A pioneering project by South East Water (SEW) to reduce the use of metaldehyde, a harmful chemical found in slug pellets, in drinking water has won the prestigious Rushlight Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry and Biodiversity Award. In their innovative winning project, SEW’s Catchment Team worked with farmers and landowners to reduce the amount of metaldehyde entering rivers and watercourses.

Metaldehyde is used by farmers and gardeners to control slugs and snails in a wide variety of crops. When applied to crops on land, it can find its way into drains and water courses either directly during application, or as a result of run-off during heavy rainfall. Levels of metaldehyde have been detected in trace concentrations in the rivers or reservoirs used for drinking water.

Recognising the problem, the SEW team set out their pioneering plan to address the issue of metaldehyde entering water sources in 2015, and is now working with farmers and Natural England, as the Water and Farming Partnership. Natural England has described SEW’s new working techniques as “the future for protecting both water quality and the natural environment”, and it’s a method which other water companies are now adopting.

Tim Peacock from Procam Rutherfords, a specialist company providing agronomy services to farmers
said: “The great thing about the South East Water team is they are proactive and actively want to work with growers, that is so refreshing.”

James Seymour from Natural England said: “This project is an industry exemplar of how private and public sectors can work together, in partnership, and with the agricultural community to deliver more than just end-of-pipe solutions.”

To win the national Rushlight Award, a distinguished panel of senior personnel across science, innovation, the environment and business sectors selected SEW's Metaldehyde reduction project for its potential to make the most impressive and positive impact on the environment. The Rushlight Awards, which were founded 10 years ago, showcase the work of clean-tech companies and industries who focus on promoting sustainability by reducing their carbon output and their impact on the environment. Contenders in 30 different categories all help government to meet its greenhouse emissions targets.

Emma Goddard, SEW’s Head of Environment, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have our pioneering work on metaldehyde recognised and acknowledged by winning this prestigious award. Engaging and collaborating with farmers has helped them appreciate the water environment and how we can all work together for mutual benefit.”

Photo: South East Water’s NEP Surface Water Catchment Management Lead, Simon Lohrey is presented with the award by John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) at the Rushlight Awards’ ceremony held at the Royal College of Surgeons on 25 January.