(Above: not so long ago this part of the River Glaven was locked in a tunnel: now look at it! There’s hope for all our chalk streams if we dare to make it happen)
I should have posted this on Friday but I was busy chairing the Chalk Headwaters Conference at Sparsholt and catching up with many old friends from Wessex chalk stream country. My presentation there was on the chalk strategy but also the chalk strategy implementation plan, which was published that day. Please take a look at the new plan HERE.
This plan has been many hours, weeks, months in the making; many phone calls, emails, meetings, consultations and negotiations. It’s not a once-and-for-all fix-all, but I do think it marks a step-change in our collective attempts to restore good ecology to our beleaguered chalk streams.
Not only do we have a consensus plan with consensus actions and timelines, but we have now garnered explicit support from all quarters – regulators, industry and NGOs, and the small-but-becoming-bigger-every-day army of chalk stream enthusiasts – for ideas like the flagship projects, the review of waterbody boundaries & abstraction sensitivity bands, the enhanced scenario for chalk streams in the national framework planning process, Chalk Streams First etc.
It’s great too, to have such supportive statements from the Minister, the Rt. Hon. Rebecca Pow MP, and from Defra and the Environment Agency. And from Ofwat too. These give us real gas in the tank when making the case for all the things we need to do to bring chalk streams back to health, whether that’s abstraction reduction or sewerage infrastructure investment or physical restoration of habitat.
Sadly, we are still not quite there when it comes to the greater and more explicit protected status we all asked for, along with the necessary investment driver. But I still have hope: the changes in government over the summer stalled progress, and it would be nice to think things might get back on track now Minister Pow is in post again. We all know what a difference enhanced status would make, by taking the brakes off investment along the lines established by making chalk stream high priority sites in the stormwater reduction plan.
This implementation plan will be revisited and revised every year, a commitment that I hope will help hold us all to task. So, over the next 12 months, let’s see how far we can get with actually making some of these ideas a reality. I hope, in 12 months time, to see tangible progress with the planning and construction of integrated wetlands, with the agreed level of environmental ambition for chalk streams in the national framework, with Chalk Streams First not only in the Chilterns but elsewhere, with the flagship projects and with the strategic and outcome driven planning of stormwater discharge reduction.