Launched in October 2020, Chalk Streams First (CSF) was supported by The Rivers Trust, The Angling Trust, The Wild Trout Trust, WWF UK, Salmon & Trout Conservation and is now joined by the Chilterns Conservation Board, Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, the River Chess Association, the Ver Valley Society and the Chiltern Society.
Historically, groundwater abstraction from the chalk streams around London ballooned in the post-war decades, to the point that in some river catchments in the late 1980s over half the average water available to the river was taken for our water use. In dry years all the water was taken and iconic chalk streams like the Misbourne and Ver dried up completely.
Since then, Environment Agency schemes such as “Alleviation of Low Flows” and “Restoring Sustainable Abstraction” have made some progress in returning some water to the streams’ environment, but the streams still suffer from a very heavy abstraction burden and dry up – for example in 2019. The CSF coalition argues that only a regional and large-scale reduction will re-naturalise flows to these streams to the point where we see good ecological recovery.
The proposals have been recognised by the National Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy as a flagship project tackling low flows in chalk streams. It’s also won the recognition and conditional support of water regulators such as Ofwat. The CSF coalition is pushing for the proposals to be included in the Water Resources South East Regional Plan.
Chilterns Conservation Board CEO Dr Elaine King says: “We are pleased to be a part of Chalk Streams First – a galvanised approach to tackling one of the most urgent threats to these rare habitats. Tackling abstraction must happen now, to ensure the survival of these streams for future generations.”
Chilterns Society Chief Officer Tom Beeston says: “we are delighted to be able to work with everyone involved in Chalk Streams First, it a great opportunity for us to be part of reversing the damage we have been doing to chalk streams.”
CaBA chalk stream restoration group chair Charles Rangeley-Wilson says: “Chalk Streams First is the best chance we’ve had to undo the damage caused to our precious chalk streams by decades of over abstraction. Future generations will judge us harshly if we don’t take it.”