15 December 1995

NVZ rules may send small units to wall, warn livestock men

Government plans to impose management restrictions in nitrate vulnerable zones have infuriated some UK farmers. But Dutch producers, facing even stiffer penalties, are taking their protest to the streets. Tony McDougal reports

MANAGEMENT rules planned for nitrate vulnerable zones threaten to drive smaller producers out of business, livestock farmers warn.

They claim the rules will to lead to a big rise in slurry storage bills and transport costs. And they are deeply unhappy with testing conducted by the NRA, saying it conflicts with water company results.

Farmers within Britains largest proposed NVZ – Rivers Leam, Cherwell and Great Ouse – say the NVZ, which comes on top of the Water Resources Act, has left many with bills running to tens of thousands of £. But NRA sampling for the Ouse NVZ, which took place at Clapham, Beds, found only two samples in 1992/93 which marginally breached the EUs 50mg/litre nitrate limit.

Michael Cook, Manor Farm, Sherington, Newport Pagnell, Bucks, said he spent £120,000 – grant aided by £42,500 – on a new 500,000gal slurry system to pass the Water Act. "You can imagine my frustration when it was announced that we were to be subjected to yet another set of restrictions in the new NVZ."

He is infuriated by the governments suggestion that applications of slurry on light land should be banned from Aug 1 to Nov 1. "In certain circumstances, such as heavy rain during the autumn, it is only possible to travel on light land without ruining the soil structure. If these proposals are adopted, then where are we to put the slurry? Not all farms have heavy land available."

He would prefer a more constructive cut-off date, such as Oct 10, instead of Aug 1 for arable or grass light land.

Peter Richie, Carlton Hall Farm, Carlton, Beds, has been instrumental in setting up the 50-strong Ouse Valley Farmers, who have each paid £100, to pay for independent consultants to fight the NVZ designation.

Mr Richie questioned whether the government had properly taken into account the different soil, geological and climatic conditions within the proposed NVZs.

Conflicting evidence

He is also particularly disturbed by conflicting evidence between the NRA and Anglian Water during nitrate sampling results in the River Ouse in 1992/93.

Michael Payne, NFU nitrate adviser, said in a letter to Mr Richie that though some sample tests showed similar results, the differences reached a maximum of 19.63mg/litre and the average difference was 2.3mg/litre. Mr Payne concluded many of the inconsistencies pointed towards the NRA.

But Paul Smith, of MAFFs environmental protection division, rejected allegations of distorted figures. "The incidence of identified errors in the data was extremely small in relation to the very large numbers of sample results."

The farmers now fear that NVZ designation could lead to the start of two-tier land prices, with those within zones faring badly.