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Celebrating a transformation in river management


From source to sea, countryside to city – healthy rivers are essential. We need them to live, to work and to play. In England, we have some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world: from the upland lakes to lowland fens; small chalk streams to mightier rivers like the Severn, Trent and Thames.

I consider myself lucky to have been involved in the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), which brings together government, business and communities to work in partnership to restore rivers and wetlands. In fact, WWF was instrumental in making it happen and continues to be a proud supporter. Over the past few years I have seen what can be achieved through true collaboration and partnership working.

Volunteers in a bellboat clear rubbish from the river Soar, Leicester © Jiri Rezac 2015

Transformed river management

The CaBA has fundamentally transformed the way rivers in England and Wales are managed. When Defra first launched the initiative in 2011 it started with a few pilots. Now, there are 108 catchment partnerships and over 1500 organisations involved. From trialling new techniques such as sediment fingerprinting in the Soar to running a water festival in the Tamar to reconnect people to their local river, it has proven it has impact at the local level. However – it has gone further and amplified that impact to the national scale. Through our WaterLIFE project we established a new Catchment Based Approach Water Stewardship Service to support business engagement in catchment partnerships.

But the job is far from done. We have big issues to tackle– pollution from farms and sewers and over-abstraction – and these will be exacerbated by a growing population (our population will reach 70 million in the next few years) and a changing climate which will mostly likely bring longer dry spells with heavier, more intense rainfall. Luckily there’s a whole army of organisations, businesses and volunteers who want to make this happen. A case in point was the 150 people, include Water Minister Dr Therese Coffey MP, who met at WWF’s Living Planet Centre to celebrate CaBA’s achievements as well as ask the important question – what’s needed next?

The event proved to be very timely, as the Minister announced much needed funding for the Catchment Based Approach – £6.3million over the next year – so that it can continue to deliver excellent work which benefits people and nature.

Dr Therese Coffey MP and Tanya Steele, WWF CEO, at The Living Planet Centre © WWF-UKDr Therese Coffey MP and Tanya Steele, WWF CEO, at The Living Planet Centre © WWF-UK

A bold vision

The government has set out its bold vision – to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. This exciting ambition is urgently needed. The freshwater ecosystem is declining faster than any other on the planet. Only a fifth of rivers and wetlands in England and Wales are healthy. Rivers are acting as a sump for all of pollutants we put on the land; they are our canaries in the mine which is why water is so critical to the government’s vision for the 25 Year Plan for the Environment – which it has committed to during this Parliament.

But this plan needs to build on what we have already. We are lucky to have The Water Framework Directive, which is one of the most important pieces of legislation ever to have been passed – it requires our rivers and wetlands to be protected, enhanced and restored with the aim of every one functioning as a healthy ecosystem. A goal very few would argue against. The Government’s statutory River Basin Management Plans show how ensuring 75% of water bodies meet good status by 2027 would add a net value of £8bn to the UK economy. It makes economic and ecological sense to improve our rivers. And, given the current health of the water environment, it is essential that the UK stands firm to its commitments to ensure no deterioration and achieve good status by 2027.
And all of this must be underpinned by the Catchment Based Approach which has proven delivery at the local and national scale.

At the celebration event, we shared our Declaration, which sets out this vision for healthy rivers, fair water use and sustainable supply chains, and three principles – based on partnership, equity and collaboration – that are essential to delivering it. Please show your support and sign on.

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