Water pollution caused by nitrates has decreased in Europe over the past two decades, but agricultural pressures are still putting water resources under strain. The latest Report on the implementation of the Nitrates Directive reveals that nitrates concentrations are slightly decreasing in both surface and groundwater and sustainable agricultural practices are more widespread.
National measures, such as balanced fertilisation and sustainable manure management, which aim to provide the right amount of nutrients to crops, continue to improve.
Excessive concentrations of nitrates from livestock such as pig, cow and poultry manure and crops fertilisation leaches into waters causing algal blooms, disrupting aquatic ecosystems, causing air pollution and threatening biodiversity. This puts human health at risk notably by polluting drinking water and has economic impacts as it impedes ecosystem services provided by water bodies. More than 20 years ago the EU recognised the problem, adopting the Nitrates Directive, which promotes good agricultural practices across Europe by reducing water pollution from nitrates from agricultural sources.
The Directive has been in force since 1992 and although it is well established in Member States, its full implementation is still an issue in some Member States. Infringement cases are currently open against six Member States (Bulgaria, France, Greece, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia).
EVOLUTION OF PRESSURES FROM AGRICULTURE
Livestock population is one of the main agricultural pressures on the environment. Large numbers concentrated locally or regionally pose high risks to the environment as manure production is out of balance with land availability and crop needs. This imbalance creates a surplus of nutrients, much of which is sooner or later lost to water (nitrates and phosphates) and air (ammonia and nitrogen oxides), if not exported out of the region.
Because not all Member States have submitted comprehensive data on the number of livestock, official statistics from Eurostat are presented below.
As regards cattle, the comparison between the reporting periods 2004–2007 and 2008–2011 shows a slight decrease in EU-27 (-2%). Largest relative decreases occurred in Romania (-20%), Malta (-17%), Bulgaria (-13%), and Slovakia (-9%), while an increase was observed especially in the Netherlands (+6%), Poland (+4%) and France (+4%).
In EU-27, dairy cattle numbers decreased by 5% between 2004–2007 and 2008–2011. The biggest relative decreases were in Romania (-18%), Slovakia (-15%), Spain (-14%), Bulgaria and Portugal (-13%), Estonia, Malta and Greece (-12%), Hungary and Lithuania (-11%), while the population increased in Luxembourg (+8%), the Netherlands (+4%) and Denmark (+3%).
Pig numbers decreased by 5% in EU-27 between the reporting periods 2004–2007 and 2008–2011. The largest relative decreases were in Slovakia (-36%), Czech Republic (-33%), Slovenia (-28%), Bulgaria (-26%), Poland (-22%), Hungary (-19%), Malta (-18%), Lithuania (-16%), and Romania (-14%). The population increased in Greece (+10%), the Netherlands (+7%), Luxembourg (+6%), and Estonia (+3%).
For poultry, Eurostat data are only available for years 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2010 and show no change on average in EU-27, despite large variations across Member States. Numbers increased significantly in Latvia (+28%), Slovenia (+22%), Austria (+19%), and the Netherlands (+13%), while decreases took place in Cyprus (-21%), Bulgaria (-16%), Estonia (-17%), Finland (-11%), and Ireland (-10%).
Large variations in sheep numbers were also visible, with a strong relative increase between the two reporting periods in Lithuania (+67%) and a strong relative decrease in Portugal (-30%), the Netherlands (-28%), and Poland (-26%).
According to the data reported by Members States, the manure N use decreased between the two reporting periods by more than 10% in Czech Republic, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Northern Ireland, while it increased by more than 10% in Cyprus, Hungary and Sweden. Not all Member States have reported data on manure N use, hence a total for EU-27 cannot be calculated.
Monday October 21, 2013/ Euroepan Commission/ European Union.