A couple of weeks ago I went with colleagues to Norfolk to meet up with ITV’s Countrywise to look at the work of the Norfolk Rivers Trust is doing to return a stretch of the River Nar to its natural state. I met up with – and then waded with – presenter Liz Bonnin. A WWF favourite – Liz recently spoke about our work protecting tigers and increasing their numbers in the wild.
I was there to be interviewed about chalk streams and the threats facing this iconic part of England’s countryside. Revered by many for their cool, clear flows and unique wildlife – including the kingfisher and the endangered water vole (famously featured in Wind in the Willows as Ratty) – chalk streams are unique to England (and a bit of Northern France).
Water companies revere (or at least value) chalk streams as well as their clear water requires much less cleaning than sources from other rivers before going into public supply, due to the unique filtration process of the chalk aquifers that supply them.
And this is the heart of the problem: we – the people and businesses – are using too much water. This means water companies are taking (abstracting) too much out of the environment.
Our hope was that the Water Bill going through Parliament would tackle the thorny issue of over abstraction, but so far, the government is planning to dodge this issue. I would say they are watering it down, but they are not even doing that.
Liz and I were there to discuss the plight of the chalk streams but also to celebrate their uniqueness which I hope will come across in the piece.
I want to be clear that the problems they face can be overcome… but there is a lot still to be done – both at a national and local level. In the case of the River Nar, we are assisting the Norfolk Rivers Trust in restoring and maintaining a large part of the river back to its original state, thanks to the support of Coca-Cola who sponsor several river conservation practices in the UK.
We walked and waded up and down different spots, followed by ITV cameraman – Rupert – and his many cameras. We discussed the river’s beauty, its wildlife and the challenges the river faces, as well as the work of the NRT, and what we can all do to look after our rivers a bit more.
While we were there we did a few tests on the water quality to check for levels of oxygen, nitrates and phosphates from agricultural run off, and my favourite – kick sampling! This test allows you to search for invertebrates lurking in the bottom of the river – some species like larvae and freshwater shrimps means a healthy river with essential building blocks for life available to other inhabitants. Other species like worms and leeches would indicate poor water quality, as they can live almost anywhere.
Liz was fantastic in making me feel at ease and forget that I was on camera and a morning’s filming flew by. The piece will be aired shortly and I hope it will make people think twice about leaving taps running and wasting water in other ways, and that it helps make the direct link between our rivers and the water from our taps. In a perfect world the Environment Minister and his department will see it – realise exactly what a beautiful and rare resource we have on our doorstep in the UK that is not seen almost ANYWHERE ELSE in the world – and modify the Water Bill so that it tackles the issue and reduces the amount of water being taken from our rivers to protect our fragile chalk streams.
While I was doing all the filming several water voles were spotted by our media chap Justin who sadly didn’t get any pictures, but did confirm they were amazing to see. Water Vole numbers have taken a battering in recent years with one survey from the Environment Agency and Wildlife Trusts suggesting numbers have dropped by a fifth in just two years. Once a common site – it is thought that numbers have declined by 90% since the 1970’s.
I’m heartened to see they are thriving on this stretch of the Nar, and hope that the other projects are having as much success so that water voles can once again be common sights on our rivers.
Working together, we can do it.
You can catch Kathy being interviewed by Liz Bonnin on Countrywise at 8pm on ITV1, Monday 23rd September.