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'We will never get them back' - rare chalk rivers and streams at risk of drying out in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 09:50 11 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:50 11 September 2019

John Bailey has warned more must be done to save Norfolk's Chalk Rivers. Picture: John Bailey/Ian Tinton

John Bailey has warned more must be done to save Norfolk's Chalk Rivers. Picture: John Bailey/Ian Tinton

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Chalk rivers in Norfolk are in danger of drying out, a conservationist has warned, as water levels fall below the expected average.

The low water level at the Little Ouse River. Picture: Ian TintonThe low water level at the Little Ouse River. Picture: Ian Tinton

With just 200 in the world, John Bailey said Norfolk is blessed to have 16 chalk rivers in the county.

Mr Bailey, a fishery consultant and conservationist, has warned that these could be lost in just a few years unless action is taken.

"We are incredibly blessed in this county because we have chalk streams," he said.

"They are special and extremely rare, but I have to say we look after them abysmally.

The low water level at the Little Ouse River. Picture: Ian TintonThe low water level at the Little Ouse River. Picture: Ian Tinton

"It's extraordinary that we have David Attenborough in this country yet when it comes to the way we treat the environment we are way behind Europe."

Despite there being a large number of chalk rivers in Norfolk, there are only about 200 in the world.

Notable examples include the Yare, Waveney, Wensum, Thet and Heacham.

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Mr Bailey added: "I recently took a tour of all the rivers, which are chalk streams, and we aren't looking after any.

"We are not talking about losing them in a couple of lifetimes but in a few years and we will never get them back.

"We are concentrating on getting up on plastic but the next question will be where are we going to get our water from?"

The comments come after low water levels were recorded in south west Norfolk.

John Bailey has warned more must be done to save Norfolk's Chalk Rivers. Picture: John BaileyJohn Bailey has warned more must be done to save Norfolk's Chalk Rivers. Picture: John Bailey

The Environment Agency (EA) said hot weather over the past two years has not allowed water levels to recover, putting them at risk of drying out.

An EA spokesperson said: "Following on from the hot and dry summer we experienced in 2018, our area did not received the winter rainfall we would normally expect.

"The winter period is when groundwater levels usually recover. Rainfall was only 75pc of the long term average between November and April.

"It is the chalk groundwater which provides the base flow to the River Little Ouse [near Thetford] in the summer and this is predominantly why we are currently seeing such low flows."

The agency will have to wait until later this year to see if the water levels are able to recover.

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