FOR 30 years, the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) has been showing the freshwater environments of Cornwall love by restoring and protecting them, but there is more to do.

Josie Purcell, communications manager at WRT said: “We have had amazing successes for our river habitats since the trust was founded in 1994.

“Yet waterways locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally continue to face ongoing challenges from issues such as climate change, population growth, agricultural run-off, sewage and/or chemical impacts.

“While our rivers, streams, wetlands, estuaries, and lakes in the Westcountry still suffer, we will keep doing all we can to care for them.

Citizen Science

Citizen scientist Graham gets ready to take a water sample. Photo by Dr Rachael Tily.

“One of the ways we do this is to encourage people to love their local waterways, particularly through our citizen science scheme.

“Started in 2016, our flagship Westcountry CSI project has inspired thousands of individuals, grassroot groups, and national organisations to help the ‘blue spaces’ on their doorstep.

“And with more than 850 water bodies across the Westcountry to be checked, people don’t need to go too far from home to take part.

“By building bonds to nature, we develop a love for these spaces and a desire to care for them.

“Our citizen scientists gather data such as turbidity, phosphate levels, pollution and wildlife sightings from a designated waterside location to help monitor water quality and habitat health.

“Information is shared on our website, and with other agencies as appropriate, and helps to prioritise where interventions are to be made.

Our beginnings

The charity’s CEO, Dr Laurence Couldrick added: “A passion for rivers has been a part of our charity since it began.

Laurence Couldrick, CEO, celebrated 20 years at the trust in 2023.

“Like many a good idea, it bloomed following a conversation at a pub between anglers wanting to ensure their beloved waterways stayed healthy.

“Their ambitions for restoring rivers lay the foundations for the Trust we know today, and our first trustees included the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and avid fly-fisher and conservationist, Anne Voss Bark.

“The trust’s first employee and director Arlin Rickard OBE initially steered the trust from his home on Bodmin Moor (with support from others such as Stuart Gardiner and Michael Martin as Chair).

“He went on to lead the development of the national umbrella organisation The Rivers Trust, where he was Chief Executive to 2019 and continues as a senior policy advisor.”

From Arlin Rickard OBE

Arlin (right) with Ted Hughes at the charity’s official launch

Arlin is thrilled that from a shared love of the region’s wonderful rivers, WRT is now celebrating its thirty-year anniversary.

“The germ of the idea probably began as early as 1989 with the privatisation of the water industry”, he said.

“This saw new profit-taking utility companies taking over responsibility for water supply and sewage in England overseen by a new regulator, the National Rivers Authority, later to become the Environment Agency.

“These new arrangements brought together concerned individuals and groups to meet and press for action, particularly around the pollution of our rivers.

“It was at this time I found myself attending meetings with Ted Hughes, a hero of mine who wrote extensively about his love for rivers, a sentiment we both shared.

“The trust’s success quickly led to the formation of other similar Rivers Trusts elsewhere in the UK and Ireland.

“By 2004 they had come together to form a new umbrella body for the growing movement, The Rivers Trust.

“I was tasked with leading the new initiative, with Ian Gregg of ‘Greggs the Bakers’ as Chair with myself as CEO, and The Rivers Trust (RT) as we know it today, was born, which means we are also celebrating 20 years of the rivers trust network in 2024 too.”

Arlin remains a passionate advocate for freshwater environments.

Our ethos

Laurence continued: “The original ethos of the charity helped people look at river conservation and restoration in a new way – it still does.

“Everything we do is informed by the best available science and a commitment to an ecosystems approach, which considers the function of an entire catchment, not just the rivers that flow through them.

“That means we look at other relevant topics such as soil health; the prevention of plastic pollution; supporting Catchment Partnerships; researching innovative water storage options; and developing community food growing schemes to name a few and which can play a role in the interconnected cycle of a river’s health.

“The past 30 years have seen several incredibly positive results for river networks in Cornwall,

“From the early days Cornwall Rivers Project, which targeted 15 key river catchments across the county and was designed to bring significant benefits to both the environment and the economic viability of local rural communities in the county, to the new Resilient Catchment Communities project which will increase community understanding of river resilience and the creation of six key Nature-based Solutions demonstration sites.

“As a part of this latter project, we are hoping to recruit 100 more citizen scientists for Cornwall and will be holding events for people to come and meet us to find out more and get involved.


Josie Purcell pictured at the Royal Cornwall Museum accepting both awards on behalf of the charity

“As a fitting tribute to the past 30 years, and as we look to the future, in December 2023 we won the Environmental Growth and the Overall Winner titles at the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Sustainability Awards.

“Our charity received praise from the judges for our long-term work to restore and protect freshwater habitats and our vision to see the region’s freshwater environments flowing freely and teeming with life for all who depend on them.

“We were singled out for using science, evidence, and experience to underpin our restoration work as well as our commitment to the resilience of freshwater resources.

“This recognition honours our dedicated staff, volunteers and the people and organisations who have supported and continue to support us to keep bringing rivers to life in Cornwall, and beyond.”

Get involved

Visit the Brief History of Our Timeline to find out more.

Sign-up to the newsletter to be the first to find out about the exciting 30th anniversary events happening this year too.

This article forms part of our contribution to the Cornwall National Landscapes environment column in the West Briton, Cornish Guardian and Cornishman. It was published on 14 Feb and 15 Feb 2024.