Construction to start on Chamber Mead Wetlands

Construction to start on Chamber Mead Wetlands

Work to create a major new series of wetlands at Chamber Mead is scheduled to begin on 29th August – pushed back from 21st August – and is planned to take approximately 10 weeks.

The project, developed over several years by the South East Rivers Trust (SERT), is designed to help improve water quality along a stretch of the Hogsmill River near Ewell. The project will also help a wider range of wildlife flourish in this part of the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve and improve the area as a place for people to enjoy.

Water quality in this section of the Hogsmill River is adversely affected by pollution from road runoff, foul sewage pipes incorrectly connected into surface water drains and discharges from the Epsom Storm Tanks.

Wetlands are a nature-based solution to improving water quality. Water that drains through them is gradually filtered by plants and captured in the soil, intercepting and treating pollution.

Chamber Mead wetlands design
The shaded area shows where the Green Lanes Stream will be blocked and diverted through the wetlands

Increased plants, pollinators and other wildlife connected to the wetlands will provide an attractive addition to this popular open space, as well as providing opportunities for outdoor education.

The new wetlands will intercept water from the Green Lanes Stream, before connecting the river channel back into the Hogsmill River, downstream of the famous Stepping Stones. This will safeguard 200 metres of chalk stream from pollution, reducing the risk to health and improving the area as a community amenity.

Further downstream, the wetlands will continue to provide benefits to the Hogsmill River, which is one of about only 200 chalk streams in the world.

Planning permission was granted last year by Epsom & Ewell Borough Council.

Supported by the Hogsmill Catchment Partnership, the project has received funding and support from The Coca-Cola Foundation, the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, the Rivers Trust, the Zoological Society of London and Thames Water.

It is part of the wider Replenish programme in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation and Rivers Trust which aims to “replenish” or restore millions of litres of water in this and other local catchments, in turn improving biodiversity.

Ed Byers, Senior Project Manager at SERT, said: “We are excited to be bringing the Chamber Mead wetlands to the Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve.

“The wetlands are much needed to improve the water quality of a precious chalk stream for wildlife and for the enjoyment of the public, who have shown great support for this project.

Chamber Mead parking suspension details August 2023
Chamber Mead parking suspension details during construction of the wetlands

“As well as reducing pollution, the plants chosen, such as brooklime, marsh marigold and purple loosestrife, will also act as a magnet for an abundance of wildlife and further improve this much-loved local space.”

Parking restrictions will be in place at two locations along the Green Lanes during the works, to allow site access for vehicles involved in the construction phase and to ensure public safety.

The work will also require a large number of lorry movements to remove excavated material from the site.

Full details of the Chamber Mead wetlands project can be found on our dedicated webpage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The answer to drought lies in working together to build back wetter

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.

Vineyard
Vineyards are among large-scale crop growing that requires huge amounts of water

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.

The National Drought Group’s leader Sir James Bevan, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, acknowledged the need for change on a massive scale:

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.

Precision irrigation for crops is required to ensure the best use of precious water resources

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.

Wetlands and scrapes
Wetlands and scrapes provide advantages to land owners

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.

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.

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.

SuDS not floods – pass it on!

The South East Rivers Trust has been working with Sutton Council to deliver a SuDS in Schools project in Carshalton. Delivering a sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) project has been a new and valuable experience for the Trust.

Timing could not have been better for this SuDS project.  Along with all the extreme weather events around the world that have been in the news, closer to home flash flooding has hit the headlines.  Not only does this demonstrate the urgent need to address surface water flooding, but it has brought the issue to the public’s attention.  It is the perfect chance to capitalise on the growing awareness of climate change and interest in environmental issues to get SuDS on the public agenda.

For more information on SuDS, click here.

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.

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