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25. Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ)


In 1991, the European Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC was introduced with the aim to reduce water pollution from agricultural sources: it sought to prevent inappropriate use of inorganic fertilizers and organic manure which results in nitrate pollution of surface and ground waters. The Directive requires legally binding rules to be put in place for NVZs to reduce nitrate loss from agricultural land when nitrate levels exceed, or are likely to exceed, the levels set in the Directive. These rules are known as Action Programmes. The deadline for implementation of the Directive was 1993.

Member States are required to submit a report to the Commission every four years following its notification, including information pertaining to codes of good farming practice, designated NVZs, results of water monitoring and a summary of relevant aspects of action programmes for vulnerable zones (OECD, 2003). By the end of 2001, the UK was the only member state that had not submitted a sufficient report to the Commission (EC, 2002).

In 2002, there were two NVZs in Scotland , the Balmalcolm NVZ in Fife designated in 1996 and the Ythan NVZ designated in May 2000. Following a European Court of Justice ruling in December 2000 the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) extended its surface water-monitoring networks and – with supporting research from the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute and the British Geological Survey – identified elevated levels of nitrate in waters in Angus and the Borders (SEPA, 2002).

Concentrations of nitrate below 0.3mg N/l are considered to be natural or background levels; over one-third of the sites in Scotland tested by SEPA met this classification in 2004. Between 1993 and 2004 the percentage of sites with average nitrate concentrations of 2.5mg N/l rose to a peak of 25.5% in 1997, before falling to 17.6% in 2004 (Scottish Executive, 2005).

From January 2005, NVZ Action Programme rules have become Statutory Management Requirements for farmers under the Cross Compliance rules of the SFP Scheme in at present four designated NVZs in Scotland (equalling about 14% of the total area) (Scottish Executive, 2004):

  • Aberdeenshire, Banff and Buchan and Moray
  • Lothian and Borders
  • Lower Nithsdale
  • Strathmore and Fife

About 14% of Scotland are designated NVZs. In these areas legally binding rules, called Action Programmes, are in place to reduce nitrate loss from agricultural land.


Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) - ACTION PROGRAMME RULES >>