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Agricultural land use covers almost half of the EU territory and reducing nutrient and pesticide losses to freshwaters is central to existing EU policy. However, the progress of improving freshwater quality and reducing eutrophication is slow and lags behind targets. The Green Deal is a key element of the EU plans to implement the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Here, we discuss the opportunities that the Green Deal and associated strategies may provide for the achievement of the water quality goals of the Water Framework Directive in agricultural landscapes. We welcome Green Deal’s aspirational stated goals. However, the reliance of mitigation of diffuse agricultural pollution on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy represents grave risks for practical implementation and the achievement of the Green Deal objectives. We also argue that the new strategies should be targeted at tackling and understanding the sources of water quality problems along the full pollution continuum. To maximise the opportunities for tackling diffuse pollution from agricultural land use and achieving the delayed water quality targets, we stress that a range of targeted new instruments will be needed to close the gaps in the pollution continuum ‘from source to impact’. These gaps include: (I) smart and standardised monitoring of the impacts of proposed eco-schemes and agri-environmentclimate measures, (ii) active restoration of agricultural streams and ditches and their floodplains to reduce secondary pollution sources, (iii) options to draw down nutrient levels to or below the agronomic optimum that reduce legacy sources, (iv) integrating farm-scale and catchment-scale analysis of trade-offs in reducing different pollutants and their combined effects, and finally (v) accounting for emerging pressures to freshwater quality due to climate change. Incorporation of the pollution continuum framework into tackling diffuse agricultural pollution will ensure that the European water-related policy goals are achieved.
Keywords: nutrient losses, Sustainable Development Goals, diffuse pollution, Common Agricultural


  • Common agricultural policy, Diffuse pollution, Nutrient losses, Sustainable development goals
Original languageEnglish
Article number148080
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date28 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2021

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