Talk Archive

Beginning in the summer of 2020 the Chalk Aquifer Alliance have been able to present a series of talks pertinent to chalk streams and the challenges they face, thanks to the generosity of both Bury Water Meadows Group and our speakers. This page provides the archive of these talks as well as additional pieces of particular interest.


Ashley Smith: Storm overflows – a fountain of information

Storm overflows are the route by which raw sewage gets into our rivers from water treatment works. Ash Smith from the redoubtable Windrush Against Sewage Pollution makes a welcome return to the Chalk Aquifer Alliance stage to share his expertise on all things storm overflow.

What are they, when and why are they really used?

How to locate them and the different types.

How to look for evidence of offences and impact.

Q and A

See this link for DEFRA’s definition of when storm overflows should be classified as ‘unsatisfactory’ gov.uk/government/publications/water-companies-environmental-permits-for-storm-overflows-and-emergency-overflows/water-companies-environmental-permits-for-storm-overflows-and-emergency-overflows


Charles Rangeley-Wilson: CaBA Chalk Stream Restoation Strategy Consultation

Last year Charles Rangeley-Wilson spoke to us about his Chalkstream First proposals to restore flow to the Chilterns and other chalk streams, principally by abstracting water from our rivers further downstream and pumping it back to supply customers in the upper catchment areas. He was subsequently tasked by Rebecca Pow and Defra to pick up the baton from the Chilterns River Action Group and develop a chalk stream restoration strategy.

Charles says ……

“After 6 months of hard work, there is now a consultation draft of the CaBA chalk stream restoration strategy. It is available to view via the Rivers Trust website [catchmentbasedapproach.org/learn/caba-chalk-stream-restoration-strategy-consultation/]

There is no doubt that our chalk streams suffer from excessive groundwater abstraction, too much nutrient from secondary-only sewage works on undesignated streams, too many storm overflows, too many weirs, too many canalised reaches, not enough gravel on the river beds, not enough meanders, not enough trees in and around the river and not enough space for the river to be a river. That’s easy housekeeping. all it requires is political backing and collective effort.

There has to be a strategy that all parties can sign up to and support. While it might be too radical for some and equally it may be not radical enough for others. However, I do think we have a strategy which, if we act on it, will make a massive difference.

It won’t be the be all and end all. There are hills to climb ahead of more hills beyond. The more hills? Nitrogen levels in the chalk aquifer. Toxins in road-run-off. Climate change.”

This session is a Q&A on the draft strategy


Geoff Tombs: Licensed to Spill

This session offers guidance on obtaining discharge permits from the public register and associated information through Environmental Information Requests. It gives suggestions as to how this information might be used in the campaign to clean up the UK’s rivers.


Born just after the war in Witney only 200 metres from the river Windrush, Geoff Tombs spent most of his early childhood in or by the river. In his teens he was sent to boarding school at Thame where he came to know the river Thame extensively. A brief sojourn to London in the late 60’s helped him realise he was a country boy at heart so moved back to North Oxfordshire (close to the river Cherwell) and within three years back to Witney. For most of his working life he has been involved in publishing and printing. He was a director at Oxford University Press for 19 years before taking early retirement.

Geoff has always been passionate about nature and the environment and has lived long enough to witness the dramatic deterioration in river quality over those years but only within the last two years has he found a meaningful cause to focus on.


Theo Thomas: Power, accountability and saving our rivers

The regulator says the number of prosecutions for river pollution has dropped to a 5 year low. Water companies are owned by overseas investors and pension funds.

Theo Thomas, London Waterkeeper, will explore how we can make ourselves heard and change the current power imbalance.

Theo founded London Waterkeeper to be an independent voice for the Capital’s rivers. He was a BBC news journalist in the East Midlands before combining his passion for the environment with social justice. Theo worked for Thames21 for 12 years leading its work on water quality, citizen science and sustainable drainage.

He has a vision for a swimmable River Thames which would see thousands of people benefit from improved physical and mental health.


Andrew McKenzie: Groundwater flooding on Chalk aquifers; rare events or short memories?

Water levels in the Chalk naturally vary seasonally, and when levels rise high enough water will start to flow in ‘bournes’ and ephemeral streams that are often a characteristic of the Chalk landscape. In particularly wet conditions high groundwater levels can cause more widespread flooding and may cause damage or disruption to local communities. Significant groundwater flooding events occurred in 2000/2001 and 2013/2014 and triggered widespread interest from researchers, stakeholders and the affected communities. But why is the Chalk prone to groundwater flooding, and do the events of the last decades represent something new, or are we just describing something, that has always happened, in a new way? Variability in climate and rainfall in past decades may have given us a false impression of how rare or common groundwater flooding is, and long intervals between flood events mean that the purpose of landscape and infrastructure adaptations can be easily forgotten.

Andy McKenzie is a hydrogeologist with the British Geological Survey based in Wallingford. Although often (pre-COVID) to be found working on BGS projects outside of the UK his responsibilities in the UK include managing BGS’ collection of hydrogeological information, including data on water wells and boreholes and groundwater levels. The data BGS hold are often used to study hydrogeological extremes, such as drought and flood. BGS hydrogeologists publish monthly hydrogeological summaries and forecasts of short and medium trends in water level and have been involved in researching, monitoring and mapping groundwater floods.


Jo Haydon Bailey & Paul Jennings:
HS2 and Chalk Streams – out of sight, out mind

Chairman of the River Chess Association, Paul Jennings, and geologist Dr Haydon Bailey discuss the geology of the Chalk of the Chilterns and the impact of HS2.


Jo Bradley: Is this the road to Hell – what is road runoff doing to our rivers & streams?

Jo will describe the problem of pollution from road runoff and provide some examples of data and polluting outfalls. She will explain what solutions are available and how they should be funded and operated. Then Jo will outline some of the emerging research on the pollution from tyre wear particles and the effect it may be having on wildlife and humans.

Jo hopes that by discussing this topic with the CAA, she can better understand the impact on chalk streams, and begin to identify priority locations for improvements to be made on the chalk streams.

Jo Bradley has worked in the field of pollution control for over 30 years, many of them at the Environment Agency in Lancashire. She worked for a treatment device manufacturer for a while, but now leads a new not-for-profit organisation, Stormwater Shepherds UK, which is working to reduce plastic pollution with a particular focus on road runoff and microplastic tyre wear particles. Jo has tried almost everything to improve the regulation of road runoff without much success, so she hopes that by mobilising a gang of like-minded people to shout out about this problem, we might see some changes in the next 5 years.


ChessWatch – Kate Heppell and Paul Jennings

River Chess is a chalk stream in South East England (UK), under unprecedented pressure from over-abstraction, urbanisation and climate change; consequently the river currently fails to meet good ecological status. The community-led ChessWatch project is designed to raise public awareness of threats to the River Chess and involve the public in river management activities using a sensor network as a platform. In 2018 four water quality sensors were installed in the river to provide stakeholders with real-time water quality data (15-minute intervals) to support catchment management activities. The dataset from the project is intended to support future decision-making in the catchment as part of the five-year ‘Smarter Water Catchments’ approach run by Thames Water.

This presentation reviews the successes and drawbacks of the ChessWatch project to date and examine the challenges of linking the data collected by the project to policy and practice in a catchment with multiple stakeholder groups. Kate Heppell and Paul Jennings present the results of a participatory mapping exercise held at local community events to capture the public use of, and concerns for, the river revealing concerns for low flows and water quality issues linked to abstraction and runoff. They show how dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, chlorophyll-a and tryptophan measurements made by the sensors are enabling local stakeholders to better understand the threats to the river arising from urban runoff and changing rainfall patterns, and they examine the challenges of data presentation, sharing and usage in an urbanised catchment with high water demand and multiple conflicting interests.

Professor Kate Heppell is a researcher at the School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London. Kate specialises in understanding the linkages between hydrology and biogeochemical processes in terrestrial and aquatic environments such as rivers, wetlands and lowland peatlands. She has worked extensively in chalk stream environment to improve understanding of the relationships between groundwater and surface water; and the controls on flow, sediment transport and water quality.

Paul Jennings is chairman of the River Chess Association.


Exploring Managed Aquifer Recharge – Mike Jones

The talk will address these questions:
What is managed aquifer recharge? How can it be used?
Where is it used in the UK? Why is it used more extensively in other countries?
Is there potential for integration with natural & engineered flood management?
Who are the stakeholders in understanding its benefits & applications?
When will its use increase in the UK?

Dr Mike Jones is a hydrogeologist with over 30 years’ experience spanning groundwater resources, hydrogeology & geology in the water industry, consultancy and research. At Thames Water he has directed major groundwater resource schemes from feasibility assessment of future options through to development, licensing & operation, to support public water supply during drought and future supply in an uncertain climate. He also provides technical direction on the impact assessment of groundwater abstraction on water-dependent environment to support abstraction sustainability, as well as the risk-based impact assessment of infrastructure development on groundwater abstraction.
Mike’s work has included the exploration, development & operation of managed aquifer recharge schemes, which can be important contributors to water supply resilience to climate change. In recent years, his role has widened to include water resource systems and water treatment works modelling to support operational and asset investment decision-making.


Safeguarding a sustainable supply of water for the East of England – Robin Price

Water Resources East is one of five Regional Planning Groups operating as part of a National Framework for Water Resources. Eastern England faces a number of significant risks to its future water supply, which could have a catastrophic impact on the area’s communities, economy, and environment if left unchecked.

WRE is working in partnership with organisations across Eastern England to safeguard a sustainable supply of water for the region. It is developing a long term multi-sector plan to increase resilience to future challenges around water scarcity and flood risk and to enable the region to define and deliver its environmental ambition.

WRE’s Managing Director, Dr Robin Price sets out its strategy and approach.


Chalk Streams First – Charles Rangeley-Wilson

A new idea called Chalk-Streams First has, our speaker claims, the potential to completely re-naturalise the flows in all of the Chilterns chalk-streams with potentially only a small net loss to overall public water supply. It is a scheme that could be delivered in the near future using as its basis infrastructure that is already planned for and costed in the water company management plans.

Chalk-Streams First is supported by a coalition of The Rivers Trust, The Angling Trust, WWF UK, Salmon & Trout Conservation and The Wild Trout Trust and they are calling for the idea to be included in OFWAT’s multi-million pound strategic review of water resources across the south east.

Thus far the proposal has been independently reviewed by expert hydrological engineer Colin Fenn whose key conclusion was …

“ … that the draft Chalk-Streams First proposition, as put, identifies a feasible and a viable solution to the problem of chronic flow depletion in the internationally-rare and precious chalk-streams of the Chiltern Hills; it being to allow flows in the upstream chalk-streams of the Chilterns to run unreduced by abstraction, with water being taken from the correspondingly enhanced flows in the downstream Colne and Lee, and as needs may be from a range of other less-environmentally fragile sources to meet the needs of demand centres in the Chilterns, using Affinity Water’s already planned ‘Supply 2040 scheme.”

Charles Rangeley-Wilson is a writer, conservationist and river restorationist. His most recent book Silver Shoals is about the natural and unnatural histories of five species of fish that have shaped British history. Before that Silt Road was a story of the English landscape told through the history of a lost suburban river. The two before that, Somewhere Else and The Accidental Angler were anthologies of fishing and travel stories, as much about place and people as fish and fishing.

He is passionate about conservation with a particular interest in the history, restoration and preservation of chalk-streams. He’s an Associate Advisor to WWF UK and vice-president of the Wild Trout Trust and an Ambassador for the Angling Trust.

Windrush WASP: Polluting for Profit – changing an unwinnable game

Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) presents an insight into how the water industry is being allowed to use our rivers to make money and how the regulators have been turned into spectators. Chalk streams have been some of the worst-hit by abstraction and pollution, and some of WASP’s discoveries will help bring the truth to the voting public.


Feargal Sharkey: Seven Deadly Sins – the seven lies told to you by water companies and the Environment Agency

Following a successful career in the music industry, keen fly fisherman Feargal Sharkey OBE is now chairman of Amwell Magna Fishery, the oldest angling club in Britain still fishing the same water. He is an outspoken critic of the national bodies tasked with managing our rivers and the environment, and an active campaigner for rivers.

In this talk he argues that we have been repeating the same mistakes on chalk streams for over 30 years, and explains what, in his view, needs to change.


Simon Stebbings: Chalk stream Invertebrates & Riverfly Monitoring

Simon Stebbings, Cooordinator of Chilterns, Herts & Middlesex Riverfly Hub, talks about chalk stream invertebrates and riverfly monitoring.

The health of a river is dependent on many factors, three primary ones being water quality, habitat and flow. Riverfly populations reflect the health of our rivers and still waters. They are sensitive indicators of water quality and commonly referred to as the rivers’ ‘canary’.

Reported apparent declines in riverfly numbers are of increasing concern whilst the factors that may cause a detrimental impact to riverfly populations are numerous, and include pollution. Small and large scale incidents can happen at any time, spelling disaster for river wildlife. Regular monitoring is the best way of identifying these early-on and enabling a rapid response.

The Angler’s Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) is a national scheme, launched by the Riverfly Partnership in 2007. It is used as a “neighbourhood watch” for rivers across the UK. It helps rivers to be monitored more widely, and more often than is possible by the Environment Agency alone.

Local people and groups are trained on how to monitor their river and report pollution incidents, so they can be better protected. It involves sampling the river each month, counting eight pollution-sensitive invertebrate groups, and reporting a pollution incident if they fail to meet an agreed limit.


Sam Hurst: Water Sensitive Farming / Farming for water

A brief overview of how changes to our rural landscape have affected water quality and what Norfolk Rivers Trust’s Water Sensitive Farming initiative is doing to improve the region’s soils, wetlands, aquifers and rivers.

Sam Hurst is a Bury St Edmunds native who trained as a biologist and spent over 6 years at the Environment Agency, learning about the Cam Ely Ouse rivers and regulating the areas agricultural sector and water companies. Last year he joined Norfolk Rivers Trust as a Farm Advisor to focus on delivering changes that will improve the quality of water draining from our rural catchments.


Shaun Leonard: The Interesting Lives of some Chalk stream Fishes

An illustrated talk on the way some of our iconic fish species spend their lives, including where they live, how they find love, what they eat and, maybe sadly, end their days. Many of the images are of beautiful fish and the beautiful places they live; just a few come with a little, guts-and-all warning…

Shaun Leonard is an unashamed fish bloke, inspired by Jacques Cousteau after a wander around his research vessel Calypso in Mombasa harbour in 1966 and a childhood in and on the Indian Ocean and in the trout streams of southern Ireland. After degrees in marine biology and then pollution, Shaun has had a professional life in fishery management, both game and coarse. He was Head of Fishery Studies at Sparsholt College near Winchester until 2009, when he was gifted a fish bloke’s dream – the post of Director of the Wild Trout Trust. Shaun brings to the Trust a lengthy and ongoing scientific background and continuing involvement with the fisheries and fish farming sectors. He is an avid fisher though continuously disappointed that 45 years of practice appears only to make him worse at the sport with each outing.


The Fly Culture Podcast: Feargal Sharkey

Not a Chalk Aquifer Alliance event, but of great relevance, so shared here with Pete’s permission.

Pete Tyjas talks with Feargal about his love of fly fishing and his battle in highlighting the abuse of the river systems across the UK by water companies.

From the abstraction of chalk streams that, in some cases, are now running dry to what seems the constant unloading of sewage into our rivers systems around the country.

I am sure many of you will be aware of this already but Feargal goes into depth what is happening. It is grim listening.

This will resonate with anyone who cares about the environment fish live in and I hope it will inspire others to join the fight.

Listen here


Kelvin Allen: Water needs and balances

Kelvin’s slides as a PDF are available here


Josephine McSherry: An Introduction to Chalk Hydrogeology

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