Catchment Leadership Network webinar: The enabling environment for catchment management

Gemma Cranston (University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership) started the webinar by explaining more about the webinar series. The Catchment Leadership Network aims to drive a step change in the level of activity on catchment management.

The keynote presentation was from Tony Juniper (Chair of Natural England). Tony started by stressing the world climate has significantly changed, and awareness of the impacts is rising. Rivers create the vital natural structure of the country, alongside geology, climate and vegetation, to make up the fundamental conditions of the environment. These conditions have been fundamentally altered by modifications, industry, climate change.

Tony showed this map of the UK, with river catchments highlighted. This shows the potential locations and sources of flood risk, water scarcity, food security, and natural habitat. This illustrates how these are not environmental issues that need to be dealt with in isolation. We need to plan integrative, joined up solutions where we will get the biggest benefits. Creating a nature recovery network involves working together through partnerships in a planned, strategic way. Tony explained the importance of bringing together and integrating all the policies, strategies, networks, partnerships, and innovations, and ensuring they are deliverable and will achieve outputs.

The next speaker, Arlin Rickard from The Rivers Trust, talked about how government bodies can better support catchment management. He stressed how water is central to everything we do including providing biodiversity, green/blue spaces, and is critical to survival.

The Catchment-based Approach (CaBA) provides governance at a catchment level, representing and focusing on catchment communities. Environment and wildlife are managed through people, local engagement and empowerment of people to play their role.

Arlin mentioned the reasons government bodies should better support cross sector catchment management. These reasons included:

  • Cost benefit through reducing risk to public, economy and supply chain threats to customers and stakeholders
  • Effective way to deliver the 25 Year Environment Plan, binding international agreements including COP, and helping to break ‘silo’ mentality
  • Strengthen competitiveness
  • Reduce impact of climate change and risk of drought and flood
  • Allow sustainable development and growth
  • Support biodiversity and tourism
  • Improve health and wellbeing
  • Natural Capital

Following this, he mentioned how government bodies can better support cross sector catchment management:

  • Commit to delivering 25 Year Environment Plan
  • WISER - ambitions, challenge, innovate and break down silos
  • Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP)
  • Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) agricultural policy & support (stick and carrot approach)
  • Promote cross sector inclusive partnership work
  • Green investments

Next, Ashley Holt, Head of River Basin Planning and Funding, Water Quality Team at DEFRA, presented on the supporting policy framework. He talked about the importance of understanding how human activity affects nature systems. There are a range of possible interventions designed to restore the natural functioning of the ecosystem. That is because they themselves are natural or contain nature (nature-based solutions). For example Natural Flood Management (NFM) considers a wider range of natural options.

Approaches need to be more outcome-focused and we need to be more flexible in the options we can use. We need to record natural capital, what the asset is, where it is, what is its status or condition, what is asked of it, whether landowners are meeting the requirements. This ensures we are looking at particular things in a particular place. This opens up opportunities for direct green investment, and less reliance on concrete, chemicals and energy.

Ashley’s take away messages were that nature based solutions are holistic, using a combination of green grey infrastructure. This approach is dynamic, ongoing, cumulative and progressive in character. It requires coordination spatially and temporally. It is based around specific assets, therefore we need an asset register to be maintained. It is scalable and transferable, but challenges our accustomed ways of doing things.

The last speaker was Damian Crilly from the Environment Agency who presented on integrating the regulatory perspective into catchment management. He explained how we need to improve ecosystem resilience for biological, ecological and chemical parameters. He also mentioned the importance of knowing who you should be collaborating with on a project, and how you should collaborate with them effectively.

Catchment Partnerships have lots of stakeholders with a diversity of objectives. It is important to consider all these perspectives in order to understand the bigger picture.

We are living in a world which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Water supports all human activity including the economy and a wide range of ecosystem services and wellbeing – importantly environmental Net Gain and Natural Capital. Damian finished by pointing out the importance of following ‘ABC’ principles:

A – adaptive, in order to acknowledge complexity of this approach

B – balanced, to include needs of multiple stakeholders

C – collaborative, to consider all outcomes

Thanks to the University of Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership for hosting this informative, thought-provoking webinar.


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