Watercress and Winterbournes

Maggie Shelton, of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, wrote this article for the New Alresford and Ovington Parish magazine (March 2019).

Contact her on Maggie.Shelton@hiwwt.org.uk, or consult that website.

“If you play the National Lottery, I’m sure that at some point you’ve fantasised about what you would do with a sudden windfall. But thanks to Lottery players everywhere I am already feeling lucky: their contributions are helping to support our brilliant National Lottery Heritage funded-project, ‘Watercress and Winterbournes’.

“This ambitious project aims to celebrate, protect, and enhance the chalk stream headwaters of the Rivers Test and Itchen, namely Pillhill Brook, the Upper Anton, the Bourne Rivulet, the Upper Test, Candover Brook, the River Arle and the Cheriton Stream.

“We are working closely with 16 partner organisations and seven Community Catchment Groups to identify opportunities for improving the water quality in their streams in ways that will benefit each area’s people, wildlife and natural capital. Here in Alresford, the River Arle Community Catchment Group has been meeting regularly to discuss how  their community might improve the river for people and wildlife.

“Our chalk streams and their surrounding landscapes are truly special environments with fascinating local histories, and this makes Watercress and Winterbournes a very exciting project to be working on.

“Winterbournes (streams which appear during winter and dry up in Summer) are unique to chalk streams, which themselves are unique to our iconic chalk rivers. They are formed when prolonged wet weather raises the volume of water in the chalk aquifer (water stored underground in the porous chalk rock), causing springs to temporarily emerge on ground higher than the perennial head. These seasonal springs are the source of the winterbournes.

“Unfortunately, although our chalk streams look beautiful and have protected designations,they are under threat. In Hampshire we are surrounded by chalk streams, and could easily forget that globally they are incredibly rare: there are only about 200 in the World, and 160 (80%) of these are in England.

“This means that, if the streams are not in good condition, the species that are so well adapted to their unique conditions often have nowhere else to go. As an ecologist I care passionately about the natural environment, and like my colleagues at the Trust and within the partnership I feel we have a real duty to care for these fragile and precious ecosystems.

You can join your local Catchment Group and help to protect your local chalk streams – contact Maggie by email or on 01489 77 44 00 !

You can also find more information on ‘Watercress and Winterbournes’ on the website, or follow #WatercressAndWinterburnes on Twitter, to track the development of this exciting and inspiring project!

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