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Nitrate in United Kingdom rivers: policy and its outcomes since 1970

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


  • T. P. Burt
  • N. J. K. Howden
  • F. Worrall
  • M. J. Whelan
  • M. Bieroza
Journal publication date1/01/2011
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Number of pages7
Original languageEnglish


Modern conventional farming provides Western Europe and North America with reliable, high quality, and relatively cheap supplies of food and fiber, increasingly viewed as a potential source of fuel. One of the costs is continued widespread pollution of rivers and groundwater-predominantly by nutrients. In 1970, in both the United States and UK, farming was focused on maximizing yield and management practices were rapidly modernizing. Little attention was paid to the external impacts of farming. In 2010, diffuse pollution from agriculture is being seriously addressed by both voluntary and statutory means in an attempt to balance environmental costs with the continued benefits of agricultural production. In this paper we consider long-term changes in the concentration and flux of nitrate in five rural UK rivers to demonstrate the impact of agricultural intensification and subsequent policies to reduce diffuse pollution on river water quality between 1970 and 2010.