Trust advises taking natural path

Trustadvises taking natural path

12 March 2008

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United Kingdom — Water companies in the UK should invest more in nature’sability to provide clean water and less in technology, the National Trust hassaid.

The recommendation comes in a report on the value of “nature’s capital”.

The Trust also says health authorities should spend money on promoting outdoor exercise rather than paying for pills.

Climate change and flooding are other environmental problems that the Trust says could be reduced by working with nature rather than against it.

Its report suggests that the “natural” solutions to some problems tend to work out cheaper, more effective, and more environmentally benign than the technological alternative – but that the philosophy has yet to find favour at the heart of government or business.

“Things are starting to move in the right direction, but historically we have focused on solving problems at the end of the pipe,” said Helen Meech, the Trust’s senior director of policy and campaigns.

“What we are promoting are ways of tackling problems at the source.”

The degraded High Peak bogs have been managed unnaturally

Peak good practice

In the case of fresh water supplies, the Trust is talking quite literallyabout starting at source – with the ground where rainwater collects, before itfeeds into rivers and reservoirs.

In the High Peak of Derbyshire, upland peat bogs have been deeply degraded byovergrazing, fire and pollution.

As a result, water arrives in reservoirs carrying a heavy load of dissolvedorganic carbon. The water needs treatment to remove the brown colouration, and the reservoirs can silt up badly with peat slurry. Treatment and slurry removal both cost money.

“If we restored the peat to its proper condition, that would reduce runoff and sedimentation,” said Ms Meech.

“Over time, colouration will reduce; the water would still need some treatment, but much less. The peat would also sequester carbon.”

The philosophy has attracted the attention of United Utilities, the company which operates water supplies in the north-west of England.

It is working with the Trust on natural management of water catchments in the Peak District and in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, which is designated both as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Other landowners are also involved. A key element is to prevent farm animals defecating into watercourses, and the Trust believes water companies would be wiling to pay farmers for installing the fencing required if they could see the financial benefits.

Current thinking

The National Trust spreads the philosophy of problem prevention through investment in nature into other areas, notably health.

Helicopter delivering heather "brash" to reservoir. Image: United Utilities
Heather remnants are used to cover exposed peat to help regeneration

Use of open land and green spaces for physical recreation has the potential,it notes, to reduce rates of conditions such as obesity and depression, loweringthe nation’s medical bill.

It has established a partnership with Doncaster and Bassetlaw Primary CareTrust which encourages people to visit a local green space, Clumber Park, onfoot or on bicycle. The Primary Care Trust has noted cost savings as a result ofits investment in the project.

The conventional approach to reducing flood risk has been to engineer asolution, directing rivers through concrete channels.

But this creates fast-flowing currents and can leave no room for spillover.Much better, the National Trust advises, to work with nature, to restorewetlands and allow a river its traditional meandering, which slows its path.

In this, the report echoes advice from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrologywhich earlier this week released an extensive report into last year’s severeflooding. Flood defences that work with nature rather than against it were oneof its recommendations.

The Trust also urges the government to put a price on the carbon tied up inthe UK’s soils, and value the kind of management that will keep it there.

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