Skip to content

Water Margins

Removing production from field margins immediately adjacent to watercourses can help prevent agricultural pollutants from entering rivers, burns, and streams.  The management of the resultant buffer strips can, however, provide a much wide range of benefits to the environment and biodiversity.  Their capacity to provide these benefits will depend on how they are implemented and managed.  Well managed water margins not only help farmers achieve regulatory compliance but also:

  • Protect riverbanks from erosion.  Green engineering techniques such as willow spiling can be particularly effective at reducing erosion.
  • Protect watercourses from diffuse pollution.  Buffer strips that are over 6 m with dense vegetation help to trap sediments and nutrients. Management (e.g. grazing or cut and lift) removes accumulated nutrients thus maintaining rates of nutrient uptake.  General Binding Rule (GBR19) prevents significant poaching within 5 m of a watercourse.  Fencing off water margins for management help to prevent access to the water body by livestock and the potential for poaching.
  • Provide habitat for beneficial insects including pollinators and natural predators.  Wider buffer strips that support a diversity of plant species are particularly valuable for beneficial insects.
  • Provide forage and nesting sites for farmland birds and help to connect semi-natural habitats benefitting a wide range of wildlife.


  • Provide shade and shelter for livestock.  Planting trees or hedgerows adjacent to watercourses can act as a shelterbelt protecting livestock against the wind and rain and providing shade to escape extreme heat.
  • Reduce the risk of liver fluke and pathogens by excluding livestock from muddy habitats prone to high fluke densities and contaminated watercourses.
  • Reduce the risk of flooding downstream.  Dense vegetation and woody field margins slows the flow of water from fields into adjacent water bodies thereby reducing flood risk.


Where grassland water margins are fenced off for management whether to prevent diffuse pollution or for agri-environment management, there will be a need for alternative watering points for grazing livestock.  Find out more about what options are available through the link below.

Control of non-native invasive species along watermargins

An Invasive species is usually a non-native or introduced species that adversely affects habitats and threatens biodiversity. While all species compete to survive, invasive species appear to have specific traits that allow them to out-compete native species and become

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) provides the primary controls on the release of non-native species into the wild in Great Britain and it is an offence under the act to ‘plant’ or ‘otherwise cause to grow in the wild’ a number of non-native plant species

Be aware of invasive species that occur locally and learn to recognise them: notice where they are growing in relation to your ground. The first step is to prevent contamination of any ground that you manage.

Four species of invasive plant often take hold along water margins.  Find out more from our Biodiversity webpages.

Sign up to the FAS newsletter

Receive updates on news, events and publications from Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service