Ireland should not seek another nitrates derogation until sufficient safeguards for water quality are in place, according to An Taisce.

The group has called on the government to urgently strengthen the proposed measures in the draft Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) to protect Ireland’s water.

The NAP is designed to prevent pollution of water from agricultural sources along with protecting and improving water quality.

The draft for the fifth NAP programme, published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in December, outlines a series of proposed measures on slurry, soiled water, chemical fertiliser and livestock excretion rates.

However, An Taisce has repeatedly raised serious concerns about “the inadequacy of the protective measures for water”.

“Ireland is facing a water quality crisis, with almost half of our rivers and lakes polluted.

“Agricultural intensification, particularly dairy intensification, is the primary driver of that. Ambitious and far reaching changes are required to address this.

“Once again farmers are being asked to make changes over the next four years which will not be sufficient, and will fall short when it comes to protecting water quality,” Dr. Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce, said.

“This is a loss for farmers, and a loss for our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

“The Nitrates Action Programme is the lynch pin for protecting our water quality in Ireland. It’s widely accepted that we are in a water quality crisis, but the measures proposed are wholly inadequate to address this crisis.

“We know from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) what needs to happen, and where. We know from Teagasc how these reductions could be brought about.

“The missing piece is the actions to achieve that, and that’s what we’re urgently calling for to be included,” McGoff stated.

An Taisce proposals

An Taisce has outlined ten measures which it believes “could significantly strengthen the draft NAP”.

It has recommended that the proposed “banding” rates for livestock excretion be “implemented as a matter of urgency”.

An Taisce wants all farmers to carry out nutrient management planning, beginning with landowners in the “most highly nutrient enriched and at-risk catchments”.

The group called for mapping to identify lands that are unsuitable for spreading; those parcels would then be removed from the landholding calculation.

“Land nutrient loading calculations should be based on land parcels within a given distance to the home farm, with the previously proposed 30km radius reinstated,” An Taisce stated.

The group also called for modelling to “calculate how much nitrogen is deposited by the herd when they’re at pasture”.

“The length of the grazing window should then be limited by the nitrogen threshold. Once that is reached, the cattle should be moved to a different pasture or indoors,” it added.

An Taisce said that penalties for breaching regulations should be substantial enough to act as a deterrent.