If you could ask a river what it thinks about what the human race is doing to it the answer is likely to be pretty damning.

Every river in England is polluted and fails on chemical standards. Those in the rest of the UK are a little better, but not by much. Only a tiny fraction of our rivers flow unimpeded: the overwhelming majority are interrupted by dams, weirs or locks for navigation. River channels are straightened, funnelled between flood banks or encased into concrete culverts. So it’s no wonder that even the most important rivers designated for nature conservation are suffering. In England, 89.7% of all riverine SSSIs are in unfavourable status. In Wales it’s 60%, and 36% in Northern Ireland. Across the UK we’ve lost 90% of our wetland habitats over the past 100 years.

At the Institute of Water’s Environment Conference (“Cry me a river”) at the end of May we heard why our freshwater environment is in such a poor state. Sewage pollution coats river beds in fungus, adds nutrients that cause algal blooms (pictured) in some of our most iconic rivers, and inputs pathogens that can affect the health of swimmers and canoeists.

Uncontrolled runoff from roads and urban areas discharges a cocktail of pollutants which damage aquatic ecosystems. Abandoned mines spill acidic water laden with iron and heavy metals. And phosphorus from agriculture, derived from fertilisers as well as animal manures, can have an impact that lasts decades because of the way in which it behaves in the natural environment, creating a legacy effect and transferring impact over a wide area. Excessive abstraction is drying up chalk streams, a globally rare habitat of which some 80% are in England. And then there’s the impact of climate change, affecting river flows and temperatures…

Leading national and international academics and practitioners painted a sorry picture to delegates. But to set the scene, and lend weight to their specialist expertise, the conference opened with an authoritative overview from the Rt Hon Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow and Chair of the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee. In conversation with Kirsty Ayres, an IWater young professional, Philip set out the stark conclusions from the EAC’s inquiry into river water quality. The report is a sobering read.

It would be tempting to conclude that what we are facing is a series of technical challenges that we can address through technical solutions, and so halt and reverse the decline.  But that’s the simplistic approach which, time and again, has been tried and has failed to do much more than maintain the status quo. So what do we need to do?

The answer came from Dr Dave Tickner, Chief Adviser on rivers at the WWF. Dave advocated that we should ‘think like a river’ and equip professionals to understand the multiple stressors that rivers are subjected to – and to understand that the mistake is to focus on just one. And that we need to think and act at a catchment scale, focusing on the long term recovery of the whole river system.

The chances are that what I’ve described above is resonating with you as a water professional. But not everybody shares our values, and so we need to learn how to tell a story that others will understand, and then want to be part of. Dr Mike Keil from the Consumer Council for Water explained that their research shows that people do care about the water environment, and have high expectations for it. But the technocratic approach often adopted by colleagues in the water sector doesn’t allow us to engage readily with consumers.

We need to develop skills beyond purely technical ones and learn how to join things up, and tell a good story. Because what we have is a great story; we just need to work to ensure that it has a happy ending. Or the generations that follow us will think we were fools.

Professor Ian Barker CEnv HonFSE FIWater

Vice President Environment

The Society for the Environment are pleased to announce the Environmental Professional of the Year as Jerome Baddley, Chartered Environmentalist and Head of Unit – the National Sustainable Development Unit for the NHS, Public Health and Social Care at the NHS and Public Health England.

The Society’s World Environment Day Awards and Lectures were held yesterday (4 June) on the eve of World Environment Day and attended by more than one hundred people.

The agenda for the day, hosted by Kew Gardens who also acted as venue sponsor, included the presentation of a number of honours and an expert line-up of topical talks. The grand finale saw the announcement of the Environmental Professional of the Year 2019, which was presented to Jerome Baddley CEnv, Head of Unit – the National Sustainable Development Unit for the NHS, Public Health and Social Care at the NHS and Public Health England and Fellow of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA).

The prestigious Environmental Professional of the Year award recognises the outstanding work of Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) and Registered Environmental Technician (REnvTech) registrants. The Award showcases the achievements of those striving to protect and enhance the environment on a daily basis and attracts a diverse range of outstanding nominations each year from across sectors and continents. Previous winners of the award include David Stubbs CEnv, registered via the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM); Martin Bigg CEnv, registered via the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA); and last year’s winner, Graham Powell CEnv, registered via the Institute of Water (IWater).

Jerome has worked in the environmental sector for twenty years, leading on globally significant areas of work. He produced the very first NHS carbon reduction plans; supporting two trusts to cut their footprints by twenty-five per cent. In 2009 he produced the UK’s first city-wide energy and carbon strategy for Nottingham; resulting in Nottingham cutting its carbon footprint by fifty per cent. He also chairs the National Working Group for Low Carbon Inhalers, a group that includes National Directors, leaders and even a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Alongside this, he also co-chairs the National Task Group on low carbon anaesthetics, and cycles to every meeting; even managing to take his folding bike into Parliament when giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee.

Reacting to the honour of being crowned Environmental Professional of the Year, Jerome said:

“This is a real honour; however, I am just a small cog in a very large machine. I have been blessed to work with amazing teams, supportive management and great leadership. Really this is an award for them.”

He added, “The role of the environmental professional is changing rapidly from ‘making the case’ to guiding and delivering the urgent changes needed in the fastest, most efficient and most equitable way possible.”

Owing to an extremely high standard across the nominations, awards were also presented to two highly commended finalists, Professor Carolyn Roberts, Self Employed Environmental Consultant, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Keele University and a CEnv via the Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES); and Diana Pound, Director and Lead Dialogue Designer/Facilitator of
Dialogue Matters and a CEnv via the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).

The event, which was sponsored by Severn Trent Water, also marked fifteen years since the Society was established and saw the presentation of three new Honorary Fellows of the Society for the Environment (HonFSE).

The hugely deserving new Honorary Fellows are:

• Sir Graham Wynne HonFSE
• Jennifer Blumhof HonFSE CEnv
• Keith Lawrey HonFSE

Jennifer said, “I was very honoured to receive the award of Honorary Fellowship of the Society for the Environment. The Society’s role in the advancement of environmental professionalism over the past fifteen years has been exemplary and long may it continue.”

They join a revered group of individuals who have been recognised for their outstanding environmental work and/or their contributions to the Society.

A number of expert speakers completed the event with insightful and challenging talks, along the theme of ‘A Spotlight on Net Gain’.

The highly engaging speakers included:
Richard Deverell, Director of Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
Michael Way CEnv, Partnership Coordinator (Americas), Conservation Science Department, Kew
Claire Wansbury CEnv, Associate Director of Ecology: Infrastructure, UK & Europe, SNC Lavalin’s Atkins
Nick Blyth CEnv, Policy & Engagement Lead, IEMA
Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

The Society would like to thank everyone who attended the event as well as those who made it happen and looks ahead to an even bigger and better event in 2020.

We are delighted to confirm that Sir Graham Wynne and Michael Way CEnv have joined the line-up of amazing speakers for the Society’s Annual World Environment Day Awards and Lectures on the 4th June.

Sir Graham Wynne will deliver the annual Honorary Fellow (HonFSE) Lecture, following the presentation of his award.

Sir Graham is a Distinguished Fellow with the World Resources Institute (WRI), currently working as an advisor to the Global Commission on Adaptation. He is also a Trustee of Green Alliance, and was formerly Chief Executive of the RSPB (1998 to 2010).

Michael Way CEnv MCIEEM is the Partnership Coordinator (Americas) at the Conservation Science Department of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. On the theme of “Banking seeds for the future: the work of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership”, Michael will use the development and implementation of global standards as an example of the professionalisation of this field and the resulting impact that high quality collections and data can have in plant conservation and sustainable use strategies.

Sir Graham and Michael add to the expertise of our other confirmed speakers:

  • Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Claire Wansbury CEnv, Associate Director of Ecology at SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins
  • Nick Blyth CEnv, Policy & Engagement Lead at IEMA
  • Richard Deverell, Director at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


Registration is free for CEnv and REnvTech registrants and just £50 for non-registrants. Register your attendance today at socenv.org.uk/event/WED2019 before the 3rd June.