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National Trust unveils £10m project to protect rivers for nature and people

The charity has also called on the Government to act on environmental promises and ‘put enough money in the pot’ to fund nature-friendly farming.

Hundreds of miles of rivers and the landscapes around them will be protected and restored with a £10 million conservation project, the National Trust has said.

The charity unveiled plans to boost habitats, wildlife and access for people along five rivers in Cumbria, Somerset, Norfolk, Cheshire and North Wales, as it called on the Government to act on its promises to help the environment.

Speaking at the Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace on Thursday, National Trust director-general Hilary McGrady will point to a groundswell of support for action to protect the countryside as the UK leaves the EU.

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Wildlife and habitats including in Exmoor, Devon, will benefit from the £10 million project, the National Trust says (Trevor Ray Hart/National Trust/PA)

Ms McGrady has welcomed recent pledges to deliver a farming policy that improves the environment as part of a “green Brexit”, but will warn Environment Secretary Michael Gove that actions speak louder than words.

Polling for the National Trust by Ipsos Mori revealed that 70% of the 2,248 people quizzed support an Environment Act to hold the Government to account.

Some 60% said it is very important that farmers receive money for looking after nature and 72% said they would definitely or probably be willing to pay more tax so the Government could ensure farmers do not pollute rivers or lakes.

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The project will restore habitats for wildlife from otters to dippers (Derek Hatton/National Trust/PA)

Only 14% of England’s river catchments, and 37% of those in Wales, are in a good condition, as intensive farming, pressures from development and climate change take their toll, the National Trust said.

But the UK’s environmental decline “isn’t the fault of farmers”, Ms McGrady says.

“For decades they have been squeezed by the supermarkets on price and provided with public funding based on the amount of land they can farm rather than on producing positive outcomes for the environment and for people.

“We now want to see the Government commit to putting enough money in the pot for nature-friendly farming, not just for the next four years, but for the next 10 or 20.

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The River Derwent is one of the ‘precious rivers’ being protected and restored with the project (Derek Hatton/National Trust/PA)

“With the right support farmers can continue to innovate, becoming more profitable, sustainable and nature-friendly.

“A better future for the countryside, including our farmers, communities and a healthy and beautiful natural environment, is within our grasp.”

The conservation charity said it is testing new payment approaches for farmers to look after nature in the Yorkshire Dales and North Wales, and is creating 25,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2022.

The Riverlands project, with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, is part of those efforts, and will involve restoring habitat and creating better paths and walking routes to make rivers more accessible.

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River banks will be restored along the River Derwent (Paul Harris/National Trust/PA)

Work will help slow the flow of water and alleviate flooding in Conwy Valley, North Wales, the banks and habitats of the River Derwent will be restored in Cumbria, and chalk stream habitats will be improved in the Upper Bure in Norfolk.

Non-native species will be tackled in the Bollin, Cheshire, natural flood management methods in Porlock Vale streams will slow water run-off from Exmoor’s uplands, and elsewhere rivers will be reconnected with their floodplains.

The project aims to reverse declines across 750 square miles of land and more than 600 miles of river.

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Non-native species along the Bollin will be tackled as part of the project (Derek Hatton/National Trust/PA)

It will cost an estimated £10 million, and the National Trust is hoping to raise £4 million through fundraising appeals.

Ms McGrady said rivers are the lifeblood of landscapes but many are in desperate need of repair, and the Riverlands project aims to reverse the problems.

“Not only will it restore habitats for scores of wildlife, from the rare vendace fish in Derwent Water to otters and water voles, it aims to inspire people to value and care for our rivers,” she will tell the audience at the event.

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