What precautions must be taken when applying fertiliser to land?

In order to prevent waters from being polluted by nitrogen and phosphorus, the European Union (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations, 2014 require that you must do the following:

  • You must spread chemical fertilisers, livestock manure and other organic fertilisers, effluents and soiled water as accurately and as evenly as you can.
  • You must not use an upward-facing splash plate or sludge irrigator on a tanker or umbilical system for spreading organic fertiliser or soiled water.
  • You must not spread organic fertilisers or soiled water from a road or passageway, even if the road or passageway is on your own holding.
  • You must not spread chemical fertilisers, livestock manure, soiled water or other organic fertilisers when:
    • The land is waterlogged;
    • The land is flooded, or it is likely to flood;
    • The land is frozen, or covered with snow;
    • Heavy rain is forecast within 48 hours (you must check the forecasts from Met Éireann).
    • The ground slopes steeply and there is a risk of water pollution, when factors such as surface run-off pathways, the presence of land drains, the absence of hedgerows to mitigate surface flow, soil condition and ground cover are taken into account.
  • You must not spread chemical fertiliser on land within 2 metres of a surface watercourse.

The following table shows the different buffer zones for different kinds of water bodies (lakes, rivers, wells etc.). You must not spread soiled water, effluents, farmyard manures or other organic fertilisers inside these buffer zones. Buffer zones for spreading organic fertilisers.

Water body / FeatureBuffer zone
Any water supply source providing 100m3 or more of water per day, or serving 500 or more people 200 metres (or as little as 30 metres where a local authority allows)
Any water supply source providing 10m3 or more of water per day, or serving 50 or more people 100 metres (or as little as 30 metres where a local authority allows)
Any other water supply for human consumption 25 metres (or as little as 30 metres where a local authority allows)
Lake shoreline 20 metres
Exposed cavernous or karstified limestone features (such as swallow holes or collapse features) 15 metres
Any surface watercourse where the slope towards the watercourse exceeds 10% 10 metres
Any other surface waters 5 metres*

* The 5 metre buffer zone is increased to 10 metres for a period of two weeks preceding and two weeks following the periods when application of fertilisers to land is prohibited as set out in Schedule 4 of the Regulations (check the table and map on page 6). The objective of increased setback distances at the shoulders of the closed period is to help retain as much of the applied nutrient in the field as possible thereby reducing its risk of loss through overland flow. 

In the case of water for human consumption, your Local Authority may vary buffer widths from those specified above, and will inform you if they do so.

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