The European Commission (EC) Nitrates Directive requires areas of land that drain into waters polluted by nitrates to be designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. Farmers with land in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones have to follow mandatory rules to tackle nitrate loss from agriculture.

Every four years the definition of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones is reviewed by the Environment Agency to ensure that best available scientific practice and knowledge is applied to the mapping of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. Landowners may appeal at this time to the Ministry of Justice First-tier Environment Tribunal to have the inclusion of their land within a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone reviewed. Appeals may take one of two forms:

  1. That the land so designated does not in fact drain into waters categorised as an NVZ (i.e. that drainage is directed elsewhere outside of an NVZ).
  2. That the waters into which the land drains are not in fact polluted by nitrates, and should not therefore be included within an NVZ.

The latest round of appeals have now all been submitted to the Tribunal, and will be heard over the course of the year. All appeals are due to have been heard by September 2017.

Dr Aidan Foley of Environmental Geology & Geotechnical Consultants Ltd acts as a Hydrological Expert on the Tribunal. Tribunal sittings are usually conducted by one judge and one hydrological expert, drawn from a pool of judges and hydrologists. The sittings are typically dealt with on paper only, but more significant cases, for example the Taw Estuary eutrophic NVZ designation (north Devon), may be heard in court.

The EC Nitrates directive may be viewed HERE.

The transposition of the directive into English & Welsh law, as the Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations (2015), may be viewed HERE.

Implementation of NVZs in England and Wales is detailed HERE.

The Environment Agency maps and underlying datasheets for individual NVZs may be viewed HERE.

The methodologies for determining NVZs may be viewed at the following links:




Additional information on statistical techniques applied to the designation of NVZs may be found HERE.

And the evidence base for the effectiveness of NVZs in tackling nitrate pollution of estuaries, surface waters and groundwaters, may be found HERE. (Requires updating.)

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