20 December 2001
All of England faces nitrate controls

By Isabel Davies

NITRATE Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) status will be applied across most or even all of England, under radical new government plans.

The move could impose restrictions on the timing and rate of fertiliser and manure applications on all farmers in the country.

Only 8% of England is designated as an NVZ at the moment.

A Defra consultation paper released on Thursday (20 December) outlines two options for reducing the amount of nitrate entering water from agriculture.

NVZ status can be applied to the whole of England which would at least provide a level playing field for market competition between farmers, it says.

Alternatively, it suggests that about 80% of the area could be designated, focusing attention on areas draining into waters with high nitrate concentrations.

Ministers say this is part of their response to a European Court of Justice judgement that the UK has not implemented the 1991 Nitrates Directive properly.

Announcing the consultation, environment minister Michael Meacher said farmers had to consider the relative merits of each option.

“Applying measures universally across England will create a more level playing field for market competition between farmers and avoid future uncertainty.

“A targeted approach would reduce the numbers of farmers affected,” he said.

Farmers in existing NVZs have to comply with an action programme of compulsory measures based on good agricultural practice.

They have to abide by rules which limit and control the use of nitrogen fertiliser and organic fertilisers.

They also need improved slurry storage facilities because they are closed periods for spreading manure.