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
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
- identify the area or areas to which an action programme should
be applied to protect waters from pollution by nitrates from agricultural
- 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.
The action programmes to be developed by Member States
must include rules relating to -
- periods when the land application of certain types of fertiliser
- 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
- 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
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
Organic Fertiliser - All Organic Fertilisers
excluding Farmyard ManureFarmyard Manure
Grassland and other 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
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
- 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
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
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.