Landscape-scale approach for river restoration

Monday 3rd June 2013

New plans to protect and restore our rivers will be launched by Environment Minister Richard Benyon on the River Mimram in Welwyn today (Mon 3 June).

The launch takes place at Welwyn Hatfield Council’s Singlers Marsh Local Nature Reserve, where work is being carried out by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and Friends of the River Mimram to improve the ecology of the river.

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Government will promote a more holistic approach to protecting and restoring rivers and streams in England by planning and delivering actions across whole river catchments.

We will build on our existing work to restore rivers and work in partnership with local communities and agencies to play our part

During a piloting of the ‘Catchment Based Approach’ last year, voluntary organisations including The Wildlife Trusts, worked closely with the Environment Agency, local landowners, water companies, local government and others, to develop plans and actions aimed at bringing rivers back into good ecological health.

Only 27% of rivers in England currently meet the standards set under the European Water Framework Directive for ‘good ecological status’ and The Wildlife Trusts now urge the Government to acknowledge the scale of the task by clearly setting out the role it will play in developing truly integrated catchment management.

Helen Perkins, The Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscape Development Manager, said: 

"We very much welcome confirmation that the Government will extend the catchment-based approach to more river systems in England.

“We will build on our existing work to restore rivers and work in partnership with local communities and agencies to play our part. But we need the Government to clearly set out its role in this partnership. We must see a swift end to damaging practices, such as unsustainable abstractions from rivers. The Government must enforce existing legislation so that the ‘pollutor pays’.

“We also expect Government to make an ongoing financial commitment to support the restoration of our freshwater ecosystems. Bringing rivers and streams into good health and restoring natural ecological processes to river catchments will help protect people and wildlife from the impacts of drought and flooding, ensure that we have access to clean drinking water and realise the true value of rivers and wetlands to our natural heritage and national and local economies.”

The Wildlife Trusts also appeal for Government departments and agencies to work better together in order to achieve a more integrated and cost effective approach to water.

Helen Perkins continues:

“Government still considers water issues in a fragmented way, separating out plans and actions relating to water quality from those dealing with water quantity. In addition, the Water Framework Directive is not properly aligned with biodiversity and flood risk management strategies. We now have an opportunity to put that right and refocus all actions and issues relating to water around the catchment geography.”

Environment Minister Richard Benyon’s visit to the River Mimram in Welwyn today recognises the work already achieved by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and partners on the Rivers Beane and Mimram, where the new ‘Catchment Based Approach’ has been piloted successfully. The development of the Beane and Mimram Catchment Management Plan has been part of a nationwide scheme driven by Defra and the Environment Agency, with the aim of helping all our rivers reach ‘Good Ecological Status’ by 2027.

Charlie Bell, Hertfordshire Living Rivers Officer at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, said:

“We are particularly pleased that Defra has chosen to launch the Catchment Based Approach here in Hertfordshire and is showcasing the work we’ve been doing on the Mimram and the Beane. Plans to restore our rivers have been written before, but this new approach involves a wider range of organisations, including local river groups like the Friends of the Mimram and the River Beane Restoration Association. We’ve also chosen to develop a dynamic, web-based plan, rather than a paper document. Without local, coordinated action on the ground like this our rivers will continue to suffer from pollution, modification and over-abstraction.”

Both the River Beane and the River Mimram are ‘over-abstracted’ – the water that supplies the rivers is pumped away by water companies for public consumption and with a growing population in Hertfordshire, demand is increasing all the time.

Jane Durney, Chief Executive at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, said:

“Our river restoration projects are gathering plenty of momentum, but a major barrier to our rivers reaching good ecological status in Hertfordshire is the lack of water in them. For parts of the year large sections of our chalk streams, which are precious habitats of global importance, are dry. Nearly 70% of the water we drink in Hertfordshire is sourced from groundwater, which also feeds our chalk streams. If we take too much of this water, our rivers dry up. With water consumption well above the national average, our county is seriously water stressed. We are determined that these iconic habitats and their wildlife should be protected, but only coordinated action with partners – and high level political support – will make it happen.”

Debbie Jones, Environment Manager at the Environment Agency, said:

“We are delighted to be part of this joined-up approach to restore our rivers. Some excellent work has been carried out on the Mimram and the Beane already, and we would like to thank all partners, organisations and volunteers involved for the great work that has been done so far. Schemes like this are vital to help tackle low flows and pollution on our rivers but everyone has a part to play in this. Local people can help their rivers by being careful about their water usage and by installing water meters. Then we can continue to work with water companies and communities to reduce the impact of abstraction on our chalk streams.”

David Cheek from Friends of the Mimram said:

“Involving local interested groups to help develop a management plan for their local river is a great idea - because, as locals, we are interested in making it happen. Seven different local groups as well as landowners have made an input to the Mimram plan. Already improvement projects have been started, and some even completed. Everyone can see the improvements. And the plan is dynamic so we can continue to add projects to improve these rare chalk streams. Friends of the Mimram are very pleased to be part of this programme and having the minister launch the national roll-out from the Mimram is a great testament to the work achieved already.”

Notes to Editors

Beane and Mimram Catchment Partnership
The Beane and Mimram Catchment Partnership fits within The Lea Catchment (TLC) Nature Improvement Area which sets out strategic objectives and specific projects to improve the ecological status of the catchment, covering over 40,000 hectares. www.beaneandmimrampartnership.org.uk

Improvements at Singlers Marsh Local Nature Reserve
The projects at Singlers Marsh have been financed by Natural England through the Lea Catchment Nature Improvement Area Fund (Natural England) and have been completed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, in partnership with Friends of the Mimram and Welwyn Hatfield Council.

The River Mimram
Its historic source is to the north of the village of Whitwell. From here it flows south, passing the villages of Codicote, Welwyn, Digswell, Tewin and Hertingfordbury, before joining the River Lea in Hertford. The river still supports a commercial watercress industry.

The Mimram has been described as ‘the jewel in Hertfordshire’s countryside’. Over-abstraction means that water levels in the river are significantly lower than they should be. This has adversely affected the river itself, and the wildlife that depends on it. Despite these problems, the Mimram retains some fine stretches but much is degraded, unable to support biodiversity normally associated with chalk rivers. It is a noted fly fishing river, and is one of the few rivers in Hertfordshire that still supports populations of water vole.

The River Beane
The Beane rises north of Cromer and flows south, through Walkern and Watton at Stone, before joining the River Lea in Hertford. However, in reality, the source of the Beane is now the Stevenage Brook, with the river dry for much of its course north of this.  The Beane is classified as ‘over-abstracted’ by the Environment Agency. The demand for water will only increase as our population continues to grow. In addition, climate change could see river flows reduced by as much as 80% by 2050 (WWF). Unsustainable abstraction must be tackled urgently.

Affinity are responsible for providing public water supplies in the area. Thames Water are responsible for dealing with the sewage and waste water. The main abstraction license on the River Beane is for Whitehall pumping station. The license allows 30 million litres per day to be pumped away.

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Tagged with: Living Landscapes