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How Natural England is working to achieve the government's nature targets

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As the government’s statutory advisor on nature conservation, Natural England is charged by the government to achieve its ambitious targets.  We do this through advice to businesses, delivery projects with partners, grant funding and by regulation backed by UK legislation. As a nation we rightly have legally binding targets to halt species decline by 2030 and improve these numbers by 10% by 2042. Meeting these legal targets will be challenging and requires urgent action over  the next seven years - not just from nature conservation bodies but from every part of society:  the public, business, farmers, government at a national and local level, and homebuilders.

Action is underway across the country to tackle the catastrophic declines in nature and levels of air and water pollution that are a cause of deep concern to many people from all walks of life. Ecological restoration is happening through action by landowners, businesses, communities and government, backed by major public, private and charitable funding. This will help get us on the road to recovery, along with mitigation against potential harm to nature that enables sustainable development to provide the housing and services we need.

It's disappointing then that there has been some more misleading – and in some places inaccurate – media coverage this weekend about the work of Natural England to deliver those government commitments. As the country’s expert nature recovery body, part of how we do that is by providing legally-based and scientific advice to local authorities and developers so they can design and build sustainable communities without harming nature.

One particular area of this work which has received considerable media attention  - is our advice to some local authorities on achieving nutrient neutrality. This advice had to be put in place as, in some river catchments, pollutant levels from sewage and agricultural run-off have reached critical levels and additional intervention is needed to stop harm to our legally protected wetlands

This a requirement under UK law and has been upheld in the courts.

Recognising the challenge this posed, we designed solutions. We worked with Defra, DLUHC and councils to put in place a mitigation scheme whereby developers can offset the damage caused by wastewater from new housing by purchasing credits from environmental improvement projects such as new wetlands.

Our scheme was launched by government last year and has been pump-primed by government funding of £30m to accelerate the provision of nutrient credits for developers. This scheme is running in affected areas across England, along with schemes offered by councils and wildlife charities,  and at the time of writing will enable construction of at least 40,000 homes with more housing credits in pipeline – all while protecting our rivers.  So it is simply not true to say nutrient neutrality is a blocker – the solutions are there in place and already working.

That is not to say we don’t recognise the challenge this situation has posed.  But it is nothing new or unusual to require mitigation against the impacts of new housing, which is why developers are asked to contribute to new roads, schools and shops if they build new developments in areas where local services under strain.  There is no reason why developers should not be asked to contribute too when development puts the environment under similar strain, particularly if they want to build housing near the most and sensitive sites for nature - iconic places like the Severn Estuary, Morecombe Bay, or Minsmere.

We have also seen some misunderstanding and misreporting around Natural England’s role on air quality and emission zones. So let me be clear. Natural England has no powers to introduce emission zones, nor any programme to ask others to do so. Only locally elected authorities have the powers to introduce such schemes which are being described by some as “anti-car schemes”.

In some areas of the country, air pollution from many sources is damaging nature, as well as damaging human health and wellbeing. Our job is to provide clear evidence to government on the problem and offer policy solutions. We are doing just that now, backed by scientific and technical advice, exploring the pros and cons of different options. That way, where development that might increase pollution needs to take place close to legally protected nature sites, Local Planning Authorities are able to consider a range of proportionate measures to avoid further declines of air quality when making their difficult planning decisions.

The transition we are making to be a nature positive economy can be complicated and challenging.  In the case of housing, we will always work with councils and housebuilders to devise solutions that mitigate pollution, protect nature and create environmentally sustainable places to live. However, local authorities are the ultimate arbiter when it comes to deciding what is best for their communities in providing both sustainable homes and healthy environments - and will take a range of local factors into place, as they do on other planning limitations such as flood risk or protected landscapes.

Natural England will continue to  work hard with all the different sectors within our economy – everyone needs to be part of the solution if we are to go from nature decline to nature recovery. We all need to play our part  if we want to be able to look future generations in the eye.

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  1. Comment by Heather Fitzpatrick Morgan posted on

    Well written.

  2. Comment by Mrs T Stone posted on

    I couldn’t agree more. Well done for standing up for nature and also calling out people who misrepresent what you are doing.
    I probably won’t make 2030 but my children and grandchildren need a future to look forward to.
    They are very mindful of nature and their environment.
    I live within a 400mtr zone for building in Broadstone.
    I would love to remove my 4 bed 3 bathroom property and build two smaller 2 bedroom carbon neutral bungalows. I don’t think this would be allowed and therefore accept this for the sake of Nature.

  3. Comment by John Atkind posted on

    I have planning approval for one house in Canterbury which is held up by a blanket ban on any further sewage load on the Stodmarsh catchment area.
    Any proposal put forward,such as tankering to a different area is rejected
    No mitigation scheme is available for a solitary house
    This seems very heavy handed and I am left unable to proceed,
    This does not square with your blog

    • Replies to John Atkind>

      Comment by posted on

      But if you are a small developer like John Atkins here, your £££ contribution would not be accepted. Only big bucks need apply. Couldn't he at least be allowed a septic tank or the modern equivalent?? The government sold our waterworks to private investors who took profits but forgot maintenance. The new private owners left us with pollution instead. Why are they not held to account? It's illegal. And why should Mr Atkins here be effectively penalised for an error he had no part in creating? Wessex Water ( Bristol and Bath) is owned by someone in Kuala Lumpur. They surely don't even notice the pollution which years of lack of investment in the infrastructure has caused. Can't you fine some of these private companies rather than bill current developers for absolutely everything you possibly can? It all feels illegal and unfair. You ought to have overseen environmental protection. Why didn't you? I hope that folk use Aarhus to start some group actions so that victims of environmental harms like preventable pollution can be compensated by those who were responsible to look after everything?

      • Replies to>

        Comment by Natural England posted on

        We recognise that there are specific challenges for small developers. It is incorrect to say they cannot purchase credits where schemes are up and running. We are working with LPAs and the industry to identify the specific support that SMEs need.

        • Replies to Natural England>

          Comment by posted on

          Well, you may be as a Government body but SME and even smaller, are being completely finished off at the moment by endless rules and regs. New housing shortfall is the result. Marginal seats like Cheltenham are now having passed planning permission for 450 new homes suddenly stopped in the hope that their conservative (nimby) voter will stay loyal. We all know however that until new housing is mandated, Britain will unfortunately remain as stagnant as it's sewage system. Our disenfranchised younger folk are being let down. Our quirky Britain is vanishing under beurocratic red tape. Stifle the little guy and you not only stop creativity but far worse, people's sense of hope.

    • Replies to John Atkind>

      Comment by Natural England posted on

      Thank you for the feedback, we know this is a challenge for small developers particularly and we are actively pursuing solutions with partners in terms of providing extra support for SMEs and developing the nutrient credit market through the national and local mitigation schemes.

      This catchment is subject to Nutrient Neutrality advice because pollution from new housing is damaging the internationally important site Stodmarsh, known for its open water habitat, rare plants and bird populations, and valued by the communities that live and work around it.

      Canterbury and the Stodmarsh catchment are priority areas for Natural England’s Nutrient Mitigation Scheme, which ensures that smaller developments are prioritised.

  4. Comment by Marcin posted on

    Keep up the great work! Action is needed and it's needed now, and you're only trying to enforce what was already agreed in law.

  5. Comment by Roderick Leslie posted on

    There's a problem - and the people to solve it are the housing developers. If the money is there to pay £100m bonuses to CEOs its there to mitigate nitrogen - and, in addition, the Government through NE and ELMS is paying farmers to reduce nitrogen use. But what will happen ? Will lobbying and the same sort of political attack against NE that the BBC has suffered result in the Government copping out on its commitments ? This effects everyone - the background pollution we've created with badly managed waste water, intensive agriculture and other badly controlled industrial sources puts everyone at risk. This is a big issue and its about the future - a declining, dangerous environment or fighting our way back to a healthy and prosperous country. Take your choice - Government decisions on NE are a clear guide.

  6. Comment by Paul Gamble posted on

    We are trying to find a straight forward calculator that allows us to work out the Nitrates off set when moving from a 3.5 acre field currently used for sheep/cattle grazing, to a wildflower/wild grass meadow.
    Please can anyone (including someone from Natural England) help?
    Or point us in the direction where examples of this have been completed.
    Thank you.

    • Replies to Paul Gamble>

      Comment by Natural England posted on

      Natural England has provided tools to every affected Local Planning Authority to facilitate these sorts of calculations, commonly referred to as nutrient budget calculators, and some Local Planning authorities have developed their own calculators. An internet search should confirm where to find a calculator relevant to your area, or failing that you can contact your Local Planning Authority directly, or Natural England via email at

  7. Comment by Mark Russell posted on

    Natural England not fit for purpose run by clueless idiots who don't recognise when land owners and their gamekeepers are doing incredible amount of works to improve things for nature. Always think they no best and they certainly don't. Do nothing but cower behind lying politicians when these criminal water companies destroy all in front of them they should be fined enough to bankrupt them

  8. Comment by Sophie posted on

    Well done Natural England - your work to safeguard what nature we have left is admirable and very welcomed, especially during such harsh conditions and lack of environmental leadership in this country.