Volunteers test pollution levels on River Mole

Volunteers test pollution levels on River Mole

Volunteers are now collecting vital data about the health of the River Mole, after being given water quality testing kits as part of our Mending the Upper Mole project.

We are thrilled to have teamed up with River Mole River Watch, a local charity group which shares our aim to bring the river back to life for wildlife and people to enjoy.

Lewis briefs the volunteers on how to use the kits to test for pollution on the River Mole
Lewis briefs the volunteers on how to use the kits to test for pollution on the River Mole

Having picked up their kits this week, the citizen scientists will now be carrying out monthly tests for the next two years, to give us a baseline of pollutants. The volunteers will be measuring 10 aspects of river health, including levels of phosphate, ammonia, nitrate, conductivity, pH for acidity and temperature. All of this data is crucial to help us understand how to improve the river.

Lewis Campbell, SERT’s Catchment Manager in charge of the Mending the Upper Mole project, said: “It is fantastic to have a group of volunteers who want to get into the nitty gritty of looking after their local river by carrying out water quality tests to assess pollution levels. We know River Mole River Watch play an active part in caring for their stretch of river and it is brilliant to team up with them as they do so.

“The volunteers will be helping the Mending the Upper Mole project to assess the health of this section of river in a way that has not been done before. The results will allow us to highlight hotspots of pollution, helping the catchment partnership to implement strategies to  combat pollution and help the catchment thrive. We have already added gravels to the river at Maidenbower to help fish and we are working on a number of other projects to improve the waterway for wildlife.”

Simon Collins, one of the Trustees of River Mole River Watch, said: “Our fantastic River Mole River Watch volunteers have been collecting water quality test data across the whole catchment every month for a year. Partnering with SERT has been very helpful indeed and we are excited by the Mending the Upper Mole project as it focusses on water quality and pollution in the Upper Mole which is a particularly sensitive part of the river catchment area. More data will help to identify hot spots and areas we can work with SERT to improve.”

The River Mole catchment partnership is co-hosted between SERT and Surrey Wildlife Trust and the vision is set out on the river network’s Storymap website. The Water Framework Directive status for the water quality in the area being assessed is rated “poor”. The area being measured starts close to the source of the Stanford Brook and encompasses much of the Gatwick Stream.

So what are we measuring and why?

The water quality testing kits that will be used by volunteers
The water quality testing kits that will be used by volunteers

Self-contained testing kits will allow volunteers to monitor levels of chemicals such as phosphates and nitrates. High levels of both nutrients lead to algae growing in the water, depleting oxygen levels and obstructing light making the river unsuitable habitat for other wildlife. High phosphate readings would indicate pollution has likely occurred from untreated sewage – or domestic, misconnected plumbing that bypasses sewage treatment works and goes straight into rivers form surface water drains, known as outfalls.

Another chemical tested for will be ammonia, high levels of which would suggest pollution is coming from either sewage or agriculture. Conductivity measurements will also be taken to identify the presence of salts and heavy metals, indicators of road run-off washed into the river. A temperature reading will also be taken and higher readings are likely to be an indication of spillages from outfalls.

 

Volunteers with their kits
Volunteers from River Mole River Watch receive water quality testing kits to test for pollution

New Chamber Mead wetlands brings fresh hope for Hogsmill  

The South East Rivers Trust (SERT) has completed the construction of a 2,000m2 pollution filter which will bring major benefits to the Hogsmill chalk stream.

When planting takes place in the spring, the newly constructed Chamber Mead wetland will protect and improve 5km of river downstream, filtering pollutants and becoming a haven for wildlife. 

Chamber Mead wetlands during construction
The wetlands took shape during several months of construction

The project has been carried out in partnership with Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, which owns and manages the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve, a popular greenspace which will now benefit from this new community asset. 

The wetland is a crucial project for the Hogsmill, which suffers adversely from pollution such as urban road runoff, raw sewage discharges and misconnected plumbing that sends drain water directly into the river.  

Water from the Green Lanes Stream has been diverted through a sediment trap and two wetlands. Filtered, cleaner water is then reconnected to the Hogsmill downstream of the famous Stepping Stones. 

News about the wetland’s completion comes in the week of World Wetlands Day, on Friday 2nd February. 

Dr Bella Davies, Co-CEO of SERT, said: “We are delighted that the construction phase of this important wetlands project has now been completed. It is destined to become a jewel in the crown of the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve. The public has shown great enthusiasm for this project, and we will soon be calling on volunteers and community groups to add the plants that will really make the wetlands flourish as a magnet for wildlife. The water quality improvements that will result from the wetlands are designed to help the river become a healthier place for all, especially wildlife that thrive in a chalk stream, such as brown trout.” 

Councillor John Beckett, Chair of the Environment Committee at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, said: “The council is committed to protecting and enhancing biodiversity in our borough, as per our Biodiversity Action Plan 2020-30.  This partnership project with the South East Rivers Trust will help to ensure that the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve is a place where nature can thrive; from woodpeckers, hedgehogs and bats – to species whose numbers have dwindled such as water voles, fish and eels. We know our residents cherish this Local Nature Reserve and I hope that many can join the community planting days, which are a unique opportunity to be part of this fantastic project.” 

Michele Cooper, Environment Agency Catchment Coordinator, added: “In partnership with local communities, the Environment Agency is investing millions in chalk stream restoration projects across the country to foster more sustainable abstraction, tackle pollution from agriculture and the sewage system, and restore more natural processes.

“Chalk streams are precious habitats, havens for wildlife and highly valued by local communities and visitors alike. Together with our partners, we also continue to work hard to protect and enhance wetland habitats to benefit people and nature. Their future depends on collective action and this partnership project is therefore a much needed and welcome step towards addressing the many pressures these rare watercourses face.”

Part of the 2000m2 wetlands at Chamber Mead
The construction of the 2000m2 wetlands at Chamber Mead has been completed

SERT is now preparing a series of community planting days, to take place in the Spring. These will give residents the chance to plant the vegetation to help the wetlands counter pollutants.  

Schools, community groups and residents will be given opportunities to install plants that have been specifically selected to filter pollution, trap sediments and attract a variety of wildlife. Plants selected include yellow flag iris, ragged robin, purple loosestrife and brooklime.  

In time, SERT will also offer guided walks and outdoor education sessions for school children. A nature trail is planned for families to interact with the wetlands as they develop, alongside information boards which will detail the reasons why the wetlands were needed and the types of wildlife that should be attracted. 

The construction was carried out with Five Rivers environmental specialists.

Supported by the Hogsmill Catchment Partnership, the project has received funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, Natural England (through the Species Recovery Programme), the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, the Rivers Trust, the Zoological Society of London, Garfield Weston Foundation and Thames Water, with in-kind support from the landowner Epsom & Ewell Borough Council. The new wetlands are part of the wider Replenish programme in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Rivers Trust. The aim of Replenish is to restore millions of litres of water in this and other local catchments, in turn improving biodiversity. 

 

The Chamber Mead wetland
The Chamber Mead wetland will become a ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve

New online tool highlights nature-based solutions to tackle road runoff

A new online tool has been launched this week to help tackle road runoff pollution in London’s rivers by highlighting the best places to install nature-based solutions such as wetlands.

The development of the first-of-its-kind tool by Thames21 builds on years of research by the environmental charity and its partners Middlesex University and the South East Rivers Trust, which contributed with mapping, scoping and reporting.

Pollution from our roads adds to a number of problems for our rivers coming from sewer overflows, litter and misconnected drains. However it is often the Cinderella of pollution topics, because it receives far less public attention than sewage or agricultural causes.

Research from the Rivers Trust shows that the UK’s 1,600 rivers are affected by a cocktail of chemicals that are speeding up aquatic nature-loss, affecting insects, birds and mammals.

Road runoff goes straight to rivers
Road runoff goes straight to rivers

Road runoff can contain residue from oil spills, as well as tyre and brake wear from vehicles. These build up during dry weather and are then washed into rivers and streams when it rains.

The new tool will help decision makers prioritise the right water quality improvements:

  • in greenspaces that lie between the road and the river
  • at road locations in Outer London where surface water drains to the rivers; and
  • on London’s main strategic road network (includes Transport for London’s roads and some sections of National Highways’ and local authority roads)

Thames21 started its initial road runoff project identifying key polluting roads in 2019, with funding from the Mayor of London, Transport for London, and the Environment Agency. The British Geological Survey built the online decision support tool ‘Road Pollution Solutions’ and provided some additional support through the UKRI NERC-funded CAMELLIA project.

The South East Rivers Trust contributed research on sites in South London, including Surbiton, using its GIS mapping technology and catchment-based approach, identifying places where solutions such as wetlands could be built to counter the pollutants. By providing a natural barrier and filter using nature-based solutions, some of this road runoff pollution can be captured and prevented from entering rivers in the first place.

Users of the tool can search different boroughs, pinpoint particular areas and see just how polluting they are. This will help to prioritise where solutions could be put in place as mitigation. The tool shows the location of rivers, sewage outfalls and areas that drain into waterways.

Online road runoff tool example
An example of how the road runoff solutions user guide works

Modelling has shown that 2,415 road sections covering a total of 451.43km of London’s roads assessed pose a high risk of causing road runoff and are therefore a priority. Roads where heavy goods vehicles regularly apply their brakes are often the worst affected.

Community groups can also easily see pollution hotspots and help to suggest solutions by working for example with the authorities or through catchment partnerships.

The tool – which extends to all outer London boroughs – allows uses to access data by boroughs or river catchment and includes the Wandle, Beverley Brook, Hogsmill, Upper Darent, Lower Cray and Upper Cray.

Working in partnership, authorities responsible for these roads could intervene by providing nature-based solutions in these areas to help make runoff cleaner, and improve water quality in local rivers and watercourses.

Find out how the tool works by reading the user guide.

Three actions to take after watching Swimming in Sewage

At the start of October, the South East Rivers Trust appeared on Channel 5’s documentary about sewage in our rivers. The programme demonstrated the extent of the problem nationwide, quoting swimmers and environmental campaigners. Below is a snippet of our involvement in highlighting the issues – and three actions you can take.

A combined sewer overflow
Dr Chris Gardner shows Michaela Strachan a combined sewer overflow © TurquoiseTV

“The soft sediment underneath – I think you can imagine what it’s made up of,” remarked Dr Chris Gardner to TV presenter Michaela Strachan during Swimming in Sewage: Britain’s Water Scandal.

Our Head of Science and Partnerships was describing what lies at the bottom of the River Hogsmill right next to a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), an  mechanism that sends raw sewage into rivers during heavy rainfall.

Aired on October 4, the documentary highlighted the effects of sewage being regularly pumped into our rivers, up and down the country. Rivers that were once clean to swim in are now full of what we flush down the loo, causing health issues for those unaware that raw sewage is being sent into them regularly, from these CSOs.

These pipes were designed to stop sewage backing up into homes during heavy rainfall, when sewage treatment works could not cope with the amount of waste and excess rainfall coming from urbanised environments. These single pipes combine waste water from our homes and businesses and surface water. They are supposed to be in operation sparingly. Last year, 15,000 CSOs across the country spilled water into our rivers for 2.5 million hours, the programme reported.

Chris Gardner and Michaela Strachan on the Hogsmill, for the Channel 5 Documentary Swimming in Sewage. Turquoise TV
Chris Gardner and Michaela Strachan on the Hogsmill, for the Channel 5 Documentary Swimming in Sewage. © Turquoise TV

Chris had given Michaela a tour of a clean looking section of the Hogsmill. One of only 210 chalk streams in the world, its clear water – filtered through springs – provides a superb environment for aquatic life.

But as Chris took the presenter to the confluence of where the river meets the Green Lane stream on the River Hogsmill, the colour of the water suddenly became much more murky. The cameras showed dirt and sediment on the riverbed.

Dressed in waders, the pair moved to the site of a CSO, where Chris pointed to clear signs of it sending sewage into the river very recently – most likely the night before when it had rained.

Investment needed

Michaela, recoiling at the thought of raw sewage in this rare chalk stream which should be rich in minerals, asked what could be done?

Chris replied: “We need to invest in the sewage works infrastructure. For the past few decades we haven’t had the investment to keep up with the population growth. We also have climate change and more intense rainfalls.”

Many of the sewers have been around since Victorian times, so Michaela also wanted to know if it was possible to upgrade them?

“There certainly is a technical challenge,” replied Chris, “but we put people on the moon with [what is now] the computer power of a pocket calculator 50 years ago so, surely, we can upgrade our sewage works to the standards required.”

Our Chamber Mead wetlands project, which began in late August, is very close to where the filming took place. The wetlands will help to divert water from road run-off and urbanised pollution away from the Hogsmill. It will divert the Green Lanes stream – as seen in the documentary – into a series of new wetlands and project 200 metres of this chalk stream.

But what can you do to help protect rivers from sewage and pollution?

First, you can demand action from your Water Company. The programme’s airing could not have been more timely, coming just after water companies submitted their business plans for 2025-30 to Ofwat. Our recent blog looks at these plans and urges you to sign up to your water company’s online session, where you can question them about the details. These take place before the end of November. Are their timetables for addressing this urgent problem of sewage fast enough? How will they upgrade infrastructure? What nature-based solutions in urban areas are they planning to combat water, combined with sewage, rushing into our rivers all at once during heavy rainfall?

Second, you can sign the Rivers Trust’s Nature2030 campaign, asking all political parties to make five nature pledges in their manifestos ahead of a General Election, which many expect to take place next year. This asks that the “polluter pays” and for a Natural Nature Service, to protect our environment.

Third, you can back the Rivers Trust’s call to end the #ChemicalCocktail polluting all our rivers. This letter to the Government asks for several protections to be included for rivers in the Chemical Strategy.

Going down the drain in the name of plastic research

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

Drain guards trial
Opening a drain guard to see what litter has been captured

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

Potential for scaling up drain guards
Monitoring took place regularly during the nine-month trial

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

Litter in a drain guard
Cigarette butts were the most common find when emptying drain guards during our trial

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?

Hannah before opening a drain guard
Hannah before opening a drain guard

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.

Keeping water in the landscape through PROWATER

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.

River flows droughts Beult
River flows on the Beult at Stilebridge, at the bottom of the catchment, for five historic droughts and the year 2022. Some of the lowest flows ever were in 2022 (black line).

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
  • 24 farmers

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.

Streetend Wood
The restored headwater wetland at Streetend Wood, Moat Farm pictured in November 2022

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.

Prowater Beult infographic
The resilience of water supply in the Beult catchment and beyond is affected by a number of factors, including the presence and condition of habitats like wetlands across the catchment.

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.

Watch our video of work at Moat Farm 

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.

Streetend Wood montage
The timeline showing work at Streetend Wood, Moat Farm

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.

Map of nature protecting the Beult
A map showing the contribution that natural habitats across the catchment make to protecting water quality in the Beult. Ⓒ South East Rivers Trust

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.

Beult catchment
A vision of the Upper Beult catchment as we’d like to see it – a meandering river with functioning floodplains full of a mosaic of wet grassland and wetland habitats, wet woodlands in headwater catchments, thriving farms with hedgerows, ponds and healthy soils protected by vegetation all year round.

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.

Prowater workshop
Workshops helped bring together different water companies, regulators, conservation organisations and landowners.

In the Beult, we are now building on our work in PROWATER through a Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund as well as a partnership with Southern Water and the Upper Beult Farmer Cluster, funded through Southern Water’s Environmental Improvement Fund.

The future: Co-designing landscape-scale schemes

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.

Have your say on sewage spills

The South East Rivers Trust is calling on its supporters to respond to the Government’s consultation on sewage spills – and ask for more urgency to tackle the issue.

The Government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan survey was launched on 31st March, with a deadline to respond by 12th May.

We’ve put together this short news piece to support you in understanding the issue and how your response to the consultation could help instigate the change we need.

Nature based solutions to man-made problems

There is no doubt that we are going through a massive and positive paradigm shift. It is finally hitting home that human activities thoroughly depend on the health of the natural environment and the sustainability of the many services it provides. The natural environment has rapidly moved from the periphery to the very centre of conversations, with action on fundamental issues from our own well-being to agriculture and the economy.

Humans are an increasingly urban species, although a major consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is how we have come to realise the importance on being in contact with Nature, and how Nature can provide us with many solutions to the problems we create.

One of those problems is road runoff.  Most of us are highly dependent upon cars or other vehicles and the massive road network carved into our catchments, to get us or the goods we buy from one place to another.

 

First rain garden complete

The weather could not have been better for our planting day at Sutton Council’s Denmark Road Offices, writes Charlene Duncan. This planting day was organised to enable staff members to contribute to the new rain garden. Thanks to the hard work of everyone who came out, the rain garden is now complete!

Nearly 30 members of staff volunteered their time to transform the area in front of the building. It was a great chance for staff to meet people from other departments and to socialise with colleagues.  Staff members gave what time they could, from 20 minutes to more than three hours!  Every contribution was greatly appreciated.

This rain garden is part of our SuDS in Sutton’s Schools project.  It demonstrates sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) to the schools involved in the project and the wider community. SuDS are measures that divert water from the drains to reduce flood risk and improve the quality of water flowing into our rivers.

By waiting until the autumn to plant up the rain garden, we have increased the new plants’ chances of survival.  Planting during this summer’s drought would have meant the plants required a lot of watering.  While a bit of watering is still necessary for the newly planted garden, once established, the water from the offices’ downpipes will be all that is needed.

So, a massive thank you to all volunteers who gave up their time.  And, an extra thank you for those of you who could not give your time but offered moral support and encouragement on the day.  The garden is looking lovely and it’s all down to you.

Now all we need is some rain.

Watch our timelapse video of the rain garden being constructed