(2) what estimate he has made of the (a) financial costs and (b) environmental costs of proposals arising from the nitrate vulnerable zone consultation; and what assessment he has made of the compatibility of those proposals with other schemes to establish wintered cover crops.
The regulatory impact assessment (RIA) published in support of the consultation on the implementation of the nitrates directive in England sets out my Department's assessment of the likely financial and environmental impacts of the proposed action programme measures.
The partial RIA estimates that the likely financial impact on agriculture of implementing the proposed measures would be within the range of £52.8 million to £105.5 million per year. This assumes that the action programme is applied within proposed nitrate vulnerable zones covering 70 per cent. of England, and costs would be higher if the decision is taken to apply the action programme to the whole of England. These costs could be reduced if DEFRA is successful in obtaining a derogation from the 170kgN/ha/yr whole farm limit for livestock manures—one of the more burdensome requirements of the proposals.
Estimates of the impact of the main measures on losses of pollutants from agriculture are provided in the following table.
Percentage change in pollutant losses Nitrate -5.5 to -15.5 Phosphorus 0 to -4.5 Ammonia 0.2 to 2.0
Percentage change in pollutant losses
-5.5 to -15.5
0 to -4.5
0.2 to 2.0
This assessment does not cover all the action programme measures, and therefore the anticipated reduction in nitrate and phosphorus is expected to be greater.
My Department is aware of links between the proposed cover crops measure and the maintenance of overwintered stubbles, as required by some environmental stewardship agreements. Officials are working with stakeholders to ensure that implementation of this measure is compatible with the requirements of existing agreements.
The nitrates directive requires all known areas of land to be designated as nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZs) if they drain to:
surface freshwaters or groundwaters which contain or could contain, if preventative action is not taken, nitrate concentrations greater than 50mg/l; or
natural freshwater lakes, or other freshwater bodies, estuaries, coastal waters and marine waters which are eutrophic or may become so in the near future if protective action is not taken.
The document ‘G1—Summary of methodology for identifying NVZs 2006’, which is available on the DEFRA website, provides a description of how water quality monitoring data, collected by the Environment Agency from a network of monitoring points and boreholes, are assessed against the above criteria to identify nitrate-polluted waters, and how areas of land draining to these waters were identified for designation as NVZs.
No new central Government money will be made available to assist farmers with the costs of constructing any new or additional manure storage capacity required under the proposed action programme. This position was set out in the public consultation on the implementation of the nitrates directive in England.
The regulatory impact assessment and paper ‘D5—Impact of the proposed NVZ Action Programme measures’, published in support of the consultation on implementation of the nitrates directive in England, provide details of my Department's assessment of the likely environmental impact of the proposed measures. This is available on the DEFRA website.
It is estimated that the closed period for organic manure, which requires the storage of slurry over the autumn and winter, would increase ammonia emissions from agriculture by between 0.5 per cent. and 2 per cent. However, this is likely to be an overestimate as the assessment did not reflect the impacts of all the proposed action programme measures, some of which are expected to reduce ammonia emissions (for example, the incorporation of manure within 24 hours of application).
The regulatory impact assessment, published in support of the consultation on the implementation of the nitrates directive in England, sets out my Department's assessment of the likely environmental impact of proposed Action Programme measures.
It is likely that one of the principal benefits of the proposed Action Programme would be improved natural habitats due to a reduction in the nutrient enrichment of waters and associated eutrophication.
My Department is aware of links between the proposed cover crops measure and the maintenance of over-wintered stubbles. Officials are working with stakeholders to ensure that implementation of this measure does not lead to the loss of habitat.
The partial regulatory impact assessment and paper ‘G4— Assistance on the partial RIA including extended Nitrate Vulnerable Zones’, published in support of the consultation on implementation of the nitrates directive in England, provide details of my Department's assessment of the likely cost to all farmers of the proposed nitrates action programme measures. This document is available on the DEFRA website.
The proposed action programme measures, as set out in our consultation on the implementation of the nitrates directive in England, represent what my Department considers as the best way to fulfil our obligations under the nitrates directive while maintaining a sustainable agricultural industry. The measures were developed to reflect good agricultural practice and the best available science.
[holding answer 7 January 2008]: The Environment Agency is the competent authority for the enforcement of the action programme established in England under the nitrates directive. The Environment Agency also advises the Government on technical and scientific issues regarding water quality and how this affects the designation of nitrate vulnerable zones.
The Environment Agency responded fully to DEFRA’s recent consultation on proposals to implement the nitrates directive in England. The response is available to view on their website.