Local and national experts unite in battle to clean up England’s Chalk Streams

October 5th 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.

“The fragile ecosystems which exist in our most iconic chalk streams such as the Bourne Rivulet in Hampshire are being damaged by phosphates derived from leaking sewers, septic tanks and intensive agriculture” commented Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, a keynote speaker at the conference. “Phosphorus is the ‘elephant in the stream’ when it comes to identifying key culprits for the degradation, and I applaud the VCT for convening this forum and shining a light on the issue – also for its generous offer to contribute funding towards the critical research required to identify a long-term solution”.

Dr Steve Rothwell (VCT Trustee) is calling for all interested parties, including the water industry, other conservation bodies, the EA and Natural England to join the VCT in co-funding critical research into the impact of phosphorus on the chalk streams in Hampshire. The VCT has already pledged to provide £30,000 towards the research over a three year period, and is calling for others to close the gap. It is estimated the research, which would be carried out by the University of Southampton, would cost in the region of £80,000 over three years.

This conclusion follows hot on the heels of the Environment Agency’s disclosure that just 26 per cent of the country’s 6,000 rivers are judged to be a “good” ecological status under the EU’s stringent ecological rules.

In 2008, the Forum resolved to create a number of Sub-Catchment Management Groups to help conserve the pristine condition of the chalk streams, pulling together local stakeholders to focus on local issues – the first of which is focused on the Bourne Rivulet. The Bourne is a tributary of the world-famous River Test, which was singled out during last week’s disclosures as failing to meet the standards.

The aim of the Sub-Catchment Groups is to prove the value of local stakeholder groups in analysing and structuring improvement plans for key headwaters and to develop some detailed action plans to improve the rivers.

Lord Selborne, Patron and Chair of the VCT said “The impact of phosphorous on the Bourne Rivulet, one of the most beautiful stretches of chalk stream anywhere in the world, is a microcosm for what is happening to all our rivers up and down the country. It is our hope that the Bourne and Upper Itchen Initiatives will be viewed as best practice model that might be adopted on a national scale as an effective way of identifying and addressing environmental issues and solutions.”







Panel of Speakers







Paul Withers, ADAS

Forum presentations available for download:

Forum Proceedings

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