Waterside Walk With Owen Paterson

15/12/2013 17:13 GMT | Updated 12/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Look beneath the surface and our rivers need help. Latest government figures show that just one fifth of our rivers are in a healthy ecological state. Over half of freshwater and wetland species are in decline and one in ten is on national red lists. The large majority of our rivers and streams are suffering because we are polluting them (filling them with raw sewage and other nasties that run-off of fields and streets when it rains) and taking too much water from them (for use at home, for business, for agriculture), or because the habitat needed for some of our most precious plants and animals has been trashed. As we are doing in many elements of the planet and its finite resources, we are living quite clearly in the overdraft side of the balance sheet. We are not giving the planet a chance to recover from our excesses.

At WWF we don't believe it has to be like that, which is the fundamental premise behind our work and we are looking at developing new ways of working - with business - to tackle these problems. But instead of just talking about it, I want to point to an example close to home where it works. This week I visited the River Nar in Norfolk with the Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State at Defra. We were there to look at the results of WWF's partnership with Coca-Cola and the Norfolk Rivers Trust, which is helping to restore the river and is working with sugar beet farmers to improve water quality.

The River Nar project is important because demonstrates how NGOs and communities can work successfully with businesses to achieve a goal in which everyone wins. Through our project, we are helping local farmers improve their soil quality and save time, which is good for their business. We are showing how sugar beet can be farmed in a more sustainable way, which is important for Coke (it's one of their key ingredients). And we are improving the river, which is great for wildlife such as water vole and trout, and for the local communities: for the dog walkers, the fishermen and the ramblers that love and depend upon it. There's more to do, but fundamentally the approach works; and we're hoping to transfer it to other areas in the country. We're already working on the Cray - a chalkstream in Kent - with Coke and our local partners. We want to help similar partnerships develop between businesses, NGOs and communities in other catchments.

Government needs to do their bit too. One of the big issues on the Nar is the amount of water being taken out ('abstracted') for public water supply. To fix this, we're looking to the Government to make much needed changes in legislation in the Water Bill going through Parliament.

We had an enjoyable and interesting time on the Nar, and I think I can safely say we all walked away from the visit reassured that despite coming at issues from different angles, if we want to, business, government and charities can work together and succeed.