Upstream Thinking is South West Water’s multi-award-winning approach to keeping our drinking and bathing water clean and affordable by stopping pollutants entering our rivers and streams.

Working with a range of partners, including Devon Wildlife Trust, the programme supports farmers who are ‘upstream’ of key water supplies with grants and advice so that they can manage their business with clean water and a healthy natural environment in mind.

Through this programme, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Working Wetlands project is providing confidential, expert advice and practical solutions to farmers in six Devon catchments. The project has been working with farmers for more than ten years and our advisors understand farming and the challenges farmers face. 


Working with Farmers

Working Wetlands Advisers are working with landowners to address potential sources of pollution on farm with the aim of protecting water quality and restoring important wildlife habitats.

Restored species-rich wet grasslands, often marginal to a working farm, act as natural filters to capture soil particles and nutrients from fertilisers before they reach rivers and reservoirs, thereby acting as effective buffers between agricultural practice and the water course.

An additional benefit of this kind of restoration is an increase in the capacity of the habitat to store water, thus relieving downstream flooding risk as well as reducing soil erosion and diffuse pollution.

So restoring our species-rich wet grasslands will, in turn, improve the water quality in our rivers. 


This distinctive type of damp pasture is generally found on commons, as a component of lowland fen, or in undeveloped corners of otherwise intensively farmed landscapes.

What is it? This moist, often tussocky (long and thick) grassland is found on flat or gently sloping land on peaty mineral soils in areas with higher rainfall (i.e. the west of the country), or on wetter peatlands in East Anglia. A variety of flowers such as meadow buttercup, devil’s-bit scabious, meadow thistle, ragged-Robin, water mint and self-heal are found with purple moor-grass and sharp-flowered rush. Where the soil is particularly low in nutrients, the vegetation becomes more heathy, with cross-leaved heath and tormentil. Scrub is common and the pasture is often bordered by hedgerows. 


National Character Area - The Culm

The rolling ridges and plateaux of the Culm extend across north-west Devon and north-east Cornwall, reaching from the foot of Dartmoor in the southwest and the edge of the Cornish Killas in the west, to the spectacular Atlantic coast of cliffs and sandy beaches in the north. North-eastwards they meet the Exmoor landscape and stand high above the Devon Redlands. The open, often treeless, ridges are separated by an intricate pattern of small valleys forming the catchments of the Rivers Taw, Torridge and Mole. This is largely a remote and sparsely populated landscape. 

Ecosystem services

The Culm NCA provides a wide range of benefits to society. Each is derived from the attributes and processes (both natural and cultural features) within the area. These benefits are known collectively as ‘ecosystem services’. The predominant services are summarised below.

Provisioning services (food, fibre and water supply)

Food provision: The area is characterised by its dairy production, and is also a producer of quality beef cattle, including traditional Red Ruby, and lamb. The sections of arable land in the south-east of the NCA also contribute to food provision through cereal production.

Timber provision: The relatively high proportion (13 per cent) of woodland in this area is not reflected in the availability of timber. Much of the woodland is located in the very difficult to access coastal combes and steep-sided valleys of the Taw and Torridge; however, plantations at the centre of the area have the capacity to produce both hard and soft wood in significant volumes.

Biomass energy: Existing woodlands and hedgerows are being brought under sympathetic management with potential for some biomass production as a by-product of commercial timber production. Opportunities for growing miscanthus do exist, where not in conflict with Culm grassland sites and belowground heritage assets, with high potential yields identified across the area.

Water availability: Most of the area is classified as having additional water available for abstraction, although the NCA contains some areas that either have no water available for additional abstraction or are already over-abstracted.
There are two reservoirs in the NCA: Upper and Lower Tamar Lakes, and Roadford Reservoir. In the Taw and Tamar catchments the main abstractions are for public water supply, agriculture, aquaculture and hydroelectric power (although in the latter case only small sections of river experience reduced flow). Within the North Cornwall catchment, the main abstraction (making up 50 per cent) is for hydroelectric power generation, followed by aquaculture.


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