The Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (the Nitrates Directive) was adopted on 12 December 1991. It aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices.
The Nitrates Directive forms an integral part of the Water Framework Directive and is one of the key instruments in the protection of waters against agricultural pressures.
More information on the aims, implementation and impact of the Nitrates Directive can be found in the Factsheet on the Nitrates Directive, in the Questions and Answers document and on the following infographics:
Also, the Expert Group for the implementation of the Nitrates Directive provides an informal forum of discussion between the Commission and the Member States on technical aspects linked to the implementation of the nitrates directive and nutrients policy.
1. Identification of water polluted, or at risk of pollution, such as:
2. Designation as "Nitrate Vulnerable Zones"(NVZs) of:
The current status of NVZ and whole territory designations can be viewed using the map viewer on the website of the Joint Research Centre.
3. Establishment of Codes of Good Agricultural Practice to be implemented by farmers on a voluntary basis. Codes should include:
4. Establishment of action programmes to be implemented by farmers within NVZs on a compulsory basis. These programmes must include:
5. Limits to the application of nitrogen from manure: in areas covered by Action Programmes, the Directive prescribes that the highest amount of nitrogen from manure that can be applied annually is 170 kg/ha. At the request of Member States, and provided that they justify scientifically that this shall not lead to higher pollution, the Commission can adopt implementing Decisions (commonly referred as “derogations”) that allow the application of higher maximum limits of nitrogen from manure in specific areas and under particular conditions. Such derogations do not exempt Member States from the water quality objectives of the Directive, nor from any other of its measures. The Commission Decisions that allow for the application of more than 170 kg/ha of nitrogen from manure that are currently in force are listed below:
6. National monitoring and reporting. Every four years Member States are required to report on:
Reports and studies
The 4-yearly reports produced by the Member States are used as the basis for a 4-yearly report by the European Commission on the implementation of the Directive.