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£2.2M Grant To Protect Headwaters of The River Test and Itchen

  • Written by Editor

£2.2M Grant To Protect Headwaters of The River Test and ItchenA new project working with communities to celebrate and protect the headwaters of our Test and Itchen rivers has been given the green light.

A £2.2m grant to a project celebrating and protecting the headwaters of the Test and Itchen rivers has been given initial support by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) through its Landscape Partnership (LP) programme, it was announced today.

Partners in this new project will work with seven communities on headwater streams – the Pilhill Brook, Upper Anton, Bourne Rivulet, Upper Test, Candover Brook, River Arle and Cheriton Stream - to develop and put in place plans to protect the rivers in the area.

Water vole © Tom MarshallThe Test and Itchen rivers arise from the chalk of the Hampshire Downs, and define a unique landscape with distinctive chalk stream habitats and winterbournes (streams which dry up in the summer and reappear during wetter winter months). These are internationally important and home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including otter, water vole, kingfisher, water shrew and white-clawed crayfish.

As well as this, the headwaters support a range of heritage industries, villages and their communities. The area is renowned for its fly-fishing, is central to the UK’s watercress industry and its water mills have supported industries such as the production of paper, corn, silk, and even gin.

However the landscape is at risk from pollution, drought and flooding, invasive species, and our built heritage is falling into disrepair.

Working with seven local communities, the early plans include:

Restoring wildlife habitats and historic structures along the river, improving access and raising water quality

Celebrating our heritage through an education programme for schools, sharing walking routes, and a conservation programme for our native crayfish

Showing how people can take action to improve our headwaters, including improving water efficiency, switching to eco-friendly products, and raising awareness of the problem of non-native species

Training and skills development for communities, landowners, and people who volunteer as ‘River Keepers’ to manage their stretches of the river better

Ali Morse, Water Policy & Catchment Technical Specialist at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust said: “For the first time, the project will bring together a partnership of communities, organisations, businesses and individuals who will all be working to protect and improve the headwater streams that are the lifeblood of our chalk rivers.

“From monitoring river wildlife to restoring degraded rivers, reducing pollution-laden runoff to getting schoolchildren interested in fishing, we’ll all be working to the same goal - to ensure that these wonderful streams are valued, and are in the best condition that they can be.”

Drew Bennellick, HLF Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage, said: “Across the UK people are increasingly realising that nature is in trouble and it’s time to take a more proactive approach. Schemes like these provide a creative solution to helping people reconnect with landscapes and the environment, to implement solutions at a truly landscape-scale and tackle issues such as soil loss and flooding by supporting partnerships and coalitions of the willing.”

The project will be co-ordinated by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust on behalf of a partnership of sixteen organisations: Cheriton Parish Council, Country Landowners Association, Environment Agency, Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust and Whitchurch Silk Mill, Hampshire County Council, NFU Watercress Growers Association, Natural England, Portsmouth Water, Salmon and Trout Conservation UK, South Downs National Park Authority, Southern Water, Test and Itchen Association, Watercress Growers Association / Vitacress, Wessex Chalk Streams and River Trust and Wild Trout Trust.