You are here:

Catchment Sensitive Farming


Water pollution, such as from sewage and industrial effluent, is normally easy to monitor as it generally arises from a single source. Diffuse water pollution, however, arises from many sources and is more difficult to tackle.

Run off from transport, on-street activities such as car washing, discharges from contaminated land and herbicides from fish farming all contribute to diffuse pollution.

The single biggest threat of diffuse water pollution however, is from agriculture. This is unsurprising, as agriculture covers 70 per cent of the land area of England and sources of diffuse pollution, including nutrients from fertilisers and manure, are essential parts of farming. Increases in nutrient levels can result in toxic algal blooms, resulting in adverse impacts on the food chain which supports fish, animals and birds.

Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme

Catchment Sensitive Farming is land management that keeps diffuse emissions of pollutants to levels consistent with the ecological sensitivity and uses of rivers, groundwaters and other aquatic habitats, both in the immediate catchment and further downstream. It includes managing appropriately the use of fertilisers, manures and pesticides; promoting good soil structure and rain infiltration to avoid run-off and erosion; protecting watercourses from faecal contamination, sedimentation and pesticides; reducing stocking density; managing stock on farms to avoid compaction and poaching of land; and separating clean and dirty water on farms.

There are a number of approaches to ensuring that these practices are adopted: advice, scheme and regulation, and these are all managed through the Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme.

Why should agricultural diffuse pollution be reduced?

Raised concentrations of pollutants, such as nitrate and phosphorus, can have serious effects on the health and diversity of our fresh and marine waters including the plants and animals that live in those environments.

Diffuse pollution can also prevent the use of water for drinking and recreation, for example, from the presence of pesticides and faecal indicator organisms. Additional pollutants such as sediments can affect the health of aquatic organisms, adding to the loss of species diversity.

Farming is not the sole cause of these problems, but it does contribute approximately 60 per cent of nitrates, 25 per cent of phosphorus and 70 per cent of sediments entering our waters, amongst other pollutants.

How will reductions be managed?

We will be taking forward three specific strands in the programme as outlined in the Government response to the 2007 consultation: advice, scheme and regulation to tackle diffuse water pollution from agriculture.

We are already delivering the advice element of the programme through the England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative (ECSFDI). This is delivered across 40 Priority Catchments in England, rising to 50 from October 2008. In addition, we currently offer some limited capital grants in these catchments.

For the scheme element we will be looking primarily at agri-environment schemes, primarily Environmental Stewardship (Entry Level Stewardship, Higher Level Stewardship, etc).

The regulation will be implemented through an amendment to existing legislation for Water Protection Zones, under Section 93 of the Water Resources Act 1991. A consultation on Water Protection Zones opened on 22 December, and closed on 31 March 2009.

The change to Section 93 and supporting legislation came into on 22 December 2009.

Farmer Participation in Water Quality Monitoring for Catchment Sensitive Farming

Diffuse pollution from agriculture poses a risk to water quality which requires farmers to understand its related issues and how their behaviour change can lead to improvements.

This study aims to: give farmers a better understanding of the potential impact of their activities on water quality; encourage them to take ownership; and lead them to seek advice and resources available through ECSFDI and other initiatives.

CSF quick links

Page last modified: 22 September 2010
Page published 27 June 2002