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Organisations Come Together to Recover the River Deben


The river Deben, winding its way through the picturesque landscapes of Suffolk from its source near Debenham all the way to Woodbridge, near to where the river becomes tidal, continuing to the sea at Felixstowe Ferry, has long been cherished by locals and visitors alike for its natural beauty and ecological richness.

Aerial view of a coastal town with a river estuary teeming with boats, surrounded by green fields and scattered buildings under a clear blue sky.
An aerial view of the River Deben and the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, UK - Rob Atherton

However, in recent years, this iconic waterway has faced mounting challenges, from sewage discharge to pollution from various sources. Now, a coalition of conservation groups, farmers, and industry representatives are joining forces to safeguard the future of this vital lifeline.

Led by the East Suffolk Catchment Partnership, representatives from organisations spanning conservation, farming, and industry sectors are convening to address the pressing issues threatening the health and vitality of the river Deben and its estuary. This collaborative effort marks a significant milestone in recognising the interconnectedness of environmental, agricultural, and economic interests in the region.

The challenges facing the river Deben are multifaceted. Sewage discharge, polluted runoff from agricultural land and roadways, the escalating impacts of climate change, and extensive human alterations to the river's natural course have collectively pushed this once-thriving ecosystem to its limits. The repercussions of these challenges extend far beyond ecological concerns, impacting the livelihoods and well-being of those who rely on the river. Recent flooding events and deteriorating water quality have underscored the urgent need for coordinated action.


On the 18th of April, in the historic town of Debenham, close to the river's source, representatives from organisations across the Deben met to agree a shared ambition to Recover the Deben. It was agreed that the collective expertise and resources of people who live and work in the catchment could be harnessed to turn the future or the river around. As part of the day, we visited some of the work already happening on the land and water which flows into the Deben river and estuary.

Project stakeholders gathered in Debenham to discuss the Deben

The group visited the Debenham Natural Flood Management (NFM) scheme. The project was installed in the headwaters of the Deben and captures potential flood water before it can enter the main river Deben in Debenham. The aim is to delay the peak flows from entering the town to reduce flood impacts on property and land. Monitoring and analysis of the scheme has shown that the attenuation ponds really do make a difference, but many more are needed to help reduce the risk from flooding.

It was also useful for the group to see Debenham Water Recycling Centre (WRC). Dr Robin Price, Anglian Water’s Director of Quality and Environment, explained the operational features of the plant and how their newly installed phosphate stripping will significantly reduce the levels of phosphate released into the environment.

The newly installed process will be online by December 2024. High levels of phosphate in the environment can cause excessive plant and algae growth, which can have serious impacts on river habitat, wildlife, and water quality. The reduction in phosphate levels at this and other WRC’s along the Deben will help the river to start recovering a more natural balance.

Project stakeholders visiting the Debenham Water Recycling Centre


The full action plan, detailing the scope of work which will be undertaken by partners, landowners, and farmers throughout the duration of the delivery phase, will be published on the 14th of May. In the meantime, you can click here to read more about the working objectives of the project.

Central to collaborative effort of the project is a commitment to inclusivity and partnership. By harnessing the collective expertise and resources of diverse stakeholders, the initiative aims to implement targeted interventions that address the root causes of environmental degradation while fostering sustainable practices that benefit both people and wildlife.


The Recovering the Deben from Source to Sea project is open to everyone! You can have your say and help us shape the future for our natural environment on the Deben by taking a few minutes to complete our short survey.

Visit the Recovering the Deben From Source to Sea project page for more information.


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