The River Chess – Latest news

Posted On October 8, 2018
October 08, 2018

River Chess Association (RCA) Chair Paul Jennings updates us on facts and news relevant to our precious chalk stream – some good and some not so good. Here are the main points in a nutshell…


  • Farmers have been reverting to unimproved meadows which means more traditional chalk landscape resulting in a resurgence of wild flowers, especially pyramidal orchids and wild marjoram.
  • Unimproved meadows are grazed lightly by sheep that are introduced to the field after flowers seed and their feet tread the seeds into soil creating handy natural planting.
  • Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,Michael Gove is planning to actively incentivise farmers by providing subsidies for any environmentally friendly measures they carry out like planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife or improving water /curbing flooding and improving access to countryside – good news for the Chess Valley.
  • The fresh clean alkaline river water is a haven for lot of species – Brown trout, May fly and Grayling flourish as do mammals like otter and water vole that are.closely monitored by RCA .Waterplants like Crowsfoot/Ranunculus really thrive –
  • More public access is being given to previous no-go areas of the Chess via Guided walks out of Latimer Park . (£5)   “They are proving popular” says Paul, ”especially with photographers and wildlife enthusiasts – Our next  autumn walk is from Latimer Park on 27th  October at 3.30pm . For details contact  And in summer we hope to host an orchid walk”


  • We come high up the offenders list due to our lack of awareness, using on average up to186 litres of water per head a day with little effort to save any. This summer our water supplier Affinity saw record weekend levels of demand as people rushed home to water their gardens and fill the paddling pools. Remember lawns will go brown when it is dry but will recover quickly once the rain arrives.
  • Despite inevitable autumn rain we are still in a perilous situation and need to look at long term use and little things that make a difference like fixing dripping taps and catching shower water in a bucket to re-use.
  • Autumn and winter rain will recharge the aquifer (water-bearing permeable rock)but water is abstracted for drinking water from boreholes in the Chilterns by the water companies which constantly empties itand causes problems.
  • – As the water doesn’t go into the river the flow is badly affected which results in a loss of fish and invertebrates
  • When the level sinks below the points where springs emerge, the chalk stream dries up –  Chesham was once a reliable water source but at the Queen’s Head it has  dreid again for the  5thtime in 6 years.
  • The Crestyl watercress farm at Moor Lane, Sarratt run by the third generation Jon Tyler is suffering. The watercress grows in gravel beds which are bathed by the

spring water from chalk soil, which provide the calcium nutrients.

One of originally 19 beds between Sarratt and Chesham, Crestylis the only working watercress farm on the Chess and the sole survivor in the Chilterns. The business relies on water from the artesian wells and pumped water but low groundwater causes the flows to be reversed so the wells drain water away down the holes in the riverbed. There is great concern for the future of this 130 yr old family business which is only just surviving    


 We need.. 

  • Water companies to reduce abstraction
  • A regional body to build water infrastructure instead of individual water companies as well as a strategy for the south east with Government involvement.
  • A reservoir –  Plans for a potential site in Abingdon, Oxfordshirerejected by the Government in 2011 have been revived by Thames Water and Affinity Water although isn’t likely to happen until 2037.  
  • More volunteers for RCA to work on projects to improve water quality – Rangers, Flow and level monitors, Water Vole Monitors, Project workers and Data Administrators needed



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