Emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (NO) from agricultural drainage waters are poorly quantified and its determinants are not fully understood. Nitrous oxide formation in agricultural soils is known to increase in response to N fertiliser application, but the response of NO in field drainage waters is unknown. This investigation combined an intensive study of the direct flux of NO from the surface of a fertilised barley field with measurement of dissolved NO and nitrate (NO) concentrations in the same field's drainage waters. Dissolved NO in drainage waters showed a clear response to field N fertilisation, following an identical pattern to direct NO flux from the field surface. The range in NO concentrations between individual field drains sampled on the same day was large, indicating considerable spatial variability exists at the farm scale. A consistent pattern of very rapid outgassing of the dissolved NO in open drainage ditches was accentuated at a weir, where increased turbulence led to a clear drop in dissolved NO concentration. This study underlines the need for carefully planned sampling campaigns wherever whole farm or catchment NO emission budgets are attempted. It adds weight to the argument for the downward revision of the IPCC emission factor (EF for NO in drainage waters.