A SCHEME to protect the the headwaters of the Test And Itchen rivers has been awarded more than £250,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Winterbournes and Watercress Landscape Partnership Scheme, currently in its development phase, has received £269,400 to allow plans to grow over the next 18 months.

Volunteers from across Whitchurch, Overton and Laverstoke are already working on the project co-ordinated by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) on behalf of a partnership of organisations including Whitchurch Silk Mill.

HIWWT community catchments officer Maggie Shelton said: “Our chalk streams are truly special environments that are rich in both wildlife and history.

“We are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their support, which has allowed us to work closely with our local communities to celebrate, protect, and enhance these natural treasures.

“Through collaboration with 16 partner organisations and seven community catchment groups we have identified lots of opportunities to benefit both people and wildlife.

“We hope to be successful in gaining further funding so we can put our ambitious plans into action.”

The initiative will apply for a further £1.9 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund in a more detailed application this October.

Early plans for the work includes restoring wildlife habitats and historic structures along the river to improve access and water quality, training and skills development for communities who volunteer as ‘river keepers’ to manage stretches of river and more.

Heritage is also to be celebrated through an education programme for schools, sharing walking routes and a conservation programme for crayfish.

The rivers and its landscapes, which are home to wildlife including otter, water vole, kingfisher and white-clawed crayfish, and organic matter in the rivers, are at risk from pollution, drought and flooding and invasive species, which the wildlife charity says is plummeting the built heritage into disrepair.

Ms Shelton added: “Watercress and Winterbournes aims to address these issues by bringing together communities, organisations, businesses and individuals to work together to protect and improve the headwater streams that are the lifeblood of our chalk rivers.”

The initiative stretches across seven communities on the Pillhill Brook, Upper Anton, Bourne Rivulet, Upper Test, Candover Brook, River Arle and Cheriton Stream.

To get involved or for more details contact Maggie Shelton by calling 01489 774400 or email maggie.shelton@hiwwt.org.uk.