Celebrate our successes

Celebrate our successes

Our Chess Smarter Water Catchment project is tackling the issues that face the river and its catchment through partnership working.


The Chess Smarter Water Catchment project started in 2021 with the vision of making the River Chess catchment a jewel in the heart of the Chilterns landscape. Work is well underway to make this happen, protecting landscapes, enhancing habitats and improving water quality and flow. But there is plenty more to do over the 10-year term of the project.

A systems-based view of the environment

The project is looking to taking a ‘systems-based’ view of the environment, addressing multiple challenges and delivering landscape-scale solutions that make the most of bigger opportunities to aid nature’s recovery. The work is being led by stakeholders to make sure it reflects local needs and considers local knowledge. Over the next 10 years, the project’s steering group will be looking at six specific themes:

  1. Improving water quality
  2. Managing flow
  3. Improving wildlife corridors
  4. Managing Invasive Non-Native Species
  5. Working together
  6. Involving people

10 year Catchment Plan

Our 10-year Catchmant Plan was published in March 2021, detailing actions under our key themes.

What are we doing to help rivers?

  • Funding fencing to enhance riverbank restoration.
  • Recruiting specialists to write strategies to tackle flooding within the catchment.
  • Empowering citizen scientists to monitor water quality issues, enabling us to have a better understanding of what is happening, when and where.
  • Engaging with farmers to look at how sustainable agricultural practices can be developed.
  • Working with two prominent water companies (Thames and Affinity) to share resources and specialists to make morphological improvements.
  • Lobbying MPs and the government to focus their attention on the importance of chalk streams.
  • Working across multiple organisations to increase the amount of educational content available to schools, colleges and universities, as well as individuals.
  • Providing training to understand the effect of emerging contaminants.
  • Collecting baseline data enabling us to monitor changes.

And much much more…

Our most current action plan is Working together to protect and enhance our water environment. It outlines the milestones and targets the initiative will be aiming to achieve in 2022/23.

You can read both documents below.


10 year Catchment Plan
River Chess Update

The State of the River Chess

Last year, stakeholders produced a comprehensive report called The State of the River Chess. This baseline report outlines our current understanding for the area, and will drive future improvements and interventions, as well as providing an essential tool to evaluate the success of these works. This report was produced as part of the Smarter Water Catchments initiative which is being piloted within the River Chess catchment. It aims to tailor our next steps and continue to promote our stakeholder-led approach, reaching out to wider communities.



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What can you do to help?

There are myriad ways you can get involved, from making basic changes around the house to how you use water to creating space for nature on your land.

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Volunteer to help conserve the precious River Chess

Conservation volunteering not only benefits the natural world, but it also benefits us. It provides a sense of well-being from giving something back to the community and from being immersed in nature. It offers a chance to make new connections and learn new skills or gain new knowledge about the wildlife, heritage and environment of the area. Find out more about volunteering on our Get involved page.

Get a grant to help you look after nature on your land

Are you a landowner? Did you know as part of Smarter Water Catchments you could apply for both capital and revenue spend.  Revenue spend is funding to support management actions that deliver Farming in Protected Landscape objectives. Capital spend is funding to purchase or invest in a physical asset (capital item) to achieve a stated outcome, such as increased business prosperity or improvements to the environment. Capital items can be natural landscape features, such as trees, hedgerows and ponds, or built features, such as fencing, water, infrastructure, buildings, machinery and equipment. For more information contact stephhorn@chilternsanob.org


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What are our recent successes?

  • Fenced 800 m section of the Little Chess to reduce poaching from cattle and increase vegetation and suitable habitat for water voles.
  • Launched a suite of citizen-science initiatives and training to monitor water quality; currently have 40 members of the public engaged.
  • Created a baseline document called the State of the River Chess, showing where we are now and where we need to get to.
  • Increased the capacity of water quality monitoring through the deployment of two new sensors, which monitor nitrate, phosphate, oxygen levels, velocity, turbidity, pH, temperature, ammonia, dissolved organic matter, and more.
  • Employed five members of staff: Project Coordinator, Chess Farming Adviser, Engagement Officer, Citizen Scientist Coordinator and the Secondment of Professor Kate Heppell from Queen Mary University of London.
  • Through the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, engaged with farmers to complete surveys of agricultural land. This work will be continued by the Chess Farming Officer.
  • Hosted Masters students on the Chess, who are collecting and analysing data on chalk streams.
  • Started a River Restoration project at Restore Hope Latimer, which aims to create optimum habitat for water vole population expansion.
  • Lobbied government on the plight of chalk streams.
  • Identified priority habitats within the Chess Catchment.

Meet the team

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Steph Horn

Role: Chess Smarter Water Catchment Coordinator
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Josh Biddle

Role: Farming Engagement Officer
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Professor Kate Heppell, QMUL

Role: Research Lead (On secondment)
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Piers Brown

Role: Engagement Officer
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Hannah Parry-Wilson

Role: Citizen Science Coordinator

What does the future hold?

Future projects include:

  • Expand the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs model of Tracking the Impact into the Chess catchment, collecting survey data on birds, butterflies and plants across set locations.
  • Build a website to showcase the work we are currently undertaking.
  • Use targeted education in schools and with wider demographics to illustrate the need for water efficiency.
  • Train volunteers in managing Invasive Non-Native Species.
  • Deploy two new sensors in the lower reaches of the Chess, which will focus on collecting water quality data at Loudwater and Rickmansworth.
  • Create and develop a Chess Catchment Farming Cluster to look at linking landscapes and habitats through farmer engagement.
  • Prioritise projects to receive landowner grant funding within the catchment.
  • Build public engagement through a broad range of opportunities within the catchment and enable community involvement through funding streams, such as the community grants.
  • Build partnership/stakeholder engagement through the delivery of on-the-ground projects.
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Chilterns Chalk Streams Project

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

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