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HomeGreen TechnologyChalk streams must be given enhanced standing, says technique doc

Chalk streams must be given enhanced standing, says technique doc


The River Purwell in Walsworth Common, Hitchin, Hertfordshire (image credit: Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors, CC BY-SA 2.0 license).

A new Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy, published on 15 October, calls for chalk streams in England to be given enhanced environmental status.

The Catchment Based Approach’s (CaBA) Chalk Stream Restoration Working Group has put forward a set of recommendations to protect and restore England’s rare chalk streams. The strategy calls for enhanced status for chalk streams to drive investment to prevent pollution and over-abstraction, as well as restoring habitat to boost biodiversity.

Charles Rangeley-Wilson, Chair of the Chalk Stream Restoration Working Group, said: “No other country in the world has anything like England’s chalk stream habitat – they’re England’s Great Barrier Reef or Okavango delta. There are dozens of actions that could and should be taken to protect them but giving chalk streams enhanced status is a vital next step.”

England is home to some 283 chalk streams as well as dozens of smaller waterbodies, which are formed when rainwater falls on chalk hills, filters through the rock, and creates springs of cool, alkaline, mineral-rich water – perfect conditions for a richly diverse ecosystem. However, they face unique challenges in the 21st Century as they flow through some of the most urbanised, industrialised, and intensively-farmed areas of the country. Over-abstraction, pollution, and loss of habitat are serious concerns for environmental groups and other stakeholders.

Created by CaBA partners including Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Water Companies, Ofwat, and eNGOs, the strategy outlines the compendium of current issues threatening chalk streams in England and what must be done to protect the three key indicators of ecological health: water quantity; water quality; and physical habitats. The wishlist includes:

  • Targets for sustainable abstraction
  • Targets for reducing pollution
  • Restoring process
  • Integrated policy actions

Commentators respond
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Chalk streams are both incredibly rare and a hugely important part of our environmental heritage.

“That’s why on behalf of the government I called for the creation of an independent CaBA-led working group, the Chalk Streams Restoration Group last year and welcome its ambitious strategy. Action is in progress wherever possible with our flagship projects programme underway. A third of the strategy recommendations are already being taken forward by government, regulators and other CSRG members.

“I look forward to seeing how the work progresses and continuing to work together on ways to further protect and restore this vital habitat.”

Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “England is home to 85% of the world’s chalk streams and their future depends on collective action from water companies, farmers, and landowners as well as government and regulators. No one should undermine the value of chalk streams, and today’s report adds clarity and certainty about what is expected of all their users. The National Framework for Water Resources encourages water companies to open up new infrastructure to reduce reliance on chalk aquifers. This is one of the many good proposals in today’s report that needs collective action.”

Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said: “Chalk streams are unique natural features, and considering that most such rivers in the world are found here in England, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that they are in good health. These habitats are subject to a complex range of pressures, however, from pollution arising from road runoff, agriculture and sewage, to low flow resulting from abstraction for public water supply and physical damage to the water courses. We look forward to working with others to ensure this new strategy leads to the kind of joined-up partnership action needed to address these pressures, protecting and restoring chalk streams for future generations to enjoy.”

Mark Lloyd, CEO of The Rivers Trust, said: “Clear-watered chalk streams are linked to the water supply for millions of people. They are also our most iconic freshwater environments, providing a valuable habitat for Atlantic salmon, sea trout, grayling and lamprey, for otters, water-voles and kingfishers. This strategy gives a clear direction for joined-up planning and investment; it represents a critical foundation of consensus among government, water companies and local partnerships. But implementation is now critical, we urgently need to act on its recommendations and address the threats to our chalk streams.”

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: “For too long anglers have been witness to the decline of our precious chalk streams. While we have been at the forefront of much of the work, both practical on and in our rivers, and through our campaigns, the fish we love have been telling us a depressing story. For many of these rivers and streams their water quality, the low flows, and the loss of biodiversity has meant they are no longer able to sustain healthy fish populations. This is not just a loss for angling. It is a clarion call that we are all losing something very special. Healthy, beautiful, flowing rivers that give us so much, if only we’d show them some care. This strategy must mark a turning point. In this age of climate and biodiversity crises, now is the time to build a better future for these iconic rivers.”

Janina Gray, Head of Science and Environmental Policy, at Salmon & Trout Conservation said: “The strategy presents a real opportunity to improve our nations chalk streams but it is just the beginning. In order for the opportunity to be fully realised, and to save these unique habitats for nature and wildlife, we need an ambitious roadmap for implementation and delivery”.

James Wallace, CEO of the Beaver Trust, added: “This strategy represents the culmination of a truly collaborative and systemic process of co-creating a vision and opportunities for healing our threatened chalk streams. As a new and small environmental NGO, Beaver Trust is delighted to have been able to play a role and looks forward to working together with all stakeholders to help implement this vital habitat restoration.”

David Black, Interim CEO at Ofwat, said: “There is an urgent need to alleviate pressure on chalk streams and other precious parts of our ecosystem – we can do this by reducing the volume of water abstracted, developing alternative sources, transferring water to where it is needed most and pushing companies to reduce leakage and pollution. This ambitious strategy will help us meet our shared goals and I look forward to working with all our partners to develop solutions to these important issues.’

Sarah Bentley, Thames Water CEO, said “I’m passionate about us protecting our precious rivers and streams. At Thames Water, we’re lucky to have world-famous chalk streams flowing through our region and are working hard to restore them back to their natural beauty. We’re progressing ambitious plans to stop unsustainable abstractions to increase flow and eliminate untreated discharges to improve water quality. While this will take time, we are making progress and the strategy launched today is an important step forward that informs and supports our wider restoration plans.”

Stuart Ledger, Interim CEO of Affinity Water said: “We welcome this timely and comprehensive CaBA report on the Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy. This issue is close to our own hearts with our catchment area being home to 10 per cent of the world’s precious chalk streams. Since 1993, we have reduced abstraction from chalk ground water sources by 70 million litres a day and have undertaken various programmes to help improve 125km of chalk rivers, altered by centuries of river modifications. We recognise the need to go further to help protect these precious eco systems from the threat of climate change, population growth and demand for water, which is why we have committed to end unsustainable abstraction from chalk groundwater sources. However, the challenges facing chalk streams can not be resolved in isolation. Collaboration is key if we are going to protect these precious habitats for all generations, which is why we have welcomed the opportunity to work with CaBa groups and other agencies to improve the state of our natural environment.”




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