Nitrates Directive

The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) Council Directive of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources was adopted in 1991 and has the objective of reducing water pollution caused or induced by nitrates from agricultural sources and preventing further such pollution, with the primary emphasis being on the management of livestock manures and other fertilisers.

The Nitrates Directive generally requires EU Member States to -

  • monitor waters and identify waters which are polluted or are liable to pollution by nitrates from agriculture
  • establish a code of good agricultural practice to protect waters from such pollution
  • promote the application by farmers of the code of good agricultural practice
  • identify the area or areas to which an action programme should be applied to protect waters from pollution by nitrates from agricultural sources
  • develop and implement action programmes to reduce and prevent such pollution in the identified area - action programmes are to be implemented and updated on a four-year cycle
  • monitor the effectiveness of the action programmes - and
  • report to the EU Commission on progress.


Action Programme

The action programmes to be developed by Member States must include rules relating to -

  • periods when the land application of certain types of fertiliser is prohibited
  • the capacity of storage vessels for livestock manure - generally this capacity must exceed that required to store manure for the full length of the "prohibited period"
  • limitations on the land application of fertilisers, consistent with good agricultural practice - taking into account characteristics such as soil conditions, soil type, slope, climatic conditions, rainfall, irrigation, land use and agricultural practices and a balance between nitrogen supply and nitrogen requirements of the crops
  • limits to ensure that, for each holding, the amount of livestock manure applied to land each year - including by the animals themselves - shall not exceed a specified amount per hectare
  • other matters set out in the code of good agricultural practice.

Discussions with interested parties in relation to the measures to be contained in a national nitrates action programme for Ireland have been ongoing since December 2001 and have included two separate rounds of consultation in relation to drafts of a programme issued in December 2003 and July 2004.

In addition, an independent adviser was appointed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in June 2004.

The independent adviser reviewed the written comments received, held meetings with many of the main stakeholders and provided a report and recommendations to the Minister on 8 October 2004. The action programme submitted to the European Commission in October 2004 reflected these recommendations.

A National Nitrates Action Programme for Ireland was sent to the European Commission on 22 October 2004. In response, the EU Commission indicated by letter, dated 22 December 2004, that the programme was inadequate and needed to be strengthened in specific respects.

This current revised action programme responds to the concerns expressed by the Commission and incorporates appropriate revisions to the programme sent in October 2004. This current programme is submitted to the European Commission, therefore, in substitution for the programme sent in October 2004.


Main Provisions of the Action Programme

1. Zones
The zones used for the prohibited periods and storage requirements are as follows -

  • Zone A: Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow.
  • Zone B: Clare, Galway, Kerry, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath.
  • Zone C: Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, and Monaghan.

2. Storage Capacity
Livestock holdings shall have the following minimum storage capacity for bovine livestock manure -

  • 16 weeks in Zones A
  • 18 weeks in Zone B - and
  • 20 weeks (Donegal and Leitrim) or 22 weks (Cavan and Monaghan) in Zone C.

Provision is also made for reduced storage in certain circumstances. This is mainly to cater for extensive farmers who generally out-winter their animals at a low stocking rate. The prescribed storage capacity must be installed by -

  • 31 December 2006, in the case of pig and poultry farms - and
  • 31 December 2008 on other farms.

The prescribed deadlines are intended to give farmers an adequate opportunity to put the necessary storage capacity in place.

3. Prohibited Periods
The periods during which the application to land of certain types of fertiliser will be prohibited (both dates inclusive) are as follows -

Chemical fertilizer
Organic Fertiliser - All Organic Fertilisers excluding Farmyard ManureFarmyard Manure
Grassland and other land
All Land
15 Sept. to 12 Jan
15 Oct - 12 Jan/1 Nov - 12 Jan
15 Sept. to 15 Jan
15 Oct - 15 Jan. An end date of 25 January will apply in Zone B to holdings joining REPS and extensive holdings availing of the reduced storage capacity requirements..1 Nov - 15 Jan
15 Sept. to 31Jan
15 Oct-31 Jan/1 Nov-31 Jan

The "prohibited periods" will come into effect on 1 january 2006 in relation to chemical fertilisers.

In the case of livestock manure and other organic fertilisers, the "prohibited periods" will be phased in as storage capacity is put in place on farms. As an interim measure, pending the Regulations having full effect, the land-spreading of livestock manures is prohibited on all holdings during November and December, with effect from 1 January 2006.

The "prohibited periods" do not apply to soiled water, which can be landspread all year round if land and weather conditions are suitable.

4. Limit on the amount of livestock manure
The amount of livestock manure applied to land each year - including manure deposited by the animals themselves - will not be more than the amount containing 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare.

5. Other measures
The action programme also introduces a range of other management measures to protect water quality, including -

A. restrictions on land-spreading, when:

  • the land is waterlogged
  • the land is flooded or likely to flood
  • the land is frozen or snow-covered - or
  • heavy rain is forecast within 48 hours.

B. buffer zones for landspreading livestock manure, organic fertilisers and soiled water which include:

  • within 10 metres of a surface water body (other than a lake)
  • within 20 metres of a lake
  • within 15 metres of exposed cavernous (karstified) limestone or karst limestone features, such as swallow holes and collapse features
  • within 50 metres of a borehole, spring or well used as a drinking water source - e.g. private well or such other distance as may be specified by the relevant local authority
  • within 250 metres of any surface water body or borehole, spring or well used for the abstraction of drinking water for human consumption in public or group water schemes - i.e. schemes supplying more than 10m3 per day or serving more than 50 persons (commercial/public).


Implementing Regulations

Regulations are currently being drafted by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government - in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Food - to provide statutory support for implementation of the Action Programme.

There was a commitment in Sustaining Progress to issue the draft Regulations for public consultation - in that context, a period of at least 4 weeks will be allowed for comment. It is envisaged that the Regulations will be made in September 2005 and will come into effect on 1 January 2006.


Application for derogation

The Government gave a commitment in the national partnership agreement - Sustaining Progress - to seek to secure European Commission approval for nitrogen limits of up to 250 kg of nitrogen from livestock manure per hectare per annum.

In keeping with this commitment, an application for a derogation was submitted to the European Commission in November 2004.

The scientific case in support of the derogation application was prepared by the Department of Agriculture and Food, in consultation with Teagasc.

Early finalisation of the Action Programme and the Regulations is necessary to progress the application for a derogation. Preliminary discussions with the Commission have taken place in relation to Ireland's application. The aim is to have a derogation agreed with the EU Commission and in place by mid-2006.




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