ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES


Nitrates Derogation

The deadline for applying for a Nutrient Action Programme (NAP) derogation and the submission of 2019 fertilisation accounts was extended to 30 April 2020. Farms operating under an approved derogation can increase their farm N loading to 250 kg nitrogen per hectare per year from grazing livestock manure.

Derogated farms are required to have a fertilisation plan, produce an annual fertilisation account, carry out soil sampling once every 4 years, have a farm phosphorus balance below 10kg/P/ha/year and have at least 80% grassland. Applications to operate under derogation must be made annually to DAERA.

The UFU would remind dairy farmers to check their figures carefully for 2020 as the N excretion rate for a dairy cow has been increased. This will result in more farms being over the 170kgN/ha/year limit therefore a derogation should be considered.

 

Will there be any flexibility within the NAP Regulations to allow for overstocking due to COVID-19? 

The NI NAP regulations have a clause which allows for exceptional circumstances to be considered on a case by case basis. Livestock figures for nitrates calculations are averaged over the year so the UFU are monitoring the situation and will raise any concerns with DAERA and NIEA. 

Alternatively, farmers who are concerned about being overstocked in 2020 could apply for a nitrates derogation. This allows a higher stocking rate up to 250 kg N/ha/year subject to meeting certain conditions. An application must be submitted by 30th April 2020. For more information on submitting a derogation application click here.

 

What about NIEA inspections?

All routine inspections were initially suspended however these will get underway again from 15th June 2020 with new procedures in place.  Pollution incidents have been investigated throughout the lockdown period and measures are in place to eliminate close personal contact. 

 

Are environmental regulations being relaxed during this time? 

No. DAERA remains committed to ensuring our environment is protected, whilst also recognising the difficulty faced by farmers as a result of COVID-19.   Every reasonable effort should be made to continue to comply with environmental legislation and authorisations in place. If you have concerns regarding your ability to meet certain environmental restrictions / conditions (e.g. N loading on farm) contact the UFU or your local CAFRE adviser.  

 

Pollution incidents / environmental crimes 

If you need to contact NIEA during this Covid-19 crisis to report a pollution incident / environmental crime, please use the 24hr hotline 0800 807060 or for non-urgent matters email Emergency-Pollution@daera-ni.gov.uk (for water) or environmentalcrime@daera-ni.gov.uk (for waste).  

Duty officers will make an assessment of the incident severity based upon the details provided.  To help with this assessment anyone who wishes to report environmental crime / water pollution is asked to forward any supporting photographs / videos to the above email addresses after calling. Depending on the severity assigned some incidents may not be responded to immediately to avoid unnecessary travel. These incidents will be logged and followed up at a later date.  Any water pollution incident assigned a medium or high severity will be investigated as per normal procedures with additional measures put in place to ensure social distancing requirements are kept. 

 

Consent to carry out activities on designated sites 

If you wish to carry out any activity on land designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) that is a notifiable operation, you must apply to NIEA for Consent. For advice  contact 028 9056 9523. Carrying out Notifiable Operations on an ASSI without written consent from NIEA is an offence. 

 

Prescribed fires

DAERA Minister Edwin Poots has urged farmers and land managers to halt all prescribed burning in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in a bid to reduce additional pressures on Northern Ireland’s emergency services. Through this crisis no one should start a fire in the countryside and place further strain on our already stretched emergency services. The NIFRS, for example, cannot currently guarantee they will be able to provide the normal level of response to wildfires. The prescribed burning season, which closes at midnight on 14th of April and not to recommence any prescribed burning until 1st September.

  • UFU would urge farmers and land managers to halt all prescribed burning as a result of COVID-19.
  • UFU supports this to protect human life and give much needed relief to our emergency services.
  • UFU would urge members of the farmers, land manager and members of the public to all respect this decision and particularly over the Easter break.
  • UFU has written as letter of support to the Minister and outlined that this may become an issue during land inspections as there may be land which will no longer meet eligibility criteria. We would not want farmers to suffer undue financial penalty.

 

If I need to dispose of milk, can I apply milk directly to land?

No. Waste milk, as required by the Waste Management Licensing Regulations, must be diluted with at least an equal quantity of water or slurry. You can only spread it on land where there is no significant risk of causing pollution. To do this you must carry out a risk assessment as detailed in the Nutrient Action Programme Regulations (NI) 2019 (NAP Regs) which considers factors such as predicted rainfall, slope, amount to be spread, proximity to a watercourse and soil cover. The maximum single application is no more than 50 cubic metres (tonnes) of diluted waste per hectare with no repeat applications within three weeks.

If ground and weather conditions were appropriate it may also be possible for the diluted milk to be put directly into a slurry tanker and applied to the land in accordance with the requirements of the Nutrient Action Programme (NAP) Regulations.

For more information on spreading milk on land see here.

 

Fly-tipping 

The UFU are concerned that fly tipping has spiralled out of control and action must be taken to protect the countryside.  Spring weather and coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions have encouraged many to complete maintenance tasks at home. Many council recycling centres are closed at present and householders should retain waste materials or pass to a licensed carrier for appropriate disposal. Fallen animals should be disposed of through the National Fallen Stock Scheme.   

Not only are there pollution risks but there are also animal health implications if animals come into contact with dumped waste.  Members of the public should note that there are animal health risks with garden wastes such as grass and hedge cuttings being dumped into fields.  Some shrubs and trees are poisonous to animals and grass cuttings can also cause problems. 

The legislation states that farmers become responsible for the disposal of any waste dumped on their land unless they can clearly prove it is not theirs, this is something that the UFU have repeatedly highlighted needs changed. 

Incidences of fly-tipping can be reported to local councils who will investigate the incident and if an environmental crime is suspected they may involve the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). If reporting a fly-tipping incident, it is best to ask to speak with someone from the council’s environmental health department. Contact details for local councils can be found here.

 

Disposal of PPE 

In accordance with Public Health Agency advice, waste should be double bagged and stored safely and securely for at least 72 hours. After this time the waste can be treated as non-hazardous waste and dealt with in the normal manner.  

If storage for at least 72 hours is not appropriate, it will have to be treated as hazardous infectious waste by a specialist clinical waste contractor.  

For further advice on the documentation requirements and facility details please contact the NIEA Hazardous Waste Team on Tel no: 028 9056 9710 

The PHA guidance is available here

PHA guidance is updated on a regular basis therefore you are advised to visit the site regularly and check for updates. 

  

Land Sales/Purchases  

Can I still purchase or sell land during this time?  

Land registry when initially closed did not have any capability for remote working. There is now a dedicated e-mail address to be used if you have specific land registry enquiries: CustomerInformation.LandRegistration@finance-ni.gov.uk