Your committee has been keeping busy with meetings indoors and outdoors with catchment partners, with water companies and emails to government. Much of Europe (and the planet) is already in trouble with drought, even Loch Ness is drying up, hosepipe bans have just been introduced in Kent and Sussex and many of our beaches are deemed unsafe for swimming. Water mis-management and the dire state of our chalk streams seem to be in the news almost every day.

The mismatch of science and simple everyday technology continues to amaze me. We read about advances in science with the likes of graphene, antibiotic development, AI and about “carbon capture and storage”, but our government and water companies seem unable to provide simple public services like “rainfall capture and storage” and adequate sewage disposal. The public rightly continues to blame decades of lack of foresight by successive governments, accumulated funding cuts and the financial engineering within our water companies, whose  terms of reference do not appear to include maintenance of any of the natural assets that belong to us all.

Maybe you can help us. We need to improve the public understanding of what happens when rain meets the ground, of how soil works and of how rivers provide precious habitat not only for fish but the whole web of life whose presence we take for granted. Most of us learn something new every day and come to realise that the lack of insight into how things work (or how to mend things that are broken) is not a sustainable way to live.

Hopefully, new reservoirs will be built at Board Oak and Abingdon but these are years away from being operational. It seems that work on aquifer storage and recovery at Horton Kirby is almost operational but we are told it has now been delayed for budgetary reasons. We probably have to acknowledge that it will take years for water companies to fix so many old pipes and now that sewage outfalls have reached such poisonous levels, they will dominate all financial planning. Unfortunately, people are losing their patience with being asked to save water. You cannot help asking who would want to invest in a water company?

But we cannot all walk away from these problems. Climate change forecasts are accelerating and the poor rainfall in much of Europe seems to demonstrate we live in a more uncertain world and there is no time to be lost.

  • Please engage with your local council and your MP where you can.
  • Please do all you can to reuse grey water in the house and in the garden and encourage others to do the same.
  • Please consider digging a pond if you have room. All sorts of wildlife will appear from almost nowhere. And if you have room for a compost heap that’s another habitat to help create a wildlife corridor with your neighbours.
  • We are campaigning for “water neutrality” in new housebuilding, maybe you can too.  Natural England needs your support. Please help scrutinise planning proposals and query both water supply and sewage capacity.
  • The Darent has important tributaries like the Honeypot and Watercress and they have tributaries too. Please help look after them all if you live nearby.
  • Please pick up plastic wherever you can before it washes into the drains (and the river). North West Kent Countryside Partnership (Mark Gallant is also a committee member) has organised some brilliant work parties where complete strangers come to help collect countless bags of rubbish from our river.
  • It has been interesting to see how eagerly councils and gardeners have adopted “No Mow May” and how verges and lawns have flourished. Maybe we should now preach “let it bloom in June”.
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and our website. We are working on a lovely new website that will be released later this summer.
  • Pollution: We are working with the Darent Farmers Cluster and Kent Wildlife to test the level of nitrates and phosphates in the river and have bought new test kits.

DRiPS and the SE Rivers Trust are worried about the quality of water in the Darent and Cray. In the Darent valley, sewage is piped all the way to a treatment plant in Longreach and there are no major CSO (combined sewer outflow) problems as in other rivers. It could be that the problem is with road runoff. However, when water runs off the road, tyre particles, brake linings and all the “forever chemicals” they contain get washed into the ground and river. Microplastics are often in the news too – how can we possibly mop them up? Rainwater clearly belongs in our aquifers and not in the sewers.

Research from the Rivers Trust and the Wildlife & Countryside Link (https://www.wcl.org.uk/) has found toxic chemical cocktails in more than 1,600 of England’s rivers, including many in our area including the Darent. In response, the Rivers Trust has launched the #ChemicalCocktail campaign. This includes a letter to the Government demanding better protection for our waterways – and you can help by adding your name.

Chemical cocktails were found in 322 rivers, lakes and groundwater sites. Up to 98 different chemicals were found in some rivers in the region. Rivers in the south east with the highest number of individual chemicals detected include: the Stour, Medway, Loddon, Rother, Mole and Wey. Levels of PFAS (known as “forever chemicals” because they take a long time to break down in the environment and our bodies) surveyed on the River Wandle and Mole would have exceeded the proposed EU Environmental Quality standard by 11 times. The Darent has at least one serious failure.
The Rivers Trust movement is asking the Secretary of State for the Environment Thérèse Coffey to take “decisive action” in the forthcoming Chemicals Strategy.

Dr Bella Davies, co-CEO of SERT, said: “We will be signing up to the Rivers Trust’s #ChemicalCocktail campaign to ask the Secretary of State to take action on these chemicals which are so harmful to aquatic wildlife and human health and hope you will too.

“It is absolutely shocking that hazardous chemicals are being allowed to pollute the water environment and are essentially unregulated. We know they have a very serious impact on our aquatic wildlife and there is little understanding about their cocktail effect. This means they can have a greater impact when combined in the environment than on their own.

“The impact on human health is also beginning to emerge. For example ‘forever chemicals’ appear to be a major contributor to infertility. This is very scary because these chemicals are used in everyday life, such as on non-stick cookware, making them ubiquitous and very hard to avoid.

Read more and sign the letter here: https://theriverstrust.org/chemical-cocktail-campaign

We promise to be in touch again soon with a date for our annual meeting.

Stuart Merrylees
Chair