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Launch of new Guide to Chalk Rivers of England

Posted: Thursday 8th January 2015 by Living Rivers

I'm very proud to announce the launch of a new Guide to the Chalk Rivers of England, which we've produced in collaboration with the Field Studies Council.

Three years ago, when I accepted the post of Hertfordshire Living Rivers Officer, I found myself with a lot of background reading to do! I looked for a concise, general guide to chalk rivers to help me.  However, despite their global and national significance – and their place as the UK’s equivalent of disappearing rainforests – such a guide didn’t seem to exist. I was especially surprised at the lack of information about chalk rivers aimed at a general audience.

This ‘gap in the market’ remained at the back of my mind. The chance to do something about it finally arose last year, when I was contacted by John Davis, one of our long-standing members. He had read about the Living Rivers Project in Wildlife Matters, our in-house magazine, and generously offered a donation to the project. I realised that John had a strong interest in education, and thought that maybe here was a fantastic opportunity…

I’m sure anyone involved in natural history is aware of the Field Studies Council and their iconic series of laminated fold-out charts. Some of these charts focus on certain groups of species, e.g. butterflies and harvestmen; others focus on certain habitats e.g. grassland, and some focus on specific areas of the country. It seemed the perfect fit for a new chalk rivers guide.

I contacted the FSC and asked if they would be interested in working with us to produce such a guide. They were, and the wheels were set in motion. We followed the usual template of these guides, one side of which would feature illustrations of species; the other side would have text and diagrams. The FSC would commission the artwork and deal with the design and printing of the guide; HMWT would compile the species list and write the text.

I was now faced with the most difficult part  – choosing which 40 species to include! I was keen that it didn’t become a generic ‘rivers’ guide, but remained focussed on chalk rivers. However, few species are found exclusively in chalk rivers; it is the general assemblage of species found in and around chalk rivers which make them special. I also wanted to strike a balance between those species characteristic of chalk rivers, such as certain invertebrates, and those which would be more easily seen by casual visitors to the rivers who may not have specialist knowledge or equipment. I also wanted this to be a general guide for the UK’s chalk rivers, and not Hertfordshire-specific. I would therefore need to include some species not found in Herts…

Above - a preliminary sketch for one of the diagrams included in the guide.

Blue-winged olive

One thing which was clear was that I couldn’t do this alone. So, I contacted various experts in different fields: botanists, entomologists, county recorders, other chalk river professionals, colleagues in Hertfordshire and further afield. I asked them to send me a list of species they thought should be included. Many thanks to them all - they're all credited on the guide. After a lot of cross-referencing, I finally whittled this down to the required 40 species. I’m sure there will inevitably be species misisng which some people will feel should be included, and vice versa, but within the limited space we had I’m pretty happy with the final 40 we included.

Right: a blue-winged olive.  To include or not to include, that is the question!

The text on the reverse side of the guide gives some background information about chalk rivers, how they are formed, their features and the threats facing them. There are some lovely diagrams to illustrate the typical features of chalk rivers, plus the effect of abstraction on groundwater levels. The guide is aimed at the general public as well as specialist audiences, and the hope is that people visiting chalk rivers will be able to take a copy out with them to help them interpret what they’re seeing, and identify wildlife. As a national guide, it will also help to raise the profile of HMWT and our important rivers work. People often overlook Hertfordshire’s chalk rivers in favour of the ‘classic’ chalk rivers such as the Test and Itchen – so the fact that this guide has been produced by HMWT will hopefully help to correct this!

Copies of the ‘Guide to the chalk rivers of England’ are available for £3 - less than a pint - in person from our office reception in St Albans, and will shortly be available for £4 from our online shop (including P&P). Copies are also available directly from the FSC’s website.

I hope you enjoy looking at and using the guide.



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