Time for bespoke regulatory targets for all chalkstreams

Chalkstreams are as internationally rare and ecologically important as coral reefs or rainforests, and 85% of the world’s chalkstreams are found in England.

With this comes a responsibility to protect them, something at the moment we are failing to deliver, with evidence of many stretches running dry, whilst others are clogged with nuisance algae and huge declines in flylife, the base of the food web.

Our Riverfly Census work has shown chalkstreams are under huge pressure from excess phosphates, fine sediments and chemicals, all exacerbated by vast over-abstraction. Chalkstreams are groundwater fed- when rain falls it sinks into the chalk ground through fissures and cracks, turning into underground oceans of trapped rainwater. Natural refilling of this underground water is essential to ensure our chalkstreams stay flowing. Yet, because this water is cool and stable and therefore ‘cheap’ to use, it is heavily relied upon and much is removed by water companies to become the water we use in our homes.

We, at Salmon & Trout Conservation, are calling for: New ambitious, bespoke regulatory
targets for all chalkstreams which recognise and manage them as the unique habitats they are.

Currently all our rivers are managed under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Within
this all rivers are classified the same, working towards common ecological targets. Yet, our
data confirms invertebrate communities in chalkstreams are biologically distinct from other
rivers. So, this generic, one size fits all approach cannot adequately protect them. ‘Good’
according to WFD is not good enough for chalkstreams. By developing new chalkstream
specific ecological targets for all chalkstreams it will identify the elements which make
chalkstreams so special and protect and restore them.

To ensure all our chalkstreams are healthy and sustainable into the future requires radical
action now and a step change in the way we manage our water environment. It will require
new bespoke regulatory targets alongside a properly resourced Environment Agency to
deliver and enforce regulations, and an ambitious timeframe to stop all water company’s
reliance on ‘cheap’ chalk aquifer water and drive investment into alternative water supply
solutions.

We cannot afford to tinker around the edges any longer. The more degraded our
chalkstreams become, the more similar they are to other rivers. We are losing the things
which make them special. We have an international duty and moral obligation to raise the
bar and sustainably protect these precious habitats into the future.