Degraded Chalk Stream Environments

Part of Petition - Shelton Road Planning Application – in the House of Commons at 8:33 pm on 22nd July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Conservative, Newbury 8:33 pm, 22nd July 2019

One of the most enjoyable things I did in government was writing the water White Paper, and I refer my right hon. and learned Friend to page 35—I think that was the one. It showed a scene of good farming on one side of a river and bad farming on another, so that figuratively laid out before us was what we needed to see more of and what we had to stop happening. I bored my civil servants with that and I bore most of my family, with my wife referring to the River Pang as my mid-life crisis, but the River Kennet is in such trouble. A few years ago, someone spilled about an egg cup-worth of Chlorpyrifos into the system somewhere and it effectively killed several miles of life. That shows us just how extraordinarily vulnerable these ecosystems are.

We can debate great matters of state in this place, and we often do, but rivers are about people’s sense of place. As has been said, we can hold our heads high internationally if we are getting it right on rivers and we cannot if we are getting it wrong. What is shaming is that, while 85% of the chalk streams in the world are in the UK, we are getting it wrong. Wonderful things are done by organisations such as Action for the River Kennet and many of the other organisations that hon. Members in all parts of the House have talked about, but I believe the recommendations at the end of the river fly census are really worth reading.

In the context of the water framework directive, which we are transposing, correctly and with more ambition than exists in that directive as it stands, we should have a special designation for chalk streams. We should also look at the impact of phosphorus spikes and recognise that after we leave the European Union the world is our oyster and we do not have to be stuck by the same rules that govern rivers in southern France and northern Spain. This is our ecosystem, and we have to get it right.