Nutrient Neutrality FAQs

Eden Nutrient Neutrality photograph - fencing

Nutrient Neutrality North West brings together organisations from a range of sectors with the breadth of expertise and influence needed to bring about action.

Welcome to the Nutrient Neutrality Cumbria Partnership FAQs page.

The partnership includes the Lake District National Park Authority; Cumberland Council; Durham County Council, the Environment Agency, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park, North Yorkshire Council, Natural England, United Utilities, Westmorland and Furness Council and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. We also work closely with other stakeholders such as the National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the local Rivers Trusts.

Overview of  FAQs, click on the links for details:

- What is Nutrient Neutrality (NN)?

An increase in nutrients, particularly nitrogen or phosphorous, can significantly affect water quality and habitats. Natural England has identified areas where this could be particularly harmful because the catchment is a protected Habitats Site of international importance and is already in an unfavourable condition.

In March 2022, Natural England issued advice that certain new developments, in such catchments, will need to mitigate against any increase in nutrient pollution that they cause. This is Nutrient Neutrality.

Developments will therefore only be permitted where they can demonstrate that they are nutrient neutral and will not result in a net increase in nutrients within the affected catchments.

This advice affects planning proposals submitted from March 2022.

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- Which catchments are affected?

The affected catchments are listed below; all are affected by elevated levels of phosphorus:

The affected catchments are listed below:

  1. River Derwent and Bassenthwaite Lake Special Area of Conservation
  2. River Eden Special Area of Conservation
  3. River Kent Special Area of Conservation
  4. Esthwaite Water RAMSAR

See also the below evidence packs

River Derwent & Bassenthwaite Lake Special Area of Conservation: This falls under the planning jurisdiction of Cumberland Council, the Lake District National Park Authority and Westmorland and Furness Council.

River Eden Special Area of Conservation: This falls under the planning jurisdiction of Cumberland Council, the Lake District National Park Authority and Westmorland and Furness Council. Small parts in the east of the catchment fall under the control of Durham County Council, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park, North Yorkshire Council and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

River Kent Special Area of Conservation: This falls under the planning jurisdiction of the Lake District National Park and Westmorland and Furness Council.

Esthwaite Water RAMSAR: This falls under the planning jurisdiction of the Lake District National Park Authority.

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- What types of development/activity are affected?

Nutrient Neutrality can affect a range of developments, including:

  • agricultural development which will result in an increase in stock numbers
  • new overnight accommodation (including new dwellings, new camping, glamping or caravan pitches served by on-site toilet or washing facilities, or new hotel bedroom accommodation);
  • new tourism development likely to increase the number of day visitors to a premises; (where such developments would be served by mains, package treatment plant, septic tank or cess pool sewerage)

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- My site’s just outside an affected catchment, do I need to worry about NN?

In most cases, if you’re well outside the catchment, then the Nutrient Neutrality advice from Natural England won’t apply unless wastewater from your development discharges to a waste water treatment works within it. But if your scheme is closer to the catchment boundary, you’ll need to check if foul flows can be processed, and not discharged into the affected catchment. You’ll need to show where a specific site drain is. If it drains into the United Utilities network, they can provide the details at cost.

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- What sort of mitigation is appropriate?

All mitigation solutions need to be provided within the affected catchment. For rivers, mitigation needs to be upstream of the development. For lakes, the offset can be downstream but before the waterbody.

They can be natural or engineered solutions that take nutrients out of the catchment to offset those being created by the new development. Where permanent solutions won’t be available for some time (e.g. a wetland that takes time to generate), temporary bridging measures can be considered (e.g cover crops or upgrades to package treatment plants).

The most appropriate type of mitigation will depend upon the specifics of the site but natural mitigation solutions are more likely to generate additional benefits e.g. through reducing flood risk, providing space for biodiversity net gain or creating opportunities for recreation.

Options to be considered include:

Mitigation Activity

Is it acceptable


Creation or restoration of new semi natural habitats e.g., woodlands/ grasslands/Natural wetlands


Land converted to semi natural habitats such as natural wetlands, woodlands, or grasslands can offer a strong outcome for nutrients when designed and sited appropriately

Treatment wetlands including for:

* capturing runoff from agricultural land

* diverted river water

* Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW)


A treatment wetland such as an Integrated Constructed Wetland (ICW) which is specifically designed to remove nutrients can offer one of the best outcomes per hectare of land. The greater the nutrient load input to the wetland generally the greater the potential for reduction in nutrients, however the quality of the design will affect the reduction achieved.

Retrofitting Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDs) into existing developments


SUDs are already used within new developments as mitigation.

Improvements in WWTW


Currently there is not a mechanism to enable developers to make contributions to water companies to bring forward additional improvements to WWTW. Even if there was a mechanism then if these improvements are required to enable site recovery, then they cannot be double counted (or traded) to facilitate development as this will undermine restoration

Replacing existing inefficient septic tanks and Package Treatment Plants (PTPs) with improved PTPs


Nutrient credits may be generated by upgrading existing PTP and septic tank units. For example, an applicant proposing new houses might be able to replace septic tanks at existing neighbouring properties, or elsewhere provided the replaced units are appropriately located. Equally upgrading the PTP or septic tank proposed for the development to a more efficient one may help remove or reduce the need for other neutrality mitigation.

Provision of new wastewater treatment facilities managed by an OFWAT-appointed statutory sewage undertaker


In both sewered and unsewered areas developments may be able to provide their own wastewater treatment facilities that operate at higher efficiency than the main WWTW, provided that the facility is adopted and managed by an OFWAT-appointed statutory sewage undertaker.

Package treatment plants connecting to mains


Although PTP would mean cleaner water would reach the WWTW, there will still be an increase in flow. Therefore, due to complexity in the treatment process, this does not necessarily mean that it would reduce the total nutrient load discharged from the WWTW. This is the case whether the WWTW has a concentration permit limit or not. Additionally, the Environment Agency do not generally permit PTPs in locations served by mains sewer.

Temporary agricultural management measures such as fallowing of land, cover crops, provision of buffer strips

Short term only

Whilst this may be a quicker way to reduce nutrient levels initially, these measures if not secured in perpetuity cannot be used as longterm nutrient neutrality mitigation. However, developers could use these types of measures as a short (fixed) term interim mitigation measure before the in-perpetuity measures become effective

Table taken from: Nutrient Neutrality & Mitigation Summary Guide & FAQs - NE776 (

In the future, mitigation can also be provided through the purchase of nutrient neutrality credits through the Natural England Mitigation Scheme (Eden catchment only) or local credit schemes created through the Nutrient Neutrality NW partnership.

It’s the responsibility of the applicant/developer to find suitable and sufficient nutrient mitigation solutions. Developers should seek their own legal advice, and that of Natural England, about the suitability of particular mitigation schemes.

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- How much phosphorous does each type of mitigation remove?

Each site will be different, however Natural England is currently producing guidance to help applicants and landowners estimate of how much phosphorous natural solutions such as riparian buffers, woodlands and leaky dams could potentially remove from the system. This will help identify how many credits each potential mitigation site could generate.

There is already some guidance relating to constructed wetlands and the reductions they can deliver:

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- How will mitigation sites be monitored and managed?

Permanent mitigation will need to be kept in place “in perpetuity” i.e. for a minimum of 80 years and upto 125 years. Temporary mitigation will be agreed on a case by case basis.

When granting planning approvals Local Planning Authorities will enter into Section 106 agreements with the applicant. These legal agreements will set out when the site is monitored and by whom and how the site must be managed.

Monitoring and management will be the responsibility of the landowner/developer unless they enter into an agreement with a local nature body who will take on this responsibility.

The exception to this is sites that are delivered through the purchase of credits from the Natural England mitigation scheme. NE will be responsible for the monitoring and management of sites in this case, unless they are taken on by a local nature body.

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- What is the Natural England Mitigation Scheme?

Natural England has identified the River Eden as one of their priority catchments. They are currently developing a Nutrient Mitigation Scheme that identifies strategic mitigation solutions and sites. They will invite applicants to purchase credits that contribute towards the delivery of such solutions in 2024.

Natural England also provide pre-feasibility advice for landowners who have sites within the catchment that they feel should be considered for inclusion.

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- What is the local mitigation solutions project?

The Partnership is responsible for the delivery of the Local Mitigation Solutions project. This will deliver:

  • A portfolio of practical mitigation solutions and a pipeline of offsetting sites which developers will be able to access through a local credit scheme. We are currently working with other partners such as Cumbria Wildlife Trust, National Trust and the local Rivers Trusts to identify restoration projects that are being developed that could generate nutrient neutrality credits. We will also carry out a call for sites in Summer 2023 where landowners within the catchments will be able to submit their sites for consideration. Initial focus will be on the Eden catchment as this is the area under greatest development pressure.

A Package Treatment Replacement Grant Scheme. The Partnership will pay to replace permitted but inefficient PTPs which will generate credits that developers can buy to offset nutrient pollution from their developments. We hope to have the Grant scheme up and running in Summer 2023 across all four catchments. A pilot scheme is being delivered within the Eden catchment and will be delivered in partnership with National Trust and the Lake District Foundation.

  • A support package for developers to help them deliver developer-led mitigation in the short term.
  • A support package for landowners to enable them to effectively engage in the process and maximise benefits.
  • A training package to local authorities to help them determine planning applications without delay.

The Partnership will also deliver a Mitigation Solutions Report, produced by Ricardo AEA, that will:

Identify the development aspirations of local authorities ​

  • Establish a phosphate baseline in each of the affected catchments​
  • Identify and analyse existing nutrient processes, including phosphate sources, amounts, locations and movements, and their effect on habitats site condition​
  • Use the baseline to inform and guide solutions options and meet standards expected by Habitats Regulations Assessment​
  • Identify solutions which can deliver nutrient neutrality to meet identified development aspirations​
  • Identify solutions which are sufficient not just to deliver nutrient neutrality, but also which are sufficient to restore the habitats sites to favourable condition allowing nutrient neutrality requirements to be dispensed with, including the type, amount and location of solutions that can achieve this objective, and indicative costs for different solution types and any associated credits​
  • Explore the interconnection between the recommended mitigation solutions and other regulatory drivers / frameworks to maximise the associated benefits

Work is underway on the Mitigation Solutions Report and the first draft is expected in August 2023.

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- I am a landowner, can I put my site forward for inclusion in the Natural England or local mitigation scheme?

At present, the Partnership is identifying publicly owned sites delivering restoration in the Eden catchment. In July/August 2023 we will carry out a call for sites where other landowners in specific parts of the catchment can put their sites forward for consideration. The Partnership will then assess their suitability. The focus for the call for sites will be those areas where phosphorous levels are high at present. Further information about the call for sites will be coming soon.

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- How much is a credit worth?

It is unknown at this stage. The cost of credits will depend upon the cost of delivering, managing and monitoring the mitigation solution and market values. In other parts of the country, a credit relates to a kg of phosphorous however the cost of each credit varies significantly.

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- Can I stack Nutrient Neutrality credits and biodiversity net gain credits?

Yes, you can sell biodiversity net gain credits and nutrient neutrality credits from the same piece of land.

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- What else is the government doing to reduce nutrient pollution?

The Government has included provisions in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which place a duty on water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works to the highest achievable level in affected catchments by 2030. This will remove nutrient pollution from wastewater, however this will not deal with the issue of phosphorous pollution completely across the catchments and nutrient neutrality will still be needed whilst the catchments remain in an unfavourable condition.

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- Where can I find out more?

NN Resource Library

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- Who can I contact for more information?

For further information about the Local Nutrient Mitigation Project or the Partnership please contact:

For information about planning application process or the nutrient budget calculator please contact the relevant Local Planning Authority Development Management Team:

For more information about the Natural England Mitigation Solutions scheme please contact: (coming soon).

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