31 July 1998
NFU slams end to Nitrate Sensitive Areas
By Tom Duckham
FARM leaders have condemned the Government for its decision to axe a scheme aimed at reducing the amount of nitrate fertiliser used by farmers.
NFU officials said the move to end the Nitrogen Sensitive Areas (NSA) scheme was short-sighted and premature.
New agriculture minister Nick Brown announced on Wednesday (29 July) the end of the NSA scheme with immediate effect. Existing agreements will run their course and applications already received will be processed under existing rules.
Tony Pexton, NFU deputy president, said the decision was a backwards step for farmers, the public and the environment. The NSA scheme, which restricts the farmers use of fertiliser in return for compensation, was widely regarded as a necessary and successful measure to safeguard Britains future environment.
In its first five years, almost two-thirds of a total 34,000ha in NSAs were registered under the scheme. Many farmers switched to less intensive land uses, such as grazing, to reduce nitrate levels in water courses.
Mr Pexton said: “The decision to bring the scheme to such an abrupt end is a crude rebuff to those farmers who are voluntarily participating in this project, designed to improve water quality over the medium and long term.”
An Environment Agency spokesman said the scheme was axed because Britain was already meeting its EUs target for nitrate levels. He said that nitrate levels had not changed in boreholes and that only about 10% of monitored water remained above the EUs target of 50mg/l.
Existing NSA agreements will expire at the end of September 1999.