We have legal obligations to protect our region's wildlife and habitats. We also know a healthy and thriving environment improves people's quality of life and supports a thriving economy.
We own and manage a great deal of land, much of it of value to wildlife. This includes 47 SSSIs, covering nearly 3,000 hectares. Of these, 98.8 per cent are judged to be in favourable condition by Natural England, the Government's nature conservation advisor and natural environment regulator. This compares well with England as a whole, where only 38.6 per cent of SSSIs were in favourable condition at March 2017.
This year we agreed a partnership agreement with Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which will manage Dereham Rush Meadow SSSI on our behalf. Such partnership working ensures we get best value for customers, who support our environmental work provided it does not have a big impact on bills.
Our new Flourishing Environment grant scheme is another way to make the money go further. Launched this year, the scheme supports local communities in protecting wetland wildlife. We picked wetland wildlife as this is where our stakeholders said we should focus our efforts during the consultation on our new biodiversity strategy in 2015.
A number of schemes are either planned or under way to reduce the effect of our operations on the environment, including the impact of water abstraction from rivers and groundwaters, and to ensure compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment and Water Framework regulations.
Protecting the quality of bathing waters is also of huge importance, both to the environment and to the coastal economy. Our Coastal Water Protection team works with councils, the Environment Agency, local businesses and residents' groups to identify and address sources of pollution.
The Environment Agency classifies bathing waters against four standards: Excellent (required for Blue Flag awards), Good, Sufficient and Poor. Results are based on a four-year average to make the data more representative.
This year, our results were:
This is a slight fall from last year, when 34 waters were classed as excellent. The figures also include a new bathing water at West Runton in Norfolk. Clacton Groyne 41 remains the only bathing water in the region to be classed as poor and has a long-running issue with water quality. Recent investigations show the source of bacterial pollution may be a combination of private sewerage systems and roosting birds. We are working with the Environment Agency and the local authority to reduce all potential pollution risks.
We know that in the majority of cases, declining results have not been as a result of our assets, so our focus is working closely with others to tackle third-party pollution. Nevertheless, we continue to invest where we have seen potential impact from our network. This includes £3 million to increase sewer capacity in Southend.
We have working groups covering all 49 of our bathing waters, including us, local authorities and the Environment Agency. We work together to identify sources of pollution. The ever-greater collaboration encouraged by our approach has led to real advances in locating and shutting down sources of bacterial pollution. As a result, we are getting closer to solving some long-standing water quality issues in our region, which remains home to many of England's cleanest beaches.
Dereham Rush Meadow is a 13-acre area of SSSI wetland in Norfolk. It is classed as 'unfavourable recovering' by Natural England, making it one of the last SSSIs owned by Anglian Water not in favourable condition.
To change this we have entered into an agreement with Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which will manage the site together with an area of adjacent land it owns. Work will be funded jointly, making the agreement a cost-effective one for us and our customers, while the site will be cared for by the county's conservation experts. The nature of the site has made it difficult to access and to manage. To improve it, ditches need to be cleared, water level management structures installed, scrub removed and grazing introduced. So the Trust can take livestock and machinery on and off, we extended a track that runs through our next-door water recycling centre so that it reaches to the back of the site.