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Spreading slurry – Protect our watercourses

04 March 2021 13:17

 | NI Water News

The local farming community strive to be custodians of our countryside, looking after our water quality and the environment. Spreading slurry is one of the high risk activities carried out on farms, which if not correctly managed can have a real adverse effect on our water quality.

Water quality monitoring of agricultural catchments has shown notable amounts of nutrients being transferred to waterways during the winter months and spreading season. Applications of manures in early autumn may remain vulnerable to storm run-off during the winter months. Likewise, early applications of manure or slurry in February and March could also be at risk of run-off loss because of late winter/ early spring storm events. This year the ground conditions were poor in February with limited opportunity to spread slurry, so we expect that there will be a lot of slurry spreading in March, creating a high-risk period for our rivers. We ask everyone to think carefully before spreading slurry, or other organic manures and follow all the guidelines carefully so that there is no risk of pollution to our watercourses. 

From 1 February 2021, contractors spreading slurry will have to use Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE). Farmers should be aware that this is a requirement of the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) 2019-2022 and that the use of LESSE can benefit both the farmer and the environment. LESSE allows the farmer to make better use of his slurry. Research has shown that spreading slurry using LESSE, increases the amount of nitrogen available to the plant. The increase in nitrogen availability allows potential savings in chemical fertiliser, as a greater percentage of the crops nutrient requirement is provided through slurry. The use of LESSE also allows increases in the window for spreading, as slurry can be spread into taller grass covers without dirtying the leaf.

LESSE benefits the environment by reducing nutrient loses, by placing nutrients closer to the plant roots, increasing nutrient uptake and reducing the risk of run off. Further benefits include a reduction in nitrogen loss to the atmosphere, as ammonia, and a reduced odour when spreading.

Nitrogen, found in our plants and soils, is a critical component of our agricultural system, with plant life being dependant on the nitrogen cycle to provide fresh farm produce from our local farms.  However, if not managed correctly, nitrogen applications from farm slurry, in fields with potential areas of high nutrient loss to waterways, can impact on the quality of our watercourses

Roy Taylor, NI Water Catchment manager says, “In order to minimise the impact of slurry waste run-off into rivers and streams, NI Water encourages farmers to follow best practice and only spread slurry where land and weather conditions allow, always checking weather forecasts before spreading as rainfall could wash valuable nutrients off your land. Removing this from our water is difficult and expensive to treat, in order to provide the high quality drinking water we all expect.”

NI Water work hard to deal with any slurry run-off into watercourses and can assure customers that tap water quality is unaffected and is of a very high quality standard. However, we would appeal to everyone to be vigilant and if you notice any water pollution, please report it to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s (NIEA) 24/7 pollution hotline on 0800807060.

Better management of slurry and manure can:

• Increase business profitability by maximising the value of slurries and manures.

• Minimise the risk of local watercourses becoming contaminated.

• Reduce the risk of disease transfer, if you abstract water from a watercourse or borehole as your source of livestock drinking water.

• Help to reduce the farm carbon footprint by maximising the value of your fertilisers.

• Contribute to protecting and enhancing local water quality for fish, wildlife and amenity use.

• Keep on the right side of the regulations and help to protect your farm basic payment.


For further information, please contact NI Water press office on 02890354710 or email


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