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The Ecosystem Approach & Rivers Trusts

A Case Study – Arlin Rickard

The Westcountry Rivers Trust

The Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) is an environmental charitable trust established in 1994/5 to conserve, maintain and improve the natural beauty and ecological integrity of rivers, streams and wetlands. WRT regards appropriate land management and the restoration of sympathetic flow regimes of clean water as central to the recovery of bio-diversity. The Trust works both as a leader and facilitator in the South West of England to effect change through the development and delivery of catchment action.

In pursuit of its objectives and through a successful and enduring partnership formed with Royal Holloway Institute for Environmental Research (RHIER) the Trust adopted the “Ecosystem Approach” at an early stage in its development and works towards sustainable, community based holistic initiatives, leading to river rehabilitation and restoration at a catchment scale.

In partnership with the RHIER and others the Westcountry Rivers Trust has initiated and led a number of different projects and programmes including three major catchment based projects in the region utilizing EU structural Funds under Objective 5B and more recently Objective 1. These are Tamar 2000 SUPPORT Project, Westcountry Rivers Project (Phase I) both part funded by the E.U. and MAFF under Objective 5b and most recently the Cornwall Rivers Project part funded by the E U and DEFRA (in progress). To date the these projects have involved working closely with over 1000 farmers and landowners and the production of economic led Integrated River Basin Resource Management Plans for each farm or land unit covering in excess of 50,000 hectares.

These projects focus on the gaining active support of stakeholders and achieving a “critical mass” in each sub catchment or catchment. Plans are worked up between project advisors and the farmer or landowner and offer practical win-win solutions to achieving environmental improvement alongside direct and indirect economic and social gains.

In summary the combined physical outputs of two of the recently completed Rivers Trust catchment projects are described in the following list.

The outputs from the Tamar 2000 Project and the Westcountry Rivers Project:

• 1000+ farmers & landowners visited and given advice
• Integrated River Basin Resource Management Plans written covering 50,000 ha
• 100 km + vulnerable riverbank fenced
• 260+ km main river corridor surveyed with improvement actions implemented
• 16 wetlands restored/improved;
• 32 km + ditches prioritised for re-vegetation /rotationally cleared
• 200+ sites of accelerated erosion controlled
• 11 “Best Practice” demonstration sites developed
• 80+ salmonid spawning fords improved
• 200+ sites of habitat improvement e.g. coppicing;
• 75+ buffer zones created……………..

The Trust’s current major project, the Cornwall Rivers Project, when complete will involve a similar number of farmers again and effectively double the above outputs.

These are only the targeted physical outputs upon which the Trust’s projects have been audited, and are designed to be used in calculating immediate progress and the direct economic benefit to the local and wider community. The projects are, by virtue of their European Structural Funding source, economically driven and as such are monitored for their contribution to local economies. All the advice given within the projects is targeted and administered on a precautionary basis and reliant on their cost effective nature together with the goodwill and level of awareness raised amongst land managers for longer term sustainability.

Most of the direct economic benefit comes to the particular landowner implementing the advice within the first year. This is, on average, £2,300 per farm, per year and mostly results from advice regarding the optimising of farm inputs, water separation and leak reduction, improved stock health and diversification which may include direct angling and tourism revenues.

WRT and Ecosystem Approach

The Ecosystem Approach has provided an invaluable template which the Trust has applied to each project with considerable success. It has served as an important tool in determining project scale, the targeting of effort, gaining engagement of stakeholders, empowering communities and most importantly to ensure a successful self sustaining exit strategy.

Comments on the effectiveness and application of the Twelve Principles of the Ecosystem Approach in relation to WRT projects

1. Objectives are a matter of societal choice
Although this may seem obvious it has proven to be a key point where many projects fail. WRT projects rely on being closely in touch with “grass roots” concerns and aspirations, on raising funds and on engaging stakeholders on a voluntary basis to bring about change. The Trust has no regulatory powers so a project has to carry along the people involved with it. Usually this will come down to individuals and communities identifying “enlightened self interest” It necessitates the science behind each project is subject to public scrutiny and that the project raises awareness. Of course, societal choice particularly when expressed as part of the political system or democratic process may well be “wrong” and “require re-focusing” but there is always scope for “change” within any system. Working at grass roots level often allows new approaches to be tested and successful working examples will often then become incorporated into mainstream policy

2. Management should be undertaken at the lowest appropriate level
This is an effective point and leads to the engagement and empowerment of the people who actually own and manage the land or resource or are contributing to their community in other ways. Projects have benefited from being non prescriptive

3. Consider the effects on adjacent/other ecosystems
The catchment approach adopted by the Rivers Trust has proven the importance of this point many times

4. Understand and manage ecosystems in an economic context
The Rivers Trust has found the economic factors are the principle drivers leading change and the key to achieving adjustment and working toward sustainability

5. Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning is a priority
Two good examples of this demonstrated in WRT projects include drainage of wetlands and reduced soil infiltration rates as a result of intensive land use practices negatively affecting catchment function

6. Manage within limits of functioning
Agriculture pushes this principle to the limit and breakdowns indicate a failure to respect this

7. Use appropriate spatial and temporal scales
The Trust generally uses catchment, sub catchment, farm and field. Temporal scales are vital in farming terms including time of year of farming operations and life cycles of species e.g. salmon

8. Objectives for Ecosystem Management should be long term
Land management is a long term issue – unfortunately governments plan short term

9. Management must recognise that change is inevitable
The need to accept, adapt and plan for this point was brought out many times during WRT projects e.g. FMD, house price spiral, increased demand for recreation and falling farm gate prices

10. Keep an appropriate balance between integration of conservation use and use of biological diversity
This has been a more contentious issue, balance being the key word. In short most organisations and government agri–environment policy has been species or habitat driven in the region. Fragmentation and failure has occurred when ecological and environmental service provision has been ignored

11. Consider all relevant information
Holistic is an overused word but the WRT has found pursuing the water cycle as a driver and pathfinder and then considering all adverse impacts has been successful and practical

12. Involve all relevant sectors of society and science
Culminating in continually evolving “Best Practice” approach with joined up thinking put into joined up action

Additions & omissions

Think globally act locally
The need for a shared vision

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