Joining The Dots!

Tony Whitbread

A room full of landowners, farmers, anglers and conservationists, retired Environment Agency and water company managers – and a snail expert. That’s a typical ARRT management meeting. You’d think we would do nothing but argue all day! Yet it’s not the case. Why?

We’ve worked together for a long time now, and really appreciate each other as friends. And from the start we’ve had something in common – the river catchment itself. We all think in terms of how to make the whole catchment a healthy environment. Achieve that, then the rest follows.

We are lucky to live in one of the most ecologically rich river catchments in Europe. This richness is the reason so much of it has been awarded the highest recognitions – Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Ramsar site and so on. Maybe taken for granted, perhaps even seen as a nuisance, there can be no argument that these designations show this is very special place and we will all benefit from looking after it.

The Arun & Rother catchment is, first and foremost, an ecosystem – plants, animals and the natural world working together. When this system is in good heart, all kinds of other benefits accrue. If the soils don’t erode, if nutrients don’t run off, if carbon builds up in the soil, if river courses run free and naturally and if vegetation and nature is flourishing – then the odds are that the river ecosystem is working ok. Otters might eat the occasional fish and upset a few anglers, but a river good enough to contain otters will hold far more fish in the first place.

It’s not just the wild life that benefit. A river that is low in pollutants, supporting both fish and otters, will also be easier (and cheaper) for the water company to treat, and so provide us with wholesome drinking water.

I would add that if the rivers are in good shape because of sympathetic treatment by land owners, farmers and managers, then why shouldn’t they, who’ve created these benefits, profit? This is the principle behind “payments for ecosystem services”; a simple concept, but rather more difficult to put into practice. In my view the Arun & Rother Rivers Trust has become pretty good at joining up these dots; working together to deliver a healthy river catchment whilst ensuring that those who deliver benefits are properly recognised. We don’t have all the answers, but as a group of friends working positively together, we are in a good position to find them.