River Chess Smarter Water Catchment

Making our vision for the River Chess catchment to be a jewel in the heart of the Chilterns a reality.


The Chess catchment – a precious patchwork of places and processes

The River Chess is a precious chalk stream – one of nine in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Chalk streams are rare on a global scale, too, with as few as 300 in total, 283 of which are in England.

The River Chess rises from several sources around Chesham, such as at Pednormead End, and flows for 11 miles through the Chilterns, eventually meeting the River Colne in Rickmansworth. The catchment of the Chess includes the river and all the land around it, from which the River Chess is formed. This land comprises semi-natural habitats, and agricultural and urban areas.

The River Chess is renowned for its lush margins, clean gravel bed and crystal-clear, oxygenated waters. Its catchment is extremely important locally and globally. It is home to many people and an abundance of wildlife, and it is also a vital green and blue space for visitors from both inside and outside the catchment. The catchment’s chalk stream, lowland meadow and chalk grassland habitats are very scarce and support species that are rare and under threat.

The River Chess catchment and its processes don’t just provide food and shelter for plants and animals, but also provide us with many benefits, such as clean water, natural flood defences, pollination opportunities, carbon storage, recreation, health and well-being opportunities, and locally distinctive products.


We’re all dependent on the world we live in – having healthy and resilient landscapes helps us all to thrive, supporting future generations of people and wildlife.


Helping a catchment under threat

The River Chess and its catchment support valuable habitats and species that are under pressure from climate change; over-abstraction for drinking water; water quality issues from human activities; and altered river flows due to modifications. These combined pressures lead to a river with poor ecological health and reduced wildlife.

It’s critical that we protect and enhance the health of this precious chalk stream by looking at the landscape as a whole – improving it for people and wildlife, for today and into the future.

To help protect and enhance the River Chess and its catchment, a pilot project – the Chess Smarter Water Catchment – is now underway. It is being funded by Thames Water and delivered by a mix of partners from statutory agencies, non-governmental organisations, water companies and academic institutions – all with an interest in the welfare of the Chess: Affinity Water, Buckinghamshire Council, Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB), Chiltern Society, Environment Agency, Hertfordshire & Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Queen Mary University of London, River Chess Association, Sarratt Parish Council, and Thames Water.


What is a ‘Smarter Water Catchment’?

  • Smarter – Tackling multiple issues by addressing them as a whole, with the aim of achieving multiple benefits.
  • Water – Focusing on three very different rivers within the Thames Water service area: the Chess, Crane and Evenlode. This will provide a comprehensive understanding of the interplay between rural and urban areas and the different pressures in each associated landscape.
  • Catchment – The river and all the land around it where the natural landscape collects water. It is important to have a catchment-based approach as many of the pressures faced by our rivers originate from across boundaries, places and systems.
Chilterns ANOB
Chilterns ANOB

Chilterns Chalk Streams Project

Learn about our flagship partnership project, committed to conserving our threatened chalk streams and the wildlife they hold.
Chilterns ANOB

Wetland wildlife

Learn about the wetland wildlife of the Chilterns, where to go for wildlife, what to spot and what's rare.