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18 October 21

Affinity Water and Thames Water team up with environmental groups to improve the health of local chalk streams


Affinity Water and Thames Water, have helped to launch an ambitious new initiative that aims to improve the health of local chalk streams, starting with those in the Chilterns.

The water companies have held a number of meetings with key stakeholders including river groups, local councillors, regulators and MPs to devise a new way of measuring the health of the chalk streams that currently falls outside of existing legislative obligations.

Photograph: River Chess, Buckinghamshire, a chalk stream.

Anglers will be pleased to hear that in revitalising the nations chalk streams various species of fish will be able to thrive once more. These include, Brown trout, Bullhead, brook lamprey and Atlantic salmon.

Many different groups in different ways enjoy access to the chalk streams which while meandering through Affinity Water and Thames Water boundaries will also become the obligation of others to maintain as the river winds upstream or downstream. Nature knows no boundaries, and if the chalk streams of England are to be looked after properly and the wildlife that rely on them protected a more systematic approach to their general health needs to be adopted by all those responsible for them.

To develop the new ‘chalk stream health metrics’ Affinity Water has worked with Thames Water, and the Arup group. The project was jointly funded by the water companies and has been supported by expertise from Cambridge University, the Environment Agency, the River Restoration Centre and Chalk Streams First.

This new innovative approach will be shared with catchment partnerships, river groups and piloted in partnership in the Chess River catchment area. It will also form part of Thames Water’s Smarter Water Catchment initiative to enhance and protect the River Chess.

Local communities will benefit as they walk by the chalk streams, fish, bird watch, and picnic by the river. During the Covid19 lock-downs local enjoyment of nature and such walks has become more important to the local communities that use them and will become even more so as the Covid19 rules are relaxed in the future.

The industry body, Water UK has just released its report, 21st Century Rivers: From Recovery to Renewal. A consortium of groups created by CaBA last week published its Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy 2021.  Partners included Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Water Companies, Ofwat, and NGOs.

Kevin Barton, Affinity Water’s Head of External Communications said: “It may surprise people to know that, at the moment there is no clear definition of what a healthy chalk stream is and how it is measured. Different stakeholders have different responsibilities and legal obligations, and our new systematic metrics approach takes this a few steps further. It is truly innovative and captures “the moment” well as we know enjoyment of nature is at a premium now for families following the three Covid19 lock-downs.

“Our new assessment framework will use a clear set of metrics that will measure the health of the streams and will help to identify problems and plan new interventions where needed. While it’s great that people are enjoying our chalk streams more there are numerous ways in which they can be negatively impacted including the pressure of human needs such as agricultural activities and land use change. We need to balance the needs of nature with the needs of human activities and ensure their preservation long into the future.

“Chalk stream catchments are rich habitats for flora and fauna, as well as wildlife, that is why they form such an important part of our cultural and recreational heritage. We love to walk by them. We need to be able to measure the functions and benefits provided by chalk stream ecosystems to nature as well as humans and how they interact and are used.

“The new metrics was developed by bringing together a range of existing evidence and data. The work has been strategic, technical and complex and will help to improve the health of

England’s chalk streams wherever they are situated and regardless of who has responsibility for them.

“I want to thank all of the various stakeholders Affinity Water worked with representing national and local interest groups, Regulators, Thames Water, politicians, academics and experts in river restoration. A special thanks goes to Sir Charles Walker who chaired our Independent Panel which was set up to scrutinise the new approach.”

Sir Charles Walker said: “I was pleased to Chair this working group and believe that the new metrics that Affinity Water, Thames Water and Arup have developed will make a significant impact on the health of England’s chalk streams. During the Covid19 lock-down we have come to realise how important our countryside and rivers are for our physical and mental health and we must do more to improve and enhance them for this and future generations who benefit in all kinds of ways from them. Humans and wildlife should be able to share nature’s gifts and live side by side together and this new innovative metrics approach will at last be able to give us a proper measurement of the health of our chalk streams and a proper plan of how we can improve them.”

Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director said: “Chalk streams are not only breath-taking, they’re an invaluable part of our natural heritage, which benefit local communities and wildlife.

“Restoring and protecting chalk streams requires a team effort and the new health metrics will help measure our collective activities to improve these important rivers and make a difference to how wastewater is managed across the Chilterns.

“At Thames Water we think investment in water quality improvements for chalk streams is really important and we’re increasing capacity at Chesham sewage works by 39% over the next two years to treat the flows that arrive on site.

“By actively listening to our customers and working in collaboration with Affinity Water, we can play our part in ensuring these iconic water bodies are enjoyed by future generations.”

Mark Fletcher, Arup Global Water Leader, said: “Arup were delighted to have the opportunity to partner with Thames Water and Affinity Water on this ambitious and significant initiative.

“Chalk streams are globally rare ecosystems and an important part of our shared heritage so it’s essential we work together to preserve them for future generations. The new metrics embrace this context and provide a framework to help us understand the health of streams

and their needs. Ultimately, we hope this approach will help us to work with nature, not against it, into the future.

“The next stage of development will pilot the metrics on the River Chess, providing invaluable feedback to help refine our approach as we move forwards. Collaboration has been at the heart of this project, and we look forward to continuing conversations over the coming phases of work.

“We would like to thank Thames Water, Affinity Water, Environment Agency and other organisations, individuals and stakeholders involved in the project. Their commitment, ongoing input, and expertise has been essential to the success of the initiative so far and will remain so going forwards.”

Chalk streams are at risk of extinction as the impacts of climate change combine with increasing demand for water from a growing population. Today many English chalk streams are dry in long stretches and do not meet the objectives set out in environmental legislation.

The majority of the world’s chalk streams are found in England and their heritage should be viewed as an English Great Barrier Reef or rainforest.

The new approach supported by metrics hopes to enhance the life of chalk streams in different ways including:

  • A new method for decision making to get the best value interventions in the catchment
  • Bringing public and private funds together for greater impact
  • Set objectives and interventions in chalks stream catchment in collaboration with catchment users. To enable decision making that is transparent, inclusive and that presents the best value for money
  • Finding ways to fund projects that fall outside the regulatory minimum requirement but can benefit the chalk stream ecology and local communities
  • Consolidate views of different stakeholders
  • Demonstrate the complexity of the chalk streams as socio-ecological systems, including the interdependencies and benefits they deliver so that they can be appreciated
  • Enhance our understanding of the interdependencies of different human activities i.e road traffic and diffuse pollution on water quality, chalk stream ecology, and impact on recreational activities

Anna Jarmolinska-Nowak, CSR Manager at Affinity Water, said: “This new innovative environmental metrics approach will help to deliver more best value projects in the chalk rivers catchments in the coming years through wider engagement with local communities and interest groups. We will work closely with our partners and co-create the action plans from the outset of any project and define bespoke objectives and levels of ambition beyond the existing regulatory frameworks. I want to thank all those who have worked with us on this to get to this point.”

Helena Soteriou, Catchments Programme Manager at Thames Water said: “It’s positive to see the collaborative focus on chalk steams and the recognition we all need to do more to protect them. At Thames Water we’re already working with local groups across the Chess to set out our vision for restoring and enhancing this incredible river

“We’re excited to put the new metrics into practice, which will help us choose the best projects to improve the health of our chalk streams. They will also support the improvement of water quality in the River Chess and highlight the importance of increasing biodiversity and the benefits these rivers bring to the communities who use them. “

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