Scottish Government
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Nitrates Action Programme change

Rules designed to prevent nitrate pollution of the water environment, in designated areas of Scotland, have been revised.

Following a consultation last year, the Scottish Government is amending its Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs). The European Directive requires Member States to have an action programme on NVZs to protect groundwater and surface water from nitrate pollution from farming activities, and these are expected to be toughened over time.

The key amendments are:

  • Extending the closed period (when manure with a high nitrogen content may not be spread) by two weeks on heavier soils (soils that are not sandy or shallow), effective from October 1, 2013 for arable land and October 15, 2013 for grassland
  • Increasing the livestock manure nitrogen efficiency standard values used in calculating available nitrogen with effect from January 1, 2014
  • Reducing the time for which records need to be kept from five to three years
  • An increased individual field allowance in any 12 month period where compost is applied

The Scottish Government will also be considering options to reduce record keeping for low intensity farms and reducing buffer zone widths through the use of precision equipment.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“It’s vital that we protect our magnificent countryside and water quality from the adverse effects of pollution – for biodiversity, our water dependent industries, and the benefit to Scotland’s people. But, equally, we must ensure we strike the right balance and do not allow bureaucracy to prevent our farmers from farming.

“As required by European rules, we have reviewed our Nitrates Action Programme, in keeping with our commitment to cut needless bureaucracy for farmers. We have taken this opportunity to ensure the rules are proportionate, clear and effective. I hope farmers will find this clarification – and, in some cases, relaxation of the rules – welcome.

“I know the wet weather has caused slurry storage and spreading problems for some farmers within Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. A small number of farmers have found themselves in this position and they have worked with local area office staff to find alternative solutions.”

The amended action programme has been considered by Brian Pack as part of his ‘Doing Better Review’, which has recognised the balance that needs to be made between protecting the water environment and supporting profitable farm businesses.  As a consequence this will mean that:

  • The  extension of the closed period will come in the 2013/14 season, allowing farmers to plan ahead
  • The increase in nitrogen efficiency for cattle slurry and pig slurry was delayed to 2014, but any further delay would not be acceptable to the European Commission as the increased efficiency levels are still amongst the lowest in Europe
  • A review of record keeping on low intensity farms will be taken forward as a priority

Related information

The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) requires Member States to operate an action programme in NVZs. It is expected that standards of environmental protection will be raised over time. The directive requires action programmes to be reviewed within four years. In Scotland, the action programme is set out in the Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (Scotland) Regulations 2008, which came into effect on January 1, 2009.