Riverkeeper Chris de Cani writes: The warnings over possible drought restrictions came as no surprise to those charged with caring for the Chalkstreams in the South of England. Successive dry winters have left groundwater chronically unreplenished and the springs that feed these unique rivers at their lowest level in recent memory. Crystal clear and void of any cover in the winter months, the rivers’ fish stocks are particularly vulnerable to predation.
Last summer’s fishing throughout much of the Chalkstreams was affected by low water with weed left uncut to preserve water levels. Filamentous algae bloomed in the summer months smothering Ranunculus and Water Celery both of which play a vital role in the Chalkstream habitat. This winter has seen just over half the average rainfall for the region, when double the average is required, fish have been rescued from one site on the upper reaches of the Kennet and several lakes in the area are making plans to move stock.
The Government’s concern over water supplies in the South is welcome, but groundwater levels in parts of the region have been low for some while and an earlier, more considered response would have been welcome; topping up reservoirs with river and ground water may provide a short term solution to supply, but will impact further on the already depleted flows of the rivers in the South. As climate appears to change, and the South becomes more akin to the climes of Central France, fancy fizzy wine production in the UK is not the only change creeping our way. The tributaries of the Loire, the main drain of Central France, have been down to their bare bones for three years and the current dearth of water may be something that the south of England experiences more often in the coming years.
Long term planning for water supply in the South East is urgently required. Reservoirs and lakes in the north of the country are full so perhaps plans for a national grid should be revisited and opportunities for desalination of sea water abound on an island nation. The cost to the consumer in the South East would increase but may also make us all a little more “water wise” For the coming Trout fishing season, keepers on the Southern Chalkstreams are resigned to another summer of low flows unless six months of rain falls in six days. A wise old keeper from the middle valley reckons that we have had a wet enough winter when he can’t drive his 4x4 around on the water meadows. Should I be so inclined, I could totter around these water meadows in my wife’s six inch heels without sinking in, the ground is that hard! we need rain, rain and more rain in these parts, as has been the case for much of the past two years and not just the last couple of weeks.
Chris de Cani Has been a Riverkeeper in the Test Valley for 25 years, 20 of them on the River Dever at Bransbury Mill. He also looks after a stretch of the River Itchen and writes regularly at www.testvalleyriverkeeper.blogspot.com