Government Extends Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

UK - The regions of England that will be designated Nitrate Vulnerable Zones are to be significantly increased following the announcement of a new Nitrates Action Programme by the British government.
calendar icon 22 July 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

The programme published by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs is a response to the consultation on measures to implement the Nitrates Directive.

The key points are:

  • England will continue to designate Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) on a selective basis, based on scientific evidence, rather than adopt the whole territory approach of some Member States. Following the recent review, about 70 per cent of England needs to be designated – up from 55 per cent - and around 1.5 per cent of areas will be de-designated;
  • The proposal for cover crops to reduce run-off from bare ground has been dropped;
  • The Government will pursue a derogation from the European Commission on the 170 kg/ha whole farm nitrogen loading limit;
  • Closed periods and storage capacity will remain as set out in the consultation, but there will be transitional arrangements for meeting the requirements. Further work will be undertaken to assess whether the risk of nitrate loss in winter months extends to January;
  • A package of advice will be provided, including workshops and a helpline, to support farmers in making changes. Slurry storage facilities will be eligible for tax allowances on capital costs up to £50,000 per year;
  • Maps of NVZs and guidance on the Action programme measures will be published alongside the Regulations in September;
  • Defra is now developing plans for appeals against designation. Further details will be published in due course.

The new regulations will affect beef, dairy, pig and poultry farmers, who under the original plan faced high costs to provide slurry storage for up to five months.

Now the programme will allow farmers to link their storage to their needs, and the government has put forward an aid package to assist with the expense of slurry storage.

Environment Minister Phil Woolas said, "There were over six hundred responses to our consultation. We have listened carefully to what people had to say and have worked hard to achieve the best possible outcome - to protect the water environment, meet our legal obligations, and address farmers' practical concerns as far as possible.

"Agriculture is responsible for around 60 per cent of nitrate pollution in water, and there are pressing reasons for reducing that – biodiversity, recreation, and the cost of producing clean drinking water among them. At the same time we recognise that this places responsibilities, and costs, on farmers.

"There are several sources of help available. The Treasury has confirmed that slurry storage facilities are eligible for plant and machinery tax allowances on capital costs up to £50,000 a year.

"We have committed funding of £98 million under the Rural Development Programme for, among other things, the livestock sector’s on-farm management of nutrients. We have also extended the capital grants scheme under the Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative for another years.

"I am keen to pursue innovative solutions for manure management like anaerobic digestion. I met a wide cross section of industry and NGO senior executives last week to discuss ways of increasing take up of anaerobic digestion, and the role it can play in nitrates management was part of that discussion. I have promised to look in detail at the barriers that might exist to making anaerobic digestion a viable option for farmers."

However, while farmers have welcomed some of the proposals they say the extension to the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones will be a bitter pill to swallow.

NFU President Peter Kendall said they welcomed the decision to drop proposals for cover crops to reduce run-off from bare ground and to make new slurry stores eligible for tax allowances, something the NFU has pushed especially hard for.

However, the NFU has warned that the proposals to extend the area of the country designated as NVZ, to extend closed periods, and to require significant capital investments in slurry storage, will have a significant and adverse impact on large numbers of producers in England.

Mr Kendall said, "In our submission to Defra we criticised the Nitrates Directive as outdated and unnecessary, and I still hold this view. As nitrate levels are declining in many parts of England I continue to question the logic of the Directive.

"I am pleased that, in some respects, Defra has listened to our case and made changes to the NVZ proposals published last summer. These changes to the area designated and to the action programme could save farmers and growers up to around £100 million a year, according to our figures. I would like to thank all of our members who engaged in lobbying their MPs, hosted visits on their farms and provided case studies to demonstrate the punitive impact of Defra’s original proposals.

"However, I cannot hide the fact that for many farmers in the livestock sector, and especially dairy farms, Defra’s decision brings major and disproportionate costs. New stores need to be built or existing stores will need renovation. Sites need to be found, permissions obtained, and funding put in place.

"Dairy farmers will need every day of the three-year implementation phase we’ve negotiated. Although Defra has announced a support package to help farmers it falls well short of the financial support offered by other member states and, indeed, other parts of the UK to their farmers."

An updated Code of Good Agricultural Practice will be published later this year when the Regulations are laid.

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