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Cumbrian firms take the lead in river management

Nestlé’s Dalston factory, venue for the stakeholders gathering – credit: Nestlé

Flooding, dairy farming, wildlife and mental health might seem like completely unrelated topics, but they were all on the agenda at a special event in Carlisle. Experts from the fields of water treatment, milk production and sustainable supply chains came together to talk about the future of how we manage our landscape.

It was a chance to showcase some new and innovative ideas that have been talking shape along the River Eden valley, aimed at protecting the farmers, businesses, habitats and communities whose lives and livelihoods are all interlinked with the river and the land through which it flows.

A range of stakeholders from different sectors, including policy advisors from Defra, attended the event at Nestlé in Dalston, which could help to shape the way businesses and communities work together in future to meet some of the challenges of climate change in the most cost effective way.

Amina Aboobakar, United Utilities Integrated Catchment Strategy Manager, explained: “We’re seeing more extremes of weather and that has a big impact on our rivers and the communities that depend on them.  That could be natural erosion, water pollution, flooding of property and loss of habitat or green community spaces.

“Rather than tackle the different issues separately with traditional models of engineering or funding, we’re seeing that there’s a lot of overlap in our objectives.  That means we can pool our resources and achieve far more by working together and working smarter.”

The River Eden valley, home to many dairy farms and site of the pilot project

United Utilities has been working with farmers to tackle drainage and erosion problems that can cause soil, fertilisers or animal waste to pollute the river. By tackling the problems at source and helping to fund improvements on farms, the water company has proven that river water quality can be improved without spending millions of pounds on new water treatment measures. That frees up funding for other projects, or reduces water bills.

The knock on benefits for farmers include reduced flood risk, better soil quality and opportunities for diversification and a more resilient business.  And that’s where the objectives of large food production companies like Nestlé overlap, because a thriving and resilient farming community means a strong and healthy supply chain.

Nestlé has been working with First Milk and the dairy farmers who supply its sites at both Dalston in Cumbria, where they make products including Cappucino and Aero Hot Chocolate and Girvan in Southwest Scotland where they use the milk to make the chocolate for products including KitKat, Aero and Quality Street. Over the last two years Nestlé has been incentivising its dairy farmers to implement on farm interventions to improve biodiversity habitat, water quality, soil structure and reduce flood risk.

These kind of interventions help to not only deliver environmental benefits but to also build supply and farm resilience, delivering both improved business and social outcomes. Nestlé has been working with a number of key partners to consolidate the range of interventions which will deliver the most effective outcomes and are part of the Resilient Dairy Landscapes programme, to help bring academic rigour to the assessment of these interventions in terms of positive outcomes and potential trade offs.

Nestlé have also co-developed the Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) model with 3Keel, to help build the business case for co-investing into the natural assets on which businesses rely. By building the business case based on each businesses specific interests, this innovative approach helps structure sustained investment into the relevant landscape interventions.

Andy Griffiths, Head of Value Chain Sustainability at Nestlé UK & Ireland said: “Taking this genuinely collaborative approach will help to further enhance natural asset stewardship, improve water quality, reduce flood risk, enhance biodiversity habitat, improve soil quality and enable farm diversification and resilience. Importantly this approach builds effective and sustained investment to help deliver outcomes at the pace and scale required.”

Looking to the future, the event included discussions about other changes in land management that could bring multiple benefits to society.  This might include planting more woodland, to slow the flow of water and reduce flood risk downstream, bringing new forestry business opportunities and public health benefits through access and recreation.

Amina added: “We’re talking about changes on a landscape scale, and that doesn’t happen overnight.  But by tackling the challenges as a collective, and with the right political will, this is how we can build a framework that gets the best value from our natural assets for everyone in society.”

Andy added: “Once you start to explore how your supply chain relies on the landscape and share this with other organisations operating in the area, it’s interesting to see how these interests overlap and provide opportunities to enhance impact. As well as collaborating with United Utilities, we are now seeing other organisations expressing an interest to explore how they could also engage.”

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