Urgent action needed to protect Hertfordshire's rare chalk streams

Urgent action needed to protect Hertfordshire's rare chalk streams

River Mimram (C) Peter Tatton

A new Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy, published today, calls for chalk streams in England to be given enhanced environmental status.

Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust has welcomed the publication of the Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy 2021, drawn up by a group of environmental organisations including The Wildlife Trusts and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The report, produced by the Catchment Based Management Approach (CaBA) Chalk Stream Restoration Group sets out a series of recommendations across the interlinking pressures of water quality, water quantity, and habitat restoration.

Created by CaBA partners including Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England, the strategy outlines the current issues threatening chalk streams in England and what must be done to protect the three key indicators of ecological health: water quantity; water quality; and physical habitats.

Sarah Perry, Living Rivers Officer for Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust said:

“The recommendations of this strategy will be pivotal for improving the state of our chalk streams, of which 10% of the global number are in Hertfordshire. The streams in Hertfordshire are incredible habitats for wild species such as water voles and watercress, but they are suffering every year and need better protection if they are to survive in the future. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust work hard with our partners to care for these precious habitats and we are very pleased to see this joined-up approach to the national problem.”

River Mimram (C) Peter Tatton

River Mimram (C) Peter Tatton

Chalk streams are a globally rare and internationally important habitat. Throughout the world, there are thought to be less than 200 in total and Hertfordshire is home to around 10% of these. Often likened to tropical rainforests due to their rarity and abundance of wildlife, chalk streams are home to some of our most iconic and loved wild species such as the water vole. Chalk streams, however, have no form of legal protection and are under severe pressure from pollution and over-abstraction of water for domestic and commercial use.

Other recommendations from the report include:

  • a consensus agreement on the definition of sustainable abstraction as that which ensures flows are reduced by no more than 10% of their natural flow at the most water-stressed times of the year.
  • a commitment to set time-bound goals to meet this target on all chalk streams where it is technically feasible and ecologically beneficial.
  • designating all chalk stream regions where public water supply is heavily reliant on groundwater abstraction as ‘water-stressed’ enabling higher protections in these areas.
  • multiple actions to drive down the nutrient loading of chalk streams to ecologically appropriate levels, including: 
  • a prioritisation of investment in all sewage treatment works contributing to WFD nutrient failures;
  • a reduction in the frequency and duration of storm overflows spilling to chalk streams;
  • a suite of practical farming rules for chalk stream catchments specifically to address pathways of diffuse agricultural pollution.

The new strategy was launched on 15 October at Tewinbury Farm Hotel, near Welwyn Garden City, which lies along the bank of the River Mimram, one of Hertfordshire’s chalk streams. The launch was attended by representatives from Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd, Natural England Chair Tony Juniper and Environment Minister Rebecca Pow.

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 the 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."

River Mimram

River Mimram (c) Pater Tatton

Living Rivers

Our Living Rivers work is all about protecting and improving Hertfordshire’s chalk streams on a landscape scale. Rivers are the backbone of our County. They connect up a variety of places for wildlife and people and they are a vital living part of the landscape themselves.

Read more about our rivers work here