The management of environmental water quality and the impact of agriculture and effluent discharges has been a subject of intense debate in recent times. The Worshipful Company of Water Conservators (WCWC) has responded by organising a programme focusing on the ‘wisdom of water’ in which there is a series of debates, webinars, and think pieces (one was produced last year on catchments) and responses to consultations, which are archived on its website. These provide a space for open non-confrontational debate and draw on the knowledge and experiences of its members. Previous debates have included governance and finance. The next step is this event on catchment management and nature-based solutions.

The evening was opened by Professor Martin Bigg, the Master of the WCWC and Chaired by Colin Drummond, OBE DL, Deputy Master of the Company. Our guest speakers were Bart Schoonbaert (Associate Director, Arup), the Right Hon Ruth Kelly PC (Chair, Water UK), Mark Lloyd (Chief Executive, the Rivers Trust), Richard Bramley (Chair, Environment Forum, National Farmers’ Union) and Peter Simpson (Chief Executive, Anglian Water). After an extended question and answer session with members of the WCWC and guests, there were further informal discussions.

Principal insights from the Debate

  1. Whilst progress on catchment-based management is being made, more focus and speed is now needed, based on a National Water Strategy, embracing catchment management and nature-based solutions, which should always be the default option.
  2. Management of water resources and quality, biodiversity, flooding, landscape and land use must all be brought together more effectively. There is a need for a national template of catchment management with plenty of flexibility for the needs of each catchment. Each catchment is unique; urban catchments will be different to rural ones, but always involving local communities.
  3. The benefits of nature-based solutions are evident. New regulatory integrated models for environmental objectives and delivery are emerging, such as SSWAN (Sustainable Solutions for Water and Nature); launched in early March, it advocates a new partnership model for a catchment-based, holistic approach to managing our water courses, putting the emphasis on nature-based and low carbon.
  4. Catchments must be part of any review of Water Company licences and Ofwat Price Review processes.
  5. Catchment management and NBS will provide new opportunities for socially aware investment.
  6. New metrics are required to show progress.
  7. Fresh ways are needed to attract employees in catchment management and this needs innovation in skills development.
  8. There is a need for better communications to explain more widely what is happening.

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