Water White Paper published

Thursday 8th December 2011

Ramsden Reservoir. Image: Lisa BurgessRamsden Reservoir. Image: Lisa Burgess

A plan for the recovery of our wetlands, rivers and the wider natural environment must be put in place to help tackle England’s water crisis, according to The Wildlife Trusts, as the Government publishes its Water White Paper.

The Wildlife Trusts welcomes the commitment in Water for Life to a ‘catchment approach’ where landowners and key organisations work together on a large scale to protect and restore rivers and wetlands. The Government must hold firm to this, and ensure sufficient resources and support are provided with urgency.

The Wildlife Trusts are already seeing significant benefits to using the catchment approach. Both Devon and Cornwall Wildlife Trusts are partners in South West Water’s Upstream Thinking project, which is addressing water quality issues by working with landowners to change management practices. Benefits so far include reduced fertiliser costs for farmers, and record web counts of marsh fritillary butterflies.

Helen Perkins, Living Landscape Development Manager for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “It is encouraging to see Government re-affirm the value of catchment scale action, which has the potential to enhance entire ecosystems, in a cost-effective way. The commitment to link catchment projects with the new Nature Improvement Areas is also welcome.

“Taking a joined up approach is key: rivers don’t exist in isolation. Mountain, moorland, and upland heath provide 70% of the UK’s drinking water with 17 billion litres of water a day taken from ecosystems by public water demand. The benefits to investing in healthy, functioning ecosystems are clear. But we are still a long way from a totally integrated approach to protecting them. In fact, around 30% of the services they deliver are currently declining.*

“An overarching framework for restoration of the natural environment is needed: one which recognises the interdependencies of land and water management. The principles the Government has set out are sound but will they succeed without a bigger and well resourced plan for nature’s recovery?”

The Wildlife Trusts have concerns about the timescales mentioned in the White Paper, such as implementation of a new abstraction regime not due until the mid to late 2020s.

Helen continued: “Water shortages present immediate threats to wildlife. Low water levels from both abstraction and drought conditions can trigger serious declines in species such as water vole, and compromise the breeding success of fish species such as brown trout. The long timescales and the piecemeal way in which changes will be introduced is a concern.

"The Environment Agency says that in Suffolk more than 120% of long-term average rainfall will be needed every month from now until next spring to bring the rivers and groundwater levels back to normal. Action is needed now.”

Contact information:

Anna Guthrie (Media & PR Manager)
Office: 01636 670075
Mobile: 07887 754659
Email: aguthrie@wildlifetrusts.org

Tanya Perdikou (Media & Campaigns Officer)
Office: 01636 670057
Mobile: 07887 754657
Email: tperdikou@wildlifetrusts.org

Notes for editors:

*Figures from the National Ecosystem Assessment (2011)

Water For Life can be downloaded from Defra’s website.

Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs)
NIAs should contain all the components set out for an ecological network in the Making Space for Nature report (September 2010). They should enhance the ecological network by undertaking the following actions:
• Improving the management of existing wildlife sites
• Increasing the size of existing wildlife sites
• Increasing the number of wildlife sites
• Improving connectivity between sites
• Creating wildlife corridors

NIAs provide a key mechanism for restoring the natural environment across administrative boundaries to benefit people and wildlife. They could facilitate the local integration of a range of delivery mechanisms, policies and funding which affect the way land is used and managed. NIAs can help solve issues such as habitat fragmentation, water quality, flood risk management and species loss.

Case study: Devon Wildlife Trust’s Working Wetlands project

Working Wetlands represents the culmination of more than 20 years of conservation effort in an internationally important corner of the ecological landscape of Devon; the Culm. The term Culm grassland is used to describe the unimproved wet pasture scattered across the Culm measures.

Restoration of the Culm forms the basis for long term investment plans between South West Water and Devon Wildlife Trust. South West Water came to a recognition that restoring Culm grassland in river valleys is a crucial part of the upstream water-storing and cleaning process. Intensive farmland sheds water more rapidly, which exacerbates flooding downstream and in turn washes fertilisers into the water supply. These nutrients, chemicals and soils have to be removed from the water supply at the filtration stage – using chemicals, energy and expense. The objective is to reverse this situation by restoring Culm grasslands to store and gradually release water and improve water quality.

Devon Wildlife Trust provides a comprehensive advisory service to farmers within three priority areas and covering 65,000 hectares. As well as receiving support through Agri-environment schemes, Farmers involved with Devon's Working Wetlands project often have reduced fertilizer costs.

The benefits to wildlife of this approach are already showing. Web counts of marsh fritillary butterflies, which thrive in Culm grassland, reached record highs on Devon Wildlife Trust’s Volehouse Moor nature reserve in 2010.

Watch a film about the Working Wetlands Project on Youtube.


Living Landscape schemes

Search our directory of more than 100 Living Landscape schemes

Search our directory of more than 100 Living Landscape schemes around the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney.

Watch our Working Wetlands film


Meet the people and organisations involved in Devon Wildlife Trust's Working Wetlands scheme, restoring culm grassland across north Devon