Special Environmental Sites and Schemes

4. Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs)

The governments proposal to implement the 1991 EC Directive on nitrate pollution originally resulted in the designation of 72 NVZs in catchments where nitrate levels exceed 50mg/l or are likely to in the future. These covered 650, 000 ha, mostly in East Anglia and the Midlands. The specific management strategies to reduce nitrate levels had to be drawn up by 1995 and implemented within four years.

In December 2000, the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK had failed to implement the Nitrates Directive fully, stating that the Directive applied to all ground and surface fresh waters so as to reduce the risk of eutrophication, as well as protect drinking-water sources.  The UK Government, including the Welsh Assembly, were forced to take action to comply with the Court's judgement.  This meant that the UK needed to complete the implementation of the Directive fully, or face the prospect of very substantial daily non-compliance fines.  Government bodies began consultations on their proposals to extend significantly the area of NVZ's.  There were 68 NVZs in England and Wales convering about 650 000 ha.  Under the new rules for 2002 additional NVZ's covering about 47% of England were designated. Additional sites in Scotland are also now in force.


Farmers in the NVZs will be required to limit their applications of organic manure. For the opening four years of the programme the limit is likely to be set at 210kg of total nitrogen per hectare for arable land, 250kg

of total nitrogen per hectare for grassland. After four years the limit must be reduced to 170 kg on arable land unless larger applications can be justified. Farmers will have to ensure that they have adequate manure storage capacity to allow them to observe closed periods for the application of organic manure. There will be limits on application of inorganic fertilisers to levels which are consistent with the net nitrogen requirement of the crop. All farmers within the NVZ will be required to maintain records, on a field by field basis for fertiliser and manure usage.

Farmers who need to upgrade their existing farm waste storage and handling facilities may apply for a Farm Waste Grant, payable at the rate of 25% of eligible expenditure up to a declared maximum. Installations must be designed to have a minimum life of 10 years.

As part of the implementation programme ADAS will offer a free visit to each farm in the NVZ to provide advice on changes to farming practices and systems.

Outline Action Programme

The following specifications are proposed as obligations to be met by farmers with land in NVZs.

Inorganic Nitrogen Fertiliser

  • Do not apply between 1 September and 1 February unless there is a specific crop requirement.
  • Do not apply when the soil is waterlogged, flooded, frozen hard or snow covered.
  • Do not apply to steeply sloping fields.Do not exceed crop requirement for the quantity of nitrogen fertiliser on each field in each year, having taken into account crop uptake, soil residue and organic manures.
  • Do not apply fertilisers in a way that would enable them to directly enter surface water.

Organic Manure Use

Applications of organic manures are not to exceed 250 kg/ha of total nitrogen over grass and 210 kg/ha averaged over the area of the farm not in grass each year. This applies to all farms, whether producing or receiving organic manure.

On sandy or shallow soils there are to be no applications of slurry, poultry manure or liquid digested sludge on grass between 1 September and 1 November and to fields not in grass between 1 August and 1 November. These manures should also not be applied when the soil is waterlogged, flooded, frozen hard or snow covered, or to fields that are steeply sloping or land within 10m of surface water.

Storage of Slurry and Silage

All new or substantially reconstructed or enlarged installations for the containment of slurry and silage must conform to The Controls of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) Regulations 1991. Storage capacity for animal manures which cannot be applied during the autumn must be sufficient to cover this period unless other environmentally acceptable means of disposal are available.

Fertiliser Plans

All farms must keep field records of applications of nitrogen for both inorganic and organic fertiliser and manures.

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