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The River Lavant

The River Lavant: a rare chalk stream The River Lavant: a rare chalk stream

Did you know: there are only about 300 chalk streams in the world, most are in southern England – and one flows through our village!  The River Lavant is an important habitat for a wide range of wildlife and plants and we should be doing our best to protect it.  Unfortunately, early in 2024 you may have seen signs posted along the course of the river telling you to stay away and to wash your hands before eating and drinking.  So what’s going on?

Well – when there is heavy rainfall across the Lavant Valley, especially in winter, the amount of water naturally stored in the ground rises to high levels and can then can get into the underground sewer pipes.  This means the local sewage treatment plant can be overwhelmed by the high volumes of water and sewage which it has to receive.  So our local water company, Southern Water, has taken the decision to pump the excess volumes out of the sewers – and then dump it into the river.  (That’s why you see those big road tankers around the local area.)  This might help the sewage treatment plant – but is obviously terrible for the health of our river!

So what can be done?  The best way to show the declining health of our river is by testing the quality of the water.  By regularly checking for different physical and chemical factors, we should be able to build up a picture of the health of our river. 

Working with the Western Sussex Rivers Trust, local residents and Parish Councilors Jenny Quest, Jennifer Goldsmith and Chirs Turner, ably assisted by John Slipper and Jack Quest, have trained to become ‘Citizen Scientists’.  We are testing the river at three sites – the bridge on Centurion Way north; Marsh Lane bridge; and Fordwater bridge.

The aspects of water quality we are testing are:

Temperature: a vital indicator of river health, temperature controls the life cycles of animals and plants living in the river.

Total Dissolved Solids: these include metals, minerals and salts dissolved in the water, and are a sign of pollution from farm slurry, sewage and industry.

Phosphate: can come from a variety of sources including agricultural run-off and wastewater discharges – phosphates are an essential component of many detergents.  In small quantities, phosphate is an essential nutrient, but high concentrations damage river wildlife.

Nitrates: these chemicals come from fertilizer run-off from farmland and from raw sewage.  High levels cause the growth of green algae which reduce the amount of sunlight reaching plants growing on the river bed.

Turbidity: this is a measure of how clear the water is.  Water becomes murky when there are a lot of particles suspended in it, from soil washing off fields or dirt washing off roads during heavy rain.  These particles can smother gravels on the river bed which fish need to lay eggs.

More recently, Jenny and Chris have been trained in Riverfly Monitoring.  This involves wading into the river to catch and count the tiny creatures living on the river bed, including freshwater shrimps the early life stages of Mayflies and Caddis Flies.

So if you see us with our testing kit, please stop for chat – we are very happy to tell everyone what we are doing!  And if you like the idea of becoming a Citizen Scientist yourself, we can put you in touch with the Rivers Trust.



Jenny Quest:              [email protected]

Jennifer Goldsmith:     [email protected]

Chris Turner:               [email protected]