2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

The 2023 Forum opened with a statement from Gail Taylor, Chair

Vitacress Conservation Trust 2023 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

All good things must come to an end and certainly the Vitacress Conservation Trust has been a good thing, with much to celebrate and many outstanding successes, but the Trustees feel  that now is a good time to celebrate those achievements and bring the VCT to a glorious conclusion”.

So sadly, this was the last Chalk Stream Headwater’s Forum hosted by the Vitacress Conservation Trust. Gail went on to say “Since its inception in 2007- 16 years ago, with the first Forum- we have had a blast and achieved much. But I’d like to take you back to sixteen years  ago and remind ourselves of where we were- chalk streams in a poor ecological condition- no change there I hear you say!, but in bringing together all of the stakeholders into one room to discuss their different perspectives and how they valued chalk streams, we were doing something truly novel and innovative. Before the days of River Trusts, Catchment Management Plans and Citizen Science- we were the change makers and many of you have been part of that journey-so thank you to everyone who has been there with us for the past 16 years- you have truly made a difference and we are grateful for each and every contribution”.

We would like to express our gratitude to Pete Shaw from the University of Southampton who stepped in at short notice to Chair the 2023 Forum. Our guest speakers this year were Tim Hess, Emeritus Professor Cranfield University talking about “Future Water Resources: The Changing Nature of Supply and Demand”, and Heather Smith, Water Sciences Institute Cranfield University who gave a presentation entitled “Providing Additional Water Supplies through Recycling (and public perceptions thereof)”.

Graham Roberts and Pete Shaw gave their usual updates on the Upper Itchen and Bourne Rivulet Initiatives respectively. Graham also spoke about the People’s Assembly for Nature—a new approach to the crisis for biodiversity and nature in the UK.

Tim Hess
Heather Smith

Jen Ball, University of Southampton updated on her project  “Ecosystem Services in Chalk Streams” and Kieran Gething, Nottingham Trent University  did likewise for his research “Recognising and Protecting the Aquatic-terrestrial Biodiversity of Dynamic River Ecosystems”.

Pete Shaw and Anna Michalopoulou, also from the University of Southampton, outlined two new PhD research projects entitled “Understanding processes and impacts of pollutants in nutrient-sensitive headwater chalk streams” and “Effects of Aquaculture on Water Quality in the Test and Itchen” respectively. Vitacress will fund these going forward.

Previous Forums…

2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

The 2023 Forum opened with a statement from Gail Taylor, Chair Vitacress Conservation Trust 2023 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum “All good things must come to an end and certainly the Vitacress Conservation Trust has been a good thing, with much to celebrate and many...

read more
2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

Our first post-pandemic forum with research updates Vitacress Conservation Trust 2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum - 25 November The annual Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT) Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum took place on 25 November at Sparsholt College, Winchester,...

read more
2018 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

2018 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

Managing and preserving Hampshire’s ecologically important chalk streams Vitacress Conservation Trust 2018 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum - 23 November The importance of managing and preserving Hampshire’s ecologically important chalk streams was discussed at the 12th...

read more
VCT Conservation Award 2023

VCT Conservation Award 2023

The VCT Conservation Award 2023 was awarded to Sarah Cooney
Sarah Cooney with her VCT Conservation Award

The recipient of the VCT award for Conservation in 2023 is Sarah Cooney.

Sarah has a small stretch of the Bourne Rivulet running through her garden in Stoke.  There was a major flood event in 2014 in the Bourne Valley and this prompted Sarah to join the St Mary Bourne Flood & Emergency Group, and subsequently the Bourne Rivulet Initiative.  In addition, very much as a volunteer, Sarah started working with various stakeholders on a Natural Flood Management project. She also took a keen interest in Chalkstream catchments and the importance of working with nature. Not long after, the Watercress & Winterbournes Project was born and by early 2019 she was trained up and started kick-sampling for Riverfly Monitoring in the Bourne Rivulet. 

Having a scientific background has made learning about riverfly fairly easy for Sarah and, in her words, “standing in the middle of a chalk stream has to be one of the best workplaces in the world!”

Equally many hours of her time have passed looking down a microscope at the exquisite features of the amazing  invertebrate life that lives in chalk streams. 

All  her detailed monitoring and results are now uploaded to a National Database, contributing massively to our better understanding of the health of our rivers. She has also methodically  reported the data to local stakeholders each month and has received all sorts of interesting comments and concerns back.

Sarah is a truly worthy winner of the 2023 VCT Conservation Award.

On receiving the award, Sarah said “I was touched indeed to hear that I had won the award, and that the Watercress & Winterbournes Project as a whole had been highlighted so well by Graham at the recent Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum which I was sorry to miss.

“Riverfly monitoring has been a big part of my life now for almost 5 years; the journey has been amazing and I have learned so much along the way. It is down to the support and encouragement of the W&W Officers Kathryn Boler and Maggie Shelton, and also the expert guidance of our tutors Richard Osmond and Matt Owen-Farmer that has made it possible for me to get involved in the first place. There are many riverfly volunteers out there month on month in all weathers poring over trays and looking down microscopes – and that sense of belonging to a broader team creates a motivating and inspirational volunteering experience. I would also like to mention Cyril Bennett, whose beautiful photographs of the invertebrates that we monitor are so helpful and engaging.

“So thank you all for recognising how important the work is that we do in terms of monitoring the health of our precious chalk streams.

Thank you again – this really means a lot to me”.

Previous awards…

VCT Conservation Award 2023

VCT Conservation Award 2023

The VCT Conservation Award 2023 was awarded to Sarah CooneyThe recipient of the VCT award for Conservation in 2023 is Sarah Cooney. Sarah has a small stretch of the Bourne Rivulet running through her garden in Stoke.  There was a major flood event in 2014 in the...

read more
VCT Conservation Award 2022

VCT Conservation Award 2022

The VCT Conservation Award 2022 was awarded to Wessex Rivers Trust & Wild Trout Trust, for their Upper River Test River Restoration Project.The Wessex Rivers Trust and Wild Trout Trust were jointly recognised for a project aimed at significantly improving habitat...

read more
VCT Conservation Award 2021

VCT Conservation Award 2021

We were delighted to award Dennis Bright the VCT Conservation Award 2021, for his work in Barn Owl Conservation.Dennis Bright has always had a real interest in birds and nearly 30 years ago, when moving to Hampshire, he followed his life-long passion by volunteering...

read more
2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

Our first post-pandemic forum with research updates

Vitacress Conservation Trust 2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum – 25 November

The annual Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT) Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum took place on 25 November at Sparsholt College, Winchester, attracting 120 attendees with an interest in the health of the UK’s important chalk streams.

We were extremely fortunate to have Charles Rangeley-Wilson, broadcaster, filmmaker, author and journalist, Chair the event, particularly on the day that the CaBA Chalk Stream Restoration Strategy was published, giving Charles the opportunity to outline its content and answer questions.  This Plan will be used to drive progress by government and regulators, water companies, landowners, NGOs and river associations right down to the grass roots level of individuals who are passionate about their local river.

Kate Heppell, a Professor of Physical Geography specialising in water quality and hydrology and currently seconded from School of Geography in Queen Mary University of London to the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project gave a presentation on her work entitled “Tracking Water Quality—” A Co-designed Online Observatory for the River Chess”.

Kate’s research is focused on the transport and transformation of contaminants and pollutants as they move through lowland river catchments and undergo exchanges at the interface of land, water and atmosphere.

Kate Heppell
Martin de Retuerto

The other guest speaker was Martin de Retuerto, Strategic & Operational Director for Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, supporting delivery of their Wilder 2030 strategy and striving to tip the balance in favour of nature’s recovery.

Building upon experience in project management of large, capital habitat restoration schemes and themes covering chalkstreams, river and floodplain restoration and freshwater systems, Martin’s focus includes the strategic development of programmes around expansion of the nature recovery network, protection of the nature reserve estate, rewilding, species reintroductions and nature based solutions.

Graham Roberts, Chair of the Upper Itchen Initiative reported on the numerous issues this group has been involved with since the last Forum, including ongoing concerns regarding sewage, abstraction and phosphorus levels. He also updated on the Riverfly Monitoring initiative, White-clawed Crayfish Conservation and the Southern Chalkstreams and Watercress & Winterbournes projects.

Finally, PhD students outlined their research progress in pre-recorded films:

  • Jen Ball (University of Southampton), one of the Vitacress Conservation Trust sponsored PhD researchers, gave a short update on her work “Ecosystem Services in Chalk Streams”. As part of her research Jen also led a workshop after the Forum which about 25 of the Forum delegates volunteered to attend. The workshop built on some of Jen’s previous research on drivers of change for chalk streams, with Jen leading a process to look at aspirations for the Test and Itchen, working through how these might be realised.
  • Another VCT part sponsored PhD researcher, Kieran Gething, Nottingham Trent University outlined his work which is focussed on recognising and protecting the aquatic-terrestrial biodiversity of dynamic river ecosystems.
  • Lauren Hibbert, a Vitacress sponsored PhD student studying molecular breeding of watercress at the University of Southampton and the University of California, Davis presented her project entitled “Developing watercress with improved phosphate use efficiency”.
Graham Roberts

Forum presentations available for download:

Chalk Stream Restoration
Charles Rangeley-Wilson – National Chalk Stream Restoration Group Chair

Tracking Water Quality – “A Co-designed Online Observatory for the River Chess”
Kate Heppell – Queen Mary University of London

Wilder Catchments – Shifting Status Quos
Martin de Retuerto – Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

The Upper Itchen Initiative Update
Graham Roberts – UII Group Chair

PhD Updates:
Using the Ecosystem Services Concept to Improve Understanding and Management of Chalk Streams
Jen Ball – University of Southampton

Recognising and Protecting Aquatic-Terrestrial Biodiversity of Dynamic River Ecosystems
Kieran Gething – Nottingham Trent University

Developing Watercress with Improved Phosphate Efficiency
Lauren Hibbert – UC Davis

Previous Forums…

2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

The 2023 Forum opened with a statement from Gail Taylor, Chair Vitacress Conservation Trust 2023 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum “All good things must come to an end and certainly the Vitacress Conservation Trust has been a good thing, with much to celebrate and many...

read more
2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

Our first post-pandemic forum with research updates Vitacress Conservation Trust 2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum - 25 November The annual Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT) Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum took place on 25 November at Sparsholt College, Winchester,...

read more
2018 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

2018 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

Managing and preserving Hampshire’s ecologically important chalk streams Vitacress Conservation Trust 2018 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum - 23 November The importance of managing and preserving Hampshire’s ecologically important chalk streams was discussed at the 12th...

read more
Stoke Mill Water Meadows

Stoke Mill Water Meadows

Restoration work – 25 April 2022 as recorded by Martin Burton

The owner of the Itchen Stoke Mill at Ovington has kept his water meadows operating for the last 50 years. Water is taken from the River Itchen and spread across the meadows via a network of channels located on ridges in the meadow. Irrigating the water meadows in this way serves to increase the rate of growth of the grass, especially during the winter periods when the relatively warm river water (around 100C) keeps the grass growing. When used as a central part of riverside farming before WW2 the farmers could put cattle and sheep on the pasture four-six weeks earlier than on non-meadow pasture.

Itchen Stoke Mill

Itchen Stoke Mill

River Itchen at Ovington

River Itchen at Ovington

Traditional gated intake from the river

Traditional gated intake from the river

The water enters the water meadows via a gated intake on the river (called a hatch in local terminology). This gate is opened and closed by inserting a steel rod into a metal plate on the gate and levering it up or down.

The water is carried to the meadows via open channels, some of which are in a reasonable condition and others which need repair. The main issues are damage to the channel banks by cattle and gradual erosion of the banks and filling of the channel, thus reducing the carrying capacity.

The bank repair material is either imported chalk which compacts down very well or material excavated from the bed of the channel.

Main channel from the intake, in good condition

Main channel from the intake, in good condition

Lower section of the main channel needing excavation and raising of the banks.

Lower section of the main channel needing excavation and raising of the banks

Previously (before 1940) the meadows were operated and maintained by a full-time labourer (termed a ditcher).

Nowadays it is not economic to have someone working full-time on the meadows so the owner requests the assistance of the Hampshire Conservation Volunteers (HCV) who spend two-three weekends each year helping with maintenance. The HCV team usually comprises some 10-12 volunteers. The work involves digging out the channels, raising and repairing the channel banks, compacting the embankment fill, and repairing the gates and control structures.

In some cases, the channel has been badly damaged and has breached when filled with water.  This takes a lot more effort to repair!

Chalk fill material for the channel banks

Chalk fill material for the channel banks

Chalk fill material placed on the main channel embankment ready for compaction

Chalk fill material placed on the main channel embankment ready for compaction

Breached main channel, on both sides, about halfway along its length

Breached main channel, on both sides, about halfway along its length

There are offtake points along the main channel where water is diverted to the meadows. Here the water runs along a ridge and flows either side down to the drains which carry the water back to the river. This can look a bit messy if the channel on the ridge has not been correctly formed to give an even flow either side of the channel. 

Sometimes the drains become waterlogged which leads to the growth of water iris which impede the flow even more. Cutting a channel through the iris speeds up the flow and drains the waterlogged area.

Turnout from the main channel into a side channel - the wooden posts and planks are used to make a diversion structure

Turnout from the main channel into a side channel – the wooden posts and planks are used to make a diversion structure

Flooding of a meadow with the water on the ridge flowing either side to irrigate the grass

Flooding of a meadow with the water on the ridge flowing either side to irrigate the grass

Before - Drain obstructed by water iris

Before – drain obstructed by water iris

After – cleared pathway through the water iris allowing water to flow freely

After – cleared pathway through the water iris allowing water to flow freely

Further Updates…

2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

2023 Chalkstream Headwaters Forum

The 2023 Forum opened with a statement from Gail Taylor, Chair Vitacress Conservation Trust 2023 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum “All good things must come to an end and certainly the Vitacress Conservation Trust has been a good thing, with much to celebrate and many...

read more
2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum

Our first post-pandemic forum with research updates Vitacress Conservation Trust 2022 Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum - 25 November The annual Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT) Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum took place on 25 November at Sparsholt College, Winchester,...

read more
Stoke Mill Water Meadows

Stoke Mill Water Meadows

Restoration work - 25 April 2022 as recorded by Martin Burton The owner of the Itchen Stoke Mill at Ovington has kept his water meadows operating for the last 50 years. Water is taken from the River Itchen and spread across the meadows via a network of channels...

read more
VCT Dissertation Award 2022

VCT Dissertation Award 2022

The 2022 Dissertation Award was given to Victor Hyde who obtained a 1st in his BSc (Hons) Environmental Science degree at Bournemouth University.
Victor Hyde received the 2023 Dissertation Award

Victor’s dissertation was entitled “An analysis and review of the monitoring and assessment of macronutrient pollution in English Rivers. Case study: The Lower Hampshire Avon.”

Victor’s dissertation focused on nutrient pollution of rivers and concentrated on the Hampshire Avon chalk river. He addressed a fundamental research gap in this field, examining the state of nutrient pollution monitoring and assessment in English rivers.

Previous awards…

VCT Conservation Award 2023

VCT Conservation Award 2023

The VCT Conservation Award 2023 was awarded to Sarah CooneyThe recipient of the VCT award for Conservation in 2023 is Sarah Cooney. Sarah has a small stretch of the Bourne Rivulet running through her garden in Stoke.  There was a major flood event in 2014 in the...

read more
VCT Conservation Award 2022

VCT Conservation Award 2022

The VCT Conservation Award 2022 was awarded to Wessex Rivers Trust & Wild Trout Trust, for their Upper River Test River Restoration Project.The Wessex Rivers Trust and Wild Trout Trust were jointly recognised for a project aimed at significantly improving habitat...

read more
VCT Conservation Award 2021

VCT Conservation Award 2021

We were delighted to award Dennis Bright the VCT Conservation Award 2021, for his work in Barn Owl Conservation.Dennis Bright has always had a real interest in birds and nearly 30 years ago, when moving to Hampshire, he followed his life-long passion by volunteering...

read more