The Wildlife Trust has put forward a scheme which could see nitrate pollution in the Solent reduced, with added benefits for local people and wildlife.

What’s the issue?

No homes can be built in South Hampshire. Natural England’s decision to halt any development which would contribute to nitrate pollution in the Solent, follows recent European Court of Justice rulings on the issue.  The existing high levels of nitrates are causing harm to the ecosystem and failure of environmental standards.

Nutrient overload creates vast mats of algae over the Solent’s mudflats, stopping oxygen getting through to the animals in the sediment and causing mass mortality, especially in hot weather. Algae also forms a barrier to many birds which rely on probing the mud or picking off tiny invertebrates from its surface. Lastly, these mats can smother some of our most special yet threatened habitats: seagrass beds and saltmarshes, choking them to death and risking erosion.

Whilst nitrate pollution arises from a number of sources, including in particular agricultural run-off and outfalls, new occupied dwellings would add to the pressures through the waste water generated.

The Wildlife Trust supports Natural England’s decision to protect our precious marine environment.  In the longer term, we would like to see far broader action to tackle the diverse causes of pollution, as well as the upgrade of water treatment works to ensure that all sewage is treated to the highest standards before it is released into local water bodies. If any new houses are to be built, measures are needed to ensure that overall pollution levels are reduced.

The solution

The Trust is proposing that land which is currently releasing nitrates in the catchment, such as fertilised arable land, could be managed differently in order to reduce nitrate pollution entering water-bodies, reducing the amount of nutrients ultimately reaching the Solent.

We have shaped a scheme which would remove lower-grade agricultural land from intensive production (that which is less suitable for growing crops), stop the application of fertilisers and create natural habitats, such as traditionally grazed meadows, wetlands or woodlands.

Natural England has established a method for calculating the nitrogen impacts of new developments and can therefore ensure nutrient neutrality is achieved for any development through the acquisition and restoration of sufficient land.

In addition to the direct nitrate balancing, the proposed scheme has the potential to deliver a number of additional water quality and biodiversity benefits, through wider pollution reduction and expanding and enhancing vital wildlife habitats.

Commenting on the scheme, Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust said: “Our local seas are being suffocated by untenable levels of pollution and we have to find ways of reducing the levels of nitrates entering the Solent.  By taking the most polluting land and re-wilding it, not only are we relieving the pressure on our marine environment but we will also create wonderful wildlife-rich habitat, capturing carbon and helping nature to recover.  We must now ensure that we are creating great places for both people and wildlife to live and thrive.”

Supporting development that is good for nature

The Trust will work in collaboration with Natural England, local authorities and developers to provide this solution, as long as the proposed housing meets all other requirements, especially biodiversity protection and enhancement.

We are actively advocating sustainable development and net gain for nature. We are concerned that if a solution to this problem is not found, central Government may penalise local authorities by adding additional housing numbers to their already weighty local targets.

We continue to voice our concerns about unsustainable housing numbers in some areas and continue to object to the most damaging proposals.  The Trust is not opposed to all development, only that which fails to give back more to nature than it takes away.

How to find out more

The Trust is ready to deliver a simple natural solution to this pressing local issue.  We believe that we can substantially reduce pollution and create extensive new areas of natural habitat where wildlife can thrive.