Nutrient pollution is a big environmental issue for many of our most important places for nature in England. In freshwater habitats and estuaries, increased levels of nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) can speed up the growth of certain plants, disrupting natural processes and impacting wildlife. This process (called ‘eutrophication’) damages these water dependent sites and harms the plants and wildlife that are meant to be there. In technical terms it can put sites in ‘unfavourable condition’. The sources of excess nutrients are very site specific but include sewage treatment works, septic tanks, livestock, arable farming and industrial processes.
The issue: Several water dependent Habitats Sites* across England are in ‘unfavourable condition’ for excess nitrogen and/or phosphorus. There is an urgent need to prevent further damage to habitats and wildlife. As such any development plans or projects that cannot rule out additional nutrient impacts would likely fail an appropriate assessment under the Habitats Regulations.
A strategic solution: Nutrient neutrality is a strategic approach to mitigation, designed to enable Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), to grant development permissions without harming Habitats Sites through elevated nutrient levels. This is a short-term solution as part of a much broader cross departmental challenge to address the root causes of nutrient overload (including sewage treatment works, septic tanks, livestock, arable farming and industrial processes).
Natural England has issued advice highlighting the need to carefully consider the nutrients impacts of any new plans and projects on internationally protected Habitats Sites, and whether mitigation is needed to protect sites from additional nutrient pollution. This falls under Natural England’s statutory duties and is part of a coordinated cross departmental response by government, supported by Defra and DLUCH. These evidence packs provide technical background information on designated sites that have been identified as being within catchments where nutrient neutrality schemes are in effect.
*Sites protected under The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulation 2017.