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Thames Water supports new strategy to restore chalk streams

Friday 15th October 2021 10:26

Split image of grayling fish in a chalk stream

Grayling in Chalk Stream (Credit Paul Colley)

Thames Water partners with Chalk Stream Restoration Working Group to launch a new Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy, which calls for chalk streams in England to be given enhanced environmental status.

Published by the Working Group, the strategy sets out a list of recommendations to protect and restore England’s rare chalk streams. It calls for priority status for chalk streams, to drive investment to prevent pollution and over-abstraction, as well as restoring habitats to boost biodiversity.

Thames Water’s CEO Sarah Bentley represented water companies at the launch event, which was attended by water minister, Rebecca Pow, alongside Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of Natural England Tony Juniper, and senior wildlife and environmental groups.

Sarah Bentley, Thames Water CEO, said: “I’m passionate about us protecting our precious rivers and streams. At Thames Water, we’re lucky to have world-famous chalk streams flowing through our region and are working hard to restore them back to their natural beauty. We’re progressing ambitious plans to stop unsustainable abstractions to increase flow and eliminate untreated discharges to improve water quality. While this will take time, we are making progress and the strategy is an important step forward that informs and supports our wider restoration plans.”

Charles Rangeley-Wilson, Chair of the Chalk Stream Restoration Working Group, said: “No other country in the world has anything like England’s chalk stream habitat – they’re England’s Great Barrier Reef or Okavango delta. There are dozens of actions that could and should be taken to protect them but giving chalk streams enhanced status is a vital next step.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Chalk streams are both incredibly rare and a hugely important part of our environmental heritage. That’s why on behalf of the government I called for the creation of an independent CaBA-led working group, the Chalk Streams Restoration Group last year and welcome its ambitious strategy. Action is in progress wherever possible with our flagship projects programme underway. A third of the strategy recommendations are already being taken forward by government, regulators and other CSRG members. I look forward to seeing how the work progresses and continuing to work together on ways to further protect and restore this vital habitat."

England is home to over 280 chalk streams as well as dozens of smaller waterbodies, which are formed when rainwater falls on chalk hills, filters through the rock, and creates springs of cool, alkaline, mineral-rich water.

The strategy was created by the Catchment Based Approach’s (CaBA), Chalk Stream Restoration Working Group, whose partners include Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Water Companies, Ofwat, and eNGOs.

Thames Water has already made a series of commitments to protect and enhance chalk streams including increasing capacity at Chesham sewage works by 30% by 2023 and stopping all abstraction from Hawridge on the River Chess by the end of 2024.

The company has recently launched its Smarter Water Catchment Initiatives which go beyond the water industry to identify all the pressures on a river and work with all partners to address them. Working with key groups such as the River Chess Association the initiatives take a more holistic approach to catchment management. A first of its kind in the UK, the plans set out a 10-year commitment to boost biodiversity and help address water quality issues, as well as providing wider benefits for local communities through better access, improved amenities, schools programmes, volunteering opportunities and health and wellbeing benefits.

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