Blueprint for Water, Chalk Streams Conference

The WWF hosted  a day of talks and panel discussions on  chalk streams to build on the publication of their 'State of England's Chalk Streams' Report 2014. It opened with a story of chalk stream restoration from Dorset to Norfolk by Charles Rangeley Wilson, followed by Martin's presentation of the view from the RRC databases.  Since England holds most of Europe's  chalk streams there is a call for  more than the current 12 of the 224 streams to be designated (15% of their total length). However, as was highlighted by several of the audience, their location in the overpopulated south and east, and their naturally clean water puts strong pressures from abstraction on them. Luke deVial from Wessex Water highlighted some of the frustrations of managing the chalk groundwater resource for water companies who are under pressure to deliver sustainable, safe drinking water at lower cost for their customers as the nitrate levels and populations rise and the abstraction licences are reduced.

Having attended the historic Chalk Stream Bap meetings (hosted by Lawrence Talks of the Environment Agency), I reflected on the changes since their 2004 'State of England's Chalk Rivers' report was published. 89% of chalk rivers were reportedly in 'good' or better condition in 2000, but as only 23% met the phosphate target then, the fact that 77% now fail 'good' condition in 2014  is a reflection on the change in standards rather than in the rivers. The original BAP members are older and greyer but have now been joined by enthusiastic new Catchment Partnership and River Trust staff. The  old issues  remain, although water quality is probably overtaking abstraction now (reflecting the highly arable and improved chalk catchments) and progress to restore the modified channels and floodplains is slow. However the partnership panelists  like Ali Morse (Hampshire & Isle of Wight Trust) & Alan Beechy (Chilterns Chalk Stream project) offered some new solutions for  decreasing government funds such as using partnering, more imaginative funding sources (flood risk management, water companies and Coca Cola). All were now seeking multiple benefits and looking to re engage people with their rivers - as volunteer labour or via yellow fish on gulley pots to minimise pollution.

A workshop style session on the draft 2014 River Basin Management Plans led to some interesting local debates, in my group at least, on where our information on the state of these rivers comes from. Volunteer results from the Riverfly Partnership and alternative treatments of EA data such as the 'Catchment fingerprinting' project (Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust) were held to fill the gaps in the Environment Agency's WFD data. We were all encouraged to feedback on the level of ambition of the 2014 draft plans which has generally reduced since 2009 to reflect the feasibility and affordability of the restoration task.

The day ended with a discussion led by Lawrence which confirmed that there is support for a National Chalk Stream Forum, reflecting the continued need for sharing technical data and experiences across the chalk catchments, as well as partnering within them. RRC fills this niche well for the river restoration issues but we now have to work out how to do the same for managing diffuse pollution issues and for deciding how we best spend our time and money to effectively protect and enhance these iconic rivers.



Fiona Bowles, RRC Chair

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