18/12/2002

EU nitrate pollution targets met

The DoE has announced that Northern Ireland has met its EU environment obligations over how best to tackle nitrate pollution from agricultural sources and improve water quality in the province.

Direct rule Ministers responsible for DoE and Department of Agriculture – Angela Smith and Ian Pearson – announced their intention to undertake an initial consultation shortly on proposals to designate four more Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) in Northern Ireland.

Subject to the outcome of consultation, the precise areas to be designated are not expected to be extensive. Two are located in Kilrea and Knockcloghrim, Co Londonderry, one in Whitehead, Co Antrim, and one in Dromara, Co Down.

Nitrate pollution above levels set by the EC Nitrates Directive was found at each of these locations by DoE monitoring of groundwaters, supported by technical evaluations of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI). The joint Scientific Report found that nitrate concentrations in rivers and lakes throughout Northern Ireland are substantially below the Nitrates Directive limit and only a small proportion of groundwater monitoring points had significantly elevated nitrate levels.

Ms Smith: "However, the issue of eutrophication, or nitrogen enrichment, was identified as a major environmental problem throughout Northern Ireland. In eutrophic waters, such as Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, upwards of 75% of the nitrate loading was attributed to agricultural sources. In eutrophic marine waters, such as the Quoile Pondage, the precise contribution from agriculture to nitrate loads was found to be uncertain and the report recommended further investigations.”

Both departments will undertake a second stage of consultation early next year to seek comments on how best to respond to eutrophication within the context of the EC Nitrates Directive requirements and other relevant environmental legislation. To support this consultation, a forum for key stakeholders, including farmers’ representatives is expected to be established.

Meanwhile, following a meeting with representatives of the Northern Ireland Bankers Association, Sinn Fein's Agriculture spokesperson Gerry McHugh called for bankers to view farmers with "sympathy".

Mr McHugh said: "The Bankers Association confirmed that farmers here owe over £500 million to the banks. This is on top of the other farm debts that may be held with finance companies and mortgages.

"Our greatest concerns were at the response of the banks to both charging for persistent overdraft facilities and in particular the situation for farmers who are caught in a cash-flow trap because of TB and brucellosis. Such situations are exacerbated by the backlog of overdue testing and the lengthy lock-down period."

(GMcG)

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