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Natural Course: an integrated approach to water management in Greater Manchester and beyond

Natural Course is the first LIFE Integrated Project (IP) in the UK and aims to tackle the issues and challenges presented by the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Innovative approaches and techniques will be trialled which together create a legacy of improved water management in North West England.

Why is Natural Course necessary?

The Water Framework Directive covers all European water bodies. It is delivered at a river basin level and aims to ensure that all water bodies reach “good status” by 2027.

Current estimates suggest that under half of European waters will achieve good status by 2027 and many European countries report that implementation of the WFD is too expensive.

The need for action in NW England is pressing as one third of the poorest quality rivers in England and Wales lie in the region. Meanwhile, long-standing partnerships and relationships developed in the NW River Basin District provide the ideal context for the enhanced integrated working associated with Natural Course.

Greater Manchester and the River Irwell catchment

The early focus for Natural Course will be Greater Manchester and the heavily-urbanised River Irwell catchment in particular building on the collaborative working arrangements that are being strengthened through the development of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and devolution of governance to the city-region.

The development of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework provides an opportunity to set an integrated water management approach in the wider economic, social, growth and infrastructure plans for the conurbation.

The River Irwell catchment includes the Rivers Roch, Croal, Medlock and Irk which all flow into the Manchester Ship Canal, Salford Quays and on to the River Mersey. This catchment presents a concentrated range of water management challenges and opportunities.

Under the WFD the majority of watercourses in the Irwell bear little resemblance to their natural state (the WFD classifies them as “Heavily Modified”) and have poor or, at best, moderate ecological status.

Meanwhile, the large urban population of the catchment means that significant numbers of properties are at risk of flooding. These challenges and the strong record of partnership working across the Irwell catchment provide the ideal basis for Natural Course.  

Initially, Natural Course will bring organisations together and build capacity to deliver integrated water management solutions. The project partners will collaborate to deliver a series of innovative projects aimed at tackling issues such as diffuse pollution from urban and rural sources and reducing the risk of flood.

Wherever possible solutions which attract new sources of funding and which draw on and enhance Natural Capital will be used. 

A virtual cross-sector team is being established to focus on the River Irwell to liaise closely with planners to ensure that opportunities for integrated water management and Natural Capital enhancement are considered during the development of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and other city-region strategies.

Next steps

The Natural Course project partners are currently assembling a broad range of data and evidence to guide actions across the Irwell catchment and more widely within the NW River Basin District.

Workshops during winter 2016-2017 will contribute to a prioritised action plan for the Irwell and outline the opportunities for collaborative working.

Natural Course background info:

Natural Course is led by the Environment Agency, recognised by the European Commission as the Co-ordinating Beneficiary, working together with four Associated Beneficiaries: Salford City Council as the lead authority for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, The Rivers Trust, United Utilities Ltd and Natural England.

Natural Course supports and builds on the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) at the local level and the Beneficiaries will work closely with the Government-recognised catchment hosts in Greater Manchester, the Healthy Rivers Trust and local Groundwork Trusts, who are affiliated to the Rivers Trust.

Natural Course will run for 10 years, 2015 to 2025, and will be divided into four 2.5 year phases. The first phase of the project covers the period 1st October 2015 to 31st March 2018 when the River Irwell catchment is the focus.

The total project budget is just over €20M. The EU LIFE programme will contribute almost €12M, or 60% of the total eligible budget. The budget is focused on the first phase in order to kick-start and stimulate the new integrated approach to water management.

Detailed budgets are prepared at the start of each phase, rather than for the full 10-years of the programme. The total budget for the first phase is €8.5M; €5M from EU Life and €3.5M from the project Beneficiaries.