Map of areas needing ‘additional actions’ for nitrogen loss reduction developed

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a map of areas which “need additional actions to reduce the losses of nitrogen” and other nutrients, the authority has confirmed.

The map will see areas earmarked for greater reduction targets in an effort to cut the losses of phosphorus, sediment and pesticides, as well as nitrogen.

This will mean different targets for different parts of the country – with more ambitious targets likely for areas in the south and east of the country.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the authority said: “EPA is currently working to estimate the scale of reduction in nitrogen emissions in waters that will be needed to achieve Ireland’s water quality goals. This work will also be completed in the coming weeks.

“Further work will then be needed to determine what measures might be necessary on land, to achieve those emission reductions targets in waters. Determining appropriate measures is a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

The EPA has developed a map [below] of the areas which need additional actions to reduce the losses of nitrogen, and additional actions to reduce the losses of phosphorus, sediment and pesticides.

“The EPA has just completed the development of maps of the hotspot areas. The hotspot areas are the areas within the landscape that are most risky for losses of nitrogen and phosphorus, based on the characteristics of the soils and the geology, and the activities on land.

“These maps will be made available through Teagasc and EPA mapping systems in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson added.

Report and map

In the EPA’s report “EPA – Ireland’s Environment, An Integrated Assessment – 2020”, the authority said that “increased agricultural activity in recent years, through increased cattle numbers and fertiliser use, has led to increased nutrient loadings which in turn impact negatively on water quality”.

While acknowledging “significant improvements in controlling nutrient losses from agricultural point sources” made in the last decade, the EPA says challenges remain regarding the control of diffuse losses of nutrients from land arising from chemical and organic fertiliser use.

It says diffuse phosphorous losses occur most often from overland flow on poorly draining soils in parts of Cavan, Monaghan, Wexford, Limerick and Meath. To tackle this, the authority says best solutions include measures breaking the pathway to the watercourse – meaning buffer zones, hedges, farm ponds and ditch management.

However, for nitrogen, counties Cork, parts of Tipperary, Kilkenny, Carlow and parts of Wexford are earmarked.

“In these areas the solutions centre on using less fertiliser and using it more efficiently,” the EPA said.

Different reduction targets

“Ireland, like all other member states, is expected to demonstrate pathways to achieving: (a) the nutrient reduction targets set out in the EU Farm to Fork strategy, i.e. a 20% reduction in fertiliser use, and a 50% reduction in nitrogen losses, by 2030; and (b) good water quality as set out in the Water Framework Directive,” the EPA spokesperson explained.

“The reduction targets for nitrogen as set out in Ag Climatise should reduce overall emissions, which in turn should provide benefits to water.

It is important to note, however, that while measures to reduce nitrogen for climate purposes are nationwide targets, and can be uniformly spread across the country, measures to reduce nitrogen for water need to be spatially targeted into the areas where the problems arise.

“Therefore, different reduction targets will be required in different areas,” the spokesperson concluded.