European Commission to take action against the UK for breaking legislation on water pollution from farm nitrates

The UK will receive a reasoned opinion for failing to designate the Ythan estuary in Scotland as a vulnerable area under the directive to protect waters from nitrate pollution. A reasoned opinion is the second stage of action, just one level below being taken to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

“The commission’s action reflects its strong determination to reduce water pollution caused by nitrates produced from agricultural sources. The United Kingdom is making welcome progress, but it still needs to do more to comply with the court’s judgement,” said Margot Wallström, EU Environment Commissioner.

However, a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) expressed disappointment at the decision. “We understand the commission’s reasons but we are disappointed that it could not acknowledge the UK’s commitment and plans for implementing the directive fully,” he told edie. “We are disappointed that the commission did not recognise the importance we attach to minimise the regulatory burden to farmers and undertake a thorough and open public consultation process.”

He added that DEFRA was consulting fully on the designation of the new nitrate vulnerability zones (NVZ) before the end of the year and is seeking views on the best approach to implementation. “Subject to the outcome, we will work to set up new zones as soon as possible while ensuring that farmers are supported in compliance with NVZ action programme measures,” he said.

He was also quick to point out that England’s rivers are cleaner than ever before. “Ninety-four per cent had good or fair chemical quality in 2000 compared with 83% in 1990,” he said, adding that Wallström has written to the environment minister Michael Meacher withdrawing infraction proceedings against Blackpool bathing waters that were costing around £70,000 per day.

Other countries to face action for breaking the legislation include Luxembourg, which will be taken before the ECJ, Portugal and Finland, which will receive a letter of formal notice, the first stage of procedure.

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