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We're taking part in the EU-funded PROWATER project to understand how nature-based solutions can protect our landscape against the effects of climate change.

Known as Ecosystem-based Adaptation, changing the way that the land is managed can make it more resilient against drought or flooding.

This is because what the land is used for - such as forestry or farming - can have positive and negative effects on how much water can infiltrate the ground, how clean this river or groundwater is, and the range of wildlife living there.

South East England is classed as water-stressed by the Environment Agency. Both dry spells and flooding are becoming more common due to climate change.

Improving our landscape is more cost-effective and has a lower carbon footprint than other measures to increase the amount of water available to use for drinking water.


Other measures, such as introducing more extensive treatment processes or new water abstractions are not sustainable long-term and do not have the added benefits of increasing wildlife and carbon storage, that a land-based approach provides.

That's why 10 project partners, including academic institutions, local authorities, environmental organisations and water companies in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK are working together to trial different Ecosystem-based Adaptation measures.

They will also look at how we can use a natural capital approach to take into account the value of our natural world. We'll also develop a Payment for Ecosystem Services model to fund improvements to the landscape which benefit water availability, quality and wildlife.

In the UK region, we're working with Kent County CouncilWestcountry Rivers Trust, and South East Rivers Trust

Read on to discover more about the three pilot projects in South East England

Friston Forest and Lullington Heath

Sitting above Eastbourne Aquifer, a primary source of drinking water for Sussex residents, is Friston Forest, Lullington Heath Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve, and Wilmington Downs SSSI.

Around 75% of the site is leased to the Forestry Commission, making it the largest area of recently established forest in south-east England. Over on Lullington Heath and Wilmington Downs SSSIs, the rare chalk grassland and heathland is at risk of being taken over by scrub and gorse.

We're opening up small pockets of woodland, scrub and gorse to allow the native chalk grassland and heathland to regrow.

Over the next two years, we'll monitor the amount of water infiltrating the ground, the quality of the water in Eastbourne Aquifer and the range of wildlife living on the site.

In 1934, the land around Friston water tower is predominantly chalk grassland (looking south-east)
Today, beech woodland surrounds Friston water tower (looking east, 2017)

River Beult

Downstream of the River Beult, water is abstracted and turned into drinking water at a number of locations.

But the river currently drains quickly after rainfall, so water may only be available to abstract for a relatively small time before it flood downstream. Because rainwater runs off the land surrounding the river so quickly, it can pick up sediment, nutrients and pesticides along the way, all of which are removed at water treatment works in an energy-intensive process.

Slowing down the rate at which water flows through the Beult will lead to multiple benefits, such as reduced flood risk, reduced environmental pollution and an increase in wildlife.

The channel of the main River Beult near Headcorn
The upper section of the Little Stour, known as the Nailbourne, this chalk stream only flows every few years when groundwater levels are high enough

Little Stour

Three water companies in south-east England abstract groundwater from the chalk aquifer, ready to turn into crystal-clear drinking water.

During periods of dry weather, river flows in the Little Stour tributary are low, but other areas nearby suffer from flooding.

By changing land use in the area surrounding the Little Stour, we hope that water will infiltrate through the ground more easily, making more water available in the aquifer. We anticipate it will also reach the river system more slowly, to even out the peaks and troughs of river flows and reduce flooding events.