Nature-based Solutions, Business as Usual webinar

This afternoon CIWEM hosted a webinar “Beyond Assets: Nature Based Solutions, Business as Usual, West Midlands". Alex Cooke and Jodie Rettino from Severn Trent Water (STW) presented on water company involvement within catchment management.

Every £1 spent for catchment management we can gain £4 in wider environmental benefits. Every £1 we will spend on catchment management we will avoid £2-£20 in treatment costs for pesticides.

A few of the benefits of catchment management are:

  • Climate change adaptation
  • Improved water quality
  • Water resources
  • Enhanced biodiversity
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Natural Flood Management
  • Protect designated areas
  • Improve aquatic habitats
  • Soil protection
  • Protect & create wildlife habitats
  • Recreation & amenity
  • Improve environment resilience
  • Reduce pollution incidents

Jodie talked about where water company schemes fit in the wider catchment management framework. Severn Trent work in partnership with farmers on agri-environment schemes and link into their environment strategy. They aim to take care of the environment, help people to thrive, and become a trustworthy company. They also aim to ensure a sustainable water cycle, enhance the natural environment and make the most of resources.

Severn Trent carry out Drinking Water Safety Planning aiming to identify water quality risks across a catchment. Risk assessments are carried out at 5 stages of the source to tap process – catchment, treatment, storage, distribution and customer. They look at risk to water quality and ways to remove the risk. They assess risk by looking at each waterbody and potential hazards i.e. if pesticides are used in the catchment, and whether there are any peatlands in the catchment. Then they look at the pathway and if the risk will move along the pathway into watercourses. They also consider whether the inherent risk is a risk at an abstraction point or in a storage reservoir or in distribution pipes. Effective controls are then identified such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and pesticide treatment at Water Treatment Works.

Risks to drinking water quality include:

  • Urban runoff
  • Pesticides
  • Livestock
  • Slug pellets
  • Manure heaps
  • Peatlands (organic and colour pollution)
  • Agricultural runoff

Severn Trent carry out proactive catchment management to control the risk through their Farming for Water programme of farmer engagement which provides advice, training and specialised visits. Benefits which are offered to farmers include:

  • Farm to Tap – payments (up to £8 per ha) to reward farmers for improving water quality by reducing metaldehyde use via any means (e.g. changing crop, product substitution)
  • Severn Trent Environmental Protection Scheme (STEPS) – grants up to £10,000 per farm to address any water quality issue but mainly focusing on infrastructure investments and land management changes
  • Pesticide Amnesty – STW will remove unwanted pesticides from farms
  • Specialist on Farm Advice (SOFA) – bespoke specialist farm advice visits along with free soil and manure sampling
  • Swap your Nozzles – helping farmers to reduce their spray drift through educational training events and upgrading nozzles to those which are low drift

So far Severn Trent have engaged with 6,000 farms, disposed of 20 tonnes of unwanted pesticides, had 46,000 ha signed up to Farm to Tap, and 2,343 STEPS grant applications received and addressed local water quality issues.

STW monitor progress based on a monitoring programme looking at farmer uptake to their schemes, metaldehyde use, pesticide use, pollutants in rivers and nitrates in soil. Then they aim to use raw water quality improvement and treatment processes can be amended based on the success in the catchment.

Alex then went through examples of their Proactive Catchment Management schemes. For example, Seven Trent Environmental Protection Scheme (STEPS) is a voluntary scheme aiming to protect watercourses and the wider environment from diffuse pollution via infrastructural or land management changes. STEPS offers a maximum payment of £10,000 per farm holding per year. There are several priority options which offer methods to tackle different catchment issues i.e. pesticides.

Another example is Farm to Tap which rewards farmers for producing cleaner runoff from the land and improving water quality downstream of their farm. They aim to reduce metaldehyde concentration in surface water. Sampling is carried out upstream and several sites downstream to determine the changes. This scheme stresses the need for farmers to all work together to be rewarded with the largest payment if concentrations are reduced across the catchment. Metaldehyde reducing methods are suggested to control slugs e.g. using a better quality pellet, wetlands and buffer strips, planting field beans as a cover crop, reducing application rate, better understanding of field drainage and high risk areas. Farmers make the decision best for their farm. Farmers are offered a survey to see what they have used in order to identify what is working best in the catchment. From the survey, crop change is the top practice.

Over 3 years, results show 34% average reduction of metaldehyde and 57% reduction in peaks. The scheme is working and helping STW to manage risks to water quality.

A new scheme launched in February 2021 is the Swap your Nozzle scheme to tackle pesticides. This asks farmers to get trained up on the regulatory, environmental and financial considerations of spraying. They are also provided with a low-drift nozzle for free from STW, and given the option to buy a 2nd nozzle set at 25% discount. The first event in February was attended by 90 farmers, totalling over 33,000ha of land now to be sprayed using low-drift nozzles, which will help contribute to a massive reduction in risk in the future.

Finally, Alex mentioned biodiversity and how catchment management includes other environmental and social benefits by working holistically. Over the last 2 years STW have been developing an offering to make biodiversity business-as-usual. This involves:

  • Building in 15% Biodiversity Net Gain into all STW projects as standard
  • Committing to plant 1.3million trees
  • Boost for Biodiversity for communities, NGOS, schools and farmer groups
  • STEPS for Biodiversity for farmers – delivered 2,130ha of new habitat in 2 years
  • New Biodiversity and Ecology team to help deliver this aim.

Find out more on the STW biodiversity website.


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