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The Westcountry Rivers Trust celebrates its 25th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 10:56 22 July 2019

An example of a healthy river catchment

An example of a healthy river catchment

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The Westcountry Rivers Trust shares news of its 25th anniversary celebrations

The babble of a free-flowing brook, stream or river is, for many, up there as one of their favourite sounds.

Spending time on or near water is good for the soul and for 25 years an environmental charity in the West Country has been protecting and enhancing the regions rivers, lakes and estuaries.

Started by passionate river buffs and anglers, Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT), has seen numerous ecological and environmental changes in the water in this time - and, as a part of its remit it aims to continue to nurture and restore Somerset's waterways through its river-related projects.

One of these projects is Sponge 2020, part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund. Working with Somerset County Council and local communities, the charity is delivering urban flood reduction schemes in Taunton.

In 2018, WRT visited Holway Park and Lyngford Park Primary Schools with engineers from two universities in the South West.

This was part of the Westcountry Women Working With Water project (a co-project funded by the Royal Academy of Engineers via its Ingenious programme). These co-design days helped the children understand where the water from their homes and towns goes, how it is managed and how nature and green spaces can play a role in managing water.

The pupils also learnt more about how engineering helps to solve problems. They then initiated ideas for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) for the schools, including thinking about attracting pollinators and making use of rainwater.

At Holway Park, rainwater from the rooftops will be captured and stored so it can be used to top up the school pond.

These ideas are now being used to design and build rainwater harvesting and sustainable drainage systems in the grounds of the two schools. The project has also been supported with funding from Wessex Water, Somerset Rivers Authority, the Greggs Foundation and Postcode Local Trust.

The charity's popular Citizen Science Investigations (CSI) volunteer scheme is another. This enables people (affectionately called 'river detectives') to monitor a water course of their choosing for water quality, while also checking its surroundings.

With the surge in public interest relating to plastic in our oceans, the charity, as part of its quarter century plans, and during Keep Britain Tidy's Great British Spring Clean from March 22-April 23, encouraged new and established CSI volunteers to become a CSI Plastic Tracker.

Simon Browning, Senior Data and Evidence Officer, says: "Everyone is aware of the problem with plastic in our oceans, and the devastating effects it causes.

"With CSI Plastic Tracker, we want to encourage people to learn more about how plastic, litter and other man-made debris gets to the ocean and help us find out locally where it is entering our water ways."

By recording details and taking photos of findings, and sharing with WRT's CSI team, volunteers can help the charity to consider whether long-term remedial action is required such as organised community clean-ups.

In addition to public engagement, WRT undertakes numerous projects, funded through various sources such as the European Union and utility providers such as South West Water, to support its environmental work. These relate to river and land work, such as flooding in urban and rural locations, the health and movement of migratory fish, and improvements in habitats along the rivers

Looking forward to the next 25 years, the trust is also building on its work with farmers.

The land team at WRT provides tailored advice and support so the farming community can make positive land management improvements, with the option to access a capital grant scheme.

To support the charity, its business arm Westcountry River Ltd, re-invests funds from the commercial and conservation projects its specialist consultants and experienced environmentalists deliver.

In 25 years, the trust has come a long way from the trip to the pub where a group of individuals, passionate - but concerned - about the waterways around them, cemented its future.

Visit wrt.org.uk to learn more about the charity's work or to donate.

Did you know…?

The Rivers Brue and Axe flow from the ground at Wookey Hole. The River Axe sweeps through Cheddar and towards the sea at Weston-super-Mare. A few miles to the south, the River Brue reaches the sea at Highbridge, having journeyed 30 miles across the Somerset Levels.

The Rivers Tone and Parrett rise in the Brendon Hills and springs of Chedington. The Tone and Parrett wind their way across breath-taking countryside, merging at Burrowbridge to finish the staggering journey from source to sea.

You can find out more about these and other Somerset rivers at: wrt.org.uk/your-river/

Both of these rivers start from Wookey HoleBoth of these rivers start from Wookey Hole

Somerset eels

Somerset has been at the forefront of eel conservation for many years, be that through habitat restoration or, in the main, easements to existing barriers to migration.

The European Eel is a vital part of our freshwater ecosystems here in the West Country, and across Europe, but is critically endangered. The main problems eels have to cope with are a loss of wetland habitats, barriers to migration such as weirs, historical over-exploitation, and disease.

Somerset is vital to eels. Its lowland, wet landscape is a hot spot for eels and is therefore, nationally important. The WRT's work includes unlocking the complex network of waterways to increase eel access, monitoring glass eel movement in the coastal areas of Steart marshes and assessing how easily large eels 'escape' from man-made reservoirs.

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