Friday, 9 March 2018

The saving nature of ARK

I have always been a great fan of ARK having followed their work and spoken at Action for the River Kennet events in the past. It wouldn't be fair to say ARK is unique (we have our own Test & Itchen Association and there are many others) but if you had to find a template for a proactive body that campaigned on every level - national, local, in the classroom and educating the wider public - you'd struggle to find anything better.

River Kennet
As part of their ongoing guardianship of the Kennet catchment, which includes the Dun, Lambourn and Og, ARK has a monthly river fly monitoring programme on up to 57 sites in the valley.

The long term aim is to build up an accurate picture of how the rivers are coping with change (the population in the region increased 318% 1931-1991 and goodness how much since ....) but in the short term the regular count of the eight indicator species from the sedge, mayfly, stonefly and shrimp groups, alerts the team to pollution and keeps tabs on general water quality.

If you want to see more visit the ARK website where you will see that the highest scoring invertebrate count for January 2018 was at our very own Donnington Grove.

Two guys and a Hi Lux - Part 2 - Yorkshire

One of the things that struck me when I was plotting my route to take in the compass extremes of the chalkstreams was how incredibly helpful people were. I'd get on the phone, call a total stranger and essentially invite myself to fish their river. One such person was Alan Mullinger, who founded the East Yorkshire Rivers Trust.

If you ever have cause to cross the Humber Bridge it is hard to reconcile that the massive river below started life as a tiny stream in the chalk hills that make an arc from the Humber estuary west of Hull up to the North Sea coast between Bridlington and Scarborough where the white costal cliffs give something of a clue, not to mention the lighthouse on Flanborough Head built of chalk. Here is the genesis of that geological seam that will run all the way to the south of Paris.

For not only does Yorkshire boast the most northerly chalkstream on the planet but also 35 of the Britain's 224 chalkstreams, the longest being the River Hull at 16 miles. 

Illustrious writers such as Skues considered the Driffield Beck, the best known of the Yorkshire set, every bit as good as it's more famous southern counterparts and is the only river in the Eastern Wolds to have the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) classification.

Gypsey Race
Now, as ever with this tour, my problem was reconciling the most northern river with the one that was actually fishable. In terms of latitude plenty of advice was offered for the Gypsey Race; as you will see from the photo probably a good job I didn't pin my hopes on that one. Wintringham Beck was certainly the one the map indicated as the prime prospect but it was, at least in terms of fishing and access from my southern desk, Google proof. So it was to Foston Beck that photographer Ken and I were heading as we crossed the Humber Bridge to meet Alan Mullinger.

Since retiring from the Environment Agency Alan has been the driving force behind the restoration of the Foston Brook; looking at the photos you might think he has done a great job. That is a perfect chalkstream. However, you'll probably be more amazed when you know this bit of river didn't exist 5 year ago. Here is the story. 

Many years ago, probably in the 1800's the river was diverted into a straight canal to provide water for a mill that operated in the farm in the background and there it remained long after the mill fell into disuse, a silted channel with sluggish flow and the impoundment of the historic structures. Now Alan and the East Yorkshire Rivers Trust could have tried to make something of what remained but really what was the point? It was never a natural feature of the landscape, entirely suited for the job it was dug for and nothing else. Why not, they reasoned, re-create the river that was abolished in the first place?

And that is precisely what they did. With a little bit of geographical investigation they traced the route of the old river and simply dug it back out again (well, it wasn't that simple ....), used the spoil to fill in the mill canal and voilĂ , a new/old chalkstream came into being. You have to admit it is pretty impressive.

Foston Beck

Foston Beck simon with fish

If you are being picky you might say the water isn't crystal clear but that was a factor of the deluge we drove up in the previous day. By lunchtime we Ken and I had ticked the boxes: blue sky, sunshine and fish so it was off to find the Gypsey Race and Wintringham Beck. My thanks to Alan for being such and open and generous host.

Wintringham Beck
As you have seen the Gypsey was a bust but, in any case, even with water and fish it wasn't the most northern but frankly the prospects for the Wintringham, an even tinier line on my rapidly dog-earing Ordnance Survey map, didn't seem to offer much more hope.  

But eventually we found it, and wow, what a perfect gem. The only problem was finding someone who would admit to ownership and give us permission to fish. We knocked on doors. Drove up drives. Accosted dog walkers. Other than the collective incredulity that anyone would want to do such a thing nobody seemed to know much besides suggest that I find 'the man' but he wasn't about much they said. Dead end.

Even in the pursuit of my worthy cause I didn't feel it right to poach so Ken and I mocked up some shots on the road bridge, giving way to a passing tractor who stopped. I guess we were an odd sight. He driver wasn't 'the man' but he worked for 'the man' and he was sure 'the man' would not mind. Help yourselves.

So, I fulfilled my wish in fishing the most northerly chalkstream on the entire planet almost entirely by accident and the goodwill of strangers. If you are 'the man' and you are reading this - thank you - I hope we didn't cause any offence.

Next time: Yorkshire to Champagne.


Last year's inaugural London Fly Fishing Fair was hailed a great success, a tribute to the show organisers John and Fergus Kelley, the father and son team who just also happen to be keen fly fishers themselves. Maybe therein in lies a clue?

Unfortunately I wasn't able to take a stand first time around but this year I am delighted to say that Fishing Breaks will be sharing booths 55/56 with our friends from Farlow's. Do come along to say hello. I will be there both days, along with Diane on the Friday and river keeper Simon Fields on the Saturday.

The show is on March 23rd/24th 9am-6pm at the Ilsington Design Centre.

Tickets and details on the LFF web site.


This week win a pair of tickets to the London Fly Fishing Fair, kindly donated by John and Fergus Kelley. Answers by email only no later than 12 noon on Monday March 12th.

1)    What is a Koch snowflake?

2)     Who wrote Salmon fishing in the Yemen?

3)    The coarse fishing season closes soon. On what date?

Look forward to seeing you at the show.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 

Founder & Managing Director

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