Wiltshire has been the epicentre of life and culture on this island for thousands of years. This is, in large part, due to its position as the triple hydrological divide of the South of England. To the west, the Bristol Avon meanders to Bristol Channel and out into the Atlantic; to the south, the Wiltshire Avon catchment drains into the English Channel; and, to the east, the Kennet flows towards the Thames, and into the North Sea. The abundance of clean water has helped humans thrive for millennia in this part of the world.
The current state of our rivers, and particularly our world-renowned chalk streams, is cause for serious concern. Untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and domestic cleaning products are just a few of the issues affecting these finely balanced ecosystems which form the ecological arteries of the country.
It is with these issues in mind that I have been working with local groups and my fellow MPs to improve the appalling situation we find ourselves in. Earlier this month in Marlborough Town Hall I met with a collection of like-minded specialists in this field who all want to see our rivers returned to a natural and healthy state.
Charlotte Hitchmough of Action for the River Kennet, Gary Mantle of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, David Scott, David Bromhead and Tom Putnam (three highly concerned and knowledgeable constituents) have agreed to help monitor and document the state of our three great rivers so that I and other MPs can take the case to Parliament to enact real change. We need to see a shift in OFWAT’s mandate so that natural and catchment-based solutions are pushed to the forefront; water companies must be allowed to invest in their distribution and treatment networks to cater for increased development and climate changes; farmers must be encouraged to reduce their use of nitrate and phosphate-based fertilisers; and we all must be more careful about our use of water and the products we allow to enter the water systems.
For too long, we have allowed environmental concerns to be overridden by short-term economic and development pressures. As a result, these wonderful assets are now under threat and action is badly needed. I will continue to push the Government, OFWAT and the water companies to invest in their infrastructure and reduce the number of pollutants that enter these fragile systems. A holistic and nature based approach is needed to succeed and we will all need to play our part in helping to restore these wonderful natural assets to their former glory.