Reducing nitrates in the Solent

Recently we stepped forward with an idea that can help wildlife, communities and the economy, whilst tackling the pressing issue of nitrate saturation in the Solent.

The time for natural solutions

For too long economic development has come at the expense of the environment and wildlife.  When pitting nature against the economy, nature has historically lost out.  But now the Solent nitrates issue forces a different approach.  We’ve reached the limit of what our environment can take.  We’ve reached peak pollution!

Read about the Wildlife Trust's nitrate reduction scheme

What’s the problem?

Solent nitrates issue

The decision by Natural England to press pause on new builds because of the pollution piling into our seas is absolutely the right one.  Nitrates reaching our waters can turbo charge algae growth - wreaking havoc on ecosystems and suffocating the life out of our seas.   These thick green mats, that can been seen all along our coastline at low tide, are killing off some of our most special habitats and species, including seagrass meadows, nurseries of fish such as bass and cuttlefish, as well as the many waders and waterfowl that depend on the life in the mud for their food.  Shelduck, for example, have decreased in numbers by 71% over the longterm. 

And, while housing is not the only or even the biggest culprit in this ecological carnage, more people living locally means more waste and ultimately more nutrient load heading for the Solent. 

So yes, we need to do something differently to balance – no, to reduce - this pollution and give nature a fighting chance. 

But stopping all house building isn’t a viable or desirable long-term answer.  

Can development be good for nature?

Fishlake Meadows

Fishlake Meadows - Lianne de Mello 

What we want and need is good development that gives back more to nature than it takes away.  For years we’ve worked to help shape this policy arena at both a national and local level. We’ve responded to local plans, we’ve challenged proposals. With other experts, we’ve mapped out clearly where nature is and where it needs to be across Hampshire and have worked with planners to give them the tools they need to strengthen, rather than slice up our local nature recovery network. We’ll continue to push for tangible improvements for wildlife to be required in every development.  We’ve taken steps forward, but we recognise that the planning system is still fundamentally flawed in many ways. 

There are more opportunities and further threats around the corner as the Prime Minister’s eagerness to ‘build, build, build’ may well drive down existing regulatory protections and ramp up risk to our remaining wild spaces.  We will need to be robust in making the case for nature and its role in underpinning communities, society and the economy.   

The recovery, in all its guises, must be green, because there will be no economy and no future if we don’t get on top of our nature emergency. 

We must build back better.    

Putting nature to the test

Barton meadows © Martin de Retuerto

Our nitrate reduction programme puts nature at the heart of the solution: we take the most polluting land – often arable farmland pumped full of fertiliser – and, by stopping adding chemicals to the soil, we will reset the nitrate dial.  That means there will be less pollution running off that land and reaching the sea.  By purchasing ‘credits’ to invest in this natural restoration, local developers who have gained permission and met all other regulatory requirements will be allowed to move ahead with housing projects. 

Our scheme goes further though.  The way we work ensures that we’re not just replacing agricultural pollution with the same amount of nitrates from a different source.  The programme will enable us to remove more, resulting in an overall reduction of nitrates and the Solent will be able to breathe a small sigh of relief.   

On top of this - and here’s the exciting part – the land will be transformed, with nature in charge, to create wonderful habitats that are great for wildlife and will bring additional environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration.  Securing this land for the long term will add to a wilder, richer and healthier landscape for the future.   

This is the only solution on the table that can commit to reducing nitrates and creating more space for nature.   

We know that some supporters will not want to see housing unlocked in this way and we’ve had some push back from people impacted by  proposed developments who are understandably disappointed that the gains for nature initially will be realised across the Solent at our new site at Little Duxmore, rather than on their own doorstep.   

But we will be looking to secure wilder land across the counties in the coming months and we’ll also be working hard to raise the bar with the public bodies and businesses that we engage with – pushing them to step up their ambition for nature in everything they do.  We will advocate for local authorities to embed accessible green spaces within their areas

A wilder way forward

Seahorse in seagrass

© Julie Hatcher

We recognise that this is a new approach and a different way of doing things.  This is a vital part of achieving our vision for a wilder Hampshire & Isle of Wight.  

The scale of the challenge for nature and society means that we must innovate and collaborate and work with others to find solutions that are good for everyone 

This will create new opportunities and challenges for us – tipping the balance for nature may mean upsetting some apple carts along the way - and we know that some of our supporters will have questions about how we make sure we are doing the very best for wildlife.  This is always our starting point and our absolute priority.  

We have to take this chance to harness investment in nature’s recovery.  We must do what we can to tackle the problem of nitrate overload and biodiversity loss.  We can demonstrate the power of nature-based solutions and the possibility of the better, wilder future that we all so desperately need.