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Government sidesteps pollution problem, says RSPB

Last modified: 28 August 2012



Image: Andy Hay

People, wildlife and habitats will suffer as a result of government failure to tackle the pressing problem of nitrogen pollution, says the RSPB.

Defra released their response to ‘Consultation on Implementing the Nitrates Directive’ today [Tuesday 28 August, 2012].  The RSPB says it fails to take the actions urgently needed to address nitrate pollution, putting wildlife and habitats at risk.

The RSPB wants to see the whole of England designated as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone and regulations on fertiliser use implemented and enforced effectively across the country.  

The financial costs of nitrate pollution are significant; water companies in the UK will spend £358m over the ten-year period between 2005 and 2015 stripping nitrates from water supplies to make it drinkable, and those costs mean increased water bills for customers. 

Rob Cunningham, RSPB Head of Water Policy, says; ‘Government had an opportunity to tackle nitrate pollution with this consultation and they’ve sidestepped it.  Farmers need clear guidance on the actions to take on their farms. Encouraging best practice for all farmers would create a level playing field and help meet wider water quality objectives. 

‘There’s already evidence to show that nitrate pollution from agriculture is having an impact both locally and globally, and is damaging estuary feeding areas of wading birds like avocets, lapwings and redshanks.

‘Langstone Harbour on the south coast is a really clear example of where large amounts of algae, stimulated by hundreds of tonnes of nitrogen in the water from agriculture, are smothering parts of the shore.  That means less food for wading birds and makes it more difficult for the birds to get at any food that is there.  Our Langstone Harbour nature reserve and the wading birds that rely on this habitat are at risk.’

‘As well as the threats to our environment, treating water to remove nitrates before it reaches our taps is a costly business, and inevitably we end up picking up those costs by paying more for our water.’

Defra has also announced exemption from parts of the nitrates regulations for low-intensity farms.  But, RSPB says these could include farms that are using larger amounts of manufactured fertiliser than most grassland farmers, potentially 50 per cent more than the average amount. 


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