Given the level of discussions and queries arising, it is clear that works continue to bring farms in line with new rules which came into play on 1 January 2021 surrounding runoff from farm roadways, fencing of watercourses and location of water troughs.

Some of these works relate to remedial works on existing infrastructure while many of the queries cropping up now relate to new projects and farmers ensuring they are on the right side of the law.

Roadway rules

The rules surrounding the prevention of runoff of soiled water from farm roadways to waters is a statutory requirement governed by the SI No. 605 of 2017; Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Watercourses.

It is important to highlight that the definition of waters under the ruling concerns any watercourse, drain, dry ditch, etc, that has the potential to feed into a water source.

The rules do not mean major changes for roadways running along the centre of fields or on reasonably level surfaces. Roads adjacent to watercourses have undergone or, in many cases, require significant alteration and the advice for new roads is to make every effort to locate them away from watercourses.

In line with the new rules, the Department of Agriculture updated its minimum specifications for farm roadways (S199). This includes advice on new installations and remedial works.

There are generally three main options open to farmers.

The first of these is the most common and includes cambering of the roadway to direct water to one side and away from the watercourse.

Another option is to place a wall of soil along the side of the roadway and put in place a collection and piping mechanism to divert the runoff to a sediment trap or directly on to land.

The last less attractive and rarely selected option is relocating the roadway. The only exception to not diverting runoff is where a drainage ditch is managed as a natural water retention feature or sediment trap.

Roadway construction

The camber of the roadway can be upgraded in an existing roadway or installed from new to direct water away from a watercourse.

A fence must also be erected to prevent access to livestock to the watercourse from the roadway.

Roads like this with a slope which may feed into a water feature at the bottom of the slope are a trickier proposition to address.

It is advised to erect the fence about 0.5m from the edge of the roadway to allow livestock to make full use of the width of the roadway while preventing animals from walking on the margin as opposed to the roadway.

A trickier proposition where a roadway is sloping towards a water source at an angle is harder to deal with, where the topography of the land does not allow the gradient of the roadway to be altered.

A solution here could be to use a cross fall to divert the runoff to the sides of the roadway and the installation of angled ramps at regular intervals to prevent the runoff from travelling down the length of the roadway. This has the added benefit of preventing the road surface from being eroded and channels forming after heavy rainfall.

Sediment trap

In such cases, a sediment trap may be required to collect the runoff where it cannot be safely diverted on to land.

Similar may be required in poorly drained soils to cater for slow passage of waters via drainage through the soil.

The size of these sediment traps will be influenced by the topography in the area. The advice is to position these at least 6m from a gateway and to fence them in a manner that prevents any safety concerns while allowing for future cleaning.

As mentioned previously, dry closed drains that do not have any outfall to other waters could accommodate runoff and act as suitable soakage areas.

If these options are not feasible, then there may be no option but to collect runoff for land spreading.

Fencing watercourses

The requirement to erect a fence 1.5m back from the edge of certain watercourses and prevent bovines from accessing watercourses was introduced into law under an amendment to the nitrates regulations SI No.529 of 2020.

It differs to farm roadway rules and only applies to certain watercourses, as will be explained below, and to farmers with a grassland stocking rate equalling or exceeding 170kg/ha organic nitrogen.

A fence must be erected at least 1.5m from the edge of the watercourse bank for farmers equalling or in excess of 170kg/ha organic nitrogen.

The stocking rate calculation is determined before slurry exports are taken into account and the stocking rate which applies is the previous year’s output – ie the 2020 stocking rate dictates the requirement for 2021.

There is no definitive requirement when it comes to fencing, with temporary fencing sufficing as long as it serves its purpose of ensuring bovines are excluded. If a watercourse is already stockproofed by a hedgerow or stone wall to a distance of 1.5m from the edge of the watercourse, then there is no requirement to erect additional fencing.

If not, then a fence must be erected to cover the areas on non-compliance. Likewise if an existing fence does not comply it will need to be moved.

Watercourses on lands rented by way of one-year (conacre) agreements or leased also need to be fenced but, again, temporary fencing is sufficient. This action does not apply in the case of grassland used for forage production or tillage lands, where bovines do not have any access at any time during the calendar year.

It is still permitted to move livestock across a watercourse to an isolated parcel of land where it is necessary. In such cases, both sides of the access point must be fenced to prevent bovine access up or down the watercourse. Using watercourses to supply drinking points will no longer be an option for farmers stocked at or over 170kg/ha of organic nitrogen.

The opportunity to use manual water pumps to provide watering points to bovines is not likely to be a runner given new rules were also introduced requiring water troughs to be placed at least 20m from a watercourse as explained below.

Water trough placement

The rules surrounding the placement of water troughs also apply to in excess of 12,000 farmers who are farming at or in excess of 170kg/ha organic nitrogen.

Water troughs need to be located at least 20m from a water feature for any farmers stocked at or above 170kg/ha organic nitrogen.

For this measure, watercourses are defined in the same manner as roadways, meaning troughs must be moved at least 20m away from any drain, ditch, etc, which has the ability to carry water.

Water crossings

There are also guidelines outlined where road crossings are being constructed over what are defined as aquatic zones– ie permanent or seasonal rivers, streams or lakes shown on an ordnance survey 6in map.

Bridges must be designed and constructed to provide a clear span over the watercourse. Where a culvert is used, use a single pipe to prevent any blockages by debris.

The culvert should be embedded 200mm into the stream bed while all bridges and culverts shall be designed to take the maximum flood flow of a watercourse.


The identification of watercourses for the purposes of requiring fencing has generated some confusion in recent months. This is due to the fact that it is recommended to use OSi maps to identify watercourses (show up as blue at a scale of 1:5000) but these print in black and white when ordered at the desired scale. Ordnance Survey Ireland previously advised that its Online Store Map Viewer is a tool provided for the purposes of allowing users to pinpoint an area prior to the selection and purchase of a place map.

The company has stated that while the screen will identify watercourses in a blue colour, for the purpose of nitrates compliance maps should not be ordered as the blue lines referenced are only depicted on the Online Store Map Viewer and will not be displayed in any purchased map. Therefore, farmers should avoid purchasing maps for the purpose of identifying watercourses marked in a continuous blue line.

Non-compliance penalties

The measures discussed above are now part and parcel of cross-compliance and will be inspected where appropriate in the case of a farm inspection. Failure to comply will render a farmer prone to penalties to the Basic Payment Scheme payment.