The cool, clear waters of Hampshire's chalk streams support a range of wonderful wildlife, from brown trout and water voles to kingfishers and damselflies. But these important habitats, closely entwined with the lives of their human neighbours, need treating with care if they are to remain healthy. In the village of Cheriton, residents have just taken another step towards keeping their stream that way.
The Cheriton Conservation Volunteer Group has been planting water-loving wildflowers along the Cheriton Stream since 2017, choosing species like meadow buttercup, great burnet, and purple loosestrife. As well as bringing beauty to the village, these blooms provide food for caterpillars and pollinators, shelter for fish fry and waterfowl, and freer movement of wildlife between land and water.
Another benefit of the flowers is their role in tackling localised flooding, which unfortunately sometimes occurs in Cheriton. They help the village green to act as a miniature flood plain in times of high stream flow, holding water that would otherwise reach roads and buildings. Their roots and leaves also secure the stream banks, preventing the soil from washing away.
The wildflowers for these planting sessions are supplied by Cheriton-based business Butterfly Cottage Garden Plants. The owners don't use electricity or chemicals in their growing process, and their nursery supports thrushes, hedgehogs, and 25 species of butterfly. The wildflowers they provide are grown to order, sometimes from seeds collected by the conservation volunteers.
When the time came for this autumn's wildflower planting, the volunteers invited children from Cheriton Primary School to join them by the water. The Cheriton Stream flows past the school's front gates, so its pupils were excited to play a part in protecting it. They did a brilliant job of planting ragged robin, viper's bugloss, devil's-bit scabious, and bird's-foot trefoil along the bank.
The flowers will start to bloom in spring and bring a splash of colour to the village throughout the summer. Around this time, the volunteers and schoolchildren will head back out to add valerian, small scabious, meadow crane's-bill, and other stream-friendly wildflower species. They hope to continue planting each year, in order to further support this precious habitat.
This initiative currently forms part of the Watercress and Winterbournes Landscape Partnership Scheme. The five-year endeavour brings together 16 partners to protect, enhance, and celebrate seven local chalk streams, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund - learn more.