Out now: The Environment, October 2023

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A U-turn on protections

THIS ISSUE OF The Environment magazine focuses on water – what pollutes it, why that matters, how we tackle it. We go to press just as the UK government has confirmed that it is to scrap rules that protect our waterbodies from pollution from new housing.

England brought in nutrient-neutrality rules four years ago, to protect our most polluted waterbodies. Developers of new homes must show the local authority how they will manage and mitigate nutrients to protect our environment from pollutants.

Housebuilding raises the risk of nutrients polluting local watercourses. But critics blamed the nutrient-neutrality rules for blocking much-needed new homes.

Our rivers face growing pressure – from climate change, over-abstraction and pollution from farming, sewage dumping and road run-off. Gabriel Connor-Streich explains why nutrient-neutrality protections matter and how nature-based solutions create benefits all round.

News of the government U-turn came weeks after investigators at The Observer scoured government’s own inspection reports, showing that not one of England’s 40 rivers with protected habitats is in good health. More than 90 per cent of England’s most precious freshwater habitats are in unfavourable condition.

Good work is happening on the ground.

In Wales, government has started to remove weirs from key rivers – to improve freshwater habitats and protect species from climate impacts. And in Sussex, local councillors have declared that the River Ouse has rights. It’s a UK first – taking leadership from New Zealand – but what will the river charter include?

Perhaps the common theme here is governance.

Researchers in Hampshire have found that including and engaging with local people is critical to protect rivers from pollution – especially England’s rare and endangered chalk streams. Good governance means moving decision-making away from our national agencies and towards local interests, they conclude in these pages.

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