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Improving the management of chalk streams

Posted 30 March 2015

Dale Webb volunteering

Do river enhancement projects improve the biodiversity of chalk streams? That is a question being addressed through research instigated by a final year Harper Adams student.

Dale Webb studies BSc (Hons) Countryside and Environmental Management and is looking at how different management techniques have affected the biodiversity of the River Shep in Cambridgeshire.

Around 85% of the world’s chalk streams are found in the UK, but 77% of these do not currently meet standards stipulated by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The River Shep, a chalk stream, has undergone many types of management, but it remains unclear as to which of these methods is most effective for improving biodiversity.

For his research, Dale studied sites along the River Shep that have been subject to different types of management between 2006 and 2010. He is looking at the impact that management at each site has had on the biodiversity of that stretch of the river.

Dale from Royston in Hertfordshire, said: “I used the kick sampling method, where you disturb the river bed and take a sample, from six different sites along the river. I then counted the number of invertebrates collected. Using this approach I have identified around 6000 specimens.

“As a similar research project took place some years ago, I have been able to compare that data with my own to see if the biodiversity has improved.

“Initial research suggests that biodiversity has indeed improved following the restoration project in 2010, with a significant increase in both the number of invertebrates caught and the number of species that these represent.

“This research will help to improve the management of the River Shep in the future, and emphasises just how important it is to regularly monitor rivers correctly.”

22-year-old Dale began volunteering on the River Shep in 2008 for his Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award.  Tasks included helping to build up the river banks to improve water flow and clearing trees to increase light levels.

He also spent his placement working for South Cambridgeshire District Council, helping to restore the Hoffer Brook.

Dale, a student ambassador at the university in Shropshire, added: “There seems to have been little research specifically on chalk streams, yet they are so specific to the UK that it is vital that we look after them correctly.

“As I have volunteered on the river for such a long time, researching this topic for my dissertation has been of great interest.

“Ideally in the future I would love to continue working with rivers and watercourses, applying my environmental knowledge and passion in some way.”

Aside from his passion for the countryside, Dale enjoys photography, mountain biking and travel, and is in the process of training for the London Marathon next month.

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