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Modelling mitigation options to reduce diffuse nitrogen water pollution from agriculture

Agriculture is responsible for large scale water quality degradation and is estimated to contribute around 55% of the nitrogen entering the European Seas. The key policy instrument for protecting inland, transitional and coastal water resources is the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Reducing nutrient losses from agriculture is crucial to the successful implementation of the WFD. There are several mitigation measures that can be implemented to reduce nitrogen losses from agricultural areas to surface and ground waters. For the selection of appropriate measures, models are useful for quantifying the expected impacts and the associated costs. In this article we review some of the models used in Europe to assess the effectiveness of nitrogen mitigation measures, ranging from fertilizer management to the construction of riparian areas and wetlands. We highlight how the complexity of models is correlated with the type of scenarios that can be tested, with conceptual models mostly used to evaluate the impact of reduced fertilizer application, and the physically-based models used to evaluate the timing and location of mitigation options and the response times. We underline the importance of considering the lag time between the implementation of measures and effects on water quality. Models can be effective tools for targeting mitigation measures (identifying critical areas and timing), for evaluating their cost effectiveness, for taking into consideration pollution swapping and considering potential trade-offs in contrasting environmental objectives. Models are also useful for involving stakeholders during the development of catchments mitigation plans, increasing their acceptability.