Arable Farms & Water Courses

The arable cycle means that soil must be cultivated and that the soil is bare at some times of the year. When the soil is bare it is at risk of erosion, especially on slopes or on light soils. Forage crops which are harvested or grazed late such as maize or grazed roots and brassica crops pose particular risks. Good management of the soil is essential to prevent loss of the farm’s most valuable resource.

Managing Soils

Implement soil, crop and nutrient plans for the farm – identifying areas of erosion and runoff risk will help safeguard the most valuable resource on the farm.

Capping and compaction is caused when soil is cultivated or driven on when it is too wet. This encourages rapid runoff – check soils regularly. Breaking up compaction can help infiltration of rain, reduce rapid surface run-off and erosion. Improvements in soil structure can help improve soil growth. Take care when cultivating to avoid areas of known sub-soil archeology.

Create grassy buffers so that soil, run-off, pesticides and fertilisers stay out of watercourses on the farm.

Use winter cover crops to avoid soil erosion and nitrate leaching over winter. Using a clover mix can also benefit the soil fertility.

Consider permanent vegetation such as hedges, woodland, grass buffers and in-field strips on steep slopes, natural drainage-ways at risk from gully erosion, long unbroken slopes, and wet soils in difficult corners.

Ditch Management

Ditches can act as pathways for soil and pesticides to enter the stream or river. They can also help to keep watercourses cleaner by filtering silt and other pollutants before they reach the river.

Further Measures

  • preventing bank damage will help to reduce the need for frequent dredging. Grassy buffer strips will help intercept runoff.
  • if dredging is necessary, phasing operations over several years rather than clearing the entire length will help beneficial wildlife to survive the work.
  • At field corners consider creating small ponds or filter-beds to encourage settlement of silt.
  • Avoid the spreading of fertilisers and pesticides near ditches.

Text adapted from Water Friendly Farming leaflet by Eden Rivers Trust.