Skip to content
The content on this page has yet to be rewritten for GOV.WALES. It is still correct and up-to-date.

Nitrates Directive

Related Links

Tell us if you want any of the documents on this page in an alternative format.
The EC Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) tries to reduce water pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources and to prevent further pollution.

In Wales, the EC Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) (external link) was brought into law through the Nitrate Pollution Prevention (Wales) Regulations 2013 (external link). 

Member States are required to review their implementation of the Directive every four years. We use the outcome of the review to make appropriate amendments to the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) and/or the measures in the Action Programme.

A Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) is an area of land draining into ground or surface waters that are currently high in nitrate, or may become so if appropriate actions are not taken.

NVZs in Wales were updated in October 2013. Around 2.4% of Wales is currently within an NVZ.

Action programme

Where land falls within a NVZ, certain rules and restrictions apply (known as the “Action Programme”). These measures will help ensure the quality of Wales’ water resources is improved and promote general good practice.

A revised version of the action programme was issued in October 2013.  

Occupiers of land within a NVZ will need to note and comply with the changes to the requirements, which will mostly apply from 1 January 2014.

A summary of the regulations for existing NVZs and for newly designated NVZs is available at the bottom of this page. They include important dates which you should note and prepare for where necessary.

Implementing the proposals in the Action Programme ensures compliance with the Directive and will help tackle diffuse pollution in water courses. This will also contribute to meeting other European water quality Directives in Wales, such as the Water Framework Directive and Groundwater Directive. If we fail to implement the directive, we could be fined by the EU (infraction penalties).

Grassland Derogation

NVZ regulations limit the amount of nitrogen (N) from livestock manure that can be applied across the farm to 170kg per hectare per year. A derogation is available which allows farms in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones with grazing livestock and more than 80% of their area under grass to work to a higher limit of up to 250 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare. This is as long as a successful application is made each year and certain conditions are met.

What are the benefits of tackling nitrate pollution?

Manures and slurries are a valuable resource to farmers as they provide available nitrogen to plants. If this nitrogen is lost by leaching or surface runoff, this can be a loss for farmers as they may need to buy additional fertiliser.

Other benefits include:

  • helping to ensure industries that need high water quality remain viable, including recreation and tourism, fisheries and agriculture, horticulture and food processing
  • helping to maintain and improve the quality of drinking water and reduce the complexity and cost of water treatment
  • reducing the loss of nitrate and other nutrients into the water environment to reduce excessive plant growth or other associated risks
  • helping to protect habitats important for wildlife conservation and to prevent decreases in biodiversity.


The Guidance and Workbook describe what farmers need to do if their land is within a designated Nitrate Vulnerable Zone. The Workbook includes templates which, when completed, will satisfy requirements for planning, calculations and record keeping at a farm level. If you are in an NVZ and have not received copies of the guidance by post, please contact the NVZ helpline on 01974 847 000 so that these, and any future correspondence, can be sent to you.