Chalk Streams and Wetlands: A Story Going Forwards, not Back.

New illustration for the Nature Interpretation Board at Sompting Brooks.

I told you a story once. Perhaps it was last year, perhaps longer ago – I forget…. 

It was about how a small urban stream, locked up underground for almost a century, was realigned and released once more into the light and how it started to flow with clean water, to grow marsh marigolds and starwort, to fill with trout and frogs and dragonflies. 

I wrote how the people of Sompting Brooks, taking part in the EPIC Sompting project, had begun to restore and plant and that I hoped they would be able to return there again one day, when the pandemic was over, to see what they had helped nurture. 

Map illustration for the Way-finding Signage I created for the Sompting Brooks Trail.

‘Returning’ to the before-times is an idea many of us wish for in general right now. For me, I think I’ve less a sense of ‘going back’ but more a desire to go forwards and make things better. This Great Reset we’ve had, caused by Covid, could be a chance to start fresh, decide differently, act positively and make sure that waterways like Sompting Brooks have a better future. 

Sompting Brooks. Photo credit – Alistair Whitby.

Sompting Brooks is a chalk stream and wetland area. Like other chalk streams, it fills with water from the chalk aquifers deep underground after rain has fallen high up on the hills, in this case, of the South Downs. This chalk and flint gravel base means the waters are particularly pristine and home to a multitude of natural species. Of international importance, 85% of chalk streams are found in the South of Britain, yet somehow little known and undervalued here – they’re regularly damaged by water companies abstracting too much from the aquifers or by pollution from agricultural waste . They could be a place of damselflies and newts. Of sticklebacks and ramshorn snails.  We have ecological gold dust in these unique streams and we just hadn’t realised.

Time to change. 

Orchid at Sompting Brooks. Photo credit – Alistair Whitby.

The new signage I created for the Ouse and Adur River Trust, who are managing the project, will be used on the nature interpretation board at the Brooks. I hope it will encourage people to recognise what lives here now and how rare and important this home-patch-habitat is. By having a greater understanding of chalk streams, perhaps people will value and care for them more….

The story I was telling hasn’t come to its end yet. Sompting Brooks is only starting to flourish and the pandemic still rages.  But there is hope. People will emerge from the darkness at some point, just like the stream itself, and continue to restore, to plant, to learn about chalk streams and wetlands. I can’t wait to go forwards with them looking to the future and better, healthier times, accompanied by the vivid swoop of kingfisher, the call of the snipe, the dart of the damselfly. 

For more information about chalk streams, click here…

For more information about getting involved with the EPIC project or the Ouse and Adur River Trust, click here…

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly at Sompting Brooks.
The last time this species was seen in Sussex was 128 years ago. There is now a small community at the Brooks.
Photo credit – Alistair Whitby.

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