15 October 2012
Olympic gold-medalist James Cracknell and Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon today urged Britons to get hands-on caring for their local rivers.
The pair donned wellies before stepping into the River Chess, the stunning chalk stream, at Latimer Bridge in Buckinghamshire, to join local school children in an activity called kick-sampling.
Kick-sampling, used to monitor a river’s environmental health, involves roughing-up a river bed with your boot and collecting the animals disturbed in nets.
The numbers of bugs, shrimps and other wildlife are counted and a monthly river-health score is calculated as each group of animals has a known tolerance of pollution.
Today’s visit, in support of Defra’s national Love Your River (LYR) campaign, was staged by the River Chess Association (RCA) with partners Thames Water, which recycles its customers’ treated wastewater back to the Chess.
Cracknell, the Love Your River campaign adviser, said:
“I’m really pleased to be joining the ‘Love Your River’ campaign. Going to school in Kingston, I've experienced first-hand the benefits a river can bring to a community – not only for physical activity, but socially and fiscally also. We’ve all got a role to play in making sure our rivers are as healthy as they can be and I’m pleased to be involved.”
Paul Jennings, chairman of the RCA, said:
“We are one of hundreds of river trusts and associations around the country, and our aim is to get local people involved in understanding and caring for their local river particularly rare chalk stream ecosystems like the Chess. We are really pleased the Love Your River campaign is helping to move the need to look after the health of our rivers to the very top of the political agenda. Key issues for the Chess are reducing abstraction and improving water quality.”
Mr Benyon said:
"We all love our rivers. They are the lifeblood of our country. They’ve shaped our landscape, and our towns and cities have been designed around them. They are vitally important for our everyday lives and our environment, and we’ve all got a role to play in making sure our rivers are as healthy as they can be."
Richard Aylard, sustainability director for Thames Water, said:
"While we may see our local river every day as we go to work or drop the children off at school, it is easy to overlook the simple fact that water from that river is what comes out of our taps and showers. Every drop we use is a drop less in the river. Love Your River seeks to remind us that using water wisely – whatever the weather – can help protect our glorious rivers."
The Minister also discussed with Mr Jennings and experts from Thames Water ways to combat misconnected sewers, a problem which threatens rivers across the UK. Misconnections occur when surface-water drains are wrongly linked to foul-sewage drains, resulting in untreated sewage, rather than rainwater, entering the local river and damaging wildlife habitats.
The Chess runs from springs at Chesham 11 miles through the Chess Valley, part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, to Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, where it joins the Colne and from there the Thames. It is home to water vole, brown trout, kingfisher and water crowfoot.
In the past the Chess has been affected by storm sewage discharges from Thames Water’s Chesham sewage works following heavy rain. Although legal and permitted by the works’ licence, such discharges are undesirable in any river, let alone a chalk river of such high quality.
The water company responded to concerns from the RCA by doubling the capacity of the works’ storm overflow tanks, greatly reducing the chance of any sewage discharges to the river. The company’s local management also implemented a warning system for any discharges from the works, in the rare event that they are required. As a result of the work carried out by Thames this warning system has not had to be used.