Nutrient Neutrality Assessments

In 2019 the European Court of Justice ruled that any additional nutrient loading to ‘designated sites’, that were already in an unfavourable condition, would not be permissible by law. ‘Designated sites’ in this instance refers to Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Ramsar, Special Protection Areas (SPA) and potential SPA sites. Additionally, the law stated that any developments in their respective catchments would have to demonstrate that there would be no likely significant effect (LSE) from the development on the downstream designated site. This ruling has come to be known as ‘The Dutch Case’. Designated sites in England and Wales are protected under the Water Framework Directive Regulations 2017 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

In practice, this means that all developments in the affected catchment will have to demonstrate ‘nutrient neutrality’, meaning that the nutrients (nitrogen and/or phosphorus) from all surface water runoff and wastewater generated by the development must be less than or equal to the nutrients generated by the existing land use.


Achieving nutrient neutrality often requires mitigation as part of development, either in the form of onsite treatment of wastewater and surface water runoff, or by offsetting any increase in nutrient loading by converting land on- or offsite with woodlands or wetlands.

Water Environment have been at the forefront of this issue, successfully dealing with several cases in Kent (Great Stour), Hampshire (Solent), Herefordshire (River Wye/Lugg) and the Somerset Levels. We have been and instrumental in expediting the release of Natural England’s guidance to developers in the Stodmarsh catchment. We have helped achieve agreements with Local Planning Authorities and Appropriate Assessments as well as with Natural England for several sites. We have gained significant experience in the process. This issue is becoming more and more prominent across the country and we can provide expert advice on Nutrient Neutrality to unlock residential developments.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss the requirements of Nutrient Neutrality in relation to your development.