Keywords: Nitrate, Phosphorus, Water, Agriculture, Control, Regulation, Europe.
Nitrogen and phosphorus in waters cause concern because they may result in failure to meet the 50 mg/l nitrate drinking water standard or in eutrophication of fresh and marine waters. Agriculture is the main source of nitrate in water and the second most important source of phosphorus after waste water from sewage treatment works.
A range of control mechanisms are available to national governments and international fora to reduce nutrient losses from agriculture and help meet environmental objectives. These are financial (output prices, incentive payments, taxes, levies), regulation and advice. Within Europe, the regulatory options has been used by many countries. Others have relied mainly on information and advisory programmes. Within the EU, the EC Nitrate Directive which was adopted in 1991 is the main legislation. This requires mandatory controls on farmers in areas where nitrate pollution is occurring. Various other international agreements deal with aspects of nutrient loss from agriculture.
National policies and implementation of EU and other agreements vary considerably. Countries with longstanding marine eutrophication problems have usually taken the greatest and most widespread action. Denmark, Netherlands, Germany and Belgium (Flanders) are all designating the whole of their territory under the Nitrate Directive. They have more and stronger national legislation than other countries. But they also have the highest densities of housed livestock, particularly pigs.
By contrast France, UK and southern European countries generally have less problems and have taken less action. All are committed to local Nitrate Vulnerable Zone designations under the Nitrate Directive rather than designation of all their territory. Greater reliance in these countries is put on information and advice.
Countries with high quality lake and river waters such as Ireland and Finland are most concerned about phosphorus limited eutrophication. Their policies reflect this concern.
J R Archer and M J Marks, Farming and Rural Conservation Agency, London, UK.
31 pages, 3 tables, 35 refs.