Improvements are being made to Norfolk’s precious chalk streams

The River Glaven.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The River Glaven.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

Community engagement has been key as steps are taken to bring Norfolk's chalk rivers back to good health.

Chalk streams are considered to be a quintessential part of the English landscape; mineral-rich, crystal clear and home to an incredibly special array of fauna and flora. But over the centuries, the rivers have made way for agriculture and have been straightened and dredged, drained and embanked.

A new report by WWF-UK has revealed that more than three quarters of England's unique chalk streams are failing to meet the required 'good ecological status'.

The Environment Agency said Norfolk's chalk rivers have fared no worse or better than others across the country. Conservationists said measures were being taken to reverse the processes and they have seen encouraging results.

The River Wensum, which is designated by Natural England and the European Union as a Special Area for Conservation (SAC), is benefiting from a £7.4m restoration strategy.


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Meanwhile, nine of the county's rivers – Mun, Glaven, Stiffkey, Burn, Heacham, Ingol, Hun, Babingley and Gaywood – are being enhanced by the Norfolk Rivers Trust's Nine Chalk Rivers Project.

The project, which has been running for two and a half years, has made improvements at each of the rivers, something achieved by engaging members of the public, re-meandering rivers which were straightened and taking out weirs.

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Jonah Tosney, the Nine Chalk Rivers project officer, which is led by the Norfolk Rivers Trust, said: 'Chalk rivers are really special and there are not many of them globally.

'They are generally very clean, very mineral rich and provide a rich habitat for wildlife. Norfolk's chalk rivers suffer the same problems as across the south of England due to invasive species, abstraction and habitat degradation. We have done a huge amount and have achieved something for each of the rivers.'

Recent initiatives have seen families help clean the River Mun and a community day at the River Nar in Castle Acre.

WILDLIFE

Chalk streams are noted for their rich insect life. Banded-demoiselle damselflies can be seen dancing over the water in mid summer. These jewelled predators feed on many of the less glamorous inhabitants of the river which also emerge from the water in summer, including the many species of fly and midge.

Insects helps sustain the communities of fish that inhabit the river. Most of these species, the trout, eels, lamprey and sticklebacks, probably colonised the rivers from the sea following the ice age, and have since been joined by other fish, including the bullhead and stone-loach.

The rivers are also home to a variety of birds and mammals. The water vole, which has approached extinction in much of the rest of England, still thrives in Norfolk. The aquatic plant-life and marshy river edges also provide excellent feeding areas for moorhen, teal and the secretive woodcock and snipe, all reliant on the continuous flow of clean water in and around the river.

• Are you helping to protect Norfolk's wildlife? Email kate.scotter@archant.co.uk

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