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Wildlife is good for business

Last modified: 03 September 2014

Dunlin with summer plumage in grass

Image: Chris Gomersall

The West Country’s water industry bosses are among a wide range of business leaders attending a major national conference today in London today to hear Sir David Attenborough and Deputy PM Nick Clegg speak about how making space for wildlife is good for business.

The “Conference for Nature” is organised by the State of Nature Partnership, a coalition of wildlife NGOs including RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife. 

It follows on from the much publicised publication of the State of Nature report [Note 1] in May last year, and focuses on some of the innovative potential solutions to reversing the declines in species that at the same time can benefit businesses.

In the West Country one particularly innovative approach that has brought business, local authorities, landowners, farmers  and wildlife groups together is Upstream Thinking.  This is South West Water's flagship programme of environmental improvements aimed at improving water quality in river catchments in order to reduce water treatment costs. It is one of the first programmes in the UK to look at all the issues which can influence water quality and quantity across entire catchments.

Upstream Thinking is currently being implemented in all the key river catchments in the West Country region: the Exe, the Tamar, the Fowey, the River Otter and in West Penwith.

Monica Read, Director of Customer Relations and Business Development for South West Water, said: “Upstream Thinking is a new approach for the water industry, which has traditionally relied on ‘end of pipe’ solutions to ensure top quality tap water for our customers. By looking at the catchment as a whole, and the factors affecting raw water quality, we can benefit both our customers and the environment at the same time. This is a long-term approach, but we are already seeing some very positive results for the environment and water quality after just five years. And it’s making good business sense.”

Tony Richardson, Regional Director, RSPB South West, said; “Projects like this are win-win. Firstly, catchment wide work is benefitting nature – we know for instance on Dartmoor that birds such as dunlin are increasing in number due to the restoration work being done. Secondly, as it progresses, it will also benefit people. Following last winters floods we need to look at all means to slow water as it flows through a catchment at times of heavy rain. One way to do this is to simply restore the uplands’ ability to absorb and hold water for longer through appropriate restoration of degraded peat, and release it more slowly into the rivers and streams.”

Upstream Thinking Project Example: Exmoor Mires Project

The focus of the Exmoor Mires Project is to block drainage ditches using sustainable methods, local materials and local contractors in order to 're-wet' the bog, enabling it to retain water and carbon. During periods of heavy rainfall, re-wetted peat bogs slow down the run-off of water from land before steadily releasing it. This increased water storage has the effect of reducing the fluctuation of river flows, making flooding less likely, reducing soil erosion and the amount of silt entering rivers.

David Smith, Exmoor Mires Project Manager, said: “With this work we’re improving water quality, helping to store carbon and water, and improving the diversity of plants and wildlife on Exmoor, so it’s delivering multiple benefits for everyone.”

David Leach, from Somerset Wildlife Trust, said: “The Exmoor Mires project shows how restoring natural wetlands can provide wins all round, including for business. South West Water and its customers benefit through cleaner water and reduced costs. Meanwhile Exmoor’s tourism industry benefits from a healthy landscape. The mire’s peat soils retain the carbon they store, contributing to the South West’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The restored wetland also slows water on its journey to the sea, contributing to flood risk reduction for homes and businesses. Last but not least residents and visitors alike can enjoy the wildlife that thrives as a result of restoration.”

Upstream Thinking Project Example: Working Wetlands, Devon Culm Grasslands

Through the Working Wetlands project, the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) is helping to reverse Culm decline by encouraging and supporting landowners to carry out targeted habitat management, creation and restoration projects. Working closely with the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area, DWT have built close working relationships with over 400 landowners since 2008. Working with the farming community in this way DWT hopes they achieve better connected areas of Culm grassland and ensure that the wildlife species associated with Culm can move more freely across the landscape.

Susan Warren, Director of Development & Policy, Devon Wildlife Trust, said; "It's great to be working with a utility company who recognise, value and support the vital role of the nature on their doorstep in delivering their business.  By restoring and recreating Devon's Culm grassland we are increasing the ability of the landscape to soak up rainfall, reducing downstream flooding during heavy rainfall, and releasing more water during periods of drought.  Independent research by the University of Exeter shows that by continuing to restore Culm across the South West, we could increase the amount of water stored in the landscape by over 750%.  And through storing water on the land, Culm acts as a natural filter, which means better water quality and less need for expensive treatment procedures."

Upstream Thinking Project Example: Wild Penwith

Wild Penwith is working with farmers and local people to ensure healthy and well managed wildlife habitats, streams and rivers across West Penwith to help create a landscape that enables both wildlife and people to prosper.

Liz Cox, Wild Penwith Project Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust said; “Wild Penwith has carried out more than 450 farm visits to over 70 farms in the past five years, advising landowners on wildlife, soil and water management. The project offers landowners free wildlife surveys, soil tests and support in applying to agri-environment schemes and our Wild Penwith capital grant, as well as use of our Wild Penwith Volunteers group to help with practical conservation work. Engaging with farmers in this way has enabled us to develop good relationships with the local agricultural community which is vital to the long term sustainable enhancement and protection of watercourses, water quality and wildlife habitats in west Penwith.”

Upstream Thinking Project example: Dartmoor Mires Project

The Dartmoor Mires Project is a pilot partnership scheme to explore the feasibility of restoring degraded blanket bog on Dartmoor. Project partners include SWW, NE, EA, the Duchy of Cornwall, Dartmoor Commoners Council and Forest of Dartmoor Commoners Association, with the project co-ordinated by Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA). Programmes of practical restoration take place in late summer or autumn each year. The focus of restoration is on the edge of the blanket bog where there is active erosion and aims to   protect the remaining intact blanket bog and  promote the regeneration of moorland bog vegetation. If successful,  this work will bring various benefits including restoration of a globally important habitat (and its associated species such as the dunlin) and improved water quality which benefits all river life including species such as the salmon.   There is a full monitoring programme including hydro monitoring, archaeological and ecological surveys to assess the impact of restoration.

Alison Kohler, Director of Conservation and Communities, DNPA said: ‘The Dartmoor Mires Project partners have been excited to see such a rapid and dramatic response by our small number of Dunlin that represent the most southerly breeding population of this bird in the world.  An increase of 40% in the number of breeding pairs from 15 to 21 over the past 4 years has been recorded, with all the increases occurring at the 3 Mires Project restoration sites. It is also hoped that the pools created by the restoration will have provided abundant feeding sources for the birds to feed their young, leading to improved productivity and a more stable population.’   

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