Northern Ireland's Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots has reminded farmers of the potential to use the latest Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) to improve water quality on farms. It comes after Minister Poots inspected the impact of buffer strips erected under the scheme on a farm within the Upper Bann catchment in Katesbridge, Co. Down.

In the Upper Bann area, one of Northern Ireland’s most important waterways, water quality measures under the Environmental Farming Scheme are coordinated by the Rivers Trust.

AFBI and University of Ulster have also been conducting research in partnership with the project. Speaking during the visit, Minister Poots said: “I would encourage any farmer to take up the challenge of improving and protecting water quality on their farm.
We know that riparian (watercourse) buffer strips improve water quality because they reduce the risk of nutrients from manure and fertilisers and pesticide run-off contaminating watercourses.
"They also prevent livestock from accessing the watercourse, eroding the banks and causing sediment loss. "We also know that these impacts on water quality are widespread, so I would urge farmers to avail of the water quality options within EFS to help tackle this issue if they haven’t already done so."

Water quality measures in EFS Wider Tranche 5

The latest round of EFS, which is currently open for applications until September 10, offers support for a choice of 2m or 10m wide riparian buffers, which can be planted with clumps of native trees if required to improve bank stability and reduce peak flood flow. The riparian buffer options cover the fencing costs of £6/m and provide a small ongoing payment each year. A range of associated capital items may then also be selected with the riparian buffers including a pasture pump, drinking trough, trough base, and/or gates.

Any land fenced off to create a buffer, if it was previously eligible for Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), will retain that eligibility.

There are over a dozen other EFS options available in addition to the riparian margins, including the creation of new hedgerows, tree planting and biodiversity options. Farmers can select up to four options, and if the application is successful, they will be offered a five-year EFS agreement. Tranche 5 of the Environmental Farming Scheme Wider Level (EFS) is open for applications until midnight Friday, September 10, 2021. Applications must be submitted via DAERA's online services portal.