Magazine article Geographical

Running Low

Magazine article Geographical

Running Low

Article excerpt

The chalk geology of the Chilterns also creates another wildlife-friendly habitat: chalk streams--distinctive clear, gravel-bedded streams fed by underground aquifers. Numerous species call them home, including grayling, brown trout, the larvae of the short-lived mayfly and water voles--on the rise thanks to a mink-catching programme carried out by the AONB and local landowners.

There are eight chalk streams in the Chilterns. We take a walk alongside the River Chess, peering through green reeds on the banks to stare at the thickset trout swaying in the clear current below. There's plenty of water in the river now, but Allen Beechey, the AONB's chalk streams officer, worries that, due to climate change, there won't be for long. 'Chalk streams need traditional English rain that's fine and goes on forever, but we're getting less of that,' says Beechey. Instead, 'English rain' is being replaced by high-intensity deluges that quickly soak the ground and prevent it absorbing further water.

And, on top of this, domestic water consumption is putting pressure on the chalk streams' diminishing underground sources. 'The people in this area use more water than anyone else in Europe--170 litres per day compared to an average of 150,' says Beechey, who is concerned that the rivers are being 'treated like a public commodity'.

Since 2005, local water company Veolia has been installing water meters when properties change ownership, cutting water use by ten per cent on average. …

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