03 February 2017

We have seen a number of farmers prosecuted by the Environment Agency due to slurry or silage effluent making its way into a watercourse. These are offences of “strict liability” which means that the Environment Agency does not need to prove any fault on behalf of the person responsible (usually the landowner). The fines in these cases are getting higher as a result of courts applying the recently produced Sentencing Guideline for Environmental Offences.

It is important that farming businesses check the integrity of farm infrastructure as a large number of these cases arise from leaks from ageing or badly maintained equipment. In particular, farmers should ensure that silage clamps, effluent tanks, slurry lagoons and fuel tanks are compliant with (or exempt from) the Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil Regulations (SSAFO).

SSAFO has been in place since 1991 and governs the design of slurry stores, silage clamps and diesel tanks, however the Environment Agency is noticing that many farms are still in non-compliance. Any equipment which does not comply with SSAFO and subsequently fails, causing pollution is likely to receive a higher fine.

Key points for farmers

The Environment Agency has issued the following advice for farmers who are considering building new infrastructure that is covered by the SSAFO, or significantly extending or modifying a pre-1991 structure that might otherwise be exempt:

  • Slurry or dirty water storage must have sufficient volume to take any rainwater which enters it (if open)
  • Ensure slurry storage is sufficient for four months (or meets closed period requirements if applicable)
  • Silage clamps must have open, perimeter channel drains outside the clamp walls and be inspected/maintained to ensure that effluent is safely collected and directed to the effluent tank
  • Silage effluent tanks must be at least the minimum size for the volume of the clamp (calculated using a simple formula)
  • Silage effluent tanks must be built to last for 20 years without maintenance, but note that all other SSAFO structures must last for 20 years with maintenance
  • Agricultural fuel tanks must be bunded, either independently or integrally, with all valves plus delivery hose within the bund
  • Double-skinned gravity dispensing fuel tanks are not SSAFO-compliant.

There are a number of additional measures that might be relevant, such as training staff to monitor structures for issues and being aware of the location and outfall of all land drains to ensure effluent stays in contained areas away from nearby streams.

How can Burges Salmon help?

We have represented a number of farmers being investigated for polluting streams and not being in compliance with SSAFO. We advise on crisis management in the event of an incident, regulatory investigations, interviews with the regulator and defending proceedings.

For more information please contact Michael Barlow.

Key contact

Michael Barlow

Michael Barlow Partner

  • Head of Environment
  • Head of Water
  • Head of ESG

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