I will not stop fighting for our chalk streams, says South Cambs MP

River Cam Cambridgeshire

The River Cam prior to water shortages. Picture: Phoebe Taplin - Credit: Phoebe Taplin 

The MP for South Cambridgeshire has welcomed the creation of the government’s Chalk Streams Working Group, to tackle the continued over-abstraction and water shortage problems faced in the county.

It is part of a range of measures and initiatives that Anthony Browne has been pushing for to help save the county’s threatened chalk streams.

Anthony Browne - South Cambs MP. Picture: Stephen Frost

Anthony Browne - South Cambs MP. Picture: Stephen Frost - Credit: Stephen Frost

Working with Water Resources East and the Cam Valley Forum, Mr Browne has campaigned to raise concerns about local chalk streams, which produce incredibly clear flows from stores of underground water that are normally replenished when it rains. 

Water abstraction, worsened by below-average rainfall and groundwater recharge over successive winters, has left many chalk streams running dry, as well as many of the village ponds in South Cambridgeshire.

The streams are normally rich in wildlife, but low flows make them inhospitable for fish and other animals. With groundwater levels in the South East recently at record lows, Cambridgeshire’s chalk streams are at significant risk. 

These fears prompted Mr Browne to write joint letters with WRE and the Cam Valley Forum to the water minister Rebecca Pow, with a number of detailed proposals to tackle the issue, including the creation of a Chalk Streams Working Group to drive action forwards.

There is now significant momentum on a number of policy fronts to protect chalk streams, including  elevating South Cambs' status to 'water-stressed area' - which would lead to a more rapid roll out of smart meters and helps water conservation and  proposals for a new reservoir,  to ease demand on water abstraction in the region. 

Mr Browne has also written to Bridget Smith, the leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, asking her to commit the council to ensuring that new housebuilding does not lead to greater water abstraction. 

Local concerns have been exacerbated by an estimated 40in per cent crease in water usage last summer due to COVID-19 restrictions on movement. 

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Mr Browne - who grew up in Fowlmere - said: “Our chalk streams are special habitats that are very rare, very beautiful, and very threatened, and form a well-loved part of the environment in South Cambridgeshire.

RSPB Fowlmere

RSPB Fowlmere - Credit: Archant

"I used to love playing in them as a child, and it would be unforgiveable if we didn’t preserve them for future generations.

"The government’s fast action in creating the Chalk Streams Working Group is a great first step towards restoring these precious habitats.

"It is fantastic that with the support of the government and its agencies that so much progress is being made so quickly in giving protection the chalk streams need. But housing growth and climate change make it an uphill struggle, and it will take quite a few years to have a noticeable impact. I will not stop fighting for our chalk streams until they are saved.

“The next step is to ensure our area is classed as “water-stressed”, allowing the Environment Agency greater scope to work with water companies to tackle water consumption. This is vital if South Cambridgeshire continues to grow at the current rate.

“I want to thank both Water Resources East and the Cam Valley Forum for their hard work.  I will continue to work with them and alongside other MPs as a vice chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chalk Streams.”

The cuckoo captured at RSPB Fowlmere.

Cuckoo captured at RSPB Fowlmere. - Credit: David Hatton

Robin Prince, managing director of Water Resources East, added: “Over the next three years, we will be co-creating a Regional Water Management Plan for Eastern England with stakeholders including water companies, local authorities, farmers and landowners, community and environmental groups and regulators. 

“Our role will be to bring all interested parties together to plan for the future, including planning for the major investment in new water infrastructure which will be required if this area is to meet its economic and environmental ambitions, particularly in the face of a changing climate.  This will take some time, and so the most immediate step that we can all take  is to think carefully about how much water we use – everyone has a part to play in ensuring that none of this precious resource is wasted.”

Stephen Tomkins, chairman of the Cam Valley Forum, added: “We greatly value Anthony Browne’s support. These internationally-important natural assets must be safeguarded now and for the future."