The effectiveness of agricultural stewardship for improving water quality at the catchment scale: Experiences from an NVZ and ECSFDI watershed




Kay, Paul
Grayson, Richard
Phillips, Martin
Stanley, Karen
Dodsworth, Alan
Hanson, Ann
Walker, Andrew
Foulger, M
McDonnell, Iain
Taylor, Simon

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Agriculture is estimated to be responsible for 70% of nitrate and 30-50% of phosphorus pollution, contributing to ecological and water treatment problems. Despite the fact that significant gaps remain in our understanding, it is known that agricultural stewardship can be highly effective in controlling water pollution at the plot and field scales. Knowledge at the catchment scale is, to a large extent, entirely lacking though and this is of paramount concern given that the catchment is the management unit used by regulatory authorities. The few studies that have examined the impact of agricultural stewardship at the catchment scale have found that Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) in the UK have resulted in little improvement in water quality which concurs with the current catchment study. In addition to NVZs, there was little evidence to suggest that the England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative had impacted water quality and suggestions have been made for improvements, such as ensuring that stewardship measures are used in key pollution source areas and their implementation and impacts are monitored more closely. This will be essential if agricultural catchment management schemes are going to provide the benefits expected of them. Nevertheless, more intensive monitoring than that carried out by regulators showed a significant trend in decreasing winter nitrate peaks in some streams which is hypothesised to be due to recent reduced inorganic fertiliser application as a result of increasing prices. It was concluded that, collectively, these findings indicate that agricultural stewardship measures have the potential to improve water quality at the catchment scale but that voluntary schemes with insufficient financial reward or regulatory pressure are unlikely to be successful.



Keywords: Agricultural catchments; Catchment scale; England; Field scale; Financial rewards; Management unit; Nitrate Vulnerable Zones; Phosphorus pollution; Pollution sources; Regulatory authorities; Regulatory pressure; Agriculture; Nitrates; Nitrogen removal; Nu Agriculture; Catchment Sensitive Farming; Nitrate Vulnerable Zones; Nutrients; Water quality



Journal of Hydrology


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