River projects win £170k to drive private investment in nature

Dillington Carr SSSI (site of special scientific interest) is central to the Wendling Beck Exemplar Project

Dillington Carr SSSI (site of special scientific interest) is central to the Wendling Beck Exemplar Project, one of two Norfolk schemes to win funding - Credit: Wendling Beck Exemplar Project

Two Norfolk rivers projects have been awarded almost £170,000 from a fund aiming to tackle climate change by driving private investment in nature.

Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England have announced the first 27 schemes to benefit from the £10m Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF).

The fund will help environmental groups, businesses and local authorities to capture the economic value of conservation projects - and provide a return on investment by selling carbon or biodiversity credits to private companies seeking to offset their own emissions.

Among them are Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which will receive £99,718 for the Wendling Beck Exemplar Project, aiming to transform farmland near Dereham through river restoration, grassland and wetland creation.

In doing so, it will create “ecosystem services” including carbon sequestration, reduced nutrients, flood mitigation, enhanced groundwater - so it will look at ways of generating revenue by selling biodiversity, carbon and nutrient credits.

Nik Khandpur, joint interim chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Nik Khandpur, joint interim chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Credit: Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Nik Khandpur, joint interim chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: "Together we want to establish a blueprint that brings farmers and landowners together with conservation organisations to deliver more for the environment.

"We are delighted that this grant will help us develop and showcase new models for sustainably-funded land use that will have, at their heart, landscape-scale habitat creation, nature restoration and people engagement."

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The Wendling Beck project brings together four farmers, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk County council in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Norfolk Rivers Trust and Norfolk FWAG. 

Norfolk Rivers Trust has also been awarded £70,000 to explore the application of an "environmental impact bond" to reduce phosphates and other pollutants entering the River Stiffkey, while generating revenue in the form of "phosphate credits".

The trust's chief executive David Diggens said he was "over the moon" with the funding, which would help build on the work already achieved alongside Anglian Water to create an integrated constructed wetland on the River Ingol in 2018.

"The idea is to define the sale value of nutrients held in the wetland, to sell them to a third party who wishes to offset those nutrients - it could be a developer or anyone," he said.

"Our speciality is in developing and delivering natural capital solutions. We have proven the concept, so this money is giving us the opportunity to explore the opportunity to go to the next phase, to get external finance."

Part of the River Stiffkey, with a low nutrient water quality status

Part of the River Stiffkey, with a low nutrient water quality status - Credit: Norfolk Rivers Trust

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “To tackle the environmental challenges we face from climate change and biodiversity loss, it is crucial that domestic natural environment projects are able to attract private investment alongside support from the public sector."

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