After years of lobbying against excessive water abstraction from the Upper Kennet, angling and conservation groups – backed by local MP Richard Benyon – have given a warm welcome to the announcement from Thames Water for a new £25 million drinking water pipeline that will significantly reduce the amount of water taken every day from the famous Wiltshire and Berkshire chalk stream.
The proposed pipeline will link Swindon homes to Farmoor reservoir in Oxfordshire, which takes its water from the River Thames rather than the Kennet. Plans have been submitted to Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council with work hoping to start by May 2015.
The Angling Trust, the Environment Agency and Action for the River Kennet (ARK) have long claimed that water removed at Axford and Ogbourne treatment works, and not returned to the Kennet, has had a detrimental impact on the river, which is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is one of England’s best known chalk stream fisheries.
The new 18.2km pipe will carry water to south Swindon and means that the water company will significantly reduce the amount of water it currently takes from the Upper Kennet, one of only 200 chalk streams left in the world and home to species like water voles and brown trout, and specimen sized grayling, roach and dace.
The new Axford abstraction licence will be reduced from 13.1 million litres per day (Ml/d) to 6 Ml/d at times when the flow in the Kennet is low.
Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust, who has fished the Kennet since childhood said:
“The Kennet is an iconic English chalk stream which, as a fishery, has suffered from the double whammy of the reopening of the Kennet and Avon canal, causing the silting up the gravel spawning areas, and low summer flows resulting from over abstraction. The Angling Trust has been calling for the Axford pipeline to be built to restore the flows to the upper river which can only be a good thing for fish and other wildlife in the river as a whole.”
Newbury MP and Angling Trust Ambassador Richard Benyon added:
“I’ve been working on this issue for a long time and this is the good news I have been waiting for. Huge credit goes to ARK and all the other campaigners, including the Angling Trust, for keeping the pressure up to get abstractions reduced. This means that the future is brighter for one of Europe’s most precious rivers and most fragile ecosystems”.
Charlotte Hitchmough, director, Action for the River Kennet, said:
“We are very excited to see this project really starting to happen now. It will provide protection for one of England’s best loved chalk streams, and we look forward to seeing a healthier river from 2016.”
The Environment Agency announced in July that it was making changes to Thames Water’s abstraction licence from April 2017. Reductions for the Kennet are part of a national programme to help restore sustainable abstractions, the removal of water from natural sources, across England.
The proposed 20-inch diameter pipeline will mean Thames Water can completely stop taking groundwater from the River Og area (which feeds into the Kennet) and reduce by half the amount of groundwater it takes out of the Kennet catchment at Axford.
Sally Coble, Environment Planning and Engagement Manager at the Environment Agency said:
“The proposed pipeline will help to improve the river Kennet chalk stream and protect the important habitat and wildlife it supports. The river Kennet is just one example of the Environment Agency’s programme of abstraction licences under review across the country. Our programme will improve water levels in rivers, lakes and marshes, enhance wildlife habitats and help protected species”.