Main authors: Rozalija Cvejič, Marina Pintar, Gerard Velthof
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Cvejič, R. et al. (2021) Scientific support for policies aiming at reducing diffuse nitrates and pesticides pollution of drinking water in Europe; synthesis report. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 7.4 29 pp


Here we provide a synthesis of the findings from FAIRWAY with policy recommendations.
Contents table
1. Scale deep: science to local change relevance 
2. Scale up: science to policy relevance
3. Scale out: science to social reach relevance
4. Outlook

1. Scale deep: science to local change relevance

Multi-actor approach (MAP) “promotes demand-driven innovation” of actors with “complementary” knowledge by engaging them in all phases of projects. The MAPs go beyond dissemination. The indication of their value is in “quantity and quality of knowledge exchange” that is crucial for co-innovation (EC, 2015).

FAIRWAY studied 13 case studies in 11 countries (MS 2.1; MS 2.2). Nesheim, et al. (2021) analysed in depth the functioning of 9 MAPs from 8 European countries (Denmark, England, Germany, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal and Slovenia).

Moreover, engagement in MAPs should improve possibility of mainstreaming solutions that are more likely to be applied as a result of collaboration that fosters co-design of ideas, which result in a feeling of co-ownership for eventual results (EC, 2015). However, one of the key messages from the FAIRWAY is that MAPs are important for setting up joint strategies in cross-sectoral decision-making but not necessarily sufficient to achieve desired impacts (Nesheim, et al., 2021), which is an important indication for current policy challenge of MAPs in future.

MAPs involved in FAIRWAY varied in terms of their engagement history and included MAPs in initial stage, to MAP with ongoing, and long history of engagement. Table 2 summarises how impactful was FAIRWAY in terms of reaching cultural roots through MAPs, and how did this mechanism of participation change relationships, values and beliefs with respect to reducing diffuse agricultural pollution with nitrogen and pesticides at the local level.

Table 2: How did MAPs affect cultural roots and how did this mechanism of participation change relationships, values and beliefs with respect to reducing diffuse agricultural pollution with nitrogen and pesticides at the local level: experience from 9 MAPs from 8 European countries (derived based on the findings of Nesheim, et al., 2021).

For the stakeholders (stkh.) of recently established MAPs the most important outcomes of participation were the multiple impacts of the MAP

MAP history of engagement
(Strong impact **; Some impact *; No impact O)
initial ongoing long-term
Enable dialogue ** ** *
Promote continuing dialogue * * **
Better understand different perspectives ** ** *
Support farmers bringing about change * ** *
Identify different views ** ** *
Recognise main objectives of local stkh. ** ** *
Identify further advancement needed ** ** **
Identify the missing stkh ** * *
Identify stkh. roles ** * *
Suggesting strategies for stkh. engagement ** ** *
Increasing top-down support and recognition * * *
Building on trust ** ** *
New collaborations, field demonstrations and trials O ** **
Understanding of scientific background to measures ** ** **
Strengthen relationships ** ** **
Evaluation and recognition of past engagement O * **

The expectations were that stakeholders involved in recently established MAPs (such as in Greece and Romania) had the potential to benefit the most, and that the change would be the biggest in young MAPs. However the research showed that welcoming external facilitators and new actors (such as associated member that joined through the FAIRWAY project) into exiting network provided benefits also for MAPs with a longer history of involvement. The strong impact of science to local change through MAPs with a long history of involvement concentrates around promoting continues dialogue, identifying further advancements needed, establishing new collaboration, field demonstrations and trial, and evaluation and recognition of past engagement. Whereas the strong impact through MAPs that were recently established or have a shorter history of engagement is more concentrated around for example enabling dialogue, promoting development of shared understanding, and suggesting strategies for future stakeholder engagement.

Improved understanding of scientific background to measures and their efficiency that was reported in all MAPs was promoted by engaging MAP members evaluating project findings (»Science & policy support), and evaluating concrete measures (»Farming practices: review and assessment), agri-environmental indicators (»Monitoring & indicators), DSTs (»Decision support tools) and governance arrangements (»Policy & governance). Current challenges of multi-actor platforms predefine its future role in contributing to limiting ADP. There are positive contributions of MAPs to solving complex socio-environmental problems if their functioning is supported on the long-term basis by skilled facilitators, and adequate financial resources (Nesheim, et al., 2021; MS 2.1; MS 2.2). Therefore, MAPs establishment is necessary in European agricultural drinking water catchments where water quality monitoring has indicated significant negative contribution of agricultural practices to diffuse nitrates and pesticides pollution. The focus should not be only on MAPs establishment and their functioning with the aim of establishing a share understanding of a problem and finding possible solutions, but should also be directed towards a change on the ground. Policy should therefore focus linking MAP activities to implementation of concrete measures clearly defining implementation mechanisms to reach the environmental change.

2. Scale up: science to policy relevance

FAIRWAY focused tracking the change and explored which are the good baselines for monitoring and indicators for future actions. Comprehensive list of it-/sensors and automatic sample techniques for pesticide and nitrate sampling is available (»Agri-drinking water quality indicators and IT/sensor techniques). FAIRWAY made an inventory of use, the need for and awareness of 55 agri-drinking water indicators (pressure, state) in all case studies (MS3.1) (AWDIs). The research from Kim et al. (2019) concludes that ADWIs need to be “scientifically-sound, straightforward and simple”. Their use depends on the actors and their focus in the water protection plan and the purpose, e.g. evaluation of mitigations measures on farm scale, catchment scale, time scale of protection plan, or evaluation of current conditions for water quality. The lag time between agricultural pressure and drinking water state was recognised as a key indicator to connect actors in shared understanding of the problem. Consistent databases to link pollution and mitigation measures are required to protect water quality, as it can take more than 10 years for the measures to reflect in groundwater quality monitoring depending on the type of catchment (»Evaluating agri-drinking water quality indicators in three case studies). Agri-drinking water indicators are useful at all spatial levels from farm to EU (»Agri-drinking water quality indicators and IT/sensor techniques). It was identified that the N surplus indicator is the most effective and easy to use indicator regarding nitrate contamination of water, but there are considerable differences in how N budgets are calculated in different countries. The differences relate to whether the calculation uses the real or the standard values, which has consequences for comparing the calculations between regions, or let alone countries (Klages et al., 2020). On the contrary, expression pesticides is characterised by “over authorised 250 active substances” which is why simple index setup is more difficult and the ADWIs rely on treatment Frequency Index and Pesticide Load Index, and need to be supported by DPSLIR-model (driving force, pressure, state, link, impact, response) (»Agri-drinking water quality indicators and IT/sensor techniques).

FAIRWAY looked into the most promising measures, and which advanced measures and practices do we need to push forward. The most effective on-field measures to reduce nitrate leaching to groundwater drinking water resources are balanced nitrogen fertilization (timing, method, rate, and source of application), reduced tillage, and cover and catch crops (»Review of measures to decrease nitrate pollution of drinking water sources). Most promising measures with respect to pesticide pollution, which requires a combination of input reduction, farms system redesign, and point source mitigation. On-field measures (e.g. vegetative buffers, tillage practices) for reducing pesticide pollution are effective at reducing off-site pollution, but costly to install and maintain. Such on-field measures contribute to reduced pesticides pollution for overland flow but are not sufficient to mitigate pesticides pollution (»Review of measures to decrease pesticide pollution of drinking water sources). Some of the measures to reduce nitrate losses to ground and surface waters may increase the emission of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. It is important to consider pollution swapping risks in setting up mitigation strategies (»Recommendations for the most promising activities, policies and tools).

To link the implementation of measures, with monitoring and efficiency of measures, the FAIRWAY concentrated DSTs and elaborated which we can use to help us on ground and how effective are they. Many useful DSTs are available for nitrogen and pesticide management of farms, but only few consider the effect on water quality is lacking (»Survey and review of existing decision support tools). Further development and research are needed to enhance the existing or develop new DSTs that target improving the efficiency of the resources used on-farm and measures directed to reducing losses to water (»Evaluation of decision support tools). In general, the benefits of using DSTs significantly outweigh the costs of using DSTs (»Assessments of costs and benefits using decision support tools).

The legislative framework that mainstreams limiting ADP is fragmented and complex (»Governance arrangements in case studies). Drinking Water Directive, Nitrates Directive, Water Framework Directive, and Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, and the Common Agricultural Policy frame a policy structure that has a unique governance cascade in each FAIRWAY case-study country. The impressions as developed in FAIRWAY visualize how water and agricultural governance cascades down from the EU to farm level. They may help: (1) Determine weaknesses of governance and policies; (2) Contribute to actions; (3) Enhance delivering the core messages across sectors and actors. The method takes a bottom-up approach, stakeholder perceptions, and includes active engagement with local actors. Further CAP revisions should focus on result-based schemes directed at implementing clear objectives (»Governance arrangements in case studies). These indicate better effects and cost-effectiveness than the uniform payments and greening schemes that have shown to be ineffective in delivering environmental benefits. Increased cross-referencing to protect drinking water resources will improve policy effectiveness and cost-effectiveness across different directives and policies aiming to protect drinking water resources (»Coherence in EU law and policy for the protection of drinking water resources). A more facilitated cross-sectoral approach should be adopted to improve stakeholder networks, between institutional levels and hydrological scales, to attain policy objectives at local level (Wuijts et al., 2021).

3. Scale out: science to social reach relevance

Research of Rudolf et al. (2019) shows that EU research project dissemination is not followed through to the highest decision making level due to several reasons (»Actors' feedback on practices for improvement of water quality in FAIRWAY case studies and interim project results), most often related to loss of key messages, the use of too academic terminology, poor communication, and lack of uptake of bottom-up approaches. Among less exposed but nonetheless important reasons are also a lack of time from DG representatives. To bridge some of these gaps, FAIRWAY project was set up with high ambitions in term of products and digital platforms established, approaches undertaken facilitate cooperation between actors, and maximising the science-policy-practice impact ( (Figure 3).

D7.4 fig03
Figure 3

FAIRWAY explored the barriers to protecting water quality in the EU by involving stakeholders from various levels. The main obstacles are observed at the national or regional levels and relate to a lack of political will and scarce instruction on legislation implementation.

Project clustering (science, policy, stakeholders, and citizens) was recognised as a solution to enhance the role of science in the EU integrated policy-making process. The aim is to establish longer-term relationships and communication flows between scientists and policy makers, which will contribute to achieving more sustainable management of ecosystem (water, food) services.

Apart from this, FAIRWAY additionally included 32 respondent of research institutions, national decision makers, non-government organisations, and industry representatives (see »Appendix to the full report). The results of the survey indicate the selected key findings are mostly useful for the respondents, especially in relation to the role of the multi-actor platforms, the need for consistency of water quality monitoring databases, most promising nitrate reduction measures, the most effective on-field measures to reduce nitrate leaching to groundwater, and the findings on the barriers to protecting water quality in the EU by involving stakeholders from various levels (80% or more respondent indicated the findings are useful).

4. Outlook

FAIRWAY studied approaches to protect drinking water resources against ADP, and identified, and further developed innovative measures and governance approaches for a more effective drinking water protection, together with stakeholders.

Both Nitrates directive report (2022) and the European Environment – state and outlook (2020) indicates agricultural nitrates pollution remain a considerable burden to the drinking water quality in Europe. Additionally, the European environment. More structural changes in farm models might be required for complying with the requirement of the Water Framework Directive. Moreover, Farm to Fork Strategy (EU Green Deal) aims at reduction of the use and risk of chemical and more hazardous pesticides by 50%, reduction of the use of fertilizers by 20%, reduction of nutrient loss by 50% with no deterioration on soil fertility. To achieve this, further strong collaboration between stakeholder networks (science-policy-practice) will be crucial.

It was recognized during FAIRWAY that the multi-actor networks established under different research projects stopped functioning after the end of the project. Considering the fact that success of multi-actor networks to continue connecting people for achieving environmental improvement in relation to agricultural practice require stable investments in terms of time, money and facilitation, the challenge is to search for options how multi-actor networks could continue their collaboration and continue to co-innovate and knowledge exchange after the research projects end. To provide for this FAIRWAY has submitted a proposal for a new EIP AGRI FG to continue to link with the existing 13 case studies using to monitor the case study development and provide scientific support to the EU via the EIP instrument. EIP AGRI has shown to be a promising international tool to bridge the gap between science, policy and practice in relation to ADP. Reducing ADP for protecting drinking water quality is an important theme running through half 43 EIP AGRI FGs. While FGs do deep in individual strategies for reducing ADP and the related enabling factors and limitations, the focus on expected measure efficiency and the possible combinations of measures is still lacking. A more systematic and uniform approach needs to be undertaken with a clear indication which measures can be applied by whom and to what extent (stakeholder responsibility). EIP AGRI FGs have not yet addressed diffuse agricultural pollution with nitrogen and pesticides from the viewpoint of strengthening science-policy-practice interface by using agri-environmental indicators.



For full references to papers quoted in this article see »References

Download the full report for the survey results contained in the Appendix.


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