Buckinghamshire Council publishes hard-hitting report on pollution of the County’s rivers and chalk streams

Buckinghamshire Council publishes hard-hitting report on pollution of the County’s rivers and chalk streams

On Tuesday 15th November 2022, Buckinghamshire Council’s Cabinet accepted all the recommendations of a report on pollution in the County’s rivers by its Transport, Environment and Climate Change (TECC) Select Committee.

Calling for urgent action to protect the County’s rivers and chalk streams, the report’s key conclusions include that the water industry is the single biggest contributor towards poor water quality in the region. The report also found that five of Buckinghamshire’s rare chalk streams are being polluted with effluent from sewage treatment works, in addition to pollutants in surface water running off local roads, which include decomposing plant and animal matter, and by-products from vehicles such as oil, tyre fragments, hydraulic fluids and anti-freeze.

Buckinghamshire Council has therefore this week pledged to lobby water companies and the Environment Agency to do more to tackle polluted watercourses across the county. In particular, the Leader of the Council will write to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over its concerns over the Environment Agency’s lack of engagement, the discharge of its statutory functions and its conduct. The Council will also ask Anglian Water and Thames Water to submit annual reports on progress in reducing pollution into the County’s rivers and chalk streams.

Councillor Gareth Williams, Deputy Leader of Buckinghamshire Council and Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Environment, said:

“It is essential we understand the full situation to lobby groups hard on behalf of our residents to improve the quality of our precious watercourses. Our rivers and chalk streams are an essential part of the fabric of Buckinghamshire and their importance cannot be over-stated. It’s a matter of urgency that this work is given priority by water companies and the Environment Agency and that we start to see real change and deliverable solutions to improve water quality in Buckinghamshire.”

The Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) has welcomed the report and would like to thank the Committee for conducting such a thorough investigation, which highlights the multiple threats facing the Chilterns’ ecologically rare and precious chalk streams.

Dr Elaine King, Chief Executive at the Chilterns Conservation Board said:

Chalk streams are an extremely rare and globally threatened habitat. With only about 300 in the world, the Chilterns AONB has nine of these special rivers, five of which are in Buckinghamshire. We are therefore hugely grateful to Buckinghamshire Council for carrying out this review and for its pledge to put pressure on those who have the fate of these special rivers in their hands.

This report contributes to the body of evidence that shows how urgently we need improved legislation, enforcement and investment from the government and water companies to properly tackle the problem of sewage discharges into our rivers and seas. We must avoid at all costs the UK being branded the Dirty Man of Europe again, as it was before the Water Framework Directive (2000) and Bathing Water Directive (2006) were introduced.”

The Chilterns Conservation Board established the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project (CCSP) 25 years ago to tackle threats to chalk streams and Buckinghamshire Council is a key partner. Working in partnership with them, alongside a wide range of other organisations and local communities, it has secured over £2million investment into the conservation and enhancement of chalk streams and delivered many successful projects, such as the ChessWatch project which has been providing the first continuous set of measurements of water quality in a Chilterns chalk stream, since 2019.

However, pollution from sewage as well as urban and rural runoff remain a significant threat. All nine chalk streams in the Chilterns AONB failed to reach ‘Good Chemical Status’ under the 2019 Water Framework Directive analysis, and only the Ewelme Brook and the Hughenden Stream were considered to have a hydrological regime that could support ‘Good Ecological Status’.

The Chilterns Chalk Streams Project (CCSP) also hosts the Thames Water-funded River Chess Smarter Water Catchment Project Pilot. Also taking a partnership approach, this project brings together multiple partners, to understand, protect and enhance the health of the River Chess and the landscape in which it sits.

Allen Beechey, Project Manager at the CCSP, said:

“With investment from Thames Water, the CCSP has been working with partners, including Buckinghamshire Council, to deliver the River Chess Smarter Water Catchment pilot initiative since 2020. Already, this ten-year programme is yielding very positive results, helping us to better understand the factors impacting the health of this wonderful chalk stream, identify solutions and most importantly, providing sufficient resources to enable practical action to be taken to improve the health of the Chess and its catchment. I am pleased that Buckinghamshire Council has recognised the value of this approach and is advocating that it be rolled out to help protect and enhance other rivers in the County.

“Key to the success of our work on the River Chess is the support and enthusiasm of local people who are the eyes and ears of the river, helping to monitor and care for the river. Our dedicated team of volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ monitor sediment inputs, changes to vegetation and riverfly numbers to help us keep track of the health of the river.”

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Citizen scientists training in riverfly monitoring

The Chilterns Conservation Board and the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project fully support Buckinghamshire Council’s campaign and will continue to work in partnership with them to encourage urgent action and protect these fragile rivers and streams for future generations.


Read the report

Transport, Environment & Climate Change Select Committee – Pollution in Buckinghamshire’s Rivers and Chalk Streams Rapid Review.

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Chiltern Chalks Streams Project's 25 year report

This comprehensive report reviews achievements and progress of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project for the last 25 years and reflects on the role the Project should play in shaping the future for the chalk streams of the Chilterns.

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