As I put the finishing touches to the Cam and Ely Ouse (CamEO) partnership showpiece event for the year, I couldn’t help but reflect on how markedly different the day would be from the first conference in 2016. This time last year, we were geared up to discuss high level issues and challenges of the Water Framework Directive, water resource management, green economies and potential project opportunities. The audience was a mixture of local businesses, regulators, councils, interest groups and community groups, from both within and outside of the CamEO catchment area.
Fast forward 12 months and the conference had a very different feel – moving significantly into the ‘delivery phase’, with half of the day dedicated to presenting project successes in the catchment and the other half dedicated to developing skills to identify new funding opportunities for future work.Iain Dunnett (New Anglia LEP) chaired the day and brought his unique view of the value of river management from an economic perspective. The audience altered notably from the first conference, with 80% of delegates either working within the catchment or being directly involved in work to improve the rivers Wissey, Little Ouse, Thet, Lark or Cam.
We welcomed attendees to The Maltings on the riverside in Ely, constructed as part of Ebenezer William Harlock’s brewery complex in the late 1800’s (processing barley into malt for brewing). This beautiful building is rich with history and connected intimately with the local river, in the same way that CamEO partners are. It made the perfect backdrop for the day.
Barry Bendall (Director of The Rivers Trust and co-host of the CamEO partnership) opened the day with an overview of the value of the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) – the framework that supports the development of catchment partnerships (like CamEO) throughout England and Wales. He asked “Is CaBA delivering?” before outlining clearly that it is. Partnerships are currently providing significant engagement with communities and leveraging in four times as much money as they’re spending, with the current river basin planning period (2015-2021) expected to be capable of making efficiencies of £215m-£430m and benefits of £500m-£1bn.
The CamEO partnership has an interesting 2017 on the horizon with outcomes expected from several EU supported projects (WaterCoG, TopSoil, WaterLIFE) as well as the Water Resources East project. Monitoring opportunities are due to arise from INTCATCH 2020 and CamEO’s Water Sensitive Farming work is expected to continue alongside several local initiatives within the catchment. At the conference, Ed Bramham-Jones gave an update on CamEO’s Water Sensitive Farming (working with farmers to reduce soil erosion from fields and prevent diffuse pollution), Ian Hawkins presented on Bury St. Edmund Trout Club’s restoration of the Lark (reshaping the river, creating habitat diversity and planting the banks/berms) and Mike Foley spoke of Cam Valley Forum’s fight against invasive species (particularly the community led efforts to eradicate floating pennywort). Between these presentations, I was able to provide the audience with a brief overview of what working in partnership means for CamEO, and how local sub-catchment partnerships have been established to give local knowledge and enthusiasm a platform to make improvments for the wider partnership. All of the presentations shared a strong emphasis on building trust and relationships between businesses, individuals and communities.
Lunch provided an opportunity for refreshment and networking, with a number of trade stands being available for delegates to peruse. It was great to hear a buzz around the room with plenty to discuss and digest. The afternoon was going to be a lot more interactive so it was nice to see that the delegates were in good voice. A special thanks to The Maltings for exceptional catering – the brownie in particular went down very well!
As we reconvened, the room was split into three groups and each was given the opportunity to attend three different workshops – one on fundraising (run by Liz Proctor, a fundraising consultant), one on consents/project permissions (run by the Environment Agency and Cambridgeshire County Council) and the final on tips and tricks for project delivery (run by Jonah Tosney of Norfolk Rivers Trust).
The aim of these workshops was to give partners an opportunity to discuss their challenges and pick up some new best practice skills to enable them to better plan, fund and carry out projects in their local area. Collaboration remained a key theme throughout the day and was emphasised in each of the workshops, with the benefits of partnership working (to overcome challenges and streamline working) far out-weighing working in silos. I enjoyed a rare opportunity to fully engage in the workshops as a delegate and felt that the facilitators did a fantastic job.
Geoff Brighty closed the conference with his thoughts from the day, reminding everyone of the value of the partnership given the challenges that our river environments still face (>70% of east Anglian rivers deemed to be failing to be “good”). He was encouraged by the increasing engagement that CaBA partnerships are having with communities in order to have a truly bottom-up approach where data, information and evidence are key. Innovation is changing the game for monitoring, with further government cuts meaning that emphasis on cheap, real-time, community monitoring of water environments is increasing. The INTCATCH project is ideally placed to fill this gap with a new generation of citizen scientists in CamEO (watch this space).
The day was a success, fantastically chaired with great presentations and even better workshops. I’m already looking forward to planning 2018. See you there.