Upstream Thinking

Organisation: South West Water and partners

Location: South West England

Type: Case Studies & Projects

Link: Visit Website

Upstream thinking is an initiative which looks at how land is managed to protect our rivers. By working with landowners, we can make changes to how land is managed to keep unwanted things out of rivers.


Unwanted soil, pesticides, silt, fertilisers, and animal waste in rivers increases water treatment costs and adds risk to the river environment.

Who's involved?

Upstream Thinking is a partnership of South West Water, the Devon Wildlife Trust, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the Westcountry Rivers Trust and the Exmoor National Park Authority, who are working together to build change land management to protect rivers.

"Upstream Thinking is a sustainable approach, working with the expertise of partners, the knowledge of farmers and nature itself to improve water quality. This keeps down costs for our customers and reduces the impact of water treatment on the environment, as well as providing better homes for wildlife." - South West Water Programme Manager, Dr David Smith

Case Study: South West Water

An award-winning initiative set up to deliver over £9 million worth of strategic land restoration in the Westcountry between 2010 and 2015, and between 2015- 2020, it will deliver a £11million programme focusing on 11 catchments across Devon and Cornwall.

The ‘provider is paid’ funding mechanism used in Upstream Thinking is, perhaps, the most innovative aspect of the project. South West Water (SWW) have recognised that it is cheaper to help farmers deliver cleaner raw water (water in rivers and streams) than it is to pay for the expensive filtration equipment required to treat polluted water after it is abstracted from the river for drinking.

SWW believe that water consumers will be better served and in a more cost‐effective manner if they spend money raised from water bills on catchment restoration in the short term rather than on water filtration in the long term.

The Upstream Thinking Initiative has seen a wide array of innovative catchment management and other environmental interventions delivered, including: mires restoration, culm grassland restoration by Devon Wildlife Trust, pesticide advice and guidance by Cornwall Wildlife Trust and a reverse auction by Westcountry Rivers Trust in partnership with the University of East Anglia.

In the first scheme of this kind in the UK, an auction was successfully used to distribute funds from a water company to farmers, investing in capital items to improve water quality. The scheme offered SWW the opportunity to work directly with researchers from the University of East Anglia to devise an innovative mechanism for paying for the delivery of ecosystem services via their Upstream Thinking scheme.

What next?

The latest £11million programme focuses on 11 catchments across Devon and Cornwall in 2015-20. This represents an expansion of our 2010-2015 programme.

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