use - see diagram below.
  • Avoid creating a sterile strip at field margins unless there is severe weed pressure from brome, couch or other invasive weeds.
  • Finally. never allow spray to drift into field margins, beetle banks, hedges, ditches, watercourses, lakes or ponds.

The advice in this Guide has been prepared with leading UK conservation organisations and environment agencies.
This guide was produced by the Crop Protection Association as part of The Voluntary Initiative.
The Voluntary Initiative is a programme of measures agreed by Government to minimise the environmental impact of pesticides.

(C) Voluntary Initiative 2004

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