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Government minister Richard Benyon sees the Kennet’s drought disaster for himself

Rivers minister Richard Benyon saw for himself the sad state of dried out sections of the River Kennet at Marlborough on Friday, when he was urged to introduce new regulations on water extraction.

The Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, who is also Tory MP for nearby Newbury, had an on the spot meeting with Charlotte Hitchmough, director of Action for the River Kennet (ARK) and its chairman, Geoffrey Findlay.

They were joined by another campaigner, Tom le Quesne, from the UK branch of the World Wildlife Fund.

And also present to discuss the low flows in the Kennet, one of the worst since 1976, which has killed off fish and devastated the natural environment, was Marlborough MP Claire Perry.

She has supported ARK in its fight over the over-abstraction by Thames Water of millions of gallons of water from the Kennet, which is mainly siphoned off at Axford for the benefit of Swindon residents, but not returned to the river.

And, combined with the current heat wave, that is causing added significant drought problems on the river, but this time to its upper reaches, which provides water for Marlborough and neighbouring villages.

Mrs Perry made it clear to the minister that her in-box was full of letters expressing dismay at the poor state of the upper Kennet.  And she offered such help as she could give to support ARK in its campaign to reduce water abstraction.

As he stood on Fox’s bridge overlooking a dried out section of the river, Mr Benyon agreed that the state of the Kennet, one of England’s rare chalk streams, was “very worrying”.

The meeting was an opportunity to discuss how government policy can be altered to encourage water companies to select less vulnerable sources of water, and how water customers can be encouraged to value every drop.

Geoffrey Findlay, ARK's chairman told Marlborough News Online:  “We were able to discuss in some detail the problems the river Kennet is facing and how they might be solved.  I think we made some good progress.  The minister was generous with his time, and is clearly engaged with the issue of water abstraction.”

ARK told the minister that they welcomed Thames Water's aspiration to reduce reliance on the Kennet aquifer to supply water but would like a clear timetable for action, particularly in relation to the Axford borehole.

In addition ARK would like to see a regulatory system which encouraged water companies to protect fragile water resources.

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