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Springing into action for chalk streams


Spring is all about new life – and at WWF we’re really excited to be pushing ahead with our collaborative work with Coca-Cola to bring life back to English chalk streams.

We’ve been working in partnership with Coca-Cola to secure a thriving future for English rivers since 2012 and have achieved some great results. In the middle of last year we embarked upon a new 3 year journey to scale up our water sensitive farming work in East Anglia. We’re taking lessons from our previous work on the River Nar in Norfolk and applying them across two much larger river management catchments. The Cam & Ely Ouse and Broadland Rivers catchments are both areas rich in biodiversity. You can see some of the amazing wildlife that lives here in my last blog.

The River Bure in NorfolkBroadland Rivers catchment, East Anglia © Hugh Mehta/WWF

Rare species and rural pollution

Here are a few of the reasons why we are working to protect these areas:

  • The Broadland Rivers catchment includes the Norfolk Broads, England’s largest wetland, and the National Park, home to 25% of England’s most rare and endangered species.
  • Over 80% of rivers in the Cam & Ely Ouse area are failing to achieve EU targets of ‘healthy status’, with rural pollution being a major cause.
  • Arable agriculture (and horticulture) is the main land use – with pollution from these industries, in combination with over abstraction for drinking water and irrigation, putting significant pressure on the surrounding chalk streams.

For many years, people have been aware of the impact of human life on our waterways. In fact, England’s first environmental law on water pollution was passed in 1388, making it illegal to dispose of animal waste, dung and litter in rivers. Anyone in breach of that law could be hanged! At WWF we prefer to take a more collaborative approach and are busy working with local community groups, farmers and companies that source from the area to make a difference for rivers. We will be:

  • Supporting The Rivers Trust and the Norfolk Rivers Trust to work with at least 100 farmers to implement new water sensitive practices that will reduce pollution, such as installing silt traps to reduce sediment running off fields into rivers.
  • Sharing the lessons and results of this approach with farmers, businesses and government through workshops, case studies and visits, to prompt further action by others.

Visiting the catchment

WWF, Coke, The Rivers Trust and Norfolk Rivers Trust visit the Broadland Rivers catchment WWF, Coke, The Rivers Trust and Norfolk Rivers Trust visit the Broadland Rivers catchment © Hugh Mehta/WWF

At the beginning of April I was lucky enough to lead a team from WWF, Coca-Cola and the Rivers Trusts on a visit to this watery part of the UK. Our first stop was the River Bure, to remind ourselves why chalk streams are so special. In addition to seeing an unspoilt stretch of the river, Aquatic Ecologist Dr. Murray Thompson got into the river to show us the different bugs and beasties that thrive when our rivers flow naturally.

Dr. Murray Thompson showing a groupf of people river wildlifeDr. Murray Thompson examining wildlife from the River Bure © Hugh Mehta/WWF

It really was a lovely place, so nice in fact that it inspired John Betjeman to write the following in his poem ‘Norfolk.’

‘Warm in the cabin I could lie secure
And hear against the polished sides at night
The lap lap lapping of the weedy Bure,
A whispering and watery Norfolk sound
Telling of all the moonlit reeds around.’

We spent the afternoon with a local farmer who explained in great detail why he’s chosen to work hard to manage his land sustainably and minimise the impact of farming on the local river. He expressed a clear and inspiring commitment to sustaining his business whilst also sustaining the natural world around him. With any luck we’ll be helping far more farmers to follow this example of producing amazing food whilst preserving our rivers and streams for future generations.

This partnership is also part of the WaterLIFE project, led by WWF-UK. For more information, visit www.waterlife.org.uk

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