Environmental campaigners from the RevIvel Association have spent 13 days manoeuvring a canoe along a dry river bed to shine a spotlight on the poor condition of the upper Ivel chalk stream.

The ‘14 Pence Expedition’ – named after the amount of money that would have to be added to water bills to fix the problem – was devised by Richard Meredith-Hardy, an aviator who was formerly World Microlight Champion.

He said that “the expedition is not quite as challenging as some of the things I’ve done in the past – but in some ways is far more important”.

The Comet: Two crew members take a well-earned breakTwo crew members take a well-earned break (Image: R Meredith-Hardy drone footage)

A small crew moved the canoe from Baldock to Offord along a 28-mile route that was dry for long stretches.

Only downstream of Letchworth did the flow pick up significantly – a result of the LGC Sewage Treatment Works discharging around 10 million litres of recycled sewage water per day.

In 2019, the river ran dry for the first time in living memory and the RevIvel Association was founded with the aim of protecting the stream.

It recently hired John Lawson, a specialist civil engineer, to develop a solution for saving the upper Ivel. His plan would involve Affinity Water taking water from the bottom of the river, rather than the top as it currently does.

The Comet: The boat is carried around a weirThe boat is carried around a weir (Image: K Mackenzie)

The campaigners argue that this could be funded by the additional costs being absorbed within Affinity’s profit margin, or by adding 14 pence per week to water bills in the Baldock and Letchworth area. Affinity Water made an operating profit of £34.6 million in the 2021-22 financial year.

The company currently extracts about 13 million litres of water every day from boreholes in Baldock and Letchworth.

In response to the expedition, it has said that it plans to reduce the amount of water it extracts from the stream by 228 million litres per year. RevIvel estimate that extraction would need to reduce by 20 times this amount to restore the stream to a healthy condition.

The Comet: The boat is upended and pivotedThe boat is upended and pivoted (Image: K Mackenzie)

RevIvel campaigners have met with the Environment Agency, Water Resources East, Anglian Water and Affinity Water to discuss their proposed solution. Only Affinity has yet to agree that “this could be a very useful and beneficial flagship pilot scheme and there should be urgent and serious investigation into feasibility.”