England's chalk streams

Following the launch of the WWF/Coca Cola report into the state of England's chalk streams that Sir Oliver attended, below is a Written Parliamentary Question tabled by Sir Oliver to the Secretary of State for Food, the Environment, and Rural Affairs about the report.

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the findings of the WWF-UK report, "The state of England's chalk streams", published in November 2014; and if she will make a statement.

A: The Government recognises the environmental and cultural importance of this rare river habitat. We will study the WWF’s report and consider carefully any recommendations it contains.

Chalk rivers are well represented in both the national and European designated site network, which aims to protect sites of high conservation value. Action is underway on the majority of these sites to address pressures such as physical modification, effluent, diffuse pollution and abstraction.

A strategic programme of physical habitat restoration is underway on these rivers (including the 11 chalk river Sites of Special Scientific Interest that need restoration). Led jointly by Natural England and the Environment Agency, it involves a range of statutory and voluntary sector partners. Some 70 kilometres of chalk stream have been improved since 2011.

Defra has provided funding to support these activities. A new catchment based approach to support river basin management planning is strengthening local engagement and helping the Environment Agency to better understand and respond to pressures on the water environment.

Water companies are investing £3.4 billion between 2010 and 2015 to support the achievement of Water Framework Directive environmental objectives. This has contributed to substantial reductions in phosphate pollution, to which chalk streams are particularly sensitive, and additional investment is proposed to secure further improvements. Water companies are also engaged in research to overcome technical limitations on phosphorus reduction.

Changes have been made to 44 abstraction licences affecting chalk streams. The Water Act 2014 will enable the Environment Agency to make further progress in preventing unsustainable abstraction. The Government is also putting in place a balanced package of measures to further tackle agricultural pollution.

The benefits of these actions are likely to take some time to be reflected in reported water body status because the environment can take a considerable time to recover once pressures have been reduced.