Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, has just called for urgent action to tackle the “monumental environmental crisis” facing chalk streams.
He called the degradation of our chalk streams one the greatest environmental scandals of the late 20th century and the start of the 21st century.
“It is not just abstraction that kills rivers; it is also what happens after the abstraction. If companies are abstracting water from chalk streams, they either dry them out—and that does kill them—or they reduce the flow. When there is low flow in a river, it cannot get rid of pollutants; pollutants concentrate. A river that is flowing well can move pollutants on down it, dilute them and dissolve them. This does not happen when a river is being extracted to death.
So what is the next consequence of extraction? We get topsoil run-off, which just sinks to the bottom of rivers and depletes them of oxygen. It sticks to the chalk at the bottom, destroying any oxygen that can get into the chalk for the small invertebrates that live in it.
Then there is phosphorus from agriculture and sewage works, which causes oxygen depletion from algal blooms and eutrophication. Basically, we have environments that cannot support life, or which support limited life, because there is no oxygen. Agricultural pesticides wash in off the fields, destroying biodiversity and wiping out invertebrates and the fly life that comes from them.
Then there are the many septic tanks up and down the country that are unregulated and leaking into groundwater that finds its way into rivers. The challenge is immense.”