12 days of Rivers Trusts – Day 5: Introducing Westcountry Rivers Trust
When did your Trust form?
WRT formed in 1994 and became the first charity called a ‘Rivers Trust’ in the UK in 1995. In 2019, we are celebrating our 25th anniversary and this is also considered (by many) to be the 25th anniversary of the Rivers Trust movement, which is now such a powerful force for positive environmental change in the UK. Interestingly, 1995 is the same year that the Environment Act was passed and the Environment Agency was established from the National Rivers Authority.
How many people work at your Trust?
It changes all the time and, in 2018, we reached an all-time high of 45. As we approach Christmas, we number 41.
What are the main issues with Rivers in your catchment?
We have dozens of Rivers in our area and they are hugely variable in their size, their character and the challenges they are facing. From the heavily modified lowland rivers of Somerset, to the farmland-dominated valleys of the Tamar, Taw, Torridge and Axe, and up to the iconic upland sections of the Exe, Dart and Fowey, all of our rivers are impacted in one way or another. In Somerset, despite having been subjected to a huge amount of dredging, the Parrett and Tone are still hugely prone to flooding and have significant water quality pressures acting on them. The dairy-producing areas of our landscape place huge pollution pressure on some of our most important rivers and the upland streams suffer due to the degradation of the peatlands on Dartmoor and Exmoor and the damaging levels of acidic and coloured water washing through them.
Are there any particular rivers keeping you up at night and why?
All of them. With salmon and sea trout in a parlous state, with freshwater pearl mussels nearing extinction, with invasive species wreaking havoc and some of our most precious rivers causing flooding, clogging up estuaries with sediment and nutrients and making recreational users ill – there is plenty to worry about…. Having said all that though, if you work for a Rivers Trust, then worrying about rivers and working to protect and enhance them is the job you have chosen to take on…if a day comes when Rivers Trust people stop worrying about rivers then it will either be a sign that we have been successful in our mission to make them more healthy and resilient…or it will be because…well, let’s not go there…
Why is the above your favourite photo of the year?
The summer of 2018 will be remembered as a pivotal one for our environment. It gave us a glimpse of what the future of water resources management in the UK might be like as we enter the grip of our climate future. For the first time that I can remember in the South West, water availability gained parity with water quality as an issue of huge concern. Having said that, this photo is our favourite because it reminds us that we should/must not forget that, before the heatwave, we had an extremely wet spring and the ‘Beast from the East’ layered even more challenges on top of that. The impact of this weather was huge, especially for farmers, who were pushed to the limit of their resources and many of whom had farm infrastructure that creaked or even buckled under the strain of such a harsh and challenging season.
What key issue or project will you be hoping to tackle in 2019?
For WRT, 2019 will be a very exciting year. One of our main areas of focus is to develop innovative funding mechanisms and tap into a more diverse array of funding sources. We are currently partners in two Interreg-funded projects, CPES and Prowater, which are both looking at finding new buyers for ecosystem services benefits delivered via integrated catchment management. We are also gearing up for the end of Upstream Thinking 2 and building momentum toward to the commencement of Upstream Thinking 3, which will begin in early 2020. The other huge challenge for 2019 is to continue supporting local collaborative approaches, such as the Catchment Based Approach, as much as possible throughout our region and nationally. In 2019, we (the movement) must demonstrate (building on robust evidence-gathering) the huge potential for these approaches to become a keystone in the implementation of the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment and the 3rd cycle of River Basin Management Planning.
Any Christmas wishes or New Year’s resolutions for the Trust this year?
A WRT stalwart recently said to me that, “…when Rivers Trust people are motivated, inspired and focused on the job, we are unstoppable – there isn’t any challenge we can’t overcome…”. Without doubt, he is right and I think that it is because of this powerful determination at the heart of the Rivers Trust movement that we all work for Westcountry Rivers Trust. So, our New Year’s resolution is that, when the political world is in upheaval, when it feels as though the environment is deteriorating around us and the challenges we face seem to be getting greater by the day, we must remind ourselves why we do what we do, protect and nurture our motivation, stay focused on our collective purpose and keep believing that we can make (we are making) a huge contribution to improving the environment around us…