The bigger water saving picture

The bigger water saving picture

The recent and prolonged dry spell has brought water scarcity in the UK into sharp focus. Several water companies in the south of England have triggered restrictions, including hosepipe bans.

On 12th August the Environment Agency declared drought in eight out of 14 water areas. Unfortunately, this is likely to be the future. We can’t just pray for rain. We need to regenerate river catchments and plan for the climate crisis. 

Robyn Shaw, Assistant Education and Engagement Officer at the South East Rivers Trust, looks at the factors around water scarcity and introduces our Water Saving Tips page, which emphasises that the issue is one we must all take responsibility for and think about all year round.

Rethinking single-use habits during Plastic Free July 

Preventing Plastic Pollution

The South East Rivers Trust has been tackling pollution in rivers ever since it was formed – as the Wandle Trust – 20 years ago. 

Becoming involved with the Preventing Plastic Pollution project, on the River Medway, seemed a natural step. Plastic pollution affects all rivers, however. Therefore we want to develop our work beyond one area by engaging with a wider public as well as including the issue in our catchment action plans.

A year’s worth of cleanups give us the perfect evidence to shape behaviour change across our whole area – and the annual Plastic Free July campaign presents an appropriate moment to raise awareness of the issues and strive to change our habits. Set up in 2011, the annual campaign aims to help people reduce their reliance on single-use plastic and live by more sustainable methods.  Below, we’ve come up with several suggestions for you to try in July – and hopefully continue with well after one month.   

Connecting the dots: Understanding what landscape recovery schemes could look like

Bringing landowners together through a series of workshops and site visits has opened inspiring conversations about what the future of nature-based solutions at catchment scale could look like.

Kathi Bauer, our Natural Capital Co-ordinator, writes an update on the South East Rivers Trust’s work on a national trial, funded by DEFRA, for the new agricultural subsidies programme – Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS).

Managing soil via satellites and GIS

The South East Rivers Trust is using satellite image processing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to target measures to improve soil management and water quality, writes Dr Alastair Pearson, one of our GIS analysts.

Methods of soil management include the introduction of cover crops to promote better nutrient balance and soil structure, improve weed control and biodiversity, and the reduction of erosion.

Hogsmill Community Newsletter

The Hogsmill Community Newsletter summarises the results of River Monitoring Initiative (RMI) sampling on the Hogsmill, together with other pollution monitoring and river-related activities and events.

The RMI is a national scheme for monitoring the health of rivers. Volunteers undertake regular surveys using a standard net sampling technique to count the number of certain “water quality sensitive” invertebrates.

An overall “score” is then calculated. A sharp fall or a drop below a “trigger” level could indicate pollution. This can then be reported to the Environment Agency (EA) to enable further investigation.

Action on sewage in rivers

Raw sewage is entering UK rivers on a horrifyingly regular basis, damaging our river ecosystems and putting public health at risk. In 2019 alone, untreated sewage poured into England’s rivers for an astounding 1.5 million hours, over the course of 200,000 separate incidents.

What’s really shocking is that, much of the time, this practice is completely legal.

Across the UK is a network of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). These are essentially Victorian-era relief valves on the sewage treatment infrastructure. If sewage piping, or even a sewage treatment works, is becoming overwhelmed with sewage and rainwater, it is diverted and discharged into a nearby watercourse instead of backing up into homes.

Water, water everywhere…or is it?

By 2050, the South East of England will need to find at least an additional one billion litres of water per day to meet demand in the region. That is about a fifth of the water used in the region today, and equivalent to the water use of seven million people per day.  Demand for water will exceed supply by 2030.

This is because of a combination of different factors. Some of it is because of the expected growth in population (even if personal water consumption is reduced). Some because water companies are trying to ensure that they have enough water available to continue supply even during more significant drought periods.

Finally, climate change will affect when water is available, and how much. Unsustainable abstractions need to be reduced in order to avoid our rivers and wetlands being damaged beyond repair.

Soil management for water resources – a can of worms?

Earthworms are probably not the first iconic species you think of in the context of river health. It’s easy to laugh at the notion that the wriggly pink strings that hide underneath your compost bin are a key part of a functioning hydrological system – and yet they, and the soil they live in, are.

Soil stores, purifies, retains and drains water – regulating its flow to groundwater bodies and rivers alike, and playing a key role in water quality by taking up nutrients or releasing sediment. Like any ecosystem, soil relies on a complex network of interactions between organisms of all sizes, as well as physical and chemical processes, and much more, but earthworms in particular tell us a lot about how our soil is functioning and in turn influence how it behaves.

Drain misconnections and our rivers

A guest blog written by Jennifer Connelly

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there are still an estimated 150,000 to 500,000 UK homes with misconnected drains. Dodgy pipework or old houses with out of date plumbing can cause wastewater to end up in our rivers and seas, creating serious problems for wildlife. So what are drain misconnections, what causes them and how do they affect our environment?