River landscape in North West England

The Rivers Trust announces landmark strategic partnership with United Utilities

A new strategic partnership in the North West of England between The Rivers Trust and United Utilities could signal a transformation for rivers across the UK and Ireland. Our new, innovative approach will tap into green financing to deliver results and value for society.

Rebecca Duncan


Today, we have announced a ground-breaking strategic partnership with United Utilities to tackle the biggest challenges facing rivers in North West England.

The partnership builds on years of joint working between United Utilities and ourselves, and we are hopeful that the approach could be replicated throughout the British Isles to bring a brighter future for society’s green and blue spaces.

This is the first time a partnership has set about designing a framework to bring together everyone with an interest in the health of our rivers from source to sea. It will build better competence for more urgent action to tackle challenges that are increasingly important to society, such as pollution, flooding and water abstraction, and will help deliver adaptations and resilience to combat the extremes of climate change.

Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: The challenges facing the water environment affect everyone in society and cannot be solved by any organisation on its own. We all contribute to the problems, but we can all be part of the solutions if we work together to develop a shared understanding, consensus about an action plan and agreement about how to meet the costs. We are delighted to have signed this strategic partnership with United Utilities that will be a major step to achieving systemic change in the North West. Hopefully this is the first of many such partnerships in the UK and Ireland.”

United Utilities CEO, Steve Mogford, added: “This is one of the most ambitious partnerships United Utilities has ever embarked upon and it provides a blueprint for a new framework of environmental collaboration and investment. For too long our rivers have suffered from a fragmented management approach. Our water environment is at a turning point and by working with the Rivers Trust we can help set the agenda to deliver real change for the better. We bring to the partnership more than 15 years of experience in treating water catchments as a single complex system and leveraging skills, resources and funding to make a difference.”

United Utilities is one of the biggest landowners in the UK, and has pioneered catchment management strategies, culminating in its current Catchment Systems Thinking (CaST) approach. This approach looks beyond United Utilities’ own catchment land, utilising partnership working to enhance the environment across the North West. Over the last 15 years more than 11,000 hectares of peatland have undergone restoration work and dozens of farmers have been supported to help improve landscapes and raw water quality. Using a CaST approach, successful projects, including those on the River Wyre in Lancashire and the River Petteril in Cumbria, have shown how partnerships with other landowners, businesses, regulators, NGOs and volunteers can target issues at source and maximise benefits and value for society.

In another pilot scheme - the Natural Course partnership – United Utilities collaborated directly with organisations, including The Rivers Trust, to develop strategic plans to enhance natural capital in the North West. The water company hosted a secondment from The Rivers Trust to maximise knowledge and better understand how and where to prioritise investment into nature-based solutions for its 2020-2025 business plan.

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