The Nitrate Neutrality Issue – Reference Sources

We’ve collected together a few documents and website references that we think might help with your understanding of the Solent Nitrate Neutrality issue. To view the documents, click on the underlined italic text to open the document or page in a new browser tab.

In November 2019, the Hampshire branch of Campaign to Protect Rural England published an article by Dr. Nick Walton, Environmental Science Programme Manager at University of Portsmouth. This CPRE Hampshire article gives a summary of the issues generated by the European Court of Justice ‘Dutch Case’.

In June 2020, Natural England produced a very detailed paper entitled Advice on Achieving Nutrient Neutrality for New Development in the Solent Region. This document can be found on a number of different websites in different dated versions. The version we have captured here is Version 5 – June 2020 – which we believe to be the latest. (Unfortunately, we can no longer find the master version of this on the Natural England website.)

In August 2020, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, published a ten page paper in defence of their controversial purchase of a farm on the Isle of Wight, taking it out of production to sell nitrate credits to housing developers on the Hampshire mainland.

While the environmental science is clearly well established, the mathematics of the solution is rather more questionable. While we accept that farming has generated a significant proportion of the nitrate pollution reaching the Solent harbours, most of that farm based pollution is historical, having leached into the watercourses slowly through the South Hampshire geology. Modern farming practices manage their nitrate discharges through more active interventions. For example, Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) is a DEFRA funded initiative that works in partnership with the water industry to progress nutrient and sediment management in a farmed environment.

The National Farmer’s Union have issued a response from the point of view of the farming industry. The NFU believes that taking land out of production is not the most sustainable option for achieving nutrient neutrality citing CSF as one of several established alternative directions.

A Joint Press Release from DEFRA et al, September 11th 2020 publicises the Government funding approach which is providing grant funding for the acquisition of farmland. at the same time, Havant Borough Council (HBC) publicly announced that they were reclaiming land at Warblington previously leased to a local dairy farmer in order to adopt a nitrate-credit based solution to their own development impasse.

In support of their mitigation strategy, HBC, in common with other Solent member councils, retained engineering and environmental consultancy Ricardo to produce technical reports in support of their efforts to address the nitrate neutrality issue. Two reports are available here, the first being the Ricardo Report into Budds Farm Waste Water Treatment Works (Langstone Harbour). The second report is the Ricardo Review of the Warblington Farm Nitrate Mitigation option. While both reports contain detailed environmental scientific analysis, their conclusions should not be viewed as independent. The fact that both reports cite ‘coastal sources’ or ‘coastal background’ nitrogen as the most significant factor in Solent pollution, we have found no analysis of its constituents. Given the relatively weak flow flushing the Solent water body from west to east, it is likely, though unproven, that a significant part of this ‘coastal background’ comes from waste water treatment sources.

For the technically minded, if you have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer, you might like to download and take a look through the Natural England Nitrogen Budget Calculator. This is the calculator that developers need to complete and submit with planning applications. A ‘worked example’ from a Havant Borough Council planning application can be found here.

While the objective of ‘re-wilding’ farmland is admirable, the benefits certainly won’t be seen in our lifetime. What will be seen in our lifetime, however, is the impact of the additional housing development which will now move relentlessly ahead, unchecked. The problem for the Solent and its wildlife habitats will get worse, not better, for the foreseeable future.