Catchment Sensitive Farming

Safely manage soils, fertilisers, manures and pesticides to reduce diffuse water pollution from agriculture.


Pollution from farming is a major contributor to water pollution. The aim of Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) in England is to reduce pollution from farming in surface waters, groundwaters and other aquatic habitats, both in the immediate catchment and further downstream.

CSF is delivered in partnership by Natural England, the Environment Agency and Defra. The project supports farmers and land managers through targeted, free advice, training and information in 80 priority catchments in England. It also provides access to the CSF Capital Grants Scheme to fund practical works to reduce diffuse water pollution from agriculture (DWPA).

The project is delivered through a network of Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers (CSFOs), as well as a number of local and national partnerships.

This page explains the problems that diffuse water pollution can cause, and how you can reduce it by managing the use of soils, fertilisers, manures and pesticides. It also explains how CSF and Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) interrelate and includes an interactive advice and guidance tool on CSF.

Water pollution from farming and how to reduce it

Diffuse water pollution is caused by pollutants being washed into water courses, water bodies or groundwater over a large area from many sources.

Agriculture is the single largest source of diffuse water pollution, particularly through:

  • nutrients and faecal contaminants from fertilisers and manure/ livestock management
  • sediment from soil erosion and bank disturbance
  • pesticides (plant protection products (PPP) and veterinarian products eg sheep dips) from handling and applying the chemicals

Of the harmful elements entering our waters, agriculture accounts for:

  • approximately two thirds of nitrogen that leads to over-enrichment and acidification of sensitive soils, habitats and fresh water
  • between 10% and 60% of the phosphate levels in water
  • 76% of the sediments in rivers

These numbers will vary considerably between different catchments throughout the country

Harmful effects of water pollution from farming

Water pollution from farming can affect rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwaters, and add to the loss of species diversity. Nitrates, pesticides and faecal indicator organisms can prevent water from being used for drinking, recreation and shellfish harvesting.

Nitrate pollution in both ground and surface waters is of particular concern because excess nitrate must be removed to make water safe for human consumption. High levels of nitrates (and also phosphates) can harm water quality. High phosphorous and nitrogen levels can cause eutrophication, which is the enrichment of water by nutrients, causing algae to grow quicker thereby disturbing the balance of organisms present in the water. This can ultimately lead to sections of waterbodies being killed off through oxygen removal.

Reducing water pollution from farming

The Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) regulations aim to reduce the impact of nitrates impacting on designated waters.  These regulations only apply to those farms located within or partially within the designated zones - around 70% of England. Farms outside of NVZs need not comply with these specific requirements, so have a much reduced regulatory burden in dealing with nitrates. However, it is in your best interests to tackle it through voluntary schemes such as CSF. See the guide on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.

To help reduce the risk of polluting water you should:

You can check if your farm is in a priority catchment area on Natural England’s website. If it is, contact your CSFO for advice on the support available to help you tackle diffuse water pollution from agriculture.

There have been consultations on how to protect waters against pollution from agriculture. You can view Defra’s response to consultation on diffuse water pollution from agriculture(PDF, 21KB).

See the guide on Water pollution from farming.

Catchment Sensitive Farming

Catchment Sensitive Farming is a voluntary initiative delivered jointly by Natural England, Environment Agency and Defra.

CSF delivers practical solutions and targeted support to enable farmers and land managers to take action to reduce the amount of agricultural pollutants entering our waterways, to protect water bodies and the wider environment.

What are the key aspects of CSF?

Through free training, information and advice (one-to-one farm visits and group events) and the Capital Grant Scheme CSF aims to ensure the following practices are adopted:

  • managing the use of fertilisers, manures and pesticides efficiently and using best practice
  • best practice machinery and livestock management, appropriate cropping and cultivation to improve soil structure and rain infiltration, helping to avoid run-off and erosion
  • protecting watercourses from faecal contamination, sedimentation and pesticides
  • managing stocking densities on land highly connected to water courses or at high risk of soil compaction and erosion/run-off
  • managing stock on farms to avoid compaction and poaching of land and bankside erosion
  • separating clean and dirty water on farms in order to improve the efficiency of manure storage and to reduce the risk of dirty/contaminated water entering watercourses

You can find more information about CSF and also Defra’s information about CSF behaviours and practices (PDF, 128KB).

Catchment Sensitive Farming and Capital Grants Scheme

Catchment Sensitive Farming seeks to reduce diffuse water pollution from agriculture by encouraging farmers to adopt best practice voluntarily.

CSF operates across 80 priority catchments in England, either with support from Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers (CSFOs) or with support delivered in partnership with local organisations, called strategic partnerships.

Its assistance takes two forms:

  • a Capital Grants Scheme
  • training, information and advice

The Capital Grants Scheme will be available in 2013-14 and is targeted to areas within the priority catchments. Over £15 million is available for the scheme in 2013/14.

Grants of up to £10,000 for infrastructure investments such as roofing over manure or slurry stores continue to be awarded on a competitive basis to eligible farmers. Securing an agreement is therefore not guaranteed and acceptance depends on the quality of all applications.

You can request more information and application packs from:
The Catchment Sensitive Farming Customer Services Team
Natural England
Apex Court
City Link
Nottingham NG2 4LA
Tel: 0300 060 1111

You can find more information on CSF, details of your local CSFO and if your holding is within a priority catchment on the Natural England website.

CSF advice and support for farmers

CSFOs operate in priority catchments within England. They are on hand to help farmers tackle the causes of harmful water pollution. There is also support for strategic and catchment partnerships in some further catchments outside of the priority ones.

The Pesticides Voluntary Initiative works with the CSF to provide technical and practical support on pesticide best practice in catchments where there are pesticide issues. Download the Voluntary Initiative’s information on H2OK? Water Protection Advice for farmers and advisers (PDF, 4.8MB).

There is also an extensive programme of farmer group events and one-to-one farm visits for:

  • whole farm appraisal
  • soil, nutrient and manure management plans
  • farm infrastructure audits
  • training and advice on slurry handling and storage
  • soil, manure and slurry sampling and analysis
  • machinery demonstrations and spreader calibration

If either individual farms or farmer groups require more specialist advice, CSF can deploy specialists from contractors outside of the partnership bodies. Specific contractors are selected as required, determined by their expertise and value for money.

Catchment Sensitive Farming and Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Farmers and land managers are legally required to tackle nitrate pollution and follow the requirements of the Nitrate Action Plan in NVZs. Raised concentrations of nitrates can seriously affect the health and diversity of fresh and marine waters, and the plants and animals that live in them.

NVZ areas have been chosen specifically to deal with nitrates, whereas Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) catchments consider the entire range of agricultural pollutants and their impact on sensitive aquatic habitats.

NVZs are designated in accordance with the European Union legislation in the Nitrate Directive, which runs in conjunction with the Water Framework Directive, which lays down standards for other water pollutants. The Environment Agency enforces regulations under the NVZ action plans, whilst CSF uses a non-regulatory voluntary approach, using incentives, training and advice to encourage farmers to make beneficial changes. However, farmers within priority CSF catchments can often get training, advice and support enabling them to comply with NVZ regulations.

What are NVZs?

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones are designated areas of land which drain to waters polluted by nitrates from agricultural land. These areas account for approximately 70% of England. If your land is in an NVZ, you need to follow rules set out in the Action Programme for NVZs.

The NVZ Action Programme promotes best practice in how you use and store fertiliser and manure through a regulatory approach. This builds on the guidelines set out in the Code for Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Water. You can download Defra’s Protecting our Water, Soil and Air: A Code of Good Agricultural Practice for farmers, growers and land managers.

You can view the Environment Agency’s NVZ guidance.

NVZs are also covered by Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) 4 under cross compliance. You can also find out more in the guide on Statutory Management Requirements.

The Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2008 are also part of cross compliance. You can download the Environment Agency’s Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2008 FAQs (PDF, 318KB).

Remember that if you are claiming payments under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), you could still be responsible for complying with the Regulations, even if you are not the occupier of the land. See the guide on the Single Payment Scheme.

For further help and advice, call the Environment Agency Helpline on Tel 03708 506 506.

Find out whether your land is in an NVZ with an interactive map on the MAGIC website.

Land outside of the NVZs

Even if your land is outside the NVZs, you should still follow the voluntary codes of good practice to protect the environment. They will help you to prevent nitrate levels rising to the point where regulation becomes necessary, as well as helping to reduce other pollution such as phosphate losses and microbiological contamination of bathing waters.

For more information about NVZs, see the guide on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones.

Catchment Sensitive Farming, cross compliance and Statutory Management Requirements

Even if you are not receiving a single farm payment, you need to comply with the Statutory Management Requirements (SMR) under cross compliance that relate to CSF.

SMR 2 Groundwater

SMR 2 aims to protect groundwater by controlling how you discharge or dispose of potentially harmful and polluting materials such as sheep dip, pesticides, ammonia or biocides. If you handle, store or dispose of listed substances, SMR 2 applies to you.

SMR 3 Sewage sludge

The use of sewage sludge on farms is covered by SMR 3. If you use sewage sludge on your land, SMR 3 aims to ensure that there is no risk to human, animal or plant health and no harmful effects on soil.

You are restricted in how much sludge you can spread and when you should apply it. For example, you must not spread slurry on water-logged soil, or within 2 metres of the centre of a hedgerow or watercourse.

To find out more, see the guides on Managing sewage sludge, slurry and silage and The Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

SMR 4 - Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

These requirements aim to reduce the water pollution caused by nitrates from farms. It applies to you if your land is within an NVZ.

The Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2008 came into force in England on 1 January 2009. The new rules are part of cross compliance as an SMR. However, they are underpinned by separate legislation so are relevant to those not receiving SPS payments. Download the Environment Agency’s Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2008 FAQs (PDF, 318KB).

If you are claiming payment under the SPS, you could still be responsible for complying with the Regulations, even if you are not the occupier of the land. See the guide on the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

For more details about cross compliance and SMRs, see the guides on Cross Compliance: an overview, Statutory Management Requirements and The Single Payment Scheme.

You can also order the Cross Compliance Handbook for England by contacting the Cross Compliance Helpline on Telephone: 0845 345 1302.

Catchment Sensitive Farming Advisory Tool

The CSF Advisory Tool is available to farmers and growers in England through Defra’s internet-based Whole Farm Approach (WFA). To log in to the system you need a Country Parish Holding number.

What is the CSF Advisory Tool?

The CSF Advisory Tool is an interactive online advice and guidance tool on WFA. It does not require a CD-ROM. If you’re a WFA user, you can go straight to the tool from the home page without completing the questionnaire first.

The Tool offers a simple, user-friendly way of understanding the dangers of diffuse water pollution. It can benefit farmers in all catchments, not just those covered by the CSF.

How does the CSF Advisory Tool work?

The tool helps you identify areas of your farm and farming practice which may cause diffuse water pollution through a series of questions on your farming practices, such as:

  • livestock management
  • soil management
  • crop protection

Once you complete a section, you’ll get targeted advice and guidance, including:

  • in-depth explanations of pollution risks
  • recommended alternatives to your current practices
  • practical tips
  • guidance on rules or regulations
  • advice on financial assistance

See the CSF Advisory Tool.

What are the benefits of the CSF Advisory Tool to the farmer?

The CSF Advisory Tool offers you many benefits. It will:

  • raise your awareness of the potential problems of diffuse water pollution
  • identify areas of concern on your farm
  • give you free advice, guidance and practical tips on how you can reduce pollution risks on your land

What is the WFA

The WFA is a range of online services for farmers and growers in England. It helps you reduce the burden of regulations, highlights good practice and ultimately reduces the risk of you being selected for inspection.

WFA allows farmers and growers to:

  • access up-to-date farm business advice and guidance
  • register for exemptions from waste licensing requirements
  • complete agricultural surveys
  • provide evidence for cross compliance
  • receive reminders of events, deadlines and regulatory requirements
  • complete farming practice self-assessments
  • reduce multiple requests for the same information

For questions or help with registering, please contact the Defra Helpline on Telephone: 08459 33 55 77, or email

Further information

Your first call for advice on CSF should be your local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer.

Natural England Enquiry Service

0845 600 3078

Environment Agency Helpline

03708 506 506

Environment Agency - Water Pollution Hotline

0800 80 70 60

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

RPA Helpline

0845 603 7777

Cross Compliance Helpline

0845 345 1302

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