Reducing plastic litter, saving water and taking care of what you flush down the toilet are among the simple steps being offered to help protect the vital water resources of the South Downs National Park.
To mark World Water Day on March 22, Jeremy Burgess, the National Park’s expert on water, is sharing his five tips to help protect and enhance the water of the South Downs, which supplies clean drinking water to 1.2m people in the South.
It comes as statistics show that four fifths of the rivers and streams in the National Parks, as well as the aquifers which provide our drinking water, are currently considered in a “poor condition”, owing to decades of run-off from surrounding land, both rural and urban.
The South Downs National Park Authority is working closely with landowners and farmers to reduce nitrate-rich run-off, but says the general public can also play their part to improve the health of the water courses.
Jeremy, Landscape and Biodiversity Lead for the National Park, said: “The water of the South Downs is an incredibly valuable natural asset for this region. Not only does the chalk provide filtered drinking water to over a million people across our towns and cities, but the rivers provide a home to important wildlife species and could support many more.
“It would be easy to take this kind of life-sustaining resource for granted – but the simple truth is that we can’t. We can all play our part to help preserve and improve the water of the South Downs.”
Jeremy’s tips are:
o Buy less plastic, and if you must buy it – recycle or bin it!
More disposable packaging means more plastic ends up in water courses. Many birds are badly affected by plastic waste as it can be mistaken for nest-building material or food. Litter can be broken down into tiny particles called microplastics, which cannot degrade and can remain in our food chain indefinitely.
o Save water
This is particularly important during the summer months as lower rainfall and hot weather place more pressure on the water reserves in the South Downs. Simple measures such as turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, using a bucket of water to wash your car and saving water in a water butt to water your garden will really help.
o Remember the toilet is not a bin
Avoid putting sanitary products, wet wipes and dental floss down the toilet. The marine and river systems are closely connected, and water quality can improve by taking extra care.
o Keep out oils, fat, or grease from the sink
Avoid pouring cooking oil, fat or grease down the kitchen sink. Instead, keep a jar that collects all the fats, grease or oil then discard with your general waste.
o Reduce chemical use in your garden
Excess fertiliser and pesticides run through the soil and can end up in our groundwater, rivers, streams and wetlands. Consider organic methods for pest, weed and disease control.
The last Environment Agency survey of the water quality of the South Downs’ rivers and streams took place five years ago and another detailed survey is expected this year.
Jeremy added: “Water quality can take many, many years to improve, so we have to look at this as a long-term programme that everyone can get involved with.
“We are already seeing some encouraging signs that water quality may be improving, such as the return of otters to some parts of the National Park and rising numbers of key indicator species like eels.”