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Acres of 'poor quality' Hampshire farmland could be 're-greened' to solve nitrogen pollution problem

Published in The News on the 25th February 2020
Story by Fiona Callingham


ACRES of some of Hampshire’s ‘poor quality’ farmland could be ‘re-greened’ in a bid to reduce pollution and allow housebuilding to resume.

Work to build new homes across the south of Hampshire was postponed last year after Natural England ruled the amount of nitrogen spilling into the Solent as a result was damaging to wildlife.

It is thought more than 7,000 homes in the county were put on hold while councils scrambled to find solutions.

Now the Partnership for South Hampshire (Push), which is made up of local authorities, has revealed what could be a permanent fix to the problem.

Working with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIOWWT), Natural England and the Environment Agency, the group is looking to buy back areas of farmland which contribute large amounts of nitrogen through the use of fertilisers.

Chairman of Push and leader of Fareham Borough Council, Sean Woodward, said: ‘We are working with the HIOWWT and have come up with a proposal to purchase very poor quality agricultural land which has loads of nitrates on it.

‘We will then re-green it which means planting trees and plants and introducing animals.

‘This has got the support of Natural England, the Environment Agency and Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government. We just need approval for this from Natural England in writing.

‘The problem now is we need to find the money to buy the land.’

Debbie Tann, chief executive of the HIOWWT, added: ‘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.’

A short-term solution had already been found in Portsmouth, and was recently approved by Natural England, with the council retrofitting its housing stock to make it more water efficient. This mitigated against new builds as developers were able to buy nitrate ‘credits.’

‘The short term solution that Portsmouth has come up with won’t work in Fareham because all our council homes are already water efficient,’ Cllr Woodward said.

‘We needed a long-term solution for the whole of south Hampshire.’

Portsmouth City Council’s city development boss, Cllr Steve Pitt, said: ‘We have been using a credit system as a way of off-setting nitrates produced by future developments since last summer.

‘This has meant we have been able to grant planning applications and enable Portsmouth to get the new homes it needs, while still protecting the environment.’

Natural England was approached for comment.

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