United Utilities and Nestlé point the way for catchment policy and societal value


Catchment collaboration between United Utilities and Nestlé in the River Eden valley could shape water management policy for years to come, the companies believe.

At an event at Nestle’s Dalston factory, the water company and food producer shared details of their joint work to protect the farmers, businesses, habitats and communities whose lives and livelihoods are all interlinked with the river and the land through which it flows. Amina Aboobakar, United Utilities’ integrated catchment strategy manager, explained: “Rather than tackle the different issues separately with traditional models of engineering or funding, we’re seeing that there’s a lot of overlap in our objectives. That means we can pool our resources and achieve far more by working together and working smarter.”

The Eden valley catchment work has included:

• United Utilities working with farmers to tackle at source drainage and erosion problems that can cause soil, fertilisers or animal waste to pollute the river, including through helping to fund improvements on farms (this is cheaper than traditional water treatment measures, freeing up funding for other projects, or to cut water bills); and

• Nestlé's interest in a thriving and resilient farming community, because that means a strong and healthy supply chain.

Nestlé has been working with dairy cooperative First Milk and incentivising the dairy farmers who supply its sites to implement on farm interventions to improve biodiversity habitat, water quality, soil structure and reduce flood risk. And Nestlé is part of the Resilient Dairy Landscapes programme, which aims to bring academic rigour to the assessment of these interventions in terms of positive outcomes and potential trade offs. Nestlé has also co-developed the Landscape Enterprise Networks model with sustainability advisor 3Keel, to help build the business case for co-investing in the natural assets on which businesses rely.

In both cases, farmers benefit from reduced flood risk, better soil quality and opportunities for diversification and a more resilient business.

Andy Griffiths, head of value chain sustainability at Nestlé UK & Ireland said: “Once you start to explore how your supply chain relies on the landscape and share this with other organisations operating in the area, it’s interesting to see how these interests overlap and provide opportunities to enhance impact. As well as collaborating with United Utilities, we are now seeing other organisations expressing an interest to explore how they could also engage.”

Aboobakar added: “We’re talking about changes on a landscape scale, and that doesn’t happen overnight. But by tackling the challenges as a collective, and with the right political will, this is how we can build a framework that gets the best value from our natural assets for everyone in society.”

United Utilities said the Dalston event included discussions about other changes in land management that could bring multiple benefits to society. This might include planting more woodland, to slow the flow of water and reduce flood risk downstream, bringing new forestry business opportunities and public health benefits through access and recreation.