As of January 1, 2009, the areas designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) increased to approximately 70% of England. This includes the 55% originally designated in 2002. Farmers who wished to appeal the designation of their land within a NVZ had until March 10, 2009 to submit evidence. Appeals could be made on the grounds, that 1) the land does not drain into water that has been identified as polluted; or 2) the land drains into water that should not have been identified as polluted.
As background, the European Union (EU) Nitrates Directive, passed in 1991, requires Member States to identify waters which are or could become polluted by nitrates and to designate as NVZs all land draining to those waters and contributing to the pollution.
The following criteria are used in identifying polluted waters:
- Surface freshwaters which contain or could contain, if preventative action is not taken, nitrate concentrations greater than 50 mg/L.
- Groundwaters which contain or could contain, if preventative action is not taken, nitrate concentrations greater than 50 mg/L.
- Natural freshwater lakes, or other freshwater bodies, estuaries, coastal waters and marine waters which are eutrophic or may become so in the near future if protective action is not taken.
The Directive requires Member States to establish a mandatory Action Program of measures for the purposes of reducing nitrate loss from agriculture. The Action Program could be applied either within NVZs or throughout the whole country. Action Programs must contain rules relating to:
- periods when the land application of certain types of fertilizer is prohibited;
- the capacity of storage vessels for livestock manure;
- the land application of fertilizer to steeply sloping ground;
the land application of fertilizer to water-saturated, flooded, frozen or snow-covered ground;
- the conditions for land application of fertilizer near water courses;
- procedures for the land application, including rate and uniformity of spreading, of both chemical fertilizer and livestock manure;
- limitation of the land application of fertilizers based on a balance between the foreseeable nitrogen requirements of the crops, and the nitrogen supply to the crops from the soil and from fertilization; and
- the amount of livestock manure applied to the land each year, including by the animals themselves, shall not exceed 170 kg N per hectare.
There is an obligation for Member States to review the effectiveness of their Action Program measures at least every four years.
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