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New chalk streams strategy launched to protect ‘England’s rain forests’

Friday 15 October 2021

Today saw the launch of the first Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy, published today by Catchment Based Approach’s (CaBA) Chalk Stream Restoration Group (CSRG). The strategy sets the future direction needed to protect and enhance England’s chalk streams. 

The Chilterns Conservation Board is part of the partnership that pulled together this strategy and its recommendations, working with the Environment Agency, Natural England, Defra, water companies and environmental organisations. 

The strategy's recommendations include enhanced environmental status for chalk streams to help drive investment in water resources – to help reduce pollution and eliminate over-abstraction of water from the streams. Alongside this are recommendations for restoring physical habitat and biodiversity. 

Chalk streams are a rare and valuable habitat, often referred to as the equivalent of England’s rain forests or Great Barrier Reef. 85% of all chalk streams are found in England, mainly in the south and east of the country, as well as dozens of smaller chalk springs and watercourses. They stretch from Yorkshire through East Anglia, the Chilterns, Kent, Hampshire and Dorset, and are important for biodiversity. The Chilterns is home to nine of these chalk streams.

The Chalk Stream at Chenies by Allen Beechey

 

Chalk aquifers are also an important source of water for drinking, agriculture and industry, support angling for trout, salmon and coarse fish, are important for recreation and are a valued part of the English landscape. They need good quality water in order for the different species of fish, plants and insects, many unique to them – such as the southern damselfly - to flourish. 

Chalk streams face unique challenges in the 21st century because of complex problems exacerbated by climate change and population growth. They flow through some of the most urbanised, industrialised, and intensively-farmed parts of the country. Over-abstraction, pollution, and habitat degradation are serious concerns for environmental groups and other stakeholders.

Dr Elaine King, CEO at the Chilterns Conservation Board said:

“Chalk streams are a characteristic and important feature of the Chilterns landscape - they are attractive, precious habitats, havens for wildlife and highly valued by local communities and visitors alike. But the Chiltern’s chalk streams are under huge pressure from a myriad of human threats.

“The CaBA Chalk Streams Restoration Strategy is therefore a much needed and welcome step towards addressing these pressures and improving the health of our precious streams. We are delighted to be working in partnership with so many organisations and communities that care about their future.” 

The Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, an initiative of the Chilterns Conservation Board, brings together all of the local statutory bodies and voluntary organisations who are committed to conserving and enhancing the Chilterns chalk streams. The Chalk Streams Project will continue to play a key part in pushing forward the aims in the strategy locally through its practical projects, the advice it gives to landowners, and educating people about the value of the streams.

The Environment Agency has played a key role in the CSRG, drawing on its experience of enhancing and protecting them with such partnership projects as:

Working closely with landowners, Affinity Water and other partners to help protect and revitalise the River Beane – a chalk stream near Watton at Stone, Hertfordshire.  As a result of the first stage of this work we are already seeing chalkstream plant species growing in the new river channel and early signs that water quality is improving. 

In partnership with Boxmoor Trust on the Bringing Back the Bulbourne Project, the Environment Agency completed a restoration scheme in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire which won Wild Trout Trust and Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management awards in 2017, and was a finalist in the River Restoration Centre awards in 2019. This project resulted in 1km of chalk stream being returned to a more natural, resilient and healthier state with a meandering flow and wetland habitats that attract an abundance of wildlife. 

Environment Agency specialists are working closely with Dacorum Borough Council on the River Gade, a chalk stream also in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, to realign the river to as near its natural course as possible, bringing benefits for habitats and wildlife and enjoyment for park users and local residents.

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.”

This strategy is for everyone who has responsibility for, or uses, chalk streams. It sets out actions and recommendations for government, regulators and the water industry on water resources, water quality and habitat restoration and management. You can read the Chalk Streams Restoration Strategy here.

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.”

“The CaBA Chalk Streams Restoration Strategy is therefore a much needed and welcome step towards addressing these pressures and improving the health of our precious streams. We are delighted to be working in partnership with so many organisations and communities that care about their future.” 

 

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