Rivers trusts have been described as having “wet feet” because they have the reputation of being “doers”, concentrating much of their effort on practical catchment, river and fishery improvement works on the ground. In the history of almost every trust there has been a key trigger leading to their formation. As one might expect, the most common is a growing awareness of the wider environment or concern over the decline of certain key indicator species. In some cases following a pollution event where a successful claim has been made, a decision to form a new trust or similar body is often seen as a most appropriate and effective way forward in order to begin the restoration of the river.
Most rivers trusts start out as riparian, fishing or river associations by combining the use of best available science and data drawn from the Environment Agency etc. and their own resources, usually an energetic band of volunteers from angling clubs and riparian owners in each catchment or river basin. A river association covering the whole catchment provides an excellent means to identify problems and campaign for improvements. Typically though, having identified the problems, a separate and independent organisation with local knowledge and “wet feet” is required to implement solutions and deliver improvements on the ground.
Why a rivers trust?
A rivers trust is an independent organisation working for the public benefit. It is readily able to form partnerships without impeding the important campaigning benefit of angling and other interest groups. It can justifiably expect to gain charitable status, which confers several important benefits not always available to public bodies or vested interest groups. Of vital importance is the public benefit, which can easily be demonstrated for larger catchments or groups of catchments, but may need greater consideration for smaller rivers and catchments where a few riparian interests may be perceived as deriving disproportionate benefits. Here angling clubs with wide public membership can be extremely helpful. Typically, a trust starts with a Board of trustees overseeing and freely offering their time and a wealth of knowledge, covering important aspects of the trust’s activity, including legal, business and accounting, fisheries, agriculture, tourism and education. As the trust develops, the demands on time become more onerous and, funds permitting, the Board will usually take the major step of appointing a small team of professionals, often beginning with a scientist or educationalist. This dedicated team will work very closely with the wider local community, including river owners and land managers, which is the path to success, healthy growth and sustainability.
Benefits of a rivers trust
The main benefits of a rivers trust with charitable status are broadly:
It enables the rivers trust to display its charitable credentials, and not for commercial gain, so helping it to become a credible organisation worthy of attracting funds. Indeed many funding streams are limited to, or directed towards, charitable organisations.
Charities are well placed to attract public funding grants. Further, private contributions to charitable organisations can be used as matched funding to lever down extra funding through grant aid, which can significantly add to the total amounts available to undertake environmental improvements. On a simple 50% matched funding basis, every £1 in grant couples with £1 from other sources to double the amount to be spent on the project.
It is exempt from income/corporation tax, and can therefore make full use of its income.
To be able to take advantage of tax concessions on donations made under Gift Aid. Additionally, donors do not generally pay inheritance tax on legacies or capital gains tax on assets donated to the charity.
Rivers trust funding
Core funding for rivers trusts, like many charities, is a difficult issue and often there is insufficient riparian owner or angling wherewithal to sustain the work of trusts. As a result, rivers trusts generally need to apply for public funding to enable projects to be pursued and are becoming increasingly adept at matching the needs of the river with that of funding parameters. Although this leads to some compromise, it creates a spirit of partnership and desire to find sustainable environmental solutions to societal problems.
Of the trusts established so far, where eligible, many have successfully applied for European Union structural funds such as Interreg and Objectives One, Two and 5b or lottery funds. These grant sources, which often require matched funding and involve complex bidding procedures, have allowed many trusts to deliver major programs of physical works and practical, river improvements often in partnership with the Environment Agency, Natural England or the Countryside Council for Wales. From a government fund-holders position, partnerships like this can provide a very cost-effective conduit for delivery of environmental, social and economic outputs demonstrating strong community stakeholder involvement.