Chalk Streams

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 and I am very cheered that the White Water Papers which DEFRA has published last year seek to address over-abstraction, which is a common reason for why rivers suffer drought.

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.

I was pleased to hear recently that some of our hard work has paid off when Ofwat granted Affinity Water’s 2015 business plan “enhanced status” (Please see the letter below). This means that the Fulling Mill pumping station will be closed and then in 2020 there will be a reduction in the amount of water extracted at Digswell. The Environment Agency has also written to Affinity Water informing them about proposed changes to their abstraction licences at Fulling Mill and Whitehall.  It is proposed that Affinity Water's licence to abstract water from Fulling Mill will be revoked and its licence to abstract water from the Beane will be changed so that it is not able to abstract so much water.  More details about the proposed changes in abstraction can be found below.

On 25 November 2014, I helped launch a WWF/Coca Cola Report into the condition of England’s chalk streams (pictured above). 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.

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: 

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.

20th March 2015 - I visited the River Beane at White Hall, and was pleased to see that the river was flowing well.  

22 June 2015 - I recieved 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

24 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

18 July 2019 - I am taking up concerns about current water levels at Ivel Springs, Baldock, with Affinity Water and the Environment Agency.

22 July 2019 -  Oliver spoke in the debate on Degraded Chalk Streams which you can find at

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.

September 2019 - Oliver is delighted to have been made President of the campaign to protect the River Rib.

Oliver is pressing the Environment Agency for an assessment of the state of our chalk streams including Ives Springs in Baldock

30 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.

The photo shows Michael Muir and Oliver Heald at Ivel Springs, standing on the dry riverbed.

Commenting Oliver said “ I have a long-standing campaign to maintain and improve river quality across our 8 chalk streams locally. I have been very concerned about reports of low water levels particularly at Ivel Springs and it is good to know that Affinity Water have a scheme to get the water flowing.  I hope the works can be done as soon as possible.”

County Councillor Michael Muir said “I can remember coming down to this spot 10 years ago and the water was three feet deep.  I am shocked at how dry it is now.”

10 October - Meeting with Jake Rigg Director of Affinity Water pressing the case for less abstraction from chalk streams.

28 October - Speaking in the debate on restoring nature, Oliver praised the work of the National Trust at Wicken Fen and in expanding wetlands towards Anglesey Abbey at Lode. He 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.

29 February 2020 - Oliver visited the River Beane and River Mimram today and was delighted at the high water levels in both rivers. Oliver has 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."

1 July 2020 - I have received the attached letter from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs regarding Chalk Stream extraction.



Attachment Size
friends_of_the_mimram_to_oh_17.04.14.jpg 321.4 KB
environment_agency_beane_briefing_note_re_whitehall_abstraction_licence.pdf 399.35 KB
environment_agency_mimram_briefing_note_re_fulling_mill_abstraction_licence.pdf 397.78 KB
river_ivel_briefing_note.pdf 752.99 KB
Chalk Streams Defra Letter.pdf 94.8 KB