The Water and Land Stewardship Team at the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) is working directly with Thanet Earth, the largest food grower using a glasshouse in the UK, to support them on a pathway to greater water resilience.
Thanet Earth estimates that it produces about 400 million tomatoes, 30 million cucumbers and 24 million peppers every year. To meet its water needs, the company pumps in groundwater and collects rainwater and condensation from the glasshouses (imagine a greenhouse on an industrial size). However, this is becoming increasingly unsustainable as the company grows and climate change bites.
The drought of summer 2022 was a wake-up call for many commercial food growers, who already faced unprecedented challenges in a time of environmental uncertainty and burgeoning economic constraints.
Extreme changes in seasonal weather patterns, water availability and rising prices for materials, fuel and other goods are just some of the factors affecting the sector as never before. At the same time, measures for food security and environmental sustainability must work hand in hand for the benefit of all.
Kent-based growers already work in an area that is classed as water-stressed, a designation that applies to all of the south east of England. In times of prolonged extreme heat and little to no rainfall such as 2022, restrictions can be applied to protect the environment and ensure that there is enough water for all.
Water is the foundation upon which horticulture businesses are built. The issue of water is particularly relevant for crops that grow under glass or plastic (protected crops), since sufficient quantities of good quality water must be used during the growing season.
Over the next year, SERT’s Water and Land Stewardship team will be investigating options to increase the water supply resilience of the Thanet Earth site. This includes measures to collect, store, abstract and share water, within the context of sustainable water management in the region.
The SERT team will help identify funding options to support the implementation of measures and facilitate contact with key stakeholders and practitioners. These include the local water company, other water abstractors and government agencies. We’ll also help navigate the changes to legislation for water abstraction resulting from the 25 Year Environment Plan and the implementation of the Environment Act 2021.
Water supply of crops at is carefully managed at Thanet Earth
Pleun van Malkenhorst, Managing Director of Rainbow UK (Thanet Earth), said: “As one of the largest local business water users, we are very aware of our responsibility to do so sustainably. By working directly with The Water and Land Stewardship Team at the South East Rivers Trust this will help us to continually improve the way we utilise water on site.”
Dr Samantha Jane Hughes, Senior Water and Land Stewardship Officer at SERT leading on the project, said: “We are really looking forward to working with Thanet Earth over the coming year on how to improve water resilience for a business that is already highly innovative when it comes to alternative sources of water such as rainwater and even condensation harvesting.
“The challenges for this sector are real and we will have to think out of the box and consult with different specialists in order to build a resilient pathway that supports the business, helps to ensure food security and does not impact the environment.”
The HWH project supports food and drink businesses through the Courtauld Commitment 2030 Water Roadmap, a voluntary commitment that supermarkets, food brands and the businesses that supply them sign up to protect critical water resources for food production, nature and local communities.
The key target of the C2030 roadmap is that 50% of the UK’s fresh food is sourced from areas with sustainable water management.
The HWH project works across the sector to identify site-specific measures to improve water self-sufficiency of growers and to reduce impacts caused by excess water runoff through nature-based solutions.
Would you like us to visit your farm and develop a free plan on using water? Contact us by clicking on this link.
River lovers are being urged to sign an open letter calling on all political parties to adopt a five-point plan for wildlife in their manifestos for the next General Election, likely to take place in 2024.
The Rivers Trust movement has joined an 80-strong coalition of partners to support the Nature 2030 Campaign. It is led by the Wildlife and Countryside Link and supported by celebrities including television personalities Steve Backshall and Chris Packham.
Research shows that the UK has become one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with more than one in seven native wildlife species facing extinction.
The campaign outlines that in 2022 sewage was discharged for more than 2.4 million hours across England, Scotland and Wales, accounting for more than 389,000 sewage spills. Commitments were set in 2021 to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, but there’s a long way to go to meet these targets. With only seven years to go, just 3% of land and 4% of sea have this protection. We need stronger environmental leadership and the Nature 2030 campaign demands it.
Thousands of people have already signed the letter, which was launched at Westminster in July.
As one of the largest regional rivers trusts, the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) is urging supporters to back the campaign, which has five key asks for political parties:
Double the wildlife-friendly farming budget to £6bn for ambitious farm improvements and large-scale nature restoration
Make polluters pay for nature restoration by requiring big businesses to deliver environmental improvement plans and funding to counter damage
Create green jobs on a large scale, including setting up a National Nature Service delivering wide-scale habitat restoration
Increase protection and funding for wildlife sites by creating a Public Nature Estate to fulfil the promise to protect 30% of the land and sea for nature by 2030
Set up a new law guaranteeing a right to a healthy environment, establishing a human right to clean air and water plus access to nature, plus building nature into decision making
Hester Liakos, co-CEO of SERT, said: “Rivers are at the heart of the battle to restore nature. Our work with local communities, farmers and landowners demonstrates the positive difference that nature based solutions and natural flood management can make in improving the health and biodiversity of rivers. But to make this difference on the scale that nature truly needs requires more funding and greater commitment and leadership from Government – so we’re asking our supporters to sign this open letter to demand action from all political leaders.”
Tessa Wardley, Director of Communications and Advocacy at the Rivers Trust, said: “The public are rightfully outraged by the state of our rivers and we need political parties to make firm commitments towards their recovery, which are then backed up by action. Delivering the Nature 2030 policies would significantly improve the health of our rivers, which are absolutely core to tackling the biodiversity, climate and wellbeing crises we face as a nation and planet.”
One day in spring, in the middle of the woods of deepest darkest Kent, the South East Rivers Trust led a ‘safari’ to discover the value of nature-based solutions in increasing the resilience of our catchments and communities.
During the past few years, the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) has been developing a series of nature-based solutions for water with landowners in the Upper Beult Farm Cluster in Kent. Nature-based solutions for water (NbS for water) are features that hold back water in the landscape, slowing it down and filtering it so that water resources are replenished and flooding and pollution is reduced. These NbS include leaky woody dams, offline ponds and pasture management.
Explorers from a range of organisations navigated woods, wetlands and farmland to spot and learn about these NbS, covering four farms of the Upper Beult farm cluster.
So what was the purpose of this ‘NbS Safari’?
Firstly, it was to demonstrate how these solutions can underpin water resources provision, as well as achieve nature recovery and other social and environmental benefits.
Secondly, we wanted our guests to imagine what benefits could be achieved if these NbS could be “scaled up”, such as across the whole of the River Medway catchment, of which the Beult is just one part.
Finally, we were keen to spark thought and discussion among our guests about potential partnerships and support that could facilitate this ambition.
The 30-strong party of intrepid NbS explorers were led by Kathi Bauer, SERT’s Senior Natural Capital Officer – and the list of organisations represented was a long one. It included staff from Southern Water, which has supported the development of the NbS with the Upper Beult farming cluster.
Others interested to find out more came from SES Water, the Upper Medway Internal Drainage Board, Water Resources South East, Kent County Council, Kent Wildlife Trust, Waitrose, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), the Marden farming cluster, the Forestry Commission and Swale Borough Council.
The safari showcased work that we had initiated through our Interreg2Seas PROWATER project, and further work we have continued with Southern Water’s support. These efforts were the culmination of several years’ work. As we outlined earlier this year, the PROWATER project alone has helped retain more than 60 million litres of water (enough to fill 24 Olympic sized swimming pools) annually.
Kathi explained how we had worked closely with farmers and landowners. She outlined how we had used our expertise to identify, develop and implement appropriate NbS to regulate the flow of water at appropriate locations in the upper catchment of the Beult.
What types of nature-based solutions were explored?
Leaky woody dams were a key solution spotted on the safari: by placing branches and logs across channels and land where water is known to flow, water is held back and “spills” from the channels to create a small wetland. The result is that instead of heavy rainfall running straight off the land, its movement is more gradual. This means its contribution to the flow of the River Beult (an important source for water supply) is spread across many more months of the year.
Holding water in the landscape in this way also means creating richer and more diverse habitat, attracting vegetation, invertebrates and birds that feed on them.
Offline ponds – separated from the river network – were also part of the safari. Offline ponds can be created in natural depressions in the land where water is directed using leaky woody dams. By retaining water, they supplement the Beult’s summer flows and also boost plant and invertebrate biodiversity.
Pasture Management – the benefits of mob grazing were also outlined as part of the safari. If cattle feed on small sections of their grazing land one piece at a time, grass and other vegetation is able to recover and establish. Water soaks into the soil better, with benefits including slowing the run-off of rainwater and pasture that is more resilient to drought.
Together, these nature-based solutions are managing the landscape for water and helping to address water scarcity in the south east, while also providing a range of additional benefits including natural habitat improvements. These solutions are therefore key to reversing the declining trend in biodiversity. According to the Natural History Museum, the world has already gone through the “safe limit for humanity” of biodiversity loss. The UK, its analysis says, has an average of only 53% of its biodiversity left and is in the bottom 10% of countries globally – and last among the G7 countries.
Multiple nature-based solutions all add up, which is central to the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) principal of managing landscapes as a whole, rather than as separate sections of river or land in isolation.
This is central to our thinking at SERT and something with which those on this NbS Safari agreed: we need to make more of this happen.
For more information and to get in touch about developing nature-based solutions in the landscape, contact Cat Moncrieff, our Head of Water and Land Stewardship. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone, on 0845 092 0110.
As part of our Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) project, the South East Rivers Trust carried out a trial by putting guards under drains in public streets, to collect and assess the types of litter that are ending up in rivers. Hannah Dry, our Plastics Project Officer, reports.
Trialing new ways to prevent plastic pollution
Our work over the past three years for the Preventing Plastic Pollution project has involved many cleanups and litter categorising events, education sessions and workshops and setting up a River Guardians scheme.
These were to make the public aware of the problems caused by plastic in rivers and oceans and to help communities think about how they might reduce their reliance on single-use items, which accounts for 50% of the of the plastic that reaches oceans via rivers.
Another principal aim of PPP, however, was to investigate and trial innovative ways to prevent plastic reaching rivers in the first place.
One way in which we did this on the River Medway, our section of the 18-partner PPP project, was to trial the use of drain guards on public streets. What goes down these public drains goes straight into the river. The idea was to capture litter, to see what types were common and to examine the scheme’s potential – if scaled up – to preventing litter reaching rivers.
We worked in partnership with Kent County Council to put in six drain guards around Maidstone town centre, installing them for a nine-month trial.
The problem with drains
Drainage pipe networks are complex. Ownership is fragmented between different organisations such as local authorities, water companies, internal drainage boards, highways authorities, businesses and private individuals. These bodies only maintain the drain, but the responsibility of preventing pollution sits with no one.
What we do know is that rainwater drainage systems are a source of pollution directly into rivers – and a lot of this pollution is plastic. Once in the river, it is difficult to remove, resulting in immense damage to the environment, organisms and affecting water quality – and finally ending in marine ecosystems.
Last June, we installed drain guards to capture the debris, not just to prevent it reaching the river network but giving us the chance to see what types of litter were common.
The guards – which were nicknamed witches’ hats because of their triangular shape – are made from a geotextile material and designed to sit beneath a drain grill to act as a filter, catching plastic litter and debris that are washed in through runoff.
Monitoring these drain guards every few months, we found that we had to fit new models in three of the drains after four months because of issues with cigarette burn holes. Emptying and categorisation of the litter occurred at every monitoring session throughout the trial. The purpose of the trial was to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of the drain guards in preventing litter getting into the drainage network and to assess their potential to provide a long-term solution for stopping plastic pollution from point source discharge outlets into the Medway.
What we found
There is no doubt that plastic litter falls into our drainage networks from roads and pedestrian walkways. Plastic was found in every drain guard during every monitoring session. Over the course of the trial, the guards caught and removed more than 774 items.
The locations to trial the drain guards were chosen based on the footfall and on their proximity to amenities such as bar and pubs. That was exactly where we found the highest volume of litter, the biggest number of cigarette butts and bits of rubbish that can be directly linked to the consumer – such as lemon slices, plastic straws, and beer bottle lids.
This gave us the chance to assess the influence of amenities with the volume of litter in the drain as well as giving an opportunity to engage with passers by on site and to use the information later on to engage directly with pub/bar goers and owners.
The most frequent litter type, by far, was cigarette butts (423). Their filters are made from a chemical compound – usually cellulose acetate, a type of synthetic fibre. It takes years to break down.
The next most common item that we found were unidentifiable plastic items (172). These were too small to be categorised or too degraded, having been out in the environment too long. The strangest things we found were half a toothbrush handle and metal magnetic balls.
We also found 74 pieces of used chewing gum. It is common for chewing gum to contain plastic polymers such as polyvinyl acetate, which gives chewing gum its elasticity. Again, this means it will take a very long time to break down.
The items we found in the guards varied drastically between locations. Bottle tops, cigarette butts, straws and were all found in the guards outside pubs, whereas the guards placed on the high street next to shops typically collected items such as receipts and sweet wrappers.
Is there potential for scaling up?
The theory behind installing drain guards is sound – stopping pollutants before they become an issue for river ecosystems. However, the wider use of drain guards still, arguably, addresses the symptom rather than the cause of plastic pollution.
Consistent categorisation of litter during every emptying of drain guards is unrealistic, as it is time consuming and requires multiple people. Therefore, it is likely they would only be used to prevent plastic debris from entering river catchments. Yet this is still a very valuable function and something that we as a society must consider if we are to have any effect on the amount of plastic entering our rivers.
The complex nature of drain ownership and tailoring the size and shape to different sized drains, to ensure litter is collected more reliably, are also challenges that would need to be overcome.
And then there was the glamour factor…
This trial was not a glamorous one. A lot of the time was spent inspecting drains and counting very degraded and contaminated piece of litter that many people would find very disgusting. Not to mention the smell of the drains! Imagine sewers.
Yet it is necessary. Only by counting and categorising what we find down these drains can we then begin to understand the type and scale of the items and begin to think of ways to prevent it getting there in the first place.
There is too much plastic flowing into our rivers. Once it finds its way into a river, it is very difficult to remove. We need all stakeholders to take responsibility for the drainage networks and monitor and stop what is falling into them.
This trial provided data about what is entering the drainage network and how this differs between locations. It has tested different technologies to address this issue and highlighted areas where it could be feasible long term.
On World Water Day, Dr Sam Hughes highlights our Holistic Water for Horticulture project, working with growers to make the most of every drop of water in the face of a changing climate which is likely to bring more droughts.
Last summer’s brutal drought was a stark indication that we are entering a “new normal” of hotter summers, milder wet winters and more frequent extreme weather events, from dry spells to intense rainfall.
Climate change is real. Temperatures reached 40C for the first time in England last year. The south and east of England had the driest July on record. Rivers ran low. Wildlife, people and businesses all suffered.
The message for tackling the climate crisis from the Rivers Trust at the time was clear. We need: a faster, more coordinated government response to extreme weather impacts; investment in water infrastructure to reduce leakage; clear support and guidance on measures to reduce household consumption; and the need to build back wetter.
“For the coming year and… for the coming decade, a complete gear change is needed for how water companies and all water users, from farmers to households, think about how they use water and understand its fundamental value.”
A wet winter, comprising five consecutive months of above average rainfall, might have lulled some into a sense of security in the short term. However, the driest February for 30 years has been a rude awakening to 2023, bringing the possibility of another period of drought for a horticulture sector in crisis, in a region of the country already classed as water stressed.
Working for water resilience, food security and environment
Water is the foundation of the horticulture sector and this is keenly felt in the drier, more crowded catchments of the South East, where lots of water is needed for a long time by a lot of farms.
High value protected edible crops (soft fruit, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers to name a few) require precision irrigation over a long growing season. Out in the open, newly planted fruit orchards should be irrigated to allow young trees to establish, thrive and produce crops to support and expand business.
During the 2022 drought, a lot of growers scaled back crop areas, which ultimately affects consumers through limited availability. Many supplemented irrigation with mains water, an expensive commodity that further eroded shrinking profit margins already squeezed by inflation, labour shortages, higher labour costs and inflexible supply contracts.
Is it any surprise that these circumstances have resulted in contraction across all UK food production sectors?
Innocuous terms like “scale back” and “contraction” belie the extreme hardship being felt by businesses across the sector, especially smaller ones. The vulnerability of domestic food security has been laid bare, set against a landscape of highly altered sourcing catchments unable to cope with climate change impacts. Without acting collectively in order to drive change to lessen such impacts, businesses, supply chains, communities and the natural environment will ultimately fail.
The Courtauld 2030 Water Roadmap was launched by WRAP, the Rivers Trust and the World Wildlife Fund to meet “the challenges we face in protecting critical water resources for food supply, for nature, and for local communities” in key sourcing catchments across the UK and abroad.
The Roadmap target is for 50% of the UK’s fresh food to be sourced from areas with sustainable water management by 2030.
The South East Rivers Trust (SERT) is keenly aware of the pressures the region’s horticulture sector faces to balance water resilience, food security and environmental needs while staying in business, through our work with the Holistic Water for Horticulture project (HWH), a Courtauld 2030 Water Roadmap project. This promotes a collective approach to water and land stewardship.
The answer to being able to respond to the impact of dry spells lies in how we capture, retain and use water from our wet periods.
The pathway to water resilience is clear:
we need to build back better and wetter
it is better to work together and proactively to reap bigger water resilience benefits
Helping landowners avoid drought
HWH uses remote data to map and identify areas of present and future water risk in the South East. This high level approach is vital for targeting engagement in high risk areas, to raise awareness of the challenges that growers and neighbouring landowners might face if droughts became a “business as usual” scenario.
HWH staff make site visits to discuss water challenges and potential site-tailored solutions that can, in some cases, bring multiple benefits.
Winter and high flows from rivers and rainfall from rooftops and polytunnels should be captured and stored for irrigation. Currently, rainwater from buildings and polytunnels can be harvested without a water abstraction licence, reducing dependence on expensive mains and diversifying water resources that support business resilience and growth.
Still a relatively new concept, water trading and sharing between water abstractors across a given area will result in a more dynamic water management landscape.
Nature-based solutions such as wetlands, scrapes, planting native flowers, shrubs and trees in areas that are prone to flooding can provide alternative sources of income (carbon credits, biodiversity net gain, stewardship schemes) to growers alongside cropping areas.
These measures benefit both nature and neighbours by slowing the flow from extreme rainfall events, mitigating flood and reducing soil erosion and damage to property.
Elsewhere across SERT’s work, we work to retain water in the landscape through projects such as PROWATER, one of 10 pilots supported by the Interreg 2 Seas European Regional Development Fund.
Working together instead of in isolation to address the many challenges that face the sector packs more of a punch. Farm clusters, producer organisations, cooperatives and abstractor groups can be powerful lobbies that share information and drive change across the sector.
These are the motors of change – for water resource management and large-scale delivery of measures, such as Landscape Recovery projects through Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), that benefit growers.
By joining forces with environmental experts at SERT through projects like HWH and PROWATER, these powerful groups can identify, develop and deliver solutions and make connections with different water users and stakeholders across the catchment prepared to invest in measures and innovation that benefit them too.
Are you a farmer or grower who would like advice on water resilience and management issues? Fill in our request form to book a visit from our experts.
As our PROWATER project comes to an end, Kathi Bauer, our Senior Natural Capital Officer, reports on the importance of working together using nature-based solutions to retain water in the landscape, protecting rivers and communities from the effects of climate change.
The results of our work, carried out over the past four years, will help retain 24 Olympic sized swimming pools worth of water in the catchment each year – and that’s just on a small section of the landscape.
Water scarcity is an issue we need to address now
Back in 2018, when PROWATER first started, a summer drought was putting pressure on water resources and nature. Then, we thought this was a timely reminder of how vulnerable our freshwater systems are to climate change and the need to address this challenge for people and wildlife.
Little did we know that, four years later, we would experience the driest July in England since 1935, with temperatures reaching 40°C for the first time. Almost the entire country had hosepipe bans imposed. Many rivers recorded the lowest flows ever seen – and it was even reported that the source of the Thames dried up.
PROWATER – Protecting and Restoring Raw Water Sources Through Actions at the Landscape Scale – set out to demonstrate how nature-based solutions (NbS) can replenish water resources at a catchment scale. These NbS included wetland restoration and changes to rural land management.
In the four years since the project started, the South East Rivers Trust has worked with:
three water companies
It has delivered:
2 headwater wetland restoration sites
16 hectares of improved soil management
supported 8.4 ha of chalk grassland and heathland restoration
Together, these measures will help retain more than 60 million litres of water (enough to fill 24 Olympic sized swimming pools) in the catchments every year through slower release to the river and improved recharge to the groundwater aquifers.
The 2022 drought proved a valuable stress test for these measures, but also brought home the crucial importance of scaling up our efforts to restore catchments in order to protect rivers, wildlife, and our own need for water.
Finding the right solutions for our catchments
As with any restoration effort, a key question was how this work could be funded. Public funding – mainly through agri-environment schemes – was set to change after Brexit, while private markets were only just starting to investigate how natural capital should sit alongside their regular balance sheets.
We worked in partnership with others to develop an evidenced base and demonstration site in the following areas
Friston Forest, part of the Eastbourne Chalk aquifer in the Cuckmere catchment and a focus area for project partner South East Water where chalk grassland and chalk heathland were restored
The Little Stour, where we supported Kent County Council and the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership to improve soil health of farms. By doing this, we enhanced water replenishment of the chalk aquifer that feeds this chalk stream. This work included using cover and companion crops and an innovative rotational grazing trial on a stud farm.
We in particular focused on the River Beult, a tributary of the Medway, which feeds an important abstraction point supplying Bewl Water. This in turn provides water to large areas of Kent. The River Beult is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – the only riverine SSSI in Kent – but is heavily degraded because of historic modifications, including drainage and dredging. Less than 5% of its area remains as wetland habitat – an important natural feature that would have been historically much more common.
Working together to demonstrate how nature-based solutions can be delivered
Using mapping methods developed in PROWATER, we were able to target locations of potential headwater wetland areas, which, once restored, would help the river hold on to water for longer over the course of a year. Kent Wildlife Trust’s Upper Beult Farm Cluster officer helped us contact relevant landowners, leading us to visit Moat Farm, in the headwaters of the catchment, and Pullen Barn Farm, at the start of the High Halden tributary to the Upper Beult. On Pullen Barn Farm, we worked with owner Hugh Richards to trial introducing more species-rich pastures in his livestock system, as reported on a previous blog.
Moat Farm proved to be the perfect demonstration site for a new approach to restoration, focusing on process-based interventions with natural materials from the site. Landowners Mike and Jan Bax were crucial enablers, sharing our vision for the site: to demonstrate how wetland and stream restoration could look in the Upper Beult and make it a viable option for farmers and landowners.
The multi-year nature of the project allowed us to understand the opportunities on the site and build a strong relationship with Mike and Jan, and also the wider farmer cluster, facilitated by the welcoming partnership approach Kent Wildlife Trust took.
At Streetend Wood, one of two wetland restoration sites on Moat Farm, work started in February 2021. We took down some trees, before bird nesting season, to use as material for delivery of the main works in July. In November 2021, the site started wetting up before entering a long, dry period. However, throughout the drought, vegetation stayed lush and some standing water was present until September 2022, providing refuge for wildlife.
From demonstration site to catchment-scale restoration
While we are really proud of what we have delivered here, we know it is nowhere near enough. Our catchment-focused natural capital mapping, building on the WaterSystem Maps developed by the University of Antwerp, has helped us identify 5,000 ha of potential wetland habitats in headwaters and along the stream network in the Beult alone. If we really want to make a difference to our rivers, then we urgently need to grab hold of these opportunities.
So, how do we make this happen?
The answer, really, is simple: money. Most landowners will not be willing to engage with environmental schemes that have a detrimental impact on their business. While there are a number of positive, valuable options available under existing and new stewardship schemes that support farming with nature, we must go further than cover crops and two metre buffer strips.
We want to deliver on the vision of the Beult that we built over the course of the last few years and create a wetter, wilder and more diverse landscape where the river has space to thrive. We are also helping communities by slowing release of water into the river, from which water supply for the area is abstracted.
This comes with uncertainty, long-term land use change and unknown costs and activities that need to be built into schemes. We know that public funding can’t deliver on ambitions like this fully. The Green Finance Institute’s Finance Gap for Nature Report estimated that in order to deliver on the targets set by government, for example, we have a gap of £8bn funding committed to reach clean water-related targets alone.
Pilots show value for further funding
Our PROWATER Test & Trial, a sub-project of PROWATER delivered as part of Defra’s work to investigate how future government funded agri-environment schemes can support landscape-scale nature recovery, looked at how we could set payment rates that worked for farmers, and combine private funding (such as from water companies) with public money.
One barrier is the way that water company funding is regulated and its five-year cycle, among other issues. On a regional scale, for example, very few nature-based and catchment options have made it into the regional water resource plan. This is partly because of how difficult it is to model and quantify the cost-benefits of NbS on water supply.
Key to unlocking this will be piloting schemes at a larger scale and developing a shared ambition and understanding of drivers and barriers within the water industry. Then, using these schemes to develop new approaches to assessing, valuing, and integrating nature-based and catchment options into water company business plans.
Building on the work at Moat Farm, we are working with nearby landowners to co-develop a plan to restore and protect 18ha of riparian and headwater wetlands along 2.5km of the Upper Beult.
Further afield, across other catchments in the south east, we are using the mapping developed as part of PROWATER to understand the natural assets in the catchment, how they contribute to resilient water supply, and where opportunities are for restoration. Developing this with water company partners (Southern Water and Affinity Water), we are building a shared evidence base of these habitat features and why they are important to protect. This will help us – and them – make decisions about how and where to invest funding and to understand the scale of investment needed and impact possible.
A crucial component is developing payment schemes for landowners that reflect the benefit they are providing to the water company and enable us to deliver value for money to both. There are a lot of challenges, but the most exciting and promising part of this project is that everyone involved sees the opportunity it offers and treats it as a way of learning how we can make this work – together.
PROWATER was funded through the European Regional Development Fund, with additional support from Southern Water, South East Water, Kent County Council, Defra and the Patsy Wood Trust.
Every five years, water companies in England are required to produce a Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP), which outlines how they intend to meet the expected water demands not just in the next five years but over the next 50 in their respective service areas.
These plans take into account increasing population, climate change and growing risks of drought – while also protecting and enhancing the local environment.
An important part of the WRMP plans is customer feedback on topics which concern them most. They are currently in draft form and out for public consultation.
The South East Rivers Trust has launched a new scheme to encourage groups to protect rivers from plastic, by cutting their reliance on single-use items. It is called the Community Action Plan and is part of our Preventing Plastic Pollution project. Below, Hannah Dry, our Plastics Project Officer, outlines the concept and how you can get involved.
The South East Rivers Trust has launched a Chalk Streams Review, to ensure that all rivers and streams which qualify across our catchments are identified and mapped. Dr Chris Gardner, our Head of Science and Partnerships, sets out the plan and how the public can help.
Residents living close to the Medway and its tributaries are being called on to take action against plastic pollution by joining a new River Guardians Team with the South East Rivers Trust (SERT).
The waterways charity, which is providing free River Guardian kits, is asking people to adopt their local stretch of river and carry out regular litter picks alongside the banks to keep the water plastic free.
Equipment includes a litter picker, hoop, gloves and first bag, as well as information on how to report other issues affecting the river such as 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.
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).
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.
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.
We have finally been able to install some of our baseline monitoring equipment, which we are using at one of our pilot sites for the PROWATER project!
PROWATER is a partnership project that the South East Rivers Trust is delivering locally with Kent County Council and South East Water. The project will investigate the opportunities for ecosystem-based adaptation to water scarcity and climate change.
As water is a scarce resource in South East England, we are interested in understanding the impact of different habitats and land management options on the availability of water. A lot of our public water supply in the South East comes from groundwater stored in underground reservoirs, also known as aquifers. These aquifers are normally recharged by winter rainfall. The quantity and quality of water recharged is highly influenced by how the land on top of the groundwater body is managed. PROWATER aims to understand how to quantify the benefits from those different management options, and how to reward those managing the landscape, like farmers and foresters, for making choices that protect those water resources.
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.