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:

  • Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs)
  • Requirements to keep your land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAECs)

If your farm is in an NVZ and you claim payments under SPS, you must comply with SMR 4 in order to qualify for your payments. 

Find information on SMR 4 on the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) website.

GAEC 19 - No Spread Zones

These requirements are aimed at protecting water against pollution and run-off from agricultural sources.

This standard came into force on 1 January 2012.

You can find information on the requirements of GAEC 19 - No Spread Zones on the RPA website.

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.

Please email about any questions you have on the guidance.

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. Having a derogation means you can apply more nitrogen from livestock manure to your land. The limit increases from 170 to 250 kg nitrogen per hectare per year averaged over your holding.

You can apply for a derogation between 1 October and 31 December each year for a derogation for the following year. A link to the derogation application system will be included below during this period. The NVZ guidance (Annex 2, Part B) sets out what information you will need to provide in your application.

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:

Existing English regulations:

An informal consolidation of the regulations below is available as an aid to reading the 2008 regulations and its amendments.

Further information

Environment Agency Helpline

03708 506 506

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

SMR 4 guidance on the RPA website

Nutrient management plan information on the Tried & Tested website

PLANET nutrient management software on the PLANET website

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