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Trees set to help improve water quality

26th February 2021

An ambitious project to plant 40,000 trees to help improve bathing water quality in Combe Martin starts this month.

South West Water is working in partnership with local landowners, North Devon Biosphere Foundation, the Environment Agency, the Woodland Trust and Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming Partnership to identify areas where tree planting, hedging and fencing can help protect the River Umber from bacteriological contamination. The River Umber flows into the sea at Combe Martin beach and can affect bathing water quality, especially during wet weather.

Approximately 4 hectares of trees and 130 metres of hedgerow at seven locations will be planted across the catchment this month as a pilot project, after many local landowners volunteered to get involved. The pilot will help identify further tree planting, hedging and fencing opportunities, with sites selected based on their potential to benefit water quality, whilst protecting the special qualities of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Exmoor National Park.

Perry Hobbs, Head of Environment at South West Water, said: “The economy and wellbeing of our region is reliant on the environment we live in. This includes the region’s bathing waters, rivers and peatlands.

“Planting more native trees in the catchment will help improve water quality in the River Umber and at Combe Martin beach by intercepting peak flows of rainfall in the valley and improving soil health. These catchment actions will complement our ongoing work to improve the wastewater drainage systems.”

Brett Grosvenor of the Environment Agency said: “We have been working hard with our partners in taking a nature-led approach to reducing flood risk and increasing water quality and biodiversity in the Combe Martin catchment. Creating woodland is a great example of this. We will continue to support the community, businesses and land managers to deliver sustainable, cost effective measures in the future.”

Jon Grimes, Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming officer, said: Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership recognises there is an important contribution that farming can make to improving water quality in the Combe Martin catchment and has been working proactively with local farmers and other catchment partners to provide expert advice on soils and manure management, for example.”

Andy Bell, CEO of North Devon Biosphere Foundation, said: “We have been both delighted and impressed with the reaction from the local landowners taking part in the scheme and we will always welcome more.”

Bryan Cath and Trevor Kibble, Chair and Vice Chair of the Combe Martin Water Watch Group, said: “Our group is pleased that South West Water is planting these trees to help improve the bacteriological run-off from our steep-sided valley. This will help towards improving the bathing water quality on our beach for our tourism trade and local swimmers.”

David Woodbury, Chair of Combe Martin Parish Council, said: “The community of Combe Martin has supported the actions of the Water Watch Group and continued to work with the Environment Agency and South West Water to seek opportunities to reduce pollution. As a result of this partnership approach, it is very pleasing to be able to thank the landowners and all of the agencies for this important contribution and long-term benefit to the welfare of the community and environment.” 

A great deal of work has been carried out in Combe Martin and the surrounding catchment.  The Environment Agency, Natural England, Combe Martin Parish Council, Combe Martin Water Watch Group and South West Water continue to make improvements and raise awareness of what can affect bathing water quality, and how the community can help improve their beach.

Combe Martin is affected by a range of bacterial pollution sources and tree planting is one of many interventions which are being implemented in the Combe Martin catchment to help improve water quality.

For further information please contact:

South West Water

www.southwestwater.co.uk/contactus