Main authors: Susanne Klages, Nicolas Surdyk, Christophoros Christophoridis, Birgitte Hansen, Claudia Heidecke, Abel Henriot, Hyojin Kim, Sonja Schimmelpfennig
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Klages, S. et al. 2018. Review report of Agri-Drinking Water quality Indicators and IT/sensor techniques, on farm level, study site and drinking water source. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 3.1, 180 pp


Contents table
1. Nitrates 
2. Pesticides 
3. Indicator definition
4. The DPSIR framework

1. Nitrates

Nitrates are intermediate products in the nitrogen cycle (see »Nitrogen and pesticide cycles in the agri-hydro-geochemical system). As ions in soil water they are the most prevalant form of nitrogen being uptaken by plants.

Nitrogen statistics

Nitrogen containing fertilisers are the most used fertilisers in Europe (Eurostat, 2018). EU-wide, mineral nitrogen consumption as fertiliser in 2015 amounted to 11,362,000 tons, which equals an average of 75 kg N/ha utilised agricultural area (UAA) (Netherlands: 137 kg N/ha UAA: Romania: 28 kg N/ha UAA) (Eurostat, 2018). This figure does not include nitrogen from organic fertilisers, such as farmyard manure, compost, digestate or sewage sludge.

To total number of livestock in the EU amounted to 130,319,600 livestock units (LU) in 2013, which equals 73.8 LU/ha UAA (Netherlands: 359 LU/ha UAA; Bulgaria: 20.6 LU/ha UAA) (eurostat, 2018; Statistisches Bundesamt, 2015). Per rough estimation this corresponds to an extra N input to 7,300,000 tons or approximately 42 N/ha UAA.

The gross N budget amounted in 2015 to 51 kg N/ha UAA (Cyprus: 194 kg N/ha UAA ; Netherlands: 189 kg N/ha UAA; Romania: 9 kg N/ha UAA) (Eurostat, 2018). The result of the budget is always positive but varies largely between Menber States with an intensive animal and plant production and those, where extensive agriculture dominates. The budget surplus indicates nitrogen losses into air (as ammonia, nitrous oxide, nitrogen oxides and dinitrogen) and water (as nitrate).

The figures cited above show, on the European average, a nitrogen import on the field as mineral and organic fertilisers (including grazing) of 117 kg N/ha UAA and an export by crops of 66 kg N/ha.

Registration/placing on the market of fertilisers

Commercial mineral fertilisers, chelating agents, nitrification and urease inhibitors (and liming materials) are subject to the European fertiliser regulation 2003/2003. The regulation lists authorised types of EC fertilisers, including method of production, minimum concentration of plant nutrient and form and sulubilities of nutrients. Regulation 2003/2003 contains an open list of approved fertilisers, which is continuously amended, in order to add new fertiliser types, categories or improved analytical methods (EC, 2003). Amendments are effectuated upon application of a Member State and the fertiliser industry affected. There is no registration of organic fertilisers on the European level up to now, but the Comission plans a complex regulation system within the framework of “circular economy”. The European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee (IMCO) voted in July 2017 on amendments to the Fertiliser Regulation and suggested it be expanded in order to open the European market to more products such as organic fertilisers (Euroactiv, 2017).

On Member State level, there already exists legislation on the placement on the market of organic fertilisers (i.e. compost, digestate, manure).

Data requirements

The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEG) was adopted in 1991 to protect waters against agriculturally derived N pollution. WFD (2000/60/EG) was passed in 2000 to protect European waters in order to reach “good status” objectives for water bodies throughout the EU.

Member States are required for the implementation of the Nitrates Directive to (i) establish monitoring networks in order to identify polluted or threatened waters; (ii) establish a voluntary code of good agricultural practice; (iii) allocate all land that drains into polluted waters as nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ); (iv) establish mandatory action programmes within NVZ and (v) review the action programmes and NVZ boundaries every four years. In this connection, Member States have to report the quality of their surface and groundwater. Additionally, Member States have to report on their national action programmes. Impact assessment of the action programme measures may require Member States to provide information on the following elements:

  • Total number of farmers, and farmers with livestock, total land (km²)
  • Agricultural land (km²)
  • Agricultural land available for application of manure (km²)
  • Permanent pasture
  • Permanent crops
  • Annual contribution of mineral and organic forms of N (kg N/ha)
  • Annual use of mineral and organic N (kilotonnes)
  • Nitrogen discharge into the environment from agriculture, urban wastewater and industry (Oenema et al., 2011).

2. Pesticides

Pesticides are substances that are meant to control pests, including weeds. The term pesticide includes all of the following: herbicide, insecticides (which may include insect growth regulators, termiticides, etc.) nematicide, molluscicide, piscicide, avicide, rodenticide, bactericide, insect repellent, animal repellent, antimicrobial, fungicide, disinfectant (antimicrobial), and sanitizer (

Pesticide statistics

A regulation on the reporting duties of the Member States to the EU on statistical usage data of plant protection products (Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009) was published in 2009. This regulation contains details of the requirements in all Member States for pesticide statistics and reports on the progress of the implementation of the Framework Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (FDSUP). All Member States have to collect sales and usage data to provide insights into the amount of pesticides sold and applied per crop and area. Statistics regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 requires, that the nationally sold annual weight (kg) of all active substances listed in its Annex III are collected under certain major groups and product categories.

Required usage data for pesticides refer to representative crops (selected by Member State) within a one-year reference period and a 5-year reporting. Key pieces of data required are the quantity (kg) of each substance used on each crop, and the area (ha) treated with each substance. Usage data to be reported include pesticide consumption, pesticide characteristics, soil characteristics, application rates, application timings and mitigation measures.

D3.1 tab02
Table 2.1

Table 2.1 shows the pesticide sales per hectare (UAA minus permanent grassland) as total and split into the different types of pesticides, in kg of active ingredient per hectare, for each of the 28 European Member States and as European average. Pesticides are used in far smaller quantities than fertilisers: on the European average, pesticide sales amount to 3.18 kg/ha [UAA minus permanent grassland], of which fungicides and bactericides take the largest share with almost 1.39 kg/ha [UAA minus permanent grassland], herbicides and similar type of substances take a share of 1.05 kg/ha [UAA minus permanent grassland]. For this indicator, areas of permanent grassland are subtracted from UAA, as pesticides are not regularly applied on grassland, which is mostly used as feedstuff for animals. It is noticeable, that some Member States have reported sales of active substances far over the European average: these are Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain (Eurostat 2018, 2018b). In most of these cases, the sales of fungicides and bactericides, herbicides and related products (active ingredients) are elevated in comparison to the European average.

However, the quantity of active substances sold does neither gives clear information on the toxicity of the pesticides used, nor on their persistence or on other chemical characteristics. Therefore, an interpretation towards the intensity of pesticide use is difficult and may include the following factors:

  • range of pesticides being approved for the zonal market of a Member state. This varies probably a lot and may depend on the market size: in small markets it may be less interesting for pesticide producers to register new products: there, more of the older products may still be in use. Those products are generally applied in higher concentracion per hectare as products being put on the market recently,
  • climatic distinctions,
  • cropping patterns/range of crops being cultivated,
  • intensity of crop production.

Registration/marketing licence for pesticides

A two-step approval procedure for pesticides is obligoratory in the EU. As first step, the placement of pesticides (=plant protection products) on the market is subject of the Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009. The central authorisation of the so called “active substances” of the pesticides is at the request of a Member State pronounced by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and approved by the European Commission. Application papers are confidential. Every active ingredient has to run through a complex admission system, before it can be developed as pesticide and provided to the user. An industrial company starts the process with the submission of an application of approval of a new active substance to an EU Member State. The application includes supporting scientific information and studies, including pesticide fate modelling for defined scenarios. The Member State evaluates the application. Subsequently, the European Food Safety Authority EFSA peer reviews the Member State's assessment of the active substance. On the basis of EFSA's review, the European Commission and the Members States decide whether to authorise the active substance. Active substances are approved for a period of 10 years. Industry has to apply for the renewal of the approval.

In a second step, a company applies to a Member State to put a pesticide containing an approved substance on the market. The Member State assesses the approval and puts forward a proposal for specific Maximum Residue Levels (MRL). If the proposed MRL is covered by existing legislation, the application is submitted to the EC. The EC decides whether to accept the proposed MRL; if it does, the Member State can authorise the pesticide for a defined usage zone (EFSA, 2018).

The pesticide then can be brought to the market. The Member States are required to monitor pesticide use and pesticide residues in food. The Framework Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (FDSUP) (2009/128/EC) contains requirements on training provision of pesticide advisors and spray operators, and the testing of spray equipment. This directive is implemented by the Member States in National Action Plans.

FOCUS, the FOrum for Co-ordination of pesticide fate models and their Use (EC, 2018b) runs a website, from which currently approved versions of simulation models and clearly definded scenarios can be obtained (for further detail, see »Agri-drinking water quality indicators at farm and drinking water levels). Both are used to calculate the concentrations of pesticides in ground- and surface water according to Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009. Furthermore, this website contains links to the reports of all FOCUS workgroups.

Standard scenarios were among other reasons introduced to faciliate a consistent scientific evaluation of the leaching potential of substances at the EU level. A Version Control Workgroup as a standing body ensures that the scenarios are updated in order to reflect scientific progress and representativeness for European conditions (EC, 2018b).

The EC website "Guidelines on Active Substances and Plant Protection Products" lists technical guidance documents under the topics physico-chemical analytical methods, efficacy, toxicity, residues, fate and behaviour and ecotoxicology EC, 2018c).

Under the topic “fate and behaviour”, an EC working document is published as Guidance Document on Persistence in Soil (DG AGRI, 2000). Under the same topic, a Guidande document on the assessment of the relevance of metabolites in Groundwater of substances regulated under the council Directive 91/414/EEC is published (DG SANCO, 2003).

Member States are also required to adopt – on a regional or national scale – harmonized risk indicators for pesticides, although these are still under development by the EU. Until then, the Member States may use national indicators (Oenema et al., 2011).

Evaluation of the EU approval procedure for pesticides

There has been criticism concerning the procedure for putting pesticides on the EU market. This refers to transparency aspects, but also to the systematical approach persued until present.

After discussions on the risk posed by the herbicide substance glyphosate and other pesticides, the EU Parliament decided in February 2018 to set up a special committee on the EU’s authorisation procedure for pesticides (PEST). Task of the special committee is to assess up to 12 December 2018

  • the authorisation procedure for pesticides in the EU;
  • potential failures in how substances are scientifically evaluated and approved;
  • the role of the Commission in renewing the glyphosate licence;
  • possible conflicts of interest in the approval procedure; and
  • the role of the EU agencies, and whether they are adequately staffed and financed to enable them to fulfil their obligations (EU parliament, 2018).

Element of the regular agenda is a REFIT evaluation of the EU pesticide legislation, in order to assess if the regulations meet the needs of citizens, businesses and public institutions in an efficient manner. The REFIT-evaluation is carried out by the Commission. The evaluation aims to perform an evidence-based assessment of the implementation of the regulations on pesticide and maximum residue levels and address synergies, gaps, inefficiencies and administrative burdens. According to the roadmap published by the Commission in November 2016, main evaluation criteria to be addressed in this REFIT evaluation are:

  • Effectiveness of the intervention;
  • Efficiency in relation to resources used;
  • Relevance in relation to identified needs and problems;
  • Coherence with other interventions with common objective;
  • EU added value compared to what could have been achieved by Member State or international action.

The whole process including stakeholder’s comments can be followed on the web page (European Commission, 2018).

Adjustment needs for the EFSA evaluation procedure of the environmental impact of pesticide active substances

According to the EU guideline 2009/128/EG, pesticides should have, if used properly, no negative effects on the physical health neither of human beings or animals (with the exception of the target species) nor on surface and groundwater and the rest of the environment.

However, analyses by several research teams show that the current pesticide input has considerable negative effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosytems and biodiversity (SRU, 2016). Several countries in Europe report that groundwater has concentrations of pesticides that exceed the quality standards. About 7% of the groundwater stations reported excessive levels for one or more Pesticide (Eurostat, 2018f).

Also surface waters showed abnormalities: nearly half of the insecticide concentrations in the European surface waters exceeded the regulatory accepted values (Stehle and Schulz, 2015).

Pesticide contamination is considered one of the reasons by which streams fail to achieve good ecological and chemical status, the main objectives of the Water Framework Directive. However, little is known on the interaction of different pesticide sources and landscape parameters and the resulting impairment of macroinvertebrate communities (Bunzel et al., 2014).

In aquatic systems, insecticides change structure (Liess and von der Ohe, 2005) biodiversity (Beketov et al., 2013) and function of aquatic biocoenoses (Schäfer et al., 2011, 2012). Worldwide, the size of populations of invertebratae has been reduced by around 45 % and the number of species sank drastically, too (Dirzo et al., 2014).

A meta-study by German, Danish and Australian universities in 2012 revealed that the current pesticide admission procedure is neither suited to meet the biodiversity targets for streaming waters nor the targets of the Water Framework Directive to establish a good ecological status of European water bodies. Their analysis showed that with concentrations that are not problematic according to the allowed standard procedures, the abundance of sensitive organisms was reduced by 27-61%, depending on how far unstressed upstream river conditions existed (Schäfer et al., 2012).

In terrestric systems, herbicides reduce diversity and abundance of flowering plants, especially of arable herbs. This results in a loss of feed for insects and a reduced diversity of insects, not only at the border of fields (Roß-Nickoll et al., 2004; Ottermanns et al., 2010; Legrand et al., 2011; Schmitz et al., 2014; Hahn et al., 2015) but in the whole agrarian landscape. Due to the massive reduction of biomass, structures of microhabitats and feed resources, not only insects but all consumers of insects, as small mammals and birds, are affected (= feed network; Hallmann et al., 2014; Goulson, 2015; Rundlof et al., 2015; Woodcock et al.; 2016; Hallmann et al., 2017; Vogel, 2017).

One reason identified is that the current admission procedures only assess the effect of single pesticides, a situation that does never occur in natural environments, where organisms are repeatedly exposed to multiple substances (Schäfer et al., 2012). Additionally, the presence of other active substances can reduce the degradation of a pesticide significantly, as was shown for the herbicide Pendimethalin, where the half-life doubled in the presence of Mancozeb (Swarcewicz and Gregorczyk, 2012).

The toxic effect of a pesticide mixture can, in comparison to the single substances, be enforced or reduced by mutual impact: the mixture can have additive, synergetic or antagonistic toxic effects as compared to the single pesticides. Moreover, the LD50/LC50 value for the standard reference organisms, used as toxicity indicator for terrestrial/aquatic organisms, does not allow conclusions on the effect of a pesticide on different species of an ecosystem, since the most sensitive species to a pesticide in an ecosystem is not known . Additionally, indirect effects such as secondary damages in the food chain are not accounted for by the LD50/LC50 values. Thus, the LC50 value of the single substances is not suitable as indicator for the impact of pesticides on an ecosystem, although often used that way (Fent, 2013).

Moreover, the standard admission procedures ignore the fact that organisms are exposed to multiple stresses in the environment which can increase their vulnerability against pesticides (Schäfer et al., 2012).

Another reason behind the adverse effects of pesticides on ecosystems are deficits in the pesticide prediction models concerning pesticide soil degradation and exposition of water bodies as well as in pesticide regulation. A Swiss monitoring-study revealed, that from a selected range of 80 pesticides applied to fields between 1995 and 2008, still 80 %, half of them metabolites, can be detected in small quantities in the soils (Bonmatin et al., 2015), although in the admission papers far shorter retention times are documented (Schäffer et al., 2018).

Risk assessments do not consider mixtures of active substances with each other or with fertilisers, sequential exposition and total load of pesticides (Schäffer et al., 2018).

Risk assessments during pesticide admission fall short of indirect effects such as loss of habitat and food resources following pesticide application. Risk assessments hardly consider multiple stress factors that add to the pesticide exposure, such as competition with less sensitive species, overfertilisation, narrowed crop rotations or consequences of climate change such as drought periods or extreme rainfall events. Many potentially affected species such as wild pollinators (bumblebees or wild bees) and amphibians are not integrated in the current risk assessments during pesticide admission tests.

The German monitoring of pesticide concentrations following the Water Framework Directive does not include all active substances relevant for the present agricultural practice and is therefore according to Schäffer et al. (2018) not suited to serve as a general representative monitoring for pesticides.

3. Indicator definition

Below, the relation between environmental, agri-environmental and agri-drinking water quality indicators (ADWIs), main subject of this report, is outlined.

Environmental Indicators

An environmental indicator is an index or a measurement endpoint used to evaluate the condition of a studied system. The term ‘‘indicator’’ is frequently used as a link between scientific results and policy making. Indicators are usually used to describe or extrapolate the future condition of habitats and to evaluate test whether a desired environmental condition is achieved.

Environmental indicators were developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in the early 1990s. Main criteria for their selection were “policy relevance and utility for users”, “analytical soundness, and “measurability” (EAA 2014).

Indicators can be used for:

  • ex ante evaluations of actions during the planning phase,
  • ex post evaluation of actions at their end or implementation,
  • monitoring with an alert role,
  • decision support in real time to drive the system, and
  • communication (Bockstaller et al., 2008).

Diferent types of indicator can be distinguished (Bockstaller et al., 2008):

  • Simple indicators, based on one type of variable not directy measured, but obtained by surveys or databases. They can consist on one or a simple combination of variables and often show a poor quality of prediction.
  • Indicators based on conceptual or mechanistic simulation model allow to link the predicted effect to causes. Their complexity is a major limitation to use.
  • Indicators based on measurements. They are used when the focus lies on impacts and no accurate model is available. Disadvantageous are the costs.

The output of an indicator may be quantitative or qualitative, a reference value can assist in the interpretation of the individually calculated value (Bockstaller et al., 2008).

Lebacq et al. (2013) define a typology for four kinds of indicators Table 2.2):

  • means-based indicators, assessing technical means and inputs used on the farm, i. e. livestock stocking rate,
  • system-state indicators, concerning the state of the farming system, i. e. post-harvest soil nitrate,
  • emission-indicators related to the farm’s polluting potential, i. e. estimated farm’s loss of nitrates to ground- and surface waters and
  • effect-based – measured – indicators reflecting the impact of the practices on the environment, i.e. actual nitrate concentration in ground water.

While means-based indicators are easy to implement with regard to data availability and calculation, they show a low quality of prediction of environmental impacts (van der Werf et al., 2009). Effect-based indicators, on the other hand, directly reflect environmental impact, but are difficult to implement and data collection is often more expensive and time-consuming (Lebacq et al., 2013). System-state and emission indicators, ranging from budgets to complex model-based indicators, have an intermediate position.

Table 2.2: Description of the typology of environmental indicators and characterisation of these types, in terms of calculation method, data availability and environmental relevance, in the context of data-driven approach (Lebacq et al., 2013, adapted from Bockstaller et al., 2008; van der Werf and Petit, 2002; van der Werf et al., 2009)

Type   Example  Definition  Calculation  Spatial scale*)  Data availability*) Environmental relevance*)
Means-based indicators   Livestock stocking rate Agricultural practices Single variables  P/F  ++  -
Intermediate indicators System-state Amount of post-harvest soil nitrate State of the farming system Single variables, direct measurements P/F +/− +/−
  Emissions   Emissions of greenhouse- and acidifying gases, nutrients, pesticides into the environment and potential impacts           
  -Nutrient budget Farmgate nitrogen surplus Combination of variables F + +/-
  -LCA*) Eutrophication potential Emission factors F+ +/- +
  -Model-based Nitrogen leaching modeling Modeling P/F/R - +
Effect-based indicators   Nitrate concentration in groundwater Environmental impact Direct measurements W/R -- ++

*) LCA life cycle analysis; P parcel level; F farm level; F+ farm level, including upstream activities (e.g., production and transport of inputs); R regional level; W watershed level;
++, +, +/−,−, −− relative degree of data availability and environmental relevance***

Agri-Environmental Indictors (AEI)

Agri-Environment Indicators (AEI) for monitoring the integration of environmental concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were further developed in 2002 by the IRENA (Indicator Reporting on the Integration of Environmental Concerns into Agriculture Policy) operation. It is an indicator set used by DG Agri, DG Environment, Eurostat and Joint Research Centre, and the European Environment Agency.

IRENA was organised as a joint project of DG Agriculture and Rural Development, DG Environment, DG Joint Research Centre, Eurostat and the European Environment Agency (EEA). The purpose was to develop and compile for EU-15 the set of 35 indicators defined in COM final 0020/2000 and COM final 0144/2001 at the appropriate geographical levels and, as far as possible, on the basis of existing data sources. Using the DPSIR-model, agri-environmental relationships with respect to the topics water, land use and soil, climate change and air quality, biodiversity and landscape were developed and 28 AEI were defined for the monitoring of environmental concerns into the CAP. Several limitations remain for a number of indicators (eurostat 2018):

  • deficiencies in the data sets related to certain indicators, in terms of harmonisation (e. g. farm management), or geographical coverage (e. g. water quality),
  • data availability (e. g. genetic diversity or pesticide risk),
  • requirement of further conceptual improvement (e. g. high nature value farmland areas).

DireDate, a project finalised in 2011 on behalf of eurostat, was run with the objective to set up a sustainable system for the collection of data sets from farms and other sources that would serve primarily European and national statisticians to calculate the 28 AEIs. The objectives of DireDate were to analyse and describe AEI data requirements, to provide recommendations for priority data collection and to analyse the feasibility for a combined data collection and processing. Methodologies for the calculation of combined indicators, i. e. the farm nutrient budget, were presented.

Certain types of data can be obtained from the Farm Structure Survey (FSS) and from the Survey on Agricultural Production Methods (SAPM), however, also individual farm data on animal feeding, animal housing, manure storage and manure application are needed for the calculation of farm nutrient budgets. Oenema (2011) pointed out, that the EU Member State systems for collection, processing and reporting of agri environmental data need increased coordination, harmonisation and streamlining throughout the whole chain.

The level, on which the AEI are used and the purpose they may be used for on these levels differs with scale:

  • European/national level: The application of AEI enables e. g. the European Comission to evaluate/benchmark the transcript of EU-legislation at Member State level. Under the topic “Agriculture and environment (AEI),” 13 AEI are listed for the Member States, partly on NUTS 2 regional level (Eurostat, 2018c). At the national level, AEI are typically based on/calculated from existing statistical data, as it is not possible to either find detailed data or it is too expensive to start collecting them for a whole country (Niemeijer and de Groot, 2008).
  • Regional level: AEI are used e: g. on supranational/regional/local context, to monitor the impact of agriculture on environment, identify hotspots or focus subjects and areas for the agricultural advisory service.
  • Farm level: On farm level, the nitrogen farm budget as AEI could be used, first of all, as decision aid tool, to help farmers to adapt their cultivation practices to integrated arable farming system requirements, from one cropping year to the next (Bockstaller and Girardin, 1997). This is the case e. g. in Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugan and Romania. On this level, AEI are used for benchmark-purposes, too, i.e. to compare the management of the same type of farms and to focus on “low performers”. Besides the calculated budget-indicators, measured indicators play a larger role for practical farm consulting. For example, the harvest Nmin-concentration of arable soils is a meaningful indicator for nitrate leachate in winter and contamination of ground water (Osterburg and Runge, 2007).


D3.1 fig02.1
Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1 visualises the levels of operation of AEI in relation to the aim for their use and examples for corresponding indicators. The figure shows, that the degree of data aggregation increases with level of operation. In the other direction, the degree/proportion of individual farm data and measurements increases from European towards farm level.

As more (in time and space) aggregated data show less standard deviation than the single datasets, correlation with water quality could be stronger between AEI being deduced from data on a regional level than on farm level. This would explain, why Wick et al. (2012) found the Gross Nitrogen Budget a statistically significant predictor for groundwater nitrate concentration, while other authors (Buczko et al., 2010; Lord and Antony, 2002; Rankinen et al., 2007; Sieling and Kage, 2007) calculated less strong relationships for indicators at a smaller scale.

From the above in can be concluded, that on the different levels of operation, AEI may be the same, or they may differ in the parameters included.

4. The DPSIR framework

The DPSIR model is defined as “causal framework for the description of interactions between society and the environment”. Based on the PSR (pressure – state – response) model developed by OECD, it was adopted by the European Environment Agency (EEA, 2018). According to its terminology, social and economic developments (driving forces, D), exert pressures (P) on the environment and, as a consequence, the state (S) of the environment changes. This leads to impacts (I) on ecosystems, human health and society, which may elicit a societal response (R) that feeds back on driving forces, on state or on impacts via various mitigation, adaptation or curative actions (Smeets and Weterings, 1999; Gabrielsen and Bosch, 2003).

The DPSIR-model in the environmental context

In the agri-environmental context, the indicators of the DPSIR-model can be interpreted as follows (Gabrielsen and Bosch, 2003):

  • Driving forces describe the social, demographic and economic developments in societies and the corresponding changes in lifestyles, overall levels of consumption and production patterns, such as the preference for meat in diets.
  • Pressure indicators describe developments in emissions, the release of physical and biological agents and the use of resources including land by human activities. As result, a variety of natural processes lead to changes in environmental conditions, i.e. in an increase in ammonia emissions or in nitrogen deposition in natural habitats.
  • State indicators give a description of the quantity and quality of physical, biological and chemical phenomena, such as the concentration of nitrates in surface- and groundwaters.
  • Impact indicators show the impacts on the functions of the environment, such as human health and quality of ecosystem, resources availability, losses of manufactured capital, and biodiversity.
  • Response indicators refer to responses by society, as well as government attempts to prevent, compensate, ameliorate or adapt to changes in the state of the environment. The reduction of meat consumption as societal response can be regarded as negative driving force, since prevailing trends in consumption and production patterns are redirecting. Other responses may be to increase the efficiency of agricultural production, i.e. nitrogen efficiency in plant production.

Annex 1 in »FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 3.1 lists the 28 European AEI and shows how they are embedded in the DPSIR framework (Eurostat, 2018).

Application of the DPSIR model in different contexts and levels

The DPSIR model is used on different contexts and scales.

  • European/national level: The data on national level behind each of the 28 AEI are listed in fact sheets related to COM final 0508/2006 (Eurostat, 2018). On the European level and in relation to water quality, there are quite a few approved AEI which work as driving forces, but only some AEI function as pressure and risk indicators with focus on water quality: Nitrate pollution and Pesticide pollution (Annex 1 in »FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 3.1 and Figure 2.2). While the indicator “Gross nitrogen budget” is well defined, although further implementation might be necessary, the indicator “Pesticide risk” needs further development: The conceptual and, where appropriate, modelling framework underpinning this indicator needs to be developed (COM, 2016; Eurostat, 2018).
  • Regional level: Breaking down the regulations of the WFD on the level of river basin management/ground water bodies, the DPSIR-model can be applied to explain the mechanisms of the transformation of the Directive on this regional level. Certain targets, like water quality indicators, have to be met at this level. These AEI are also used for monitoring and control purposes.
  • Farm level: The DPSIR-model can also be applied on farm level. The compliance with national fertilising legislation, for example in Germany, has to be proven by setting up a net nitrogen soil (surface) budget; since the beginning of 2018, for intensive animal breeding farms, a gross nitrogen farmgate budget is compulsory, too. The result of these budgets, on farm level, serve as proof of “good agricultural practice”, the compliance with the rules of the nitrates directive and the fertilising legislation, also in the framework of cross compliance.

D3.1 fig02.2
Figure 2.2



Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see

» References


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