23 November 2018

The importance of managing and preserving Hampshire’s ecologically important chalk streams was discussed at the 12th annual Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum.

The forum provides an annual focal point for discussion and new ideas for the management of the wellsprings of some of Europe’s most ecologically important rivers. This year’s forum comes ahead of a new Environment Bill intended to set out a legal framework for the government’s promise to leave the environment in a better state over the next 25 years.

The forum at Sparsholt College brought together a diverse range of stakeholders including the Environment Agency, Natural England, the University of Southampton, students, scientists, authors and local conservation groups.

We are once again grateful to Merrick Denton-Thompson for Chairing the Forum. Merrick  gave an overview of the successes of the VCT’s work to date, stating that the forum came at “an incredibly important moment in time” with enormous changes in rural policy.

During the day a number of speakers updated the delegates on various projects and PhD findings. VCT Trustee, Graham Roberts reported on the Upper Itchen Initiative Group, whilst Dr Pete Shaw updated delegates on the Bourne Rivulet initiative and gave a presentation on chalk stream restoration initiatives and their outcomes over time. Meanwhile Jen Ball presented on her VCT/EA funded scientific research on ecosystem services associated with chalk streams whilst Professor Gail Taylor  spoke on watercress genome sequencing as a tool to improve the crop and reduce its environmental impact.

Simon Duffield, from Natural England, addressed the impact of climate change on chalk streams. He said the rate of decline in flow rate by mid summer this year indicates the fact climate change is happening, increasing the likelihood of further consecutive dry summers and further damaging declines in flow rate. Going forward, Dr Duffield said it will be important to build resilience to the pressure climate change places on the natural environment, implementing best conservation practice to combat adverse impacts and stressed the need for flexibility in order to support biodiversity in challenging climates.

Broadcaster, film-maker, author and journalist, Charles Rangeley-Wilson, spoke about the three key components of river restoration or recreation: water quality, water quantity, and the natural shape of the river. He said to achieve the full potential of all three, they must be addressed holistically. He also stressed the fundamental need to address the impact of historic dredging… “The floor of the river is the most hidden dimension but the most important one,” he stated, adding: “Without the floor you’d disable the way the river naturally works.” He went on to show slides demonstrating the remarkable recovery of chalk streams once the impacts of dredging are mitigated.

The Forum was also an opportunity to recognise the work of others in the conservation of our chalk streams:

  • The winner of the 2018 VCT Conservation Award was naturalist Tim Sykes who works tirelessly through his role with the Environment Agency, and in his spare time with many other organisations and people including various Wildlife Trusts and educational establishments to ensure not only our chalk streams, but the wider environment, are protected and enhanced.
  • As part of the charity’s continuing support of education , this year saw the first awards for the best Undergraduate / Masters Dissertations on research related to chalk streams. The worthy winners were:
    Alex Kulczyk –  B.Sc. (Hons) Aquaculture and Fishery Management: Watercress derived isothiocyanates: A study to determine the impacts of trace levels of phenethyl isothiocyanate on early life stages of brown trout (Salmo trutta), and
    Lisa Jones – Masters (MRes Advanced Biological Science) Thesis: Participatory Mapping of Cultural Ecosystem Services: Applying TESSA in Riverside Park, Southampton

Britain’s chalk streams are an important part of our environment and ecosystem and it’s vital that we work together as a community to ensure they are here for generations to come. We’re really proud of the dialogue that the VCT has built over the past 12 years and we look forward to continuing this work for decades to come.

Click here to view presentations from the 2018 Forum:

The Upper Itchen Initiative – Graham Roberts, VCT Trustee

P Efficient Watercress Genomes Sequencing – Gail Taylor, University of Davis

Climate Change, Impacts and Adaption – Simon Duffield, Natural England

Chalk Streams: Perspectives on River Restoration – Pete Shaw, University of Southampton

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