About us

The Darent River Preservation Society acts as ‘the voice of the River Darent’. We provide a counterweight against increasing demand for water, changing land use and pollution, which threaten the long-term health and survival of the river and its flora and fauna.

The Society was established in 1985 to restore and preserve the Darent after sections of the river ran dry during periods of low rainfall. By highlighting the problem and working with government and interested parties, a multi-million-pound Darent Action Plan was instigated. After much pressure and negotiation, the water companies agreed to reduce their abstraction of water and the river slowly regained its flow.

However, the health of the river remains precarious in the face of continuing groundwater abstraction by water companies, increased development and changing climate. DRiPS seeks to raise awareness of these issues among local communities, the wider public and policymakers. We act in partnership with a range of organisations with responsibility for or an interest in the future of the river.

 

 

“All efforts to help the River Darent will fail without close involvement of the community and so we specially value our contacts with DRiPS which must be among the most well organised and articulate of all pressure groups dealing with the problems of low flows.”
Report for the National Rivers Authority, 1992

Our Purpose

The Darent River Preservation Society aims to protect and improve the River Darent, its catchment and tributaries.

We are concerned with the quantity and quality of the water and seek to enhance the health of the flora and fauna in the river and its environment. We have close links with all organisations which have an interest in the river and its environment.

We recognise the importance of the river for recreation, health and well-being. We support initiatives to advance education about how to look after the river and to increase accessibility. We actively encourage members of the community to get involved.

DRiPS seeks to be a central point of information about the River Darent. We highlight issues which adversely affect the river as well as initiatives for improvement. We campaign for a sustainable water industry and resilient planning regime which operate in the best interests of the public and the environment.

Our campaigns

Water neutrality

New development must embrace water neutrality to reduce further stress on water supplies.

Healthy river, healthy flow

Reduce abstraction, improve water retention in the catchment to restore healthy flow levels.

Invasive non-native species

Control and removal of plants and creatures that threaten the river and native species.

What we’ve achieved

Our tireless lobbying put the plight of the Darent on the political agenda. In the first 15 years since DRiPS formed, no fewer than 20 reports were written about the river’s low flow by bodies such as the National Rivers Authority, Thames Water and the Environment Agency.

Moving from reports to solution was a slow process. In 1994, the National Rivers Authority summarised all the major reports and recommended actions. Nearly 10 years later, the Environment Agency (which had taken over from the NRA) commissioned another study with a further series of recommendations for a strategy to preserve the river.

The first phase of the resulting Darent Action Plan, completed in 2013, was a scheme to close or reduce abstraction from some of the pumping stations in the Darent Valley and to evaluate other schemes to help restore the river.

It included a 10-mile pipeline to transfer groundwater from the Bean well field and local quarry to the Green Street Green treatment works and on to Horton Kirby pumping station and Farningham reservoir for distribution. This allowed abstraction to be reduced from the aquifers that feed the natural springs that create and maintain the Darent. In addition six artificial augmentation springs were proposed – of which three were built (but are rarely used).

From the Archives

At the Society’s Annual Meeting in Eynsford on Wednesday 17th April 2013 we reviewed and celebrated the completion of the Darent Action Plan – a historic landmark for the river. Click the links to read presentations from the Environment Agency and Thames Water, as well as the Spring 2013 edition of the Society’s NewsFlow Newsletter.

Our Committee

WILLIAM ALEXANDER

STUART MERRYLEES

TREVOR CARMAN

JACKIE IMAS

STEVE CROWLEY

MALCOLM DUNN

ROD SHELTON

MARK GALLANT

Our partners and links

We work in partnership with charities, government agencies, water companies, local communities, angling societies, parish councils and voluntary organisations who have an interest in our fragile river. Our interest is in protecting and enhancing what remains while developing a better understanding of our river, its aquifers and catchment, fish and wildlife.

Darent and Cray Catchment Partnership

The Catchment Based Approach embeds collaborative working at a river catchment scale to deliver a range of social, environmental and economic benefits while protecting precious water environments. The initiative brings together government, local authorities, water companies and other stakeholders to maximise the natural value of our environment. We attend regular meetings which serve both as fact-finding and to identify opportunities for action.

Our local catchment partnership is hosted by the South East Rivers Trust and co-hosted by North West Kent Countryside Partnership. The vision of the partnership is for the Darent and Cray to be a clean, healthy river system with sustainable flow which supports a diversity of wildlife by 2027. The Action Plan outlining the aims, objectives and actions to restore the rivers back to health can be seen here.

Water Companies

Various water companies have interests in and impacts on the River Darent and its catchment. The two main ones are:

South East Water which supplies drinking water drawn from local aquifers to customers to the east of the Darent. It does not treat sewage. It has local water treatment plants and abstraction boreholes at Sevenoaks, Kemsing and Hartley.

Thames Water abstracts water from aquifers in the vicinity of the Darent to supply customers across north-west Kent and London. Thames also operates sewage treatment works across the area, although none are in the immediate vicinity of the Darent, which largely escapes pollution from sewage overflow. Near real-time information on all untreated sewage discharge across Thames Water’s network can be seen here.

Other water companies which either abstract or supply water across the catchment are Southern Water, Affinity Water and SES Water.

DRiPS is very concerned about the future availability of drinking water as the population of the South East continues to grow, and climate change brings increasingly extreme weather and more unpredictable rainfall. We closely follow the activities of Water Resources South East which is an alliance of the six water companies that cover the South East region of England. Its aim is to secure the water supply for future generations and has been developing a regional resilience plan for all users of water as a blueprint for water supply investment by each water company in the region. The draft regional plan for the South East was published in 2022. Consultation on the plan closed in 2023 and the response will follow later in the year. More information about the draft plan is available here.

Regulatory and bodies and government agencies

Ofwat – regulates the water sector in England and Wales

RAPID – the Regulators’ Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID) was formed to help accelerate the development of new water infrastructure and design future regulatory frameworks. The joint team is made up of the three water regulators Ofwat, Environment Agency and Drinking Water Inspectorate. In 2022, DRiPS met with Paul Hickey, Managing Direct of RAPID to discuss issues and concerns in relation to the Darent and local water supply.

Environment Agency – The Environment Agency is the first port of call for incidents such as signs of pollution or quantities of fish in distress on the river. It is actively involved in the management of the river on both strategic and practical levels.

Natural England Natural England was established by an Act of Parliament in 2006 and its purpose is to the help conserve and manage the natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations. In recent years, it has produced position statements for various county councils in respect of water neutrality. Water neutrality is defined as development that takes place which does not increase the rate of water abstraction for drinking water supplies above existing levels. We fully support this position and believe it should be extended. It creates challenges in respect of new development, but for too long, new-build projects are allowed to proceed with no regard to future availability of water and adequate sewage treatment.

Local partners

Darent Valley Farmer Cluster The Darent Valley Farmer Cluster is comprised of farmers and landowners who are committed to sustainably farming and managing the precious landscape of the Darent Valley. In 2022 the cluster was awarded one of only 22 Landscape Recovery projects approved across England. The river is at the heart of the project, which plans to improve hydrology and aquatic biodiversity by removing weirs and other blockers, improving existing riparian habitat, and creating a habitat mosaic. 

Darent Valley Landscape Partnership Scheme This is a large-scale partnership which is working to conserve and enhance the distinctive heritage landscapes of the Darent Valley and to connect people to the Valley.

The Countryside Charity (Kent) CPRE Kent is a campaigning group aiming to protect the county from inappropriate development. 

Local Member of Parliament: We raise key issues with our local MP through letters and meetings.

Charities and other groups

Kent Wildlife Trust – the leading conservation charity for the county of Kent.

The Rivers Trust – the umbrella organisation for 65 member Rivers Trusts. DRiPS works directly with our local organisation, South East Rivers Trust.

The River Restoration Centre – the national expert advice centre for best practice river restoration, habitat enhancement and catchment management.

The Chalk Aquifer Alliance – uniting independent groups to protect chalk streams.

Thames 21 – the voice for London’s waterways.

The Wildlife and Countryside Link – the largest environment and wildlife coalition in the UK, bringing together 78 organisations to use one voice for the protection of nature.

Water neutrality

The issue:

Pressure on water supplies is only going to increase in the future. Measures are needed now to ensure demand is sustainable. A sensible way forward embraces the principle of water neutrality. This requires that the water footprint of a community is the same after any new development takes place. It is achieved by reducing water demand within the development as much as possible and by offsetting additional demand through methods such as retrofitting existing properties.

What do we want to see:

  1. Embrace water neutrality in the planning system to deliver financial, environmental and social benefits. Less water will be used in homes, water bills will be reduced, and unsustainable abstraction from rivers and groundwater sources can be stopped.
  2. The requirement for all new-build properties to be fitted with water efficient products such as aerated taps and shower heads, water butts in gardens and low flush toilets.
  3. Greywater recycling and rainwater collection to be integrated into the design of new homes  for purposes such as flushing toilets and watering the garden.

Did you know?

24% of water in the home is used for flushing the toilet and 4% externally for the garden. A water reuse system could save at least a quarter of household consumption if it was installed for these purposes.

Progress:

The Darent runs through an area which is classified as being under serious water stress. While there is much talk about the need for a long-term plan to safeguard water supply in such areas, there has been very little action.

Progress has been made on linking the principle of water neutrality to new development but so far this is limited to a few councils in West Sussex. 

We will continue to lobby for principle of water neutrality to be adopted to ensure new homes are designed to be resilient and fit for the future. Ignoring the real consequences of climate change for the availability of water is neither sensible or sustainable.

Healthy River, healthy flow

The issue:

The river is nothing without water. Concern about water levels prompted the formation of DRiPS. We have made significant progress but low flow continues to be a problem. Levels regularly fall well below what is considered to be ecologically healthy. Even after the Darent Action plan, in 2021 the Darent and Cray were identified as being among the top five most abstracted chalk streams in the UK by the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) chalk streams group.

What do we want to see:

  1. A significant reduction in groundwater abstraction by water companies from sites that are close to and upstream of the river. This primarily relates to abstractions by Thames Water and SE Water.
  2. Nature-based solutions which help to keep water in the landscape, preventing run off into drains and out to sea.
  3. A better understanding of the role of weirs in sustaining water levels during periods of drought.

Progress:

In the latest Water Resources Management Plan from Thames Water, abstraction reductions are finally on the agenda. However, like many aspects of these plans, the ambitions are made for 2040/50 and beyond. This is too late. Over-abstraction has already continued for too long. Naturalised flow underpins all the other measures to improve or restore the ecology of our river, so a reduction in abstraction needs to be a priority.

The award of a Landscape Recovery Project to the Darent Valley Farmer Cluster with its focus on the theme of river restoration is an exciting development from many perspectives. River flows in the future will hopefully benefit from the introduction of nature-based solutions that improve flood mitigation and drought resilience.

Tackling invasive non-native species

The issue:

Invasive non-native species are a threat to native plants and animals. We are particularly concerned about Himalayan Balsam, American mink and signal crayfish.

What do we want to see:

  1. Understanding of the problems caused by these species and programmes to eradicate them from the river and its environs.
  2. Awareness by river users of the importance of following basic biosecurity measures - https://www.nonnativespecies.org/what-can-i-do/check-clean-dry/.
  3. Help from the local community in eradication programmes - particularly Himalayan Balsam.

Progress:

Thanks to the efforts of teams of volunteers working with NWKCP, Himalayan Balsam has largely been removed from stretches of the mid and lower Darent. However, vast fields of the plant have been found in the Upper Darent. Removal is important to avoid seeds being carried down river and re-establishing new strongholds. Balsam bashing takes place between June and mid-August.

Horrors of Himalayan Balsam

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