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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Effective management of chalk streams

Published: 13 November 2009

Involving the community in a precious Hampshire ecosystem

The Vitacress Conservation Trust (VCT) was initiated in 2006 and represents a unique collaboration between industry, academia and other stakeholders committed to the conservation and effective management of chalk streams. Chalk streams are a precious ecosystem in Hampshire, of global significance and associated with world-class biodiversity and habitat value. At the same time, they are threatened by over-abstraction of ground water, diffuse and point source pollution and from threats associated with intensification of watercress farming, fish-farming and stocking, invasion by non-native species and stringent requirements of the angling community.

In the School of Biological Sciences, Professor Gail Taylor was asked to Chair the VCT, from its inteption, following a research relationship with Vitacress Salads that spans the last ten years. The Patron of The Trust is Lord Selborne and the trustees are drawn from the company, from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and from independent conservation experts.

In partnership with the University, the Trust has sponsored three Annual Environment Lectures, with speakers ranging from the Government Chief Scientist to the TV conservation celebrity from Spring and Autumn watch and a Southampton graduate, Chris Packham. These lectures regularly attract in excess of 200 people. In 2010, plans are advanced for a debate ‘Thought For Food’ with speakers drawn to represent biotechnology, organic agriculture and conservation-status farming. For the first time, local Sixth Form Colleges will be invited to attend, giving and even wider audience and debate on this important topic.

In addition to this, The Trust works with school children, funding ‘Watch’ groups, encouraging youngest to get involved with conservation in the environment. The Trust is also developing teaching packs on sustainable farming for use by primary school children.

Each year ‘The Chalk Headwaters Forum’ is hosted – a discussion day to identify issues of concern and this has lead to the development of ‘The Bourne Rivulet Project’ and ‘The Upper Itchen Project’. The VCT has funded a PhD studentship at the university to address concerns over watercress farming and has provided the conclusive evidence that watercress wash water was damaging freshwater shrimp numbers – an important part of the food chain for chalk streams. This has contributed important evidence and a management plan to divert wash water away from the stream, to ensure shrimp numbers remain high. A second PhD will consider the role of phosphorous in damaging chalk stream function.

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