UK and East Anglia: Nitrates changes made ‘too fast’

THE timetable for appeals against new Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) maps has come under fire from farmers and landowners.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned farmers have little time to appeal against proposed changes following the launch of a Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) consultation in December last year.

Country Land and Business East regional director Nicola Currie said: “The Nitrates Directive is one of the most prescriptive pieces of environmental legislation to hit farmers and land managers over the past 10 years.

“The CLA has lobbied DEFRA and the Environment Agency to ensure our members are treated fairly by proposed designations for NVZs. We have tried to help make the appeals process more transparent for those who farm in a NVZ. so they can gather evidence and set out their case.”

She added: “The UK Government has not followed the approach set out by other member states which are offering capital grants for slurry storage and supporting farm-scale anaerobic digestion better than in the UK. Defra has been unwilling to change the appeals process, and the HM Courts and Tribunals Service has set an appeals window of only 28 days to make an appeal from the time a farmer is notified by Defra.

“The CLA is urging its members to check the boundary maps published today (17 May) by the Environment Agency because we believe 28 days is not long enough to prepare an appeal. Although not a perfect solution to Defra’s failure to extend the appeals process, the early release of these maps will give those farmers and land managers who are considering an appeal a few vital weeks to pull their cases together but it is essential to view the maps now.”

Designations are reviewed by DEFRA every four years and the NFU said it had hoped farmers would get a minimum of three months to get their appeal ready, as they did during the previous review.

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NFU head of policy services Andrew Clark said: “Since farmers must provide evidence to support an appeal, and the designation method and supporting evidence can be complex in some cases, it is important that farmers start reviewing their situation now.

“We are concerned that, especially for complex cases, the appeal period Defra has allowed will be too short for some farmers. There is a risk that complex cases will either have to be rushed, or farmers will have to hope that the Tribunals Service, which will deal with appeals, will be sympathetic to allowing extra time in their particular cases. This is not an ideal state of affairs.

“We have prepared initial briefings to help members get started and further information will follow as soon as possible.”

DEFRA’s latest consultation was launched in December 2011. It explored two options: moving to a situation where the whole of England would be designated; and continuing with the existing policy of identifying specific areas for designation.

If a targeted approach is maintained as the NFU has argued, the current patchwork of NVZs will change, with nearly four per cent being de-designated as nitrate levels continue to fall and a smaller areas designated for the first time. Overall NVZ designations should be smaller and even in those areas provisionally designated the option to appeal is available.