Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Northern Ireland: Nitrates action programme and phosphates regulations

The Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations

What you must do

All farmers in Northern Ireland must follow rules aimed at improving the use of nutrients on farms and reducing water pollution from agricultural sources.

You must comply with these regulations to avoid prosecution and possible fines, but also in order to meet the requirements of the Cross - Compliance, Verifiable Standards rules of the Single Farm Payment Scheme, and other direct payments from the Department of Agriculture,Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

On 1 January 2015 changes to the Nitrates Action Programme were made for the period 2015-2018. The new Regulations replace the NAP and Phosphorus Regulations 2011-2014. The NAP Regulations and Phosphorus Regulations apply to all agriculture land in Northern Ireland.

Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) – Activity Calendar

DAERA has produced an “Activity Calendar” This summarises the activity and date you need to take action by to ensure compliance with NAP.

Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) – Activity Calendar  

Cross compliance

Keep accurate records

You must prepare records for each calendar year by 30 June of the following year, and keep them for five years. These records must detail:

  • agricultural area, field size and location
  • cropping regimes and areas, Soil Nutrient Supply (SNS) index for crops other than grassland
  • livestock numbers, types, species and time kept
  • organic and chemical fertiliser details including imports and exports
  • from 1 January 2017, evidence of a crop phosphorus requirement from soil analysis if organic manure with over 0.25kg total phosphorus per 1kg total nitrogen is applied
  • capacity of livestock manure storage and where applicable the details of rented storage, farmyard manure production, out wintered livestock, manure separation and manure processing facilities utilised
  • evidence of control over the agricultural area and the right to graze common land
  • Records relating to the export of organic manure to be submitted annually to NIEA by 31 January of the following year

If you are operating under an approved derogation, you must keep your fertilisation plan on farm and have it ready for inspection by 1 March for that calendar year. Your fertilisation account for the previous calendar year must be received by NIEA by 1 March.

Comply with closed spreading periods

  • Chemical nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser must not be applied to grassland from midnight 15 September to midnight 31 January
  • All types of chemical fertiliser must not be applied to arable land from midnight 15 September to midnight 31 January, unless there is a demonstrable crop requirement
  • You must not apply farmyard manure (FYM) to any land between 31 October and midnight 31 January
  • There is no closed spreading period for dirty water.

Spread fertiliser correctly

All fertiliser types (including slurry, farmyard manure and nitrogen fertiliser, must be applied accurately and uniformly as possible and must not be applied in a location or manner, which would make it likely that it will directly or indirectly enter waterways.

Slurry can only be spread by inverted splashplate, bandspreaders, trailing hose, trailing shoe or soil injection. Dirty water can be spread by the same methods as slurry and by irrigation.

You must not use sludgigator type spreaders or upward facing splashplates.

Chemical fertiliser containing phosphorus must only be applied where soil analysis shows a crop requirement. Records must be kept to demonstrate this.

Do not apply chemical fertilisers, organic manure or dirty water when:

  • soil is waterlogged, flooded or likely to flood
  • soil is frozen hard or snow-covered
  • heavy rain is falling or forecast within the next 48 hours
  • you have steeply sloping fields (that is an average incline of 20% or more for grassland or an average incline of 15% or more on all other land) where other risks of water pollution exist. Risk factors to be considered include the proximity to waterways, the length of time to incorporation, the type and amount of fertiliser applied and/or the soil and weather conditions
  • On less steep slopes (with an average incline of 15% or more on grassland or 12% or more on all other land), organic manures must not be applied within 30m of lakes and 15m of other waterways, chemical fertilisers must not be applied within 10m of lakes and 5m of other waterways.

The new Nitrates Action Programme Guidance 2015-2018 Booklet includes additional advice on how to assess these risks.

Do not apply any type of chemical fertiliser within 2m of any waterway.

Do not apply organic manure or dirty water within:

  • 10m of a waterway, e.g. a river or field drain (the distance may be reduced to 3m of any waterway where the land has an average incline less than 10% towards the waterway and where organic manures are spread by bandspreaders, trailing shoe, trailing hose or soil injection or where the adjoining area is less than 1 ha in size or not more than 50m in width)
  • 15m of exposed, cavernous or karstified, limestone features (such as swallow-holes and collapse features)
  • 20m of lakes
  • 50m of a borehole, spring or well
  • 250m of a borehole used for a public water supply.

Comply with spreading limits

You must follow legal limits when spreading nitrogen.

Do not apply more than:

  • 272kgN/ha of chemical nitrogen fertiliser to grassland on dairy farms
  • 222kgN/ha of chemical nitrogen fertiliser to grassland on other farms

For non-grassland crops, maximum nitrogen applied (from all types of fertiliser, including livestock manure) must not exceed crop requirement and, for certain arable crops, an N-Max limit applies to the total crop area.

Unless you have been granted a nitrates derogation, you must not apply more than 170kg of nitrogen per hectare per year (N/ha/year) of livestock manure, including manure deposited directly by livestock.

Do not apply more than:

  • 50 tonnes per hectare of solid organic manure at one time. You must wait three weeks before spreading again.
  • 50 cubic metres (m³) per hectare of slurry at one time. You must wait three weeks before spreading again.
  • 50m³ per hectare of dirty water. You must wait two weeks before spreading again.

Slurry can only be spread close to the ground by inverted splashplate, bandspreading, trailing shoe, trailing hose, soil injection or soil incorporation methods.

Dirty water can be spread by the same methods as slurry and by irrigation.

Sludgigators must not be used.

High Phosphorus Manures

From 1 January 2017, organic manure with more than 0.25kg of total phosphorus per 1 kg of total nitrogen (e.g. some anaerobic digestates) can only be applied where soil analysis shows there is a crop requirement for phosphorus.

Nitrates Derogation

If you have a nitrates derogation you will be able to apply up to 250kg per hectare per year, as long as you apply by 1 March every year and:

  • have at least 80 percent grassland
  • have a farm phosphorus balance of no more than 10kg phosphorus per hectare per year
  • analyse the fertility of your soil
  • only apply the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that your crops require
  • produce annual fertilisation plans and keep them up to date
  • submit annual records of fertilisation to the NIEA.

Further guidance on the Nitrates Directive Derogation is available from NIEA

Nitrates Directive Derogation Guidance 2015-2018

Comply with livestock manure and silage effluent storage requirements

You must provide enough storage for the livestock manure and silage effluent that you accumulate during the spreading closed period. You must also ensure that your storage is adequate to cover periods of adverse weather and soil conditions outside of the closed spreading period. You should account for likely adverse weather when you decide how much storage you need.

Livestock manure and silage effluent storage must be maintained and managed to prevent seepage or run-off. Silage bales must be stored at least 10m from any waterway and stored and managed in such a way as to prevent seepage onto the waterway.

You must have enough storage capacity for:

  • 26 weeks' livestock manure storage capacity for pig and poultry enterprises
  • Minimum of 22 weeks storage capacity for other enterprises.

You must ensure that any farmyard manure you store in a field is:

  • stored in a compact heap
  • spread in that field
  • not stored for more than 120 days
  • stored in a different location in the field each year
  • kept more than 20m from any waterways
  • kept more than 50m from any lake, borehole, spring, well, swallow-holes and collapse features
  • kept more than 250m from any borehole used for a public water supply.

Rules on the storage of poultry litter in field heaps.

You must ensure that any poultry litter you store in a field is:

  • stored in accordance with an authorisation granted by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency
  • stored in a compact heap
  • spread in that field
  • not stored for more than 120 days
  • stored in a different location in the field each year
  • covered with an impermeable membrane within 24 hours of being put in the field
  • kept more than 40m from any waterways
  • kept more than 100m from any lake
  • kept more than 50m from any borehole, spring, well, swallow-holes and collapse features
  • kept more than 250m from any borehole used for a public water supply.

You must ensure that all new, substantially enlarged or reconstructed facilities for storing slurry comply with the relevant regulations.

Storing slurry

Land management

Cover in winter

After harvesting a crop other than grass, you must ensure that from harvest until 15 January in the following year one of the following conditions is met on that land at any time:

The stubble of the harvested crop remains in the land; or

(a) the land is sown with a crop which will take up nitrogen from the soil,or

(b) where soil or weather conditions prevent a subsequent crop from being sown, appropriate measures are put in place to limit soil erosion.

Crop management

Where grass leys are grown in rotation with arable crops, you should sow the first crop as soon as possible after you have ploughed the grass.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Northern Ireland

Any person intending to alter the use or management of areas of uncultivated or semi-natural land must obtain prior approval from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). DAERA will screen all such applications and any that are likely to have significant environmental effects will be requested to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment before a decision on whether the project can go ahead is given. It is an offence to carry out any such work without prior permission from DAERA.

Further information

Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) – Activity Calendar  

DAERA: Nitrates Directive

Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations guidance booklet

Nitrates Directive Derogation Guidance 2015-2018

Nitrates Action Programme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014

Nitrates Action Programme (Amendment) Regulations Northern Ireland) 2015

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