All AONBs celebrated their Landscapes for Life Week from 19 – 27 September this year, with one of the day themes being ‘Down by the Water’.

This was a great opportunity for our Upstream Thinking 3 project manager Steph Knights to chat with Cornwall AONB about how the county has worked its magic on her.

“Not going to lie, I am a ‘Devonshire dumpling’ born and raised. But Cornwall has worked her charm on me and the lure of her rugged coastline, rolling hills, carving rivers, and dramatic moorland, satisfies that wild streak in me.

I love exploring those upper tributaries of the River Fowey that flow from Bodmin Moor AONB through steep-sided stream valleys, enclosed by large expanses of oak woodland, some of it ancient, and interspersed with small pastoral fields. And of course, rambling the granite outcrops of Bodmin Moor with characteristic stone tors, and unusual river profiles.

Probably my favourite section of the Cornwall AONB is the South Coast Eastern that runs from Par Sands to Looe, encompassing the Fowey ria, a submerged lower portion of the river valley that forms a network of streams leading toward a coastline of low cliffs and small beaches.

Living and working in Cornwall is a privilege and one that I am very grateful for, especially working in a field I am passionate about and for an organisation I believe in. Since being in my role with Westcountry Rivers trust (WRT) as Upstream Thinking 3 Project Manager I have discovered so much more about the Cornwall AONB and how our shared love of our natural world enables us to deliver projects targeting issues that have an impact on it.

At WRT we love rivers, and there are a lot of them in the Fowey catchment. Thirteen waterbodies to be precise, which includes the River Fowey and tributaries, the Warleggan and St Neot Rivers, and Cardinham Water. Not to mention its neighbouring rivers, and water stored in two main reservoirs, Colliford and Siblyback, of which Colliford is one of the largest in Cornwall.

It is of no surprise that the catchment contributes up to 70% of Cornwall’s public water supply and is strategically important to South West Water.

Agriculture and rural land management practices can have a negative effect on water quality, particularly misuse of pesticides. With approx. 80% of land within AONBs in the Fowey catchment being farmed, this is the biggest threat to the water supply. Providing drinking water to the public comes with great responsibility, and over the past 10 years, WRT has been working in partnership with various environmental organisations to reduce and mitigate some of these pressures impacting on water quality at source, across five strategically important drinking water supply river catchments in the Westcountry: the Fowey, Tamar, Exe, Dart and Otter catchments.

This work has been delivered under the Upstream Thinking (UST) project, a multi-award-winning catchment management scheme funded by South West Water (SWW), which applies natural catchment-scale solutions to improve water quality and supply.

We have worked with landowners and farmers across catchments to install or upgrade farmyard and in-field infrastructure, and to support and adopt land management practices which reduce negative impacts on water quality and improve business resilience.

Grants have been awarded to farmers to facilitate on farm improvements such as watercourse fencing, clean and dirty water separation, livestock housing (overwintering), and manure stores.

A pesticide amnesty scheme has also been a very successful part of the project, raising awareness among the agricultural community of the significant risk pesticides pose to our watercourses. Within the past five years, a staggering five tons of pesticides were completely removed from the environment across our five target catchments and disposed of safely, at no cost to the farmer. That is a lot of pesticide.

In April 2020, SWW launched the third round of Upstream Thinking, which will run for another five years, with the addition of a sixth catchment, Roadford.

In addition to farmyard and in-field infrastructure, this round has a ‘greener’ focus on maintaining, restoring, creating, and connecting semi-natural habitats; in particular, targeting opportunities that will enhance biodiversity, increase the natural capital stock in the catchment, whilst also generating other multiple benefits in terms of water quality, water storage, natural flood management, carbon storage, public enjoyment, and invasive non-native species control.

But what is Natural Capital? Natural Capital is the world’s stock of natural resources, which includes geology, soils, air, water, and all living organisms, that provide us with services and goods (i.e. building materials, drinking water, and food). These benefits are known as ecosystem services or nature’s contribution to people. Two of these underpin our economy and society, and thus make human life possible.

On farm, investing in Natural Capital involves managing productive farmland to reduce negative impacts on water quality whilst seeking other multiple benefits for drinking water abstraction and the wider catchment environment.

For example, slowing the flow of surface water run-off by installing ponds, wetland scrapes, and better ditch management, putting in river or field buffers, and planting woodland areas.

These improvements can increase biodiversity by providing habitat for wildlife, improve raw water quality by reducing soil erosion, and lowering overall flood risk, while generating an acceptable return on investment for the farm and improving its management.

This commitment will also contribute to protection against wider environmental impacts such as, climate change, agricultural intensification, and deteriorating raw water. This in turn reduces drinking water treatment costs to SWW, which will benefit the consumers pocket too.

WRT and our partners have deployed Upstream Thinking Farm Advisors to provide free and confidential advice to farmers and landowners across Devon and Cornwall.

Farm Advisors take a holistic approach to determine how water interacts with pollutants and soil, at both a farm and landscape scale. They will discuss the farm business with the farmer and work out tailored solutions, having identified opportunities for investment on the farm.

Grants for supporting improvements on farms are offered at 50% standard intervention rate to enable the farmer to deliver the works at an affordable cost. Farm advisors also provide support towards agri-environment applications for infrastructure and land management improvements, such as Countryside Stewardship.

These small changes to land management practices and on farm improvements, delivered on a catchment scale, can make a big difference to the environment, and help protect Cornwall’s AONB that we all love so much.”

You can find out more about our work on Upstream Thinking 3 at

If you are a landowner and would like to express an interest in the Upstream Thinking 3 scheme, please email [email protected] and an advisor for your catchment will be in touch.