Below is the text of a Written Parliamentary Question that Oliver sent to DEFRA about the Government's progress in improving the cleanliness of Britain's chalk rivers, and the reply that he recieved from them.
Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what progress she has made on improving the cleanliness of Britain's chalk rivers.
A: 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 under way 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 under way 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.