National wildlife and conservation organisations have formed an alliance with local river restoration groups to press the government and its agencies to radically reform water policies to enable England’s endangered chalk streams to return to good health.

On Thursday the ‘Charter for Chalk Streams’ will be launched on the banks of the over abstracted river Beane in Hertfordshire which was once a famous fishing river and is now little more than a dried up ditch in parts.

The Charter follows on from a special summit last December organised in Hampshire by the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association and is supported by WWF-UK, The Wildlife Trusts and the Rivers Trust along with local fisheries and river groups from Dorset to Yorkshire.

Chalk streams are recognised as a unique global asset providing a pristine environment for wildlife with rich clean water and high quality habitat. Some 85% of the worlds chalk streams are located in England and many in and around London have almost disappeared in normal weather conditions. Only a handful receives the high levels of protection that their conservation status requires.

The Charter is calling for a range of measures, including the introduction of compulsory water metering to reduce waste and cut unsustainable abstractions. The demands include:

A national designation of all chalk streams as Special Areas of Conservation
Reform of National Planning Rules to allow for meaningful objection to developments on grounds of lack of water resources

A primary duty on the water regulator Ofwat to promote environmental sustainability

Compulsory water metering and a national education campaign to reduce water demand

Less reliance on groundwater sources and clear targets for replacing aquifer abstraction with surfacesupply and storage.

The Charter states:

The UK’s stewardship of 85% of the worlds chalk streams has been lamentable with many iconic rivers suffering from over abstraction, habitat destruction, pollution and invasive species. Both our development control and water resource planning processes are woefully inadequate.

Chalk aquifers have been over exploited as an easy and cheap source of ready filtered water at the expense of the environment in general and chalk streams in particular.

There is an urgent need for abstraction reform and far greater use of reservoir storage of winter run off rather than depleting groundwater sources. Scarce water is wasted as there is little effective demand management. We cannot go on like this.

National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust, Martin Salter said: “It beggars belief that UK governments have had the nerve to lecture Third World countries on the management of their rainforests when our own environmental stewardship of these global significant and once pristine rivers is so lamentable. We waste water in this country on an industrial scale while paying lip service to wildlife conservation. The destruction of so many of the planets chalk streams is both a litmus test of our failure and a wake call to take action now.”

Lucy Lee, UK Freshwater programme manager, WWF-UK, added: “England’s iconic chalk streams are under threat, these unique and fragile ecosystems, if lost through our over exploration, will be lost to the world forever. These rivers are at risk for a number of reasons including over-abstraction and diffusion pollution. WWF-UK have been working for over 6 years to explore how we can support the more efficient management and use of water in the UK to deliver positive outcomes for our freshwater environment. WWF-UK very much welcome the Chalkstream Charter to drive action to protect our endangered chalkstream ecosystems”

The launch will be chaired by George Hollingbery MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling who said: “The experience in Hertfordshire in particular demonstrates why the changes pushed for in the Charter are needed. Yes we need new houses and yes we need more employment but not at the expense of a unique habitat, 80% of which is found only in the UK. Our goal is not complicated. We simply ask for a management of water resources that allows people and their natural heritage to live side by side and in balance. Surely that’s not too much to ask?”

Paul Knight, Salmon & Trout Association’s CEO, added:”There is a lack of top level political commitment to protecting the UK’s rivers and dependent species, of which the degradation of our once pristine chalkstreams is the most blatant example. We have particular international responsibility toward conserving these rare and fragile chalk rivers, of which we host a globally significant percentage in England. If we cannot protect chalkstreams, what chance is there for any other river system?”

River conservation and wildlife groups from across the region are signed up to the Charter and many will be present at the launch including; The Chilterns Conservation Board, Action for the River Kennet, Friends of the Mimram, River Chess Association, River Misbourne Action, River Beane Restoration Association, The Wandle Trust, Herts & Middx Wildlife Trust, Test and Itchen Association and the Wessex Rivers Trust.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “In the UK we have 85% of all the chalk streams on Earth. Despite this global responsibility these fragile and hugely wildlife-rich streams have been abused and overlooked. This must change and their recovery must begin. The Chalk Streams Charter is an important step in bringing chalk streams out of the shadows and giving them the care and attention they need. It’s fitting that the Charter has been launched in Hertfordshire, as a recovery plan for two of this county’s beleaguered chalk rivers, the Mimram and the Beane, was launched this year. Hosted by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, the plan is bringing statutory agencies, environmental charities, local landowners, community organisations and river groups together to restore and protect these special waterways. “

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