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Angling Trust and WWF urge MPs to press for 'long overdue' reform of water abstraction regime


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Group shot of MPs John Penrose (Con), Jon Cruddas (Lab), Charles Walker (Con), Alan Whitehead (Lab), Richard Benyon (Con) with Sports Minister Tracey Crouch (left) and Water Minister Therese Coffey (centre) with members of the Angling Trust, Casting for Recovery and WWF-UK

A cross party group of MPs, including the current Water Minister Therese Coffey, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch and former Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, attended a chalk stream discovery day on the River Itchen last week to learn about problems facing all rivers and in particular the English chalk streams.

These unique habitats are under threat from over abstraction and agricultural pollution, and many have experienced a significant loss of their natural habitat. The MPs joined WWF and the Angling Trust on the iconic Hampshire river to hear about the stresses that our rivers are under ahead of a major campaign launch that is seeking to press the government to deliver on its long overdue promise to reform the outdated water abstraction regime.

Fewer than one in five chalk streams meets the required good ecological status and only 12 of England’s 224 chalk streams have special conservation protection. Many industrial and housing developments have been approved with little thought to the potential impacts they pose to the condition of local rivers.

The new WWF rivers campaign, which will be launched on 24th June and is supported by the Angling Trust and 80 individual rivers trusts, is asking the public to take action to help safeguard our rivers. There will be an interactive map where people can find out the state of their local river and send a message to their recently-elected MP to ask him or her to put pressure on the new Environment Secretary Michael Gove to:

    1. Safeguard nature by ensuring European water and environmental directives are transferred into law in England and Wales, and mechanisms and sanctions are established to enforce implementation after we leave the European Union.

    2. Deliver immediate action - before leaving the EU - to ensure that the legal deadline to achieve good ecological status in English and Welsh rivers by 2027 is met.
  • Mandate water companies to set out long-term wastewater plans to ensure sewage stops polluting our rivers.
  • Empower the environmental regulators to ensure all abstraction is limited to sustainable levels.
    3. Publish a strong 25 year plan for the environment which includes committing to new water legislation for England and Wales.
The MPs had the opportunity to walk and fish the famous Hampshire river with wildlife and fisheries experts including Rose O’Neill, Water Policy Manager at WWF; Mark Owen, Head of Freshwater at the Angling Trust; and Charles Jardine, one of the top fly fishers in the UK.

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Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd fishing with
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch

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Sue Shaw from the charity Casting for Recovery with
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch

The day was organised by Angling Trust Campaigns Chief Martin Salter in conjunction with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling, chaired by Hertfordshire MP Charles Walker.

Martin Salter said: “Despite the government entering into a legally binding commitment to achieve 'good ecological status' for our rivers and watercourses by 2027 at the latest it is clear that we are going backwards and will continue to do so unless there is a step change in policy by our politicians. Nearly a quarter of all English rivers are at serious environmental risk from unsustainable water abstraction and less than 20% are anywhere near good ecological status. As far back as 2011 the government promised legislation to overhaul the outdated and damaging abstraction regime and we are still waiting for a new Water Bill to deliver these much needed reforms."

Dr Rose O’Neill, Water Policy Manager at WWF, said: “Our rivers and their wildlife are under increasing pressure from pollution and over-abstraction and that’s why it’s so important to build support from influential MPs of all parties for this campaign. It's vital that the government brings forward legislation to maintain the UK’s freshwater supply and ensure the nation's rivers and wetlands are in good ecological health. This new legislation must tackle the issues of abstraction and water management so that we build up a vibrant water eco-system that will benefit both people and nature.”

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, added: “All rivers are important but England’s chalk streams are a globally recognised eco-system that deserve far greater protection than they have received in recent decades. Anglers from all over the world revere them, because of their place in fly-fishing history, but the truth is that sewage, slurry, pesticides, fertilisers and soil are poisoning their crystal clear waters, which are depleted by over-abstraction of water from ground and surface water. They are the most poignant example of how we have mismanaged our water resources in this country.”

Useful links:
Nature Needs You
Casting for Recovery

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