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Good news for rivers as nutrient neutrality scheme launched, but nature campaigners call for stronger measures to restore wildlife

20 July 2022

Nature campaigners welcomed the Government’s announcement of nutrient neutrality measures today (20th July 2022) as a significant step towards cleaning up the country’s rivers, streams, and coastal waters. The Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition, however, is warning that neutrality is not enough and that developments should not be given planning consent unless there is a clear demonstration that the project will actively improve the state of local waterways – by achieving nutrient negativity. [1]

The nature group is also warning that clear market rules are needed for developers to follow for the scheme to make a significant impact.

Excessive nutrients in our rivers, lakes and streams are destructive for nature. High concentrations of nitrates and phosphates can lead to algal blooms and a process known as “eutrophication”, which starves the water of oxygen and suffocates wildlife.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:
“Development has reached crunch point because English rivers have been treated as dumping grounds. Wastewater, farming pollution, and urban run-off have turned them into nutrient soup, deadly for aquatic life. Today’s announcements are a positive step in breaking the development deadlock.

“But being neutral isn’t enough. Maintaining rivers in their current state doesn’t match with public demand, or the legal target to halt and reverse nature’s decline by 2030. [2] That’s why we’re calling for nutrient negativity in areas affected by pollution – a requirement not just to offset harm, but to improve the state of our rivers.” [3]

Notes to Editors:

  1. See blog here for more information on why Government should go beyond nutrient neutrality, and strengthen the legal requirements for developers to contribute to solving the water pollution problem.
  2. Figures released in 2020 showed that not one river or lake in England is in good health
  3. Link is also calling for an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that would make “nutrient negativity” a condition of planning consent. Only developments that demonstrate a contribution to improving water quality would be allowed to proceed.

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