The overall purpose of this project is to ensure that the Nitrates Action Programme is assessed at an appropriately scaled level to ensure compliance with the principles and requirements of:
- EU Directive 2001/42/EC and the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations 2004 to 2011; and
- The Appropriate Assessment provisions of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and S.I. No. 477/2011 (European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011), as amended.
This request for tender relates to the procurement of the following services:
- A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the review of the Nitrates Action Programme which complies with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/42/EC and the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations 2004 to 2011; and
- a screening for Appropriate Assessment (AA) of the review of the Nitrates Action Programme, which complies with the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and S.I. No. 477/2011 (European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011), as amended;
- subject to the results of the AA screening process, an AA of the review of the Nitrates Action Programme which complies with the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and S.I. No. 477/2011 (European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011), as amended
Background to the fifth Nitrates Action Programme
Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme was designed to prevent pollution of surface waters and groundwater from agricultural sources and to protect and improve water quality, giving effect to the EU Nitrates Directive.
Article 28 of the Good Agricultural Practice Regulations, in line with the Nitrates Directive, requires the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, in consultation with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to review the Nitrates Action Programme every four years. Following its fourth review, Ireland’s fifth Nitrates Action Programme will run until the end of 2025.
Ireland has applied its National Action Programme on a country-wide basis, thus ensuring 100% territorial coverage compared to an EU average of 45% territorial coverage. In addition, the Programme also provides for the control of Phosphorus used in agriculture. The scope of the four previous National Action Programmes has therefore been comprehensive, both in terms of addressing the major sources of agricultural nutrients and in covering a national farming population of over 130,000 farm holding.
The principal elements of the NAP regime to-date include:
- limits on farm stocking rates,
- limiting the application of fertilisers,
- controls on the application of slurry to land,
- the introduction of ‘closed periods’ preventing the application of organic and chemical fertilisers during environmentally vulnerable parts of the season,
- minimum storage requirements for livestock manures,
- requirements regarding maintenance of green cover in tillage lands and
- set back distance from waters,
- Greater controls for more intensive farmers.
In common with other EU Member States in which intensive agricultural activity is practised, Ireland availed of a derogation from the 170 kg organic nitrogen limit of the Nitrates Directive which was first granted by the EU Commission in 2007. During the first NAP derogations were granted to just over 5,000 farm holdings, amounting to circa 4% of total net land area and this has increased under the existing NAP to almost 7,000 derogation farms. All derogation farm holdings were subject to strict controls, including; a requirement on farmers to apply annually to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) for a derogation as well as complying with additional conditions related to the application of manure and other fertilisers and conditions related to land management.
An inspection programme was also established to ensure compliance with the derogation conditions. This regime will continue under the fifth Nitrates Action Programme.
The review of the NAP is being led by an Expert Review Group, co-chaired by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage (DHLGH) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), and with representatives from Teagasc and the EPA.
In addition to the public consultations on the review, the Expert Review Group will be informed by the results of environmental and agricultural research relevant to water quality. These include reports of the Agricultural Catchments Programme, the EPA’s reports on water quality and additional water quality assessments and research.
This Group will advise on the measures that should be included in the next NAP. Where amendment to the current NAP is deemed necessary, the current Regulations will be amended subject to consistency with the provisions of Nitrates Directive. It is anticipated that new Regulations will be in place by December 2021. These regulations will apply to all farm holdings from 1 January 2022.
It is important to note that the Nitrates Action Programme is an environmental management instrument aimed at protecting the aquatic environment and is a core mechanism for controlling agricultural water pollution sources. However, it is neither capable of nor designed to address all agricultural water pollution problems that occur at local level. There are other key policy instruments that also play an essential complimentary role in controlling agricultural water pollution issues. These include River Basin Management Plans and Programmes of Measures made under the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and agri-environment support measures under the Rural Development Programme (RDP). These plans and programmes have also been subjected to Strategic Environmental Assessment and Appropriate Assessment during their development.
Strategic Environmental Assessment services for the Nitrates Action Programme
A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is required as part of this tender. S.I No. 435/2004 (amended by S.I. No. 200 of 2011) gives effect to Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment. Taken together, this legislation provides the basis for a process in which environmental considerations are fully taken into account during the preparation of relevant Plans and Programmes for relevant sectors.
Various steps are involved in the preparation of an SEA and include the following:
- Screening (determining whether an SEA is required)
- Scoping (determining the range of environmental issues to be covered by the SEA)
- Preparation of an Environmental Report
- The carrying out of consultations
- Integration of environmental considerations into the Plan or Programme
- The publication of information on the decision (SEA Statement)
Screening to determine if SEA is required
Article 9(1) of the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and programmes) Regulations 2004 to 2011, stipulates that SEA is mandatory for certain plans/programmes in a number of specified areas, which set the framework for future development consent of projects listed in Annex I and II to Directive 85/337/EEC or where it has been determined under the Habitats Directive that an assessment is required.
The Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage proposes to engage a consultant to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the review of the Nitrates Action Programme, which complies with the requirements of EU Directive 2001/42/EC and the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and programmes) Regulations 2004 to 2011.
Role of SEA
The key role of the SEA is to identify, describe and assess the likely significant effects on the environment of the implementation of the Nitrates Action Programme. The SEA process will help to ensure that environmental concerns can be adequately integrated into the decision making and implementation process.
Role of the successful tenderer in the SEA Process
The main tasks for the successful tenderer in the SEA process will include:
Preparation and writing of the Scoping Report (determining the range of environmental issues to be covered by the SEA).
Preparation and writing of the Draft SEA Environmental Report. The Report should contain at least the information specified in Schedule 2 of S.I No. 435/2004 (amended by S.I. No. 200 of 2011).
Consultations with the appropriate statutory authorities and relevant Departments/Agencies. This may also include workshop(s) facilitated by the successful Tenderer.
Integration of environmental considerations into the draft NAP.
Following acceptance by the Contracting Authority, publication for consultation of draft Environmental Report.
Consideration and follow up of matters raised during consultation – See point (B) below.
Preparation of information on, and drafting of, the draft decision (SEA Statement) for submission to the Contracting Authority.
Following acceptance by the Contracting Authority, publication of the SEA Statement as part of the Nitrates Action Programme
The successful tenderer will be required to report regularly to the Expert Review Group on progress of the tasks undertaken.
Where appropriate in the process, input will be provided from the DHLGH, DAFM, Teagasc and the EPA.
Appropriate Assessment Screening and Appropriate Assessment Relating to Natura 2000 Sites
In addition to a Strategic Environmental Assessment, a further separate Appropriate Assessment (AA) screening process is required and subject to the results of this screening exercise, a full AA may also be required. The screening process and AA should comply with the provisions of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and S.I. No. 477/2011 (European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011), as amended.
This legislation sets out various procedures and obligations relating to nature conservation in general and to the conservation of habitats and species in Natura 2000 sites in particular. The purpose of AA screening is to determine whether a plan or project could have significant effects on Natura 2000 sites, having regard to their conservation objectives, while the key role of the AA (if deemed necessary following a screening exercise) is to determine whether or not a plan or project would adversely affect the integrity of a Natura 2000 site and the development, if necessary, of mitigation measures.
In relation to assessments relating to the same subject matter being carried out (as in this tender), Regulation 47 of S.I. No. 477/2011 stipulates that an AA and an SEA shall clearly be distinguished in terms of their respective scope and conclusions, although the processes may be carried out concurrently and draw on common data and information. The key findings and any recommendations of the AA should be reflected in the relevant section(s) of the SEA Environmental Report.
The successful tenderer will engage directly with the appropriate authorities, including the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) when undertaking the AA screening and AA.
The successful tenderer is expected to produce the following deliverables: an AA screening report and screening determination, a Natura Impact Statement and an AA determination.
The DHLGH does not intend to establish a steering group for the purposes of guiding the contractor through the SEA or AA process.