Many people are worried and concerned about development in our district and beyond, but is their concern justified?
In 2017 the University of Sheffield released maps showing how much each county and district land had been developed.
For our district in 2017 it was 8% and for Kent as a whole it was 10.3%.
Kent is approx 1,447 square miles, meaning that 140 square miles of the county is developed. Folkestone & Hythe District is 137.7 square miles meaning most of the developed land in Kent would fit into our district. And that all the developed land in our district adds up to approx 11 square miles.
One of the unintended consequences of development in East Kent is that is has led to Stodmarsh Issue, which sits within the Stour Catchment Area (pictured).
The issue simply put is, high input levels of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Stodmarsh lake water environment is causing eutrophication. These blue-green algae blooms are impacting negatively on the area’s protected habitats and bird species.
These nutrient inputs are caused mostly by wastewater and diffuse sources from existing housing and agricultural runoff.
The granting of planning permissions across parts of East Kent has been temporarily suspended due to Natural England’s decision to halt any development which could contribute to nitrate & phosphate pollution caused by poo and fertiliser running it the rivers in the Stour catchment area.
This is good news as it recognises that our environment cannot continue to be damaged indefinitely. However, it is only causing a delay to development. There is a broad suite of mitigation measures being developed by various organisations including water companies and local authorities as well as private landowners. These include agricultural land being taken out of intensive use, improvements to wastewater treatment works and on-site wetland construction. Once these are in place, development will restart.
However, it has been known since the mid noughties that nitrates and phosphates have been an issue in the Stodmarsh NNR lake and Stour catchment area.
In May 2016 Natural England received a report from Atkins who they commissioned to write a report about the Stodmarsh Site which extends for approximately 4 miles along the river Stour east of Canterbury. Now to be clear the River Stour flows through the Stodmarsh lake. Historically, the Stodmarsh lake has experienced eutrophication problems caused by high nutrient levels, especially nitrate and phosphates which have resulted in blue-green blooms and fish kills, leaving the site in an ecological poor condition classified by Natural England as ‘unfavourable’. Eutrophication increases the cost of drinking water abstraction and treatment, adversely affects angling, water sports and other recreational activities, and causes the loss of sensitive plants and animals in rivers and lakes.
The 2016 Atkins report goes onto say the “dominant source of phosphates are sewage treatment works ” accounting for up to 80% of concentrations in the River Stour which flows through the Stodmarsh NNR lake. The levels of phosphates within a mile circumference of the Stodmarsh lake were 0.52mg/l; and a good river would need 0.15mg/l under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). So in 2016 the parts of the River Stour were running at three and have times the permissible level.
Recent phosphate sampling taken throughout July 2021, at or near to the same sites the Environment Agency (EA) took their samples on the River Stour and the Stodmarsh lake, showed consistent levels of 0.53mg/l, meaning nothing has changed and the levels remain stubbornly high and above the WFD levels. So after fifteen odd years Natural England (NE), who are responsible for the Stodmarsh lake decided to act.
That said phosphates from Sewage Wastewater works are not the only issues causing eutrophication at the Stodmarsh lake.
Lower down the Stour catchment area, around Wye, there are numerous free-range chicken farms which too are polluting the water courses with their slurry. There is not enough land to absorb the chicken poo and so it ends up in the water courses which feed into the River Stour and ends up in the Stodmarsh NNR lake. So while free range eggs fetch premium prices and make you believe they are treating the environment respectfully, they aren’t. Poultry farming and our desire for free range eggs come at a high environmental cost, as was made clear in the Rivercide documentary made by the environmental campaigner George Monbiot in mid July.
Rule RPS 252 stipulates farming rules for water quality. At the beginning of August the EA relaxed the rules around the amount of manure which on bare fields if the crop then planted cannot absorb it and more than 5 kg of nitrate or phosphate per hectare leaches into groundwater. This is temporary until new regs come into force in March 2022. So what are the options for diary, pig or poultry farmers, who inevitably produce heaps of poo?
Store at the place of production
Store at the place of use (an arable farm waiting to muck-spread)
Send to an anaerobic digester, such as a sewage works
Store off-site elsewhere
Spread on land at low risk of leaching
It is self evident options 1-4 would cost farmers money. So farmers, via the National Farmers Union; and others, appealed to central government to be allowed to do option 5. They won a temporary concession which was reported on in August. However, the detail shows the temporary concession is only for farmers in very specific locations where the soil type, the gradient and the distance from ground water means the risk of polluting the water catchment area is low. By March 2022 new regulations will be in place.
So what does this all mean for water quality, particularly in the Stour catchment area. Well it’s clear the cause of eutrophication at Stodmarsh is caused mainly by farming and the increased output of sewage from urban developments.
So what can be done?
Ofwat have advised that the updating of Southern Water’s Wastewater Treatments Works and other Water Utility companies could be secured through the Green Recovery fund. Ofwat have sent letters to these companies to put forward ideas for schemes to address the issue.
This would mean public money is used to upgrade private companies facilities. So having created the issue for failing to upgrade sooner and doling out huge sumes to shareholders the public would pick up the tab in part. As we understand any upgrade to the Wastewater Treatments Works waste will not result in price hikes, Ofwat say.
The EA have reviewed the application of the polluter pays principle to water planning, and produced a report at the end of March 2021.
Local Planning Authrities (LPA) in East Kent are frustrated as they have recently adopted their local plans and did not have the opportunity to consider site allocations with the Stodmarsh nutrient neutrality.
It will be challenging for some of worst affected district – Ashford & Canterbury – to deliver mitigation, so KCC have taken oversight of developing strategic mitigation.
East Kent LPAs have raised the following queries/concerns:
Lack of resources to determine scale of the problem.
Can upgrades to WWTWs be secured outside of review process.
Concerns about viability and funding to deliver mitigation
Investigations need to be concluded before necessary upgrades can be identified.
We know DEFRA have proposed amendments to the Environment Bill travelling through Parliament at the moment. These proposals were to give NE, who are responsible for the Stodmarsh lake, the ability to develop protected sites strategies, and to give these a statutory footing. The proposals also include a duty to cooperate on LPAs to engage with NE on the production of this.
Finally, we note that Canterbury City Council in agreement with NE are finalising proposals to agree a catchment wide solution which they will present to government in the next few weeks. A draft of the strategy should become available in the next few months.
These proposal if accepted will allow development go ahead once again and the percentage of devloped land increase leaving less green space for us all. Those who are concerned about the destruction of environment in East Kent should rightly be concerned.
The Shepway Vox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime