Most of us don’t think twice about turning on the tap and running a nice glass of cold water on a hot day, or filling up the kettle for a brew after a busy day at work, however that water has been on quite a journey since falling as rain. Only a very small proportion of rain falls actually onto our reservoirs or river, the rest falls onto the land, and makes its way into the rivers and reservoirs either running through the ground or over the surface. The water then has to be treated by South West Water to remove any sediment, bacteria and chemicals it has picked up along the way to make it safe for us to use. This is a costly process and moreover highlights some of the pollutants that are entering our water courses and are potentially damaging to the environment.

To help tackle this problem and improve the water quality in our rivers and reservoirs, South West Water is funding a fantastic project called Upstream Thinking, where they are working with landowners and local delivery partners at a catchment level in 11 catchments across the region. The project delivered by Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust, Westcountry Rivers Trust and Exmoor National Park and offers funding, advice and volunteer help to farmers to make changes to reduce the amount of sediment, nutrients and chemicals running off into the water supply.

At a recent delivery partners’ meeting we found out about all the great work that had been going on. Westcountry Rivers Trust have been working in the Tamar catchment to monitor and improve soil health and have also introduced a pesticide amnesty so farmers can get rid of old chemicals they are no longer allowed to use which gets them out of the environment and removes the risk of leaks and water contamination.

Exmoor National Park have been focusing on the effects of the management of grazing livestock on water quality. Simple changes to manure storage, water course fencing, use of pharmaceuticals and positioning of feeders can have a huge impact on the water quality entering the rivers and reservoirs.

Devon Wildlife Trust have been focusing on helping farmers put their land into countryside stewardship so they can get payments for managing the land in an environmentally friendly way. They are also lending out a soil aerator to the landowners so they can manage their soil better to help nutrient retention and reduce the need for additional fertilisers. They are also working on restoring valuable culm grassland habitat which is not only great for wildlife but also retains water. For example, 10% of the annual flow into Roadford Lake is stored in culm grassland which is a very valuable resource in dry periods. A lot of work at Fernworthy has also been funded by Upstream Thinking and delivered by Devon Wildlife Trust.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is delivering the project at three small catchments at Drift, Cober and the Falmouth reservoirs. As well as all the farm advisory work, a big part of their work is organising for volunteer groups to help landowners with conservation and water quality improvement tasks. This an include Cornish hedging repairs, creating buffer strips by planting trees, managing valuable habitats such as wet woodlands and boggy grasslands and controlling invasive plant species such as Himalayan balsam which are a huge and costly problem on waterways. They are also coordinating a catchment scale Japanese knotweed eradication programme in the Drift catchment.

The project partners have been doing some great work across the region, which is improving the water quality in our lakes and rivers, enhancing biodiversity on our sites and creating a better environment for our visitors to enjoy – and making the journey of our water from rain to tap an easier, less complicated and cheaper one!