ARCHIVE: Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) - Guidelines for Farmers (England) (PB5505)


1         Nitrate from agricultural land is the main source of nitrate in rivers and aquifers in Western Europe. High levels of nitrate in certain waters have given rise to environmental and health concerns and these have been reflected in the EC Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC), which is aimed at reducing nitrate pollution from agriculture. The Directive requires that nitrate pollution in all surface and ground waters is tackled. About 70% of nitrates in English waters come from agricultural land. No single farmer is responsible for this it is the cumulative impact of all the farming on land draining into polluted waters. The Directive requires Nitrate Vulnerable Zones to be established in polluted catchments where nitrate from agricultural land is causing pollution of water sources and for Action Programme measures to be implemented in those zones to reduce nitrate pollution.

2        The Nitrates Directive defines polluted waters as:

  • Surface freshwaters which contain or could contain, if preventative action is not taken, nitrate concentrations greater than 50mg/litre.
  • Ground waters which contain or could contain, if preventative action is not taken, nitrate concentrations greater than 50mg/litre.
  • Natural freshwater lakes, or other freshwater bodies, estuaries, coastal waters and marine waters which are eutrophic1 or may become so in the near future if protective action is not taken.

The Environment Agency regularly monitors surface and ground waters through a network of monitoring points and boreholes which enables the assessment of water quality against the above criteria. All land draining into these polluted waters must be designated as NVZs.

3         Following extensive consultation, 66 Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) were designated in England in 1996, covering about 8% of the country. The NVZ Action Programme came into force in those zones on 19 December 1998. Following further consultation in 2001/2002, additional NVZs covering about 47% of the country are being designated in 2002. The NVZ Action Programme comes into force in the new zones on 19 December 2002. The NVZ Action Programme applies to all land within designated NVZs.

4        These Guidelines have been prepared by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in consultation with the Environment Agency. They summarise the rules that you, as a farmer, will have to follow when farming within a designated NVZ, and provides additional guidance to help you understand what is required and how to comply. This revised edition of the NVZ Farmer Guidelines provides advice to farmers in all NVZs i.e. those designated in both 1996 and 2002. Further, more detailed, guidance on the use of organic manures is provided in the DEFRA booklet NVZ 5 Manure Planning in NVZs England (PB 5504 Revised July 2002) (see paragraph 48 for more details). The Action Programme rules have been produced by the Government and are set out in regulations. The Environment Agency is responsible for the enforcement of these regulations.

5        An indicative map showing the location of all the NVZs in England can be found on page 1 of these Guidelines. This map is based on hydrological (soft) boundaries and should only be used as a general guide to the location of the NVZs. If you are located near a boundary you will need more detailed maps to establish whether any of your farm will be within an NVZ. Detailed maps for the 2002 designations will be available over the summer 2002 and final precise field boundaries will be available from September 2002. The maps are also available as a fully interactive web-based service on the DEFRA nitrate webpage. See paragraph 47 for details.

1 Eutrophication is the process whereby excessive nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, cause an accelerated growth of algae and plants, which affects the balance of organisms, including fish, and water quality.

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