Unlocking change

The Rivers Trust

The Rivers Trust is a charity that acts as an umbrella organisation for over 60 member Trusts. These grassroot organisations work to protect, promote and enhance our river environments.

In 2017 Defra launched a Water Environment Grant (WEG) to restore rivers and other wetlands funded using money the UK receives from the European Union. This had the potential to be a major source of funds for trusts delivering river restoration, but European environment funds are paid in arrears. This poses a particular challenge for small trusts because they had to cover high upfront capital costs.

In January 2019 we approved a co-designed £1.8m bridging loan facility to plug these cashflow gaps: providing upfront funding to Trusts to enable delivery of these projects with our repayments received from WEG payments in arrears.

Member Trusts apply to The Rivers Trust, who, with our input, approve applications. Member Trusts are charged interest on an escalating annual basis alongside a small upfront fee to cover The Rivers Trusts’ administrative costs.



The payment of WEGs in arrears meant that Trusts did not always have the capital to pay for restoration work upfront, leaving a gap in cashflow.

Impact goal

In line with our approach to social investment, this investment meets our objective for impact-first direct investments to support responsible solutions to market failure.

It will also help us achieve our impact goals in Our Natural World:

  • Preserved and improved species and habitats
  • Clean and healthy freshwater

This innovative and collaborative approach to helping our member trusts with cashflow to enable them to deliver projects which are paid in arrears by the Water Environment Grant system has been invaluable. It has enabled numerous Rivers Trusts to restore riverside habitats, remove and ease weirs, work with farmers to adopt more regenerative techniques and many other projects that would not have been possible without this support. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is immensely responsive to the needs of the sector and we are very grateful to them for making these funds available.

Mark Lloyd, CEO, The Rivers Trust