It’s been two and a half years since Anglian Water first started conversations with Isobel Wright (University of Lincoln) who had been approached by Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands.  Together they worked to secure EU funding for a project, later named the Fairway Project which, began in earnest at the beginning of June this year.  Kellly Hewson-Fisher one of Anglian Water’s Catchment Advisors has been closely involved in the project  and recently traveled to the Netherlands to find out how other countries are working with farmers to keep drinking water safe.Kelly Hewson-Fisher

The project is right at the heart of my role within the Catchment Management Team as I work with farmers and the agricultural sector to find solutions to reduce the levels of pesticides and nitrates we see in drinking water sources.  The FAIRWAY project is about understanding what methods of engagement with the agricultural sector work to help us protect water quality.  The project involves 13 case studies in 11 EU countries from Greece, Portugal and Solvenia, to UK and Ireland.  The University of Lincoln, working with Anglian Water was the only UK partner.

Despite years of legislation such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs), we still face challenges meeting drinking water standards in both groundwater and surface water. This project is attempting to tease out what really works in different agricultural settings to actually reduce the levels of pesticides and nitrates that we see.  The project will feed directly into policy makers – informing decisions and guidance for the future.

Isobel, ADAS and the rest of the consortium were interested in Anglian Water’s innovative approach to catchment management and encouraging behaviour change through engagement work with agronomists and other stakeholders. They were also interested to hear about our Slug it Out Trial (looking at the results from getting 100% commitment from farmers in certain catchments not to use metaldehyde on their land).

Anglian Water’s interest is to learn how other countries interpret legislation and how they collaborate with the agricultural sector in order to ensure water quality meets drinking water standards.

To start the project the consortium, met in Amersfoort, Netherlands.  The Netherlands has a population of 16.4 million.  55% is agriculture, 19% is water, 12% nature and 9% urban.  The Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products.  One in 10 people are employed in the agricultural sector, there are one million sheep and goats, four  million cattle, 12 million pigs and 100 million poultry across 60,000 farms across the country,

I was fascinated to learn how a multi-million pound project operates and impressed at the professional management of the Dutch team who organised and led the workshop.  The project is divided into work packages:

  • sharing scientific understanding of how to implement measures to reduce pesticides and nitrates feeding into water
  • understanding the linkages between the pressures on land / sectors

The ultimate aim is to design policy which doesn’t have unforeseen consequences – “designed to have no regrets”  – which is a real interest to us at Anglian Water.  Metaldehyde continues to be a real issue in our water treatment process since it cannot be removed by conventional treatment methods and appears as seasonal spikes in our rivers and reservoirs.  I am interested to know how other water companies and advisory services tackle similar problems.  After discussions over two days of the workshop, there seems to be a huge array of methods –  from voluntary measures, which includes working with farmers to increase their awareness to change and advising on solutions available, to legislative enforcements for example, banning of certain pesticides.  All with varying results in terms of farmer engagement and successfully resulting in ‘clean’ water.

I am really pleased to have been asked to be involved in the project and represent the UK.  We have a real opportunity as a water company to feed into this EU project and learn about different measures and tools which will really be helpful to Anglian Water.  Watch this space for further updates.

Posted by Anglian Water