Degraded Chalk Stream Environments

Part of Petition - Shelton Road Planning Application – in the House of Commons at 7:47 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee 7:47 pm, 22nd July 2019

My hon. Friend is very perspicacious in his observations. I shall come to the matter later in my speech. He is absolutely right to raise that point and I hope that both the Minister and I will be able to address it, as I know other colleagues share his concerns.

The degradation of our chalk streams is one the two greatest environmental scandals of the late 20th century and the start of the 21st century. Of course, the other great environmental scandal is the destruction of the marine environment off the west coast of Scotland through salmon farming—an industry that has laid waste to numerous sea lochs off the west coast of Scotland and has destroyed the native fish runs in many of the rivers that feed those sea lochs.

It is important that I put the situation in context. As I said a moment ago, we have 85% of the world’s chalk streams and most of them are highly degraded. I find it extraordinary, given our own poor environmental record, that colleagues in this House lecture Indonesia and Brazil so freely on their responsibility to the rain forests. Of course, those two countries have a huge responsibility to the rain forests, but if we cannot save the chalk streams that are literally in our own backyard, what are we doing lecturing other countries on their environmental responsibilities? Saving the world does not start with the rest of the world. Saving the world starts right here, right now, doing our bit locally with our chalk streams—think locally, act globally.

As my hon. Friend Jim Shannon has just pointed out, our chalk streams are literally being abstracted to death. Parts of the streams that I named at the start of my speech do not flow. In fact, a few of them barely flow at all from their source to where they join a bigger river. That is our record and it is one that none of us should take any pride in—and it is getting worse. We have had three dry years in a row. There is this myth that we live in a wet country. Certainly, parts of our country are wet but the east and the south-east are actually dry, and they are getting drier. The aquifers are not being replenished by rainfall and they are getting more abstracted, so even less water is going into our rivers.

Let me give an example from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. In the last 10 years alone, there have been five dry events in the Upper Chess—the most stunning river, which I have the great privilege of visiting once a year as a guest of Paul Jennings and my right hon. Friend.