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Upstream Thinking

image depicting Alleviating soil compaction at Drift Reservoir
Alleviating soil compaction at Drift Reservoir
Looking after the land to protect our rivers

Upstream Thinking is South West Water's multi-award-winning catchment management scheme which has been applying natural landscape-scale solutions to water quality issues since 2008.
The current programme is being delivered through a partnership of South West Water, the Devon Wildlife Trust, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the Westcountry Rivers Trust and the Exmoor National Park Authority.

Upstream Thinking is a sustainable approach, working with the expertise of partners, the knowledge of farmers and nature itself to improve raw water quality at source. This keeps down costs for water company customers and reduces the impact of water treatment on the environment.

The target for the programme is 750 farms and 1,300ha of moorland and other semi-natural land under revised management.

The main delivery partner organisations also work closely with a wide range of stakeholders including the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), the National Farmers Union and the local Catchment Partnerships.

Farm advisers visit farms and carry out an assessment resulting in a whole-farm plan.

This includes a water management plan and includes future capital investment proposals targeted at water quality improvements, which will be up to 50% funded by Upstream Thinking.

These can include improvements to slurry storage, fencing to keep livestock out of rivers, providing alternative water sources for livestock, and better pesticide management including investment in new equipment such as weed wipers which deliver targeted doses of herbicide.

Work to block drainage ditches on Exmoor also continues, with a target of restoring a further 500 hectares of peatland. Delivered by the Exmoor Mires Partnership, this part of the Upstream Thinking programme successfully investigated and restored over 2,000 hectares of land on Exmoor in 2010-15.

Research carried out on the moor by the University of Exeter has shown that restored bogs release a third less water during storms and 30% less dissolved organic carbon from the peat. Research by the Environment Agency indicates improvements in summer baseflows in the rivers.

The programme is fully endorsed by the Environment Agency (EA, Natural England and the Drinking Water Inspectorate. It is wholly aligned with the national guidance issued for PR14 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the Statement of Obligations. All schemes are within the EA's National Environment Programme.

The work is targeted to benefit 15 water treatment works supplying 72% of the total daily water to our customers.

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