An ambitious project is underway in North Devon to plant 40,000 trees. South West Water, a partner of Devon Climate Emergency, are working with local landowners, the North Devon Biosphere Foundation, the Environment Agency, the Woodland Trust and Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming Partnership to identify areas where tree planting, hedging and fencing can help improve the water quality of the River Umber.

The Umber meets the sea in Combe Martin, an area that is affected by a range of bacterial pollution sources, particularly in wet weather. Planting native trees and extending hedgerows in the Umber catchment is one of the many interventions working to improve water quality. The trees intercept peak rainfall, slowing the flow and reducing run off, which carries the bacteria into the river. Trees also improves soil health. Soils act as a filter, removing pollutants from the water and slowing the flow through the catchment. Alongside improving water quality, trees and improved soil health both reduce the risk of flooding. 

Local landowners have been heavily involved. Four hectares of trees and 130 metres of hedgerow are being planted in 7 locations as pilot for the project. From the results of the pilot, further opportunities for tree planting, hedging and fencing will be identified, with sites selected for their potential to benefit water quality and protect the qualities of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Exmoor National Park. It is great to see the myriad of benefits that nature based solutions can bring!

How is this helping Devon reach net-zero?

Action F22: Work with the government to increase funding to enhance the effectiveness of the Catchment Based Approach, which provides coordination of conservation measures between landowners and potential funders at a catchment scale for improved water quality and nature.

This project increases tree cover in the River Umber catchment, improving soil health and water quality whilst reducing downstream flood risk. In Combe Martin, better bathing water quality benefits the health of the local community and the tourism trade.