Implementation of the Nitrates directive in Denmark

The Nitrates Directive from 1991 aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices.

The Danish history of action plans

Denmark has since 1985 implemented a number of actions plans to reduce nitrate leaching. In stead of designating specific nitrates zones all action plans apply for the entire territory, adopting the whole territory approach in the Nitrates directive.

The Danish Action Plans for the Aquatic Environment (APAEs) encompass comprehensive regulations regarding the aquatic environment and have been the key tools in reducing the load of nitrogen from diffuse pollution on the environment. They precede the implementation of the Nitrates Directive, as the first plan was adopted in 1987. For each APAE a number of strict goals is set for the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorous discharges.

The first Action Plan for the Aquatic Environment was agreed on by the Danish parliament in 1987 and in 1998 on the APAE II, which was recognised as the implementation of the Nitrates Directive as announced by the Commission in November 1998.

The final evaluation of the APAE II in December 2003 showed that the measures already implemented in addition to the measures already agreed upon and financed would result in a reduction of the total nitrogen discharges from agriculture of around 149,000 tonnes N per year. This corresponds to a reduction of around 48% of the calculated 311,000 tonnes N in 1985.

New goals

In 2004, new goals were set, as the Danish parliament agreed upon the Action Plan for the Aquatic Environment III 2005-2015. This plan encompasses broad efforts to reduce agricultural impacts on the aquatic environment and nature. The APAE III includes a stronger focus on surplus phosphor in agriculture, which must be halved, compared to 37,700 tonnes P in 2001/2002, with 2015 as the target year. For nitrogen the aim was to reduce leaching from agriculture by a minimum of 13% by 2015 compared to 2003.

The APAE III was midterm evaluated in 2008 both on results, adequacy of tools and economic aspects to ensure that activities and expected results are achieved. The midterm evaluation does not show any significant decrease in nitrate leaching during 2003-2007 and the conclusions were that the implementation of measures and their effect has not been as anticipated.

On this basis, further or different activities were designed, also with a view to further integrate activities with efforts to implement and reach the goals of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD).

On this background the Danish government in 2009 launched the Green Growth Agreement. The Green Growth Agreement deals with the problems formerly encountered in achieving expected goals in the APAE III, but a much broader plan is to ensure better conditions for the nature and environment while allowing agriculture to develop. As the Green Growth Agreement is much broader than the APAEs, a Danish Nitrate Action Programme is composed specifying the elements of the implementation of the Nitrate Directive.

Overview of the APAEs and Green Growth Agreement

An Action Plan for the Aquatic Environment was put in place in 1987, preceding the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC). However, as a result of the evaluation of the APAE I, the Danish Parliament agreed upon the Action Plan on the Aquatic Environment II (Action Plan II) and hereby fulfilling the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC). The Action Plan II especially  focused on root zone nitrogen discharges from arable land.

Overview of the implementation of the Nitrates Directive in Danish legislation

  1. The Order no. 764 of 28 June 2012 . Order on Commercial Livestock, Livestock Manure, Silage etc.
  2. The Act no. 418 of 26 June 1998. Act on charge of nitrogen content in fertilisers
  3. The Order on Water sources, no. 789 of June 21, 2007

The codes of good agricultural practice is implemented by the two first mentioned

The action plan II and III for the Aquatic Environment

  • II: 1998-2003 reduction of nitrate leaching with 48%
  • III: 2005-2015 reduction of nitrate leaching with 13%

Parts of the Green Growth Agreement 2009-2015

  • The reduction of 19.000 t nitrogen to the costal waters, which is translated into 45.000 t nitrogen from the root zone and to be compared with the APAE targets.

Overview of elements regulating nitrogen uses and discharges including codes of good agricultural practice.

1 .

Periods of spreading;
  • No application of liquid manure from harvest to February 1 or perennial crops to March 1
  • No application of solid manure from harvest to October 20 only on fields with winter crops
  • Limits to use of silage effluent between harvest and November 1.

Spreading on sloping soils;

  • No application in a manner which risks run off into lakes and watercourses
  • No application of manure in a 20 m buffer strip along watercourses, lakes and inlets

3 .

Soaked, frozen and snow-covered soils;

  • No application in a manner which risks run off into lakes and watercourses

4 .

Proximity of watercourses;

  • 2 meter mandatory buffer zones along watercourses and lakes
5. Effluent storage works;
  • Storage restrictions and capacity and quality of manure storage
  • Distance to water bodies and nature sites
  • Precautions when handling slurry is tightened
6 . Limitation and splitting of nitrogen inputs;
  • Nitrogen quota, calculated prior to the growth season and reported in annual fertilizer accounts
  • Nitrogen quota is 10% under the economic optimum
  • Tightening of utilization rates for manure
  • Compulsory correction of calculation of manure production on farms
  • Tightening of livestock density rules.
7. Method of spreading (and uniformity) of chemical fertilizers and manure;
  • Manure must be worked into the soil within 6 hours
8. Crop rotation, permanent crop maintenance;
  • Crop rotation plan for all fields individually with nitrogen use
9. Vegetation cover in rainy periods
  • Mandatory catch crops
10. Fertilization plans and spreading records;
  • Fertilizer accounts
  • Publication of all Fertilizer accounts
11. Runoff and leaching connected with irrigation;
  • Fields with irrigation are allowed a higher nitrogen standard
12. Other preventive measures.
  • Demands for use of more nitrogen for bread wheat and grass