THE plight of Hampshire’s chalk streams being damaged by pollution has surfaced again in Parliament.

Lord Chidgey, who lives in Alresford, has been made a vice-chairman of the newly-formed All Party Parliamentary Group for Chalk Streams.

The former Eastleigh MP is concerned about the level of fertiliser run-off getting into the watercourses including the rivers Arle and upper Itchen and the lack of action by Government agencies.

“In response to my concerns over pollution in our chalk streams traced to fertiliser chemicals, the government confirmed that laws were in place to control their use on farms and subsequent run-off into watercourses, monitored by the Environment Agency. Yet the agency’s own studies show that in streams like the River Arle in Alresford, pollution levels exceed the acceptable levels."

Hampshire Chronicle:

One of the major farming operations in the Alresford area is The Watercress Company and in a statement managing director Tom Amery said the company was working hard to reduce its impact.

"The Watercress Company (TWC) operates to and meets the standards set by the Environment Agency for watercress production on all its farms in the UK. The current permits that were reviewed in 2017 require us to grow watercress without any additional Nitrogen which has been the case for five years, this is achievable as there is enough Nitrogen in the spring water and the crop feeds off this in the beds in turn reducing the impact of this Nitrogen downstream, TWC was the first watercress grower to implement this change and it makes us very sustainable and unique.

"TWC also limit the use of Phosphate applications by changing the frequency and timing of applications based on what the watercress needs. We are monitored throughout the year and there are more months in the year when we don’t apply any additional nutrients as the watercress is able to grow by removing the natural nutrients already found in the spring water – this will have a huge effect on the river downstream. This information is available online at our website along with evidence that our outflow points support a very strong and broad level of macroinvertebrates."

Recently, speaking in the final stages of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Chidgey highlighted a letter from the Alresford Society warning that the closure of the Bakkavor salad processing plant by the River Arle near Alresford, could open the door to similar problems in the future. While the local plan forbids the re-use of existing rural buildings deemed harmful to the area, changes to the planning laws in 2018 undermine this protection.

Bakkavor has been criticised for discharging chemicals into the River Arle.

Lord Chidgey said: “The Agriculture Bill could protect Alresford and surrounding villages from environmental vandalism of our chalk streams by enforcing existing regulations. I intend to hold to account the agencies whose inaction has caused such damage to the environment”.

Hampshire Chronicle:

The Environment Agency has reported that only 14 per cent of rivers met their criteria, and that Hampshire’s River Alver, near Gosport, fell into the worst category.

Environmental bodies are worried by the state of the rivers.

Salmon and Trout Conservation, which campaigned against Bakkavor's operation in Alresford, said: "S&TC remains concerned about the levels of phosphates from fertilisers and fine sediments entering rivers from watercress farms. We believe continuous monitoring of phosphate levels in industry discharges, paid for by the industry, is the only way to fully capture seasonal peaks and better understand the impacts these discharges are having on the river. The amount of filamentous algae we see on the River Itchen, suggests despite declining phosphates levels in the river over all, all is still not well and further action is needed."

In a statement the Piscorial Society said: "Sadly, like so many other chalk streams, the River Itchen is facing a multitude of threats, including physical modification; over-abstraction; pollution from sewage works, septic tanks and agriculture; and increasing pressures from a growing population, climate change and non-native species. Nutrient pollution (eutrophication) is only one hazard among many."

"Working alongside these partners we have been actively involved in the Upper Itchen Initiative (UII) for many years. However, more recently the Riverfly Census, carried out by Salmon and Trout Conservation (S&TC), has highlighted pressures from chemical pollution on invertebrate communities, which has the potential to impact the survival of many species, including wild fish communities, that rely on invertebrates for food, which is extremely worrying."

"So far S&TC’s research has triggered many positive outcomes, including tightening of Phosphorus discharge limits on watercress farms, and – for the first time – unique invertebrate and sediment targets, based on current historic data have been agreed.

"However, clearly there is still a long way to go and we need to continue to reduce Phosphate and sediment inputs from point and diffuse sources such as septic tanks, agriculture, sewage treatment works and industry on a catchment scale if we are to secure the healthy, sustainable chalk stream habitats that are so important to the local economy for future generations."