The recent launch of the Wild Isles episode has hammered home a harsh truth – the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world – a reality that we are also facing here in the Trent catchment. Like in the rest of England no river in the Trent catchment is in good overall health and while we have seen some encouraging returns – such as that of the salmon – we have also seen the loss of the Burbot and Sturgeon. To put it in the words of David Attenborough: ‘This all starts and ends with us’ and on this International Day of Action for Rivers – we have gathered a few approaches that could change the fate of our rivers here in the Trent.
Almost everything we do on land affects our rivers
Turn your back from the riverbank and look around you. Whether you see roads, agricultural land or concreted surfaces – water will find its way into the river via these surfaces. River health will depend on whether pollution is intercepted or prevented across all types of land use. At Trent Rivers Trust, we are working with farmers, land managers and councils to minimise the amount of pollutants entering the river. In rural areas, our agricultural advisors provide reports, run educational events, evaluate and monitor soil quality and nutrient loss and support trials that support more river-friendly farming approaches. In urban areas, Sustainable Drainage Systems – these are mostly natural buffers designed to slow flood water and excess nutrients – can play a vital role in reducing pollution and flood risk.
Creating conditions for wildlife to thrive
Rivers as we see them today have seen two revolutions that have significantly changed from their natural function. The agricultural revolution has seen land drained for food production and rivers fragmented to power mills. The industrial revolution has accelerated a tendency to straighten, deepen and fragment rivers for navigation, introducing a range of new chemical pollutants in the process – at the detriment of wildlife.
This means that for wildlife to thrive, we must reintroduce the river to its natural processes. This could take shape in the removal of concrete ‘straight-jackets’, the re-introduction of gravel beds, re-wiggling the river, reconnected floodplains or tree planting.
Find out more about our approach
What is also true is that people care about their river. In early 2022, we asked 75,000 households in the Trent Gateway area, spanning parts of Nottingham-, Derby- and Lincolnshire about their relationship to the Trent. What would they like to see improved – how do they feel about the Trent and how much do they know about its natural heritage?
The results of the survey were astounding. Not only did residents describe the Trent as peaceful, tranquil and beautiful, they also wanted to feel closer to the parts of the river they treasured. The survey highlighted an appetite for improved access, especially around urban spaces, and a desire to clean the river and its surroundings.
Beyond physical access, 71% did not know that salmon migrated down the Trent to spawn in upstream tributaries and 47% of respondents did not feel they knew about the river’s natural and industrial heritage.