Multi-million-pound project aims to transform national approach to nature-based solutions

The Rivers Trust will be co-leading a pioneering project aimed at mainstreaming nature-based solutions to deliver environmental and socioeconomic benefits.

Rebecca Duncan


The Rivers Trust will co-lead an innovative new project working to remove barriers and develop new enabling mechanisms for the adoption of nature-based solutions at a catchment scale. The project has been officially announced today, 16th May, thanks to a successful bid to the Ofwat Innovation Fund, led by The Rivers Trust, United Utilities, Jacobs, and Mott Macdonald. 16 other partners, listed below, will contribute to the project across the country.

The Rivers Trust has long championed the potential for nature-based solutions (NBS) to address the challenges facing our environment and wider society. Tree and hedge planting, buffer strips alongside rivers, restored soils, sustainable drainage systems and restoring wetlands can all play a vital role in storing and purifying precious water resources, reducing flood risk and the pressure on sewers, and providing space for nature.

In a changing climate, drought and flood events are becoming an increasing occurrence, and are exacerbated by socio-political pressures, population growth, and ageing infrastructure assets. When implemented well, NBS can be used alongside more carbon-intensive and expensive grey infrastructure not just to reduce the risk and impact of floods and drought, but to generate additional benefits including improved water quality, biodiversity, and community health and wellbeing.

Our Chief Executive, Mark Lloyd said: “Despite enthusiasm for nature-based solutions in policy documents, their investment and delivery remain very limited in scale, and too often they are blocked by risk-averse mindsets. This project seeks to change that, making NBS a key aspect of the integrated approach to water and environmental management that we desperately need.”

Project work will be focused on five areas:

  1. Working with regulators and policymakers to enable policy and regulation for NBS – engaging with the likes of the Environment Agency and Ofwat to test fit-for-purpose regulatory requirements for NBS that will also drive greater value;
  2. Investment mechanisms for NBS – assessing and testing models and mechanisms that incentivise joined-up funding, planning and delivery at scale, and creating a multi-million-pound investment-ready pipeline to deliver multiple benefits for society and the environment, as well as tangible cost savings for customers and beneficiaries;
  3. Standardisation and integration – standardised and consolidated tools and processes for designing, building, delivering, managing, monitoring, validating and verifying NBS, along with standardised data and evidence for reporting on their impacts;
  4. Making it relevant and tangible – using real-life ongoing or planned activities across different landscapes to test hypotheses, develop solutions, consolidate learnings, create joined-up action plans, accelerate, and deliver greater value. This work will be focused on the following areas:
    • o South East and South West England
    • o East of England
    • o North East and North West England
    • o The Wye in Wales
    • o Northern Ireland
  5. Coordination, steer and collaboration at national scale – pulling all workstreams into one coherent flow through continuous review and dissemination of learnings.

Mark Lloyd added: “We’re incredibly excited about the potential of this five-year, transformational project to deliver myriad benefits for environment and society. We believe it will play a vital role in making nature-based solutions an integral part of our landscape and infrastructure and changing the way many organisations work. At a time when our environment and our economy are both under immense pressure, working with nature rather than against it is fundamental to becoming more resilient.”

Project partners

  • United Utilities (lead water company partner + core team)
  • The Rivers Trust (lead partner + core team)
  • Jacobs (core team partner)
  • Mott MacDonald (core team partner)
  • Northumbrian Water
  • Northern Ireland Water
  • Anglian Water
  • Southern Water
  • South West Water
  • Severn Trent Water
  • Sutton & East Surrey Water
  • Wildfowl and Wetland Trust
  • Arup
  • North Star Transition
  • RSK Group: WRc; ADAS; Salix
  • South East Rivers Trust
  • Westcountry Rivers Trust
  • Ribble Rivers Trust
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Water Resources South East

We will also work in collaboration with wider stakeholders, both at local and national scale, across all water company regions.

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