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Volunteers of iconic Hampshire chalk streams join the fight against river pollution
The Test and Itchen in Hampshire are two of the most iconic chalk streams in the world, famed for their trout fishing and where modern fly fishing developed. Anglers across the globe travel to fish these rivers every year.
England is home to 85% of the world’s chalk streams, a globally rare ecosystem and a hugely important part of our cultural and environmental heritage. They are the most biodiverse of all English rivers and a vitally important habitat for distinct flora and fauna communities, including water-crowfoot plants, Atlantic salmon and brown trout, native crayfish, and mayfly. The Test and Itchen are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in parts, and their clear, pristine water needs to be protected to enable the different species of fish, plants, and insects to flourish.
Yet these prized waters are constantly under threat from over-abstraction and pollution from sewage and agricultural practices.
The Angling Trust’s Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) launched in 2022 as part of our Anglers Against Pollution campaign, which is supported by Orvis. Today, there are over 620 volunteers from 235 clubs testing water quality on 175 rivers across England and Wales.
This December a further 45 volunteers from the Test & Itchen Association and the Watercress & Winterbournes Partnership will be joining the WQMN project. Using 34 monitoring kits supplied by the Angling Trust, the volunteers have been trained by the Angling Trust and will record water quality on 12 rivers across the Test, Itchen and Meon catchments, testing for phosphate, nitrate, and ammonia levels in what will be the first catchment-wide monitoring from source to sea.
Jem Dunn, Executive Director of the Test & Itchen Association, said:
“Excellent water quality in good quantity is what chalk streams should be all about. Sadly, like many other rivers, the Test and Itchen suffer from too much water abstraction and levels of pollution that are slowly killing the rivers. Habitat has been lost and some species are now so threatened that they risk extinction. The iconic chalk stream salmon is one such example of a species clinging to survival by the thinnest of threads.
“We need to arrest that decline now and take action to promote improvement before it’s too late. Understanding more clearly what the water quality picture looks like, right across the catchment, is the first, vital step. So, at the Test & Itchen Association we have engaged with the Angling Trust to investigate what’s going on in our waters. We have organised and sponsored a catchment-wide programme of water quality testing at over 30 sites every month. We will analyse the resulting data and act on our findings.”
Kathryn Boler, Watercress & Winterbournes Partnership Manager at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said:
“Chalk streams are an amazing natural resource, but one that we often take for granted and have treated poorly in recent decades. Hampshire’s chalk streams are suffering from a wide range of issues, including pollution, sedimentation, and over-abstraction.
“Volunteers from the Watercress & Winterbournes scheme are already monitoring riverflies on the headwaters of the rivers Test and Itchen, and we’re excited to build upon this alongside the Angling Trust and the Test & Itchen Association. The additional monitoring will complement our current methods, helping us to understand the pressures on our chalk streams and identify the places that need urgent action.”
Kris Kent, Angling Trust Campaigns & Advocacy Manager who leads on the Water Quality Monitoring Network project, said:
“I grew up in chalk stream country and the plight of our chalk streams has been deeply concerning for me. That these iconic rivers are over-abstracted and widely polluted is saddening. So it has been great to be able to work with the Test & Itchen Association and the Watercress & Winterbournes Partnership to extend the WQMN across the Test, Itchen and Meon in Hampshire.
“This is a major milestone for the Water Quality Monitoring Network as it is the first-time volunteers will be monitoring from source to sea across three catchments. In time, the data we gather will enable us to highlight the various pollution sources blighting the rivers and enable us to address them either through our campaigning work or through practical habitat improvements. It has been a pleasure working with the two organisations and such a large number of volunteers, who are so clearly passionate about their local rivers and so determined to see things improve.”
About the Test & Itchen Association:
The Test & Itchen Association is a membership organisation dedicated to conserving and protecting Hampshire’s chalk streams. The 400-strong membership include river owners, river keepers and those who simply enjoy the world class fishing or the rivers’ unique environmental heritage. Formed in 1907, the Association works closely with a range of partners, both inside and outside government, who share conservation and fishery interests.
About the Watercress & Winterbournes Landscape Partnership Scheme:
Managed by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Watercress & Winterbournes is a Landscape Partnership Scheme which is protecting, enhancing, and celebrating seven headwater tributaries that feed the Test and Itchen. With a five-year span and over 20 distinct projects, the scheme aims to secure the future of these precious places. The scheme unites 16 partners with local communities to improve habitats, protect vulnerable species, and address key pressures like pollution and flooding. The scheme will also showcase the inspirational nature of the chalk streams and raise awareness about the incredible wildlife that habit them.
The Angling Trust is the National Governing Body for angling in England and the Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) is a key part of the Angling Trust’s Anglers Against Pollution campaign which is supported by Orvis. Started in 2022 as a pilot on the Severn catchment, the project now involves over 620 volunteers from 235 clubs testing water quality on 175 rivers throughout England and Wales. The WQMN primarily records phosphate and nitrate levels and aims to engage anglers and angling clubs in better understanding pollution issues on their waters. The data can then support the delivery of effective local solutions that restore rivers to a healthy state, and the findings will help the Angling Trust hold the government to account, ensuring it lives up to its rhetoric on improving our environment and meeting its own legal responsibilities.