Ground breaking multi-sector approach to long term water resource planning

The Eastern region of England is home to some of the UK’s most beautiful natural sites and most fertile agricultural land. It is also home to three of the UK’s five fastest-growing cities; is the driest region in the UK and one of the most vulnerable to future climate change. So how do we make sure that we can meet the water needs of people and businesses in the east into the future, whilst also supporting a thriving environment? This challenging question is at the heart of the Water Resources East (WRE) initiative, led by Anglian Water, and is a key theme of Blueprint’s campaign on the Price Review 2019 (PR19).

WRE is an innovative multi-sector, collaborative planning approach to developing a long-term water resource strategy for the East.  Instead of the traditional approach, in which water companies look at water resource planning for their respective areas in isolation, WRE brings together all the relevant water companies, along with representatives from the agricultural, power and environmental sector, to co-create the long-term strategy using state of the art modelling technology, visualisation and decision support tools.

There are three key stages in the WRE technical process, which are summarised below. These stages are based on a framework known as Robust Decision Making (RDM) and is the first time this processes has been tested in the UK for water resources planning.

1. How might the current system perform in the future?

The implications of a range of possible but plausible future climate, growth and behavioural scenarios on the water industry, agriculture, power and the environment have been modelled using a powerful regional simulator. In total, over 350 unique future scenarios have been modelled. Each sector has agreed a small number of key metrics that are used to provide an indication of how their interests are impacted in the alternative futures modelled. For example, future performance against an environmental flow regime is one of the key metrics. Other metrics include the reliability of water for supply domestic customers, agriculture or energy. The simulator brings all these future scenarios and the performance metrics together at a regional scale to provide a baseline vulnerability assessment – an assessment of what might the future look like without any investment to improve water resilience.  For non-water company stakeholders, the baseline vulnerability assessment is particularly interesting, as it shines a light on how their particular interests may be affected in the future and highlights the need for action.

2. What interventions could we take to be more resilient in the future?

A range of possible interventions are incorporated into the simulator, such as new reservoirs, water transfers or increased demand management. The simulator then seeks out and identifies portfolios of interventions that perform best into the future against one or more of the metrics. Visualisation tools are used by participants to identify the portfolios that work best for their sector, but also to see what works best for others. At this point discussion around any ‘trade-offs’ can take place to find a small number of preferred portfolios that work best across multiple interests.

Screen shot of one of the visualisation tools used in WRE showing portfolio performance against a selection of metrics.

3. What is the long-term Strategy?

The short list of preferred portfolios is then taken forward to be stress tested in more detail under the future scenarios, to help identify which portfolios perform best in a range of futures and develop the long-term WRE Strategy. The sequencing of interventions is considered and a non-statutory Strategic Environmental Assessment is prepared to inform the selection of the preferred WRE Strategy.

The WRE initiative is currently at Stage two. A two-day workshop in early May started to reveal a number of portfolios that looked promising across multiple sectors, and these will be explored further in a workshop in June. The aim is to have the long-term WRE Strategy developed by autumn 2017, so that it can inform Water Resource Management Plans and Business Plans being prepared by the water industry as part of PR19.

The approach being taken by WRE is ground breaking both in terms of the technology, such as the simulator model and visualisation tools, but perhaps more importantly in the way that it actively involves participation from a range of interested sectors in co-creating the long-term Strategy. The process is raising the understanding of the challenges ahead across sectors on water availability in the east, and is fostering a genuine will to collaborate on solutions that can deliver multi-sector benefits.

Hannah Stanley-Jones (Anglian Water) and Nathan Richardson (RSPB).

Resilient Water – How to Manage Our Precious Water Resources

Most people wouldn’t believe that England’s green and pleasant lands are water-stressed; in fact, in recent years it seems as though the threat of severe flooding has rarely been out of the public eye. Nonetheless, we now find ourselves facing the real possibility of a formal drought being declared this summer, having experienced one of the driest winters for decades and an early Spring that saw just 15% of the long-term average rainfall in the Thames catchment.

Climate change and the increasingly variable weather that it will bring – from catastrophic floods to long periods of drought – need to be planned for. Unfortunately, thus far the majority of water companies have failed to do this meaningfully and continue to rely far too heavily on water abstraction from rivers and groundwater sources, rather than investing in increased winter storage, reducing leakage and water reuse. Water companies have also failed to effectively manage water consumption and make efforts to reduce demand, and we remain one of the only European countries without a universal water metering programme in place.

With population growth in the south east in particular, a lack of investment has meant massively increased pressure on our precious rivers (along with the aquifers that feed them), and 23% of England’s rivers are now at risk of over-abstraction, with serious environmental damage possible. This year some of our most valuable chalk streams – such as the Rivers Chess, Ver, Gade and Colne – are already running dry, and this could be catastrophic for aquatic wildlife over the months ahead.

The bare river bed of the River Chess in Chesham, Buckinghamshire.
The bare river bed of the River Chess in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, which has run dry due to a combination of low winter rainfall and over-abstraction.

The Government promised to reform the long-outdated not-fit-for-purpose water abstraction regime as far back as 2011, yet this process continues to be kicked into the long grass. However, the water companies’ Price Review 2019 (PR19) process gives a fantastic opportunity to achieve some extensive investment in improving environmental resilience through a number of key mechanisms. Blueprint has a number of priorities for these plans, and are calling for:

  • All abstractions to be brought within sustainable limits and controls in place to prevent deterioration – while some good progress is being made (as part of the Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme in PR14), companies need to make faster improvements, especially for those water bodies already failing to meet Water Framework Directive standards due to over-abstraction.
  • The risk of deterioration due to increased abstraction to be addressed – over 300 water bodies have been identified as ‘at risk’ if more water is abstracted in the future, albeit within currently licensed limits. Companies need to investigate these risks with mitigation measures proactively implemented and impacts avoided.
  • Supply side options to be environmentally acceptable – options such as bulk water transfers, water reuse and new reservoirs, should only be developed where it can be demonstrated that all reasonable efforts to reduce demand have been implemented.
The River Colne in Hertfordshire
The River Colne in Hertfordshire – a fantastic and extremely popular river for angling – is already on its bones.

Get behind the Blueprint for PR19 campaign to encourage water company investment in environmental resilience, using #BlueprintPR19 on Twitter.

Find out more about the ongoing drought and reform to abstraction in this Angling Trust video.

James Champkin
Campaigns Officer, Angling Trust

Protecting water through catchment management

Guest blog by Severn Trent Water on catchment management, a key theme within Blueprint for PR19.

Over 2015-20, Severn Trent is investing £21 million in making environmental improvements through catchment management, including working in partnership with farmers and landowners to reduce agricultural run-off into rivers. Through partnership working, pesticides such as metaldehyde (a chemical often used to control slug populations) are prevented from entering watercourses. In addition to improving river quality, there will be a number of other benefits, such as a reduction in treatment costs and improvement in the river environment as a whole.

In 2016-17, Severn Trent’s agricultural advisors worked with over 1,200 farms. We are now on track to engage with 4,000 farms, covering over 10,000km2, by 2020.

We are also funding two catchment schemes for farmers to tackle diffuse pollution across the region:

Severn Trent environmental Protection Scheme (STEPS)

A voluntary scheme funded by Severn Trent for livestock and arable farmers / landowners in priority catchments

  • 50% grant funding up to a maximum of £5,000, to help farmers make land management and capital infrastructure improvements that benefit water quality and the environment
  • Applicants can apply each year between January to mid-March until 2020
  • Prioritisation given to measures that help reduce pesticides
  • Over 500 applications have been received under this scheme.

Farmers as Producers of Clean Water (FaPCW)

  • Metaldehyde reduction initiative to encourage farmers to adopt practices that help reduce metaldehyde in raw water
  • Metaldehyde levels tested upstream and downstream of watercourses fortnightly from September until December each year, until 2020
  • Farmers rewarded up to £8/ha on land planted with winter wheat and/or winter oilseed rape – payment dependent on the levels of water quality improvement
  • In 2016, 26,000ha were signed up under this scheme.

 

 

 

To further support the catchment management approach, at Severn Trent we have been participating in the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), working with others to address water quality issues. For example, we are involved in Moors for the Future, a project through which significant EU funding has been secured to undertake peatland restoration work around the Derwent Valley reservoirs.

Katherine Filby
Principal Catchment Management Scientist, Severn Trent Water

Making the case for catchment management

The water industry, perhaps more than any other sector, can be highly impacted by what happens across the catchments in which companies operate. Diffuse water pollution from agriculture, for example, can pollute raw drinking water sources and necessitate costly treatment that uses energy and chemicals, whilst pollutants from multiple sources limit the capacity of waterways to accept discharges from waste water treatment works.

Our freshwater ecosystems require sufficient water to remain healthy, but abstraction for public supply, industry and irrigation for agriculture mean that water scarcity is prevalent in parts of the country, with climate change and population growth likely to exacerbate the problem. A collaborative approach is needed involving all sectors, in order to build resilience and embed a more sustainable approach to managing our water resources.

Water companies are already moving away from the historic focus on managing their own land and infrastructure, as the benefits of influencing management of water across the catchment are increasingly being recognised.

  • Schemes like South West Water’s Upstream Thinking and United Utilities’ (UU) SCaMP have led the way; UU’s scheme saw thousands of hectares of upland habitat restored, drainage channels blocked, and livestock numbers cut, bringing 98% of the SSSIs into favourable condition and realising improvements in water quality through reductions in colour, suspended solids and a reduced risk of cryptosporidium.
  • Severn Trent’s current Environmental Protection Scheme, STEPS, sees landowners being paid based not on what they do on their land, but on the actual water quality benefits delivered.
  • Wessex Water is using ‘reverse auctions’ to allow farmers to bid for funding to establish cover crops, preventing soil runoff over winter and reducing nutrient inputs into the river system, far more cost effectively than could be done by the company through other means.
  • Where Catchment Partnerships have played a role in these schemes; the value of this collaboration is notable (see pg5).

The 2019 Price Review (PR19) presents an opportunity to build upon all of this delivery. The case for catchment management to protect or improve water quality is clear, illustrated by the above examples and many others. The knock-on benefits are also potentially considerable; improved landowner relations and wider land management practices, biodiversity gains and reduced flood risk. The scope to extend catchment management to deliver water resources outcomes is also something that warrants much greater consideration. Many of the natural solutions to addressing flood risk that slow the movement of water through a catchment and reduce rapid runoff also help to augment baseflow in rivers during times of drought. Their low cost and high natural capital delivery compared to built infrastructure projects indicates a potential for much more widespread uptake of such approaches.

These interventions all require engagement with landowners, farmers, fisheries, and communities, making the potential value of Catchment Partnerships in this delivery clear. The Rivers Trusts, Wildlife Trusts, Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers, landowner or fisheries associations and others involved in the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) already have strong relationships with the very people that need to be engaged if such schemes are to be successfully delivered and maintained. The partnerships are also well placed to undertake biodiversity monitoring, scheme promotion and other aspects of delivery that may not be the traditional preserve of water companies.

The value of these partnerships is certainly something that not all companies have fully tapped in to, and PR19 should provide the catalyst for this to change. Indeed, the Catchment Based Approach, established to protect and enhance our water environment, should be increasingly seen by water companies as a key means of protecting the very resources upon which their businesses depend.

Ali Morse
Water Policy & Catchment Technical Specialist, The Wildlife Trusts

and

Rob Collins
Head of Policy and Science, The Rivers Trust

More than just a meter

Guest blog by Southern Water on Using Water Wisely & Pricing it Fairly

Between now and September 2018, water companies in England and Wales will be drawing up plans for their investments between 2020 to 2025. Companies are required to produce these plans for the Periodic Review 2019 (PR19), and Blueprint believes that nature should be at the heart of these plans.

In 2010, Southern Water began its journey to universal metering. First, we made the case on the grounds of resource – the need to cut demand to help secure supplies in our water–stressed region. Next came the economic case – it’s cheaper to meter everyone together as part of a well-planned, five-year programme, than to wait for individual customers to move house or put in ad hoc requests to have a meter installed. Then, we started on the customer case – it’s fairer to pay only for what you use, and meters can help you to save money.  Surely, that’s all there would be to it?

Well, it turned out that there was quite a lot more. From day one, we knew that our programme would be in the limelight. We were the first company to tackle this on such a large scale. Nearly half a million meters would need to be installed within five years, across the counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire where, incidentally, six other water companies also operate. It was a first for all of us – Southern Water, Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water and our customers – and it was our customers who helped drive the programme.

As you would probably expect from a company made up largely of engineers, our first thoughts turned to how we were going to physically get the meters in the ground. But, by putting customers at the centre of our thinking, we began to look at the programme as a unique opportunity to engage with people about our service, rather than as a problem to be overcome.

We began by involving our customers in our decisions about the route we would take. We consulted with them on everything, from the way in which meters were fitted, to the timing and tone of the information we gave them, to the support we offered to those who might struggle to pay their bills. We gathered and analysed a range of data sources to help us target those most likely to find it difficult to make the change, and used this to develop a package of support for customers who needed it most.

The programme also empowered customers to take control of their water use. Our “Green Doctors” visited around 60,000 homes over the five-year period to carry out water and energy audits, and help customers make the jump from being a passive consumer to an active participant in the service they received. The results exceeded all our expectations. Our customers now use around 16% less water than at the start of the programme. This means that more precious water remains in the environment.

The reality is that it’s not just been about the meter, or using water wisely and pricing it fairly. It’s been about increasing resilience – our ability to strengthen our business so we can protect our services from future challenges, such as climate change and population growth. Metering has been the catalyst for starting a different conversation with our customers and has given us a platform for involving them in our long-term plans.

Our programme came before the big shift towards customer engagement that came with the PR14 price review. But for us, it was an important part of that journey and demonstrated just how much can be achieved when you involve customers in your plans and give them a chance to think about the future.

Penny Hodge
Head of Policy and Stakeholder Engagement, Southern Water

 

What has water efficiency ever done for us – and what could it do…?

Between now and September 2018, water companies in England and Wales will be drawing up plans for their investments between 2020 to 2025. Companies are required to produce these plans for the Periodic Review 2019 (PR19), and we believe nature should be at the heart of these plans.

These PR19 plans are crucial to deliver for both customers and the environment. Blueprint has a number of priorities for these plans, one of which is water efficiency.

Why should we waste less water?

It’s officially been a dry winter in parts of England, and some water companies are looking particularly closely at their recharge possibilities for the summer. The impacts of drought on the economy, people and the environment are severe – and last year’s Water UK report set out that future droughts will be more severe, and will impact all parts of the country.

Wasting less water clearly has a huge role to play in tackling this. The less water we waste, the more there is to go round – and there are more of us using it all the time, and using it in different ways, too. Water companies are doing great work with their customers on water efficiency – including offering them visits to make their toilets and showers more water-efficient, as well as advice on how to waste less, and in some cases linking this to frequent smart meter readings to their phones. But, these programmes are still a drop in the ocean in terms of overall water company investment in England and Wales.

Does water efficiency actually help customers and the environment?

Customers are expecting a better service from their water companies now. Lots of us live our lives through apps these days, and we also expect a tailored service, building on what we ask for and what the companies we use regularly know about us. However, Ofwat has said that too many water customers are receiving an analogue service in a digital age.

Customers should be at the heart of the water sector, and engaging with them on water efficiency is a great way for water companies to make this happen. Unlike with energy, when we’re using water, we can see and feel (and drink) it – and it’s this feeling we have around water, and its importance to our own families and communities, that companies should be tapping into.

We also know from companies’ own research that customers care about the environment in its own right – and not just for the water and wastewater services it provides them. So water companies across England should be working with all their customers on water efficiency, now and in the future, and not just during drought. It doesn’t just help with resilience, it also helps with other things customer care about – the environment, and better customer service.

What do we want? More water efficiency! When do we want it? Now!

The Blueprint for Water coalition is challenging water companies to increase their ambition on water efficiency – building on their great work to date. We’re asking them to:

  • significantly scale up their demand management programmes – this means water efficiency, leakage and metering
  • increase the overall metering of households, as well as the proportion of smart meters
  • ensure a ‘water neutral PR19’ – with no overall increase in the amount of water abstracted from rivers and groundwater, despite population growth and climate change
  • set out ambitious plans to help customers and communities reduce use at ‘peak’ times and in catchments most at risk from abstraction
  • increase the availability, promotion and take-up of tariffs and retrofit programmes (sending trained staff in to make bathrooms and kitchens more water efficient) – different ways of paying for what we use, including to waste less water and protect customers struggling to pay.

Perfect opportunity for water efficiency to improve resilience and customer service

The step change set out by Blueprint would directly contribute to Ofwat’s four themes for the 2019 price review – resilience, customer service, innovation and affordability. And the UK Government has made it clear, through their draft Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat, that they want to see more water efficiency and better customer service.

We know the industry is taking resilience seriously. Blueprint is asking them to significantly step up their ambition on water efficiency to help them to drive increased resilience – and an improved relationship with their customers. We’re also asking their customer challenge groups to report to Ofwat on how they’ve done this, and for company Boards to actively report against these and the rest of the Blueprint manifesto for PR19 in business plans. As Cathryn Ross, Ofwat Chief Executive has said – water efficiency is a key strategic issue, not a dry supply-demand one, and should be on every water company Board agenda.

Nicci Russell
Managing Director, Waterwise

Unique Opportunity to Tackle Deepseated Failures in Water Management

Sometimes you read a statistic and have to read it again to ensure you read it right the first time.  Half of our freshwater wildlife species are in decline. That’s right: half of our freshwater wildlife species are in decline. Furthermore, 13% are at risk of extinction. Our rivers and lakes are in real trouble and we need to act urgently.

Hold on, I hear you say, I’m sure I read somewhere that our rivers are cleaner now than any time since the industrial revolution? It’s true that we have made progress in some areas: industrial and sewage pollution have been greatly reduced and many urban rivers are coming back to life.

However, these gains are set against an overall pattern of decline that was brought into sharp relief this week as I came to understand that the number of rivers achieving ‘Good Ecological Status’ in England has dropped from 17% to 14%. As long as we remain signed up to the Water Framework Directive (part of European Union legislation), we are under a legal obligation to get that figure to 75% by 2027. We haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of doing so unless we get our act together and start thinking really differently about the way that we manage water in this country.

This week, I chaired a Blueprint for Water meeting of Chief Executives of water companies, Cathryn Ross, the CEO of Ofwat, officials from the Environment Agency and Natural England and colleagues from the 18 Blueprint member organisations. The meeting launched our new campaign, Blueprint for PR19 (Price Review 2019). If you love healthy water environments, the Price Review process is a really important moment: it is when water companies set out their plans for the next 5 years (from 2019 onwards) and negotiate with Ofwat, the industry regulator, about how much they can charge customers, while also making a contribution to the objectives set by the Government’s environmental agencies.

Given that the companies will spend billions of pounds of our money in that period, which dwarfs the amount spent by government, it’s vital that we ensure those plans help to address the deep-seated failures in our water management system.

The meeting was held under Chatham House rules, so I won’t report what individuals said, but – and here’s the positive bit – there was a surprising and very welcome consensus in the room.  The highlights for me were as follows:

  • We need to take an innovative approach and scale up the things that have been shown to work at a local or regional level, such as universal metering, sustainable urban drainage systems and working with farmers to reduce pollution of rivers and water supplies.
  • The behaviour of people is a really important factor that we need to change. Millions of people put fat from frying pans, sanitary products and nappies down drains and toilets, which cause blockages in the system and sewage overflows. People also waste water and our per capita use puts us to shame compared to other European countries, which have more plentiful supplies.
  • The catchment based approach to planning action is vital for the successful management of water and we should work on a long term basis taking into account climate change, population growth and substantial house building programmes, which will put further stress on the system.

It was clear to me that everyone needs to wake up to the real crisis facing our water environment and the supplies on which our economy and lives depend. This isn’t something we can shrug about and get on with our lives any longer. Business as usual is not good enough.

I welcome the water companies’ commitment to addressing the real issues that were clear at the meeting. As citizens and bill payers, we need to press politicians and regulators to make the necessary decisions to support this and to allow them to invest in innovation and catchment management.

We are currently stumbling into another drought in much of the country, the one we had in 2012 that for a while endangered the success of the Olympics long having dropped off the political radar after several floods that cost the country billions. Meanwhile, half of our freshwater species, including many fish, continue to decline towards extinction, and we are all the poorer for that. The Angling Trust, backed by our membership and in partnership with colleagues in Blueprint organisations, will continue to make the case for fundamental reform of water management.

Please help by supporting us, sharing this blog, finding out how to use water and wastewater sensibly, and mentioning water to any politicians who knock on your door in the coming weeks.

Mark Lloyd
Chief Executive, Angling Trust and Fish Legal

Environmental Priorities for Future Water Company Investment

As the water companies in England and Wales sit down to draft their future investment plans for 2020-2025 (PR19) they are doing so at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. We must make sure that the environment does not become a casualty of confusion and that the plans will deliver for people and nature. Our Blueprint for PR19, launched today, sets out the priorities for the environment for PR19.

The Blueprint for Water coalition of 18 environment NGOs has been talking to the water companies, regulators and with the Government over the last year to share our ideas and inform our thinking on the environmental priorities for PR19. Our Blueprint for PR19 sets out these priorities.

Why are we interested?

The water companies in England and Wales are major players in the environment. They invest over £8bn per year on behalf of their customers – all of us. It is essential they play their part if we want to see healthy rivers, clean beaches and coastal waters, safe drinking water, less waste, reduced flooding and thriving wildlife. We certainly have work to do – the 2016 State of Nature report[i] found that 13% of our freshwater and wetland species are currently at risk of extinction and only 20% of water bodies in England and Wales are currently achieving ‘good ecological status'[ii].

What do we want to see?

We passionately believe that a healthy natural environment is at the heart of a resilient and successful water industry – an industry that can meet the needs of current and future customers and deal with the challenges we face, such as climate change and population growth.

Blueprint for PR19 sets out four headline outcomes we want to see achieved:

  1. Improving catchment management from source to sea;
  2. Stopping pollution of our waters;
  3. Using water wisely whilst pricing it fairly; and
  4. Keeping our rivers flowing and wetlands wet.

For each of these four outcomes, we have identified a number of specific priorities we want to see addressed in the plans. It also suggests how we might measure success.

Over the next month, we will be publishing a series of blogs from Blueprint coalition members and from the water sector on each of these outcomes…watch this space!

What can you do?

We are urging water companies to adopt our Blueprint for PR19 and you can do your part too.

The water companies will be engaging with stakeholders and customers over the next year to ensure their plans align with customer interests and priorities. So, please take the opportunity to have your say and stand up for nature. Check your water company’s website to see how you can engage and feel free to share or use the Blueprint for PR19.

Finally, if you want to find out how your company is performing, and how it compares with other companies, then take a look at this great new website www.discoverwater.co.uk.

You can read a summary of our priorities or download the full Blueprint for PR19 publication.

Nathan Richardson, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB

 

Sources

[i] State of Nature 2016

[ii] River Basin Management Plans 2015

Water resilient cities and schools

Our urban environments face unprecedented challenges from climate change and increasing population. Our environment is becoming fragmented and our children are not enjoying the access to the natural environment they need. Making our cities greener and bluer can help our cities face these challenges and make their local places more resilient. One way we can do this is through sustainable drainage systems (SuDS).

Sustainable drainage systems can, if designed appropriately, benefit us in a wide variety of ways. For example, they reduce the risk of surface water flooding by slowing and reducing the flow of water, which runs off hard impermeable surfaces before it reaches the sewer. They can also improve the quality of that run off, removing polluting particles in the water as well as from the air, improving air quality. They can store carbon, provide habitat for wildlife and increase people’s health and well-being.

So why aren’t they everywhere?

Well, these benefits aren’t really seen as pounds and pence and they don’t accrue to any one person, business or even sector. They are societal benefits that diffuse across communities and as such there are limited drivers to install or retrofit SuDS into our urban spaces. There is also no current Government policy or driver around fitting SuDS into existing developments despite the many advantages.

We want to change this. There are real benefits to retrofitting SuDS. Today WWT and Business in the Community (BITC) launch a report that highlights these benefits and suggests one possible way forward.

WWT have been working with BITC and others, including Arup and MWH to produce this publication. Using the CIRIA Benefits of SuDS Tool (BeST) we indicate what the scale of a roll out of SuDS across Greater Manchester could look like.

We report that a roll out of SuDS across Greater Manchester should be cost beneficial and of good value. Societal and environmental benefits under our test case range from £4 million to around £50 million depending on the scale of the roll out. The greatest benefits accrue around mental well-being and education. However, important benefits, including flood risk reduction and water quality improvements, could not be quantified at this high level as they are so site dependent.

Together with BITC, we propose a pilot roll out of SuDS retrofit across Greater Manchester. A pilot would provide much-needed demonstration sites for schools, NHS sites and businesses in the North West. Societal and environmental benefits will accrue to communities and businesses across the roll out area. A pilot roll out would demonstrate the opportunities for flood risk mitigation in the urban environment and could aim to optimise other societal and environmental benefits. This should be led as a joint venture between government, the private and third sector, working through the Manchester Urban Pioneer. Alongside practical demonstration sites, the pilot should consider prospective sustainable funding options for such natural capital investment.

The Government promised to leave the environment in a better state than it found it. This doesn’t just mean the rural environment. Let’s make our urban spaces rich in bird song, buzzing bees, flowers, ponds and trees which everyone can enjoy. Let’s start making the connection and build SuDS for schools, for flood reduction, for healthier rivers, for communities, for cities, for the future.

Read WWT’s new report on SuDS.

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Sustainable Shores – Are we doing enough to address habitat loss at our coast?

Across the UK, we have lost significant amounts of coastal habitat to development and coastal squeeze. So, are we doing enough to address this loss? A simple question you might think, but one that is vexing the RSPB and other environmental NGOs.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment[i] estimated that the overall extent of coastal habitat in the UK has reduced by 16% since 1945. The figures are worse in England where we have lost 20% or around 13,000ha, excluding mudflat[ii].

The same report projects further coastal margin habitats loss, just due to coastal squeeze, at around 8% by 2060. Much of this habitat will be lost from our most important wildlife sites. The Environment Agency estimates that 1,200 hectares of internationally protected (i.e. SAC/SPA) intertidal habitat in England will be lost due to coastal squeeze by 2025, whilst in Wales the figure is 260 hectares[iii].

So what are we losing? As well as their biodiversity value our coastal habitats provide us with flood risk benefits, recreational assets, carbon sinks and crucial fish spawning areas.

Whilst the threat is frightening, we do have the solutions in our gift to address it if we chose to implement them. We have seen more than 70 managed realignment and regulated tidal exchange projects in the UK over the last 25 years[iv]. Projects such as Medmerry and Wallasea have redefined the art of the possible. In all around 2,500ha of coastal habitat has been created in the UK, including around 1,600ha of intertidal habitat. However, around half of this intertidal habitat was compensating for projects and plans that were causing habitat loss, leaving around 800ha of new intertidal habitat in 25 years. This compares to the 13,000ha reported lost in England alone since 1945. We certainly have the skills but do we have the will?

If we look at it another way, just implementing our current Shoreline Management Plans in England means realigning 10% of the coast by 2030 (15% by 2060) and would create around 6200ha of coastal habitat. This would more than offset the habitat losses that are predicted in the same time period. It would also save us between £180m and £300m in the long term when compared to maintaining the current hard defences. However, since 1990 we have only realigned around 1.5% of the coast[ii].. At this rate it is going to take us nearly 175 years to have achieved what we planned to do by 2030.

So, unfortunately I suspect the answer to my opening question is: NO, we aren’t doing enough. We aren’t keeping pace with the rate of habitat loss and we aren’t adapting our coastline fast enough to meet the challenges of the future.

What are we going to do about it?  Well, this will be one of the questions we will be looking to answer in a new project I am leading at the RSPB called Sustainable Shores, which will report in the Autumn. If you want to find out more get in touch at nathan.richardson@rspb.org.uk

The managed realignment project at Medmerry is the biggest on the open-coast in Europe (Image: Environment Agency)

Dr Nathan Richardson
Senior Policy Officer, RSPB

[i] UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011)

[ii] Managing the Land in a Changing Climate. Adaptation Sub-Committee Progress Report 2013.

[iii] UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017: Evidence Report (2016)

[iv] ABPmer (2017)  UK Marine Habitat Creation Schemes. ABPmer White Paper No.R.2781.