Charles Walker leads debate on degraded chalk stream environments ​

Charles Walker MP speaking in the House of Commons, July 2019, chalk streams

Charles Walker leads a Parliamentary debate on Hertfordshire’s chalk streams and calls for urgent action to tackle the monumental environmental crisis facing these unique and important habitats, in particular he calls for the building of the planned Abingdon Reservoir.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)

This is a very serious matter that causes a great many colleagues on both sides of the House a huge amount of concern. The Colne; the Beane; the Mimram; the Gade; the Ver; the Chess; the Misbourne; the Wye; the Rib; the Hamble; the Bulbourne; the Quin; the Hogsmill; and the Wandle. The list could go on, but these are all chalk stream rivers that are degraded or dying around my constituency in Hertfordshire and the ​constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) in Buckinghamshire. This country has over 85% of the world’s chalk streams, and these streams are a unique habitat.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

The hon. Gentleman and I share many loves of the countryside—particularly a love of country sports, but also a love of the environment. Does he agree that there is a delicate balance to be struck to ensure that companies can continue to operate as they attempt to find alternative sources of water rather than chalk streams? What more does he feel can be done as a matter of urgency to protect these environmental treasures, because treasures is what they are?

Mr Walker

My hon. Friend is very perspicacious in his observations. I shall come to the matter later in my speech. He is absolutely right to raise that point and I hope that both the Minister and I will be able to address it, as I know other colleagues share his concerns.

The degradation of our chalk streams is one the two greatest environmental scandals of the late 20th century and the start of the 21st century. Of course, the other great environmental scandal is the destruction of the marine environment off the west coast of Scotland through salmon farming—an industry that has laid waste to numerous sea lochs off the west coast of Scotland and has destroyed the native fish runs in many of the rivers that feed those sea lochs.

It is important that I put the situation in context. As I said a moment ago, we have 85% of the world’s chalk streams and most of them are highly degraded. I find it extraordinary, given our own poor environmental record, that colleagues in this House lecture Indonesia and Brazil so freely on their responsibility to the rain forests. Of course, those two countries have a huge responsibility to the rain forests, but if we cannot save the chalk streams that are literally in our own backyard, what are we doing lecturing other countries on their environmental responsibilities? Saving the world does not start with the rest of the world. Saving the world starts right here, right now, doing our bit locally with our chalk streams—think locally, act globally.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has just pointed out, our chalk streams are literally being abstracted to death. Parts of the streams that I named at the start of my speech do not flow. In fact, a few of them barely flow at all from their source to where they join a bigger river. That is our record and it is one that none of us should take any pride in—and it is getting worse. We have had three dry years in a row. There is this myth that we live in a wet country. Certainly, parts of our country are wet but the east and the south-east are actually dry, and they are getting drier. The aquifers are not being replenished by rainfall and they are getting more abstracted, so even less water is going into our rivers.

Let me give an example from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. In the last 10 years alone, there have been five dry events in the Upper Chess—the most stunning river, which I have the great privilege of visiting once a year as a guest of Paul Jennings and my right hon. Friend.

Dame Cheryl Gillan

It is always a great pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend to Chesham and Amersham, particularly at the invitation of Paul Jennings. Does he agree that Paul Jennings is one of the most outstanding advocates for chalk streams and our environment, and that he should be praised for all the efforts that he and the River Chess Association put into trying to maintain and preserve this chalk stream for our children and our children’s children?

Mr Walker

I entirely agree. I know Paul Jennings well; he is one of the greatest friends any chalk stream could have. He is a conservationist of the highest order, and he deserves our full congratulations and respect for the tenacity that he has shown in ensuring that the issues that afflict so many of our chalk streams are kept somewhat in abeyance on the Chess. However, I am afraid that even he would admit that he has not always been successful in doing that.

As I was saying, in the past 10 years there have been five dry events in the Upper Chess. In the 20 years prior to that, there were three. Drier years mean more abstraction, and things are only going to get worse. Affinity Water serves the home counties north of London, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) will know. Affinity has no reservoirs. It only abstracts waters from the chalk aquifers—that is the only place it can get its water from. As we know, the aquifers it abstracts from are those that feed the rivers that are currently dying. Affinity currently serves 3.6 million people. In 20 years’ time that number will be nearer to 4.5 million people. Where on earth is the water going to come from? If we go on as we are now, the water will come out of the aquifers and we will not have a single chalk stream running in Hertfordshire or Buckinghamshire. That is not an exaggeration; that is where we are at.

Affinity has tried, within the constraints that it is operating under—bearing in mind that it has no reservoir. It reduced pumping at one pumping station on the River Beane by 90%, which was actually a very brave thing to do. Yet that part of the river has not started flowing again because the long-term damage to aquifers that have been used and abused for the past 30, 40 or 50 years is so extreme that it may take decades to recover.

It is not just abstraction that kills rivers; it is also what happens after the abstraction. If companies are abstracting water from chalk streams, they either dry them out—and that does kill them—or they reduce the flow. When there is low flow in a river, it cannot get rid of pollutants; pollutants concentrate. A river that is flowing well can move pollutants on down it, dilute them and dissolve them. This does not happen when a river is being extracted to death. So what is the next consequence of extraction? We get topsoil run-off, which just sinks to the bottom of rivers and depletes them of oxygen. It sticks to the chalk at the bottom, destroying any oxygen that can get into the chalk for the small invertebrates that live in it. Then there is phosphorus from agriculture and sewage works, which causes oxygen depletion from algal blooms and eutrophication. Basically, we have environments that cannot support life, or which support limited life, because there is no oxygen. Agricultural pesticides wash in off the fields, destroying biodiversity and wiping out invertebrates and the fly life that comes ​from them. Then there are the many septic tanks up and down the country that are unregulated and leaking into groundwater that finds its way into rivers. The challenge is immense.

As I said, this is an environmental crisis of a monumental scale that we are failing to address. Fundamentally, we need to reduce abstraction now. Thames Water, which I have worked closely with at times, has done that on the River Chess and the River Cray, but it wants to do more—and quite frankly it needs to do more. So what is Thames Water doing? It is making efforts to reduce leakage, and those are to be welcomed and applauded. It can introduce metering, promote water efficiency, and go into schools to educate children as to the importance of water, but, at most, these efforts will reduce consumption in the area it serves from 142 litres per day to 136 litres per day. That is just not a significant decrease. It is an important amount of water, but at 3.5% it is not going to save the day. Thames Water estimates that by 2045 there will be a shortfall of 350 million litres of water a day between the amount of water available and the amount needed.

There is only one game-changing solution to this crisis, and that is to create more storage capacity, which we do by building more reservoirs. I think that the last major reservoir we built was the Queen Mother reservoir for the east and south-east of England in 1974, so we have grown the population by millions but we have not put in any additional water storage. If we want to save our chalk stream rivers, of which we have 85% of the world’s resource, then we really have to build reservoirs. The spade-ready reservoir that has been on the books for 12 years but has been blocked by a well-organised group of 20 people is the Abingdon reservoir in Oxfordshire. That is a game changer. If we get the Abingdon reservoir built, that starts to create the capacity we need, but at the rate the population of London and the south-east is growing, we will need more than one Abingdon—we will need two or three Abingdons. Until we start capturing water at the times of plenty and using it during dry periods like we are experiencing now, we will remain in trouble. We will be in a position where our own environmental record falls well short of where it should be, and we will limit our ability to change the way that other countries handle their natural resources, because they can look at us and say, “What on earth are you doing? You are in no position to lecture us.”

I could go on at great length, but I am not going to. In fact, I may have already gone on at great length, but this subject warrants some exploration. Finally, I would like to thank the Angling Trust, particularly Martin Salter—a former Member here—and Stuart Singleton-White, for the amazing document they have published, “Chalk Streams in Crisis”. It really is an extremely good, but somewhat depressing and sad, read. It is a call to arms. If we are to be taken seriously, we have to make changes to the way in which we approach our valuable and precious ecosystems. One of the most valuable and precious is our chalk streams, and, as I said, we have a lamentable record in this area.


Ministerial Reply

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)

I genuinely apologise to the House for not being here at the start of this important debate, because I know how passionate right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken about this issue are. One of the joys of being the Minister responsible for the Environment Agency is seeing that the environment matters to so many people in different ways and seeing the important role of the Environment Agency. I hope, by the end of the debate, that I will have been able to persuade hon. Members and those still watching—there were four people in the Public Gallery at the start of it—on this matter, including Feargal Sharkey who is a great advocate of what we need to do to support chalk streams. The Environment Agency also has other roles and I was stopped on the ​way here to talk about Grenfell and some of the situations in which we are involved there. I apologise to the Chamber for that.

I have had three years in this very special role as Minister for the environment. I am very fortunate that, by and large, neither an official drought nor an official flood has been declared. I am conscious of the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) on what happened recently in Wainfleet; I visited his constituency to discuss floods. The issues that have been raised about drought worry many of our farmers around the country, who are also considering the impacts of abstraction reform. I am very conscious that my constituency of Suffolk Coastal is one of the driest in the country. That said, at the Latitude festival, which was held this weekend in my constituency, they had a hailstorm, in the middle of July. Who would have thought that in Suffolk, when we are all having a heatwave? It just shows how important it is that we look after the habitat that is special to our country and to our world, while the impacts of climate change do what they do.

I will come to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) shortly, but I want first to refer also to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who was in the Chamber for much of the debate, because he has one of the most special chalk streams in his constituency—the River Test, which many people have mentioned and in fact fished in, including my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). The Test is regarded as one of the most special chalk streams in the country, as right hon. and hon. Members will recognise. I used to live in Whitchurch, which is 2 miles from the source of the river, so I am well aware how special it is.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne on securing today’s debate. It is well known in the House that he is an active champion of chalk streams and that he recognises their importance for nature and for good fishing. I will never forget the day after the 2017 election, when I was not sure if I would be reappointed to this role, when I joined him in Hampshire on the River Itchen. He had a good day’s fishing and I had a good day being shown around by the WWF and being told about the importance of chalk streams. Having lived in Hampshire, I was aware of this, but it brought to my attention some of the particular challenges that the Environment Agency regularly faces from water companies wanting to abstract more water further upstream, which has a damaging impact on the environment and the flow, as others have mentioned, as well as on the quality of fishing. That is when I met the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), who was also very passionate on this topic, which is why he contributed to the debate on 12 December 2018 on the Thames Water reservoir in Abingdon and why he strongly supported that measure.

On this matter, I have been given a very strong message by my civil servants, who are in the Box and provide excellent advice, and I am conscious that the water resource management process has not yet been finalised, but I can genuinely say, even though the Secretary of State has not yet agreed the plans, that I believe that Thames Water and Affinity Water, both of which are promoting the reservoir in their preferred plans, will receive a very warm welcome when they are ​put forward, so that, as many others have mentioned, we can finally get on with the Abingdon reservoir, which will do a lot of good for the people of south-east England. I am conscious that when speaking in the House I have some leeway with parliamentary privilege and that my comments will not prejudice any quasi-judicial decision that the Secretary of State might take in the future.

I return to the main topic of the debate. While chalk streams contribute to our health and wellbeing, they are principally unique habitats supporting a diverse range of invertebrate and fish species and have long been held in high regard for the quality of the fisheries they support. Only 200 chalk rivers are known globally, and it is amazing to think that 85% of them are found in the UK in the southern and eastern parts of England. It is well recognised, however, that our water resources are under pressure and that this pressure is growing as the climate changes and the demand for water increases from a growing population and greater housing need. As my hon. Friend outlined, our chalk streams are facing an unprecedented challenge, having been heavily affected by human activity, including abstraction, pollution and historic modification.

Mr Charles Walker

The role of Ofwat has not been mentioned yet. It has no duty to have any environmental regard. Its only interest is in driving down bills, but it should take a great deal more interest in the environment. I think we have all had enough of Ofwat in this place. I hope the Minister will take that on board.

Dr Coffey

I hear what my hon. Friend says. Ofwat is a champion of the consumer, and I hope that in its recent interventions with the water companies he will recognise some of the progress it has made, but I hear what he says. The Environment Agency challenged Ofwat in its initial 2019 price review over the fact that it and some of the companies that had come up with particular plans and made some good progress were none the less not fulling their environmental obligations. I am pleased therefore that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week met the water companies and challenged them by saying that, while we recognised the strength of the investment they had brought to the water industry in the last 25 years, they must not forget the environment and we would continue to press them on that point. I am pleased that the Environment Agency is pressing the case with Ofwat so strongly. I hope that the next Government, to be formed this week, will proceed with the environment Bill, which will strengthen Ofwat’s powers. Who knows? There may be opportunities for even further consideration of a duty relating to the environment.

Mr Charles Walker

It is really important for there to be people in Ofwat who share the Minister’s passion for the environment and the passion displayed by so many colleagues here, not only in this debate but in others.

Dr Coffey

I entirely agree, and I hope that that will happen. I think that the term of the current chair of Ofwat, who is a doughty defender of the consumer, is due for a short extension until 2020. I also genuinely believe that any future holder of the great office of Secretary of State—if that person is not our excellent right ​hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who has done so much for the environment and, indeed, so much in challenging water companies—will take that point into account.

Jim Shannon

No one has mentioned one issue so far tonight, but it is important for it to be on the record in Hansard. I refer to the issue of water leakages. If there is a demand for more water—which clearly there is—water companies need to address the issue. Will the Minister make that a priority, so that water is not wasted as it clearly is being wasted now, and we can use that precious resource much better?

Dr Coffey

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. For several years there has been an economic calculation about the cost of repairing the causes of leakages rather than doing something else to keep water flowing. I will not say that the price of repairs is irrelevant, but it is not only the only factor under consideration. Water users struggle. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) spoke extensively about the water consumption of residents, and the need for us to consume less. If the water companies are allowed not to take the issue quite as seriously as they have been, why should the end user make a difference? I think that the situation is changing, but we need to recognise that the economics do not always add up.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this matter is devolved. Our 25-year environment plan for England, which concerns reserved matters, sets out our commitment to protect our water environment and how we will do that, to ensure that there is enough water for the environment as well as for homes and businesses.

Our abstraction reform plan, launched in 2017, explains how we will ensure that abstractors can access the water that they need, and that there is enough water in our rivers, and groundwater, to maintain habitats and water quality. That includes reducing the damaging abstraction of water from rivers and groundwater, so that by 2021 the proportion of water bodies with enough water to support environmental standards will increase from 82% to 90% for surface water bodies, and from 72% to 77% for groundwater bodies. Earlier this year we published our abstraction reform progress report to Parliament, which shows that the Environment Agency is on track to meet those targets.

The Environment Agency has already reviewed thousands of abstraction licences, and has changed many of the most damaging. Seventy-one abstraction licences on 15 chalk streams across England have now been changed. Those changes will return 16 million cubic metres of water per year to the chalk streams, and will remove the risk of another 8 million cubic metres per year being taken. This is equivalent to the average annual domestic water use of approximately 200,000 people, the approximate population of Oxford.

Developing a stronger catchment focus is a key aspect of abstraction reform. The Environment Agency is now testing innovative solutions to protect the environment and improve access to water in priority catchments. The Cam and Ely Ouse and East Suffolk priority catchments both contain rivers that are fed by chalk groundwater. In these priority catchments, there are now stakeholder groups, which are made up of a wide variety of abstractors with an Environment Agency co-ordinator, who are ​working together to develop and trial new solutions to address sustainability issues. I look forward to the Environment Agency launching more of these water resource catchments later this year.

The River Bulbourne in Hertfordshire is impacted by the Canal and River Trust operations including groundwater abstractions. The Environment Agency is presently negotiating delivery of recommended solutions with the trust. Affinity Water has also completed an investigation for the River Bulbourne and as a result will implement river restoration projects in the catchment by 2025, subject to its business plan being approved by Ofwat, and I see no reason why Ofwat will reject it. The Environment Agency’s chalk stream partnership “Bringing Back the Bulbourne” has been an award-winning success story.

Turning to the River Kennet in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), the Environment Agency, working with Thames Water, has changed abstraction licences that impact the Kennet, Wye and Hughenden stream. This includes reducing Thames Water’s licence at Axford to restrict groundwater abstraction when flows are low, revoking its Ogbourne licence, and investing in a £30 million pipeline that prevents up to 10 million litres of groundwater from being abstracted when river levels are low.

Turning to parts of north London and an issue not directly in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham but close to the heart of Feargal Sharkey, the River Lee below Ware weir lock splits between the old River Lee and the Lee navigation. The Loop was the original course of the River Lee and is the site of two fisheries clubs. Flows in the loop are influenced by the volumes abstracted upstream from the Lee by Thames Water and by navigation activities. The Environment Agency seeks to manage flows on the Lee between Thames Water, the Canal and River Trust and the Amwell Magna loop. Thames Water operates under a voluntary flow trigger to reduce its abstraction volumes. This assists with downstream flows but its abstraction is still a significant volume of the available flow. Thames Water has invested in habitat enhancement improvements in the loop, working with the fisheries and the Environment Agency.

Several contributors to the debate talked about the impact of dry weather on chalk streams. Some of our chalk streams are currently showing flow impacts that could be attributed to the prolonged dry weather we have experienced over the last couple of years. Impacts are visible in chalk streams in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, north London, Lincolnshire and Northampton, but I have to admit that the national picture is variable.

The impacts we are seeing in chalk streams include changes to fish movement, a decline in the numbers of invertebrates and an increase in algae. The Environment Agency’s current actions include leading and co-ordinating the National Drought Group, which brings together a wide range of stakeholders responsible for water and for those who need the water. This partnership includes water companies, the Government and non-governmental organisations, including the National Farmers Union, environmental groups and business groups. The Environment Agency also collates and monitors evidence of impacts of dry weather on chalk streams and actions undertaken to protect the streams.​

If required, the Environment Agency will implement abstraction restrictions to protect the environment. For example, as we have heard, the Environment Agency is likely to implement restrictions in a number of places, including the River Stour catchment in Essex, which is a chalk stream. That will affect 16 abstraction licences, and there will be a reduction of 25% to their weekly abstraction limit. The Environment Agency is discussing these matters with individual abstraction licence holders in other parts of the country, particularly Hertfordshire, Berkshire and Herefordshire.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to the designation of sites. The Government have designated 11 high priority chalk rivers as sites of special scientific interest to protect them from the pressures they are under and to begin work to restore them. Each of those 11 designated chalk rivers that has been assessed to be in an unfavourable condition has a river restoration plan. For the record, those rivers are the Kennet, the Nar, the Test, the Frome, the Hull headwaters, the Lambourn, the Itchen, the Wensum, the Bere streams, the Moors rivers system and the Avon system. By implementing these action plans, we have enhanced more than 40 miles of priority chalk river habitat through 60 projects since 2011.

Chalk rivers are protected from harmful effluent discharges by a rigorous permitting process. When an operator seeks to discharge effluent, they must first get a licence from the Environment Agency. In consultation with Natural England, civil society and the public, the agency will then grant the permit to discharge into a priority chalk stream only if the environmental risk is low. I am conscious of the example that was used earlier, and I will draw it to the attention of the Environment Agency so that it can investigate further the concerns about discharges.

Natural England has been delivering catchment-sensitive farming, offering a combination of grants and advice to help to reduce pollution from farms within priority catchments, including chalk streams, across the country. There is clear evidence that this advice has led to improvements in water quality and a reduction in serious water pollution incidents, and ecological communities have responded positively to the reductions in sediment pressure. However, it is important to stress that all water companies also have a significant role to play in protecting the environment. A large proportion of companies look after the chalk aquifer, which is the major aquifer of southern and eastern England. These companies include Thames, Affinity, Southern and Anglian. Apparently, South East is also included, as is Yorkshire, for some reason. This just goes to show how far the power of Yorkshire stretches, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton will know.

There are good examples of partnership work in action. The Environment Agency’s work with Affinity Water to reduce abstractions at 11 pumping stations across seven chalk streams means that 70 million litres of water a day will be kept in the environment by 2025, and they have reduced abstraction from the River Mimram and the River Beane by over 40%. In the north London and Hertfordshire area alone, the Environment Agency is working to improve more than 150 miles of chalk streams by 2025. The agency also hopes to remove or bypass 50 weirs or other structures to improve fish passage and habitats in the north London area.

Sir Oliver Heald

When I spoke earlier, I made the point that builders and developers have suggested that it is possible for new homes to achieve water use of perhaps 120 litres per person per day. At the moment, in my constituency and others, the figure is about 175 litres. What does the Minister make of that? Does she think that such a reduction is realistic?

Dr Coffey

It is entirely realistic. Indeed, we want to go further and get the figure down to 110 litres. We believe that that is entirely possible, and I will address that further in my contribution, especially as the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) referred to it as well.

Work has also been done by water companies to improve the water quality of chalk streams, which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne also identified as an issue. More than £3.4 billion has been invested between 2010 and 2015 to support the achievement of the water framework directive environmental objectives. I shall repeat that figure: £3.4 billion has been invested by the water companies. This has contributed to substantial reductions in phosphate pollution, to which chalk streams are particularly sensitive, and additional investment is proposed to secure further improvements. Water companies are also engaged in research to overcome technical limitations on phosphorus reduction. Additionally, 650 sewage treatment works across England, serving 24 million people, have phosphate removal in place, and many of them are on chalk streams.

The Government expect to see a multi-sector approach to managing water resources and want water companies to continue to engage in the catchment that they serve. We want them to take the lead on developing local catchment solutions to address the needs of all water users in their region. We are already seeing how this can work. I am particularly proud of Anglian Water, as Water Resources East is taking an innovative cross-sector approach and making important links to improve water abstraction management.

As my hon. Friend said, a large proportion of the water that is abstracted is for public supplies. Reducing the pressure on such supplies will also help to protect the environment. To do this, we need a twin-track approach of reducing demand for water, including driving down leakages, while increasing supply. That is why we recently launched a consultation, to which I hope my right hon. and hon. Friends will contribute, to understand by how much we can reduce personal water use by 2050 and the measures we need to implement to get there, including tightening building regulations, the labelling of water-using products and metering. This autumn, we plan to lay our national policy statement for water resources infrastructure, which will streamline the planning process for nationally significant water resource infrastructure projects, helping to increase water supplies.

I hope my hon. Friend will appreciate that Thames Water and Affinity Water are still developing their water resources management plans. They recently referred their statement of responses to their consultations to DEFRA, which the Department and the Environment Agency are assessing. That process is ongoing, and that assessment includes the proposed reservoir near Abingdon. The evidence from the National Infrastructure Commission is clear that new water infrastructure is required alongside ​a reduction in leakage, and I welcome the proposals from Thames Water, Affinity Water and others to develop regional strategic solutions for the south-east.

We want to see water companies taking more of a regional approach to water resource planning. They will need to make an assessment of the needs of different water users, including the owners of new homes, and the needs of the environment. That will be informed by the Environment Agency’s national framework, which is due to be published at the end of this year and will illustrate the regional and national challenge of water availability, as well as the needs of different water using sectors.

I am pleased to say that we have also consulted on legislative improvements to ensure that water companies’ plans are informed by effective collaboration, taking into account the plans of regional groups. We also recently consulted on a number of additional legislative measures regarding abstraction. Ofwat, the Environment Agency, and the Drinking Water Inspectorate all recognise the importance of a regional approach, which is why they set up the water Regulators Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development—water RAPID—team to ensure a smooth regulatory path for strategic water transfers and joint infrastructure projects.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) mentioned several streams in his constituency, and he is a champion on this matter. Anyone who looks at his website will see the long list of actions that he has taken, and he is right to praise the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust for its important work. I have already referred to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and the fact that I grew up in Whitchurch, so I know about the importance of the River Test. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to the important Ox-Cam issue, and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire is the Minister for that project and is aware of the importance not only of environmental issue, but of the water needs of households in that area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne started to talk about windscreens, insects and so on, and the IPBES report recognises the biodiversity challenge that we face. The main problem is with habitats and the change in land use. Rivers also face challenges, and my hon. Friend is right to stress that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) pointed out, 80% of species under threat of extinction are invertebrates, which is why we must cherish habitats such as chalk streams.

I should also point out to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire that the aerodynamics of modern cars also contribute to our seeing fewer dead insects on our windscreens, but we are also driving somewhat slower because we are complying with speed limits when compared with what we might have got away with in the past—not “we”; I should not attribute that comment to any person in this House. He also talked about soil erosion and no-till farming, and I completely agree with him and the others who made this point. They should be champions for no-till farming, but they also need to be champions for glyphosate, as the people who advocate no-till farming rely on glyphosate. Indeed, its existence is under threat from 2022.

Sir Oliver Heald

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Coffey

I am afraid that I will not give way on that point, because I am still trying to answer the points raised by other hon. Members. We may still have time at the end of this debate, but I feel there is another time for another debate on the glory of glyphosate—I am sure that I will be slandered on social media tonight for having said those words.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned how long it has taken to get a new Thames reservoir, and I genuinely hope we will see the plan come forward soon.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to his childhood roots, and in this House it is always important to recognise that, although we represent very special parts of the country, we sometimes have our roots elsewhere, which I think makes us better politicians. I appreciate that he has stayed here to talk about the impacts. He also mentioned grey water resources and how they might help water consumption. Indeed, there is a theory that the consumer is not keen on grey water, and we might need to do more work to promote the use of grey water resources in the water challenge of new homes, which I am sure he will recognise are important to his constituency, as they are in other parts of the country.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham also talked about water consumption, and I hope she will participate in the consultation. Importantly, she mentioned the challenges faced by the River Chess and the River Misbourne. It is astonishing to hear that the average consumption is 173 litres, which we need to change. I am sure she will be an active champion on that matter, as we already know she is an active champion on behalf of her constituents when it comes to High Speed 2. She referred to a number of different issues, but I am conscious that her work on the possible impacts on Ox Cam will not have been lost on the Housing Minister, who was present for the majority of the debate—he had the wisdom perhaps to leave for my contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) told us of her intention to go up the River Chelmer on a canoe, and I hope she returns with a paddle. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, ​who I am delighted to say is leading a review on highly protected marine areas, does not forget the rivers and streams in his own constituency. Indeed, he referred to a number of them, including the River Lambourn.

On the number of years of drought—just make it rain—it is perhaps of some comfort to the Prime Minister that, in her three years in office, she has never had to worry about a flood or a drought. Who knows how long that luck can last?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury highlighted that 80% of species are invertebrates, which get ignored in our debate on the environment, and I am glad he is here today. He also talked about chemicals going into the water. That is important, and in the development of our chemical strategy over the next year, the Government will take account of how we get the balance right on chemicals, which produce much magic for our everyday lives, but we need to be very conscious of the impact they can have. Of course, he also referred to the River Kennet and to water transfer.

A number of issues have been raised about how we need to preserve these habitats, and I fully agree. The habitats in our country are so special. They are quite a small part of our British Isles, but they are so important to the world, which is why this Government will continue, in the 25-year plan, to make sure we pass on an environment that is in a better state than this generation inherited. We will do that domestically and internationally.

I thank the House. I know this has been a long debate, but one of the special things about this Chamber is that something that might seem quite parochial has huge global significance, and I am delighted to have shared this debate with so many right hon. and hon. Members tonight.

Mr Charles Walker

That was a great debate.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)

Indeed it was. Very informative indeed.