Water Protection in Agriculture

The problem

Fertilization of agricultural land is a commonly used agronomic practice to enhance crops. Industrial agricultural practices have led to leaching of nutrients, mainly nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), into ground and surface water. The main effect of this nutrients over-enrichment is the rapid growth of algae on the surface of the water, a phenomenon called “algae bloom”. When it occurs, the surface layer formed by algae prevents sunlight from getting through it and reaching the bottom, causing decreased water clarity and death of larger plant species such as seagrass. The loss of plant life represents destruction of habitats that provided shelter, food and nursery grounds for many marine animals. Moreover, the deposition of organic material – decomposed by bacteria – increases oxygen consumption on the sea floor, which lead to oxygen depletion and creates dead zones. These now cover 15% of the Baltic Sea floor. Some algae species are toxic for marine mammals and can also be dangerous for humans.

Eutrophication causes reduction of biodiversity, erosion of coasts and impoverishment in fish population. Despite some small improvements, the Baltic Sea is heavily affected by eutrophication (97% of the surface area) resulting from excess nutrient loads for many years and about 50% of all nutrients stem from agriculture. Climate change could also have a negative impact on the Baltic Sea catchment area, exacerbating eutrophication – since water and air temperature rise could create better conditions for the growth of algae blooms.

In addition, intensive rearing of animals represents an important source for over-fertilizing of adjacent farmland. Intensive animal production carries within a number of serious risks which are not limited to the farm area, but directly related to the neighbouring area and indirectly impacts the environment conditions of the Baltic Sea Region:

  • Landscape transformation
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Livestock production waste
  • Deterioration of the quality of life of local residents
  • Legislation and legal problems

The negative consequences of industrial livestock production have not only environmental, but also social, economic, legislative and legal connotations.

Maritime transport of hazardous substances and waste such as radioactive materials, oil and fertilizers also pose a threat to the Baltic Sea environment. On the latter, CCB published a new report, “Concept Best Available Technologies & Techniques: Bulk Fertilizer Handling” to further the necessary discussion for port improvements for handling fertilizers in Baltic Sea ports. To that intention, CCB encourages industry development of best practices in an open innovation setting, with learning shared among peer organizations.

The goal

The overall goal is therefore to reduce nutrient leakage from agriculture and industrial animal farm (IAF) to levels that do not cause widespread eutrophication of fresh waters, coastal and marine areas in the Baltic Sea Region.

How is CCB working with this issue?

Our actions are directed both at enforcement of pollution abatement requirements applicable to conventional, organic and industrial farming as well as at promotion of nutrient resource efficiency in agricultural sector. We lead this work with a number of dedicated national experts and we participate actively within HELCOM working groups and Heads of Delegation meetings to uphold the agreed goals and targets in the Baltic Sea Action Plan to reduce nutrient loads. Many of our actions regarding nutrient resource management and nutrient runoff are focused to Poland, as 38% of all farmland in the Baltic Sea Region is found there.

We promote EU circular economy approach for efficient use and recycling of limited natural mineral phosphorous, and climate-demanding nitrogen fertilizers – and produce and publish materials on eutrophication and agriculture. A social media campaign on eutrophication  – #KeepTheBalticBlue – run in September 2018 under the ResponSEAble project, aiming at raising public awareness on this issue.

Especially important are large scale animal farms. Industrial Animal Farming is a specific project which aims to prevent the negative consequences of intensive livestock production in the Baltic Sea Region. We focus our work on IAF in Poland, as most of the IAFs in the Baltic Sea Region are located there.

Along with the eutrophication campaign we launched our Baltic Talks, live streaming on different topics on our social media accounts. The first one was about IAF: watch it on our YouTube Channel. All the videos prepared and promoted during the campaign are available here. Another milestones in CCB activities is the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year, launched in 2009 by WWF to highlight best practices and recognize farmers who are leading the way to reduce nutrient runoff on their farms. The countries participating in the award are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. Starting from 2018, WWF additionally welcomed the participation of Belarus and Ukraine and CCB had an important role in bringing these two countries to the contest and supporting sustainable farming. See the 2019 event here.

See our separate website: CCB – Industrial Animal Farming and Map of Industrial rearing of poultry and pigs in the Baltic Sea Region

CCB is also taking part of #OurBlueLung campaign, led by Seas at Risk, to put pressure on EU governments to respect the commitment they made under the EU marine law to deliver clean and healthy seas by 2020. Throughout 2019 and 2020, we will take action at different points in time to remind governments of their commitment, focusing on five important threats to our seas and ocean: overfishing, plastics, noise pollution, intensive farming and chemical pollution.

What can countries do together?

  • Work together to promote ecologically sustainable agricultural practices within the framework of the recommendations under HELCOM;
  • Reform the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to promote sustainable agriculture via coupling EU agricultural subsidies with requirements to take measures to substantially reduce the nutrient run-off to water from agricultural production.

What can each country do?

  • Introduce environmental conditionality on all agricultural subsidies, such as requirements for nutrient-balanced fertilization;
  • Promote the use of less intensive, organic farming practices;
  • Reduce emissions from land and maritime traffic;
  • Ban open cage fish aquaculture.

What can you do?

  • Support sustainable agriculture by actively asking for and buying products which are certified to have been produced with sustainable methods;
  • Avoid over fertilizing your own garden and using pesticides.


See all CCB Publications about Water Protection in Agriculture in Publications.



September 5, 2019

CCB joined the Ocean Call for G7

We have joined and signed the Ocean Call, which carries the voice and the commitments of more than 50 organizations mobilized for the ocean alongside Surfrider Foundation Europe.

Following the G7 Summit, the Ocean Call will also be staged at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York in September, at the COP 25 in Chile in December and finally at the COP 15 on Biodiversity in China in 2020.

Read the full declaration here.


March 5, 2018

Joint NGO letter to ministers about HELCOM BSAP

A joint NGO letter from CCB, Oceana and WWF to the minsters of environment concerning the progress towards BSAP goals in 2021. This letter was sent as part of the Ministerial meeting in HELCOM, 6th of March 2018:  Joint Letter to ministers on BSAP WWF Oceana CCB


February 28, 2017

To reach the SDGs globally the Baltic-wide actions need to be implemented first!

logo_2rToday, high-level representatives of the HELCOM Contracting Parties will meet in Helsinki to discuss how the Baltic Sea Region can contribute to the global goals on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources by 2030. Actions related to eutrophication, marine litter and climate change will be given special focus in the discussions.

On behalf of environmentally concerned citizens of the Baltic Sea catchment, Coalition Clean Baltic would like to share some input to this work and bring to the attention of regional decision-makers the urgent needs to be addressed in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) and, even more importantly, to save the Baltic Sea from further deterioration.

Read the full statement here.







October 4, 2016

Joint position of environmental NGOs on internal loading in the Baltic Sea


WWF, Sweden




04 October 2016, Uppsala/Stockholm

Joint position of environmental NGOs on internal loading in the Baltic Sea

Environmental Ministers and High-Level representatives from HELCOM Contracting Parties at their meeting in Copenhagen in 2013, inter alia

  • agreed to fully implement the 2007 Baltic Sea Action Plan by 2021 and to step up efforts for further strengthened implementation of the BSAP
  • acknowledged that environmental deterioration such as oxygen depletion is increasingly affecting marine life by e.g. accelerating eutrophication through increasing the internal loading;
  • supported development of environmentally sound approaches to remove the nutrients before they enter inland waters and the sea, and to address the internal loading, in coastal areas and semi-enclosed lagoons, as well as in the open sea;

The issue of internal loading was brought up to HELCOM’s agenda with the assumption that most of the reductions on land (both at point and diffuse sources) have been already achieved, e.g. through accomplishment of efficient sewage treatment and excess usage of fertilizer and manure in agriculture being gradually eliminated. Hence, according to the proponents, very limited, costly and constantly diminishing reductions can be achieved using conventional land-based approach, and thus interest on innovative sea-based measures that should be investigated and applied have gained traction.

NGOs strongly believe that the real reason for promoting alternative, sea-based solutions to the eutrophication problem might be tightly connected with observed poor implementation of BSAP MAI/CART commitments and lack of will to enforce stricter HELCOM requirements at national level in comparison to EU law, by some Contracting Parties/EU Member States. This recently became even more evident with several Contracting Parties questioning the MAI/CART scheme that was jointly agreed in 2007 and reviewed in 2013. Another possible reason could be the need to develop and implement ‘novel’ measures, not yet being used in current EU policies e.g. WFD or Nitrates Directive process, in order to be able to feed those into Programmes of Measures under the MSFD.

Meanwhile, cost-efficiency of already applied measures in terms of delivering good environmental status for the Baltic Sea with regards to eutrophication has been very poorly assessed – both at national or HELCOM level. So far only potential economic benefits stemming from implementation of the HELCOM BSAP measures have been evaluated. On the contrary the EU financial support mechanisms in many cases, e.g. in agriculture, cause continued high inputs of nutrients with minor consideration of environmental objectives for the marine environment.

Our understanding is strongly supported by the findings of the recent EU Court of Auditors’ report “Combating eutrophication in the Baltic Sea: further and more effective action needed” (2016), echoed by the EU Council Conclusions on the ECA’s Report, which reflected the following:

  • within 2007-2013 the EU contribution to waste water collection and treatment projects in the BSR was 4.6 billion euro from ERDF/CF, while rural development measures, including water protection measures amounted to 9.9 billion euro from EAFRD.
  • Member States’ plans for achieving HELCOM nutrient reduction targets are lacking ambition as they do not go beyond statutory EU requirements, that do not suite the Baltic-specific needs; those plans are often delayed and vary in level of enforcement, as well as based on insufficient information and lack progress monitoring; moreover HELCOM requirements on sewage treatment and agro-environment measures are not in full incorporated into national legislation in most of the Contracting Parties.
  • None of the Baltic EU MS have reached good ecological status of their surface and ground waters by 2015, as originally set under the WFD and hence reaching in time Good Environmental Status under the EU MSFD is also very questionable, again partly due to lacking coordination with the objectives and activities of the existing regional sea conventions (HELCOM)

On February 12, 2015 the seminar “Sea-based measures to reduce the effects of eutrophication” was arranged by Sweden’s Ministry of Environment, Baltic Sea Centre and Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management with the aim to review nine pilot projects and in light of these, to discuss opportunities and challenges associated with sea-based measures to reduce internal loading. During the seminar it was pointed out by many participants that the Baltic Sea ecosystem is fragile and there is a lack of knowledge about how the flora and fauna will react to these types of substantial human manipulations. Also the risks and uncertainties increase for the ecosystem when the measures applied go from small scale at the coastal level to large scale on the open seas. However, the concluding panel agreed that some offshore activities in the future might be complementary to current land-based measures to speed up the recovery of the Baltic Sea.

Putting it candidly, the internal nutrient load in the Baltic Sea means a recirculation of “old sins”, hence it is a consequence and not a cause of eutrophication. Despite pilot attempts, scientific knowledge is still lacking and vast uncertainty remains about the effectiveness of measures to reduce the internal load, especially for large-scale Baltic Sea wide application. Furthermore, the total costs of the proposed measures have not been calculated, neither any estimates of effectiveness and environmental consequences of proposed measures on the open Baltic Sea ecosystem have been produced. As currently the anoxic “dead” bottom zones extend to several national EEZs and cover an area comparable to twice the size of Denmark, the question remains who should pay for the needed EIA and investments for technical solutions addressing open sea eutrophication.

Despite no formal discussion has been held on internal load within HELCOM since the seminar, HELCOM HOD 50-2016 requested to include issues on internal load into the agenda of PRESSURE 5-2016.

Based on the above and to express the joint Baltic environmental NGOs position on the discussion, we would like to draw the attention to several important points on this issue to reflect upon:

  1. Internal load is not a cause of eutrophication, but it is a consequence of numerous years of mismanagement of nutrient inputs from the Baltic Sea catchment. According to the Baltic Eye’s policy brief “The internal phosphorus load – recycles old sins” (October 2016), the accumulated load of nutrients in the catchment is about 20 times higher than estimated load bound in bottom sediments. Hence, nutrient sources in the catchment will still need to be addressed as being the root cause of phosphorus accumulation on the sea floor.
  2. There is no evidence that the Contracting Parties have taken and implemented all relevant measures to reduce eutrophication, as agreed in HELCOM BSAP – especially from land-based sources (stricter sewage treatment and fertiliser application, nutrient recycling, etc.) and as agreed in Article 6 and Annex III of the Helsinki Convention (1992).
  3. Although positive effects of reduced land-based input could be seen in some coastal areas, there is still a need for further improvement. Measures for continued reduced supply and a more resource-efficient use of nitrogen and phosphorus have effect and are of great importance and should be a priority, not least in order to reduce eutrophication in lakes, rivers and coastal waters in the Baltic Sea Region, in meeting the WFD and MSFD requirements.
  4. Proposed sea-based measures to address internal loading have not proven to be (a) effective, (b) cost-efficient, (c) polluter-specific and (d) harmless in application at a larger scale and in longer-term perspective, hence violating two fundamental principles of the Helsinki Convention, namely precautionary and polluter-pays principle.
  5. Very few end-of-pipe solutions have appeared to be more efficient than source reduction measures. Without curbing nutrient pollution sources we will not be able to cease eutrophication cause (point and diffuse inputs) and hence tackle the consequences at sea (anoxic bottoms, internal loading).
  6. External nutrient reduction before entering the sea is the only truly effective long-term strategy to combat eutrophication. Therefore, we call upon the Governments of the Contracting Parties to follow their commitments under the HELCOM BSAP and demonstrate it with real actions, i.a. finally endorsing Country Allocated Reduction Targets by all the Contracting Parties and implementing nutrient reduction measures stipulated by the Helsinki Convention (1992) and its Annexes.
March 11, 2016

Statement at the 37th Meeting of the Helsinki Commission, 10-11 March 2016

Once again, we would like to share with you the concerns of civil society organizations and over 800,000 individual members of CCB’s network around the Baltic Sea.

Read Statement here: CCB_statement_HELCOM37_2016


November 19, 2015

Funding the EU MSFD Programs of Measures

A crucial part of the coherent implementation of the BSAP and the EU MSFD is the commitment to fund the needed measures to reach the GES targets. CCB is becoming concerned that several CPs being also EU MS have argued at different occasions, including the IG PoM and EU MSCG, that funding is a major problem for implementing the MSFD PoMs.  For a number of reasons CCB considers these claims unjustified.

Read statement here: 4-17 Funding the EU MSFD Programs of Measures_CCB

October 20, 2015

Comments on final draft of the BAT reference document for the Intensive Rearing of Poultry or Pigs

Comments on final draft of the BAT reference document for the Intensive Rearing of Poultry or Pigs (IRPP BREF). Proposal for some rewording in the BAT conclusions 30 to 34.

Read here.


June 3, 2015

Proposals for scope of the review and updating of part II Annex III (Prevention of pollution from agriculture) of the Helsinki Convention

HELCOM HOD 47-2015 requested the Agri group to develop a proposal for the review process of part II of Annex III for the consideration by the Heads of Delegation. Once the scope of the review has been decided on by HOD, the revision process could start. The Meeting invited the Contracting Parties to consider co/leading the review/revision work.

Read statement here: 3-25 Proposals for scope of review of part II Annex III of Helsinki Convention

Bettina TaylorBUND, Friends of the Earth GermanyGermany
Gun RudquistSwedish Society for Nature ConservationSweden+46 8 702 65 00
Gunnar NorénSenior AdvisorSweden
Henrik Butze RuhnenstierneDanish Society for Nature ConservationDenmark+45 63 214 500
Maret MerisaarEstonian Water AssociationEstonia
Maria StaniszewskaPolish Ecological Club / PKEPoland+48 32 231 85 91
Renaldas RimaviciusLithuanian Green MovementLithuaniablueflag@zalieji.lt
Rimantas BraziulisLithuanian Green MovementLithuania+370 37 425 566
Ruta VaiciunaiteLithuanian Fund for NatureLithuania+3705 231 07 00