Connecting for Change: Highlights from the 2nd Thame Catchment Partnership Water Conference

November 3, 2023

The 22nd of September marked the Thame Catchment Partnership’s 2nd Annual Water Conference held at the Wades Centre in Princes Risborough where we had 66 people in attendance. We’d like to extend a huge thanks to everyone who made the event possible – speakers, sponsors, and of course attendees, all of whom ensured an enlightening and interactive day addressing some of the challenges and opportunities faced by the Thame.

In the first session, aptly titled "Catchment-based thinking: The link between land & water," we heard from Chris Leach, Head of Environmental Conservation & Biodiversity at The Rothschild Foundation. Chris, with over three decades of experience in conservation and forestry, is now at the forefront of conservation and sustainability efforts at Waddesdon Estates LLC. His presentation illuminated the path to smarter farming practices aimed at improving soil health, reducing carbon emissions, and promoting sustainable food production.

Phil Simpkin, Interim Ecology Team Leader at Buckinghamshire Council, provided a comprehensive overview of planning and Local Nature Recovery Strategies for Water. Phil's expertise in Ecology and Project Management shed light on the details of the various legislation and their relationships, which can often be bewildering. Phil's talk provided an accessible way of understanding this sphere. His talk also highlighted how people can get involved in shaping the upcoming Local Nature Recovery Strategy for Buckinghamshire.

Dr Claudia Bernardini, Newt Conservation Partnership Project Officer for Buckinghamshire at Freshwater Habitats Trust Provided an insightful presentation on the systematic mechanism developed for Great Crested Newt District Licensing in Buckinghamshire, which delivers both for newt conservation and developers.

Sewage is high on the public’s list of environmental concerns. However, how many of us actually understand how a sewage treatment work functions? In our second session, "Sewage Treatment, Water Management, and Water Quality," Tim Harris, an Independent Water Quality Specialist, provided a fascinating explanation of how sewage treatment plants function and their impact on water quality.

Tim Beech, Environmental Partnerships Lead at Thames Water shared an informative update on Thames Water’s plans for infrastructure investment. Tim, who has worked for Thames Water for thirteen years, has been instrumental in supporting their mission to restore the health of our rivers, actively participating in the Thame Catchment Partnership.

River Thame Conservation Trust Project Officers, Chels Hothem and Andy Morsley, provided an update on our Water Quality Monitoring Network. Having been running for 1 year now, a more detailed picture of water quality is starting to emerge from the programme, which Chels and Andy were able to provide an initial insight to.

In the final session, "People, Rivers, and the Power of Citizen Science," Dr Michael Pocock, an ecologist and academic lead for public engagement with research at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, enlightened us about citizen science and its positive impacts on well-being. His research, focusing on ecological interactions and citizen science, brought forward compelling perspectives.

Hannah Parry-Wilson, Citizen Science Coordinator for the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, enlightened us with her insights into Chess Smarter Water Catchment citizen science. Her work in coordinating citizen science efforts underscored the importance of community engagement in preserving our natural resources.

Last but certainly not least, Alisdair Naulls, Communities & Engagement Lead at The Rivers Trust, shared the exciting launch of The Big River Watch app, a major initiative from the Rivers Trust to engage a wide, non-expert audience in citizen science to record river health.

Throughout the conference, our attendees engaged in lively question-and-answer sessions and interactive discussions via Slido, generating invaluable conversations about the pressing issues faced by the Thame. Their insights and feedback will play a pivotal role in shaping and guiding the future endeavours of the Thame Catchment Partnership.

For those who couldn't join us, worry not! We're pleased to provide access to the presentation slides through this link.

The Water Conference requires significant RTCT staff time to plan and run the event. We are therefore hugely grateful to this year’s sponsors and funders:  SMS Environmental, South Oxfordshire District Council Councillors Tim Bearder & Caroline Newton, Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Natural Environment Partnership, and Woodroffe Benton Foundation. Thank you also to those attendees who generously chose to make a donation when registering and on the day. We’d be delighted to discuss potential funding and sponsorship possibilities with prospective sponsors to enable the Water Conference to take place in 2024. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss.

Thanks also to Waste2Taste CIC, Food with a Conscience, for their contribution of a delectable and sustainably sourced lunch.

Lastly, thanks to all 66 attendees! We received some lovely feedback through our post conference survey. The valuable aspects of the conference highlighted by attendees included engaging with speakers by asking questions, the lively atmosphere created by interactive Slido quizzes, networking opportunities, and a broad range of informative talks. We look forward to seeing you next year!

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