A MEON Valley farm is seeking permission for a pioneering plan to create a new habitat to act as a way of capturing harmful nitrates before it get into the sea.

Whitewool Farm, near Old Winchester Hill,, Warnford, wants to create new 7.2 hectare wetland habitat, on a tributary of the River Meon, that will remove nitrates from streams and rivers.

Nitrate nutrients have become a major issue, harming wildlife in Southampton Water and the Solent and sparking new controls that have ordered housing developers to become 'nitrate neutral'.

The farm will make money from its captured nitrates with payments from developers building new homes in south Hampshire. Wastewater from homes is one of the major sources of nitrates. The developers can buy nitrogen credit via payments to the wetland creator, Whitewool Farm.

The applicants, the Butler family, proposes to use heavy machinery to flatten the valley and create a habitat which reedbeds can colonise.

The scheme will go before the South Downs National Park planning committee in Thursday July 9 and is being recommended for approval.

However, there has been some opposition from within the national park authority, as to whether the wetland will work, especially because it is an upland chalk habitat that is usually fast-draining.

Ruth Childs, landscape officer for the national park, has objected and said in her written submission: "I have significant concerns about remodelling the landscape in this way. The scheme needs to work with the landscape (her emphasis), not battle against it - even if the desired outcome is a laudable one, which this clearly is. "If this watercourse has not supported reedbeds in the past there is likely a very good reason for this...creating a flatter form of valley is not the answer."

Tristan Norton, senior ecologist at Hampshire County Council, said in a letter to the planners: "Whilst wholly supportive of any measures to improve water quality in the Solent and enhance biodiversity overall, it must be demonstrated that the proposed scheme would not result in unacceptable impacts to the existing ecology of the scheme area."

WYG consultants, working for the applicant, said in a letter: "It is proposed that a wetland is created at Whitewool Farm to reduce the amount of nitrate which enters the Solent and Southampton Water, via the River Meon. This reduction will be used to offset the nitrogen within wastewater created by proposed housing development within the south Hampshire region."

Questions have also been raised by Natural England, which has not objected to the scheme. But Rachel Jones, senior advisor, commented: "It is noted that during periods of low flow in the stream, water may not be diverted through the wetland. Further clarification is sought as to how frequently this will occur, whether this will affect the long-term maintenance of the wetland (is there a risk that parts of the wetland could dry up and not function)."

Whitewool Farm has been approached for comment.