Cross Compliance: Guide to Cross Compliance in England 2015 (GCCE 2015 v1)

GAEC 1: Establishment of buffer strips along watercourses

(previously GAECs 14 and 19)

You must protect watercourses against pollution and run-off from agricultural sources by maintaining buffer strips.

‘Watercourses’ are all surface waters, including coastal water, estuaries, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, canals and field ditches. It includes temporarily dry watercourses.

What you must do

You must:

  • take all reasonable steps to maintain a green cover on land within 2 metres of the centre of a watercourse or field ditch, or to land from the edge of the watercourse or field ditch to 1m on the landward side of the top of the bank. This rule does not apply to land forming part of a parcel of 2 hectares or less.
  • produce and keep a map of your holding showing:
  • all surface waters and land within 10 metres of them
  • all springs, wells and boreholes on your holding or within 50 metres of the boundary and land within 50 metres of them
  • update the map with any changes within 3 months from the date of change.

You can use the same map produced if your land is under Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs).

You must not:

  • apply manufactured nitrogen within 2 metres of surface water
  • apply organic manure within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole
  • apply organic manure (which is any nitrogen or phosphate fertiliser derived from animal, plant or human sources and includes livestock manure) within 10 metres of surface water. However, you can spread livestock manure within 10 metres of surface water if the land is managed for breeding wader birds or as a species-rich semi-natural grassland under certain restrictions. These are:
    • the land must be in an agri-environment scheme, or notified as a SSSI
    • the manure is not spread directly onto surface water, and
    • the total annual amount isn’t more than 12.5 tonnes per hectare.

The limit is reduced to 6 metres if you apply slurry, sewage sludge or anaerobic digestate (which is the product of anaerobic digestion other than from the anaerobic digestion of sewage or material in a landfill) using precision equipment as follows:

  • a trailing hose band spreader or a trailing shoe band spreader
  • a shallow injector which injects the organic manure no deeper than 10 centimetres below the surface
  • a dribble bar applicator.

Land in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs)

If you have land under NVZs (SMR 1) and follow those rules, you will also meet the rules under this standard in respect of that land.

Cultivation and application of fertilisers or pesticides

You must not:

  • cultivate or apply fertilisers or pesticides to land within 2 metres of the centre of a watercourse or field ditch, or to land from the edge of the watercourse or field ditch to 1 metre on the landward side of the top of the bank of a watercourse or field ditch.

Fertilisers include: inorganic and organic fertiliser, organic manures, lime, slurry, sewage sludge, slag, trace elements, calcified seaweed and human waste (this list is not exhaustive).

Pesticides mean anything used for destroying pests and include herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other biocides.

This rule will not be breached if:

  • you have used pesticides for spot application of herbicides to control the spread of any weeds
  • you are establishing a green cover where one does not exist and the land is part of a field which is being newly created (by merger or division)
  • you are establishing a green cover where one does not exist and the land was previously outside the scope of cross compliance
  • you have been granted a derogation by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. You must apply to RPA in writing for a derogation and wait for written permission before carrying out any work, adhering to any conditions attached.

Public rights of way

Public rights of way may form part of the 1 metre or 2 metres ‘protection zone’ margins along hedges and watercourses. When they do, the rules of this GAEC still apply but shouldn’t limit public access.

More information

Contact the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for more information about derogations which may be available.

There is more guidance online – search for ‘Cross compliance: soil protection standards’ at This guidance is also available on paper from the RPA.

Advice on locating and managing buffer strips is available from Catchment Sensitive Farming officers, Natural England advisers, Campaign for the Farmed Environment and other advisers.


Rural Payments Agency: 0345 603 7777
Environment Agency: 03708 506 506

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