EXPERTS have warned that Hampshire’s chalk streams are under threat from everyday household cleaning items.

Recent studies show that streams of the Rivers Test and Itchen have elevated levels of phosphorus and environmental groups say that domestic cleaning products, particularly dishwasher tablets, are partly to blame.

The Itchen failed a recent chemical quality test from the Environment Agency, who predicted it is likely to fail again in 2015 – putting it in the “At Risk” category.

The issue was discussed when more than a hundred people gathered on Monday (NOV 25) at Sparsholt College for The Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum, led by the Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT).

Graham Roberts, of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, called the condition of the Itchen, a designated special area of conservation, “disgusting”.

He said: “This (phosphorus) is a real menace. It’s changing the whole ecology of the river. It’s not rocket science. This needs to be sorted.

“I have had 27 phone calls and over 109 emails recently, particularly pertinent to the River Itchen.

“No water should be discharged with a quality worse than when it was abstracted: that’s not an unreasonable aim to have.”

Agricultural run-off, with fertilizers washed off the land and into rivers, also contributes to elevated phosphate, while antiquated sewage works, and watercress and fish farms are also cause for concern, the meeting heard.

There are 161 chalk rivers in Britain — equal to 95 per cent of the world’s total – and most are located in the south-east of England.

The problem is exacerbated because in rural areas such as Cheriton, the vast majority of houses use private drainage, and pollutants can find their way into river systems from resident’s septic tanks.

Alex Poynter of Birmingham University, who has been researching the issue for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said the number of cleaning products in the UK containing phosphorus is “quite scary”.

Dr Steve Rothwell, of the VCT, said: “The UK is unusual in Europe because many EU countries long ago banned detergent products with phosphorus and the UK never has.

“In Hampshire phosphorus is a big problem. You get too much algae growing in the rivers as a result and it starts to out-compete the other plants you want. We know septic tanks are a problem.

“The Chalk Streams are so clear because they lack phosphorus, but if you add any it’s like adding fertilizer and you get all this growth.”