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Rural issues and interventions

Farming is vital to supply our food; we all reap the benefits. But some farming practices can cause environmental harm. For example nitrate-rich fertilisers are applied to maximise the crop growth. But in shallow soils over chalk only about 55% of the fertiliser is actually used by the crop to grow. The remaining 45% is lost through the soil, often leaching away during autumn and winter rainfall.

Nitrates travel through the soil and chalk and end up in the groundwater. This is the main rationale for the Brighton ChaMP project. Southern Water technicians are finding increasing levels of nitrates at their boreholes, with seasonal peaks which coincide with the fertilisers leaching during the rainy autumn and winter. This problem isn’t restricted to Brighton, it’s a national issue. The UK Drinking Water Standard sets a maximum level of 50mg per litre for nitrates in drinking water. If this is exceeded, water cannot be supplied to our homes, and this is already happening at some boreholes.

It’s not just arable farming which can cause a problem. Manure contains high levels of nitrates which can leach through soil in the same way as fertilisers and find their way to the groundwater beneath.

We are working with farmers and landowners, encouraging practices which reduce the amount of pollutants lost through the soil and travelling into groundwater. For example the use of cover crops, which are planted straight after harvest and grow over the winter instead of leaving the field bare. This can reduce the amount of nitrate lost to the groundwater by 59%.

The ChaMP Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer gives advice to farms and can access specialist assistance, grants and incentives to support change in management. For more information please get in touch: shai.gilad@naturalengland.org.uk

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