Project Update: Catchment Benchmarking

Report on catchment partnerships across the North West River Basin District published

Natural Course has published its final report from the Catchment Benchmarking project, commissioned to Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd.

The project examined how catchment partnerships currently work across the North West River Basin District (NWRBD), including the challenges they face, examples of good practice, and the opportunities available to make the most of available funds.  It also identified whether opportunities exist to increase capacity in the partnerships and if so, how to achieve it.

The project was split into four phases:

Phase 1: Extensive interviews and data gathering to establish an understanding of the partnerships and their challenges. (Phase 1 report available here: ).

Phase 2: Development of a framework to evaluate the partnerships successes and barriers.

Phase 3: Evaluation of successes and barriers faced using the framework.

Phase 4: Report on findings with an Action Plan. (Phase 4 report available online).

The latest report (Phase 4) provides a summary of results from earlier in the project, along with recommended support approaches and an Action Plan.  The Action Plan sets out support that could be provided to the CaBA partnerships to enable them to deliver more Water Framework Directive (WFD) outcomes.

It covers:

  • The catchments and partnerships in the NWRBD
  • Partnership ways of working and common challenges
  • Funding successes, opportunities and challenges
  • Delivering WFD outcomes
  • Monitoring and Reporting
  • Skills and expertise gaps
  • Actions to build capability and confidence
  • Examples of good practices to address challenges and deliver WFD outcomes

Findings are presented as general conclusions across all of the partnerships, and specific challenges for some partnerships are highlighted. Although partnerships have not been directly named in the assessments, it is envisaged that the results will allow for open discussions to identify any potential challenges within partnerships, and a review the associated support proposed in the Action Plan.

The study concluded that whilst CaBA has always been a ‘bottom-up’ approach with partnerships able to self-direct (and in many cases with great success), there is value in providing more guidance and support at a regional level. Environment Agency catchment co-ordinators and others should enable and encourage Hosts to proactively seek support, either directly or through exploring the wealth of material provided in the monthly newsletters and on the CaBA website. The report also recommends a regional mentoring network and the creation of more structured opportunities for partnership hosts to share experiences and discuss ways forward together. For example, a bi-annual, half-day event bringing hosts together would offer a space for training on key issues, collective inputting into policy developments, and networking opportunities. Additionally, more frequent and smaller groups could be facilitated to encourage closer working of catchment partnerships with common geographical interests. This would mirror that already begun in Cumbria.

Many of the actions address general needs across the partnerships, but there are three areas where specific support is suggested for some catchments:

  • Partnerships needing support with GIS and data skills.
  • Partnerships needing support in some engagement issues.
  • Partnerships needing support in developing a project pipeline.

(It should be noted that these support needs are already offered through the National Support Group, including the technical support/mentoring team)

Adam Chapman (Natural Course Project Manager) says…

“This has been an extremely interesting and useful study in assessing the capacity of the CaBA partnerships and identifying examples of good practice in enabling WFD delivery. It is envisaged that the good practices can be used as examples to help support partnerships currently struggling with these aspects of partnership working. The report culminates in a detailed Action Plan which proposes a blend of support approaches that, in combination with discussions within and between the working groups, can be made bespoke to help drive specific capacity building needs.”

The full report can be accessed here: