Upstream Thinking (UST)

Third Sector • Cornwall

UST is a multi-award-winning catchment management scheme which applies natural landscape-scale solutions to improve water quality and supply across six strategically important drinking water supply river catchments in Devon and Cornwall.

  • Land UST is working with.
  • Map of UST's schemes.

Upstream Thinking's Story

Water is in high demand in the Westcountry, especially during the summer months when there is an influx of tourists visiting the region. Agriculture and rural land management practices can have a negative effect on water quality, particularly misuse of pesticides. To alleviate some of these pressures, South West Water (SWW) launched the Upstream Thinking (UST) project in 2010, working in partnership with various environmental organisations to implement natural catchment-scale solutions at source, across six strategically important drinking water supply river catchments: the Fowey, Tamar, Roadford, Exe, Dart and Otter.

Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) have worked with landowners and farmers across catchments for the last 10 years to install or upgrade farmyard and in-field infrastructure, and to support and adopt land management practices which reduce negative impacts on water quality and improve business resilience. Grants have been awarded to farmers for improvements such as watercourse fencing, clean and dirty water separation, livestock housing (overwintering), and manure stores. A pesticide amnesty scheme has also been a very successful part of the project: within the last 5 years, a staggering 5 tons of pesticides were completely removed across our target catchments and disposed of safely, at no cost to the farmer!

In April 2020 SWW launched the third round of Upstream Thinking (UST3), which will run for another 5 years. In addition to farmyard and in-field infrastructure, this round has a 'greener' focus on maintaining, restoring, creating, and connecting semi-natural habitats. In particular, targeting opportunities that enhance biodiversity and increase the natural capital stock in the catchment, whilst generating other multiple benefits in terms of water quality, water storage, natural flood management, carbon storage, public enjoyment, and invasive non-native species control.

WRT and our partners have deployed Upstream Thinking Farm Advisors to provide free and confidential advice to farmers and landowners across Devon and Cornwall. Farm Advisors take a holistic approach to determine how water interacts with pollutants and soil, at both a farm and landscape scale. They will discuss the farm business with the farmer and work out tailored solutions, having identified opportunities for investment on the farm. Grants for supporting improvements on farms are offered at 50% standard intervention rate to enable the farmer to deliver the works at an affordable cost. Farm advisors also provide support towards agri-environment applications for infrastructure and land management improvements, such as Countryside Stewardship.

These small changes to land management practices and on-farm improvements, delivered on a catchment scale, can make a big difference to the environment and help protect the Westcountry, that we all love so much! If you are a landowner interested in UST3, please email [email protected]

Useful Learnings from Upstream Thinking

A catchment-based approach is essential in targeting water quality issues.

Collaborative working with partner organisations has provided a diverse pool of expertise and experience to draw on.

Having a fleet of knowledgeable and experienced Farm Advisors on the ground in catchments has proven to be invaluable in fostering good relationships with landowners and farmers.

Upstream Thinking's Metrics

Success is measured by the number of hectares under active management within each catchment, achieved by supporting farmers with Countryside Stewardship applications and grant aiding interventions, eg riparian fencing, farmyard improvements, buffer strips, thus reducing pollution pathways to watercourses. A long-term WQ monitoring plan gathers water quality data to determine pre-and-post impact.

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Response to climate crisis





Third Sector, 50 to 249 people

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Updated Feb, 2024

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