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United Utilities paying Cheshire farmers £20,000 to protect our tap water

Farmers being given money to plant specific crops

(Image: Dougal Waters/Getty Images)

United Utilities is paying Cheshire farmers nearly £20,000 to protect our water quality.

The supplier is asking landowners to plant cover crops during the winter.

The farmers own land within the company’s seven water ‘safeguarding’ zones in the county.

These include a large area south of Chester which takes in Tattenhall and Malpas, as well as part of Delamere, Frodsham and Helsby.

The money was awarded through an online reverse auction.

A map showing Cheshire's drinking water safeguarding zones(Image: Environment Agency)

A United Utilities spokesman said: “It’s great to be able to work with farmers to help them improve their land quality and save money while at the same time improving raw water quality.

“Many farmers who took part said this auction gave them the incentive to try a new land management technique that they had been considering for some time.

“The soils in the area can be very sandy and cover crops are a good way of improving the organic matter in the soil which in turn helps retain nutrients that subsequent crops can then use.”

The safeguarding zones surround boreholes where United Utilities bring up water.

Cover crops such as barley, oats, oil radish and turnip rape will help take up nitrates from the soil.

This also stops them getting into our water supply. In extreme cases very high amounts of nitrate in drinking water can cause illness for young children.

They can also benefit farmers by cutting fertiliser costs, reduce the need for pesticides by keeping down weeds, boost soil health, prevent erosion and retain soil moisture.

Around 12% of eligible farmers took part in the auction, successfully bidding to save a total of 7,500 kilograms of nitrogen.

United Utilities said it was also planning to run an auction this winter to pay farmers to switch areas from arable crops to grassland and to repeat the cover crop auction next summer.

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