Angling and Fisheries groups from Kintbury to Reading have joined forces with local MP Richard Benyon to tackle the longstanding issue of River Kennet turbidity caused by the entry of dirty canal water impacting on the famous chalk stream from Copse Lock at Hamstead Marshall.

The groups fear that unless the Environment Agency and the Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT) address the issue of turbidity and the interaction of the two watercourses as a matter priority, the habitat of the middle and lower Kennet habitat will continue to decline to a point where it will barely be possible to distinguish between canal and river. The coloured water now present in the river since the canal opened in 1990 has severely limited the growth of important plants like ranunculus (water crowfoot) which provide habitat for fish and invertebrates. The increase sedimentation of the gravel riverbed has damaged vital spawning sites and restricted fish recruitment on this once famous fishery.

The 2012 Kennet Catchment Management Plan identifies the interaction between the canal and the river as the top priority issue. However, it is short on practical suggestions as to what to do about it and how it might be funded. An earlier study suggested physically separating the canal and river between Copse Lock and Newbury but with a price tag of estimated at somewhere between £5 and £15 million for a comparatively short stretch of river this is an option that is unlikely to be pursued in the current financial climate.

The groups want all possible solutions examined including the use of reed bed filters and other more natural processes to remove sedimentation from the canal water entering the river at Copse Lock.

Richard Benyon MP said:
“Water quality and turbidity issues below the Copse Lock have blighted a long stretch of the Kennet for many years.  I firmly support the determination of all parties to resolve this matter.  The Kennet is a special area of conservation, a site of special scientific interest and one of the most precious eco systems in the south of England.  Action for the River Kennet, the Angling Trust, The Canal and Rivers Trust, The Environment Agency and Riparian owners are now all pulling in the same direction.  We can and must succeed.”

Richard White, owner of the Craven fishery at Hamstead Marshall added:
“If we are to truly serious about protecting the river Kennet, one of the UK’s finest chalk rivers, then addressing the damage caused by the interaction between the Kennet and Avon Canal and the river Kennet, beginning with Copse Lock, should be treated as an urgent priority.
The turbidity downstream of Copse Lock is having a devastating impact on flora and fauna particularly in relation to fish stocks, aquatic invertebrates and important macrophytes such as the once prolific beds of ranunculus weed.”
Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust said:
“I have fished the Kennet nearly all my life and it is nothing short of tragic to witness the decline of a huge part of this once world famous fishing river. If we can put a man on the moon and send a space probe to Mars then I’m sure we can find a way of stopping the silt and sediment from the murky waters of the Kennet and Avon Canal from screwing up what should be a crystal clear chalk stream.
I hope that with the support of our local MP and our catchment host organisation ARK, we can get some impetus behind finding a resolution to this long running issue.”

Charlotte Hitchmough, Director of Action for the River Kennet (ARK) added:
“The canal/river interaction is complex, and the Kennet Catchment Partnership has already made progress towards reducing the water quality problems. There is no quick fix, but working together I’m hope we can come up with innovative solutions so that the canal and river can happily co-exist.”
Chalk Stream Charter

Back in 2013 the Angling Trust, along with ARK, WWF and other partners, launched the Charter for Chalk Streams which sought greater protection for these iconic rivers. Further details are available on the Angling Trust website at www.anglingtrust.net/chalkstreamcharter .

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