FIVE environment conservation groups have collectively voiced their concerns regarding Southern Water’s recent move to pump untreated wastewater from the sewer network directly into the River Test.

The Angling Trust, Fish Legal, the Test & Itchen Association (TIA), the Hampshire River Keepers Association (HRKA) and Activist Anglers have sought urgent answers from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Environment Agency (EA) over the plans.

The action, which was widely condemned and ultimately halted due to public protest, has prompted an urgent call to Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for the DEFRA, and, Phillip Duffy, the CEO of the EA, to provide details of the basis upon which Southern Water’s over-pumping plans for the river were approved and allowed to proceed.

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Andover Advertiser: The Test and Itchen Association members at Chilbolton Cow Common to protest the pumping ofJamie Cook, CEO of the Angling Trust, said: "The River Test is much more than a local treasure, it is an internationally renowned natural asset that demands our highest level of stewardship. There appears to be a dereliction of duty here on the part of the authorities who are responsible for safeguarding and protecting this wonderful river."

Penny Gane, head of practice at Fish Legal, said: “We have asked to see the evidence of how the Environment Agency and Natural England – the Government’s adviser for the natural environment in England – came to approve Southern Water’s plans to over-pump untreated wastewater into this protected chalk stream. Any activity that could endanger recently laid salmon and trout eggs in the river gravels shouldn’t be allowed.”

Jim Murray, actor, and founder of campaign group Activist Anglers, added: “Anglers and riverkeepers are hands down the strongest voices for our rivers, and Southern Water’s recent plans to pollute the Test were halted by their collective power. It is imperative that such networks continue to join forces on a national scale if we are to save our rivers.”

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The TIA and HRKA, both deeply embedded in the conservation efforts for the River Test, have highlighted the social, ecological, and economic significance of the river.

Paul Vignaux, executive director of the Test and Itchen Association, said: “The health of Hampshire’s chalk streams, and the wildlife and rural communities they support cannot be compromised. DEFRA and the EA must progress immediate action and meaningful dialogue which will lead to a permanent change in the water companies’ behaviour. We want to ensure such ‘mistakes’ are not repeated.”

Peter Farrow, secretary of the Hampshire River Keepers Association, said: "The River Test is the lifeblood of our communities, supporting a diverse range of wildlife and playing a significant role in contributing to the economic wellbeing of the region."

DEFRA and EA have been contacted for a comment.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The pumping of untreated wastewater into watercourses should only happen in an emergency, when people’s properties are at risk of sewage flooding. It is currently not happening in the Test or Itchen catchments. 

“Water companies must take all reasonable steps to prevent these discharges and should only proceed if there is no reasonable alternative to protect people and their homes. 

“Any impacts on local watercourses will be closely monitored, with regular water sampling and river monitoring. If there are any signs of water pollution, we will investigate them thoroughly.”