The Farm to Fork Strategy is a cornerstone of the European Green Deal. The strategy sets concrete targets to transform the EUs food system, including a reduction in nutrient losses of at least 50%, while ensuring no deterioration in soil fertility. In 2015, only 40% of Europe’s surface water bodies achieved good ecological status. In NW Europe, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of United Kingdom, the ecological status of more than 75-90% of surface waters is reported to be less than good2. Pollution with nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from agriculture is a major cause of not achieving the safe ecological targets for water. Besides agriculture, point sources of N and P pollution such as industry, cities and waste water treatment plants also negatively affect water quality. Climate change is likely to exacerbate the pollution risk.


Nutrients are essential for plant growth, but excess use of N and P negatively affects the environment and reduces biodiversity: diffuse N and P leaching from agricultural systems deteriorates groundwater and surface water quality; N losses as ammonia (NH3) contribute to soil acidification and eutrophication of natural ecosystems, and N losses as the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) contribute to global warming. Many environmental policies have been implemented to reduce these negative anthropogenic impacts on our environment and ecosystem health, including the Urban Wastewater Directive, Water Framework Directive, Paris Convention, National Emission Ceiling Directive, and Birds and Habitats Directive. Whilst progress has been made in reducing wastewater nutrient discharges to water, diffuse N and P losses and emissions from agriculture remain a major source of environmental pollution. Clearly, there is a huge challenge for the agricultural sectors to implement effective mitigation measures and best management practices to reduce nutrient emissions to air and water to meet desired environmental targets against the background of a changing climate. The non-agricultural sector must also continue to take action to reduce N and P discharges to inland and coastal waters. The synergies and tradeoffs between management actions to mitigate climate change and those to mitigate N and P pollution need to be clarified to develop effective local, regional and national policies. Similarly, governance arrangements to implement and monitor the necessary actions need to be better integrated with rural development and require a consistent and coherent set of environmental indicators.


The NEW Harmonica project and consortium has been formed and designed to meet the precise needs of the call “Regional nitrogen and phosphorus load reduction approach within safe ecological boundaries”, bringing in complementary knowledge and expertise, skills and networks to match the project objectives and call demands. The consortium consists of 4 partners from 3 countries in NW Europe. All partners are involved in the established Policy-Science Working Group (PSWG) on Reducing Nutrient Emissions from Agriculture in NW European Catchments, in which policy makers and scientists of different countries in NW Europe participate. The Memorandum of Understanding of the PSWG perfectly matches with the objectives and ambitions of this Zero-pollution call. It is stated in the memorandum: to make efforts to improve groundwater and surface water quality more efficiently and effectively, by (a) exchanging information and experiences between the group of policy-makers and scientific researchers (b) combining the knowledge and insights of research obtained in each partner country and (c) if necessary, setting up new initiatives to collect important missing data for policy decision making’. NEW Harmonica will elaborate on the topics discussed during the PSWG meetings, like:

  • The importance of a more integrated environmental scope for fertilizer and manure policy (water, air, soil, carbon);
  • Climate-proof modelling instruments that support such environmental policy;
  • Science and policy, not only to get farm measures applied where they are efficient and most needed, but also to make progress for structural system changes;
  • Efficient cross-scale governance models to stimulate adoption of voluntary farm measures and catchment nutrient trading, and for enforcing statutory obligations;
  • Supporting development of models, maps and tools to unravel diffuse pollutions sources, and to identify hot-spots of runoff and leaching from agricultural soils and efficient measures to reduce this.


Three transboundary river basins (one between England and Wales, one between N. Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and one between the Netherlands and Belgium) are selected as a case study of potential harmonisation in approaches to N and P load reductions at catchment level across NW Europe. Existing  models and tools will be applied to analyse  N and P losses to water, gaseous emission to air, regional stocks and flows of nutrients and carbon sequestration in agriculture soils. Scenarios will be developed  to  achieve the necessary N and P load reductions required to achieve multiple desired environmental outcomes, including their integration with measures to combat climate change. The PSWG and local catchment stakeholders play a central role in NEW Harmonica. Our approach is based on a combination of:

  • Technical assessments, including nitrogen and phosphorus (total) loads to water, retention, contribution of the different point-, diffuse and natural sources at catchment level, the material flows in the river basins including the stocks and flows of N and P and carbon sequestration in soils, using existing models, tools, and monitoring;
  • Assessments of governance arrangements and policy instruments for nutrients and climate in the river basins;
  • Development of harmonised approaches for indicators, best management practices, and governance to achieve water quality targets and the Farm to Fork nutrient targets with limited risk of pollution swapping to air;
  • Policy support for development of harmonised environmental policies, with strong interactions with the PSWG and local catchment stakeholders.