Natural Course at the River Restoration Centre Annual Network Conference
Members of the Natural Course team and our partners recently had the opportunity to attend and present about our work at the June 2022 River Restoration Centre Annual Network Conference.
The conference theme ‘making river restoration mainstream’ aligned perfectly with our projects, and so we were extremely pleased to have a number of abstracts accepted on the conference agenda.
Under the session focussed on catchment planning, Mark Turner (Natural Course Greater Manchester Team Leader at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority) gave a presentation titled ‘delivering nature-based solutions to catchment restoration – the Natural Course approach’. He discussed a series of evidence led nature-based solutions that have been implemented and are delivering multiple benefits across the Northwest. These included small-scale water management solutions at sites in Greater Manchester; natural flood management interventions in the fringes of the Pennines; large wetland features at the former Bickershaw Colliery in Wigan and at Hillylaid in Lancashire; and catchment wide nature-based solutions across the Wyre catchment. Mark also discussed some of the future challenges that Natural Course has identified – including how to mainstream a nature-based approach and moving from delivery of demonstration projects to catchment and neighbourhood scale initiatives.
Also in the catchment planning session, was a presentation by Emma Lewin from Aktins about the BRIL (Bringing the River Irk to Life) action plan project. This Natural Course project identified and developed opportunities for environmental and socio-economic improvements in the Irk catchment. Emma discussed the methods used in the process, which included using digital data, online stakeholder engagement, natural capital assessments and desk-based biodiversity net gain assessments to identify cost benefits and help prioritise actions.
In the ‘addressing fine sediments and nutrients’ session, Ben Dugdale from Natural England gave a presentation about our work at Rostherne Mere in Cheshire. He discussed how diffuse water pollution (DWP) from agriculture significantly contributes to the nutrient load apportionment within rivers and lakes (especially in rural catchments) and how it is a primary factor in protected sites not meeting favourable condition targets. His presentation looked at how, through Natural Course, Natural England developed nature-based solutions designed to reduce agricultural DWP pressures, whilst improving both biodiversity and water quality. At Rostherne Mere, the created wetland habitat and installed multiple willow dams within targeted inflows intercept agricultural run-off and reduce nutrient concentrations. By working directly with the landowner, multiple sustainable farming practices were introduced – including arable reversion, lower stocking rates, seasonal rotational grazing and stock exclusion areas. All of these helped to reduce the impacts of DWP whilst increasing species richness and abundance throughout the site.
On day 2 of the conference, the ‘tools and guidance for river restoration’ session gave the opportunity for Lorna Drake of Natural England to present about our ecological network tool for the North West River Basin District.
She discussed how given finite resources, the strategic prioritisation of interventions is vital to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, while maximising ecosystem service provisioning. Through Natural Course, Natural England developed the Ecological Network Tool for wetlands and woodlands covering the entire northwest river basin district from Cheshire to Cumbria. She looked at how the tool combines circuit-based connectivity software with habitat suitability models to identify priority areas where habitat creation/restoration can be most effective and have the greatest positive impact on connectivity. It’s designed to be used alongside other datasets on, for example, water quality and Water Framework Directive issues, flood risk and green social prescribing to highlight areas where nature-based solutions can achieve multiple environmental and social benefits. Our ecological network tool is a catalyst for investment in the water environment and has already identified several pipeline projects to deliver nature recovery.
Another highlight of the conference for us was the UK River Prize dinner, where we were delighted to see the Ribble Life Together project win the prestigious catchment scale award. Natural Course was a huge enabler of this project, which used a prioritised ecosystem service approach to improve the natural river heritage of the Ribble Catchment for people and wildlife, in an inclusive and integrated way.