Chalk-streams First

The plight of the UK’s chalk-streams and rivers has for some years now been the focus of concerted campaigning. As well as the efforts of local river groups, politicians, national and international NGOs have campaigned previously to bring their plight to wider public attention.

Ten years ago, I worked on a campaign with WWF and made a film focussing on the terrible impact of abstraction in English chalk-streams. We called it Rivers on the Edge, because they were … on the edge of survival. In a speech on the banks of the River Mimram in the heart of the Chilterns I highlighted how locals there and on the neighbouring River Beane had been protesting about their drying rivers for at least twenty years. They still are. For too long it’s been Groundhog Day with our over-abstracted chalk-streams. But finally, we may just dare to hope that we can fix this problem once and for all, at least in the Chilterns.

It’s high time we did.

Charles Rangely-Wilson, Chalk-streams First 24 May 2020

River Ash between Little Hadham and Much Hadham, November 2019

This Spring a new initiative has been launched, proposing new ideas to be added to the mix under consideration and calling for an acceleration in action towards solutions. Chalkstreams First, backed by sponsors of the WWF Chalkstreams Report of 2013, calls for the complete cessation of the abstraction of groundwater across Hertfordshire and the Chilterns, with the replacement water supply being taken from lower parts of the Colne and Lea rivers. Supplies to the northern parts of the catchment would be fulfilled via the Supply2040 network, which will allow the movement of water from the Thames basin up and out to the towns and villages of Hertfordshire.

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The cessation of abstraction from the chalk aquifer would then allow it to recover more significantly in winter (recharge) periods and sustain and raise spring lines in the chalk-stream valleys, increasing flow and restoring river lengths from their current levels.

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The proposal (click here) is an interesting one and FORQ, along with HMWT, support it’s addition to the other schemes that have been previously suggested and call for an acceleration in the process towards a solution that will improve the lot for our chalk-streams, which continue to be in crisis.