Catchment Understanding video transcript.

Natural Course:

An innovative approach to improve and protect the water environment in Northwest England.


Esther Taylor, Strategy Development Manager, Natural Course (United Utilities)

So, across the northwest we’ve got a number of rivers and they are currently facing a lot of key risks and issues in regard to water quality and quantity.

Natural Course is a 10-year, EU Life integrated project consisting of a number of public, private and third sector organisations. And the expertise from those organisations and experience within the sector really has helped us to develop catchment understanding as a theme.

So, a catchment is all the land that surrounds rivers, and currently a number of key stakeholders have responsibility for managing the catchment across the northwest. Sometimes this management doesn’t always happen in the most holistic way which considers the catchment as a whole.  So sometimes, environmental interventions can happen in silo and in a bit of a disjointed approach.

By bringing together these key stakeholders, by pooling our knowledge, data and resources, we can paint a more holistic understanding of what is happening within a catchment, what the challenges are, how we can solve them.  We can make sure our interventions are targeted at the right places to ensure that we can move water quality and quantity towards an improved ecological status.

So, a couple of examples within the Cheshire Hub, where we have taken a catchment understanding approach, has been the development of natural capital farm plans, where we have worked with farmers to develop their land management practises to ensure they support the environment.  And we’ve also focussed in on more specific rivers, such as Valley Brook, to help restore it to its near natural state.

The work we are doing within catchment understanding, the data, the lessons learnt, the successes we’re gaining, are hoped to be scaled up to further catchments across the northwest as well as hopefully even further to other areas of the UK and beyond.


Ecological Network Tool: Building the evidence base to improve our catchment understanding.

Tom Smart, Lead Advisor, Urban and Wetlands Team (Natural England)

The ecological network tool is essentially a map which shows where our current, lowland wetland and habitats networks are and how they connect together, and also where we want to target our nature and restoration and creation to improve the connectivity of our landscape, and where this can have the biggest bang for its buck.

So, the ecological network tool is innovative in that we’re not just thinking about our important wetland sites in our current network of sites as individual areas, but also thinking about the landscape between them and the connectivity in how species might move from site to site across the wider landscape.  And thinking of things at a catchment scale or a landscape scale.

So, for example, we’re here at Risley Moss SSSI, which is a really important wetland SSSI in the Cheshire to Greater Manchester border areas where we’ve got a lot of these wetland steppingstones.  We’ve used the tool as an evidence base to get funding for wetland restoration here and also at Pestfurlong Moss just nearby which is an important connector between this SSSI and the nearby Holcroft Moss (which is another wetland SSSI).  The tool had identified that between Risley and Holcroft there was a bit of a bottleneck.  By demonstrating that when bidding for funding we’re able to show that restoring a relic bog at Pestfurlong was going to aid connectivity between our important wetland sites.

So, in many ways the tool revealed some of the important areas that we already new about, but also it revealed some interesting target areas.  For example, in South Manchester where we are now looking at how we can restore Highfield Country Park LNR in Levenshulme, which is an urban area.  So, lots of opportunities for connecting people with nature.  And that was revealed as a potential bottleneck in our wetland network as well, in an urban green space.  So, there are lots of opportunities that which perhaps we weren’t expecting to find as well.

So far, we have completed Phase 3 of Natural Course, but in Phase 4 we are going to continue with developing the ecological network, expanding its spatial extent.  We’re going to incorporate Lancashire and Cumbria and to cover the whole of the North West River Basin District.  And we’re also going to incorporate upland habitats as well, which are obviously very important from a hydrological point of view and thinking about the hydrological connectivity between the uplands and the lowlands so we can target work to restore in the uplands as well.

Well, the ecological network tool couldn’t really happen without Natural Course, because our jobs were created to work on this project through Natural Course.  So in terms of staff time, funding and the resources to really be able to do this work, which will then help not only Natural Course but Natural England’s work and the work of our partners as well.

This programme has been made possible with the support of EU LIFE IP funding – project number: LIFE14/IPE/UK/0027.