The Countryside Alliance’s Sue Shaw and Charles Jardine attended a chalk stream discovery day on Friday June 16th at the invitation of the Angling Trust and WWF. The day saw MPs including Sports Minister Tracey Crouch MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Defra, Dr Therese Coffey MP, former Environment Minister Richard Benyon MP and Parliamentary Angling Group Chair Charles Walker OBE MP hear about the threats to chalk streams, see conservation work in action and enjoy some fishing. Sue and Charles were able to speak to the Parliamentarians about The Countryside Alliance Foundation’s Casting for Recovery and Fishing 4 Schools projects, which were well received.

The day was primarily run to enable Parliamentarians to learn about our precious English chalk streams, unique habitats that are under threat. Over 85% of the world’s chalk streams are in England yet the condition of these iconic waters are a national disgrace; they suffer from agricultural pollution and over-abstraction and have experienced a significant loss of their natural habitat.

Less than one in five chalk streams meets the required good ecological status and only 12 of England’s 224 chalk streams has special conservation protection. Many industrial and housing developments have been approved with little thought to the potential impacts they pose or about what chalk streams represent. This is bad for wildlife; WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016 states that since 1970, 81% of freshwater species have declined.

The MPs had the opportunity to walk the banks of the famous Hampshire river with wildlife and fisheries experts Graham Roberts, formerly of the Hampshire Wildlife Trust, Rose O’ Neil, Water Policy Manager, WWF and Mark Owen, Head of Freshwater at the Angling Trust.

Dr Rose O’Neill, Water Policy Manager at WWF said: “Our rivers and their wildlife are under increasing pressure from pollution and over-abstraction and that’s why it’s so important that so many MPs are supporting this campaign. It’s vital that the UK Government brings forward legislation to maintain the UK’s freshwater supply and ensure the nation’s rivers and wetlands are in good ecological health. This Water Bill needs to tackle the issues of abstraction and water management so that we build up a vibrant water eco-system that will benefit both people and nature.”

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: “England’s chalk streams are a globally important ecosystem that deserve far greater protection than they have received in recent decades. Anglers from all over the world revere them, because of their place in fly-fishing history, but the truth is that sewage, slurry, pesticides, fertilisers and soil are poisoning their crystal clear waters, which are depleted by over-abstraction of water from ground and surface water. They are the most poignant example of how we have mismanaged our water resources in this country.”