A PhD student at the University of Southampton has asked for the public’s help as part of her research into the area’s rivers.

Jennifer Ball is investigating how the public interacts with the River Test and River Itchen, and what values are placed on it, be that recreation, work or wellbeing, to help better manage them in the future.

Both rivers are chalk streams, which Jennifer says “are really interesting ecosystems,” with different properties to other rivers such as being high in nutrients, very clear and slightly more alkaline.

“Those water properties create a really unique ecosystem,” she said. “You get very special communities of plants and animals and they support a lot of rarer organisms as well such as white-clawed crayfish.”

She said that over 80 per cent of the world’s chalk streams are found in England making us “the only place with such a range.”

“Sometimes we think about special ecosystems as being tropical rainforests or something like that,” says Jennifer, “whereas actually we have some really special and unique ecosystems here in the UK, and chalk streams are an example of that.”

As part of her work, Jennifer wants to investigate cultural services, which are the non-material benefits of an ecosystem, such as the ability to relax, play or reflect, and try to tie them to physical parts of the landscape.

“There is quite a body of work around cultural services, but it is much harder to do than other services,” she said.

“They are intangible, much harder to quantify, you could possibly talk about them qualitatively but to try and map them is much harder. Yet, they’re really important and often overlooked.”

As such, she’s been asking members of the public to fill in her online survey to help her with her research. So far, “it’s been really, really positive.”

Recreation has been the most common value people have assigned to the river, whether that’s walking, swimming or kayaking.

“I’ve been thrilled with the response so far,” she said, “and I think that reflects to a certain extent the strength of feeling around rivers. Particularly areas such as around Whitchurch or Cheriton towards the top of the river come into contact with the river really frequently.”

For now, she hopes to keep collecting responses, with a deadline of Christmas. Anyone who would like to contribute to her research can find her survey here.