Muck spreading

The storing and spreading of bio-solids (sewage sludge), animal manure and slurries (muck spreading) on agricultural land can sometimes cause odours. 

The spreading of pre-treated sewage sludge is legal and is common in rural areas. It is considered the best practicable environmental option for disposal of such wastes but should be undertaken in accordance with the best practice guidance to minimise the disruption on residential areas. 

If the practice is causing unacceptable odours you can report this to us. 

If the reported incident is deemed to be caused by spreading agricultural materials in a manner which does not follow the Code of Good Agricultural Practice, an officer will contact the person(s) responsible for the spreading and enforcement action can be considered where the issue cannot be resolved informally.

Best practice advice for farmers

Spreading should always be undertaken in accordance with the best practice guidance in the Defra Code of Good Agricultural Practice (subsection 5.4).

The best conditions for spreading is when the air mixes to a great height above the ground, cause the odours to be diluted quickly. Which are typically sunny, windy days, followed by cloudy, windy nights.

You should avoid spreading at weekends, bank holidays, in the evening or in fields close to and upwind of houses, unless it is solid manure that has been well composted, or slurry that is to be band spread, injected or has been treated to reduce odour.

To reduce odour and ammonia loss:

  • use a band spreader or injector to apply slurry.
  • otherwise, use broadcast equipment with a low trajectory and large droplets.  Broadcast slurry (by splash plate) should be incorporated immediately, and at the latest within 6 hours.
  • if solid manure, it should be incorporated as soon as possible and at the latest within 24 hours.

Livestock manures should not be applied when:

  • the soil is waterlogged
  • the soil is frozen hard
  • the field is snow covered
  • heavy rain is forecast within the next 48 hours.

Livestock manures and dirty water should not be spread:-

  • within 10 metres of any ditch, pond or surface water; or
  • within 50 metres of any spring, well, borehole or reservoir that supplies water for human consumption or for farm dairies; or
  • on very steep slopes where run-off is a high risk throughout the year
Nitrate vulnerable zones

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are areas designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution.  Defra undertakes a review of the designated NVZ areas every 4 years to account for changes in water quality. 

Find a designated Nitrate Vulnerable Zone

You can check if you are in a designated area by entering your postcode into the Environment Agency’s mapping tool. 

Temporary manure heaps

You may store some types of solid manure in temporary field heaps. This option applies to poultry manures and other organic manures if:

  • They are solid enough to be stacked in a freestanding heap
  • They do not give rise to free drainage from within the stacked material.

If you choose to store manure in temporary field heaps, you need to comply with the following rules.

You must:

  • Cover any poultry manure without bedding/ litter that is stored in a field heap with an impermeable sheet;
  • Move any field heap at least every 12 months;
  • Leave a 2-year gap before returning to the same site;
  • Keep a record of the sites used for field heaps and the dates of use.

 You must also ensure that you do not build or maintain a field heap:

  • Within 10m of surface water (including ditches) or land drain;
  • Within 30m of surface water (including ditches) if the land slopes steeply (12 degrees (1 in 5 or 20%) or greater);
  • Within 50m of a spring, well or borehole;
  • On land likely to become waterlogged;
  • On land likely to flood.

The field heap site must occupy as small a surface area as possible, but be sufficient to support the mass of the heap and prevent it from collapsing. 

More information about using nitrogen fertilisers and manures in NVZs, and other cross compliance requirements can be found on Farming Advice Service (FAS).

Phone:03000 200 301 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm)

Report an Environmental Incident

If you suspect a temporary manure heap in designated area is non-compliant with the NVZ rules please call the Environment Agency Incident Hotline on:

Telephone: 0800 80 70 60

Last updated 12 October 2022
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