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Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum The annual VCT Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum was initiated to provide a focal point for discussion and new ideas for the management of the wellsprings of some of Europe’s most ecologically important rivers.  The first Forum was hosted by the VCT in June 2007 and brought together key stakeholders with an interest in pursuing opportunities for improved management of the upper tributaries of the Test & Itchen.

2018 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.

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, Mr 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 the following links 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

2017 24 November 2017 – We were delighted that Merrick Denton-Thompson kindly agreed to Chair our 2017 Forum.

Our first guest speaker, David Sears (University of Southampton), talked about the “Response of Chalk Lake Sediment and Total Phosphorus Records to External Forcing”, whilst  Charles Tyler (University of Exeter), gave a presentation entitled “Feminisation of Freshwater Nature” .

We also had our regular updates on the Bourne Rivulet and Upper Itchen Initiatives from Pete Shaw and Graham Roberts respectively, as well as hearing how the VCT sponsored PhD research projects are progressing with presentations from Asa White (University of Brighton) whose PhD is titled “Can Watercress Farming Directly Impact Fish Communities?” and Rob Holland (on behalf of Jen Ball) looking at “Ecosystem Services in Chalk Streams”.

It was also an opportunity for Ali Morse from the Test & Itchen Catchment Partnership to update on the Watercress and Winterbournes project lottery bid.

Click here to view the presentations from the 2017 Forum

2016 25 November 2016 – In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Forum we were delighted that our founding Patron, Lord Selborne, agreed to Chair the event.

Gail Taylor, the Chair of the Vitacress Conservation Trust, took the opportunity to look back at the highlights of the Trust over the last 10 years, reviewing previous Forums, Environment Lectures, research and other sponsored projects.

Pete Shaw and Graham Roberts, respective Chairs, updated the delegates on progress made through the Bourne Rivulet and Upper Itchen Initiatives.

Our guest speakers were John Fawell, who focused on the issues surrounding water quality, water resources and sustainable solutions, and Fran Davies, who gave an overview on Natural England’s work on chalk streams and conservation strategy. Click here to view the presentations from the 2016 Forum.  

2015 6 November 2015 – The theme of this year’s Forum was the historical significance of chalk streams and their modern day management in terms of conservation, fishing and watercress farming. The Environment Agency outlined their aspirations for improving chalk stream headwaters in Hampshire and the audience heard about research aimed at ensuring sustainable watercress farming. The Forum also provided an opportunity for the regular updates on the Bourne Rivulet and Upper Itchen initiatives. Click here to view the presentations from the 2015 Forum.

2014 7 November 2014 – Following feedback from attendees at last year’s Forum, this year’s took a broader look at the conservation of chalk streams. This theme was taken up through presentations on the important role chalk streams and their valleys play for migrant birds through to the conservation of white clawed crayfish. We were also delighted to have secured the participation of Peter Marren (alias British Wildlife’s famous ‘Twitcher in the Swamp’) as our keynote speaker who, amongst other things, brought some pithy views on the question of sewage in chalk stream headwaters. As usual, the Forum provided an opportunity for updates on the Bourne Rivulet and Upper Itchen initiatives. Watercress farm discharge permitting and phosphorus research were covered. Click here to view proceedings: 2014 Vitacress Conservation Trust Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum Proceedings

2013 25 November 2013 – Speakers at this year’s VCT Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum covered topics ranging from large-scale chalk river and floodplain restoration to the impact of cattle grazing on chalk streams. The impact of septic tanks on the Itchen and the outcomes of ongoing phosphorous research funded by the VCT were also reported. Updates on the ongoing work of the Bourne Rivulet and Upper Itchen Initiatives were provided by Dr Pete Shaw and Graham Roberts, emphasizing the practical measures and cross-community dialogue promoted by the Forum. During the afternoon Panel Session, significant debate took place on the regulation of phosphorus in the watercress sector, providing much food for thought.   7th (2013) Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum Proceedings

2012 16 November 2012 – The eminent speakers at this year’s Forum provided updates on action and research called for last year and explored some of the other key influences on the health of chalk stream headwaters, including the way in which Phosphorus is accumulated and released in still and flowing waters; drought impacts on chalk streams; and catchment-scale restoration for biodiversity offsetting.  In addition there were updates on ongoing initiatives such as the Bourne Rivulet and Upper Itchen.  Click here to view proceedings.

2011 28 November 2011 – Following last year’s Forum, where phosphorus pollution were a key area of discussion, this year’s eminent speakers provided updates on action and research called for at last year’s Forum and explored some of the other key influences on the health of chalk stream headwaters, which included the threats of Phosphorus release and temperature elevation posed to headwaters by artificial impoundments, along with the successful large scale restoration techniques being implemented on the SAC-designated River Wensum in Norfolk. There were also updates on ongoing initiatives such as the Bourne Rivulet and Upper Itchen.  Click here to view proceedings and read more.

2010 29 November 2010 – Following last year’s Forum, where phosphorus pollution was identified as the overwhelmingly important “Elephant in the Stream”, this year’s eminent speakers explored the widespread negative influence of phosphorus-based diffuse pollution on chalk streams and larger rivers, as well as identifying what can be done about it.  Click here to view proceedings and read more.

2009 5 October 2009 – At the third annual Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT) annual Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum, the attendees at the Forum which included conservationists, scientists and academics called for more robust research into the role of phosphorus in damaging the ecology of some of England’s most highly prized chalk streams and rivers.  Click here to view proceedings and read more.

2008 2 September 2008 – At the second annual Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum, stakeholders involved in the conservation and restoration of the Hampshire chalk waters came together to share perspectives and knowledge on the critical environmental issues facing the famous chalk streams. Click here to view proceedings and read more.

2007 13 June 2007 – Wednesday 13 June 2007 marked the first of what is to become an annual Forum which brought together all key stakeholders involved in the conservation and restoration of the Hampshire chalk waters for the first time. The goal of the Forum was to allow multiple local stakeholders to come together and share perspectives and knowledge on the critical environmental issues facing the famous chalk streams, in order that they could agree a practical route forward for the benefit of this precious and uniquely English resource. Click here to view proceedings and read more.

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