WWF UK Blog  

3 ways we helped rivers with Coca-Cola


In my last blog I reflected on WWF’s efforts to clean up the Ganges – a mighty river with some fairly gigantic problems to solve. Issues like pollution, over abstraction and poor planning are well reported and easily visible. Perhaps less obvious is that UK rivers are facing the same kinds of problems.

Over the last three years we’ve been working locally with Coca-Cola to bring some business and partnership solutions to these threats. Less than a quarter of rivers in England are as healthy as they should be – that’s a sad fact for people, wildlife and businesses that rely upon them.

River Nar, Norfolk © Hugh MehtaRiver Nar, Norfolk © Hugh Mehta

It’s also sad for chalk streams, 200 or so unique river systems that are found almost exclusively in the southern half of Britain. To tackle this we set up a new project with Coca-Cola GB and Coca-Cola Enterprises at the start of 2012 to highlight the need for collective action from communities, the Government and other businesses to protect rivers. It’s tricky to distil the multiple actions and results from our activities, however here are the three big things that I think we did in three years:

Helped communities collaborate for rivers

We wanted to show what good community action for rivers looked like in chalk stream catchments linked to Coca-Cola operations. The Nar in Norfolk is an area where a lot of sugar beet – which ends up in Coca-Cola drinks –  is grown. Here we worked with the brilliant Norfolk Rivers Trust (NRT) who engaged farmers to improve agricultural practises over 2000 acres and reduce pollution that might otherwise have run off into the river. Coca-Cola has a goal to replenish the same amount of water as they use finished drinks beverages and production by 2020 – we calculated that thanks to our farming project the environment has benefitted from 286 million litres of improved water. If you’re interested in reading more about this kind of work, Kathy Hughes talks dirty about soil in her blog.

Alongside working with farmers we also enlisted the help of an army of volunteers to undertake river restoration across 3km of the Nar and 4kms of the Cray in South London that runs alongside Coca-Cola Enterprises’ Sidcup factory. Here our amazing partner North West Kent Countryside Partnership (NWKCP) led hundreds of people, including Coca-Cola staff, into the river to make them better places for people and nature. Check out this blog by Rebecca Kinge.

And it wasn’t just about undertaking work on the ground. If we’re to secure healthy flowing rivers we need to do a lot more planning and research. With help the NRT and NWKCP created catchment plans that explain the vital actions needed to restore their rivers. These were so good that we were able to use them to promote community catchment planning nationally through a series of activities. The Government must have been listening as it’s now set up a fund to support local catchment plans for every river in England. More recently we’ve been helping people respond to a consultation on future national plans for rivers through the Save our Waters initiative. The consultation runs until April 2015 and we feel it’s vital that community views are captured.

Coca-Cola and WWF staff helping out with river improvement work on the Cray © Hugh MehtaCoca-Cola and WWF staff helping out with river improvement work on the Cray © Hugh Mehta

Worked to see better laws for water

With support from Coca-Cola, we have been working to make sure the laws governing the water industry work harder to protect rivers. Arguably our greatest achievement was the work we did alongside other environmental and community groups to call for improvements to the Water Act of 2014, which now includes new legislation that should stop the damage caused by water companies taking too much water when the environment needs it most. Moreover Ofwat, the Government body that oversees the water industry, will have more duties to ensure that water is managed sustainably. Hopefully these laws will mean more water back in rivers  – Dominic Gogol explains our work on the Water Act more fully.

Communicated with Coca-Cola to inspire others

Over the course of the three years we collaborated to highlight water threats and our solutions. In talking to others Coca-Cola brought an excellent example of what a business can do both inside and outside the factory fence to manage water carefully. To spread our messages we hosted a number of activities including a Westminster roundtable and events at each of the three main party political conferences in 2013 which were snappily titled ‘Water Policy, Practice and Partnerships; are we flowing in the right direction?’.

To build on these, we jointly staged more intimate visits to our Nar and Cray projects to talk about a positive future for rivers with water influencers, including the Secretary of State for the Environment and other MP’s and businesses.

In addition to a healthy dollop of local and national press, we topped off three years of successful communications by launching the State of England’s Chalk Streams report and accompanying film in November 2014. Community groups, business and Government representatives attended to hear more about what we need to do to save these critically important rivers.

Quite a bit has happened in three years and of course there’s plenty more that doesn’t fit neatly into the three headings above. If I could have a 4th, I might selfishly add that the partnership has reconnected me to English rivers. They may be a little smaller than the Ganges, but the time I’ve spent on the Nar and the Cray has reminded me just how special our waterways at home can be (hopefully my amateur photos capture a little bit of this).

If you’re inspired to do a little more for rivers, then why not add your voice to Save our Waters.

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