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News from the Chiltern Chalk Streams Project

Thursday 31 January 2019

From new faces to dog steps and a vital water observatory project, find out what the Chilterns Chalk Stream Project team have been busy doing...

Chalk Stream water observatory project launched

A project to monitor water quality in one of the Chilterns iconic chalk streams has been launched following a successful fundraising campaign last autumn.  The project aims to monitor changes in the quality of water in the River Chess.

The River Chess is one of nine major chalk streams which flow in the Chilterns AONB. Chalk streams are iconic and globally rare habitats valued for their crystal-clear waters, ecological richness (e.g. invertebrates like the mayfly, brown trout and water vole) and heritage status. Their protection is of both local and international importance. However, like many chalk streams across England, the Chess is under increasing pressure from a variety of factors including agriculture, urbanisation, climate change and abstraction of water for public supply. These threats can lead to serious water quality problems and low river flows, impacting on the health of the river and the wildlife it supports. Currently, the Chess is failing to meet environmental targets set by the UK Government, due to a combination of nutrient enrichment, poor health of its fish populations and low flows.

1 Chess at latimer 2 © Allen Beechey
Chess at latimer © Allen Beechey

For nearly a decade, the River Chess Association (RCA) & Chilterns Chalk Streams Project (CCSP) have worked together with local stakeholders to improve the condition of the river and educate stakeholders on best practice river management. Yet despite this work which has brought significant improvements to the physical condition of the river, both organisations have grown increasingly concerned at the apparent decline in fish populations. At the same time, they have noted changes to water quality as a result of increases in the amount of pollution entering the river. In order to understand more fully where this pollution is coming from, what effect this is having on the ecology of the river and how it may be impacting on fish populations, they have teamed up with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) to develop the ChessWatch Project. Funded by QMUL, Thames Water and the CCSP, the purpose of the £22,000 Project is to establish a sensor network to collect data on water quality throughout the river system, which can then be used by the project’s partners to inform decision making on appropriate management of the river in future.  In addition, through a number of public events, the Project aims to increase public awareness in schools and local communities of the threats to the river and the links between reducing water usage and improved river health.  It will also provide an opportunity for future generations of river managers studying at QMUL, to gain experience of public engagement in a freshwater science context.

2 Chess pollution
Chess Pollution 
3 Water quality sonde in position
Water quality sonde in position

The sensor network will be set up and maintained by RCA volunteers with support from QMUL staff. The project will run for a year from this February.

New Officer for Chilterns Chalk Streams Project4 Ceri, R Chess 09-01-19

The Chalk Streams Project has received a boost this month with the arrival of a new member of staff at the Chilterns Conservation Board. Ceri Groves has joined the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project for the next 18 months as Education and Engagement Officer. The new role, which is being funded by Thames Water, will help to raise the profile of this threatened Chilterns habitat and highlight the important link between how we use water at home and the state of the natural environment.

Project Officer Allen Beechey explained “This is a really exciting time for the Project. For the first time in its 21 years existence the Chalk Streams Project will have a dedicated officer to help increase understanding and awareness of these beautiful but threatened rivers and to encourage more efficient use of water. Ceri brings with her a wealth of experience in environmental education I am sure she will help the Chalk Streams Project greatly increase its impact across the Chilterns.”

As part of her new role Ceri will be extending the successful Trout In The Classroom project, developing new educational resources and encouraging as many children as possible to get excited about their local river, as well as attending events and working with local groups to spread the word.  To find out more or to get involved please contact cgroves@chilternsaonb.org.

Dog Steps for the Chess

A project to improve access and reduce bank erosion by the R. Chess in Chesham was completed in January.  The Project, carried out by volunteers from Impress the Chess, a local community river group based in Chesham and the River Chess Association, involved the repair of two sections of bank at Canon’s Mill Wood in Waterside, Chesham.  The Chess Valley Walk follows the river through Canon’s Mill Wood and is hugely popular with dog walkers and the public. Over a number of years, sections of the bank had become eroded as the result of dogs wearing away the bank when climbing in and out of the river.  

As a result, the footpath was being worn away and the river was in danger of breaching its banks and flooding surrounding land.  Over the course of two days a hardy group of volunteers led by the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project and River Chess Association, repaired the eroded sections of bank using natural materials, installed two sets of dog steps and resurfaced the footpath. The project was funded by Chesham Town Council and the Tesco Bags for Life grant scheme and was designed by the CCSP.  It is hoped that the work will reduce erosion of the banks in future while enabling dogs and people safe access to the water. Allen Beechey explained that “While there is a little planting to do and two new riverside benches to install, the work looks great and there have already been a lot of positive comments from walkers and local residents. The dogs seem to like it too!”

5 Canons Mill Wood before work6 Canons Mill Wood dog steps in construction
Canons Mill Wood before work                                            Canons Mill Wood dog steps in construction
7. Buttons trying out the steps
Buttons trying out the steps
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