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.

image from

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.

image from

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.

Something to report on the river?

There have been a few incidents on the river recently that have resulted in reports to the Environmental Agency. Our local EA contacts are very keen that all concerns are reported, ideally with accurate location information and video or photo evidence of the incident.

To give accurate location information I have found what three words extremely useful for giving exact rural locations and is recognised by government agencies and NGOs.

Friends of the Rib & Quin would also appreciate being made aware of any concerns or incidents – you can let us know via the website, email address or Facebook group.

Report an environmental incident

Call the Environment Agency incident hotline to report:

  • damage or danger to the natural environment
  • pollution to water or land
  • poaching or illegal fishing
  • dead fish or fish gasping for air
  • main rivers blocked by a vehicle or fallen tree causing risk of flooding
  • flooding from any river, stream, canal, natural spring or the sea
  • incidents at Environment Agency-regulated waste sites
  • illegal removals from watercourses
  • unusual changes in river flow
  • collapsed or badly damaged river or canal banks

There’s a different way to make a complaint about the Environment Agency.

Incident hotline
Telephone: 0800 80 70 60

24-hour service
Find out about call charges

Report waste crime

You can report waste crime anonymously to Crimestoppers, such as dumping large amounts of waste illegally.

EA Water Situation Report – Herts and North London – March 2020

The latest report on rainfall, river flow and groundwater levels is available to view and download here.

The source of the River Mimram continued to move further upstream, flowing upstream of Whitwell. The Rivers Beane, Rib, Ash and Stort had reduced flows throughout their length due to lower rainfall and groundwater levels that have been slower to rise. In the Chilterns, the River Misbourne flowed along its full length, including through the Chalfonts, for the first time since June 2017. Despite rising groundwater levels, the River Ver was only flowing
from just above Redbourn.

Groundwater levels – Cave Gate

iNaturalist Update

Whilst the necessary lockdown has curtailed many activities over recent weeks the opportunity to record the wildlife of the Rib and Quin catchments has been able to continue, albeit within the limitations of local walks for exercise.
As of 29 April, 273 observations have been recorded through the iNaturalist app and website and a can be seen from the project map opposite, the majority of observations currently come from the southern end of the catchment. Perhaps with the better weather and developing flora of the season, more FORQ friends can take the opportunity to record some of our local species. Details on the app and how to record wildlife using it can be found here.

Of the species recorded the largest proportion are plants, perhaps reflecting the ease of photographing and identifying them. The local bird species are significantly under recorded and would benefit from increased recording, as will the river invertebrates which we would be identifying through riverfly survey work under normal circumstances.

Last chance to see…. ?

“I still remember when I saw my first one. It was just magical, and every summer I still get a pang of excitement on seeing the first one. Wouldn’t it be sad if there weren’t these things any more?”

The Guardian, 6 March 2020

This quote comes from the Environment Agency’s Tim Gardiner in an article in today’s Guardian that brings attention to the rapidly falling numbers of Glow worms in the UK, but I suspect it could have been made by anyone who has experienced finding one of these amazing insects. That we have a known population in the Rib Valley brings home how lucky we are in the context of the recent research indicating numbers of glow-worms may have fallen by up to three quarters since 2001.

The article is also another reminder of how citizen science projects are so valuable in today’s conservation efforts.

This is the first study to provide hard data on long-term changes in the glow-worm population. The research, published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, used data collected by citizen scientists during nighttime walks in June, July and August each year.

The Guardian, 6 March 2020

A Very Special Resident

Any keen eyed observers of our iNaturalist project page over recent weeks might have noticed a rather nondescript sedge appear in the recent sightings column. They would have seen that it was called the Scarce Tufted-Sedge Carex cespitosa and possibly thought little more of it. It is only when you look at the distribution map for this species that the sighting and its location have significance. Rather remarkably we have within our catchment the ONLY known specimen of Carex cespitosa in the UK and the most western specimen in its entire range!

Carex cespitosa distribution map from iNaturalist

This is NOT new news, as it were. Mention of it on the Lea Catchment website, a bit of Googling and a study of a scientific paper published by Trevor James led Mark to the site, something he is sure any interested reader could replicate, however discussion with HMWT confirmed our view that we shouldn’t publicise the exact location, due to it’s rather special UK status. 

Scarce-Tufted Sedge

That said, having a plant that is apparently unique in the UK and that requires boggy conditions and is threatened by invasive Himalayan Balsam and a drying river system is something we, as the local river group, should be concerned about.

As Trevor explained in an email this week, ” It remains the only UK locality as far as we know, probably down to the unique combination of calcareous spring-fed water supply and a substrate of possibly rather acidic gravels, which together have created a locally distinctive sort of ‘poor-fen’, with peat and alder trees, as well as the fen itself. ”