Defra publishes revised nitrate regulations and maps

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Defra has published regulations extending the areas of England designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) from 55% to around 70%. This reflects the Government’s decision to continue designating the zones on a selective basis rather than adopt the whole territory approach of some Member States.

The Regulations also make changes to the Action Programme specifying actions which farmers in NVZs must take to reduce and prevent nitrate leaching and run-off to waters from manures and fertilisers. 

Environment Minister Phil Woolas welcomed the new regulations and acknowledged that they will impact on farmers. He said:

“Farmers have a key role to play in ensuring that we have a thriving farming sector, and at the same time improving the impact on our environment. These regulations will be challenging, which is why I shall be writing very shortly to all NVZ farmers alerting them to the extensive advice and support programme which will be rolled out over the coming months, with both national and regional events as well as a dedicated helpline.

”There’s a really important debate to be had on an expanding role for anaerobic digestion, and its potential contribution to manure management. I am already in discussion with farming groups and other interested sectors about how we address the barriers to its increased take up.”

Changes to the Action Programme come into force on 1 January 2009, although some of the Action Programme measures have a grace period for compliance of up to three years to allow farmers time to make necessary adjustments to their farming practices, or capital investment such as storage facilities. The planned package of measures to support farmers includes a dedicated helpline, detailed guidance to be issued in October, and an extensive advisory programme,  details of which will be announced shortly. 

The main changes in the revised Action Programme relate to:

  • A whole farm limit of 170 kg per hectare for nitrogen from livestock manures, which applies to all land (currently grassland has a limit of 250 kg). The Government has previously confirmed that it will pursue a derogation from the
  • European Commission on this limit;
  • Closed periods for spreading organic manures, which will be longer and will apply to all soil types;
  • Manure storage capacity requirements, which have been amended to reduce the risk of manures being spread when conditions are unsuitable; and
  • The introduction of forward planning rules to ensure nitrogen applications from manures and fertilisers are more accurately directed to crop needs.

Mr Woolas added:

“Protecting natural resources, in particular improving the quality of water, the condition of natural habitats and enhancing biodiversity, are key objectives for Defra. The significant amount of nitrogen entering waters from agriculture is one problem that needs to be tackled if these objectives are to be achieved. This problem is highlighted by an increase in nitrate pollution in some areas of the country in recent years.  We are determined to tackle the problem by increasing the area covered by NVZs and strengthening the Action Programme measures.”

Maps showing the revised areas will be available via the OPSI and Defra websites, and at http://nvz.adasis.co.uk/maps from early next week. Farmers will have until 31 January 2009 to lodge an appeal if they believe their land has been wrongly designated.

Aside from the measures in the Action Programme which will apply in NVZs, farmers nationally will be encouraged to apply good  practice in their use and management of nutrients.   An updated Code of Good Agricultural Practice will be published in the autumn which includes guidance in this area. 

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