The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) aims to improve water quality by protecting water against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. In particular, it is about promoting better management of animal manures, chemical nitrogen fertilisers and other nitrogen-containing materials spread onto land.

The requirements of this Directive were enshrined into the domestic legislation mentioned below, and this remains in place following EU exit.

Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) 2019-2022

On 11 April 2019 the new Nutrient Action Programme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 (NAP) were made for the period 2019-2022. The new Regulations replace the Nitrates Action Programme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 as amended and the Phosphorus (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 2014. The NAP Regulations apply to all agricultural land in Northern Ireland.

Compliance with the Nutrients Action Programme is one of the Cross Compliance Statutory Management Requirements. Therefore, farmers claiming Basic Payment Scheme and other direct payments are required to comply with the NAP Regulations. The measures relating to the Phosphorus Regulations are now included in the new NAP. This means that the Cross Compliance Verifiable Standards will now also apply to the land application of chemical phosphorus.

Records relating to the export of organic manure from non-derogated farms must be submitted annually to NIEA by 31 January of the following year.

Records of organic manure exports must be submitted online via DAERA Online Services. Log On access is required therefore please ensure you have registered via the Government Gateway or nidirect.

This on-line submission of manure export records for non-derogated farms sits alongside the CAFRE Nutrient Calculators which farmers are already familiar with and use to calculate their nitrogen loading and storage capacity.

Please be aware that failure to keep these records and submit them to NIEA by the deadline may have implications for any payments under existing area based payment schemes.

Exports for derogated farms are included within the fertilisation account submission.

Poultry litter and anaerobic digestate fibre storage

Farmers planning to store poultry litter or anaerobic digestate fibre in fields should notify the NIEA’s Agricultural Regulation Team prior to placing in the field. Poultry litter and anaerobic digestate fibre may only be stored in field heaps for a maximum of 120 days in the field where it is to be applied and must be covered with an impermeable membrane within 24 hours of placement in the field.

Click this link to notify NIEA of a field heap (a NI Direct or Government Gateway account will be required).

Nitrates directive derogation

Since 2007 the European Commission (the Commission) has granted a derogation from the Nitrates Directive for Northern Ireland from a land application limit of 170kg nitrogen per hectare per year from grazing livestock manures up to 250 kg nitrogen per hectare per year for intensive grassland farms which meet certain criteria. The Commission renewed the derogation for the duration of the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) for 2019 - 2022, this was approved in May 2019.

Subject to individual farms meeting certain key measures, farmers may farm above the 170 kg Nitrogen/hectare/year limit to a limit of 250 kg Nitrogen/hectare/year for grazing livestock manure. The precise terms and conditions of the derogation are set out in the EC Decision 2019/1325/EU.

At least 80 percent or more of the agricultural area of a farmer’s holding must be grassland. Farmers cannot apply more than 250 kg Nitrogen/hectare per year from grazing livestock manure to land. This includes application by the animal itself.

Manure from pigs and poultry is not eligible for the higher derogation limit and therefore must not exceed the 170 kg Nitrogen/hectare/year limit.Other conditions apply.

Farmers considering the Nitrates Derogation should seek further advice from their adviser, farming organisation or agricultural consultant to help determine whether they are eligible to apply for a derogation.

Applications (when open) must be made online via DAERA online services Guidance on how to apply for a derogation or submit a derogation fertilisation account can be found on Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) Derogation 2019-2022.

Fertilisation plan

The Nitrates Directive Derogation Fertilisation plan must be kept on farm. It is not submitted to NIEA but must be prepared and made available for inspection by 1 March on farm each calendar year.

Fertilisation account

The Nitrates Derogation Fertilisation Account must be received by DAERA by 23:59 on the 1st March (unless extended) for the previous calendar year.

Fertilisation accounts must be submitted online via DAERA Online Services. Log On access is required therefore please ensure you have registered via the Government Gateway or nidirect.

P Balance

You can access the P Balance Calculator through the DAERA Online Services. It is recommended to check your figures using the CAFRE Nutrient Calculators before you submit a derogation fertilisation account online.

Derogation reports

In accordance with the conditions of the Derogation Decision, Northern Ireland reports annually to the Commission on the uptake of derogation by farm businesses, evaluation of the implementation at farm level and the status of water quality.

Nutrients Action Programme Implementation Report for 2020 – 2023

The Department produces a report every four years on the status of water quality and the impact of the action programme on water quality and agricultural practices, in accordance with regulation 34 of the Nutrient Action Programme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019.

The Nutrients Action Programme Implementation Report for 2020 – 2023 was completed in 2024.

Stakeholder Meeting on the Nutrients Action Programme

Representatives of key stakeholder organisations were invited to the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute at Hillsborough on Wednesday 26th June 2024.

The event focussed on the NAP Implementation Report 2020 – 2023 and provided updates on its findings. Presentations were delivered on a range of NAP related subjects. These presentations can be found at the following links:

More Information

If you have any further queries in relation to these regulations please do not hesitate to contact the Agricultural Regulations Team by email: or phone: 028 92633486 / 028 92623280.

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