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Chalk streams are among the most biodiverse of the UK’s rivers. Nearly all the world’s chalk streams are in England and they represent one of the UK’s most important contributions to global biodiversity.
These clear-watered streams are a valuable habitat for Atlantic salmon, sea trout, grayling and lamprey, for otters, water voles and kingfishers, for rare invertebrates such as the winterbourne stonefly, and plants like stream water crowfoot.
If we are to achieve the goal of our 25-year Environment Plan and leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it, we must address the multiple threats to the ecological health of our chalk streams.
Most of our chalk streams flow through landscapes heavily impacted by agriculture and urban development. They are threatened by water abstraction which denudes the natural flow, by pollution from sewage, farming and roads, by invasive species, and by habitat degradation: canalisation, siltation, ditching and the many barriers built at locks, watermills and culverts.
The chalk-streams restoration strategy is a comprehensive, up-to-date analysis of the issues threatening chalk streams in England, of the ways in which ecological pressures are assessed and regulated. It includes multiple pragmatic recommendations to bring about the ecological recovery and good health of our chalk streams.
These recommendations represent a broad consensus among the working group of the nature and scale of the threats and problems and of the necessary solutions. It gives clear justifications, direction and guidance to government and businesses, water companies, Rivers Trusts and stakeholders.
Where recommendations are within the gift of the working group, progress is already underway: in planning for the flagship restoration projects, for example. Some recommendations have been delivered, such as the designation of all chalk regions as water-stressed. Otherwise, recommendations are now in a scoping phase and will be reviewed and – if carried forward – planned over the following months. An implementation plan will be published in October 2022.
The key recommendation of this strategy is for an overarching level of protection and priority status for chalk streams and their catchments. This would give them a distinct identity and help to drive investment in water-resources infrastructure, water treatment and catchment-scale restoration. Other recommendations (dealt with in more detail in the main report and appendices) include: