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Supporting capacity and capability in the freshwater sector

30 November 2021

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The Water Research Institute recently interviewed a range of experts to better understand current and future freshwater needs, and the role of stakeholders in addressing them.

Faced with the current loss of wetland species and habitats, and increasing pollution issues, there is a societal need to start re-valuing freshwater for the benefits that it brings. This is getting all-the-more urgent with climate change, and as parts of the UK frequently face severe water shortage and devastating flooding.

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation identified freshwater as a key environmental focus, and as an area where they, as a charitable foundation, could make a significant difference in the near future.

Earlier this year, the foundation commissioned a team of researchers from the Water Research Institute, led by Dr Eleanor Kean, to undertake a review of the organisations working on freshwater across the UK, with the aim of understanding the degree of consensus on the state of play, and on the organisation and sectorial opportunities for unlocking change.

Over 100 organisations were consulted, from water companies, to regulators, and environmental organisations.

Participants recognised that freshwater bodies were at a standstill or declining, and agreed on the fact that diffuse pollution and the combined impact of multiple pressures were hindering progress.

Prof Isabelle Durance says: "There is an urgent need to reduce the sources of freshwater impairment in a more integrated manner to reverse current trajectories, restore natural capital where practicable and safeguard the needs of future generations. The report highlights how collaborations are key to finding sustainable solutions to this challenge".

The authors highlighted that stronger impact could be achieved by ensuring that sectors co-ordinate efforts around a shared vision and common goals. These could include the prioritisation of nature-based solutions, the implementation of better land management practices, and the integration of actions at catchment-scale.

Dr Eleanor Kean says: “This important collaboration between EFF and the Water Research Institute highlighted the excellent evidence-based work being undertaken by a range of organisations. Bringing their views, experiences, and ideas for the future together was an opportunity to take stock. I’m excited to see how the report will act as a springboard for more action to improve freshwater ecosystems across the UK”.

Despite challenges, most of the respondents seemed positive about the future, and recognised that current public, policy and industry interest in clean and healthy freshwaters make this the ideal time to act.

Following the publication of the report, the team was consulted by PwC and helped inform Sainsbury’s “Uncharted Waters: Preserving our most vital resource” report.

The full report is now accessible on the website of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

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