Environmental management – guidance

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

How to find out if your farm is in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) and how to comply with NVZ rules.


A Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) is designated where land drains and contributes to the nitrate found in “polluted” waters. Polluted waters include:

  • Surface or ground waters that contain at least 50mg per litre (mg/l) nitrate
  • Surface or ground waters that are likely to contain at least 50mg/l nitrate if no action is taken
  • Waters which are eutrophic, or are likely to become eutrophic if no action is taken

(A water is eutrophic if it contains levels of nitrogen compounds that cause excessive plant growth resulting in “an undesirable disturbance to the balance of organisms present in the water and to the quality of the water”).

This guide explains how to find out if your farm is in an NVZ, and what you need to do to comply with the NVZ rules.

If you don’t comply with the NVZ rules, you may be prosecuted and fined. You must also comply with NVZ rules, if they apply to you, to be entitled to a full subsidy payment under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

The deadline for constructing slurry stores was 1 January 2012 for most farmers in NVZs, or 1 January 2013 if you are in a deferred slurry storage area. Read: Livestock Slurry Storage in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones: Message to farmers - August 2013 (PDF, 224KB, 6 pages)

Is your farm in an NVZ?

If your farm is in an NVZ, you must comply with the NVZ rules.

Interactive map of NVZs (Environment Agency What’s In Your Back Yard website). These maps show the areas of England and Wales that are designated as NVZs from November 2013.

For farmland outside NVZs it’s still a good idea to follow Defra’s Code of Good Agricultural Practice. It will help keep your manufactured nitrate fertiliser bills down and make it less likely your land becomes part of an NVZ in the future.

NVZ and cross compliance

To qualify for full payment under the SPS and other direct payments - eg the Environmental Stewardship schemes - you must meet all relevant cross compliance requirements. These requirements are split into two types:

If your farm is in an NVZ and you claim payments under SPS, you must comply with SMR 1 in order to qualify for your payments. 

How to comply with NVZ rules

If your farm is in an NVZ, you must comply with the NVZ rules.

Guidance to help you understand what calculations you must make and what records you must keep to comply with the regulations is available.

For advice on NVZ requirements please contact the Farming Advice Service. For editorial comments on the guidance, please email nitratesdirectiveteam@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Requirements of the NVZ rules

If your farm is in an NVZ you must:

  • Plan your use of livestock manure and manufactured nitrogen fertilisers to ensure that you don’t apply more nitrogen than your crops require
  • Produce a risk map for any land where you intend to spread organic manure
  • Comply with the field limit, the Max (crop nitrogen requirement) limit, closed periods and spreading controls for spreading manufactured nitrogen fertilisers and organic manures
  • Comply with the livestock manure N (nitrogen) farm limit
  • Provide adequate storage capacity for livestock manures
  • Keep records of the nitrogen applied to each of your fields, and some records and calculations for your farm as a whole.

Grassland derogations

If you are in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) and your farming operation meets certain conditions you can apply for a grassland derogation each year. A derogation is a specific approval that allows you to apply more nitrogen from livestock manure to your land. You can apply 250 kg nitrogen per hectare per year averaged over your holding, instead of the standard limit of 170kg N/ha/per year.

You can apply for a grassland derogation for the next calendar year between 1 October and 31 December this year. Information on what you will need to provide in your application can be found in (Annex 2, Part B) of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones in England: guidance on complying with the rules for 2013 to 2016.

The Nitrates Directive and English regulations

The European Commission website has the full text of the Directive, a report on how it has been implemented across Europe and further information:

English regulations:

Further information

Farming Advice Service

Environment Agency Helpline

03708 506 506

Defra Helpline

03459 33 55 77