Upstream Thinking

Organisation: SWW & partner NGOs
Location: SW England
Type: Case Study

South West Water (SWW) in collaboration with a group of regional conservation charities, including the Westcountry Rivers Trust, the county Wildlife Trusts for Devon and Cornwall and The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, have established one of the largest and most innovative conservation projects in the UK: the 'Upstream Thinking Initiative'.

This project will deliver over £9 million worth of strategic land restoration in the Westcountry between 2010 and 2015, and an even greater amount over the 2015-2020 funding programme.

The 'provider is paid' funding mechanism used in Upstream Thinking is, perhaps, the most innovative aspect of the project. SWW have recognized 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.


The Catchment-Based Approach website is designed to showcase the work of catchment partnerships aross England and Wales and to encourage the sharing and adoption of best practice in stakeholder-led catchment managment planning, delivery and evaluation.


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