A recent episode of the BBC Countryfile series featured iconic chalk streams, tackling pollution of water courses and the reduction of chemical fertilizers in farming amongst other things. The iconic world-class, crystal-clear chalk streams of Hampshire in the South Downs National Park kick-off this episode.
The TV programme opened with the feature on the crystal-clear waters of chalk streams in Hampshire within the pristine landscape and with these opening remarks “Chalk streams are a resource to be treasured and protected; they are almost unique to Southern England.” Countryfile visits Cheriton in the Hampshire, part of the South Downs National Park, through which the river Itchen flows from its nearby source. We see volunteers working to keep the water clear. Over recent years they have transformed the stream keeping it clear and free flowing. An expert shows us how to test for pollution from ‘brightening agents’ used in washing machine powders and liquids which could enter water courses through broken pipes.
The programme also features the River Itchen just outside Winchester where locals fear that pesticides and phosphates have entered the watercourse from an upstream factory which processes bagged salads for supermarkets. Another wildlife expert tells us about the decline in freshwater shrimps and invertebrates which are important to the food chain and the biodiversity of the area, let alone the importance of keeping streams clear of pollutants. In that area we are told that swifts and swallows are now less common. All of this is very worrying. We are told by a representative of the Environment Agency that the factory does have a valid permit. However, it turns out that it’s up to the organisation to declare what they’re putting into the water and it isn’t necessarily checked, as the arrangement is based on a ‘self-reporting’ system. It’s a concern that the actual water being returned to the river after processing in the factory isn’t regularly tested for pesticides and other pollutants.
Also featured in the programme is a success story of where 19 farms have got together with the help of Hampshire & IoW Wildlife Trust to reduce the amount of chemicals used on the land to keep chalk streams clean. Part of the project is to change farming practices to significantly reduce the amount of fertilizers and pesticides that go into the soil. The three year old project is producing results and protecting the nearby chalk streams which flow into the river Test.