The rivers Itchen, Test and Meon are all Hampshire chalk stream rivers protected by the Wessex Chalk Stream & Rivers Trust (www.wcsrt.org.uk) which was established ten years ago as an environmental charity dedicated to the conservation and restoration of the fragile and globally important chalk-based ecosystems of rivers in the Wessex region. The trust also manages projects on the Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour, thus covering all five Wessex rivers.
Since 2012, the Trust co-hosts the Itchen & Test Catchment Partnership that has adopted a catchment based approach to resolving issues of habitat management, restoration and awareness among a diverse range of river users. WCSRT is part funded by the Environment Agency. Through that, the trust aims to be the local point of contact for questions on river management.
The Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust is also key partner in a major scheme co-ordinated by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (www.hiwwt.org.uk) with funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. This Watercress & Winterbourne Landscape Partnership scheme was given first stage approval for £250,000 in January 2018, with second phase approval of a further £2m expected in March 2020.
This Watercress & Winterbourne scheme is aimed at protecting the seven headwaters of the Test & Itchen rivers and their catchment areas on chalk downland. Together with a further 14 partners the trust will aim to address threats from pollution, drought, flooding and invasive species which endanger the fragile ecosystem. The heritage fund will expect to see positive outcomes with regarding to protection and awareness of the winterbournes as a catchment area.
While this river headwaters landscape partnership scheme for Test and Itchen tributaries should receive funding as a heritage project, the work of the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust continues with a number of other river conservation projects to address land use conflicts: increasing encroachment of the built environment and increasing demand for abstraction for water supply. These have to be funded by a variety of agencies and much of their time is spent securing project funding. This will of course become harder once the UK exits the EU and becomes ineligible for EU funding for environmental conservation.
Both the Test and Itchen are protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Itchen was also assigned additional status as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive which, although created within EU law is now embedded in UK National law. Both the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive drive legislation in six year cycles and set standards of water quality in biological and not just chemical terms. Whatever you may think of Brussels red tape, one significant legacy will be the legislative backbone it has provided for protecting our rivers as a vital part of our heritage.
For more information on how you can get involved please visit www.wcsrt.org.uk and www.hiwwt.org.uk and support these important trusts and their good work.
Written by Garry Honey