Amongst many important issues which I am interested in campaigning for in North East Hertfordshire is the promotion of the preservation of chalk rivers in the constituency. The Ash, the Beane, the Ivel, the Mimram, the Quin, the Rib, and the Upper Rhee are all within the constituency, and these rivers regularly face the possibility of drying up over the summer months - harming local wildlife, flora, and fauna. This is an extremely important issue.
Things we have done so far
- Previously I have tabled an emergency motion (EDM 1392) in the House of Commons on this matter which attracted the support of well over 120 MPs. I have also initiated a debate in the House on the issue and continue to work closely with WWF, the Beane Restoration Association and Friends of Mimram with their latest initiatives.
- Fulling Mill is no longer abstracting and White Hall greatly reduced.
- Broxbourne MP Charles Walker and I have set up a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chalk streams.
- The Catchment Based Approach National Chalk Streams Strategy which Oliver supports was launched by the Minister at Tewin with Oliver and Charles Walker speaking at the event.
- Oliver rebelled in a vote on sewage outflows which led to a much firmer Government policy against river pollution.
- Oliver campaigns with all the local river organisations to improve chalk streams in North East Hertfordshire and nationally.
18 April 2023 - MP backs Lord Trenchard Amendment in talks with Minister - Press Release:
North East Herts MP Oliver Heald has held talks with DEFRA Minister Lord Benyon about ensuring special status in planning law for chalk streams.
Lord Trenchard from Standon has tabled an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill to give chalk streams special status in the planning system. The amendment was drafted by Lord Trenchard with help from local campaigner Nikki Da Costa and Oliver Heald. It would give power to Ministers to ensure that chalk streams are not damaged by planning decisions, such as excessively increasing demand for water or sewage facilities. The recommendation for special status was the “One Big Wish” in the Catchment Based Approach Report of November 2021. Conservative Party Chair Greg Hands MP visited Ashwell recently and was able to see the beauty of our local chalk streams.
Commenting Oliver said:
“It was good to be able to discuss this with Richard Benyon and press for Special Status. He is now the Minister and previously campaigned with me for better chalk stream health, leading to the Rivers Beane and Mimram and the Kennett improving greatly with less abstraction and important work to improve habitat.
The Government has done a lot to improve environmental laws and introduce targets, but the planning system also needs to recognise the important nature of chalk streams.”
1. There are 8 chalk streams in North East Hertfordshire: Upper Rhee, Ivel, Beane, Mimram, Rib, Quin, Ash and Lea.
2. Oliver Heald has been campaigning on chalk stream health since 2010.
3. Lord Trenchard’s amendment is to Clause 138 Levelling Up Bill, currently being considered in the House of Lords with Lord Benyon as the Minister responding to amendments.
Attached below: photo of Sir Oliver with Lord Benyon.
10 January 2023 - I have received the attached letter from Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for Environmental Quality and Resilience at DEFRA about the future of chalk streams.
2 August 2022 - Here is the latest Environment Agency response to my pressing for action to improve river quality on the River Ivel, which rises in Baldock:
The River Ivel is designated as heavily modified for reasons of land drainage. This means that the waterbody has been modified for the purpose of keeping the surrounding land dry and thus accessible and/or economically productive. The Bedford and River Ivel Internal Drainage Board manage much of the River Ivel upstream of Henlow for this reason. The river has been significantly straightened, widened and deepened to maximise the ability to convey water away during periods of high flows which would otherwise inundate the adjacent land. These modifications can compromise flow velocities and natural morphological processes, riverbed and marginal habitat availability for Macrophytes, Invertebrates and Fish.
We have not yet carried out a Mitigation Measures Assessment to find opportunities to mitigate for the adverse impact of the land drainage modification. However, it may be that the Macrophytes element cannot achieve “Good” status due to the need for land drainage and there being insufficient scope for mitigation. This would be evaluated in the investigation.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) ecological classification for invertebrates is based on two sample sites; Stotfold (currently “Good” status) and Poppy Hill (currently “High” status), giving overall “Good” status when the data is combined. These two sites were selected during initial WFD monitoring programme set-up, following the rules which stipulated that a monitoring point should be situated as close to the downstream end of the waterbody as practicable and should use an existing monitoring site if appropriate. The Macrophyte classification is based on data from the Stotfold site and that is currently classified as Moderate status (based on a survey conducted in 2017, reported in the 2019 classification). The macrophyte classification, which is what was driving the 2016 Poor status, is not currently included in the classification due to WFD rules for heavily modified waterbodies. These state that when supporting elements are at ‘supports good’, elements which are likely to be influenced by modification are excluded from the classification.
The Ivel has been classified for fish in the lower waterbody, but not in the Ivel (upstream of Henlow) waterbody. This is primarily because of the way in which fisheries activity is funded, which is via rod licence revenue, meaning that surveys are focused in areas where there is angling interest. Another factor is that the WFD classification tool for fish does not predict well for small order watercourses, which can result in WFD failure against an unrealistic target.
The WFD flow assessment for the Ivel (upstream of Henlow) waterbody is currently based on the flow and abstraction/discharge impact just before the confluence with the main Ivel at Henlow. In Cycle 2 (2015) the boundaries of this waterbody catchment were changed significantly, and the two waterbodies were effectively merged. However, we have recognised that the formal assessment point, in this case, is not reflective of the headwaters and have used an additional assessment point within the Ivel Springs areas to assess impact using our groundwater model. This assessment is currently driving the measures being carried out by Affinity Water in AMP7 (Asset Management Programme). The formal WFD investigation does recognise there is an issue in the catchment and the reasons identified can be found in the Catchment Data Explorer (https://environment.data.gov.uk/catchment-planning/WaterBody/GB105033037720/rnag?element=63&cycle=2).
The formal classification already recognises there is a flow issue higher up the surface water body and the present formal Assessment Point classification is not stopping us taking action in the Upper Ivel where the flow issues manifest. Changing the SWB boundary would not change the approach or measures being implemented by Affinity Water. We have recently received funding to recruit new Chalk Stream posts, which will allow for future consideration of the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) strategy output and how this applies to our Chalk Streams. However, in the case of Ivel Springs, we have already identified an alternative assessment point (similar to the principle of the Point X approach in the CaBA strategy) in the waterbody, with investigations showing that Affinity Water abstraction does impact the flows at Ivel Springs. We have used this assessment to drive a number of measures to be implemented by the water company by 2025. These include a cap to the licence to the maximum historically used, river augmentation to support the lowest flows and habitat restoration.
Area Director – Hertfordshire and North London
19 November 2021 - I welcome this investigation as outlined in the attached Dear Colleague from Rebecca Pow MP at Defra regarding the Environment Agency/Ofwat investigation into sewage treatment works.
10 November 2021 - Water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. Defra Minister Rebecca Pow MP explains in attached Dear Colleague letter.
2 August 2021 - I welcome the news that the River Beane is to undergo major restoration work. More information can be found here bit.ly/37tTYAU
29th June 2021 - Charles Rangeley-Wilson attended the APPG on Chalk Streams to speak on behalf of the Chalk Stream Restoration Group, which he chairs, about catchment based solutions.
15th June 2021 - I was delighted to meet Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme members who showed me the hard work they have been doing helping Ivel Springs and the stream. They have cleared areas to reveal the natural bed of the stream. We discussed the evidence they had found of water voles and the brilliant English flowers to be found near English chalk streams.
The Ivel is precious to our area and the country and it was good to be able to share some of the work we have been doing on the All Party Group on Chalk Streams which I set up with other MPs, including several from our area. The Government has agreed to take action to restore streams with low flows and work up a plan to tackle sewage spills into streams. Revivel played a big part in helping to bring together chalk stream groups nationally to back the changes needed. Last time I visited the river with Michael Muir, it was dry and looked in need of some help, so it was great to see it with water back and looking cared for. (Attached below is a picture of Sir Oliver talking with Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme members)
14th May 2021 - I spoke at the Bright Blue event concerning COP26 and how can we better protect our rivers and oceans and safeguard marine biodiversity. You can watch it here.
5th May 2021 - I would like to thank Peter Sinclair for his hard work in compiling this survey of the River Quin. It is fascinating to be able to follow the course of the river from its source down to where it joins the Rib south of Braughing.
21st April 2021 - Rebecca Pow MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, attended a meeting of the APPG on Chalk Streams. I quizzed her about Chalk Streams and she has pledged her support to efforts to keep streams running and reduce effluent.
In addition to this call with the minister, I also recently discussed Chalk Streams with WWF on Zoom.
17th March 2021 - I recently spoke at the AGM of the Friends of the Rib and Quin, of which I am President, and emphasised the works being done to plan for the Rib to be improved in Buntingford.
25th January 2021 - Attached below is a letter from Rebecca Pow MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, outlining the success of an Amendment to clause 82 subsection (1) of the Environment Bill. This amendment seeks to protect Chalk streams. You can read the ministers response below.
22 January 2021 - I was one of over 100 MPs backing a Private Member’s Bill put forward by Philip Dunne MP to end sewage pollution of our rivers. Although Private Members’ Bills are currently suspended, Philip Dunne has received a commitment from Environment Minister Rebecca Pow MP that she will work with him and the Storm Overflows Taskforce to achieve the aims of the Bill.
From: DUNNE, Philip
Sent: 22 January 2021 09:05
Subject: Govt backs aims of Bill to cut sewage spills in your constituency
I am very grateful to you for indicating your support for my Private Member’s Bill, the Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, which will start the process to end sewage pollution of our rivers. You are in good company as 106 MPs are now publicly backing the Bill or its objectives on the campaign website which you can access here: www.sas.org.uk/EndSewagePollution-SewageBill
As you know the Second Reading debate was rescheduled to have been held today. But this was then postponed indefinitely due to the decision by the House last week to cancel sitting Fridays for an indeterminate period.
While this is clearly extremely disappointing, I am writing to share some very GOOD news. I have been engaged with Environment Minister Rebecca Pow MP and her officials at DEFRA in finding ways in which the Government can support the aims of my Bill. The Government announced publicly today (see Press Release below) that it is backing the objectives of the Bill to clean up water quality in our rivers.
This coincides with measures which have been agreed within the Storm Overflows Task Force, set up by the Minister last year in response to my PMB, which will help to achieve some of the measures in the Bill. I have agreed to work with the Minister and her officials to identify which aspects of the Bill can be carried forward and how. While this means not all measures set out in the Bill will end up in statute, it does mean that real progress will be made in encouraging water companies to accelerate the process by which we can end sewage pollution of our waterways.
If you have not already publicised locally your support for this Bill, I would encourage you to look at the website which contains an easy-to-navigate map, with information on sewage spills by frequency and duration from each water treatment plant, pumping station, or combined sewer overflow outlet, into the waterways and rivers in England. Your research staff can readily identify exactly what water companies have admitted is happening at their works in your constituency, much of which is licensed spillage under their permits from the Environment Agency, but much is not.
My view is that this is a major step forward in starting the process towards ending sewage pollution of our rivers. I am very grateful for your support.
With best wishes
Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP
*****PRESS RELEASE - FRIDAY 22 JANUARY 2021*****
Taskforce sets goal to end pollution from storm overflows
- New commitments from the water industry to increase transparency around storm overflows
- Real-time data on sewage discharges into bathing waters to be made available all year round
- Environment Secretary to work with Philip Dunne MP on the aims of his Private Members’ Bill to tackle river pollution
A joint industry-government group established last year to tackle river pollution has today (22 January) agreed a new objective to prevent damage from storm overflows.
The Storm Overflows Taskforce – made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK – has agreed to set a long term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. Following recommendations from the Taskforce, water companies will also increase transparency around when and how storm overflows are used.
Storm overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes. However climate change has led to increased rainfall and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades.
Water companies have agreed to make real-time data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round, meaning surfers, swimmers and other water users can check the latest information – especially after heavy rainfall. Water companies will also accelerate work to install monitoring devices to create a complete picture of their activity by 2023.
In addition, the Taskforce has agreed with water companies that they will publish annual monitoring data on their websites about their use of storm overflows so that progress in reducing their use can be tracked. The Environment Agency will compile this data into an annual report that is easily accessible to the public.
The Taskforce update comes as the Government confirms it is also working with Philip Dunne MP on our shared ambitions to tackle sewage pollution in our rivers.
The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, introduced by Mr Dunne to Parliament last year, has raised awareness of a number of issues associated with storm overflows. The Government has committed to continuing to work with Mr Dunne on the best way to make progress in reducing the harm caused by sewage spilling into our rivers.
Since 2010, 884 storm overflows have been improved to reduce their environmental impact and frequency of operation, with a further 798 improvements planned for the period 2020 – 2025.
Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow, said:
“I have been shocked to discover the extent of sewage routinely spilled in our rivers. Poor water quality has a very damaging impact on aquatic species which depend on clean rivers, and risks healthy enjoyment of our rivers by the public.
“I am really pleased this Government has recognised that this has got to change. I am delighted the Minister has responded so quickly to Covid restrictions interrupting progress of my Private Members Bill by agreeing to work with me to develop measures to improve water quality across England.”
The Storm Overflows Taskforce was set up in August 2020 to bring together water companies, regulators and environmental NGOs to accelerate progress in this area, building on work already underway to improve our rivers and waterways.
Its work covers a series of short, medium and long-term actions focused on the goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows – a generational endeavour that will involve significant change and take time to achieve.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:
“Making sure we have clean rivers is an absolute priority and I have been clear that I want to cut down on the water sector’s reliance on storm overflows.
“The Storm Overflows Taskforce, established last year, is working urgently on options to tackle this issue, which demonstrates a collective commitment for change in this critical area.
“Our ambitious Environment Bill already sets out how we will tackle various sources of water pollution. I look forward to working with Philip Dunne and others on how we can accelerate progress in this area.”
The Environment Bill will place a statutory requirement on water companies to produce drainage and sewerage management plans to help deliver more of the actions needed to address the risks sewerage assets may pose to the environment.
It is the responsibility of water companies to ensure serious water pollution incidents do not occur, and they have committed to a significant programme of improvements to the monitoring and management of storm overflows over the next five years at a cost of around £1.1 billion.
As a result of the work of the Taskforce, water companies have identified opportunities to increase the number of overflows they will improve over the next five years.
Work will continue to consider how the guidance given by the Secretary of State to the regulator Ofwat can best reflect the importance of water quality in water companies’ activities.
Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said:
“Publishing easily accessible data is an important step to reversing the overuse of storm overflows, but disclosure is only ever the beginning. People want to see progress.
“Water quality in England’s 240,631 kilometres of river is everyone’s responsibility but water companies have a pivotal role in helping the whole country make the necessary big changes. We look forward to working with them, as well as government and MPs, to turn today’s ambition into action.”
John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat said:
“The work of the Storm Overflows Taskforce will play a crucial role in protecting precious parts of our ecosystem.
“We are committed to working with Government, regulators and the water industry to meet this challenge and ensure that we leave our rivers in a healthier condition for current and future generations.”
Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said:
“Increasing transparency around the use of storm overflows is a welcome step but consumers will expect it to result in urgent action where pollution is jeopardising the health of our inland waters and the nature and people that enjoy or depend on them.”
“Radical change to a complex sewer system will take time to deliver but water companies should now be looking to prioritise improvements in rivers and streams where the damage caused by the over dependence on storm overflows is already acute.”
Christine McGourty, Water UK Chief Executive, said:
“Water companies are passionate about protecting and enhancing our nation’s rivers, and over the next five years we will invest £1.1bn in improving storm overflows as part of our £5bn environment programme. Storm Christoph demonstrates how important overflows are in ensuring that sewers don’t flood at times of very heavy rainfall. Today’s announcement will help ensure that we can continue protecting people’s homes and businesses whatever the weather.
“We look forward to continuing the close collaboration with Government and other partners to help enhance the health of rivers even further, for the benefit of our customers, communities and the environment.”
January 2021 - I have recently received some photos from local residents of our chalk streams. These are displayed in the carousel above. The rivers have had some well above average flow recently after significant rain; And in some areas the rivers have burst their banks.
October 2020 - The Chalk streams APPG has upcoming meetings with Charles Rangeley-Wilson of CRAG and Minister Rebecca Pow of DEFRA. This is a good step towards tackling the issues affecting our Chalk Streams.
October 2020 - The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill 2019-21 has its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 13th November 2020. The Bill places a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters.
I know how important the 8 Chalk Stream rivers in the constituency are to North East Hertfordshire residents. They contribute significantly to the health of people who use our rivers for recreation and well-being, and as vital habitats for wildlife. It’s shocking to read that 1058 hours of sewage was discharged into North East Hertfordshire constituency rivers in the last year alone. I will be supporting the Bill and working with local water company, Affinity Water, to improve the quality of our beloved rivers
October 2020 - I attended the Chalk Stream Action Groups (CRAG) virtual chalk stream summit, listening to a variety of speakers talking passionately about chalk streams and the issue of over abstraction. Good next steps outlined and the new chair of CRAG has a good vision for the groups progress.
October 2020 - I welcome the news of a new river restoration project happening for the River Beane at Walkern Road Bridge.
The project, which is being run by Affinity Water’s Environmental Enhancement Team, is exploring options to overcome the barrier to fish passage that the bridge creates on the River Beane at Watton-At-Stone. This barrier is currently preventing common underwater wildlife in healthy chalk streams, such as brown trout, grayling and freshwater shrimp from gaining passage down the river.
I welcome the initiative to help restore the River Beane back to becoming a healthy chalk stream. I have campaigned for many years on the issue of over abstraction of chalk streams, including the River Beane, so am delighted that Affinity Water have set up the project.
October 2020 - I was glad to hear that on World Rivers Day (27 September), Affinity Water were able to turn off two major groundwater abstraction sites near the River Chess and have announced that they will end all unsustainable abstraction from chalk groundwater sources. This will be of interest to our All-Party Group. I was also pleased to see that there are plans to further reduce abstraction on the River Mimram.
September 2020 - I have set up a new All-Party Parliamentary Group with Broxbourne MP Charles Walker to fight for better river quality in chalk streams and less damaging abstraction. Charles and I have, for many years, campaigned on chalk stream issues. The North East Herts constituency includes eight chalk streams and abstraction on the Rivers Beane and Mimram has been reduced as a result of their efforts.
The inaugural meeting of the Group was held on 15 September. Charles Walker was elected as Chairman, and I as Vice Chairman. Other Hertfordshire MPs involved were Julie Marson MP for Hertford & Stortford and Daisy Cooper Lib Dem MP for St Albans.
The meeting was attended by more than 20 Members of Parliament. It was a very good meeting with a lot of enthusiasm from MPs to try and improve the quality of our streams. The first step will be to meet the Minister to press the case for our chalk streams.
July 2020 - I have received the attached letter from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs regarding Chalk Stream extraction.
February 2020 – I visited the River Beane and River Mimram today and was delighted at the high water levels in both rivers. I have previously raised the issue of water levels in the House of Commons and with Environment Agency and Affinity Water.
Commenting Oliver said "It is great to see both the River Beane and Mimram with such high water levels. After our effective campaigning a solution has been found to allow for our environment to go on unaffected."
October 2019 – I spoke in the debate on restoring nature. I praised the work of the National Trust at Wicken Fen and in expanding wetlands towards Anglesey Abbey at Lode. I highlighted the need for a water policy to ensure peat was wet and thereby captured carbon and called for a policy to protect chalk streams from running dry.
October 2019 - Met with Jake Rigg, Director of Affinity Water, to press the case for less abstraction from chalk streams.
September 2019 - I have been approached by constituents in Baldock and Radwell about the lack of water in Ivel Springs. This is an issue that I have been taking up with the Environment Agency and Affinity Water for some months. I have also raised this is the House of Commons in a recent debate. I am pressing for works to be undertaken to bring water back to the springs and understand that Affinity Water have now designed a scheme. I am continuing to push for the works to be done, as is County Councillor Michael Muir.
September 2019 – I am delighted to have been made President of the campaign to protect the River Rib. I am pressing the Environment Agency for an assessment of the state of our chalk streams, including Ivel Springs in Baldock.
July 2019 - I spoke in the debate on Degraded Chalk Streams.
As you will see, the Minister referred to my long-standing campaign to improve the quality of chalk streams in Hertfordshire and more generally. There were also some other very good speeches in the debate.
July 2019 - I am taking up concerns about current water levels at Ivel Springs, Baldock, with Affinity Water and the Environment Agency.
April 2018 – I sponsored the launch at Parliament of a major report ‘Saving the earth – a sustainable future for soils and water’ jointly compiled by the Angling Trust, WWF-UK and The Rivers Trust, recommending a radical new approach to managing the countryside to prevent soil erosion, flooding and pollution, which are damaging our rivers and threatening our wildlife and economy. There was good support from MPs including the Minister of State at DEFRA. This link includes a clip of me explaining the importance of the campaign https://tinyurl.com/yaxgbnhm
October 2017 – I attended an exhibition at Parliament backing the WWF campaign on river quality ‘I want my river flowing’ which supports river quality improvements. I have campaigned long and hard to improve river flow in the seven chalk streams of North East Hertfordshire and agreements have been reached to reduce abstraction on the Rivers Beane and Mimram. It is important that we should value our chalk streams which are such an important part of the North East Hertfordshire environment and I will continue to press the case.
June 2016 - I visited Tewinbury Nature Reserve to highlight the work that is needed to preserve the River Mimram and the wealth of biodiversity that it supports. It was fascinating to see the work being done by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, and it was good to see the Reserve in such good condition, thanks to the work of the warden, Robin Cole, and his team.
15 December 2015 - I received a reply to my Written Parliamentary Question on improving physical habitats in Hertfordshire’s chalk rivers. I am glad to see the £3m investment for habitat improvement, and the success in previous schemes is encouraging.
14 December 2015 - I received a reply to my Written Parliamentary Question on phosphate pollution levels in Hertfordshire’s chalk rivers. I am glad that the levels are remaining stable, and I am hopeful for reductions over the coming years.
22 June 2015 - I received an answer to a Written Parliamentary Question that I sent to the DEFRA Minister, updating me on progress that has been made in improving local chalk streams.
20th March 2015 - I visited the River Beane at White Hall, and was pleased to see that the river was flowing well.
18th February 2015 – I recently called on the Environment Agency for a briefing about the water quality and native wildlife of the River Ivel. It is found below. I am soon to visit the source in Baldock to hear local concerns.
January 2015 - I asked a series of Written Parliamentary Questions to the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs about chalk streams. The text of these questions and the replies I recieved can be found below:
25 November 2014 - I helped launch a WWF/Coca Cola Report into the condition of England’s chalk streams. The report calls on the Government to make the preservation of chalk streams a national priority, to reform the process of water abstraction licensing, and regularly to report to the House of Commons on progress. Here is a link to my Parliamentary Question to the DEFRA Secretary about the report.