News release from 05/02/2021

Councils ask for feedback on Greater Cambridge Chalk Streams report

Chalk stream running through trees

Leading councillors at Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Councils are urging local communities to comment on the Greater Cambridge Chalk Streams draft report, to further add to combined knowledge of the watercourses and identify how best to work in partnership to protect and restore these precious watercourses.

The draft report arose from a cross-boundary Water Summit held in 2019, which identified the need to establish a baseline of the current condition, threats and opportunities facing the chalk streams. It covers the health of the 17 main chalk streams that emerge from the aquifer in South Cambridgeshire, including the Cam, and is open for comments until 4 March – please visit https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/chalk-streams.

Chalk streams are internationally rare habitats, providing homes for many significant species, including brown trout and water vole. The chalk aquifer also provides water for communities and businesses in the area, and is reliant on winter rainfall which recharges the aquifer, ensuring water supply and the continued health of the chalk streams and the Cam.

Dry winters have led to increased concern from local communities about the condition of local watercourses, leading Cambridge City Council and Cambridge Water to jointly fund this report from local experts at the Wildlife Trust and the Wild Trout Trust. Communities are now invited to comment on the draft report before it is finalised.

The report is an in-depth audit of the 17 chalk streams and identifies a number of challenges, including flow pressures, channel modification and poor water quality. The report includes recommendations for practical measures that can be taken together to make the water courses more natural, connected, and resilient to low flows. These include reintroducing gravels, bank reprofiling and removing artificial weirs. Cambridge City Council has already committed to starting the works identified for Vicars Brook, Cherry Hinton Brook and Coldham's Brook during 2021.

The Chalk Streams Report is one of a series of studies that, together, look at the present and future demands on watercourses and water supply in the area. This includes an Integrated Water Management Study [PDF] which Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Councils have commissioned as an evidence base for the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan, and the Regional Plan for Water, being developed by Water Resources East – a network of over 120 organisations – which will set out a plan for water management across Eastern England through to 2050 and beyond.

The River Cam and some chalk streams are identified as Local Wildlife Sites with specific local planning policies to protect and enhance them. Chalk streams, the River Cam and associated riparian and floodplains provide key habitat linkages and are essential elements of our emerging Nature Recovery Network. The recommended projects are being considered by the Councils with regard to future priorities and policies including through the Greater Cambridge Local Plan.

Cllr Katie Thornburrow, Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces, Cambridge City Council, commented: “We have been working with partners for a number of years now on action to protect and improve our network of chalk streams assets. This report is an important step forward in better understanding the condition of our chalk streams – whose biodiversity is nationally and internationally important. It is already a very useful tool and has been developed with the input of many local community experts, but we recognise there may be further information which you may be able to supply.

“We have a short questionnaire which is live until 4th March and we hope that as many people as possible can share their views and knowledge before then.

Councillor Tumi Hawkins

Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins, Lead Cabinet member for Planning at South Cambridgeshire District Council, commented: “Our local chalk streams are incredibly precious and need our help. We must all work together to restore and protect them and this is recognised in the District Council’s recently adopted Doubling Nature Strategy. Many community groups and landowners have worked to improve their local chalk streams over the last 10 years, with help from the local authorities, Wildlife Trust, Wild Trout Trust, Cambridge Water Pebble Fund and other partners. We are keen for this to continue and will be feeding the recommendations and projects suggested in the report, into the development of the green infrastructure strategy for the new Local Plan.

“Outside of the planning system, many of the smaller projects lend themselves to being community-led, and could be suitable for grant funding from Councils and other organisations.”

Full report, proposed project list and link to live questionnaire can be viewed here:     https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/chalk-streams. You can also find links to tips and advice on how to save water.