SOUTH West Water has made improvements to 100,000 hectares of land across 80% of its drinking water catchments to benefit river quality in the South West.

The significant milestone is the equivalent to over 10 times the land size of Plymouth and Exeter combined. This was reached through work carried out by South West Water’s innovative and award-winning Upstream Thinking programme.

Through working with eight partner organisations and more than 860 farmers, the land has been restored, protected and enhanced by Upstream Thinking initiatives such as improving farmyard infrastructure, peatland restoration, and sampling and testing soils.

These changes bring benefits to river water quality by reducing a range of diffuse pollutions problems, such as dirty water run-off from farmyards (a source of ammonia and pathogens) and field run-off (a source of sediment, nutrients and pesticides).

The programme creates partnerships focusing on preventing water resources from suffering detrimental landscape impacts. It also promotes environmentally sensitive farming and restores areas of habitat, including wetlands, to improve water quality in the region’s rivers.

Recent research released by Cornwall Wildlife Trust on water quality across catchments in Cornwall showed increased river water quality with lower levels of rainwater run-off, slurry and chemicals entering watercourses.

David Smith, South West Water’s natural resources manager, said: “We’ve invested over £20 million in Upstream Thinking, changing the way we think about water and the landscape, and we’re thrilled to have reached this momentous milestone.

“This work benefits the region’s environment by providing cleaner river water, lower levels of pollution, reduced carbon emissions from rewetted peatlands, increased sequestration from tree planting, and supporting habitat creation and restoration. We could not have achieved this success without the collaborative approach with our partners, who help to improved wildlife habitats, restoration of wetlands and future resilient water supplies.”

Mark James is a farmer from Treganhoe, Cornwall, who has received support from Upstream Thinking over the last 10 years. Mark said: “Our family has farmed next to Drift Reservoir since the dam was built. We’ve always been aware of the additional responsibilities this brings and we always take the water quality into consideration in our plans, which is costly to our business.

“We’re very pleased South West Water is working with us, recognising our efforts to keep the water clean and providing support so that we can do even more. As I see it, we are now working in partnership with the water company and this is benefiting us all. We are both keeping costs down and benefiting the environment at the same time.”