Thank you for contacting me about chalk streams. In Meon Valley, the health of our chalk down land is of primary importance to agriculture and the environment. I have previously spoken about this in Parliament numerous times and I am a member of the all-party group for chalks streams.
I have also held public forums on water quality and improving our environment where speakers have included Hampshire CPRE, the water companies, and the Environment Agency (EA). I have lived nearly all my life in Hampshire in our beautiful surroundings and I take protecting them very seriously.
Chalk streams represent an important part of our national heritage. England is home to 85 per cent of all chalk streams, which are the most biodiverse of all English rivers. I am pleased that the EA’s monitoring of the Meon, Test and Itchen shows that the ecological health of all three has improved over the last ten years. Clearly there are still issues with some types of chemicals leaching into the rivers from the environment – for instance from contaminated land – and it is vital to identify the sources.
The other key thing we can do is reduce our dependence on taking water out of chalk rivers and the aquifers which provide 80% of their flow. Nationally the EA has been running a Restoring Sustainable Abstraction programme has resulted in 131 million litres less water a day being abstracted from chalk streams.
Locally the two companies which supply Meon Valley water, Southern Water and Portsmouth Water are already building a new reservoir and working on other water conservation measures which will be going to the regulator, OFWAT, for approval in the near future. I know from my discussions with South Downs National Park Authority that it feels over-abstraction is the biggest threat chalk streams face.
I support the government’s National Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy and the designation of chalk streams as a priority within the Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan.
Ministers continue to work on improving chalk streams, through supporting the Chalk Streams Restoration Group, as well as beginning a national programme of flagship chalk catchment restorations launched by water companies and driven by local communities. In addition, more than £5 million is being invested by the Environment Agency to support 53 chalk stream restoration partnership projects nationwide.