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Rural issues and interventions

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

This nitrate travels through the soil and chalk and ends up in the groundwater. This problem is the main reason for the Brighton ChaMP project. Southern Water are detecting increasing levels of nitrates at their boreholes, and seasonal peaks which coincide with the fertilisers being lost during the rainy autumn and winter. This problem isn’t restricted to Brighton, it’s a national issue. If the nitrate levels rise above over 50mg per litre, the Drinking Water Standard is exceeded. Water can’t be supplied to our homes. This already occasionally happens at some of the 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, encouraging practices which reduce the amount of pollutants lost through the soil and into groundwater. For example we can suggest cover crops, which are planted straight after harvest and grow over the winter, rather than leaving the field bare. They 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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