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Chalk streams

Chalk streams are a rare and valuable habitat, often referred to as the equivalent of England's rainforests.

It is estimated that 85% of the world's chalk streams are in England and around 29% of these are in East Anglia.

Most water we drink in the East comes from rainwater stored deep beneath our feet in natural chalk 'aquifers', which feed our chalk streams. Chalk streams also need good water quality for different species of fish, plants and insects to flourish. However they face significant challenges in the 21st century due to complex problems worsened by climate change and population growth.

Chalk streams in Uttlesford

The River Cam (also known as the Granta) and its tributaries are the main chalk streams in the district. These include:

  • Debden Water (Essex)
  • Wicken Water (Essex)
  • Fulfen Slade (Essex)
  • The Slade (Essex)

Protecting and improving our local chalk streams

Management of chalk streams is complex because natural groundwater levels vary significantly from year to year.

The water quality and levels in a stream can be affected by:

  • drought
  • flooding
  • water abstraction
  • harmful spills

The Environment Agency is taking action to protect chalk streams by:

  • reducing the amount of water abstracted by making changes to abstraction licences
  • tackling pollution,
  • carrying out river restoration projects

They also work with Water Resources East to plan for longer term solutions to address pressures on the water environment in the East of England.

Catchment Based Approach

The Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) is an inclusive, civil society-led initiative that works in partnership with government, local authorities, water companies, businesses and more, to maximise the natural value of our environment.

The Essex Rivers Hub has a Catchment Plan covering some of Uttlesford. You can find out more on the the Essex Rivers Hub Catchment map and on the Catchment Action Plan.


Chalk rivers England dataset based on the Environment Agency Detailed River Network on

CaBA Chalk Stream Restoration Group Chalk Stream Strategy

About UK rivers and chalk streams on

The State of England's Chalk Streams WWF report

Save our streams Affinity Water campaign to save water and protect local chalk streams

Index of English chalk streams