Event: Water Quality by natural solutions

posted 15 Nov 2022 3 mins

Speakers: David Diggens (CEO, Norfolk Rivers Trust), Robin Price (Anglian Water), Geoff Brighty (Chair, Norfolk Rivers Trust)

On 19th October we invited three experts, David Diggens, Geoff Brighty and Robin Price, to address the much-debated state of Britain’s rivers and waterways. 

David Diggens, CEO of the Norfolk Rivers Trust (NRT), spoke to us first about the Trust’s ‘nature-based’ approach to water-quality problems, in particular its efforts in partnership with Anglian Water to improve Norfolk’s Glaven and Stiffkey rivers. Working at ‘landscape scale’, the Trust’s recent efforts have involved the reintroduction of beavers to the local landscape and the creation of floodplains, wet woodlands and ‘integrated constructed wetland’ environments whose processes allow for very efficient natural water treatments. ‘What we’ve done in the 11 years since the Trust was founded’, said David, ‘is quite amazing.’

Robin Price, Director of Quality and Environment at Anglian Water, spoke about problems and solutions from a water company’s perspective. Anglian is, geographically, the largest water and water recycling company in England with a purpose statement to ‘protect and enhance’ the environment. As Robin put it, this means ‘extracting less and reducing flood risk.’ Alongside this runs the need for ‘putting the wiggles back in rivers.’ 

‘Many UK waterways have been canalised,’ Robin explained. ‘They are made to take water away from the land and into the North Sea as quickly as possible. How do we take them back to a more natural state?’ 

In partnership with NRT, Anglian will be restoring some 26 wetlands to address phosphate river and lake pollution. Another exciting part of the plan is the first European trial, in Norfolk, of the ‘Water Fund’ – a concept successfully used to tackle water crises in New York, Cape Town and 40 other locations worldwide. Robin’s determined response to current doom and gloom is that it is, in fact, ‘a really, exciting time to be in the water industry and the environmental sector.’

Finally, Geoff Brighty, NRT chair, gave us a sobering roundup of the UK’s current ecology and ecological policy, taking into consideration climate-mitigation challenges and ever-declining biodiversity. We are, he warned, facing ‘Code Red’ for nature, humanity, and economic growth. Our consumption patterns and infrastructure – in water, energy, plastics – are ‘yet to be resilient’. We need an approach to growth and investment which is ‘sustainable and restorative’ at its core, with ‘NGOs at the heart of sustainable delivery’. Nature-based solutions Geoff concluded, bringing our talk full circle, must be at the core of a new, larger, longer-term approach.