Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey MP, visited WWF’s Living Planet Centre today to address 150 representatives from government agencies, businesses and communities on the successes of working together to protect and restore our rivers and wetlands – outlining new £6.3 million investment.
WWF welcomes this investment in rivers through catchment partnerships and calls on UK Government, businesses and communities to continue to champion the Catchment Based Approach  to ensure a healthy future for our rivers.
Woking, Surrey – On Thursday 16th March WWF brought together 150 representatives from government agencies, businesses and communities to celebrate five years of the Catchment Based Approach which has delivered improvements to river health and management across England and Wales.
There are over 100 Catchment Partnerships throughout the UK. This is a community-led approach that engages people and groups from across society to take action to improve water quality.
The event highlighted that there is still more to be done and the Catchment Based Approach is critical to achieving healthy rivers now and for future generations to enjoy. Minister Coffey announced £6.3 million of investment to support further action.
Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said:
“The catchment based approach makes a real difference to our precious natural environment by supporting rivers, rebuilding habitats and protecting local wildlife.
“This excellent work, such as planting trees along riversides, tackling sediment erosion and restoring rivers to their natural state, is why we are committing £6.3 million to projects over the next year to help deliver further improvements to our rivers and the landscapes around them.”
Tanya Steele CEO, WWF commented:
“We were delighted to have Dr Thérèse Coffey visit our office today and we are excited by the new £6.3 million investment to help protect our rivers and chalk streams. Globally, fish and wildlife living in rivers and other freshwater environments have declined by 81 per cent between 1970 and 2012. We need urgent action to address this; today’s announcement is welcome support.”
Delegates at the event heard that:
Only 17% rivers and streams in England are at good ecological status
The water industry is responsible for 1/4 of all reasons for not achieving good status
Agriculture is responsible for nearly 1/3 of all reasons for not achieving good status
The key issues facing rivers are abstraction and pollution from sewers and farms
There are 108 catchment partnerships across England and Wales and over 1500 organisations involved in the Catchment Based Approach
Delegates are signing up to the WWF WaterLIFE declaration – which defines a shared vision for healthy rivers, fair water use and sustainable supply chains, and sets out three principles – based on partnership, equity and collaboration that are essential to deliver the vision.
This year saw the third Water Saving Week, organised by Waterwise, challenging us to see how much water we could all save. And they let us in on the secret – it’s easy!
Whether it’s taking a shower, brushing our teeth or sticking on the kettle – we all depend on a readily available supply of water every day. And by making small changes to our lives, we can make a big difference to the impact we’re having on our water resources.
While you may think of the UK as a fairly wet country, London actually receives less rainfall annually than Sydney or Barcelona. And with increasingly erratic weather, an increase in population and a change in lifestyles, there is more and more pressure being put on our water supply. This makes it more important than ever to be careful with how we use our water.
Water saving and our rivers
Dry weather and drought can be bad news for wildlife, like trout and water vole, as, when combined with abstraction for public supplies, it can mean there is not enough left in the river for wildlife to survive.
Currently, a quarter of England’s rivers are at risk from having low flows or even running dry if we were to experience a period of dry weather, due to over abstraction. Everyone can do their bit by being careful with how we use water. Water Saving Week is a great opportunity to learn more about the issue, and try out some techniques to reduce water use.
Here are a few simple tips you can try to get you started:
Download a water saving app! Water saving apps for your smart phone can help you choose products and calculate your water use. Just search for ‘water efficiency’. And why not try competing with your friends and family to see who can save the most water?
Order some free water saving goodies from your water company and save yourself some money. Water companies may provide anything from shower timers to tap swivels to reduce your water use so don’t hesitate to give them a call!
Take a walk at your local river or wetland! Many people don’t realise that the water that comes out of their taps comes from their local river and only 17% of England’s rivers are currently healthy. Be inspired to save water and see what wildlife you can spot.
Check out the Waterwise website! Each day is focused on a theme – water in schools, work, home, the community and garden – and it is full of tips and resources to get you started. And don’t forget to follow them on social media @Waterwise and use the hashtag #WaterSavingWeek to find out what’s going on and stay up to date.
Leicester, which sits on the River Soar and several of its tributaries, is the largest city in the East Midlands and has a history of industry associated with the river dating back to Roman times. Recent urban growth, demand for land, and past views on water management has resulted in significant water quality issues that need to be addressed.
To address this, WaterLIFE has enabled the Trent Rivers Trust to look at the River Soar catchment and identify issues in water quality and flooding that are currently having an adverse effect. A recently appointed Community Engagement Officer has helped carry out this project to improve people’s understanding of water quality and Leicester’s flood risk and to show local people what they could do to manage it.
One of the biggest challenges the River Soar face’s is litter. In the past, the Riverside Rangers and volunteers have worked hard to remove the litter, but this year they are being proactive and hoping that through education, they can stop the litter from even reaching the river where it can cause flooding and affects the health of the wildlife and the environment. This is where Leicester College got involved.
Leicester College drama students studying ‘Drama in Education’ put together a play aimed at primary school children called ‘The Riverbank’, which, along with a series of educational sessions on water quality and flooding, are being delivered to primary school children across Leicester.
Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)
The growth and spread of Leicester and Loughborough mean that large parts of the Soar catchment are now characterised by hard surfaces which increase the speed and volume of water runoff resulting in the rapid rise of river levels when it rains, which can cause flooding. Sustainable Drainage Systems aim to slow runoff by capturing it where it falls and replicating a more natural water cycle. The project aims to introduce SuDS and encourage households, business and community organisations to incorporate SuDS features into their gardens and public spaces. To date, two SuDS schemes have been agreed on in schools and one in a public park in Leicester.
This project will last 4 years and there are a number of SuDS projects in Leicester which will soon be implemented. They are always looking for new ideas and opportunities and hope to launch a public awareness campaign later this year by advertising on buses, hosting a series of high profile events and working with community groups to increase people’s understanding of how they can help improve the water quality in the River Soar.
Nearly a quarter of rivers in England are at risk from unsustainable abstraction. Over the past two and a half years, WaterLIFE has focused on tackling some of the obstacles that are preventing all rivers from reaching the required healthy status. One of these obstacles is the legacy of unsustainable abstraction, which means that at times too much water is taken from our rivers and aquifers for use in homes and businesses.
We are continuing to tackle this issue, and would like to hear from groups who have experience of negative ecological impacts from over-abstraction and low flows on our rivers, lakes and associated habitats. If you work or have experience of a catchment or river that is impacted by abstraction or low flows then please get in touch.
If you think you can help, please contact Kathy Hughes (email@example.com) at WWF for more information.
The Ends Environment Report featured WaterLIFE’s work in East Anglia, tackling the negative impacts that diffuse agricultural pollution has on the region’s rivers and chalk streams. This comprehensive article covers a wide range of issues such as soil erosion and loss, water sensitive farming and partnership working.
The full article, published in January 2017, is available to download:
Farmers, business, retailers and producers from across the supply chain came together in October 2016 to:
Set out the evidence to show the impact of sugar beet production on the environment
Discuss a range of potential options across the supply chain
Seek agreement and support from across the supply chain for identified solutions
Seek agreement and support to deliver key solutions within WaterLIFE’s water stewardship catchments (the CamEO and/or Broadland Rivers)
After a lively day filled with varied discussion, debate and presentations, two key themes emerged.
Collaboration – Nearly all stakeholders highlighted a desire to understand how to better work together and align as a wide supply chain and what their role could or should be. In particular the upper supply chain wanted to understand their role.
Understand mitigation measures – A number of stakeholders wanted to understand the facts around beet production, its impact, and the measures that can be employed to overcome risk and what they can do about it. This included discussion of mitigating unintended consequences and understanding the impact of beet production and agriculture.
Sitting down in the most south-westerly corner of the Tamar catchment, Millbrook village has a rich and eclectic environmental history. Sat on the edge of the estuary, the village has long been prone to flooding and we’ve been listening as villagers recounted memories of rowing up and down the high street each time high tides and pressure systems combined to push tidal surges up into the village centre. Flooding was an event that occurred as often as four or five times a year during the childhoods of many of the residents.
However, following severe flooding in the seventies, a tidal barrage was constructed across the estuary, significantly reducing the risk of tidal flooding. It was in this process that the Millbrook Lake was formed on the inland side of the tidal barrage – a lake which is a well-loved feature within the Millbrook community.
The tidal wall has played a huge role in protecting the Millbrook residents from flooding. The Environment Agency estimate that over 100 floods have been prevented by the wall, which is of little surprise to those who remember the frequent flooding of the past.
But in 2012, severe flooding of the village, both in November and December, began to raise questions:
Why had so much floodwater accumulated in the village centre? Where had it come from?What had prevented it from draining away?
So why did Millbrook flood?
We’ve been helping the villagers of Millbrook to unpick some of the events and causes that had led to their homes being flooded in 2012. With the help of the Environment Agency and the villagers themselves, we began to understand the complexity of the flooding in Millbrook.
It was widely agreed that the source of the floodwater in the 2012 flood events was not the sea, as had been the case historically. Rather, in 2012 the floodwater had come from the intense rainfall that had preceded the flooding and which had flowed through the catchment via rivers and overland flow before building up in the village centre.
Understanding why the water had backed up within the village was far less certain and much of the attention has been focussed on Millbrook Lake. Had the flood gate been opened, could the water have flowed freely from the village into the lake and out into the estuary?
The answer to this question is not entirely straight forward, as there are a range of factors that contributed to the flooding in 2012. These can broadly be put into two main categories; 1. problems related to infrastructure, which included a blocked culvert under the village and the movement of water into and out of the lake, and 2. too much water running too quickly off the surrounding land into the village.
More specifically, we learnt that the flooding had largely been caused by the large volume of water that was running down the hill to the south of the village, which had exceeded the capacity of the culvert designed to channel the water under the village and into the lake. This water had arrived rapidly in the village where a build-up of debris was slowing the flow of water into the culvert system, leading to the dramatic over-topping of water into the village centre where it accumulated.
In the aftermath of the 2012 flooding, the Environment Agency has carried out extensive research into why Millbrook flooded and, as a result, the infrastructure within the village has been improved to reduce the risk of debris blocking the culverts. A new flood wall has also been built in the village to redirect water away from houses and into the culvert and there are plans to increase the size of a second culvert on the hill to the south of the village.
We held a drop-in session in Millbrook on the 30th September, during which the Millbrook community discussed their knowledge of the flooding issue, as well as wider environmental issues in the area, and how they saw the Millbrook catchment being managed in the future. The day culminated with a presentation and workshop in the evening, with over 60 people attending throughout the course of the day. We were overwhelmed by the community spirit shown by the Millbrook residents, their engagement in their local environment and willingness to continue to build on the wealth of natural resources on their doorstep.
Over the course of the day, it was clear that flooding remains a major concern to those living in Millbrook. While the Environment Agency is making great improvements to the flood mitigation efforts within the village, we are keen to address the root causes of why water moves so rapidly through the Millbrook catchment and to try and slow this flow. There are also huge opportunities in the village for natural flood management and sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), which the community was keen to explore further.
We will also be working with the Millbrook villagers to tackle some of the other concerns that they have about their local environment. How should the Millbrook Lake be managed (as a freshwater or a saltwater environment)? How can we reduce sediment loads and improve water quality in Millbrook streams? How can we make the most of the amenities within the village?
Millbrook is a stunning place to live and we are looking forward to continuing to work with the local community to make the most of the opportunities available to them and ensure that the environmental issues faced by the village do not overshadow the many wonderful things about living in Millbrook.
This blog was written by Elly Greenway, Data, Evidence and Communications Officer at Westcountry Rivers Trust
I don’t need convincing about how important water is. Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a week diving in the Azores where I spent more time under the water than I did above. As a former geology student, being able to visit this archipelago on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was a dream come true. Apart from feeling exhilarated after seeing whales, dolphins and devil rays, my resolve to continue to improve our water environment strengthened.
My specific area of focus is rivers – which provide so many services to people, business and nature. But our rivers are up against real threats. Abstraction, pollution and unsustainable management are just some of them.
The power of partnerships
For rivers to be healthy and continue to provide the services we all rely on, they need to be managed in partnership – different players and sectors coming together, agreeing a shared aim that works for the environment, and delivering joint action.
Through our WaterLIFE project, we’ve learnt about what’s needed to make these partnerships successful: A clear agreed objective; a rationale for each partner to engage; the ability to work at a geographical scale that makes sense to each partner; a fair and consistent starting point; and ‘rules of engagement’ to ensure all partners work constructively. You may be interested in reading this short report, exploring how partnerships can achieve success.
Arguably, with the uncertainly that the EU referendum result has created, the commitment of different sectors and groups acting in the interest of the environment is more important than ever.
To guide, strengthen and help generate more momentum for such partnerships we have created the WaterLIFE declaration. Its premise is simple – three guiding principles that we are asking organisations and groups working in the water environment, or with a connection to it, to sign up to. These principles are:
Partnership: Support and investment in the Catchment Based Approach, recognising catchment partnerships are an essential basis for collaborative action and impact at all scales.
Equity: Through its new abstraction and agricultural policies, the government must create a level playing field and ensure environmental protection across England and Wales.
Collaboration: All sectors working together openly, honestly and without blame, to develop shared, evidence-based and deliverable solutions.
Partnerships have certainly been a hot topic at this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm, where I’ve been all week. I spoke to a group of representatives from businesses and NGOs about the work we’re doing here in the UK. As part of WaterLIFE, we’re working in partnership with business, NGOs and farmers, to implement water sensitive farming in East Anglia and reduce the pollution harming the region’s rivers.
Blog by Kathy Hughes, Freshwater Project Manager, WWF-UK
The water sector has launched a new dashboard – Discover Water – which gives household customers access to lots of information about what happens to their water, the impact on the environment, price comparison and customer service.
Discover Water is for household customers in England and Wales, and is the first of its kind in Europe. It allows customers to find out what happens to their water (from source to tap), compare the price of tap water with bottled water, as well as what happens to water once it is flushed down the toilet. In December, the dashboard will be updated to allow customers to compare the performance of individual water companies.
It is a collaborative project, paid for by water companies, but developed by key groups including Water UK, Ofwat, the Environment Agency, Consumer Council for Water, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
There is an opportunity to input and give feedback as phase two is being developed. Please contact Neil Dhot at Water UK by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a few weeks since the EU referendum result and a lot has changed already. We’ve got a new PM, a new Secretary of State for the Environment, and several new departments. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty and I have a feeling that will be the norm for quite a while as we adjust to our new reality.
The need to protect the environment, however, has not changed. Let’s not forget that only 17% of English rivers are healthy so inaction is not really an option.
The most important tool to protect our rivers
It’s important to remember that the Water Framework Directive (WFD), once called the English Directive, is the most important tool for protecting our rivers, lakes and wetlands. Its ambition – for these places to be healthy – is one few can argue with. Luckily, it is also enshrined in UK law so would require an Act of Parliament to change it.
What do we know at a time of uncertainty?
There are a lot of ‘don’t knows’ at the moment. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months. What will our relationship with the EU be? Will the nature directives remain in force? What is the vision that our new Environment Minister will be setting out? What will our new agricultural policy look like?
In the midst of all these don’t knows, I thought I’d focus on what we do know.
We know we don’t simply work to improve the environment because it is written into European legislation. There are tangible, costed benefits – water bills are lower as companies spend less on cleaning the water before we drink it, people are happier and healthier if they have access to the environment, and better land management can protect people and businesses against flooding and drought.
We also know that the WFD helped spur the government to commit to catchment management approaches. Whilst there’s a heck of a lot more to do, the fact that there are over 100 catchment partnership across England, made up of environment groups, businesses and water companies, all working together to improve the health of our rivers and lakes, is some feat.
The catchment based approach has really delivered. Individual catchment partnerships have, in some cases, turned £1 of government investment into £4 benefit and been the catalyst for innovation, enthusiasm and results. Trent Rivers Trust is leading the way by using sediment fingerprinting to identify where polluting silt is coming from the catchment; Westcountry Rivers Trust hosted a river festival to help communities fall in love with their river again; and the Cam & Ely Ouse Partnership has brought together businesses and farmers to tackle agricultural pollution in East Anglia.
Looking ahead, we need to be replicating these successes and ensuring the right policies, rules and commitments are in place to allow us to do so.
We need to pull together
Projects like WaterLIFE and smart catchment management are needed now more than ever. The environment cannot afford to simply stall while the government adjusts to this seismic change in British politics. Now is the time to shout about our achievements. Yes there will be challenges – funding will be at the forefront of many people’s minds – but I’m with Laurence Couldrick, Director at Westcountry Rivers Trust, when he called for environmental supporters to “pull together and provide a strong voice for our land, rivers and seas during this time of change” so that we can achieve the change we want.
Citizen science is a hot topic – it’s an exciting way to get a whole range of people interested in their local river. The data collected enables a much clearer picture of river health which can help to source funding, design solutions and can be used to alert the Environment Agency to pollution incidents.
It is an area we have identified in recent guidance as one of the key tools to engage community groups as well as the wider public.
Elly Greenway works at Westcountry Rivers Trust and shares her experience of getting involved with the Freshwater Watch Citizen Science programme.
The first chalk stream I visited was the Test in Stockbridge. I was young and it was all rather exciting because for the first time in my life I was able to see fish close up in the river through the crystal clear water. I’m from up north and of course we have fish, but not chalk streams, and so they weren’t as easy to see. This first experience really captured my imagination.
Jumping forward, *cough, several years, I now understand more about why chalk streams like the Test are so important and at WWF I spend a lot of time working to make sure they are better protected.
What’s a chalk stream and why do they matter?
The lion’s share of the world’s chalk streams are found in England. That’s about 220, and they are found across a band of chalk that runs from Yorkshire, through Lincolnshire and East Anglia, and into the South-East. They even reach as far west as Devon. The rest are found in northern France.
This unique and rich habitat provides a haven for wildlife like the mayfly, otter, kingfisher and trout.
They really are quintessentially English – their lush green river banks and cool, clear water conjure up memories of Sunday walks, lazy picnics and Wind in the Willow.
Riverfly survey reveals not all is as it should be
In 2015, we published a report – The State of England’s Chalk Streams – which showed that only 23% of our chalk streams could be considered healthy. Furthermore, only 12 chalk streams (out of approximately 220) were protected, which were all are failing their conservation objectives. Physical modifications, taking too much water from them, pollution from sewage works, septic tanks and agriculture were all identified as key pressures causing failure.
Recently we commissioned further research to update these figures. Shockingly, the situation has got worse and now only 19% of chalk streams can be considered healthy. And going forward even fewer chalk streams will be monitored by the Environment Agency which will ultimately mean we’ll know less about their health.
This is why a recent riverfly survey by Salmon and Trout Conservation UK is so important, and the results so devastating. In essence, the survey revealed that out of the 120 sites surveyed, nearly all were impacted in some way but chalk streams were the worse. In fact, there were only 14 pristine, unimpacted sites out of the sites sampled.
Riverfly, like the mayfly, caddisfly and stonefly, play a crucial role in the aquatic food chain – they act as an indicator for the health of the whole river so you can tell an awful lot about other species by monitoring their health.
Another headline that stuck out for me was the fact three of our most protected chalk streams – the Itchen in Hampshire, the Lambourne in Berkshire and the Wensum in Norfolk, rank very poorly. They all contained low riverfly richness. And the Test – the river I fell in love with when I was young – riverfly life here is poor with many significant species ‘impoverished’. Not the news I wanted to hear.
Join the revolution – become a citizen scientist
It’s clear that now, more than ever, our rivers need all of us. Luckily, there are some fantastic ways we can get involved and really help.
The Riverfly Partnership is an amazing network of anglers, conservationists, scientists and local communities, who all work together to protect the future of our rivers and chalk streams. There’s basically an army who go out, sample the life at the bottom of the river and record the number of these indicator species. The results don’t then vanish into the ether – they are uploaded onto the national website and the Environment Agency responds if an issue is flagged by the data.
So don’t wait, get out there and start exploring your rivers and the wildlife that live in them!
Or do what I do and get your wet suit on and dive in! For those of you who might feel a tad trepidatious about venturing for a swim in your local river, read this piece from another member of the team about how she found her first wild swim!
We know that different groups and organisations have to work together to improve the water environment – no single organisation can do it alone. Through WaterLIFE, we’re working with government, businesses and communities to make an impact on the ground and influence the rules and regulations that govern the water environment.
In East Anglia, we’re working with farmers to implement water sensitive farming and reduce the pollution affecting two catchments’ unique chalk streams. We spoke to Ed Bramham-Jones, who is Farm Adviser at Norfolk Rivers Trust, to find out just what this entails.
Born and bred in Norfolk, Ed has a keen interest in conservation and loves nature – enjoying long walks and bird-watching as a child. After studying Countryside Management, Ed worked as Reserve Manager for Pensthorpe Natural Park for over a decade before joining Norfolk Rivers Trust. This diverse role saw him getting involved in every aspect of land management – from looking after rare breed livestock to river management. Now, as Farm Adviser for NRT, he finds himself regularly on the farm – for both work and pleasure, as his father-in-law owns a pig farm!
Can you explain what you do and what a typical day looks like?
I will be providing support and advice to farmers and landowners through the Cam and Ely Ouse catchment to reduce diffuse water pollution from agricultural practices on a catchment scale. As part of the partnership, we will be focusing on the River Wissey and Lark catchments.
A day can include anything from GIS mapping to work out where risk areas and issues are appearing, to being out on farms giving practical advice, to engaging with stakeholders within the partnership. The project will see the implementation of silt traps, ponds and restoration and creation of wetlands to reduce silt and dirty water entering watercourses.
What is water sensitive farming?
This is all about promoting water stewardship on farms by making sure water is used efficiently and works with the environment to be able to sustain and improve ecosystems whilst still being able to farm productively. This can include improving the efficiency of irrigation, protecting water courses with buffer strips and tree planting, planting cover crops, creating silt traps and slowing the flow of water running off fields into rivers.
Why do you think there is a growing interest in water sensitive farming from different players, like the private sector?
With a growing understanding of the importance of water quality and availability to the environment as well as industry and the private sector, it is essential to improve pollution issues at source. It makes sense for farmers to keep all their soils in optimum conditions to improve yields and help water retention.
Are there any myths you regularly have to bust?
The myth that you can’t have a sustainable farming system which helps the environment – we feel that these are linked. We’re working towards creating a healthy farmed environment for water, wildlife and the landscape.
What do you see as the major challenges over the next few years?
Getting chalk streams and watercourses to Good Ecological Status is very challenging but with the WaterLIFE approach of engaging with farmers, local catchment groups and implementing improvements to farming practices it will make a significant improvement to these important habitats.
What do you love most about your job?
Getting out and meeting farmers in some of the most beautiful areas of the countryside and being able to improve water quality and soil which will benefit the wider catchments.
On 1 April, WWF-UK lead a team from Coca-Cola, The Rivers Trust and Norfolk Rivers Trust to visit Broadland Rivers, one of our Water Stewardship catchments. The team visited the River Bure and talked with a local farmer who practices water sensitive farming to minimise the impact on the environment.
On 21st May, individuals, communities and projects from around the world will come together and take part in a global initiative to create awareness about the importance of free-flowing, unobstructed rivers for migratory fish.
It’s a little known fact that fish need to travel up and down rivers, as well as between the river and sea, to reach spawning and feeding grounds or to find safe areas in times of drought or flood. Many species – including Atlantic salmon, European eel, sea trout and sea lamprey – migrate between the sea and river.
However, many of these species are in real trouble because of man-made obstacles like dams, weirs and sluices, which create barriers in the river that fish can’t navigate and prevent them from completing their essential journeys.
World Fish Migration Day (WFMD) aims to raise awareness about this issue, by encouraging organisations from across the world to hold events that connect fish, rivers and people.
Why does this matter?
In England, only 17% of rivers are considered healthy: pollution, poor habitat including barriers to fish migration, and too much water being taken from them are all to blame. Healthy rivers are essential for our society: we rely on them for water to drink and to nourish the food we eat, for flood protection, and simply as places to go to relax, unwind and enjoy nature. Think about a salmon leaping from the water’s surface or seeing the silvery flash of a grayling. Human intervention on rivers, such as weirs and sluices designed to help power the industry of our towns and cities, are now preventing us enjoying these natural wonders.
However, a river that cannot support healthy populations of fish is not healthy, and less likely to be able to provide the services we rely on.
By taking part in WFMD you can help to raise awareness about some of these issues as well as support the actions needed to tackle them. For example, did you know there is an army of conservation groups in the UK installing fish passes on our rivers? These are designed to enable fish to move up and down the river – almost like a ladder in the water.
From river dips to fish passes, there’s something for everyone. You can:
Organise your own event – a river visit, kayak or fish passage opening. Don’t forget to register it on the official website.
Join in on social media – @fishmigration #WFMD2016
Our catchments are getting involved – there’s glass eel citizen science in the West Country, a planned eel release in Norfolk and a schools roadshow in the Severn. Keep an eye out for more information by visiting the WFMD directory, or checking individual websites:
In celebration of WFMD, we’re shining a spotlight on two migratory species that have not fared well in recent years – the Atlantic salmon and European eel.
Perhaps one of our most well-known fish, recognisable by the distinctive black spots on its side, the Atlantic salmon is anadromous: it hatches in freshwater, migrates to the sea and then returns to freshwater to spawn.
Atlantic salmon need cool, clear water to survive, as well as the ability to move up-stream and down-stream. However, since the 1970s, the numbers returning to spawn in our rivers have dropped by over 40%. Indeed, in many rivers, the iconic salmon runs have collapsed by as much as 80% over the last 20 years and many now fail conservation targets: 2014 salmon catches were the lowest on record.
They face threats from pollution, invasive species and barriers in rivers preventing their migration.
FACT: Atlantic salmon spawn in the gravelly headwaters of British rivers. They can navigate significant obstacles, such as waterfalls, to spawn. But they cannot jump over large man-made barriers like dams, which, therefore, prevent them from breeding.
The elongated, snake-like body of the European eel is unmistakable. Found in our rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs, it is the only European fish to leave European rivers to spawn in the sea. Indeed, it undertakes one of the most extraordinary journeys seen in nature.
Hatching in the Atlantic Ocean’s Sargasso Sea, eels return to European seas as tiny larvae, where they turn into transparent ‘glass eels’ and then into elvers – at which point they start their journey into our rivers. This journey continues as they transform again into yellow eels and migrate further up our rivers, where they change once more into silver eels. Here, they could remain for over 70 years before beginning their journey back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.
The eel was once abundant around the UK but it is now in trouble. Numbers have fallen so drastically since the 1980s (up to 95%) that it is considered a critically endangered species. Threats include pollution, over-fishing, illegal trade and barriers to migration.
A spotlight was shone on the River Soar this month as senior figures from the Environment Agency – along with national policy group Blueprint for Water – visited the catchment.
The EA’s Water, Land & Biodiversity Team, led by Pete Fox, spent a sunny day in Leicester to see first-hand the impact of effective partnership working in the catchment.
The group were shown a recent sustainable drainage scheme at a supermarket site on the outskirts of Leicester, a new flood risk capital scheme, and walked along the River Soar to the Willow Brook to the south of the catchment. The capital scheme included a brand new cycle route, wetland and a newly landscaped public open space in the floodplain. This will not only result in an increase in biodiversity, but also an increase in those visiting the area and enjoying the environment.
The Partnership also showed the group first hand the urban debris and sediment that flows into the main River Soar. The Partnership, with the EA, is currently working with Leicester City Council and the Local Economic Partnership to trial an innovative sediment finger printing project which will help target interventions to reduce the polluting sediment that enters the catchment and causes issues downstream.
The visit highlighted the challenges in managing the multiple pressures that rivers in urban environments face, whilst creating a space where nature can flourish, and one that people can enjoy.
Demonstrating impact through partnership working
The Soar Catchment Partnership, which only formed in the beginning of 2014, has already demonstrated significant achievements through partnership working, including:
Almost doubling the size of the Partnership to include over 40 organisations.
Securing over £500,000 in additional funding.
Trialling an innovative sediment fingerprinting method to alleviate flood risk and improve water quality.
Taken significant steps to develop the ‘Soar Data and Evidence Tool’ to shape and determine where future resources and funding should be targeted for maximum impact.
Find out more about the Partnership’s achievements by downloading the Soar leaflet.
Find out more about the work happening in the Soar by visiting the where we work pages.
Each year, thousands of leaders from the world’s scientific, business, government and civil society communities descend on Stockholm for World Water Week all with a common goal – to address the planet’s water issues and related international development concerns.
The theme for the 2016 World Water Week is “Water for Sustainable Growth” given the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and a new global climate agreement adopted by COP 21.
Good water governance
This year, World Water Week is taking place from 28th August to 2nd September 2016. As part of our effort to share the lessons and successes across Europe, we will feature in the 2016 programme under the topic “Good water governance for inclusive growth and poverty reduction”.
We are leading the seminar “Water Stewardship – enabling conditions for improved water governance in Europe”, which will explore how the private sector can contribute to improving the water environment by becoming better water stewards. This will incorporate the work happening in all five of our demonstration catchments.
Local students in Leicester were challenged to design a new logo for the River Soar Catchment Partnership . The students were asked to think about what they loved about the river, how it inspired them and the wildlife and activities they associated with it when designing their entries.
The winning logo was designed by Katie McGowan, a student at St. Pauls Catholic School in Leicester.
Katie will receive an art set for her successful logo design and St. Pauls Catholic School will receive £500 prize money, donated by Severn Trent Water.
The winning logo
Over 70 entries submitted!
Over 70 entries were submitted by local students – all of them were very creative. Many of the entries will be on display in Leicester over the summer. For more details, contact Ruth Needham from the Soar Catchment Partnership by email: email@example.com.
Here is a selection of the fantastic entries received:
The Catchment Based Approach Urban Working Group, supported by WaterLIFE, is hosting three workshops in March to explore how to manage water for multiple benefits in urban environments. The ultimate aim is to build capacity and expertise across organisations and partners to improve urban water management. These workshops are designed for CaBA partnerships and Local Authorities, including planners, highways staff and flood risk specialists.
The workshops will include:
Urban ecosystem service benefits
Date and evidence
Sustainable drainage, misconnections and pollution monitoring
Targeting and design of interventions
Increasing the capacity of organisations working to improve the water environment is one of WaterLIFE’s key objectives. These workshops will enable different groups to share knowledge, ideas and expertise.
It is Water Saving Week and we’re all being encouraged to think a little harder about where our water comes from, and what we can do to use a little less at home and at work. Erratic weather patterns, population increases and lifestyle changes are all putting pressure on our water supplies so it is more important than ever we take care how we use water. We certainly won’t be able to achieve WaterLIFE’s goal of ‘healthy rivers for people and nature’ without doing so.
Water Saving Week
This is the second year Waterwise (a leading authority on water efficiency) has run Water Saving Week. Last year, the Environment Agency, water companies and Energy Saving Trust were among the many organisations that took part. Meat free days and field trips were just some of the activities organised to promote it. There’s a round-up of what happened on the Waterwise website.
Leaky loos and power showers
Working in the water sector, I like to think I am probably more aware of water efficiency issues and the need to save water than most people. In that vein, I decided to challenge myself and see how much water I could save at home.
I ordered a selection of free water saving goodies from my water company – a shower timer, dye tablets to see if we had a leaky loo, a shower head designed to save water and a kitchen swivel tap to reduce the volume of water coming from the tap. I was quite excited when all the gadgets turned up actually, but they were the easy part – they do the job for you. The hard part was changing my housemates’ behaviour. Trying to convince people to have shorter showers when it’s cold and frosty outside, turning the tap off when brushing your teeth, or waiting for a full load until you switch on the washing machine even though you really want to wear that top tomorrow.
Sometimes it helps to think about the bigger picture, and why we need to save water in the first place, aside from the money you can save on your energy bills.
What have our rivers ever done for us?
Most of the water we use comes from a river. But why should we care about them? This list could be very long. But, for brevity, here are just a few reasons why healthy rivers matter so much.
We rely on them for food and water. Put simply, we need our rivers to survive.
They’ve shaped our history – many of the towns and landscapes we love have been sculpted because of the river that runs through them. London’s fame and fortune owes much to the Thames, which served (and still serves) as an important transport and trade route.
Support a diverse array of wildlife – think of the vibrant colours of a kingfisher or a salmon leaping from the water’s surface. Rivers are home to many different species of fish, mammals, birds and plants that we can’t afford to be without.
Provide a space for fun and recreation – whether it is angling, canoeing or swimming, many of us use our rivers for much more than water.
However, only 17% of rivers in England are healthy and they face many pressures. Too much water is taken from them for homes, business and agriculture, they suffer from pollution, and they have been physically modified and changed. Taking positive action now can help to ensure that rivers are healthy and can supply enough water to go round – for us, for businesses and for the environment. This is particularly poignant given it is UN World Water Day tomorrow, 22 March.
To make this a reality, it’s crucial that the right messages reach us at the right time – whether this is advice so we can save money on our water and energy bills, or information about the health of local river and how we can make a difference. This will mean we know what action we can take, and why it’s needed.
During Water Saving Week, each day is focused on a theme – water in schools, work, home, the community and garden. The aim of the Week is to share tips, facts and create a conversation on why and how we can save water.
Visit the Waterwise website and download a Water Saving Week pack. You can also get involved on social media by following @waterwise and using the hashtag #watersavingweek.
Did I complete my mission and save water in my home? I’m not on a meter so I can’t tell you exactly how much I saved in litres, but I can pretty confidently say yes. The tips Waterwise offered were simple – using a shower timer, order a few water-saving devices and the like – but that’s why they worked. Overall behaviour change might take time, but as individuals we can all start to take simple, positive steps and do our bit for water. So – go on – why not challenge yourself and see how much water you can save!
It’s the start of Invasive Species Week. Think the signal crayfish annihilating its native counterpart, the white clawed crayfish, or Himalayan Balsam rapidly spreading across our river banks, suffocating other plants. The question is would you be able to tell the difference between a native or non-native species?
Tackling over 30 invasive species
I’m not sure I would! However, tough new European legislation came into force earlier in the year to try and tackle the spread of over 30 invasive species in the UK. But if we really are going to put a stop to them, it’s going to need the likes of you and me to get involved.
So, this week, we’re being asked to learn a little more about invasive species, why they’re a problem and what we can do about it. I’m no expert myself – I felt proud last week when I pointed out some snowdrops to a friend on a walk! But, invasive species pose significant environmental and economic threats. A few killer stats for you…
Invasive, non-native species (INNS) cost the UK more than £1.7 billion a year to control.
Out of 2000 non-native species currently in the country, 300 are invasive, with one or two new INNS arriving each year.
INNS have been the most important drivers of bird extinctions over recent centuries, responsible for around half of global bird extinctions since 1500.
The south-west experience
WaterLIFE is working in the south-west to try and improve the water environment. Westcountry Rivers Trust, one of the project’s lead organisations, recognises the threat to the environment and habitat invasive species pose, and has been working for over a decade to tackle the issue.
If you were strolling along the River Tamar or Camel, you will most likely see the pink flowers of Himalayan balsam in summer and occasional dense patches of Japanese knotweed, or be impressed by the colossal height of Giant hogweed. These seemingly attractive, harmless plants are responsible for serious damage though. They’ve managed to totally monopolise some areas, suppressing natural species which can also lead to eroded riverbank, leaving parts bare and exposed which increases the risk of soil erosion as well as sediment and other materials being carried downstream, potentially increasing the risk of flooding. Himalayan balsam and Giant hogweed produce hundreds of seeds so it only takes a few plants to create fresh problems.
In 2004, Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) began working with the Waterwaysnet project to survey and map all INNS on the River Camel. The data collected meant they were able to identify the scale and extent of the problem for future work, plus select a few small demonstration sites with a view to trialling different techniques to clear the balsam and knotweed, and contain the spread of it. This led to a series of later projects, within the river corridor using different approaches. Later work with the Newquay Students Invasive Non-Native Group aimed to raise awareness about the problem, recruit more volunteers to help clear the plants and educate communities to ‘spot a sighting’. More recently, WRT is exploring biocontrol with the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International. There have been some real successes. On the River Camel, for example, balsam has declined between 50-80% where the groups have been able to work to clear it over a number of consecutive years.
The key seems to be partnership working, as is often the case. WRT has worked with many groups, landowners and communities over the years, but consistency of control measures and remaining vigilant are two crucial factors. The ambition to stop the spread of 37 invasive species cannot be achieved by one organisation alone – it will take a combined effort with the necessary resources and funding.
What can you do?
Invasive week starts today, 29th February and runs until 4th March. It’s all about raising awareness and knowing what to do if you spot an invasive species:
There are hundreds of events happening across the country.
Find out more about the ‘Check, Clean, Dry’ and ‘Be Plantwise‘ campaigns to make sure you’re doing everything you can to prevent the spread of invasive species.
Working with the Environment Agency and University of Southampton, the Soar Catchment Partnership has been taking a closer look at the sediment across the catchment area of the Willow Brook.
Sixty samples of sediment have been collected across the catchment from farms, river banks, towns and drains. The samples are being analysed to create ‘finger prints’ of the different soil types. These finger prints will be compared against the finger prints of sediment that accumulate in Willow Brook, Leicester, to the south of the catchment, contributing to issues such as flooding and blocked drains. It shows how important it is to explore the role natural solutions play in tackling issues such as flooding. You can read more about natural solutions and flooding in our recent blog.
The results of the sediment fingerprinting will help to decide where action should be targeted across the Soar in the future to store and hold sediment to prevent it from causing these problems downstream.
This exciting piece of work is being funded by Leicester and Leicestershire Local Economic Partnership and Leicester City Council. The Catchment Partnership was able to access this funding by identifying a business risk and proposing a solution which delivers environmental and economic benefits.
WaterLIFE has started working in its remaining two demonstration catchments – the Cam & Ely Ouse and Broadland Rivers in East Anglia – to show how the private sector can help improve river health through Water Stewardship. The project is working with Coca-Cola, the CamEO Catchment Partnership and Norfolk Rivers Trust to support farmers to implement sustainable practices and reduce their impact on the freshwater environment. This will ultimately help to improve river health.
Both catchments are home to precious chalk streams, which are almost unique to England and home to iconic and much-loved wildlife such as mayfly, otters and kingfishers. However, the majority of rivers in these catchments are failing to reach good health and farm pollution has been identified as a major pressure.
Together, by tackling the impact farming is having on water and moving to water sensitive practices, we will not only protect our unique chalk streams, but increase the resilience of agricultural supply chains, which is good for both people and wildlife.
Over the next 18 months, WaterLIFE will:
Work directly with farmers to improve practices and increase the resilience of agricultural supply chains. This will include installing silt traps to reduce sediment entering the river, and farm visits to provide direct advice and support.
Showcase the successes to encourage further collective action by communities, the government and other businesses and upscale this work through workshops, roundtables and river visits.
Bring together supply chains to support widespread adoption of water sensitive farming.
Communicate and promote the positive role businesses can play in river health.
WWF-UK, the project’s lead partner, worked in partnership with Coca-Cola from 2012-2015 to help improve the health of English rivers, focusing on the River Nar in Norfolk and the River Cray in South-East London. WaterLIFE will build upon these successes and experiences.
To find out more about the catchments and the work we’re doing please visit the catchment pages.
Employer: Norfolk Rivers Trust / CamEO Partnership
Location: Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire (Cam Ely Ouse Catchment)
Salary: up to £28,000 pa (depending on experience)
Full time, 30-month contract subject to annual review
Contact: Dr Jonah Tosney firstname.lastname@example.org, 01263 711299
Closing date: 12/02/16
Interview date: 22/02/16
Norfolk Rivers Trust is seeking to employ an experienced full-time farm advisor to play a key role in delivering an ambitious catchment scale water stewardship project funded through WaterLIFE.
The role will include developing relationships and supporting farmers in the Cam and Ely Ouse catchment (predominantly in the River Wissey and River Lark sub-catchments) to implement measures that reduce the impacts of diffuse water pollution from agriculture. This will be achieved through a programme of bespoke targeted farm advice and the delivery of interventions designed to reduce soil loss, water run-off and sediment input into watercourses at risk.
Delivery is on behalf of the Cam and Ely Ouse (CamEO) catchment partnership, co-hosted by The Rivers Trust and Anglian Water and of which Norfolk Rivers Trust is an active partner. The successful candidate will work closely with and be supported by a range of CamEO partners (including organisations representing farmers, farming and the agricultural supply chain) and WWF.
The role requires someone self-motivated with outstanding inter-personal and communication skills. A good knowledge and experience of local farming practices, agronomy, soil and water conservation is required. The successful applicant will be required to travel daily in rural locations and will therefore require his or her own vehicle and a driving licence.
WaterLIFE aims to improve the health of the freshwater environment for the benefit of people and wildlife. To be able to create the conditions for this to happen, we need to work with government and politicians to try and make sure that decisions and policies help our goal, not hinder it.
The key areas that WaterLIFE has and will continue to focus its efforts on are:
Influencing the River Basin Management Plans so they include the necessary measures so that rivers, lakes and coastal waters can reach good health.
Working with the Catchment Based Approach to ensure its future sustainability.
Responding to appropriate consultations to ensure WaterLIFE has the opportunity to shape future policy and law.
Since WaterLIFE’s start in summer 2014, work in these areas has included: Face to face meetings and events with representatives from Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat and water companies; taking politicians, business leaders and government officials on visits to rivers including Itchen in Hampshire and the Nar in Norfolk; inputting into consultations to help shape future policies and laws; and presenting at high profile conferences and workshops.
Reports, consultation responses and case studies are all available to read and download from the progress section of the website.
Sadly once again, many parts of the UK were unable to enjoy the festive period because of the misery that severe flooding has brought to their lives. With a changing climate and a growing population, this is the time to work with nature and not against it.
The mildest, wettest December on record
It is official. We have just experienced the warmest and wettest December for more than a century, according to The Met Office.
Temperatures reached an incredible 17.2 degrees in December in parts of south-west England and Scotland, which felt a bit surreal when we were meant to be putting up our Christmas trees and making mince pies. Rainfall was 191% above average with most of that falling in northern parts of the country with devastating consequences.
Let rivers function as rivers
Healthy rivers help to buffer the impacts of floods and droughts on society, as well as providing other ecosystem services such as the supply of drinking water to our homes. During a flood, rain falls on land and rushes into watercourses. When the flow of water exceeds what a river can hold, it will overtop its bank onto its floodplain. The floodplain then acts as a sponge, helping to regulate the amount of water flowing downstream.
A healthy river system can perform this function. Unfortunately our rivers are struggling, with only 17% currently healthy. They have been polluted, their channels have been altered and their natural floodplains have been over-developed.
Yet, whenever flooding occurs, the public debate often jumps to the idea of people versus nature, which is unhelpful. One way we see this play out is in the media and political arenas, about whether or not to dredge rivers, as seen last week.
It is not a case of people or wildlife
We need to manage the problem at the source i.e. where the water falls – water must be slowed down on the hills and at the top of catchments. This can be done by improving agricultural and forestry practices, and can prevent water from accelerating downstream. The Blueprint for Water, a coalition group of environmental NGOs, feels this is a significant step towards reducing flood risk in some catchments. In 2014, the Blueprint, with the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental management (CIWEM), published Floods and Dredging – a reality check showing that dredging is not a universal solution to flooding.
Indeed, in the last two years, the Environment Agency and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, have also expressed concerns over dredging. They actually go further and say that, depending on local conditions, it can exacerbate flooding by simply speeding up the flow of water and pushing it downstream. This doesn’t solve the problem, it simply moves it on.
Healthy rivers for people and nature
It was positive to see fairly balanced media coverage throughout the flooding. Indeed, there is something of a consensus growing about the need to work with nature and not against it. Now is the time to think about how competing pressures on land use – for housing, infrastructure, energy, farming, recreation and nature – are managed given climate change and population growth will increase these pressures.
That’s really what we’re working towards through WaterLIFE – healthy rivers for people and nature. We want to see rivers functioning as they are meant to; and this means taking a wider view and looking at their whole catchment. Making one environmental improvement can lead to other benefits, such as contributing to flood alleviation.
Through the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), local communities can work with businesses and government at the catchment level (as opposed to simply focusing on small stretches of river) to enhance the natural environment and unlock many benefits – preventing floods, improving water quality and restoring rivers.
WaterLIFE is very much aligned with this approach. We’ve been working in demonstration catchments to implement on-the-ground improvements to the local water environment. Along the River Soar, one of our demo-catchments, partners on the ground are working with one farm to turn a small section of unproductive land into a wetland and investigate opportunities to install silt traps. These steps could help to prevent how much water moves downstream into Leicester. There’s more about this in a previous blog.
There is no silver bullet
With the government’s six-yearly plans for river health soon to be published now really is a crucial time to make sure our environment is managed sustainably. We will continue to work with all groups – government, businesses and communities – to pool resources and expertise and make sure we work within nature’s limits, and not against. Dredging isn’t the silver bullet to success. Indeed, there are no silver bullets for flooding. This is ultimately about understanding combinations of measures which provide what’s best for people and wildlife and will help to better manage devastating events such as the recent flooding.
2016 starts with celebrations for Tony Bostock, Severn Rivers Trust Chief Executive Officer, who has been awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List. The award recognises Tony’s ‘Services to Angling and the Environment in the River Severn catchment area’. Well done Tony!
Tony is just one of many passionate and committed people working to improve the River Severn. Through WaterLIFE, we’re lucky to be involved and supporting some of this work. The Camlad, in the Upper Severn, is one of our demonstration catchments, and Tony’s colleagues in Severn Rivers Trust are delivering innovative work on the ground, alongside building civil society capacity and disseminating best practice for River Basin Management Plan delivery.
Find out more about what we’re doing in the Severn catchment:
The River Camlad is one of five demonstration catchments which are all part of the WaterLIFE project, that aims to improve the health of rivers across Europe by working with government, business and communities. The Camlad wriggles its way along the English-Welsh border, and was selected as a WaterLIFE catchment to build and enhance work started by the Severn Uplands Catchment Partnership.
The Severn Uplands Catchment Partnership began by bringing together of a wide variety of different organisations, businesses and concerned local communities all with a common goal – to maintain and improve the Severn Uplands water environment. The partnership began with a workshop for over 125 people who had the chance to explain what they felt was needed from the catchment partnership and how best to go about achieving these improvements.
Finding common ground
As expected with such a diverse group of people and organisations, the priorities and solutions to restore the river were not uniform. The participants were split into random groups to aid discussion and create a balanced view of the issues.
Common themes emerged across all groups. Goods that can be derived from the catchment (such as food, water and timber), flooding and biodiversity were unanimously agreed to be an important factor.
One really interesting fact was that every group agreed that improved/changed land management practices were needed.
Partnership working in practice
A small sub-section of that initial group have come together to form the Severn Uplands Catchment Partnership and, with help from the WaterLIFE project, the Camlad was selected to demonstrate how working in partnership can really bring about improvements to the river. The Camlad suffers from many of the same issues raised at that initial workshop – frequent flooding, a fish population that is in a downward spiral due to pollution from farms, including sediment run off.
Severn Rivers Trust as part of the WaterLIFE project has started to develop working partnerships with individual farm businesses to help reduce their impacts upon the local watercourses.
So far the Severn Rivers Trust has worked with approximately 50 businesses in the catchment with the vast majority of these making a genuine improvement to water management. This process of making improvements across many farms has helped improve habitat along 6km of watercourse, and identified and resolved seven ongoing pollution incidents. It has also helped foster a new thinking in these local businesses, which are now incorporating water quality as a defining thought when making decisions on farm practices.
The partnership was also keen to do as much as possible to help alleviate flooding throughout the entire River Severn catchment in a long term sustainable way. Coed Cymru, a member of the partnership, ran the “Pontbren Project” which has shown that increasing tree cover in a small catchment can reduce peak flows of small brooks by up to 40%. The woodland also has the benefit of capturing fertilisers, pesticides and sediments leading to an improvement of water quality.
Exciting times ahead
The Severn Uplands partnership is now expanding the techniques developed as part of this project into the wider Severn Uplands Catchment. We first started work in eight farms above the town of Llanfyllin; each of the farms identified the areas they wanted to plant trees and hedgerows. We are just coming into the second year of tree planting and have restored approximately four kilometres of hedgerow. At the moment, we are replanting a small area of ancient woodland, returning it from grassland. Looking ahead to next summer, we will be starting with fencing to create about two kilometres of riparian woodland. So far we have planted about 2000 trees and most of the farmers are keen to continue into the future. The big plus points for them is working with an adviser who they feel is on their side but has access to many different organisations through the Catchment Partnership. It shows what partnerships can achieve.
The partnership has identified ten more potential sub-catchments to undertake tree planting to help alleviate flooding and improve water quality as well as several more sites along the River Camlad to bring what is an ailing, polluted river into good ecological condition.
The next aim for the partnership is to help bring other local businesses into the conversation about how they can benefit from the improvements to the river environment. I look forward to it!
Peter Powell is the Upper Severn Catchment Officer for the Severn Rivers Trust and grew up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of Welshpool on the banks of the River Severn. He is particularly interested in agriculture and incorporating productive agriculture with the natural environment. He undertakes farm visits in target catchments to examine farm infrastructure and soil management to find ways that improve farm productivity and river health.
On Sunday 27 September, people from all over the world will come together to celebrate World Rivers Day. It’s a day to get out and enjoy your local river, learn how you can help look after it and celebrate the wildlife and habitats it supports.
Rivers are essential for life. They are havens for wildlife – from the water vole to white-clawed crayfish; they are part of nature’s playground – we swim in them, fish in them and sail on them; and they supply water to millions of homes and business. Put simply – we can’t live without them.
Healthy rivers for people and nature
Through the WaterLIFE project, we want to see healthy rivers for people and nature. At the moment only 17% of rivers in England are healthy. Our precious rivers are being harmed by a range of threats, including, pollution, too much water being taken, invasive species as well as human modifications (things like river channels being straightened or widened). You can find out more about where we’re waroking by visiting the project pages.
There’s lots of ways to join in – from taking a dip in your local stream to organising a river clean up with friends, family or colleagues or simply snapping a picture of your favourite spot and tweeting to #SaveOurWaters. Visit the official World Rivers Day websitefor more inspiration, and to find to what other people are doing.
It’s also a great opportunity to learn a bit about your local river – what wildlife does it support? Is it healthy? What challenges is it facing? There’ll be lots of information on your local rivers trust website. If you don’t know which Trust is relevant to you, visit The Rivers Trust website, the umbrella organisation for rivers trusts.
You can also get involved in Save Our Waters. The campaign, run by Blueprint for Water, is asking everyone to take just two minutes and write to their local MP to tell them why their river matters. Find out more on the Save Our Waters website.
A walk down the river bank
In celebration of World Rivers Day, we are taking a look at what you might find along our riverbanks – the good, the bad and the ugly!
The Water Vole is the largest vole in Britain (think Ratty from Wind in the Willow). They build themselves waterside burrows, digging into the banks of slow flowing rivers. These burrows are an architectural feet – with different floors, nesting chambers as well as a larder to store food (some even build a platform so they can sunbathe!) These impressive homes also help prevent flooding.
Sadly though, 90% of our water vole population has disappeared, primarily because of the loss of habitat and an increase in American Mink.
The tranquil English chalk stream
The majority of the world’s chalk streams are found it southern and eastern England. Beneath their crystal clear waters, you can see bundles of vibrant green water crowfoot, shiny silver grayling and brown spotted trout. These rivers are havens for wildlife – supporting iconic species like the water vole, otter and mayfly.
It may look attraction, but Himalayan balsam is an invasive none-native plant now widespread on our riverbanks. It spreads very quickly, growing over 2 metres in a single season, forming dense thickets, suffocating other plants and leaving the riverbanks bare when it does in the winter.
The elongated, snake-like body of the European freshwater eel is unmistakable. Found in our rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs, they are the only European fish to leave European shores to spawn in the sea.
The eel was once abundant around the UK but it is in trouble. Numbers have fallen to less than 5% of their 1980s levels because of pollution, over-fishing and barriers to migration and it is now a critically endangered species.
1/4 of freshwater species have become extinct in the past 30 years – we need a better vision for our watery places
WWF, as part of the WaterLIFE project, is part of the Blueprint for Water, a coalition of NGOs fighting for 5 goals:
Use water wisely
Stop pollution in our waters
Manage floods for people and wildlife
Create, protect and restore places for wildlife
Join up water management
At the end of this year, the government will set out its plans to protect our rivers and lakes. Now is the time for the government to ensure that these 5 goals become a reality. As part of the WaterLIFE project, WWF has contributed to Water Matters which sets out how we think the government can achieve these goals.
Only 17% of rivers in England are healthy. This is not good for people or nature.
At the end of the year, the Government is expected to publish its River Basin Management Plans, which set out how our water bodies (which includes rivers, lakes and other wetlands) will be managed so they get to good health. We must make sure the plans are bold and ambitious with the measures needed to restore and protect these precious places. The time to act is now.
How you can help
As part of the Save Our Waters campaign, we’re asking individuals and groups to help by getting in touch with their local MP to tell them why their river matters, and what should be done to protect it.
To make it as easy as possible, we’ve created a pack with facts and stats, tips for contacting MPs and a template letter to send.
Take action today
So – take action today:
Visit the Save Our Waters website and download the pack
Encourage colleagues, friends and family to do the same
WaterLIFE is inviting applications from civil society organisations to work with and deliver water sensitive farming approaches within two chalk stream catchments, to help move both catchments towards good ecological health as defined by the Water Framework Directive (WFD).
WaterLIFE aims to improve the health of rivers across the UK and Europe for the benefit of people and nature by working with businesses, communities and government. Specifically, this project will work with Coca-Cola, a WWF-UK partner, and a selected delivery partner, to support the agricultural community to deliver water sensitive farming approaches within two chalk stream catchments where sugar beet is grown as part of the rotation.
The ultimate aim of this work is to move the chalk stream towards Good Ecological Status, by reducing the impact of diffuse pollution.
It will be let as two stand-alone contracts – one contract for each of the chalk stream catchments selected. Those interested in submitting a proposal can do so for just one catchment, or both, depending on operational areas and suitability of potential catchments. The selection will be based on both the catchment and the capacity of the partner to deliver the project.
For more information about this opportunity as well as process, budget and timescales, please read the full Expressions of Interest.
Deadline for applications: 12pm, 21 August 2015.
For general queries about the project please contact Simon Aguss, WaterLIFE Project Manager, email@example.com.
For technical queries, please contact Kathy Hughes, UK Freshwater Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having never attended a partnership meeting before, I began the journey with no expectations but I left having met a lot of people from a variety of organisations, including Trent Rivers Trust, Leicester City Council and Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust, feeling interested, engaged and enthused.
The Soar catchment
To provide a bit of context, the Soar catchment, which is one of the five WaterLIFE catchments, lies in the East Midlands – and the River Soar is the main river in Leicestershire flowing through the heart of Leicester. I think this makes for an interesting catchment as, although largely rural, it has a big, bustling urban centre bringing different challenges as well as opportunities. The Soar Catchment Partnership is one of over 100 partnerships across England all formed over a year ago as part of the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), which is basically just a new way of thinking of river management. Each partnership has a range of different organisations involved and they all come together with the same goal – to restore, improve and maintain the water environment so that people and nature can benefit.
The objective of these workshops is to get everyone in one room, learn about the plethora of projects that have been going on, reflect on what’s working and what’s not, and think about how to progress.
Sustainable drainage and concrete channels
So, I found myself standing by the river on a sunny Thursday listening to Adrian Lane from Leicester City Council (LCC) talking about a sustainable urban drainage scheme within a recent supermarket development.
Sustainable drainage schemes mimic natural drainage. They help to protect communities from flooding by slowing the rate at which water enters the river, ensure that polluted water cannot run directly into the river, create a habitat for precious wildlife as well as natural, open spaces that people can enjoy.
Given the potential drainage issues that would have arisen because of the development, this solution is a clear and simple example of how what partnership working can achieve. The supermarket invested significant effort to ensure its drainage did not damage the downstream catchment. Catchment partnerships up and down the country will be working with planning authorities and developers on projects similar to this one.
Next we went further into urban Leicester to look at Willow Brook, a tributary of the River Soar. I was quite surprised when I actually saw it, because its bank was completely concrete – a change that had been made in the 1960s during the nation’s love affairs with the stuff! There was no public access, mainly due to the fact that, because of the concrete, in sudden rain events the brook can flood very quickly. It seemed such a shame – there was graffiti on the walls, the concrete was unappealing and it all looked very uninviting. It certainly didn’t inspire people to care about their water environment.
However, there are many people working hard to make improvements. We got the chance to talk to a group of local volunteers there who were part of the Shared Waters programme run by LCC. They were all filling up bags and bags of rubbish. I got chatting to a couple of the volunteers who clearly all cared very much about their local area and what they were doing. And that really is at the heart of what CaBA is trying to achieve – bringing organisations and individuals together to make the water environment better. If we can get people to care about the issue then the improvements we want to see made are far more likely.
There was a lot of enthusiasm from the people there on the day to find ways to make the Willow Brook, and others like it more visible to the general public. If they can see it, they are more likely to take an interest in it and support the need to make improvements. The partnership hopes one day to work with developers adjacent to the brook to remove the concrete and replace it with soft banks, with room for the water to flood and a public footpath.
Having seen the very urban Willow Brook with its concrete channel, it was fantastic to be taken to Spinney Hill Park to see an example of a restored river channel. The concrete had been removed and the channel’s flow had been redirected. The contrast between the two sections was remarkable; one part of the brook didn’t permit public access, was a haven for litter dumping and graffiti and another part was beautiful and inviting – good for wildlife and good for people. A prime example of the tangible benefits investing in our environment can offer.
What’s the point of partnership?
At Spinney Hill, whilst listening to some background about the project, a really pertinent question was raised. What’s the point of the partnership? Wouldn’t all of this be done anyway? I thought it articulated a challenge for all catchment partnerships; how do we best demonstrate our value? Because most people are busy getting on with the work, this side of things is often forgotten but we must remember to effectively communicate (and shout about!) the benefits of collaboration, and what it has and can achieve. In the case of the Soar, the partnership has generated momentum to make improvements in the catchment, brought together organisations and individuals with different knowledge and expertise so that, by working together, projects and impact can be enhanced and scaled up, accessed additional funding through the WaterLIFE project and raised awareness about some of the gems the catchment has to offer, like Spinney Hill Park.
The day finished by visiting the Stoughton Estate at the top of the Willow Brook catchment outside of the city, and getting to speak with the farm manager. It’s an arable farm – growing mainly winter crops such as wheat and oil seed rape. One issue the farm faces is how to manage its 1970s drainage system when things have changed since then (to state the obvious). One sentence stuck out when chatting with the farmer – ‘what I do here affects people in Leicester.’ To me, that really hit the nail of the head because activity and practices in the headlands of a catchment (in this case, at the Stoughton estate) have an impact downstream (on the city of Leicester).
Because of the fact the drainage systems are old and, in many cases, not fit for purpose, wet holes have failed and silted up and clay pipes are being blocked because of excess sediment. It’s clear these schemes need replacing to mitigate the problems created as a result. The farm is working with Trent Rivers Trust to find solutions that benefit all – the farmer, the environment and local community. For example, a small area of unproductive land has been set aside for a SuDs scheme and there are talks about creating a silt trap at the bottom of the ditch. I think it is changes and projects like this that really show what partnership working can achieve and answer the question I mentioned earlier – what’s the point of a partnership?
Back to the classroom
Our day outside exploring the catchment was over. The second day was back in the classroom to learn about some of the schemes and projects in the catchment. All I can say is that there is a lot to be excited about – the development of mobile phone apps, for example, so that volunteers and others can monitor the river for water quality etc and then upload their data instantly; exploring how we better engage with recreational water users like divers, anglers and canoeists so they can help monitor the river and, indeed, improve it; how we can use the planning system to ensure environmental objectives are at its heart, as opposed to periphery; unlocking the huge potential of GIS and mapping (to name just a few things!)
The two day workshop ended with a lot to digest but, importantly, with a lot of momentum. The challenge now is for the partnership to capitalise on this moving forward. The partnership must focus on what it can achieve and will be most beneficial to the health of the catchment over the next year whilst thinking about how it can eventually become self-sustaining. No easy feat, but, with an engaged group like this one, certainly within the realms of expectation.
On 12 July, people across Europe will jump simultaneously into their rivers and lakes to remind us that all of our rivers should be in good health by 2015 – this is according to a crucial piece of environmental legislation (called the Water Framework Directive). In England, only 17% of rivers are healthy – and it is one of WaterLIFE’s core concerns to make sure that figure rises. So by jumping in your local river, sea, or lake you can help create a splash!
The Big Jump
The Big Jump, organised by the European Rivers Network, happens every July and is all about reconciling people with their rivers – by encouraging them to get in them!
There are lots of ways you can get involved – including just jumping into a river with friends and family and tweeting a picture to #WaterLIFE to show your support. And if swimming or jumping is not your thing, then just visit your river to celebrate it.
To make sure your Big Jump goes swimmingly – it’s important to know what you’re doing, understand your own limits and follow the basic rules. Please look at the advice on the Big Jump website:
The World Economic Forum ranks water crises as one of the biggest global risks to growth.
Water is not an issue for the future; it is affecting businesses today. Nearly every company is water dependent in some way and if we don’t adequately manage our precious freshwater resources, we will see and feel impacts on the health of our environment and our economy. This new joint WWF-UK and WaterLIFE report, ‘From Risk to Resilience’, examines the physical, regulatory and reputational risks that UK businesses face and offers five-steps that corporates can take to mitigate them.
However, with risk comes opportunity for UK businesses to:
Raise the profile and improve trust in the brand
Reduce costs and support long-term revenue generation
Enhance the social license to operate in the an area where water is being sourced from
To help businesses respond to these risks and seize the opportunities, this report offers a five-step framework for corporate water stewardship. Download the full report to read more about the risks and opportunity for UK business, and the water stewardship steps.
CaBA, a community-led approach to improving the water environment, is holding its national conference on Monday 8 June at Fishmongers’ Hall, London Bridge.
It promises to be an exciting event setting out the achievements over the past year as well as looking forward to the challenges ahead. Engaging with the river basin planning process, levering additional funds and working with local authorities are just some of the items on the agenda.
Thank you to everyone who supported the Save Our Waters campaign. From October 2014 to 10 April 2015, the Environment Agency ran a consultation, asking everyone to comment on plans (River Basin Management Plans) that will determine how our waters are managed for the next six years. We believe Government needs to be ambitious to ensure that our water bodies have a chance to recover and can be enjoyed by people and nature for generations to come. Every response received was sent to the Environment Agency and will contribute to the final River Basin Management Plans, due to be published before 31 December 2015.
Although the consultation has closed, there is still plenty you can do to help improve our water environment.
Talk to your MP: Parliament dissolved on 30 March and the Election Campaign is in full swing. During the coming weeks, candidates in your local area will be canvassing for your vote at your doorstep, in town halls and via their websites. Why not ask them what they will be doing to improve the rivers, lakes and wetlands of your area.
Volunteer: Organisations can only achieve change with your help. Find out how to volunteer with organisations in your area.
Share the infographic: Working with Blueprint for Water, we developed an infographic to highlight the plight of our waters. Share it to raise awareness.
Take the poll: How many rivers do you think should be healthy? Have your say by taking the poll.
The joint response to the draft River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) from WWF-UK, Angling Trust and Fish Legal can now be viewed online.
A framework for protecting our waters
RBMPs are crucial for delivering the Water Framework Directive. They should be the framework for setting out action that will protect our waters to prevent deterioration and enhance ecological status, promote sustainable water use, reduce pollution and mitigate the effects of floods and droughts.
This response raises concerns that these plans not only fall short of the ambition required to achieve this but the Environment Agency has missed a significant opportunity to put local communities at the heart of the planning process. In particular, the response identifies three issues that need to be resolved ahead of publication of the final plans:
Abstraction – where current licences are not supporting achievement of good status, these need to be amended or retracted.
Agricultural diffuse pollution – stricter measures are needed to make sure we are compliant with the WFD.
Natura 2000 protected areas – measures to ensure these areas achieve Favourable Conservation Status need to be implemented with urgency.
With just 17% of English rivers at Good Ecological Status, it is crucial that the next set of plans have the ambition and commitment needed to see real and lasting improvement in our water environment. Read the full response.
WaterLIFE is an EC LIFE+ project delivered with the contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Community. Project number: LIFE13 ENV/UK/000497