Environmental charity the Westcountry Rivers Trust is urging local people to do their bit to look after the region’s rivers this year.

Nick Paling, Head of Evidence and Engagement at the Westcountry Rivers Trust (pictured), says: “Rivers are crucial to our health, happiness and prosperity. It is now well known that being in nature is good for our health and wellbeing.  Spending time by the river can be extremely relaxing and rejuvenating and a great antidote to modern life. Most of the time we take them for granted, but at the Westcountry Rivers Trust we would like to encourage more people to do their bit to look after their local river.

“Once you have discovered your local river, we hope you will be inspired to do more to protect it. From volunteering for a river clean-up, to taking part in monitoring activity, there is lots you can do to help the Westcountry Rivers Trust in our efforts to restore and protect the South West’s rivers.”

The Westcountry Rivers Trust has identified six ways people can help to protect their local river.

1. Get out and enjoy your local river
Many of our rivers are hidden underground, but the South West has a number of beautiful riverside walks. The Westcountry Rivers Trust website can help you to find your local river wrt.org.uk/your-river . Once you know where it is, try to visit it every now and again. If more of us get to know our local rivers we can also all do our bit to keep an eye on them and report any problems, such as littering or pollution.

2. Go for grass in your garden
More pressure on parking spaces means that many front gardens have now been paved or concreted over. Hard surfaces cannot soak up water, so this water flows across the surface into the drainage system, which can become overwhelmed and cause flooding. In many of our towns and cities, there is just not enough space for surface water to drain away. Localised flooding is becoming a real problem.

The Westcountry Rivers Trust is encouraging people to choose grass for their gardens. Nick Paling says: “If you really want to keep your paving or concrete, think about including at least some permeable surfaces – perhaps incorporate a planted border, place a water butt under your guttering or choose gravel for your driveway.”

3. Keep your drains clear
The water companies have a major job to keep our water clean and safe to drink. British households apparently pour enough fat down their drains every year to fill seven Olympic swimming pools. The Westcountry Rivers Trust recommends using empty jars or margarine tubs to collect it, then throw it away. Other common culprits for blocked sinks are coffee grinds, produce stickers and broken eggshell, which should instead be binned or composted to prevent unwanted waste entering our water systems.

4. Don’t waste water
Reducing your water usage won’t just save you money, it will also help the environment. From having a water butt in your garden, to taking shorter showers, there is so much that you can do. South West Water also provides free-water saving devices, which you can get here www.savewatersavemoney.co.uk/free-water-saving-packs.

5. Get your septic tank checked
If septic tanks are not emptied regularly or are not working properly, they can overflow and discharge straight into the river. This is a particular problem during heavy rain. So, if you have a septic tank – and plenty of rural homes in the South West do – then make sure you understand how to keep it working properly and stop it overflowing. This Government document consult.defra.gov.uk/water/reform-regulatory-system-small-sewage-discharges/results/your-sewage-your-environment-leaflet-july-2015.pdf outlines what you need to do.

6. Become a citizen scientist
The Westcountry Rivers Trust now has more than 100 volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ who are helping to monitor the health of rivers across the South West. Find out how you can join them here wrt.org.uk/get-involved/.

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