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Project Sustainable Management of Urban Rivers & Foodplains

Industrial activity in the West Midlands dates back to the 1800s. Since 1980, however, the region has experienced steady industrial decline, which has led to significant land-use changes. The focus of the SMURF project is the River Tame basin which is 73% urban industrial and home to 1.8 million people. River water quality across the basin is among the poorest in the UK. Of the 140kms of river in the basin,75% are classed as poor or very poor under the “General Quality Assessment” scheme used by the Environment Agency (England and Wales) to test and rank the aesthetic quality of rivers. Such a very large urban area developed over relatively small capacity rivers creates tremendous environmental pressure on the water resources. Under the European Water Framework Directive, Member States are required to bring waters up to “good ecological status”.

Project number LIFE02 ENV/UK/000144
Acronym SMURF
Geographical coverage United Kingdom, Germany
Budget (in €) 2728487
Programme LIFE
Web site
Objectives The SMURF project aimed to reduce pollution and flooding on the River Tame. Methods and technologies used in the project could possibly be adapted and applied to other places in the UK and the rest of Europe. The project’s specific objectives were to:

• Implement a sustainable land-use and water management plan in the urban floodplain;
• Improve of the amenity, ecological status and sustainable drainage of the river basin;
• Involve local citizens in the planning and urban river basin;
• Establish ecological objectives for the river system and a transferable sustainable indicators set;
• Develop a detailed land-use planning model to govern future redevelopment in the floodplain; and
• Demonstrate how small-scale modifications can significantly improve a heavily modified waterway.
Results The project involved the local community, setting up focus groups, to define the targets for renovation of a stretch of the River Tame at Perry Hall playing fields. Measures taken at this demonstration site included making the river more accessible, clearing away undergrowth and planting bulbs and shrubs. As part of this initiative to make the river a feature of the park, a path was created alongside the river banks with benches and rubbish bins. Parts of the river were also reconstructed in order to allow the river to pursue a more natural course. The community were kept informed and engaged in the activities of the project, and school groups have visited the site.

The overall legacy of the project is hard to quantify, as the organisers believes its influence will be far-reaching. Since the project closed, the local council has provided Perry Hall site with a park ranger, an appointment that could have resulted from the heightened awareness the project generated.

The innovative river modelling aspect of the project is continuing to be evaluated. The system used during the project was the Geographical Information System (GIS), which manages and analyses the environment by linking recorded data to geographic information such as maps. While difficulties remain in applying this technology, the organisers say that the project demonstrated new aspects of the technology and made improvements. A full version of the system was delivered to the main project partners and requires specialist software, but two other versions – a CD-Rom and an online version – were made available to everyone.

SMURF has been held up as a case study of how public participation can be used to implement the Water Framework Directive. More information about the project was made available on the project’s award-winning website. The user-friendly innovations of the site were recognised with a prize from the Royal National Institute of the Blind. 
Period [01/08/2002 - 31/07/2005]