Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Nitrates - Government rejects cover crops option and will seek derogation on load limit

Nitrates - Government rejects cover crops option and will seek derogation on load limit

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (235/08) issued by The Government News Network on 21 July 2008

Defra today published its 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.

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% 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."

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

Notes for Editors

1. The Nitrates Directive was adopted in Europe in 1991 and is the main policy mechanism available to Defra for tackling water pollution caused by nitrogen from agricultural sources. It requires farmers within Nitrate Vulnerable Zones to follow an Action Programme of measures aimed at controlling when, where, how, and in what amount, nitrogen can be applied to land.

2. Areas are identified as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones on the basis that they drain to waters which have, or are likely to have, nitrate levels above 50 mg per litre, or that they are eutrophic or likely to become eutrophic.

3. The designated areas and the Action Programme are reviewed every four years. The Directive prescribes certain measures which must be included in member states' Action Programmes.

4. Evidence from the recent reviews shows that more areas in England need to be designated and Action Programme measures revised if we are to meet the environmental objectives of the Directive and the more demanding objectives of the Water Framework Directive. (Implementation of the Nitrates Directive is a "base measure" for purposes of implementing the Water Framework Directive.)

5. Further information on implementation of the Nitrates Directive in England can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/water/quality/nitrate/default.htm

6. The 2008-09 CSF Capital Grant Scheme was launched on 1 April with a closing date of 30 June for applications - (see http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/environment/water/csf/grants/capital-grants-scheme.htm). Under the comparable 2007-08 scheme farmers received £4.645 million.

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