Government NVZ stance may face NFUchallenge
By Tony McDougal
NFU leaders may bring an 11th hour challenge to the governments classification of nitrate vulnerable zones.
Michael Payne, NFU nitrate consultant, said no imminent legal action was planned, but the union was considering mounting a judicial review against the government.
This could centre on the governments plans to impose NVZ restrictions on "clean" boreholes which were being used to blend water polluted by nitrates.
The government is set to announce the findings of its independent review panel shortly and is expected to drop four currently proposed NVZs – Diddlebury, Shropshire; Dorking, Surrey; Broughton, Hampshire and Nayland, Suffolk.
It has been under pressure from the European Commission to speed up NVZ designations, which must be in force by Dec 1999. Officials are already behind the commissions schedule, as they should have produced an action plan by last Dec.
Despite government reassurances that the NVZs would not go substantially beyond the code, the NFU says the enforced cuts in manure application will reduce stocking densities by up to 45% below existing practices.
It claims dairy farmers complying with manure applications under the EU nitrate directive will need to reduce stocking levels from 5.3 cows a ha (2 cows an acre) to 2.7 cows a ha (1 cow an acre). Producers on sandy, light soils also face bans on slurry applications from Sept 1-Nov 1 on grassland and Aug 1-Nov 1 on arable land.
With the NVZs set to affect 8000 farmers and 650,000ha (1.6m acres), the NFU argues the total bill to UK farmers will exceed the governments £10m estimate, due to increased storage and transport costs.
Tony Pexton, NFU deputy president, said the NFU was still challenging the EUs maximum 50mg/litre nitrate level trigger mechanism for NVZs, saying there was no risk to public health from levels of nitrate of up to 100mg/litre in public water supplies.
It is calling for figures averaging 50mg/litre over a year to be adopted.
Mr Pexton said the union was also concerned at the robust nature of the testing of underground and surface water by the National Rivers Authority, and that their figures often did not correlate with independent studies.
He claimed some NRA tests were based on the total oxidised level of nitrogen in the water, which give a higher reading than overall nitrate levels.
There is also concern that non-agriculturally produced nitrates, stemming from factory deposits or from materials used at airfields were not taken into consideration by the government.
And there are fears that the legislation will cause problems between tenants and landlords over who should pay to meet the cost of NVZs through increased slurry storage space.
Sows and litters17.812