Working in Partnership

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Upstream Thinking could not do what it does without the help from its partners. The Upstream Thinking Partners all cover different areas of the South West and each are vital for the implementation of the Upstream Thinking Program. Below are Upstream Thinking partners, click on the logo’s for more information on the work that each partner does towards Upstream Thinking.

Who else is supporting Upstream Thinking?

It is supported by the National Farmers Union, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group.

The Exmoor Mires Partnership is supported by local landowners, the Environment Agency, Natural England, English Heritage and the Exmoor National Park Authority. It also has help from local volunteers.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is the delivery partner for Upstream Thinking in the catchments of Drift Reservoir, the River Cober and College & Argal Reservoirs.  These catchments collect drinking water for the towns and surrounding areas of Penzance, Newlyn, Helston, Falmouth and Penryn.   The geography and climate of West Cornwall lends itself to pasture farming for beef and dairy herds, as well as areas of daffodil and vegetable cropping.


Since 2015 CWT has positively engaged with over 120 farmers across these catchments, finding solutions to benefit water quality, wildlife and farm business.  Farmers are part-funding yard upgrades, like constructing roofs to stop manure washing into rivers.  They are also managing their land in a way which is more sympathetic to the rivers and wildlife, such as leaving uncultivated strips which encourage wildflowers and pollinating insects.

As well as offering free advice on infrastructure and land management, CWT is proud of its committed teams of volunteers, who go out to each catchment every week to improve the environment with hands-on work like scything, hedging and clearing invasive species.

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Devon Wildlife Trust

Devon Wildlife Trust Farm Advisors have worked with over 300 landowners across the Tamar, Exe, Dart, Yeo, Otter and Fernworthy catchments as part of Upstream Thinking since the project began in 2015.


Water quality issues associated with agriculture can arise through a wide variety of issues. These include limitations in yard infrastructure and wider farming practices which may contribute to issues such as soil compaction and runoff.  In contrast to intensively managed agricultural land, strategically placed and well managed species-rich grassland, wetlands and woodland can help to buffer water courses from diffuse pollutants, whilst helping tackle the UK wide problem of declining populations for many of our native species.


The geography of the different catchments typically dictates the type of agriculture found there. Consequently, characteristic water quality issues often recur frequently within a given catchment depending on the predominant farm type. Large dairy farms which often have issues associated with yards and tracks can often be found in more open landscapes with large fields such as parts of the Tamar and Yeo. In the Otter and Exe catchments arable farming is more typical, whilst elsewhere mixed farms, sheep farms and smallholdings are more common such as the Dart. Devon Wildlife Trust advisors are also supporting landowners of non-agricultural land such as conifer planation on peatlands in the Fernworthy catchment.


Devon Wildlife Trust advisors are supporting farmers through general farm practice advice and support with agri-stewardship applications which have generated over £1million worth of grants. Other assistance includes use of the Working Wetlands machinery ring; providing equipment such as soil aerators to help alleviate compaction which is a common problem on many farms. Compaction can impact on productivity through restricted root growth and Nitrogen availability as well as increasing runoff. All equipment is provided to landowners free of charge. We also offer expert advice on habitat restoration and creation and can undertake associated conservation management such as the spreading of green hay, seed harvesting and scrub control.

Exmoor National Park Authority

The Headwaters of the Exe catchment programme forms part of ‘Upstream Thinking’ and is a partnership between South West Water and Exmoor National Park Authority, working closely with the Exmoor Hill Farming Network and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest. The project operates in the upper reaches of the River Exe catchment, mostly within Exmoor National Park, as shown in the map below.

The Headwaters of the Exe team are working with land managers in the catchment to improve water quality by carrying out a programme of events, advisory visits and capital grants. Farmers and managers of woodlands and game shoots in high priority areas of the catchment are eligible for advisory visits and capital grants.

The project also works to improve water quality in a variety of other ways, including carrying out repairs to rights of way to reduce the levels of sediment washing into rivers, and supporting existing partnership projects for the control of invasive species, such as the Exmoor Knotweed Control Project.

Water quality is carefully monitored at strategic locations around the catchment, through work undertaken by the University of Exeter, South West Water and volunteers from the Riverfly partnership.

For further information about the project or to get in touch with the project team please visit our website:


The Headwaters of the Exe team are:

Bea Davis - Programme Manager, Exmoor National Park Authority

Katherine Williams - Exmoor Hill Farming Network

Adam Lockyear - Farm Adviser, FWAG SW

Rebecca Mills - Farm Adviser, FWAG SW

James Mason - Woodland Adviser, Exmoor National Park Authority

Dan Barnett - Rights of Way Manager Exmoor National Park Authority

Photo: Members of the project team - Katherine Williams, Bea Davis, Rebecca Mills and Adam Lockyear

Exmoor Mires

The Exmoor Mires Partnership is an award winning partnership created to restore Peat upon Exmoor.

Generations of peat-cutting and the creation of drainage ditches has caused the mires to dry out, which reduces the water-holding capacity of the moors.

The focus of the Exmoor Mires Partnership is to block drainage ditches using sustainable methods, local materials and local contractors in order to 're-wet' the bog, enabling it to retain water and carbon. This is done by creating dams formed of Peat or wooden planks, topped with Peat. This then holds back the water that would flow along the ditches creating pools of water that slowly drain into the Peat in the area around the ditch.

There are many benefits for the Peat restoration such as:

Reducing Carbon in the atmosphere: Dried out Peat causes oxidation of exposed peat bogs which releases large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. Re-wetted “healthy” Peat is a carbon sink so absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it.

Increasing biodiversity: The ditch blocking creates pools of water and re-wets the area around it allowing plants such as Sphagnum Moss to emerge. This in turn leads to animals calling the area their home, these range from reptiles like frogs and lizards, nesting birds and even small mammals like Otters.

Reducing flood risk: The blocking of the ditches reduces surface run off and so it takes longer for the rain water to flow through the moors before arriving at our villages and cities downstream. This allows the build up of water to be slowly released over time reducing the risk of flooding.

Reducing the cost of water: The healthy Peat acts as a natural filtration system reducing the sediment in the water making it easier to clean at water treatment works which in turn leads to cheaper water costs.

The Exmoor Mires Partnership is supported by local landowners, the Environment Agency, Natural England, English Heritage and the Exmoor National Park Authority. It also has help from local volunteers.


Westcountry Rivers Trust

South West Water in collaboration with a group of regional conservation organisations, including the Westcountry Rivers Trust, the county Wildlife Trusts for Devon and Cornwall and Exmoor National Park Authority, have established one of the largest and most innovative conservation projects in the UK for catchment management: ‘Upstream Thinking ’ which is delivered as a Partnership. This has been in operation since 2010 following earlier trials and monitoring which helped to demonstrate results and benefits to take this forward in key areas.

Much of our drinking water in the Westcountry is sourced directly from surface waters; that is our rivers, streams and reservoirs.  Westcountry Rivers Trust aims to ensure potential sources of pollution are prevented from entering these surface waters, thus reducing the ongoing level of treatment and associated chemicals and energy, to meet our supply needs and standards. By proactively advising and influencing decisions leading to improvements on the ground, this helps keep costs down for the longer term whilst securing safe supplies.

Water quality issues in Westcountry rivers usually derive from thousands of small sources or incidents across a wide area, which may not individually present a problem, however collectively mean our rivers are not achieving good standards. By reducing inputs into our rivers, we will not only improve raw water quality entering the treatment works, but also help bring about additional benefits relating to the general health of the river and its ecology, and to agricultural productivity in the region. Over the current 5-year period, we will be working with landowners across 5 strategically important drinking water supply river catchments in the Westcountry: the Fowey, Tamar, Exe, Dart and Otter.

 Through Upstream Thinking, The Westcountry Rivers Trust continues to deliver positive change on the ground by working closely with land owners, building relationships through a consistent and confidential presence, listening as well as advising on water friendly practices. By working with farmers we gain an understanding of their future plans as well as current operations, each visit tailored to individual circumstances so that the best options are considered for economic as well as environmental reasons. We understand that farming is a business and requires sound advice, solid evidence and a qualified, knowledgeable team.

Each farm receives a detailed and individually tailored farm plan, which outlines opportunities for change, which may take a fresh look at the protection of land and water; soil, nutrient and pesticide management. We provide capital grants to support the delivery of a broad range of interventions to foster change, from watercourse fencing to manure stores, these greatly reduce the risk of pollutants entering our rivers by directly intercepting the pathways of nutrients or sediment. Good soil husbandry and protection of this valuable resource is also fundamental to water quality protection; Westcountry Rives Trust offer soil testing to understand and plan nutrient application, detailing steps to reduce risk of erosion and mobilisation, recognising compaction.

Prior to the current round of works, Westcountry Rivers Trust also carried out a number of background investigations for South West Water which evaluated existing data coupled with additional surveys and sampling to understand the priority risks across our target catchments. These reports have helped to shape and inform activity, plus ensure work and funding is focussed for efficiency and maximum benefits.   Our catchment-scale monitoring, mapping and modelling continues in our current work to ensure that engagement and interventions are designed and delivered strategically in line with this, but also to provide further supporting evidence for the project as a whole.

Uniquely, Westcountry Rivers Trust also run a pesticide amnesty, providing farmers with a free, confidential way of disposing of banned and out of date pesticides in our target areas. Old and obsolete products stacked away in the back of a shed can degrade and leak over time, seeping into the ground and ultimately entering the water system. So far, we have removed nearly a tonne of chemicals as we approach the midpoint of this round – totally eliminating  any risk to the environment from these products.

To date we have engaged over 250 farms with 84% of these farms switching to more water-sensitive land management practices as a direct result. Add to this the previous round from 2010-2015 where we visited 300 farms and this represents a significant proportion of our targeted farmed area.