We own 57,000 hectares of land in the North West, which we hold to protect the quality of water entering the reservoirs.
Much of this land is home to nationally significant habitats for animals and plants, with around 30% designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Our Sustainable Catchment Management Programme (SCaMP for short) began in 2005 with the aim of benefitting both water and wildlife through improved catchment management. SCaMP 1 (2005 to 2010) included projects across 27,000 hectares of our water catchment areas in the Peak District and the Forest of Bowland. Working with farm tenants and in conjunction with partners, such as the RSPB, Natural England and the Forestry Commission, we invested £10.6 million in moorland restoration, woodland management, farm infrastructure improvements and watercourse protection.
Following on from the success of SCaMP 1, water industry regulators Ofwat, DWI, Environment Agency and Natural England supported further investment for catchment management between 2010 and 2015. During this time we invested a further £11.6 million in SCaMP 2 across 30,000 hectares in Cumbria and South Lancashire which included 53 separate farms, agricultural land and common land.
To allow land to start to recover and to establish woodlands, significant changes were required to agricultural practices and often a reduction in livestock numbers. Undertaking SCaMP improvements allowed farmers to access additional agri-environment income for ten years. Natural England and the Forestry Commission provided grants totalling £2.7 million towards the cost of the work.
For us and our customers this initiative will help to:
- protect and improve water quality
- reduce the rate of increase in raw water colour which will reduce future revenue costs
- reduce or delay the need for future capital investment for additional water treatment
- deliver government targets for SSSIs
- ensure a sustainable future for the company's agricultural tenants
- enhance and protect the natural environment
- permit our moorland habitat to become more resilient to long term climate change
- allow our healthy upland peat moors to absorb significant volumes of carbon from the atmosphere
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What's the problem
The land we own around our reservoirs not only provides the water we rely on it is also used for agricultural purposes by tenant farmers for food production. As well as providing a home to some of the UK's most amazing wildlife. Much of this land is home to nationally significant habitats for animals and plants and rare species of birds such as the Hen Harrier. In fact around 17,000 hetares is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
However, many of the fragile habitats in our upland catchment areas have been damaged by historical industrial air pollution and agricultural activities. Agricultural policies have encouraged farmers to drain the land and put more livestock on the fells. This has been at the expense of water quality, the landscape and wildlife. At the start of the century large areas of SSSI were designated by Natural England as in unfavourable and declining condition.
Years of drainage of the UK uplands has caused 5,000 year old peat bogs to dry out and erode releasing colour and sediment into watercourses and millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributing to climate change.
Over the last thirty years there has been a substantial increase in the levels of colour in the water sources prior to treatment from many upland catchments. The removal of colour requires additional treatment plant, chemicals, power and waste handling to meet increasingly demanding drinking water quality standards. To address this expensive capital solutions are often required at our water treatment works which result in significant increases in annual operational costs.
In order to stabilise or reverse this trend it is necessary to restore the hydrological function of the peat soils by re-wetting the upland areas and re-vegetating bare peat. Achieving this will:-
- help to provide cleaner water to our reservoirs
- restore the natural habitat and the plants and animal that rely on it
- allow the moorland habitat will become more resilient to long term climate change
- enable active peat forming vegetation to increase the rate at which these areas can absorb carbon from the atmosphere
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What have we done
To begin to reverse these long term trends United Utilities began its innovative Sustainable Catchment Management Programme to benefit both water and wildlife. Putting SCaMP 1 and SCaMP 2 into action was made possible by Ofwat, the water industry financial regulator, allowing us to fund the programme as part of our AMP4 and AMP5 investment programmes.
In our SCaMP 1 programme between 2005 and 2010 we undertook projects across 27,000 hectares of our water catchment areas in the Peak District and Bowland areas. Working with farm tenants in conjunction with partners, such as the RSPB, Natural England and the Forestry Commission we invested £10.6m in moorland restoration, woodland management, farm infrastructure improvements and watercourses protection.
Following on from the success of the SCaMP 1 programme our water industry regulators Ofwat, DWI, Environment Agency and Natural England supported the inclusion of further funding for catchment management between 2010 and 2015. Consequently We have invested a further £11.6m in the SCaMP 2 programme across 30,000 hectares of land in the Cumbria and South Lancashire areas which includes 53 separate farms, agricultural land and common land between 2010 and 2015.
The types of work included:
- restoring blanket bogs by blocking drainage ditches and gullies
- restoring areas of eroded and exposed peat
- restoring hay meadows
- establishing new woodlands
- stabilising land through scrub planting
- restoring heather moorland
- Improving farm facilities to improve livestock housing
- providing new waste management facilities to reduce run-off pollution of water courses
- fencing to keep livestock away from areas such as rivers and streams and from special habitats
- Assisting tenant farmers to enter Higher Level Stewardship schemes
- 608 hectares of upland oak woodland (520,000 trees)
- 320 km of moorland drains blocked to allow for re-wetting
- 10,905 hectares of bare peat re-vegetated
- 258 km of fencing to allow for moorland restoration and woodland planting.
- 21 new stock buildings to allow moorland restoration grazing regimes to be implemented
To allow the land to start to recover and to establish the woodlands, significant changes were required to agricultural practices and often a reduction in livestock numbers. Undertaking the SCaMP improvements allowed farmers to access additional agri-environment income for ten years whilst Natural England and the Forestry Commission provided grants totalling £2.7m towards the cost of the work.
One of the challenges in being one of the first to undertake catchment management and particularly moorland restoration on such a landscape scale is to be able to demonstrate the benefits and the progress that is being made. It is recognised that the deterioration occurred over a number of decades and to restore the catchment vegetation and hydrology is likely to be a long term process.
Natural England has assessed the condition of the 17,500 ha of SSSI and found that 99.4% of this land is now in favourable or unfavourable recovering condition. In the Peak District before SCaMP this had been assessed at 14%.
No national long term data sets exist to extrapolate how quickly changes in vegetation response, hydrology and water quality might occur. To address this Penny Anderson Associates Ltd have been contracted from 2005 to Dec 2014 to undertake comprehensive monitoring of the effects of land management changes at selected sites and sub-catchments areas.
Quiet Shepherd before SCaMP 2007 Quiet Shepherd after SCaMP 2009
The SCaMP monitoring programme has focused on botanical and hydrological effects across a range of habitats, with monitoring of peatland grip blocking and bare peat restoration.
The summary below covers the results of monitoring in Longdendale, Goyt and Bowland following restoration work up to 2015. The restoration measures in Longdendale involved large-scale re-vegetating of bare peat through the application of lime, fertiliser and a nurse grass mix both with and without heather brash and geojute (a geotextile) to stabilise the steeper bare peat slopes. In addition, removal of stock and some gully blocking, mostly using stone dams, were implemented. The restoration measures in Bowland and Goyt, in the Peak District, involved large-scale grip blocking, changes to stock levels and to managed burning programmes.
Overall Summary of Changes
After eight years of hydrological and water quality monitoring, the effects of SCaMP land management and interventions have had significant effects on water quality in key locations and, overall, the effects have been beneficial.
As each year passes and the SCaMP monitoring dataset expands it is easier to see trends in the data and to compare SCaMP data to other moorland management data sets from across the UK.
As a result of the SCaMP management intervention, the following trends can be seen:
- Colour production and delivery in streamflow appears to be largely stable or decreasing slightly within the long-term datasets, with the exception of two sites which show a slight increasing trend.
- Particulate organic carbon (measured as turbidity) levels continue to show rainfall event based responses. On bare peat restoration catchments the trends are more complex.
- On some catchments peat water table levels are now meeting the basic requirements for good quality blanket bog vegetation with elevated and more consistent levels as a result of grip blocking. However, data from some catchments indicate water table variations that indicate a continued susceptibility to dry weather years.
- The vegetation on some sites is moving towards a more diverse blanket bog community with more key species present, especially Sphagnum, along with other desirable blanket bog species. On bare peat restoration catchments, peat cover has reduced and there is some indication of the establishment of a more diverse vegetation community.
Further details can be found in the latest monitoring reports available in the box to the right.
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