Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Seventh Report


88. The Nitrates Directive is undoubtedly flawed. Unlike the Water Framework Directive, which, as its names suggests, provides a framework to achieve a common goal, but leaves much of the detail of implementation to member states, the Nitrates Directive imposes prescriptive rules in an attempt to achieve its aim of reducing water pollution by nitrates from agricultural sources. Moreover, the scientific justification for the figures mentioned in the Nitrates Directive—specifically the 50 mg/l limit for nitrates in surface and ground waters and the 170 kg N/ha whole-farm limit for livestock manures—is at best unclear. The European Commission should carry out post-legislative scrutiny of the Directive to learn lessons about the way in which it was designed in the first place, the effectiveness of its results, and the difficulties member states have had in implementing it.

89. However, for the time being at least, Defra must find a way of satisfying the Commission that it is complying with the Directive. Defra's plan to implement the 170 kg N/ha whole-farm limit is a sensible first step, given that this is one area where England is incontrovertibly in breach of the Directive. Some of the proposals, such as the closed periods for organic manure and the storage provisions, need refinement, and the cover crops requirement should be dropped altogether. Defra must convince the Commission that it is implementing the Directive while convincing farmers that the changes to the Action Programme are fair and proportionate. It is a difficult task but, as other member states have proved, not an impossible one.

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