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Red alert is issued as the River Kennet runs dangerously dry in Marlborough

Another red alert danger signal was issued today over the fate of the River Kennet, one of Britain’s famed chalk streams, which has hit a new low due to a combination of water extraction and drought.

A stretch of the river running alongside the grounds of Marlborough College has been reduced to a few intermittent pools with long stretches reduced to just pebbles and stones, all wildlife wiped out.

“It is shocking, quite incredible,” Charlotte Hitchmough, director of Action River Kennet (ARK), told Marlborough News Online.  “I have been there for 11 years and I have never seen the river as low as this.

This is a real danger signal.  To get the water table up needs six weeks’ of solid rain.  But the forecast for this week is more dryness and warm weather, which is bad for the standing pools because as the temperature rises the water holds less oxygen for the fish.

“I bumped into a lady on Fox’s bridge who has been here for 20 years and she has never seen it as bad as this.  The last time this stretch dried up so disastrously was apparently in 1976.”
Charlotte Hitchmough, director of Action River Kennet (ARK)


For more than an hour today Charlotte, aided by Sean Dempster, keeper of the fishery and lakes at Marlborough College, and Matt Gow, the College’s head of politics and an active ARK supporter, tried to save the fish in a 30 yard long pool below the bridge.

Three times they trawled a net up and down and ended up with just seven brown trout, grayling and bullheads, which were then transferred into the College lake.

But while Thames Water have been strenuously criticised for extracting too much water from the Kennet to pipe to residents of Swindon, the missing water in this case is the supply that goes to Marlborough itself and neighbouring villages via the Clatford aquifer and another further upstream.

“Most people don’t realise that Marlborough’s water comes from the Kennet and this is returned after treatment.  We should all be using less and do all we can in these circumstances.  It’s tempting to say it’s all Thames Water’s fault but actually is us here who are using the water too.”

A spokeswoman for Thames Water told Marlborough News Online: “Could you please contact the Environment Agency on this, as they are responsible for rivers and water levels.”

This came as a surprise to Charlotte, who believes the company should be aware of the need to balance water needs by taking water out further downstream in response to sections going dry in Marlborough.
“Thames Water should take serious note that the aquifer is being pushed to its limit and there is simply not enough water to sustain a good river supply,” she pointed out.

There is a meeting at Hungerford on Friday, to be attended by Newbury MP Richard Benyon, the government minister responsible for Britain’s rivers, local MP Claire Perry, members of ARK and Thames Water.

Mr Benyon is promoting a White Paper seeking water reforms but it has yet to be published let alone become the basis for new legislation.

“Even when that happens any changes on the ground will take up to two years,” warned Charlotte. “We might not have a River Kennet by then.”

Simon Evans, Thames’ media relations manager, said later: "We only take water from the river to meet the needs of our customers.  We do this under licences issued by the Environment Agency, who are responsible for maintaining river flows.

“They have made it clear that the cause of the current low flows in the Marlborough area is not water abstraction.  If we were to stop abstracting water, people's taps in the area would run dry almost immediately."

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