|Thank you to all who attended the conference, and contributed towards the 360+ attendees this year - our largest so far! This blog offers reflections and thoughts from a couple of presenters at this years conference.|
Christian Huising and Maarten Veldhuis (Waterboard Vallei en Veluwe)
Last month we joined the 19th RRC Annual Network Conference, which took place in Nottingham. For us a 9 hour drive, but very much worth it. The conference started promising for us with three interesting speakers. Joe Pecorelli emphasised in his talk ‘outfall safari’ the value of involving volunteers. This theme was one thing that really caught our attention during the two days. Maybe it was because of the conference theme ‘engaging with rivers’, but we became aware that in the UK involving volunteers or other stakeholders is a very important part of the projects. In a lot of examples a large variety of stakeholders are involved from a very early stage in the projects. Our impression was that many times this resulted in projects which realised several goals and have a much better support. Something we can learn from in the Netherlands. In her talk about Natural Flood Management Jenny Broomby emphasised this again. For this project the experience of making use of ‘project champions’ was an important factor to involve different stakeholders and get the project realised.
Another thing that we learned from the congress was the way of funding the restoration projects. To us it seemed that for many projects it was quite a challenge to finance them. In some examples we saw a broad variety of funds from different organisations. On one hand this is a good thing, because it means there is a broad support for the projects. On the other hand this can also make the projects more complex, because with more involved funders, you also have to manage more demands and expectations. An example are the fish trusts, that have an important role in the restoration projects. Something that we hardly see in the Netherlands, where the projects are most of the time completely financed by the regional governments. In his talk about Natural Capital, Paul Leinster explained why it is so important to put a value to the restoration projects. Something that becomes even more inevitable when you want to motivate different stakeholders to invest in the project.
At the end of the conference we had the opportunity to talk about our project in the Hierdense Stream (also called the Leuvenumse stream), where we tried to achieve more connectivity between the stream and the surrounding stream valley. This way of restoring was explicitly supported by the next speaker Colin Thorne. In his talk he emphasised that single-thread channels that are partly incised into their floodplains cannot restore the habitats or ecosystem services provided by multi-threaded streams that are fully connected to their floodplains. Stewart Clarke, in the final talk, also summoned us to view river restoration at greater spatial scales. Maybe above ideas are an idea as theme for the next year’s conference.
We want to say to our UK colleagues that you’re always welcome in the Netherlands, and that you can contact us if you want to see some stream (valley) restoration examples in our country.
Stewart Clarke (National Freshwater Specialist, National Trust)
The annual River Restoration Conference grows and grows, this year there were a record 360 attendees at the East Midlands Conference Centre at the University of Nottingham (great conference venue by the way). The river restoration community is not just large but vibrant and increasingly engaged in a much wider range of activities than physical restoration and this year’s theme ‘Engaging with Rivers’ exploited this breadth of work.
One of the frustrations with a large event of this nature is that there are the inevitable parallel sessions and the agonising decisions about where to go next and as such everyone’s experience will be slightly different. What follows then are some of my highlights and take home messages.
During the opening plenary session Chris Spray from Dundee showcased the great work on the Eddleston Water in the Tweed catchment and drew parallels with similar community engagement with another Tweed, this one in Australia. Joe Pecorelli (Zoological Society of London) then showed how some London communities have been engaging with the more unpleasant (but critically important) aspects of catchment management looking for evidence of misconnection and sewer overflows on Outfall Safaris in urban catchments. This is the sort of volunteer work that can really generate the sort of understanding around issues that the regulators would struggle with and it was good to see the data being picked up and acted on by Thames Water.
Once again natural flood management was a hot topic and I suspect that the dedicated NFM sessions of recent years will be needed for many years to come. Clearly, lots of people are now involved in NFM projects and this is a real focus for many catchment groups and consultants no doubt reflecting greater awareness of the benefits of NFM but also the focus of recent funding initiatives. As Alastair Driver noted summing up at the end of the session, there’s a lot going on but it’s still early days, we need people to come to future conferences sharing data and experiences both good and bad.
Once back together at the end of day one, Paul Leinster (former EA chief and current Natural Capital Committee member) gave us an insightful analysis of the Government’s 25 year plan for the environment and the role that natural capital thinking is playing. The annual UK River Prize announcement has developed into a core part of the conference with an increasingly glitzy and slick formula. What is increasingly noticeable is the exceptionally high quality of all those projects that get shortlisted; these were all inspiring and multi-faceted projects with engagement at their heart. Well done to the Hills to Levels project for winning against stiff competition.
I enjoyed and learned a lot through a wood in rivers workshop but I also I heard great things about some of the other workshop sessions (natural capital, floodplains). There really is increasing understanding and appreciation of the role of trees, and wood, in riverine function as Angela Gurnell has long been advocating. To some extent the interaction between river, floodplain and catchment continued into the final session. Christian Huising and Maarten Veldhuis gave the conference useful international perspective with some bold ‘dryland’ stream restoration using sand augmentation in the Netherlands and I encouraged people to think beyond the channel to ponds and headwaters as a way of dealing with the ubiquitous nutrient problem. However, what really sent me away thinking was Colin Thorne’s (Nottingham) take on ‘stage zero’ restoration; think anastomosing channels flowing through a wetland complex. Inspired by some amazing US schemes it has got me thinking about where such an approach might be tested in the UK….
For a personal perspective, I was really pleased to see a good turn out from my colleagues at the National Trust with three of us contributing to the programme this year. Given one of the original River Restoration project sites was at the Trust’s Coleshill estate this feels particularly relevant and is a real sign of that the organisation’s current ambitions around the natural environment and our plans for a major programme of catchment and community engagement work (the Riverlands programme, described by Richard Higgs on day 2 in Nottingham).
I am already looking forward to next year.