This is not a preview of the quiz but
what do you get if you divide 9 between 13? The number of Secretaries of
State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2010.
In case you were wondering, prior to
the latest incumbent Steve Barclay appointed last week (more of him later)
they were Thérèse Coffey, Ranil Jayawardena, George Eustice, Theresa
Villiers, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Elizabeth Truss (who blessed us
with beavers), Owen Paterson and Caroline Spelman. The longest time in the
job was two years and the shortest seven weeks. I think for the sake of
balance I should also point out that the Labour government of 1997-2010 went
through a rather more modest four office holders though I don’t recall John
Prescott, Margaret Beckett, David Miliband or Hilary Benn being particular
champions of the countryside or our rivers.
If you look through the full list of
27 office holders since the inception of the environment brief in 1970, you
would be hard pressed to recall any one of them in terms of notable
achievements. In fact, the only one to stick in the mind would be John
Gummer (now Lord Deben) for all the wrong reasons. I’m also tempted to
conclude environment has been seen by successive Prime Minsters as a handy
backwater in which to moor a loyal supporter or potentially troublesome
rebel at Cabinet level where they will not scare the horses. Which brings
us to Steve Barclay.
However kindly you read Barclay’s CV
it is hard to find much in it to suggest an interest in the environment.
Yes, he represents a largely rural constituency in East Anglia but his
professional life prior to parliament was all about law then finance which
has been reflected in his six (!) ministerial positions since 2018. Moving
from Health to Environment this time, generally regarded as a demotion,
will hardly be motivating for him or the civil servants who will know he
has 14 months in the post at best. And that is all before you take into
account the fact that his wife is a senior executive at Anglian Water, one
of the worst performing water companies. It is a horrible conflict of
interest that will severely hamper his time in office.
But the tragedy of his appointment,
and most of the twenty six before him, is not for the individuals but
rather the department they were meant to serve. Nobody can ever hope to get
on top of a brief as complicated as environment in such short spaces of
time and without a passion to save our countryside from the worst excesses
of human endeavour. The best we can hope of Barclay is that he puts his
legal and financial abilities to create a Conservative manifesto pledge to
reform not just the water industry but also the regulators who are supposed
to protect the interest of consumers aka voters.
Trains, planes, automobiles and unspeakables
Goodness, another week another piece
of the River Itchen for sale. This time it is at Bishopstoke, what you and
I would call Eastleigh to redress a bit of estate agent geographical
If that location does not help it is
well down the Itchen system, a mile or so upstream of the M27 so not far
from Southampton Airport. If you’ve fished any beats in the area, you’d be
immediately upstream of Lower Itchen Fishery and a couple of miles
downstream of Shawford Park, Qing Ya Xi, Kanara and Breach Farm.
It is a good bit of water, with
plenty of variety, that when last sold two decades ago was marketed as a
salmon beat. Sadly, the world has moved on and not in a good way for our
Atlantic friends so pickings in that department will be thin. That said
with a 1,261 yards of double bank fishing this represents good value on a
yard-by-yard basis compared to recent sales on the Anton, Itchen, Lambourn
In the end it will be your stomach
for the airport, motorway, train line and sewage works that determines
whether this is for you. It is not as bad in aggregate as all that sounds,
but best you should know. It is being sold by Savills; details on Rightmove
The Barton side stream
John Bailey looks back on a barbel year on the River Wye
I do not think I have ever had a
guest columnist before, so I am delighted to bring you the
behind-the-scenes star of Mortimer and Whitehouse, all round amazing
angler and friend John Bailey who volunteered this report as our ‘rookie’
guide on the River Wye.
“My guiding life was jogging along
quite nicely thank you. I’ve been in the game for exactly thirty years and
my regular clients and my work with Mortimer and Whitehouse were
keeping me alive with a bit to spare. So why did I debate Simon Cooper’s
suggestion that I introduce some of Fishing Breaks’ aficionados to the
delights of barbel hunting on the Wye? Why indeed?
To be honest, whatever you lot might
think, I’ve always enjoyed working with Cooper. For very many years, we’ve
enjoyed projects together and I’ve had fun each and every time. I’m not
going to blow much more smoke, you’ll be relieved to hear, but I’ve always
found him entertaining, insightful and above all in this game, honest. So
that’s all a good start, I reasoned.
John Bailey in action on
the River Wye
Above all, my own angling career has
roughly been split 55% coarse to 45% game with periods when one has taken
precedence over the other, like the years I worked on the Hardy Creative
Team and nearly forgot what a float looked like. This angling diversity has
enriched my life in fishing so colossally that I have always felt a need to
get this message across. It also explains my delight in my role at Mortimer
and Whitehouse, Gone Fishing, a program that explores every fish
species, every fishing method and every fishery type imaginable. This
all-encompassing philosophy is also at the heart of How We Fish, the
book Paul and I have just published, a book that I hope might draw
angling’s differing factions closer and help unite the sport in these
perilous times…how is that for a Christmas present plug!
There’s something else, an element
important to me. When I was learning my trade in the late Fifties but
especially the Sixties, coarse angling was vibrant, innovative, thrilling
and magical fun. Pioneering anglers wrote about new methods, new baits, new
tackle and whole new approaches that were all about involvement and a
deeper understanding of how fish feed and how the waters they live in work
as the seasons progress. As I progressed, I felt like a fishing detective
immersed in the aquatic world, trying to solve mysteries every session I
undertook. It was in the Seventies that coarse angling exploded with
invention and became the most compelling of all angling’s disciplines … or
so I felt. Today, all that energy has gone. Coarse angling in the main has
become stereotyped, tedious, over engineered and largely confined to
commercial fisheries where stunted carp arrive on the back of lorries.
Anglers now rely on barrows to laboriously transport their mountainous
amounts of gear a few yards to a swim that has been carefully prepared to
be devoid of bushes, reeds or any twig of nature. This is fishing in a
supermarket world and I loathe it.
.... and barbel makes
So, when Cooper called, I was already
on a mission to reel back the years and coarse fish in traditional ways,
ways that rely on knowledge of the fish above all else. No bivvies. No
barrows. No bolt rigs. Just the fisher and the fish and the minimal amount
of gear to connect them. That’s what I was about but I was anxious. Would
Fishing Breaks‘ predominantly game focused anglers embrace a coarse
challenge and give something new a chance? Would they want to wade, feel
for bites, bounce baits down the current, float fish, and potentially walk
miles, trying different swims and different methods in each of them?
The answer, delightfully, has been
YES! From the middle of June to the beginning of November a stream of trout
and salmon anglers have come my Wye way and professed to having enjoyed
themselves. I think that they have been reassured that we ( generally) keep
on the move, that when the river levels allow, we get in there and that all
my barbel kit ( spare shot and hooks) fits into a bum bag pouch. Rod, net,
bait bucket and off we merrily go. Of course, the river and the fish are
the real stars of the show. Who cannot be impressed by the Wye, even if
accustomed to the Scottish or Icelandic rivers? And whilst chub are great,
barbel are simply scintillating. They look gorgeous, can be cunning and can
fight just as well as salmon pound for pound. ( and often much better.)
They can even be caught on fly if that’s the route you want to stick
with…and barbel on a five weight make bonefish look limp!
Guiding is a marriage. I do my very,
very best to provide a good , interesting day even when the actual fishing
is hard. I like clients ( or friends as I hope they soon become) to
realise that, to listen and to take on board my recommendations. It’s good
when they engage and understand that we are doing something skilful and
exciting in sumptuous surroundings. Without exception , Cooper and his team
have sent me people simply brilliant to be with. Feedback has been good and
I’ve had wholly satisfying days when I have felt that my style of
coarse fishing has been understood and enjoyed.
Roll on 2024! In the meanwhile, I am
in the process of exploring the upper Wye and tributaries for the legendary
grayling these enchanting stretches hold. Of course, fly fishing is productive
and superb sport but so is trotting with float and bait. Grayling fishing
is enjoying a real renaissance in popularity and spinning a centre pin is
part of the drama. So, if I find the fish, watch out for upcoming Grayling
Trotting Masterclasses(!!) throughout the wonderland that is the Welsh
Marches. Until then, my thanks to Simon, all at Fishing Breaks and those
excellent souls who have ventured with me on the coarse side!”
Thank you, John. And to follow up on
those plugs How to Fish by Paul Whitehouse & John Bailey is
available on Amazon
and vouchers for guided days with John Bailey on the River Wye for groups
of one to four from Fishing Breaks.
The normal random
collection of questions inspired by the date, events or topics in the
Newsletter. It is just for fun with answers at the bottom of the page.
froze over on this day is 1434 and 1715?
is the Latin name for what?
3)Name one of the two
stars in the 1987 comedy Trains, Planes and Automobiles?
The recent publication of a paper
with the headline ‘Significant improvement in freshwater invertebrate
biodiversity in all types of English rivers over the past 30 years’ in the
scientific journal Science of The Total Environment has thrown the
pollution activist lobby into all sorts of a tizzy because, for all the
obvious reasons, it throws a significant spanner into the doom narrative.
Wildfish, the organisation previously
known as the Salmon & Trout Association, now turned river environment
advocates, rushed out a press release to, I think, trash or at least
seriously cast doubt on the Total Environment paper. I say I think
because the Wildfish release was even more baffling than the original paper
and, having read both, I can tell you that took some doing. But more of
that later. First let me give you my professional take which, usefully in
this context, goes back 30 years.
If you were leaning over a bridge
today looking down on chalkstream in a normal month of a normal year it
would not look much different to 30 years ago. Indeed, I have seen colour
photographs Halford took of the river at Mottisfont Abbey which you’d be
hard pushed to date as 130 years ago. But appearances are deceptive. Travel
to the head of the valleys, even at the height of the wettest winter, and
streams have vanished in the past 30 years thanks to excessive abstraction.
These will never return; we are literally losing miles of tiny, wild
streams and brooks with every passing year.
Looking over that bridge the water
looks clear but we know it contains a cocktail of chemicals, agricultural,
domestic and industrial that surely cannot be doing good. Indeed, you can
cogently argue that the largely organic waste of Halford’s time was helpful
to fish and bugs. Anyone who went sailing in the days when yachts vented
waste directly into the sea will know there is nothing fish like more than
If anyone asks me what has changed
most in my time on the chalkstreams it would be rising fish, or more
particularly the lack thereof. Now, I cannot tell you definitively why this
is. Some people point to the stocking of triploid trout, effectively a
genetically modified trout. I’d go along with this except in my experience
unstocked streams seem to have an equal lack of rising fish. Maybe, if the
report is correct and the nymph population is on the rise, canny trout are
not wasting time and effort on floating flies but rather munching away to
their hearts content on the growing sub-surface population.
Part of my bafflement with regard to
the lack of rising fish is the hatches. Now, it is often said we lack the
hatches of old but I’ve not noticed that on a scale that would stop trout
looking upwards. Often, I see a river thick with flying bugs, which
supports the findings in the paper, but nary a fish moves. Are they, to
repurpose that old British Rail excuse, the wrong type of flies? It could
well be which brings us nicely around to the meat of the Total Environment
The highlights of the paper (their
words not mine) are that river macroinvertebrate richness has increased
throughout England over the past 30 years with a recovery of pollution
sensitive invertebrates reaching the reference condition, the improvement
seen across all river types. If like me you find some of the jargon
unhelpful ‘macroinvertebrate’ are bugs that can be seen with the human eye
and ‘reference condition’ the expected population level in normal
conditions. In short, the report is saying the assumption that pollution is
causing biodiversity decline should be challenged because their data, which
draws on solid monitoring going back 30 years, suggests something
Mayfly larvae . Image:
Dr. Julian Taffner
Now this is where it gets murky, and
to be fair to the authors of the report, they allude to this albeit buried
in the footnotes. The question is how do you measure biodiversity or as
they say in the highlights, richness? For the sake of explanation let me
give you examples: your sample today shows five species compared to four at
a previous sampling. That is a tick the box for increased biodiversity.
However, what has not been measured, and is not part of the historic
dataset, is the number of individual nymphs.
So, quite feasibly, you might have a
total population of a hundred nymphs today comprising of five species
whereas in the past there were a thousand nymphs comprising of four
species. But, by the metric of the Total Environment analysis, the
former is considered a win whereas you and I might feel the latter is
preferable. As they say of all statistics, it is often what is hidden that
is more revealing than what is shown.
Frankly, I’m not sure this report is
the real deal and the headline screams clickbait to me. These reports are
essentially advertorial for researchers who will have paid the journal in
the region £3,000 to secure publication. Whilst I am going to file this one
under the question mark heading I leave you with a last thought. In the
previous Newsletter I quoted Ernest Pain’s Fifty Years on the Test.
In it he talked about the river as it flowed through a town where it
divided into two channels. One channel was productive for fishing, whilst
the other, which carried a majority of the town ‘waste’ rarely saw a rising
fish. As I say, just a thought.
Lead me to the water
Two newsletters ago, theming the quiz
randomly around the colour white, I asked a question that required the
answer of progressive rock band Procol Harum.
I thought nothing more of it until an
email popped into my Inbox. Did I know Peter Cockwill, manager of Dever
Springs and one of our guide team used to run a tackle shop with Procol
Harum frontman, Gary Brooker? Indeed, I did not and a quick call to Pete
confirmed that it was indeed so.
Peter Cockwill with his
Pete and Gary went back over four
decades first becoming friends when Pete ran a fishing syndicate in Surrey,
the friendship morphing into the shop in Godalming that was called Cockwill
& Brooker. But actually, that wasn’t the greatest impact Gary had on
Pete’s life but rather a casual question that has sparked Pete’s wanderlust
for fishing around the globe, when he was invited to join Gary on a trip to
Oregon. Tongue in cheek Pete calls that the ruination of his life, an
invitation that was to open up the world for a country boy who barely had a
passport, who now hosts regular trips to far away destinations.
Gary Brooker 1945-2022
Gary, who enjoyed all
types of fishing from salmon in Alaska to sea fishing off the Isle of
Wight, was a passionate tackle collector and had ponds at his Surrey home.
He was also part of a small coterie fly fishing rock stars including Eric
Clapton, the three of them regularly fishing together on the River Test. In
fact above is the last fishing picture of Gary before his death to cancer
in 2022, was taken on one of those trips with Pete.
The Angler lead me to the
water Gary Brooker (1982)
Location, location, location
Estate agents Savills have relaunched
to the market Fulling Mill on the River Itchen just upstream of Winchester,
which if memory serves me correctly, originally came to the market two
years ago at £5 million. It is now £3 million.
Before you rush to find the nearest
cheque book you should know it is something of a curate’s egg – good in
parts. The good is that it is set on 63 acres of water meadow, has a mile
and a half of fishing with the Mill and Cottage totalling nearly 5,000
sq. ft. It is, as they say, in need of renovation for which you should read
a complete gut job (some of which has been done) and the river is, to put
it kindly, neglected. None of that is insuperable and at the price you
should have plenty of headroom to do the work.
However, what is insuperable is the
location the property sandwiched as it is between the M3 and the A34, with
to top it off, the flight path to Southampton Airport above. And, if that
was not enough of a discouragement a public footpath runs down the drive,
right past the front door and through the garden. Of course, footpaths can
be moved: Nether Wallop Mill had path that took a very similar route but
the owners in the 1980’s managed to have it rerouted though it is a
fiendishly complicated process requiring almost total unanimity of what we
now call stakeholders.
In the case of Nether Wallop one
member of the village retained the right to walk along the route of the old
path for the duration of his lifetime, accompanied by a maximum of three
members of his family, to attend church services, the right dying with his
own death that occurred some 40 years later. I suspect achieving a
change of route, without some tangible gain, is much harder to do today
especially in a National Park such as the South Downs in which the Fulling
Mill is located.
The truth is that if you could pick
Fulling Mill up and place it away from the not good parts of that curate’s
egg you would be looking at a price tag of double or more; the mantra
location, location, location has never been so valid. You can view the full details here.
The property is offered as a whole or in three lots.
The normal random
collection of questions inspired by the date, events or topics in the
Newsletter. It is just for fun with answers at the bottom of the page.
1) What did German engineer Gottlieb
Daimler unveil on this day in 1885?
2) In ancient Greek folklore what was
the job of a nymph?