25th Anniversary of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project

25th Anniversary of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project

The Chilterns Chalk Streams Project has reached a huge milestone – 2022 is the project’s 25th anniversary. Here’s a look ahead to what 2022 holds for this longstanding project dedicated to protecting and enhancing these these rare and special threatened habitats in the Chilterns.

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More staff

In the last three years, the project’s staff team has increased from one to five – and will soon take on two new members of staff, making a dedicated team of seven.  Add to that all the committed volunteers from partner voluntary organisations such as the Chiltern Society and other chalk stream protection volunteer groups, all of whom contribute to the monitoring and care of these precious habitats.

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Several recent injections of new funding mean that in 2022 the Chilterns Chalk Stream Project has the potential to make real progress in the conservation and enhancement of this special feature of the Chilterns landscape.

Throughout the project’s lifetime, core work has involved providing advice to landowners, delivering practical river enhancements, and carrying out wildlife surveys and educational visits. In addition to this, the CCSP is delivering the following projects.

water vole (Peter Trimming Creative Commons licence)

Back in July 2021, the Chilterns Conservation Board and The Chiltern Society secured £294,000 from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The grant was secured in partnership with several well-established Chilterns charities and community groups, to boost the conservation and enhancement of our precious Chilterns chalk streams.

The Chiltern Society recruited two new staff members with this funding: Laura Silverstone as Education and Engagement officer, and Adrian Porter as new Rivers Officer.

They’ve started work on delivering a suite of projects, including creating essential habitats for water voles and brown trout on the River Chess; restoring the River Wye backstream at Wycombe Marsh; and enhancing sections of the Hamble and Ewelme Brooks. New interpretation boards will be created on the Chess Valley Walk, and education projects will be developed for schools and the community to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of chalk streams and their special wildlife.

The River Chess is one of six rivers chosen by Thames Water to pilot their new Smarter Water Catchment initiative.

This ground-breaking initiative aims brings together key organisations and community groups to address issues on a catchment scale and aims to restore one of the Chilterns’ finest chalk streams to health. Over the next five years work will take place to tackle issues of water quality, flow, control of invasive non-native species, improving wildlife corridors, and improving access.  The initiative is backed by significant investment to deliver projects on the ground.

The Chilterns Chalk Streams project is a key partner in this initiative and are currently looking to recruit two new members of staff to deliver projects over the next five years – A Partnership Co-ordinator and Chess Valley Farming Officer, who will work with farmers to help improve the natural environment on a catchment scale.

For the first time, the CCSP has a member of staff leading on research activities. We are delighted to be joined by Professor Kate Heppell, who has joined the CCSP staff team on secondment from Queen Mary University of London.

Kate will be making a baseline assessment of the health of the River Chess, and developing a monitoring plan to assess the impact of the River Chess Smarter Water Catchment Initiative. This will include new citizen science initiatives, so there will be an opportunity for interested volunteers to contribute.

As part of plans to mark 25 years of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, Prof. Heppell will also be developing a State of the Environment report for the Chiltern Streams, and assessing the achievements made over the lifetime of the project.

As part of the Chilterns Conservation Board’s £2.4 Million pound National Lottery Heritage Funded, Landscape Partnership Scheme, Chalk Cherries and Chairs, Water in a Dry Landscape is a project which aims to find out more about the health of the chalk streams which rise from the foot of the northern scarp of the Chiltern hills.

Jointly led by the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project (CCSP) and the River Thame Conservation Trust (RTCT), working in partnership with the Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Environment Agency, the project aims to establish the condition of these streams, identify issues impacting their health and deliver practical solutions to problems identified.

The project is split into three phases, the first of which, a water quality survey of all streams stretching between Wendover and Aston Rowant, was completed by volunteers in 2020.  The results of the survey have been used to identify a shortlist of site that will be the focus of more detailed monitoring in phase two.

Like many projects Water in a Dry Landscape has been affected by the pandemic, delaying its progress. But work is now beginning on phase two which will begin this spring and will focus on detailed ecological surveys of the shortlisted streams to find out more about habitat quality and the wildlife that they support.  This work will enable us to establish a baseline assessment of their health and identify opportunities for habitat enhancement or restoration.

Phase 3 of the project will be led by the Landscape Partnership Landowner Engagement Officer team in partnership with CCSP and the RTCT and will focus on delivery of practical projects, working with landowners to address water quality problems and restore habitat.

The CCSP’s annual Trout in the Classroom project has kicked off for another year! Children from 11 schools across the Chilterns will be looking after the young brown trout before releasing them into their local chalk stream, all the while learning more about the conditions that help brown trout to thrive, and about Chalk stream habitats and their wildlife.

Chalk streams are a truly special habitat, abundant in wildlife and a characteristic part of the Chilterns landscape. They are well worth exploring – most have self-guided walking routes associated with them. We are planning a series of guided walks to celebrate 25 years of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project. Watch this space for updates.

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Laura and team surveying the Chess Valley Walk

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