Big names Head South to Highlight Plight of English Chalkstreams
Environment and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon is heading to Hampshire on December 10th to address a special summit called to discuss the plight of English Chalkstreams. Of these unique rivers, 85% are situated in England and most of these are here in the South with the most famous being the Test, Itchen and Avon in Hampshire – rivers that were once considered to offer the finest trout fishing in the world.
Chalkstreams are internationally significant habitats which have been under extreme pressure from diffuse pollution and over abstraction for many years. Anglers, conservationists and river keepers are only too aware of how close these streams came to an environmental disaster during last year’s drought. The summit is seeking to raise awareness among MPs and ministers of the special status of chalkstreams in England and of the threats to their environment and biodiversity. A case will be made for affording them special protection, possibly within the current Water Bill, and for a radical reform of water resources and land use policy to enable chalkstreams to return to good ecological status free from damaging environmental impacts.
With salmon stocks continuing to drop well below their conservation targets and after more than twenty five years of Government agency reviews, reports and plans, all pointing towards excessive water abstraction and diffuse pollution as the main impacts on Hampshire's iconic River Avon, the Salmon & Trout Association has filed an official complaint to the European Commission that the Government is failing in its international responsibility to protect the Avon which is designated under the EU Habitats Directive as a Special Area of Conservation.
The Chalkstream Summit is the brainchild of Hampshire MP George Hollingbery, a keen fisherman who chairs the All Party Angling Group. It is being organised by the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association and other speakers include former Friends of the Earth boss Tony Juniper and award winning wildlife filmmaker Hugh Miles. Invitees are coming from all over the country and include MPs, fishery owners, river keepers, County Councils and environmental campaigners. All 100 places have now been taken and there is a waiting list.
George Hollingbery MP said:
“I am delighted the Natural Environment Minister is joining us and hope that he will recognise just how much concern there is about the important issues facing our precious chalkstreams amongst those dealing with the consequences of years of abuse on a day to day to day basis. When we first announced this meeting, we booked a room for 30 people. We have since had to increase capacity to 60 and then to 100. This just shows how much concern there is about the management of our chalk streams and, more generally, about the management of water as an increasingly scarce resource in many parts of the country.”
Chief Executive of the Angling Trust, Mark Lloyd said:
“We are privileged in this country to have most of the world’s chalkstreams on our little island. However, we have abused that privilege over the years by abstracting, polluting and damming these unique rivers so that they support a fraction of the life that they should. Anglers around the world dream of fishing on our chalk streams because of their historic reputation; far too often those who make the trip are disappointed to find low flows, degraded habitats and poor wild fish stocks. The decades of inaction and complacency are nothing less than a scandal. Urgent action is required by the government, its regulators and the water companies to work with the angling community to restore these streams to their former glory.”
Paul Knight, CEO of the Salmon and Trout Association added:
“Our complaint to the European Commission over the plight of the Hampshire Avon highlighted that the Government and Agencies have known the issues impacting our chalkstreams for decades, but little has been done to address them. In particular, excessive water abstraction and diffuse pollution are widespread stressors which seem to be parked firmly in the ‘too difficult to manage’ box. The Government must commit to robust policies that genuinely protect our chalkstream ecosystems, thereby recognising its international responsibility towards this globally important natural resource.”