GAEC 1 – Establishment of Buffer Strips along Watercourses

The aim of this GAEC standard is to protect watercourses against pollution and run-off from agricultural sources by maintaining buffer strips. These requirements restrict the application and storage of chemical and organic fertilisers along watercourses and beside wells and boreholes. (SMR 1-Nitrates)

NOTE: ‘Watercourses’ are all surface waters, including coastal water, estuaries, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, canals and field ditches/drains. It includes temporarily dry drains.

Farmer Requirements

Farmers must:

Comply with all buffer zones listed in the section dealing with SMR 1.Be aware of all surface waters.

GAEC 2 Where use of Water Irrigation is subject to authorisation, compliance with authorisation procedures

– Not Applicable in Ireland

GAEC 3 Protection of Ground Water against Pollution

The aim of this GAEC standard is to protect groundwater against pollution. Groundwater is defined as all water which is below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in direct contact with the soil/subsoil.

Substances commonly found on a farm that may cause groundwater pollution include:

  • Constituents of sheep dip
  • Agri chemicals (fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, detergents)
  • Hydrocarbons (fuel oil, hydraulic fluids, lubricants, waste oils, batteries)
  • Metals
  • Dairy detergents
  • Substances that affect the taste/odour of groundwater

Farmers must ensure that:

  • Agri-chemical stores are sited well away from drains, waterways and drinking water supplies
  • Pesticides are stored in marked secure cabinets, sufficiently bunded to contain the volume of pesticide stored in them
  • Any spillages cannot escape to ground waters through drains, soak ways, wells, boreholes and watercourses
  • Fuel tanks are correctly located and maintained with no evidence of discharge.
  • Waste oils and old batteries are properly disposed of
  • Sheep dipping tanks are of sound construction and have no outlet pipe or valve at the base of the tank
  • Sheep dipping tanks are empty and securely covered when not in use
  • Where in exceptional circumstances, a burial licence is granted to dispose of animals on the farm, this should be done in a manner that prevents pollution.

Water source is any river, stream, lake, canal, reservoir, pond, watercourse or other inland water.

Direct Discharge is discharged to groundwater (well, aquifer) without percolation through soil or subsoil. Indirect Discharge is discharge through soil or subsoil.

Indirect discharges

Sheep Dipping Tank requirements:

  • The dipping tank must be structurally sound
  • No outlet pipe or bung at the base of the tank is permitted
  • Empty and cleaned after use
  • Drainage pens should be concreted, channelled back to tank, and cleaned after use
  • Land Spreading:
    • Must never be disposed of to soak pit or dumped on sacrifice land
    • Dilution rate 3:1 and max rate of 5000 L/ha must apply

On-farm Inspections will involve checks for:

  • Evidence of direct/indirect discharge to groundwater/water sources of materials that will cause pollution
  • Evidence of poor management of sheep dip including land spreading & buffer zones
  • Evidence of direct/indirect discharges of spent dip to groundwater/water sources
  • Evidence of leaks at fuel storage areas
  • Evidence of other discharges direct/indirect including the unauthorised burial of animals on-farm

GAEC 4 Minimum Soil Cover

The aim of this GAEC standard is to protect soil from erosion by ensuring minimum soil cover. Activities such as inappropriate ploughing and land reclamation works could lead to the removal of soil over a prolonged period of time. Ploughing restrictions are the same as outlined in SMR 1. Farmers should make every effort to avoid practices that could lead to erosion and must provide green cover from a sown crop within 4 months of the ploughing.

Farmers must avoid leaving land bare and without any cover on the soil for prolonged periods of time (maximum period of four months). They  must not:

Have finely tilled soils not in the process of crop establishment or other land with inadequate soil/ground cover

  • Have insufficient green cover within 6 weeks where land has been (in accordance with SMR 1-Nitrates requirements)

On-farm Inspections will involve checks for compliance on:

  • Evidence of insufficient green cover where land has been ploughed
  • Fields with finely tilled soils but not in the process of crop establishment
  • Other land with inadequate soil/ground cover on the holding


Minimum Land Management Reflecting Site-Specific Conditions to Limit Erosion

The aim of this GAEC standard is to protect soil from erosion. Farmers must limit soil erosion by:

  • Using appropriate cropping practices and cropping structures
  • Managing livestock to ensure overgrazing and poaching does not occur g. move feeders regularly and do not have sacrifice paddocks/fields
  • Using suitable machinery, vehicles and trailers and avoid damaging soil structure in unfavourable weather conditions which can lead to soil erosion

On-farm Inspections will involve checks for:

  •  Evidence of sand dunes and/or grassland being overgrazed or otherwise used resulting in erosion
  • Evidence of rutting or poaching damage to permanent pasture caused by machinery or animals
  • Evidence of severe poaching leading to soil erosion particularly around supplementary feeding points and sacrifice paddocks
  • Any other activities likely to cause soil erosion such as poor tillage practices, burning of growing vegetation or inadequate disposal arrangements for soiled water

GAEC 6 Maintenance of Soil Organic Matter Level through appropriate practices

The aim of this standard is to maintain soil organic matter through appropriate practices.

Farmers must:

Not burn stubble or crop residues such as straw

  • Comply with prescribed burning code of practice where burning is permitted

On-farm Inspections will involve checks for:

  • Evidence of burning of crop residues such as straw or straw stubble Since 2015 DAFM no longer require Soil Organic Matter soil samples.

The Prescribed Burning Code should be followed at all times. The Prescribed Burning Code of Practice provides ba- sic information on planning, preparing and implementing safe, effective controlled fires for land management pur- poses.

GAEC 7 Retention of Landscape Features & Designated Habitats and Controlling Invasive Species

Landscape Features

Landscape Features (LF) under GAEC were designated in 2009 and include:

  • Hedgerows including gappy hedgerows
  • Trees in a line
  • Drains and ditches
  • Combinations of hedge, drain and area within fence

In 2012 farmers who had been in REPS had the option to have former REPS 3 or 4, Option 4A habitats, designated as Landscape Features. She/he could do this by declaring them as “Designated Habitats” on his/her annual SPS/BPS application form.

In 2015 Archaeological sites and monuments were designated as Landscape Features and are therefore protected and cannot be removed or interfered with.

Landscape Features may be removed if a replacement hedge/line of trees/drain is planted/dug in advance of the removal. Farmers can only replace like with like i.e. hedge for a hedge and the hedgerow species used must be traditional to the area, and the replacement cannot be for amenity purposes, e.g. around farmard or driveway. The EIA Regulations should be adhered to at all times.

Farmers must not cut or trim hedgerows and/or trees between 1st March and 31st August each year (during the bird breeding season).River (not a Landscape Feature)

Where farmers intend to undertake any of these activities and the proposed works exceed the size threshold for screening set out in the Regulations they must make an application to the DAFM for screening giving details of the works.

Invasive Species & Noxious Weeds

Ragwort, Thistle, Dock, Common Barberry, Male Wild Hop and Wild Oat are noxious weeds under the Noxious Weeds Act 1936

Invasive species include Rhododendron, Giant Hogweed, Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam as well as the invad- ing hardwood species e.g. Hawthorn, briars, furze/gorse, Elder and Willow.

On-farm Inspections will involve checks for:

  •  Evidence of damage/removal of designated landscape feature
  • Evidence of the cutting of trees & hedges in bird nesting season and breeding season


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Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

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