Face the Facts programme ‘Sold Down the River’ focuses on paying the price for cheap water and the Charter for Chalk Streams
One of the great challenges for those of us involved in campaigning for angling and fisheries is to get our message out to the wider world beyond the confines of the fishing media. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for the support that the Angling Trust receives for its work in almost all the specialist publications and websites but if we are to be successful it is vital that our message is heard by both the general public and by those who are in a position to influence policy. One of the great flagship programmes, with a proven track record of making governments sit up and listen, is the award winning BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts whose veteran investigator John Waite has become famous for his on air confrontations with a host of bad guys, which have. on occasion, led to him being assaulted. Luckily, this week John will be featuring a less aggressive but still determined bunch of people – the movers and shakers behind our recently launched Charter for Chalk Streams.
The Face the Facts team contacted me shortly after the launch of the Charter for a background briefing on the problems facing our chalk rivers. The timing was considered particularly relevant for a national programme with the publication of the government’s disappointing new Water Bill following hard on the heels of the Charter’s call for radical action.
Back in December national wildlife and conservation organisations came together in an alliance with local river restoration groups to press the government and its agencies to radically reform water policies to enable England’s endangered chalk streams to return to good health. The Charter for Chalk streams followed on from a special summit last December chaired by George Hollingbery MP and organised in Hampshire by the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association.
The English chalk streams are recognised as a unique global asset providing a pristine environment for wildlife with rich clean water and high quality habitat. Some 85% of the worlds chalk streams are located in England and many in and around London have almost disappeared in normal weather conditions. Only a handful receive the high levels of protection that their conservation status requires.
The Charter called for a range of measures, including the wholesale reform of unsustainable abstraction licensing, the introduction of compulsory water metering to cut demand and increased storage of winter run off. Sadly the new Water Bill has failed to adequately address these key issues which is why securing continued national coverage for our campaign is so important.
We need to find champions in parliament and elsewhere who are prepared not just to stand up for our rivers but to argue for the policies needed to give them a future.
The Introduction to the Charter states:
The UK’s stewardship of 85% of the worlds chalk streams has been lamentable with many iconic rivers suffering from over abstraction, habitat destruction, pollution and invasive species. Both our development control and water resource planning processes are woefully inadequate. Chalk aquifers have been over exploited as an easy and cheap source of ready filtered water at the expense of the environment in general and chalk streams in particular. There is an urgent need for abstraction reform and far greater use of reservoir storage of winter run off rather than depleting groundwater sources. Scarce water is wasted as there is little effective demand management. We cannot go on like this.
Following in the footsteps of Dick Walker
It would have been easy to have both launched the Charter and taken the media down to famous Hampshire chalk streams like the Test and Itchen but we decided it would have far greater impact to focus on some of the rivers that have actually disappeared. Unfortunately Hertfordshire now has more than its fair share of these so we recorded the programme back on the banks of Dick Walker’s once favourite River Beane, which, as you can see from the picture, is now virtually dried up in its upper reaches. We also visited the nearby River Mimram which, despite abstractions, still has a reasonable flow and supports some healthy fish stocks.
Supporting the Charter for Chalk Streams
We’ve had great support from right across the board for the Charter, from local river groups like those on the Mimram, Chess and Beane right through to national organisations like WWF-UK, the Wildlife Trusts, the Rivers Trust, the Wild Trout Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association. More groups are signing up but the current role of honour includes:
Angling Trust, The Rivers Trust, Salmon & Trout Association, The Wildlife
Trusts, WWF-‐UK, Wild Trout Trust, Chilterns Conservation Board, Action
for the River Kennet, Friends of the Mimram, River Chess Association,
River Misbourne Action, River Beane Restoration Association, The Wandle
Trust, Herts & Middx Wildlife Trust, Test and Itchen Association, Wessex
Chalk Stream Rivers Trust, the Piscatorial Society, Hungerford Town and
Tune in and Face the Facts
Face the Facts broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday’s at 12.30pm with a repeat the following Sunday at 9pm. The ‘Sold Down the River’ programme goes out on July 31st and August 4th. However, unlike most BBC radio programmes it remains on the BBC iPlayer for several years so please share this link with anyone you think might be interested or who is in a position to make a difference.