Implementation of nitrates Directive
of 12 December 1991
concerning the protection of waters against pollution
caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (91/676/EEC)
THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES,
Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Economic
Community, and in particular Article 130 thereof,
Having regard to the proposal from the Commission (1),
Having regard to the opinion of the European Parliament (2),
Having regard to the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee
Whereas the nitrate content of water in some areas of Member
States is increasing and is already high as compared with standards
laid down in Council Directive 75/440/EEC of 16 June 1975 concerning
the quality required of surface water intended for the abstraction
of drinking water in the Member States (4), as amended by Directive
79/869/EEC (5), and Council Directive 80/778/EEC of 15 July
1980 relating to the quality of water intended for human consumption
(6), as amended by the 1985 Act of Accession;
Whereas the fourth programme of action of the European Economic
Communities on the environment (7) indicated that the Commission
intended to make a proposal for a Directive on the control and
reduction of water pollution resulting from the spreading or
discharge of livestock effluents and the excessive use of fertilizers;
Whereas the reform of the common agricultural policy set out
in the Commission's green paper 'Perspectives for the common
agricultural policy` indicated that, while the use of nitrogen-containing
fertilizers and manures is necessary for Community agriculture,
excessive use of fertilizers constitutes an environmental risk,
that common action is needed to control the problem arising
from intensive livestock production and that agricultural policy
must take greater account of environmental policy;
Whereas the Council resolution of 28 June 1988 of the protection
of the North Sea and of other waters in the Community (8) invites
the Commission to submit proposals for measures at Community
Whereas the main cause of pollution from diffuse sources affecting
the Community's waters in nitrates from agricultural sources;
Whereas it is therefore necessary, in order to protect human
health and living resources and aquatic ecosystems and to safeguard
other legitimate uses of water, to reduce water pollution caused
or induced by nitrates from agricultural sources and to prevent
further such pollution; whereas for this purpose it is important
to take measures concerning the storage and the application
on land of all nitrogen compounds and concerning certain land
Whereas since pollution of water due to nitrates on one Member
State can influence waters in other Member States, action at
Community level in accordance with Article 130r is therefore
Whereas, by encouraging good agricultural practices, Member
States can provide all waters with a general level of protection
against pollution in the future;
Whereas certain zones, draining into waters vulnerable to pollution
from nitrogen compounds, require special protection;
Whereas it is necessary for Member States to identify vulnerable
zones and to establish and implement action programmes in order
to reduce water pollution from nitrogen compounds in vulnerable
Whereas such action programmes should include measures to limit
the land-application of all nitrogen-containing fertilizers
and in particular to set specific limits for the application
of livestock manure;
Whereas it is necessary to monitor waters and to apply reference
methods of measurement for nitrogen compounds to ensure that
measures are effective;
Whereas it is recognized that the hydrogeology in certain Member
States is such that it may be many years before protection measures
lead to improvements in water quality;
Whereas a Committee should be established to assist the Commission
on matters relating to the implementation of this Directive
and to its adaptation to scientific and technical progress;
Whereas Member States should establish and present to the Commission
reports on the implementation of this Directive;
Whereas the Commission should report regularly on the implementation
of this Directive by the Member States,
(1) OJ N° C 54, 3. 3. 1989, p. 4 and OJ N° C 51, 2. 3. 1990,
(2) OJ N° C 158, 26. 6. 1989, p. 487.
(3) OJ N° C 159, 26. 6. 1989, p. 1.
(4) OJ N° L 194, 25. 7. 1975, p. 26.
(5) OJ N° L 271, 29. 10. 1979, p. 44.
(6) OJ N° L 229, 30. 8. 1980, p. 11.
(7) OJ N° C 328, 7. 12. 1987, p. 1.
(8) OJ N° C 209, 9. 8. 1988, p. 3.
HAS ADOPTED THIS DIRECTIVE:
Directive has the objective of:
- reducing water pollution caused or induced by nitrates
from agricultural sources and
- preventing further such pollution.
For the purpose of this Directive:
- (a) 'groundwater`: means all water which is below the
surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in direct
contact with the ground or subsoil;
- (b) 'freshwater`: means naturally occurring water having
a low concentration of salts, which is often acceptable
as suitable for abstraction and treatment to produce drinking
- (c) 'nitrogen compound`: means any nitrogen-containing
substance except for gaseous molecular nitrogen;
- (d) 'livestock`: means all animals kept for use or profit;
- (e) 'fertilizer`: means any substance containing a nitrogen
compound or nitrogen compounds utilized on land to enhance
growth of vegetation; it may include livestock manure, the
residues from fish farms and sewage sludge;
- (f) 'chemical fertilizer`: means any fertilizer which
is manufactured by an industrial process;
- (g) 'livestock manure`: means waste products excreted
by livestock or a mixture of litter and waste products excreted
by livestock, even in processed form;
- (h) 'land application`: means the addition of materials
to land whether by spreading on the surface of the land,
injection into the land, placing below the surface of the
land or mixing with the surface layers of the land;
- (i) 'eutrophication`: means the enrichment of water by
nitrogen compounds, causing an accelerated growth of algae
and higher forms of plant life to produce an undesirable
disturbance to the balance of organisms present in the water
and to the quality of the water concerned;
- (j) 'pollution`: means the discharge, directly or indirectly,
of nitrogen compounds from agricultural sources into the
aquatic environment, the results of which are such as to
cause hazards to human health, harm to living resources
and to aquatic ecosystems, damage to amenities or interference
with other legitimate uses of water;
- (k) 'vulnerable zone`: means an area of land designated
according to Article 3 (2).
- Waters affected by pollution and waters which could be
affected by pollution if action pursuant Article 5 is not
taken shall be identified by the Member States in accordance
with the criteria set out in Annex I.
- Member States shall, within a two-year period following
the notification of this Directive, designate as vulnerable
zones all known areas of land in their territories which
drain into the waters identified according to paragraph
1 and which contribute to pollution. They shall notify the
Commission of this initial designation within six months.
- When any waters identified by a Member State in accordance
with paragraph 1 are affected by pollution from waters from
another Member State draining directly or indirectly in
to them, the Member States whose waters are affected may
notify the other Member States and the Commission of the
The Member States concerned shall organize, where appropriate
with the Commission, the concertation necessary to identify
the sources in question and the measures to be taken to
protect the waters that are affected in order to ensure
conformity with this Directive.
- Member States shall review if necessary revise or add
to the designation of vulnerable zones as appropriate, and
at last every four years, to take into account changes and
factors unforeseen at the time of the previous designation.
They shall notify the Commission of any revision or addition
to the designations within six months.
- Member States shall be exempt from the obligation to identify
specific vulnerable zones, if they establish and apply action
programmes referred to in Article 5 in accordance with this
Directive throughout their national territory.
1. With the aim of providing for all waters a general level
of protection against pollution, Member States shall, within
a two-year period following the notification of this Directive:
(a) establish a code or codes of good agricultural practice,
to be implemented by farmers on a voluntary basis, which should
contain provisions covering at least the items mentioned in
Annex II A;
(b) set up where necessary a programme, including the provision
of training and information for farmers, promoting the application
of the code(s) of good agricultural practice.
2. Member States shall submit to the Commission details of their
codes of good agricultural practice and the Commission shall
include information on these codes in the report referred to
in Article 11. In the light of the information received, the
Commission may, if it considers it necessary, make appropriate
proposals to the Council.
1. Within a two-year period following the initial designation
referred to in Article 3 (2) or within one year of each additional
designation referred to in Article 3 (4), Member States shall,
for the purpose of realizing the objectives specified in Article
1, establish action programmes in respect of designated vulnerable
2. An action programme may relate to all vulnerable zones in
the territory of a Member State or, where the Member State considers
it appropriate, different programmes may be established for
different vulnerable zones or parts of zones.
3. Action programmes shall take into account:
(a) available scientific and technical data, mainly with reference
to respective nitrogen contributions originating from agricultural
and other sources;
(b) environmental conditions in the relevant regions of the
Member State concerned.
4. Action programmes shall be implemented within four years
of their establishment and shall consist of the following mandatory
(a) the measures in Annex III;
(b) those measures which Member States have prescribed in the
code(s) of good agricultural practice established in accordance
with Article 4, except those which have been superseded by the
measures in Annex III.
5. Member States shall moreover take, in the framework of the
action programmes, such additional measures or reinforced actions
as they consider necessary if, at the outset or in the light
of experience gained in implementing the action programmes,
it becomes apparent that the measures referred to in paragraph
4 will not be sufficient for achieving the objectives specified
in Article 1. In selecting these measures or actions, Member
States shall take into account their effectiveness and their
cost relative to other possible preventive measures.
6. Member States shall draw up and implement suitable monitoring
programmes to assess the effectiveness of action programmes
established pursuant to this Article.
Member States which apply Article 5 throughout their national
territory shall monitor the nitrate content of waters (surface
waters and groundwater) at selected measuring points which make
it possible to establish the extent of nitrate pollution in
the waters from agricultural sources.
7. Member States shall review and if necessary revise their
action programmes, including any additional measures taken pursuant
to paragraph 5, at least every four years. They shall inform
the Commission of any changes to the action programmes.
1. For the purpose of designating and revising the designation
of vulnerable zones, Member States shall:
(a) within two years of notification of the Directive, monitor
the nitrate concentration in freshwaters over a period of one
(i) at surface water sampling stations, laid down in Article
5 (4) of Directive 75/440/EEC and/or at other sampling stations
which are representative of surface waters of Member States,
at least monthly and more frequently during flood periods;
(ii) at sampling stations which are representative of the groundwater
aquifers of Member States, at regular intervals and taking into
account the provisions of Directive 80/778/EEC;
(b) repeat the monitoring programme outlined in (a) at least
every four years, except for those sampling stations where the
nitrate concentration in all previous samples has been below
25 mg/l and no new factor likely to increase the nitrage content
has appeared, in which case the monitoring programme need be
repeated only every eight years;
(c) review the eutrophic state of their fresh surface waters,
estuarial and coastal waters every four years.
2. The reference methods of measurement set out in Annex IV
shall be used.
Guidelines for the monitoring referred to in Article 5 and 6
may be drawn up in accordance with the procedure laid down in
The Annexes to this Directive may be adapted to scientific and
technical progress in accordance with the procedure laid down
in Article 9.
1. The Commission shall be assisted by a Committee composed
of the representative of the Member States and chaired by the
representative of the Commission.
2. The representative of the Commission shall submit to the
Commission a draft of the measures to be taken. The Committee
shall deliver its opinion on the draft within a time limit which
the chairman may lay down according to the urgency of the matter.
The opinion shall be delivered by the majority laid down in
Article 148 (2) of the EEC Treaty in the case of decisions which
the Council is required to adopt a proposal from the Commission.
The votes of the representatives of the Member States within
the Committee shall be weighted in the manner set out in that
Article. The chairman shall not vote.
3. (a) The Commission shall adopt the measures envisaged if
they are in accordance with the opinion of the Committee.
(b) If the measures envisaged are not in accordance with the
opinion of the Committee, or if no opinion is delivered, the
Commission shall, without delay, submit to the Council a proposal
relating to the measures to be taken. The Council shall act
by a qualified majority.
(c) If, on the expiry of a period of three months from the date
of referral to the Council, the Council has not acted, the proposed
measures shall be adopted by the Commission, save where the
Council has decided against the said measures by a simple majority.
1. Member States shall, in respect of the four-year period following
the notification of this Directive and in respect of each subsequent
four-year period, submit a report to the Commission containing
the information outlined in Annex V.
2. A report pursuant to this Article shall be submitted to the
Commission within six months of the end of the period to which
On the basis of the information received pursuant to Article
10, the Commission shall publish summary reports within six
months of receiving the reports from Member States and shall
communicate them to the European Parliament and to the Council.
In the light of the implementation of the Directive, and in
particular the provisions of Annex III, the Commission shall
submit to the Council by 1 January 1998 a report accompanied
where appropriate by proposals for revision of this Directive.
1. The Member States shall bring into force the laws, regulations
and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this
Directive within two years of its notification (1). They shall
forthwith inform the Commission thereof.
2. When Member States adopt these measures, they shall contain
a reference to this Directive or shall be accompanied by such
reference on the occasion of their official publication. The
methods of making such a reference shall be laid down by the
3. Member States shall communicate to the Commission the texts
of the provisions of national law which they adopt in the field
governed by this Directive.
This Directive is addressed to the Member States.
Done at Brussels, 12 December 1991.
For the Council
FOR IDENTIFYING WATERS REFERRED TO IN ARTICLE 3 (1)
OF GOOD AGRICULTURAL PRACTICE
TO BE INCLUDED IN ACTION PROGRAMMES AS REFERRED TO IN ARTICLE
5 (4) (a)
- Waters referred to in Article 3 (1)
shall be identified making use, inter alia, of the following
- whether surface freshwaters, in
particular those used or intended for the abstraction
of drinking water, contain or could contain, if action
pursuant to Article 5 is not taken, more than the concentration
of nitrates laid down in accordance with Directive 75/440/EEC;
- whether groundwaters contain more
than 50 mg/l nitrates or could contain more than 50
mg/l nitrates if action pursuant to Article 5 is not
- whether natural freshwater lakes,
other freshwater bodies, estuaries, coastal waters and
marine waters are found to be eutrophic or in the near
future may become euthropic if action pursuant to Article
5 is not taken.
- In applying these criteria, Member States
shall also take account of:
METHODS OF MEASUREMENT
- The measures shall include rules relating
- periods when the land application
of certain types of fertilizer is prohibited;
- the capacity of storage vessels
for livestock manure; this capacity must exceed that
required for storage throughout the longest period during
which land application in the vulnerable zone is prohibited,
except where it can be demonstrated to the competent
authority that any quantity of manure in excess of the
actual storage capacity will be disposed of in a manner
which will not cause harm to the environment;
- limitation of the land application
of fertilizers, consistent with good agricultural practice
and taking into account the characteristics of the vulnerable
zone concerned, in particular:
- These measures will ensure that, for
each farm or livestock unit, the amount of livestock manure
applied to the land each year, including by the animals
themselves, shall not exceed a specified amount per hectare.
The specified amount per hectare be the amount of manure
containing 170 kg N. However:
(a) for the first four year action programme Member States
may allow an amount of manure containing up to 210 kg N;
(b) during and after the first four-year action programme,
Member States may fix different amounts from those referred
to above. These amounts must be fixed so as not to prejudice
the achievement of the objectives specified in Article 1
and must be justified on the basis of objectives criteria,
- long growing seasons,
- crops with high nitrogen uptake,
- high net precipitation in the vulnerable zone,
- soils with exceptionally high denitrification capacity.
If a Member State allows a different amount under subparagraph
(b), it shall inform the Commission which will examine the
justification in accordance with the procedure laid down
in Article 9.
- Member States may calculate the amounts
referred to in paragraph 2 on the basis of animal numbers.
- Member States shall inform the Commission
of the manner in which they are applying the provisions
of paragraph 2. In the light of the information received,
the Commission may, if it considers necessary, make appropriate
proposals to the Council in accordance with Article 11.
Nitrogen compounds shall be measured using the method described
in Commission Directive 77/535/EEC of 22 June 1977 on the approximation
of the laws of the Member States relating to methods of sampling
and analysis for fertilizers (1), as amended by Directive 89/519/EEC
Freshwaters, coastal waters and marine waters
Nitrate concentration shall be measured in accordance with Article
4a (3) of Council Decision 77/795/EEC of 12 December 1977 establishing
a common procedure for the exchange of information on the quality
of surface fresh water in the Community (3), as amended by Decision
(1)OJ N° L 213, 22. 8. 1977, p. 1.
(2)OJ N° L 265, 12. 9. 1989, p. 30.
(3)OJ N° L 334, 24. 12. 1977, p. 29.
(4)OJ N° L 335, 28. 11. 1986, p. 44.
TO BE CONTAINED IN REPORTS TO IN ARTICLE 10
- A statement of the preventive action taken pursuant to
- A map showing the following:
- waters identified in accordance with Article 3 (1)
and Annex I indicating for each water which of the criteria
in Annex I was used for the purpose of identification;
- the location of the designed vulnerable zones, distinguishing
between existing zones and zones designated since the
- A summary of the monitoring results obtained pursuant
to Article 6, including a statement of the considerations
which led to the designation of each vulnerable zone and
to any revision of or addition to designations of vulnerable
- A summary of the action programmes drawn up pursuant to
Article 5 and, in particular:
- the measures required by Article 5 (4) (a) and (b);
- the information required by Annex III (4);
- any additional measures or reinforced actions taken
pursuant to Article 5 (5);
- a summary of the results of the monitoring programmes
implemented pursuant to Article 5 (6);
- the assumptions made by the Member States about the
likely timescale within which the waters identified
in accordance with Article 3 (1) are expected to respond
to the measure in the action programme, along with an
indication of the level of uncertainty incorporated
in these assumptions.