Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Session 2007-08

10 June 2008


Implementation of the Nitrates Directive in England€”Report published

In a report published today the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee warns that, while the Nitrates Directive is flawed, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) still needs to implement it.

The Directive aims to reduce water pollution caused by nitrates from agriculture. It dates back to 1991, but the European Commission is not satisfied with its implementation in the UK and has begun legal proceedings.

In summer 2007, Defra therefore launched a consultation on the Nitrates Directive and proposed a number of changes to the regulations in England. The proposals would have a significant impact on farmers in the affected areas, requiring them to alter practices for storing and spreading livestock manure and for applying chemical fertiliser. The Committee is concerned that the new measures would place a considerable financial burden on farmers. Nearly 200,000 farmers could be affected by the changes.

The Committee says that the Nitrates Directive is old-fashioned because it imposes prescriptive rules to achieve its aim, unlike recent EU legislation, which tends to be more flexible. The Committee also questions the scientific basis of the nitrates limits specified in the Directive. It believes that the European Commission should learn lessons from the flaws in the Directive. But the Committee accepts that the Directive is unlikely to be replaced in the near future and says that Defra must convince the European Commission that it is complying with the Directive if the legal proceedings against the UK are to be brought to an end.

"The Directive is imperfect but other member states have managed to implement it successfully and the UK will have to do the same," said the Chairman of the Committee, the Rt Hon Michael Jack MP. "Defra needs to strike a balance between satisfying the Commission that it is complying with the Directive and convincing farmers that the changes are fair and proportionate. Then Defra could make the case for changes to the Directive. The Department in reaching its conclusions must also bear in mind the economic impact its proposals will have on the livestock and dairying sectors who will need time to deal with the funding issues arising from these proposals."

The Committee concludes that some of Defra's proposals are welcome and sensible, but others, such as those relating to the storage of manure, need further refinement. It recommends that the proposal to require farmers to sow crops on land that would otherwise be left bare over winter should be dropped altogether. It observes that cover crops are not required under the Directive, would have a negative impact on biodiversity, and are not suitable for all soil types.

The Committee is concerned that Defra's proposals would place a considerable financial burden on livestock and dairy farmers at a time when they are ill-equipped to meet these costs. The requirement for increased storage space for manure is one of the most expensive of the new measures. Defra says it will not establish a grant scheme to help farmers with the cost of constructing slurry storage, but the Environment Agency believes that financial assistance would be the single biggest thing that would help farmers' compliance. The Committee urges Defra to make representations to the Treasury on the need for financial support in the form of enhanced tax allowances for the construction of slurry storage facilities.


Further details about this inquiry can be found at:


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