The River Stour is safe – but for how long?

The River Stour is safe – but for how long?

The county’s leading conservation charity has launched a campaign to #SaveOurStour, highlighting the dangers of river pollution and inspiring the community to take action
  • Save Our Stour campaign urges politicians to do more to protect our precious rivers.
  • It follows the government’s attempt to amend the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to allow developers to side-step Nutrient Neutrality regulations.
  • Nutrient neutrality is a means of ensuring that a development plan or project does not add to existing nutrient burdens within catchments, so there is no net increase in nutrients as a result of the project.
  • In Kent, the amendment would have put further pressure on the River Stour, an area conservationists described as being flooded with nitrates and phosphates from various sources, housebuilding being just one of them.
  • The campaign was launched hours after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to water down the country's Net Zero goals over the next decade.
save our stour

Conservationists across the country breathed a sigh of relief as government plans to weaken restrictions on water pollution were scrapped in the House of Lords last week. However, Kent Wildlife Trust says the attempted amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill has highlighted both the lack of government commitment to deliver on environmental promises and the need to do more to protect our precious waterways. 

As a response to the recent developments, the charity has launched the ‘Save Our Stour Campaign’ to encourage people to speak up for rivers in crisis. Those supporting the campaign are being urged to write and ask their MPs to do more to tackle water pollution. The campaign was launched hours after Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak announced plans to water down the country’s Net Zero goals over the coming decade.

According to our State of Nature in Kent report 79% of our county’s rivers are impacted by pollution and do not meet the required standard for good ecological status as set out under the Water Framework Directive. Wetland species are being affected with declines in some dragonflies, river fauna and fish already seeing impacts.

Stodmarsh Nature Reserve and the Stour River within it are some of the worst affected sites and were therefore categorised within a Nutrient Neutrality catchment area. This Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) now has many areas classed as unfavourable in condition. The lakes are in a state of eutrophication and low oxygen from this has led to fish kill events. As more fish and invertebrates begin to die off, less food will be available for the birds to feed on and the value of this reserve for wildlife could be lost. 

Daniel Wynn Head of Nature-based Solutions at Kent Wildlife Trust: “If the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill amendments were allowed to go through, the rules would have been thrown out and developments on the Stour River would have been allowed to continue, regardless of the cost to the river and the wildlife it supports. Fortunately, the amendments were defeated in the Lords but who knows what the government will do next to force this issue through. The Stour can’t afford any more pressure from increased nutrient pollution or residential developments.

“We estimate that to meet the 1250kg total phosphate reduction needed across the Stour catchment, approximately 75,000ha of land needs to be fallowed and taken out of agricultural production. In comparison, Kent County Council currently has a target of constructing approximately 100ha of wetland to offset this phosphate.

“With all this low-grade farmland in the Stour River catchment area, there is a huge opportunity for developers to work with Kent Wildlife Trust to mitigate the effects of pollution and improve the area, but the impetus must be on the government to enforce nutrient neutrality schemes to speed up the process.

“The Save Our Stour Campaign aims to encourage people to write to their MPs and ask the government to prioritise the reduction of river and water pollution and work with organisations, like us, to find a more balanced solution that allows development to continue without risk or damage to nature and wildlife.

“Nature recovery is fundamental to the health and well-being of our society, and we are allowing it to be polluted and ignored. It is time to do more to protect rivers, not less.”

In addition to being a SSSI Stodmarsh Nature Reserve is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), a Ramsar site and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). These designations are given to Stodmarsh because of its importance to a huge array of species. The wetland habitat and extensive reedbeds, swamp and fen communities support waterbird species including bearded tits, shovelers, gadwalls and even the rare and allusive bittern. These birds come to this site to overwinter and some, even to breed. It is even home to important invertebrates such as Desmoulin’s whorl snail, listed as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Write to your MP

Please ask your MP to reconsider their position and sign-up to our ‘Speak up for Nature’ mailing list to find out more about campaigning to save nature in Kent.

 Please help us Save our Stour, help save our rivers.

Free webinar - sign up now

People can also join us for a free webinar where Daniel Wynn, Head of Nature Based Solutions will speak about River Pollution, why it matters, what is nutrient neutrality, what's happening in the Stour and how you can help. Click here for more information

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