Guide to cross compliance in England: 2016

GAEC 3: Groundwater

You must have a permit from the Environment Agency (EA) before you release (discharge) any substance that may harm or pollute groundwater, unless that discharge is an activity that is exempt.

‘Groundwater’ means all water below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone, that is, below the water table, and in direct contact with the ground or subsoil.

Examples of hazardous substances:

  • used and waste sheep dip
  • pesticide washings
  • solvents
  • mineral oil
  • diesel

Examples of non-hazardous pollutants:

  • sewage
  • trade effluent
  • certain biocides.

What you must do

You must:

  • get a permit before carrying out, causing or knowingly allowing any activity that pollutes or has the potential to pollute groundwater with a hazardous substance or non-hazardous pollutant - unless it is an exempt or excluded groundwater activity. For more information on what an exempt or excluded groundwater activity is, contact EA. You can obtain a permit or advice from EA.

  • comply with the conditions of any permit or notice from EA.

There are certain exclusions to requiring a permit, which may include:

  • accidental or exceptional circumstances
  • extreme weather events
  • discharges of small amounts of pollutants (such as from disinfectant footbaths).

More information

You should also follow the Environment Agency’s guidance on ‘Groundwater protection: Principles and practice’.

For more information, read the appendix for groundwater (GAEC 3) is available on GOV.UK. Search for ‘Cross compliance: guidance for 2016’ at


Rural Payments Agency: 03000 200 301
Environment Agency: 03708 506 506