Livestock and Rivers

Livestock can have an adverse impact on river systems

Livestock often have free access to water courses and this can have a damaging effect on the water quality. They can cause erosion directly by trampling and add unwanted nutrients through their wastes.

High grazing rates in riverside fields can cause compaction of the soil which leads to increased surface run-off and more sediment entering the watercourse. Silt is damaging to aquatic life as it deprives the riverbed of oxygen, smothers invertebrates and suffocates fish eggs.


Measures to protect watercourses

Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust have worked with farmers to reverse some of these damaging effects; read more on our Projects pages.

We have erected riverside fencing in suitable locations as it helps to –

  • re-establish riverbank vegetation, helping to stabilize eroding riverbanks. This in turn allows the river to narrow and deepen, to encourage ‘scouring’ of the riverbed.
  • establish a buffer strip between the river and farming operations – intercepts runoff from fertilisers and pesticides.
  • encourage overhanging bankside vegetation, providing valuable cover and food for young fish.

Fencing and Stock Watering Good Practice

What you can do to help

  • Set fencing at an appropriate distance from the river (banktop height or greater).
  • Align fencing parallel to flow and build in weak points at areas of risk.
  • Temporary electric fencing or three lines of wire may be more appropriate than stock netting in areas of high flood risk.
  • Make provision for gated access, to allow control of invasive vegetation by topping or occasional grazing by livestock.
  • Drinking bays should be placed on the inside of meanders or protected by upstream trees and should not impede flow.
  • Access ramps should be sited on slope no more than 1:6 and should be surfaced with local stone held in place at the toe of the bank with untreated timber or similar.
  • Locate water troughs on side streams to minimise poaching near to rivers.
  • Provide hard base around the trough to minimise poaching.
  • Troughs should be used in preference to drinking bays.

Text adapted from Water Friendly Farming leaflet by Eden Rivers Trust.