Test and Itchen Association News

JIM GLASSPOOL


September 2020

It is with great sadness that we report that Jim Glasspool passed away on 7 September. Jim was Secretary of the Test and Itchen Association for 20 years from 1991 to 2011, and then a member of the Board. He attended his last Board meeting by Zoom in June, demonstrating that he always moved with the times as well as having an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything to do with the history of the Hampshire chalkstreams. His wise counsel, deep scientific knowledge and consensual approach to tackling problems will be greatly missed. He was a true gentleman – and a fine fisherman. He was fishing on his beloved Itchen only a few days before he died.

Jim made a contribution to fishing and the environment on a much wider stage than that provided by the Test and Itchen Association. He was, for example, instrumental in setting up the Angling Trust, the national fishing organisation, and the Wessex Rivers Trust. The Association will carry a full tribute to Jim in its 2020 Rivers Report.

Jim Glasspool

Solent & South Downs rainfall map for the 12 months to August 2020.  Figures are a percentage of average rainfall over this period (source Environment Agency Hydrology monthly report August).

SOUTHERN WATER START RIVER TEST DROUGHT ORDER APPLICATION PROCESS


August 2020


On 7 August, Southern Water announced that they had started the 60-day process of applying for a Drought Order on the River Test. A Drought Order would allow Southern Water to continue abstracting water from the river if the flow fell below the minimum level agreed during the March 2018 Public Inquiry into Southern Water’s abstraction licences.

We have had some hot and dry spells of weather recently, but there has been 130% of the long-term average rainfall over the last 12 months, so there should be no need for our chalkstreams to be threatened in this way. The reason they are is that Southern Water have failed to invest in new sources of water – reservoirs, desalination plants, more water re-use. They are committed to having these new sources of water available by 2027, but progress towards this objective has been glacially slow.

With groundwater levels and river flows still mainly normal or above average for the time of year across the region, there really should be no reason for Southern Water to pursue this application unless we have an exceptionally dry September and October.

A GOOD YEAR FOR CHALKSTREAM SALMON AND SEA TROUT?


July 2020

The Test and Itchen are best known as trout rivers, but they have historically had big salmon and sea trout runs. As elsewhere in the country, numbers have declined significantly over recent decades, but July saw a welcome surge in the numbers entering both rivers.

Up to the end of July, 500 salmon and 310 sea trout had entered the Test, against a 5-year average of 350 and 160 respectively. The numbers for the Itchen were 220 salmon and 275 sea trout, against a 5-year average of 140 and 160.There are a number of theories as to why this might be – reduced commercial coastal fishing because of the pandemic, a good spawning winter two or three winters ago and unusual barometric pressures amongst them – but no proven explanation. Migratory fish normally respond to increased river flows but that cannot be the explanation this year.

Whatever the explanation, long may the surge continue!

River Test cumulative daily salmon counts from 1st January to end of July (source Environment Agency Test & Itchen Salmon Counters report July).

FISHING RESUMES


May 2020

As part of the first steps in the easing of the Coronavirus restrictions, the government has announced that fishing is a permitted activity with effect from 13 May. For chalkstream fishermen, this announcement is particularly timely as the first hatches of Mayfly are being reported on the Test and Itchen. It follows a lot of hard work by the Angling Trust and others persuading the government that fishing is an inherently very low risk activity from the point of view of catching or spreading the virus.

Fishermen will need to abide by social distancing guidelines and can only fish with a member of their own household or one other person. Fisheries will be putting in place measures to make fishing as safe as possible. There will be restrictions on the use of fishing huts and other shared facilities for at least the next few weeks.

Test and Itchen fisheries will be looking to open as soon as possible but not all of them will be in a position to do so on 13 May. Check the position with the fishery you are planning to visit before travelling.

WHEELABRATOR ABANDON PLANS TO BUILD HUGE INCINERATOR NEAR BARTON STACEY

February 2020

On 20 February, Wheelabrator announced that it will no longer proceed with its plans to build a colossal waste-to-energy facility at Harewood, near Barton Stacey (see October 2019 News Item).

This is a very welcome development. The Association made the case that the facility would have posed a risk to water quality in the Upper Test and Dever. More fundamentally, there was no need for another waste-to-energy facility in Hampshire. If there was, Harewood was not the place to build it.

The company’s decision not to proceed followed an energetic and well-organised campaign by a local group, Bin the Incinerator, which helped generate thousands of objections to the proposal. The Association was pleased to be one of many national and local environmental groups who objected to the plan, as did local MPs and Councils.

A good day for the Test Valley.

HEAVY WINTER RAINFALL BODES WELL FOR RIVER FLOWS THIS SUMMER

January 2020

 A River Test Drought Permit was issued on 6 September 2019, with river flows exceptionally low and groundwater levels declining rapidly. As is often the case with such events, the heavens then opened. Rainfall across the Test and Itchen Catchments over the four-month period September-December 2019 was more than 150% of the long-term average. The total of 504mm. was the highest since 2002 (505mm). River flows responded and by the end December they ranged from above normal for the time of year (Chilbolton on the Test) to High (Broadlands on the Test, Highbridge on the Itchen, Mislingford on the Meon).

Groundwater levels in the chalk aquifer also responded quickly to the heavy rainfall, beginning to recover at the end of September, earlier than usual. Groundwater levels across the Catchments are now above normal for the time of year. All this bodes well for river flows this coming Summer.

You can read the Environment Agency’s December 2019 rainfall, river flow and groundwater data for the Test and Itchen Catchments here.

WHEELABRATOR HAREWOOD

December 2019

A US company called Wheelabrator is planning to build a colossal new waste-to-energy facility at Barton Stacey, near the confluence of the Upper Test and Dever. It would be more than twice the size of Winchester Cathedral and burn 500,000 tonnes of waste a year. The Association is deeply concerned about the potential environmental impact of this development to which it strongly objects.

The Association believes the development would constitute both an immediate and potential threat to the water quality of the Upper Test and Dever and the chalk aquifer on which they depend for their flows. The water demands of the plant when in operation would place extra demands on an already stressed water supply network in area of water shortage, with consequential adverse impacts on river flows.

More fundamentally, there is no requirement for an additional waste to energy facility in Hampshire. If there was, a greenfield site with no existing infrastructure would not be the place to build it. Doing so, would be an act of environmental vandalism. This ill-conceived proposal should not be allowed to progress any further.

You can read the full text of the Test and Itchen Association’s submission to the public consultation which ended on 12 December here.

MEMBERS DAY AT SPARSHOLT

October 2019

 90 members of the Association gathered at Sparsholt on 18 October for the Association’s annual Autumn Members day. During the morning, we enjoyed a series of excellent talks. Paul Knight, Chief Executive of Salmon and Trout Conservation, and Neil Freeman, Chairman of the Test Salmon Group, got the morning started by underlining the seriousness of the situation facing salmon and sea trout in Hampshire’s chalkstreams and the need to take bold action now to arrest the decline in the number of these fish returning to our rivers. Shirley Medgett from the Environment Agency then explained the criteria used by the regulators to judge the condition of the chalkstreams and how the rivers were doing against those yardsticks.

The morning continued in lighter vein with Gilly Bate sharing some “Confessions of a fishing guide” and Ron Dadswell, one of the Association’s River Test wardens, entertaining us with stories about some of the fascinating things he has stumbled across in his 20 years patrolling the riverbank. The morning concluded with master fisherman Charles Jardine revealing his “10 Commandments” for the chalkstream fly-fisher. Some of us then moved on to Bossington on the River Test to see how a major and ambitious river restoration project had turned out two years after it was completed. The results were truly impressive.

The consensus was that it was an excellent day – informative, stimulating and entertaining and a good opportunity to network with other chalkstream enthusiasts, whether they be river owners, river keepers or fishermen. These days are free of charge to our members who pay an annual subscription of just £40. If you would like an opportunity to attend such an event in the future, Join Us now.

Members at the morning event

Members at the Bossington River Visit

The source of the River Test at Ashe in August – dry for the first time in 10 years

EA Hydrology data up to August for River Test at Broadlands

RIVER TEST DROUGHT PERMIT GRANTED

September 2019

The Environment Agency granted Southern Water’s River Test Drought Permit application on 6 September. River Test flows are still above the level – known as the Hands-Off Flow –  that would require Southern Water to rely on the permit to continue abstraction so there is no need for Southern Water to use the permit yet, but the fact that the permit has been granted is an indication of how low river levels have fallen in recent weeks.

The new abstraction licences imposed on Southern Water in March mean that drought permits are likely to be a more regular occurrence until Southern Water has brought on stream new sources of water supply. These new sources include the construction of a desalination plant and a new reservoir. More water re-use and leak and demand reduction are also part of the mix. The Association and like-minded organisations will be maintaining the pressure on Southern Water to keep to the timetable in their latest Business Plan for the implementation of these projects and initiatives. 2027 is the date by which Southern Water should have completed most of the work.

In the meantime, a significant sum of Southern Water money – about £10 million – has been set aside for various initiatives to make the Hampshire chalkstreams more resilient to low flows. This is welcome but is not a substitute for developing new sources of water – the Chiltern chalkstreams are a sad reminder of what happens when chalkstreams and their underlying chalk aquifer are over-abstracted for public water supply.

SALMON AND SEA TROUT NUMBERS CRASH

August 2019

The latest figures from the Environment Agency for salmon and sea trout entering the Test and Itchen from the sea make depressing reading. Up to the end of August, only 150 salmon had entered the Test since the beginning of the year. Over the last three years, the average for this time of year has been 500. That in itself is way below the Test salmon runs of the past that used to be counted in thousands. The figures for sea trout entering the Test show a similar marked decline. Both salmon and sea trout numbers have now fallen below what is considered the minimum for a sustainable population.

The figures for the Itchen are also low but have held up better than the Test. Why? River flows have been stronger on the Itchen than the Test which might be part of the explanation – migratory fish need strong flows to encourage them to enter the river from the sea. The collapse of an obstacle to upstream migration at the bottom of the Itchen might also help explain why the numbers are better in comparison to the Test. Food for thought.

Fly Fishing Masterclass

MEMBERS DAY AT LECKFORD

June 2019

There is no shortage of problems facing the chalkstreams. Over-abstraction of water leading to low river flows. Poor water quality contributing to declines in river flies. Invasive species threatening native fauna and flora. It is sometimes easy to forget just how magical the Hampshire chalkstreams remain.

Our members were given an opportunity to celebrate all that is best about them at our Summer Event which took place in the glorious surroundings of the Leckford Estate at Longstock. We enjoyed fly-fishing masterclasses, casting clinics and competitions, and fly-tying demonstrations. There were botanist-guided walks, photography workshops and a river-fly stand for those not solely focussed on improving their chances of catching a River Test trout. The Leckford team laid on an outstanding Hog Roast lunch to recharge our batteries between the morning and afternoon programmes.

The opportunity to enjoy days such as these is just one of the benefits of membership of the Association. Join Us.

ABSTRACTION INQUIRY OUTCOME

February 2019

On 26 February, the Secretary of State for the Environment approved the recommendations made by the Inspector following the Public Inquiry into new abstraction licences in March 2018. These new licences restrict the amount of water Southern Water can take from the Test and Itchen for public water supply. The new licence limits are not that different to the existing levels of actual abstraction but represent a significant reduction in the amount of water that can be abstracted. And, for the first time, the licences define river flow levels below which abstraction must stop – so called Hands-Off Flows.

So what? The key outcome is that the new licences will require Southern Water to invest in new water sources, including a desalination plant and a new reservoir. This will mean that the company is not wholly reliant on sucking water out of the aquifer and the rivers to keep the taps running. This amounts to a very significant improvement in the environmental safeguards for the Hampshire chalkstreams – once the new sources come on stream. The Association and other like-minded organisations have been working hard to achieve this outcome for the best part of 10 years, supporting the Environment Agency who are responsible for issuing and revising the licences. It demonstrates that campaigning and lobbying can make a difference. A good day for the Test and Itchen.

TEST AND ITCHEN RIVER FLY CENSUS REPORT

December 2018

Salmon and Trout Conservation have published the results of their River Fly Census on the Test and Itchen. The report was based on the analysis of river fly samples collected at sites on the two rivers over the period 2015-2017. The Association was pleased to contribute to this initiative by helping to fund the collection and analysis of the samples in 2017.

What are the conclusions? The report demonstrates clearly what those who spend time by the rivers have known for some time. River flies in terms of both abundance and diversity have declined over the past three decades. The data also points clearly to the main reasons for the decline: too much sediment and too much phosphate. A cocktail of complex chemicals in the rivers, including pesticides and insecticides, are also to blame. Armed with this evidence, efforts to prevent sediment getting into the rivers and to reduce phosphate levels can be better targeted. These efforts are beginning to have an impact – there is evidence that phosphate levels in the Test and Itchen are beginning to decline – but there is still much more to do.

The Association is planning to continue the River Fly Census on the Test and Itchen to ensure we have a continuous set of independent, scientifically rigorous evidence with which to keep the pressure on the regulators to address the problems. The River Fly Census also demonstrates the value of building strong partnerships with organisations like Salmon and Trout Conservation to make things happen. Chalkstream conservation is a team sport – nothing can be achieved working in isolation.

Our members’ subscriptions fund this vital work. If you would like to be part of the team helping conserve the Hampshire chalkstreams Join Us now.

You can read the full text of the Test and Itchen River Fly Census Report here.

More news can be found in our NEWS ARCHIVE.