Rivers Trust Autumn conference – ‘Can the Government’s 25-year environment plan save our rivers?’

Anissia Halwyn, Eco-geomorphologist, and Daryl Taylor, Senior Engineer, from our Exeter office attended The Rivers Trust Autumn Conference in Bristol recently. The aim of the conference was to discuss the question ‘Can the Government’s 25-year environment plan save our rivers’. The conference was fully booked, with over 160 delegates in attendance from the Environment Agency, Rivers Trusts, water companies and environmental consultancies.

Feargal Sharkey, former lead vocalist of The Undertones now fisheries chairman and environmental activist, powerfully kicked off the conference, delivering a motivational keynote address. He emphasised the desperate state of our chalk streams and rivers and highlighted the depressing fact that fifteen years after the adoption of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), we failed to achieve the objective of ‘Good Ecological Status’ for all rivers and lakes in England in 2015.

In fact, only 14% of rivers and lakes in England were recorded as ‘Good Ecological Status’, which was a shocking reduction in comparison with 25% of watercourses in 2009! Feargal sternly addressed the Environment Agency urging that they now use all their legislative might to restore our rivers.

“It is now time to put the river back into our rivers. It is now time to let our rivers flow and give them the basic tool and necessity they need so that nature itself can rewild, rekindle, revitalise those rivers – that basic ingredient is water” commented Feargal at the conference.

He went on to say, “It is now time that we recognise the precious, beautiful, wonderous, joyous, glamorous thing that is the 220-odd chalk streams we have temporarily been given guardianship of and that we now need to respect and support. But, to do all of that will take vision, ambition, determination and most of all leadership.”

Read Feargal’s recent interview with The Guardian – ‘Feargal Sharkey’s mission to save our chalk streams’

Opportunities and challenges in river restoration

A range of interesting talks discussed the opportunities and challenges in river restoration in light of the overall objective of the 25-year Plan – ‘to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited’.

Following on from Feargal’s talk, a need for partnership working was identified. Jack Spees from the Ribble Rivers Trust reasoned that this would “empower regulators to regulate and share the successes of the carrot and stick”.

Water quality was a big theme of the conference. David Diggens from Norfolk Rivers Trust talked about the problem of excess nitrogen and phosphorus in our watercourses and how Integrated Constructed Wetlands could work to improve water quality across the whole catchment, and also offer great ecological and community benefits.

Simon Evans of the Wye and Usk Foundation discussed the possibilities of improving problems like water quality by effective regulation, financial rewards for landowners and knowledge transfer of solutions and best practice.

Thames21 representative, Chris Coode, gave a talk on urban waterway issues:

  • Unnatural
  • Rubbish and waste
  • Borders and boundaries
  • Awareness
  • Nasties

Chris outlined how we can address these issues with a combination of policy (e.g. strategic data, evidence and information; valuing the benefits from Natural Capital and funding for action) and empowering the community (e.g. practical action, ‘community modellers’).

Natural Capital was the buzzword and was mentioned in most talks. This included:

  • The role of big business in river restoration (Alex Adam, The Rivers Trust) with a case study from Nestle (Andy Griffiths)
  • An overview of the Natural Environmental Valuation Online (NEVO), which is a web-tool for Natural Capital analysis, given by Prof Brett Day and Dr Nathan Owen from Exeter University.
  • The need for a Natural Capital approach within the 25-year plan, underlining what needs to be done in order for us to get the economic prize of thriving rivers and a prosperous environment for the next generation, given by Prof Dieter Helm from Oxford University.

Want to know more?

Email Anissia Halwyn for more information on how our technical experts in WFD, river engineering, ecology, fisheries and geomorphology can help you on future projects. You can also take a look at our catchment and river restoration web page.

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