Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Seventh Report


1. In a Westminster Hall debate on 8 January 2008, the Minister for the Environment, Mr Phil Woolas MP, told the House that he was receiving more letters on the Nitrates Directive than on any other matter in his portfolio "including international climate change".[1] The implementation of the Nitrates Directive in England might at first glance seem like a specialist subject, but its importance to the 195,500 farmers who could be affected, and its wider significance in terms of the water quality that we all enjoy, are considerable.[2]

2. With this in mind, the Committee decided to inquire into the changes proposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in its consultation document of August 2007 on the Nitrates Directive. Defra's proposed changes reflect the fact that the European Commission does not believe that the Directive was properly implemented in the first place. The proposals would have a significant impact on farmers in the affected zones, requiring them to alter practices for storing and spreading livestock manure and for applying chemical fertiliser. The financial outlay would be considerable. Against this there is the necessity of complying with the terms of the Directive and the understandable desire to keep nitrate levels in surface and ground waters to a safe level. Our terms of reference were framed to cover the key issues raised by Defra's proposals.

3. On 18 December 2007, we issued an invitation to submit written evidence. We received submissions from 16 organisations and individuals, spanning both agricultural and environmental interests. There were some points of contention between the different submissions, but, interestingly, opinion was not always split along agricultural and environmental lines, and, on the key issues, it was usually possible to detect a majority view, if not a consensus. On 5 March 2008, we held an oral evidence session with the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and the Minister at which we were able to explore in greater depth the points raised in the written evidence.

1   HC Deb, 8 January 2008, col 45WH Back

2   HC Deb, 17 December 2007, col 988W Back

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