Like many across the country, the Westcountry Rivers Trust carefully watched as the COP21 talks across the channel progressed over the last couple of weeks. Brought together were some of the world’s most influential people against one of the world’s most critical problems: climate change. When talks ended on the 15th December, we saw 196 participating countries, a planned cap of 1.5oC to global temperature rise and a promising framework developed to steer us in the direction of achieving this.

While the success of the agreement is still in debate and can only be decided by the commitment of each nation, we were struck by the emphasis placed on rivers and their catchments.

The Paris agreement recognises that river basins are hugely important across the planet and the availability of water resources is key to reducing poverty, improving the economy and ensuring that both our use of the environment and our development are sustainable. Unfortunately, nested among the various other consequences of climate change, both the availability and quality of water resources are threatened. What’s more, droughts, flooding and huge social impacts are on the horizon if climate change is allowed to alter our water systems. To adapt to this change, there is a push for more efficient and integrated management of our river basins that takes a long term approach, is well informed by monitoring and which makes use of different forms of investment.

From Paris to the West Country…

Presentation1Presentation1Climate change is a big worry for rivers in the West Country but it’s reassuring to know that the work we are doing is on track to coping with the demands of this future change. We have already built up a large bank of experience in the ways of river basin management encouraged by the ‘Paris Pact on Water and Adaptation.’ One example of our catchment based approach to river management is our ‘Upstream Thinking’ project. This project demonstrates how a number of different organisations (South West Water, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and ourselves) and sectors (water treatment companies, environmental charities, agriculture) can work together to effectively manage our river basins. ‘Upstream Thinking,’ as well as a number of our other projects, relies on data from extensive monitoring programmes to ensure that our management decisions are well suited to the conditions of our rivers. We are always keen to trial new, innovative monitoring equipment and have recently set up our ‘Citizen Science’ scheme to allow anyone to become involved in monitoring programmes and protecting our rivers.

Another important part of our work is the time is dedicated to helping farmers and land managers to adopt best management practices to limit the amount of soil that is lost from their land and washed into our rivers. This allows farmers to save money by reducing the need to replenish nutrients in their soil and  helps keep our rivers clean. As is explained in the COP21 agreement, good management of soils is also an important aspect of preventing climate change since carbon soils hold a huge volume of carbon (2-3x more than the atmosphere) and have the potential to hold a huge amount more.

River basins in the West Country are unlikely to be left untouched by climate change but the Westcountry Rivers Trust has a good deal of expertise which we can use to adapt to any changes. It’s reassuring to know that the global community is aware of the importance of our rivers catchments and their potential threats so we can look forward to playing a part in the development of more effective ways to manage them.