Tamar Catchment Overview

The catchment of the River Tamar and its tributaries, when combined with the catchments of the other rivers that flow into the Tamar Estuary, cover a total land area of around 1,800 sq km in the South West of England (see map right).

The River Tamar itself, which forms the boundary between the counties of Devon and Cornwall, rises in the hills of north Devon and flows 78 km southwards before entering Plymouth Sound and, from there, emptying into the English Channel.

In addition to the River Tamar, the wider catchment includes the Rivers Tavy, Plym and Yealm, which drain areas of 200 sq km, 170 sq km and 125 sq km respectively in the south east of the catchment, and the Rivers Lynher and Tiddy, which drain a combined area of ~220 sq km into the south western side of the Tamar estuary.

The topography of the wider Tamar catchment is highly varied, with the main upland areas found in the east of the catchment where Dartmoor dominates the headwaters of the Rivers Thrushel, Lyd, Tavy, Plym and Yealm, and in the West where the Rivers Ottery, Kensey, Inney and Lynher all find their origins on Bodmin Moor.

Current Office for National Statistics (ONS) data indicate that the residential population of the Tamar Catchment may be around 300,000. However, rather than being distributed evenly across the area, it is estimated that around 270,000 of these people reside in the urban areas of Plymouth (256,000) and Saltash (14,000) in the south of the catchment.

Landuse & practice

The urban area of Plymouth, in the south of the Tamar Catchment, occupies around 8,000 Ha (4% of the catchment area) while the three other main towns; Holsworthy, Launceston and Tavistock, occupy areas of 130, 450 and 500 Ha respectively. Aside from these there are also four significant lakes in the catchment; Upper Tamar Lake (38 Ha), Lower Tamar Lake (15 Ha), Burrator Reservoir (52 Ha) and Roadford Lake (266 Ha), and, at the southern end of the catchment, the landscape is dominated by the Tamar (3,000 Ha) and Yealm (200 Ha) estuaries.

Overall, the farmed land in the Tamar Catchment, which totals 134,000 Ha (73% of the catchment area), is comprised of around 18,400 Ha of land used for crops (cereals, vegetables and fodder crops), 16,192 Ha of temporary grassland and 88,440 Ha of permanent grassland. The remainder of the rural landscape is comprised of a variety of different semi-natural and natural habitats, including woodland and upland habitats such as blanket bog, heathland and mires (totalling around 50,000 Ha).

Data from the Agricultural Census 2000 and from the Rural Payments Agency indicate that there are approximately 3,000 registered farm holdings in the Tamar Catchment and that, of these, around 800 are over 50 Ha in size. Data from the Agricultural Census 2000 also indicates how the farms in each area are divided according to type. This data reveals that beef and sheep farms make up around 30% of farms in the catchment overall and that dairy farms, which make up around 12% of farms overall, are far more prevalent in the northern part of the catchment.


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Tamar Catchment Activities

There are a wide array of activities and projects now under way in the Tamar Catchment and several others that are being developed as a result of the Tamar Catchment Partnership's ongoing work to improve the health and functioning of this important catchment landscape.

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Upstream Thinking: 50.612221, -4.304237
Tamar Grow Local: 50.524316, -4.213552
The Plymouth Plan: 50.375456, -4.142656
Plymouth Diffuse Pollution Project: 50.375456, -4.142656
Tamar Estuaries Consultative Forum: 50.363751, -4.189911
Helping Hands for Heritage : 50.497003, -4.202055
Drawn to the Valley: 50.551123, -4.141654
Dartmoor Farming Futures : 50.596097, -3.922119
Reclaiming the River: 50.641708, -4.326561
The SWARM Initiative: 50.547175, -4.316042
Tamar Invasives Project: 50.497003, -4.202055
Tamar Fisheries Forum: 50.419685, -4.203328
3Rivers: 50.495194, -4.130850
Upstream Thinking 2: 50.515772, -3.751395
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Upstream Thinking
Good_farm_bad_farm_WRT_300Land management advice and capital investment funded by South West Water.


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Tamar Grow Local
tamargrowlocalA ‘not for profit’ Community Interest Company set up on co-operative principles to promote sustainable local produce in the Tamar Valley.


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The Plymouth Plan

The Plymouth plan is a new strategy from Plymouth council to consolidate Plymouth's long term strategy plans for transport through to waste, children through to culture. They aim to ‘allow the city to have a single voice and help all key partners to pull together in the same direction’.

More info

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Plymouth Diffuse Pollution Project
The Plymouth Urban Diffuse Pollution Project is the result of an innovative collaboration between the Environment Agency, Plymouth City Council and South West Water which is focused on identifying misconnected properties.

More Info

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Tamar Estuaries Consultative Forum
Tamar Estuaries Consultative Forum (TECF) is a management partnership that promotes the delivery of the integrated management of the Tamar estuary.


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Helping Hands for Heritage

Helping Hands for Heritage is a project to expand the potential of volunteering in the Tamar Valley, and to work towards helping to protect and care for its remarkable natural and cultural heritage.


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Drawn to the Valley
'Drawn to the Valley' is a support networklogo
for local artists.


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Dartmoor Farming Futures

Farming futures is very much about putting the hill farmers who live and work here, at the centre of the discussion; understanding what the land can provide in terms of ecosystem services, how to best utilise this in an optimal manner whilst managing their own interests to continue grazing / access and stocking rates.

More info

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Reclaiming the River
UntitledThe Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) has released a report looking at a section of the River Tamar between Polson and Greystone Bridges. Funded by the Environment Agency And Tamar AONB,  this report summarises a small project that looked in depth at one section of the river Tamar in terms of issues related to water quality and regulation and the perceived loss of habitats.


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The SWARM Initiative
The South West Agricultural Resource Management (SWARM) Initiative from the Duchy Rural Business School has been set up to provide farmers with information about efficiently managing their natural resources.

more info

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Tamar Invasives Project
Tamar Valley AONB, Environment Agency, Natural England and Cornwall Council have formed a partnership in order to tackle the growing problem of invasive plants growing in the Tamar Valley.


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Tamar Fisheries Forum
Westcountry Rivers Trust has volunteered to lead a pilot Catchment Fisheries Plan on the Tamar.


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3Rivers Project

The 3Rivers project is focussing on reducing diffuse sources of pollution that are contributing to failures in Water Framework Directive (WFD) status.


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Upstream Thinking 2
Upstream Thinking 2

Phase 2 of the UK’s most innovative conservation project




Latest Tamar Catchment News

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Tamar Catchment Intervention Factsheets

Following the recent working group meetings, all your ideas and themes for action have been compiled into a list which will soon be published below. Please have a look through and do let us know if there is anything that you feel has been missed, or something new to add? Please also note that for the Uplands group it was felt that this has a very unique set of circumstances, so in order to be able to focus on it appropriately we will follow up on the Ecosystem Services approach which is consistent with our Tamar Pilot phase and also the Farming Futures project discussed in that group.

Data & Evidence

It is vital that participatory, stakeholder-led catchment planning is underpinned by robust data and evidence.

For coherent, integrated spatial plans to be created, stakeholders (1°, 2° and 3°) and technical specialists in a partnership need to work with an impartial broker/facilitator to collate and scruitinise all of the data and evidence relating to environmental infrastructure and ecosystem services provision for their area/catchment of interest.

Data and evidence for catchment management planning can come from a huge array of sources (see right).

The Tamar Plan

The Tamar Catchment Plan adopted a stakeholder‐led ‘ecosystem services’ approach to catchment planning. This involved the host organisation working with stakeholders to identify areas within the catchment which play, or have the potential to play, a particularly important role in the delivery of clean water and a range of other benefits (services) to society.

Only when these areas had been identified was it then possible to identify groups within society who benefit from the services they deliver and to create mechanisms through which these beneficiaries can contribute financially to support or enhance their delivery.

Where beneficiaries already make financial contributions, the aim must be to ensure that these contributions are spent as cost effectively as possible to derive the greatest achievable environmental outcomes.

Through this process the stakeholders have developed;

  • A shared understanding of the pressures affecting ecosystem service provision in the catchment
  • A shared vision for a catchment landscape with a blend of environmental infrastructure that may be able to deliver all of these vital services optimally in the future
  • A clear understanding of what is currently being done to realise this vision and what additional actions may be required to bring it to full reality.

Creating a Sustainable Future: Ecosystem Services and Spatial Planning

The WRT Ecosystem Services approach

View the Tamar plan here...

The Tamar Plan - Full

The Tamar Plan - Summary


In recent years it has been increasingly recognised that improving the health of our ecosystems and enhancing the delivery of the ecosystem services they can provide should not only be the responsibility of the public sector, but also the private sector, the third sector (charities and voluntary bodies) and local stakeholders.

The Tamar Catchment Plan has adopted a stakeholder-led ‘ecosystem services’ approach to catchment planning. This has involved the host organisation working with stakeholders to identify areas within the catchment which play, or have the potential to play, a particularly important role in the delivery of clean water and a range of other benefits (services) to society.

Following an initial open meeting attended by 55 local stakeholders in March 2012 to launch the Tamar Plan Initiative, 7 working groups (comprising 62 participants in total) were convened to examine the different elements that required consideration for the creation of the plan. Now in 2014 the partnership has moved into a delivery planning phase and the partnership continues to grow...

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