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UK rivers at risk of drying out

28 April 2010

With climate change increasingly affecting supplies, and the growing population demanding more water than ever, Britain’s rivers are under serious threat. Our new report highlights the urgent action needed.

All the water we use is taken from the natural environment. Many UK rivers are below their usual levels for the time of year – and for some of them the future is not looking bright. WWF-UK has launched a new report called Riverside Tales, which explores the worrying prospects for some of the UK’s unique chalk streams.

River wildlife such as water voles, otters, salmon and kingfishers are already at risk because too much water is being taken from waterways. Ecosystems in a third of all our river catchments are under threat. Reducing the amount of water we all use has never been more important.

Our report calls for a consistent and sustainable approach to managing water use. For instance, although every water company is now obliged to be efficient, the licensing rules that should protect our rivers are out of date and don’t reflect their current needs.

The state of our chalk streams
The report focuses on the different fortunes of the Itchen in Hampshire, the upper Kennet in Wiltshire and the tributary rivers of the Upper Lee – the Mimram and the Beane in Hertfordshire – which offer lessons for rivers around the country.

The future looks brightest for the Itchen - home to many protected and increasingly rare native species such as the white-clawed crayfish and southern damselfly. Over the next five years the Environment Agency and the local water company are planning to install water meters throughout the region to help reduce water use and keep millions of litres of water in the river.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the others. Despite the Environment Agency and water companies agreeing to reduce over-abstraction, funding has not yet been secured to make this happen. There are no plans to significantly reduce the amount of water people use, even though water consumption around the Mimram and the Beane rivers is one of the highest in the country.

We want all damaging abstraction licences to be amended or revoked by 2020. It will take strong leadership on all sides – the government must work with regulators, water companies and local communities to stop our rivers from drying out and protect our native wildlife.

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Riverside tales

An assessment of invertebrate-based target flows for the River Itchen, Hampshire