New mission to help Dorset chalk stream thrive

Wessex Water has chosen the River Frome, Hooke and Wraxall Brook in Dorset to be its Flagship Chalk Stream for restoration by 2035, reporting to the national Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) Chalk Streams Group.

A new national strategy has been published, calling for English chalk streams to be given enhanced environmental status to help restore their physical habitat and diversity.

The Hooke forms part of Wessex Water’s Upper Frome restoration project, which also includes the Frome and Wraxall upstream of Maiden Newton.

It has been chosen because it is a manageable size and is currently classified as ‘moderate’ status under the Water Framework Directive, which was established by the EU and has been retained in UK law with the aim to protect rivers.

There are already a number of partnership initiatives underway such as the Dorset Wild Rivers Project, including the Dorset Beaver Project and an Environment Agency assessment to reconnect the watercourse with its floodplain.

Wessex Water is supporting these projects, including undertaking additional water quality, river ecology and fish surveys over the last two years to provide a baseline from which to assess changes and aquatic improvements.

Ruth Barden, Wessex Water’s Director of Environmental Solutions, said: “As part of our River Hooke commitment, we will review the operation of our existing assets to understand their impact on chalk streams and opportunities for improvements using the most appropriate solutions – such as wetlands, river restoration or other innovative ideas.

“This Flagship project will build on the great collaborative work already being done. We’re really excited to be part of the team along with Dorset Wildlife Trust and Poole Harbour Catchment Partnership.”

Amanda Broom, Catchment Manager at Dorset Wildlife Trust said, “We are delighted that the River Hooke has been nominated as one of the Flagship Projects.

“Dorset has the most westerly distribution of globally-rare chalk streams and they support extraordinary wildlife, including a huge range of aquatic insects. Their valleys contain highly important wetlands, including wet woodlands and flower-rich meadows, home to wildfowl and wading birds.

“We need to protect and restore the unique qualities of chalk stream catchments, for wildlife and people who depend on them. We are excited to continue to collaborate with Wessex Water and Poole Harbour Catchment Partnership, to plan and deliver action to benefit the unique quality of biodiversity within the River Hooke and its valley.”

Cherishing chalk streams

Found only in England and parts of northern France, chalk streams are truly remarkable rivers. The clear alkaline water that flows through them from groundwater encourages a rare diversity of species.

The Wessex Water region is blessed with a number of chalk streams, primarily across Dorset and Wiltshire, and the majority are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Special Areas of Conservation.

Wessex Water has long recognised their importance, working with environmental and other groups over the last 25 years to understand the pressures on them and take steps to protect them.

A multi-million supply grid means water can be transferred across the region, reducing the amount the company takes by 23.5 million per day, while it has spearheaded collaboration with farmers and others who impact on water quality.

Record levels of investment in phosphorus removal equipment at water recycling centres helps prevent excessive algae growth and reduced oxygen levels, which can upset the delicate balance of river life.