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New study of Cambridge chalk streams and habitats commissioned

Water vole habitats are like a canary in the mine for the state of the river
Water vole habitats are like a canary in the mine for the state of the river

A major new analysis of the chalk streams in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire - including the condition of wildlife and their habitats - has been commissioned by Cambridge City Council and Cambridge Water.

These internationally rare habitats - 85 per cent of the world’s chalk streams are found in the UK, mostly in the south and south east of England - have become a major source of drinking water for Cambridge and the wider region, to the point where the Environment Agency has said “we’re heading for drought ”.

Specialist teams from The Wildlife Trust Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire and The Wild Trout Trust will assess the health of the chalk streams and their associated habitats for species including brown trout and water vole. The project aims to see how much pressure is being put on the streams which emerge from the aquifer to the south and east of Cambridge - and then “provide a programme of actions for local groups and stakeholders to fund and implement in partnership”.

The initiative has emerged from a call for concerted action - including using less water in our homes - to reduce water usage in the region and allow the chalk aquifers to recover.

White-clawed crayfish and brown trout are part of river life
White-clawed crayfish and brown trout are part of river life

Dan Clark, water resources manager at Cambridge Water, said: “We’re very aware of the impact of water use and abstractions from the chalk aquifer on our chalk streams at low flows, so we’ve joined forces with Cambridge City Council to commission this assessment and come up with a programme of works to make improvements.

“At the same time, we’d encourage all our customers to think about the water they use and the impact that it has on the environment. We have lots of advice on our website on how to use water wisely.”

Cllr Katie Thornburrow, executive councillor, planning policy and open spaces, said: “We learned from the water crisis forum last November that we are in real danger of having too little water for our needs, and that we face the prospect of significant damage to the ecology of our chalk streams as a result. Several of the organisations taking part described how inadequate rainfall, increased water use for business and domestic use, and increased abstraction from the water aquifer pose a major challenge to the local environment, including these precious natural resources.

“We need to understand our chalk streams properly if we are to preserve them, and this project, initiated by Cambridge City Council with match funding from Cambridge Water, will help by enabling us to assess the physical condition of the streams, measure their biodiversity, and determine how to maintain and improve these significant landscape features.”

A spokesperson for South Staffs Water, which includes Cambridge Water Company in its portfolio, added: “The teams will doing sections of the river and reports will be published on council website as they go along.

“The study will involve checking habitats and wildlife to see how everything’s going and if any adverse effects - destruction or change - have taken place and establish any steps that can be taken to improve the situation.”

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