14 June 2002

Scots relief at NVZ area

By Shelley Wright

Scotland correspondent

ABOUT 10% of Scotlands farmland will fall within four new Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, it has been revealed.

That is a marked reduction from the 18% originally proposed by the Scottish Executive and comes as a welcome relief to NFU Scotland, which lobbied against many of the designations because, it claimed, they were based on tenuous evidence.

Jim Walker, NFUS president, said: "We have managed to convince the executive that the basis for designation had to be clear and consistently applied, and that where there was insufficient data to justify designation then these areas should be dropped from the list."

Designation of the NVZs is required by the EU nitrates directive in areas where groundwater supplies contain more than 50mg/litre of nitrate.

In January, the executive released proposals covering about 18% of land, including the Nith Valley in the heart of Scotlands main dairying area in the south west of the country.

Mr Walker was infuriated that, during a series of farmer meetings in the consultation period, and at private meetings, executive staff seemed to suggest that the designation was already finalised. Worse, farmers were given the impression that action programmes for reducing nitrate levels would be applied across the board. But earlier this week, Scotlands rural development minister, Ross Finnie, insisted that the executive had listened to views expressed during consultation. As a result, proposals to designate the Upper Don, Stirling and Nithsdale areas would not be pursued.

The four new NVZs, added to the existing two, will essentially impose nitrate restrictions on farmers from the Moray Coast in the north east, down the east coast to Fife. Lothian and the Borders have also been designated.

Mr Finnie said the executive wanted to work with farmers in these areas and announced that consultation would now begin on a proposal to provide 40% of the capital costs for farmers in NVZs who had to replace or improve slurry or manure storage facilities as a result of restrictions on applying nitrogen to land.

Mr Walker welcomed the consultation but insisted that 100% grants should be available.

The unions main priority now is to convince the executive to allow local flexibility in NVZ action programmes. It objects to a blanket ban on nitrogen applications at certain times of year, which the executive favours, believing that permits should be issued if local conditions are favourable.

Applying slurry and manure when autumn plant growth is most vigorous is the best guarantee of avoiding excess nitrates in water, the union maintains. And that can only be determined at a local level. &#42