Here at the Westcountry Rivers Trust, we are pleased to announce that we have won funding to deliver over £4 million of restoration work over the next three years on river catchments across the South West. River and catchment restoration projects will take place on the Dart and Teign, the Axe and Exe, the Rivers of South Hams, the Rivers of South Cornwall and the Taw. Although these are some of the Southwest’s most iconic and beautiful rivers, each of them has its own problems, both current and historic, which limit their ability to function naturally.

These river improvement projects will improve the health of vital river ecosystems through targeted habitat management work and by reducing the amount of pollution entering the rivers. River connectivity will also be improved by removing historic obstacles such as weirs. These obstacles block animal migration and effectively disconnect what should be a single continuum of habitat.

The Trust made the successful bids to the Environment Agency to win funding from the Catchment Restoration Fund, a fund made available by Defra as a result of commitments made by the government in last year’s Natural Environment White Paper. This work will also help Britain to meet national targets for environmental protection and sustainable development, as well as EU targets set out under the Water Framework Directive and several other international directives.

Dr Dylan Bright, Westcountry Rivers Trust Director, said, “We have worked with voluntary groups on these rivers for many years and we have noticed a gradual increase in how much people value the river for a whole variety of reasons. Mostly, however, people seem to innately understand that rivers are where everything comes together; the quality of the river reflects how sustainably we live on the land. Rivers have been harnessed and put to work during our industrial history. Although this is no longer necessary, these historic activities have limited the rivers ability to protect and provide for us in many other ways. Our work will let them run wild again which will enable them to deliver all the other things we need from them which have, until recently, been overlooked.”

Richard Cresswell, Environment Agency Director South West, said, “We have many beautiful and important rivers in the South West. Their quality has been improved tremendously over the past 20 years, but there is still a lot to do. I really welcome the work being done by partners such as the Westcountry Rivers Trust. These new projects are particularly exciting and will hopefully engage communities in improving their local river environments.”

David Baxter, Head of Catchment Management at the Environment Agency, said “The bids from the Westcountry Rivers Trust exemplified what the Catchment Restoration Fund aims to do; consider the catchment as a whole, solve problems through working with a range of partners and, most of all, deliver benefits across society. Water is essential for life and livelihoods. These projects will restore a more balanced approach to land and water management that sustains people and wildlife.”

Protecting the environment is now widely acknowledged as being essential to the future wellbeing of society. Rivers are the lifeblood of the natural environment and as a society we rely on river catchments to provide us with water, food and places to live, work and enjoy. A well-managed catchment will protect us from flooding and drought; it will store carbon in woodlands and wetlands and provide a diversity of habitats for wildlife. Protecting and restoring our rivers and catchments will help to secure a better future for us all.