Hampshire Avon granted pounds 15m to fight pollution

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ONE OF Britain's most beautiful and unspoilt stretches of river - the Hampshire Avon - was yesterday granted a multi-million pound protection package.

Between pounds 12m and pounds 15m will be spent over the next five years to protect against industrial and sewage pollution, monitor building development and keep the water flow healthy while avoiding flooding.

The Avon, which flows between Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire and Christchurch in Dorset, is a 'chalk stream'. These are prized because of the pure and plentiful water their chalk beds produce. The Avon catchment, including wetlands, is rich in sensitive conservation areas and supports a diversity of plant and animal life.

Chalk streams are often fine fishing sites. The middle and lower stretches of the Avon include one of the southern England's best-known salmon fisheries, and its upper tributaries have trout.

Other chalk systems include the Test and Itchen rivers in the chalky downlands of southern England. They are also under scrutiny by the National Rivers Authority which is examining the 'catchments' of all rivers in England and Wales. .

The Avon catchment covers about 650 sq miles (1,700 sq km), with four key tributaries - the rivers Bourne, Wylye, Nadder and Ebble. The area is home to 200,000 people, and public consultation on the survival blueprint produced more than 700 responses.

The five-year plan includes a pounds 300,000 scheme to cut down discharges into the river, a pounds 155,000 station to gauge water flow rates on the river Wylye and water-level management schemes. Smaller plans include improvements to fish-spawning gravels.

Ron Curtis, who heads the Avon project for the NRA, said pounds 6.5m improvements to sewage treatment plants at Salisbury and Christchurch had been agreed with Wessex Water.

'We are taking this opportunity to look to the long term, and balance the need to protect people and property from flooding and the need to maintain water levels in a way that will sustain the Avon's protected conservation areas.'

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