Aire Rivers Trust has been commissioned by Bradford Council to develop a Stewardship programme on the River Aire within their borders.
First, what do we mean by River Stewardship?
Ask a dozen people for their definition (we did!) and you will get a dozen different ones – it risks being all things to all people. However, they all centre around a core definition along the lines of:
“Working in partnership and taking action to improve, maintain and value the river environment.”
Key features of effective stewardship are captured by this definition:
Partnership – partners can and should include anyone with an interest in the rivers such as the local community, councils and councillors, 3rd sector organisations, businesses (especially those with riparian interests).
Taking action – action can occur at a range of levels/granularities including but by no means limited to a person walking their dog along the river and picking up litter in a carrier bag through to the use of heavy equipment to remove large objects from the river, enhancing access or creation of waterside parks.
Improve and maintain – sustainable stewardship recognises that not only are there current challenges but they are likely to repeat and any new infrastructure will require ongoing maintenance as well as riparian owner buy-in.
Value – There are both soft and hard value enhancements as a consequence of improving our watercourses including a reduction in flood risk. There is clear evidence that people appreciate being near clean well-maintained watercourses and growing data supporting the proposition that health and wellbeing is enhanced by a good environment. Moreover, land values and the attractiveness of the locality to inward investment have been shown to increase.
River environment – stewardship involves work not just on/in the rivers and other watercourses but also on their banks and immediate hinterland, enhancing the river corridor for both people and wildlife.
River Stewardship is both a product and a process. It’s not just what is done, but how that is important. It is a process of engagement, consultation and involvement that leads to actions designed to enhance the riverine environment. In this context, we see community engagement as a critical link between proposals for stewardship and resilience.