Award-winning Upstream Thinking embarks on new programme

Posted: Thursday 5th November 2015

Upstream Thinking, South West Water's multi-award-winning catchment management scheme is getting to work on a new £11.8 million five year programme in 11 catchments across Devon and Cornwall.

Delivered through a partnership of South West Water, the Devon Wildlife Trust, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the Westcountry Rivers Trust and the Exmoor National Park Authority, the programme aims to improve natural water quality and quantity in the landscape.

Monica Read, South West Water's Business Services and Sustainability Director, said: "Hard engineering solutions, such as building new tanks and treatment works, have been at the forefront of environmental improvements in our industry. But that approach deals with the issue ‘at the end of the pipe’. Since we started Upstream Thinking in 2008 we’ve been taking a more sustainable approach, working with partners and nature to improve raw water quality at source. This keeps down costs for our customers and reduces our impact on the environment."

Programme partners are working with farmers and landowners to manage land in water sensitive ways. The target for the programme is 750 farms and have 1,300ha of moorland and other semi-natural land under revised management.

The main delivery partner organisations also work closely with a wide range of stakeholders including the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), the National Farmers Union and the local Catchment Partnerships.

Farm advisers visit farms and carry out an assessment resulting in a whole-farm plan. This includes a water management plan and includes future capital investment proposals, which will be up to 50% funded by Upstream Thinking. These can include improvements to slurry storage, fencing to keep livestock out of rivers, providing alternative water sources for livestock, better pesticide management including investment in new equipment, such as weed wipers which deliver targeted doses of herbicide.

Paul Cottington, Environment Adviser for the National Farmers Union in the South West, said: “Farmers across the South West are recognising that the land they farm provides multiple services for society, including clean water, and they are investing time and money in measures like these that will help protect water sources for the future.”

Work to block drainage ditches on Exmoor will also continue, with a target of restoring a further 500 hectares of peatland. Delivered by the Exmoor Mires Partnership, this part of the Upstream Thinking programme successfully investigated and restored over 2,000 hectares of land on Exmoor in 2010-15. Scientific research carried out on the moor by the University of Exeter has shown that restored bogs release a third less water during storms and 30% less dissolved organic carbon. Research by the Environment Agency indicates improvements in summer baseflows in the rivers.

Professor Richard Brazier of Exeter University said: “A landscape which stores water in the wet season and releases it more slowly in dry periods is more resilient to climatic variability and can help society to adapt to extreme weather.”

South West Water's Programme Manager Dr David Smith added: "Upstream Thinking saves water customers money, helps farmers to save money and provides better places for wildlife. South West Water is leading the water industry in finding natural ways to look after our water better.

"We are working together with our partners to put all our combined knowledge, expertise and available funding together to achieve these multiple benefits for people and the planet."

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