Friday, 20 April 2018

Keeping in contact

Keeping in contact

It is not very often that I find myself at a bleak chain hotel, in an equally bleak but additionally, soulless conference room with a podium at one end, giant presentation screen above it and sitting at a 'break-out' tables. The presenters, young and enthusiast both, from a hip marketing agency tried to make it fun but frankly the topic for which we were gathered, GDPR, doesn't encourage high fives.

In one of those marvellous moments which must make any presenter wonder why they even got out of bed that morning Steve (might not have been his name, but I forget, so let's go with that for now) lobs out an easy question by way of an icebreaker: what is GDPR? Now everyone in the audience knew precisely what it meant. Why else would we have dragged ourselves to this depressing room if we didn't? He probably hadn't factored in his target market for that particular morning: hard bitten, largely self-employed small business owners who were trying to navigate this latest bit of EU legislation. He probably thought we were being sullen, all crossed arms and non-responsive. We actually just wanted him to get on with it. Mercifully he gave up without a fight, bringing up the first slide of the day:

The event, though that makes it sound it bit more of a happening that it was, had been arranged by the Southern Tourist Board (STB) which is one of those strange organisations that I've been a member of for nearly thirty years. Most of the time it just lurks in the background occasionally trying to sell you space in tourist publications, share the cost of a stand at a trade show or include you in a press visit. It is the nuts and bolts end of leisure marketing, not hugely exciting, but important nonetheless and when, to their credit, some overarching bit of regulation appears over the horizon, the STB leaps into action.

I am not sure why GDPR has put the fear of God into so many people. Maybe it is the fact that it seems to have crept up on us all of a sudden. I am sure it has been discussed in Brussels for years but only recently has it appeared in business consciousness. The unlimited fines for transgressors are scary - it is quite possible for a firm to be bankrupted. And, with spooky timing with all the Facebook issues, use of personal data has become a hot topic.

Essentially, from my perspective at least, the new legislation seems generally easy to navigate. Firstly, we have to store all the data you have ever given us to complete a booking - name, address, phone numbers etc. - safely. One hotelier completely floored Steve when she asked whether keeping her written records in her attic complied; I am not sure he understood that there was an age, not so long ago, when things were written down. Aside from that time-warp anomaly none of that is particularly contentious. It is your email addresses that has everyone in a stir.

Essentially in the past once someone had your email address they could pretty well do with it what they liked: sell, use it, pass it on and hold it forever. You might not have wittingly submitted to this use but by virtue of a tick box you did or did not tick or some clause buried in the Terms & Conditions your email details (and possibly more) was potentially out there. But from 25/May these practices are outlawed: it is all about consent. In the future you will have to give the holder of your email address your consent to use your email address. Of course, once you get into the detail, it is horribly more complicated than that but really the question many of us are wondering is whether it will have any effect? My gut feeling is yes; over time we will all notice a gradual reduction in the amount of emails we receive. Hurrah you might well say but I have a feeling it might hit small businesses the hardest who, without the benefit of huge marketing budgets, have been the most savvy, and generally least intrusive and least exploitative, users of direct email. Let me sketch it out from my side of the fence.

You've fished with us for a few years, a regular client who generally books in January for May. Over the years you have come to rely on us emailing you by way of a nudge when the booking season comes around. It works for you. It works for us. However, from 25/May I won't be able to send that nudge email unless you have specifically consented to receive it. If it is a verbal consent we will have to make a written note. If it is electronic consent you will have to click on a link. Now I suspect for us this is going to be reasonably easy to navigate. Our relationship with you is generally quite personal so one way or another we'll make it work. But I can easily see for other businesses who have a larger number of smaller transactions, where the interaction is less one-to-one, this is going to be a problem. Over time that contact list of thousands built up over years will be eroded away because as consumers we have not only become tired and suspicious of email marketing, but we are generally hopeless at being proactive so in the absence of the sign-up being done on our behalf we probably will not do it ourselves.

And that will make life more difficult, especially on small businesses who don't have considerable marketing budgets or clout. Larger business will likely return to traditional media - TV, magazines etc. - to capture new, old, lapsed or dormant customers but for the rest of us it is going to be a lot harder. And that is a great shame for I'm sure the EU legislation was meant to have precisely the opposite effect.

A good pub for lunch

On the topic of small business, the Countryside Alliance announced their regional finalists for the annual Rural Awards a while back, which they like to term the rural Oscars which to me is a bit of a stretch and frankly, the less we associate with Hollywood the better. I know the red carpet types like to burnish their eco-credentials but it is slightly at odds with the NetJets data who peg Oscar weekend as their busiest of the year with 250+ plus private planes arriving in LA.

Energy drinks for fishing
I don't think the overall winners have been selected (don't book that jet to London!) as yet, but ahead of that I'd like to pass on congratulations to two of the pubs (a new category for this year) that regularly feature on our lunchtime fishing circuit.

The Boot at Houghton has a garden that goes right down to the banks of the River Test and is just a hop, skip and a jump from Stockbridge. If you are in the Avon valley The Swan is tucked away in Enford; it has long been a favourite of mine.

If I had to have a bet my money would be on the Cornish firm Green & Blue, run by ex Dyson designers who create beautiful, stylish products that help wildlife. The Beepot Concrete Planter and Bee House is both as beautiful as it sounds intriguing, providing a home for solitary bees in search of a swarm.

You may read more about the awards, the winners in your area and a map of where the finalists are located via this link.

To release or not to release?
The Environment Agency have issued a consultation document proposing compulsory catch and release for all salmon on rivers that will be on the 'at-risk- register as of 2021 with the new regime taking effect in June of this year.

It prompted the Countryside Alliance, who object to the proposal, to run a Facebook poll to gauge public opinion. 68% in favour, 32% against. I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Personally it wouldn't bother me one way or another but I know for some people taking a fish home is the definition of fishing and I understand that point of view.

I think the problem with the EA proposal is that it introduces an element of compulsion that doesn't rest easy on our sport. We pride ourselves in being guardians of the rivers we use and with 90% of fish already released the job is pretty well already done.

With angling participation in decline alienating another group of people with a ban of doubtful gain, when so many other major problems assail our salmon rivers, looks to me like virtue signalling.

You may read more about the consultation via this link.

CHALK on the road
If you'd like to catch up with CHALK we are on the road next week as part of the One Fly Festival with a special screening in Stockbridge.

The film is showing the The Grosvenor Hotel. Doors open (i.e the bar) at 7pm with the show starting at 7.30pm on Friday April 28th. Tickets £15 on-line. 

As a little amuse-bouche here is a unique directors cut that was made for one of our major supporters to celebrate his day at Bullington Manor. 

Click on this link and log in with password: kickstarter123


More chances to prove, or improve, your intellect.  Answers, as ever, at the bottom of the page.

1)      What do the initials SIM, as in your SIM card phone, denote?

2)      Which is which: bumble bee or wasp? Vespula vulgaris. Bombus hortorum.

      What year did Georgina Ballantine (pictured) catch her record salmon?

Enjoy an August weather weekend!

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 

Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:

1)      subscriber identity module
2)      Vespula vulgaris wasp. Bombus hortorum bee
3)      1922

Friday, 6 April 2018

Goodbye Mr. Heron

Goodbye Mr. Heron


A walk along a river after a fresh fall of snow is always a revealing thing. You really don't realise how much the banks are rural superhighways. By day most of the creatures stay away, but at night, and most especially in the hours immediately after dark and prior to dawn many are on the move. track the river until a bridge affords them a crossing. Hares are clearly not evolved or trusting of human structure; arriving from the downs to turn back from the water at 45 degrees to head who knows where. Otters? Well, they don't care marking out territory with spraints that look like burnt cinders against the whiteness. Ducks, moorhens, water voles.... well, just anyone who is anybody in this riparian community leaves a trace.

I trundled down the Wallop Brook on one such morning last month. Somewhere in the distance a volley of shots had rang out. A slew of wood pigeons raced across the sky, dodging and weaving.  Ahead, clear against the snow lay something grey, close to the water's edge. I hoped it was a pigeon but in my heart I knew it wasn't. It was too big and too grey. My first instinct was to assume that the cold had got him; the unseasonal frigid elements finally ending his life. But as I picked up Mr. Heron he was still warm and as his neck flopped over with his long yellow beak pointing groundward, a little trickle of fresh blood came from a small puncture in his neck.

In truth I didn't know what to do with him, so I held him for a while. Herons, for such apparently big birds, are surprisingly light and on close examination that beak is really quite the weapon. Mr. Heron had been a fixture at The Mill for years and this was the closest I had ever been to him. For the most part he patrolled the meadows alongside Brook; the number of frogs, toads, water voles, bullheads, rabbits, moles, fish, ducklings and insects pincered in that beak must run to ten of thousands for he seemed to be forever on the look-out for prey.

Most mornings I'd wake up to him patrolling the edge of the trout lake. He was never really that successful. I can't recall ever seeing him with a fish and only occasionally did we come across a corpse. I'm guessing he acknowledged that as he never put up much resistance, taking flight with that idiosyncratic little hop as soon as the first human of the day put in an appearance, languidly flying the fifty yards that took him over the fence.

Now he is gone I rather miss him. For the time being the white egret rules the roost but that is temporary. Herons are territorial so I'm sure a replacement will arrive soon but as for Mr. Heron I cast him adrift in the stream to let nature find his final resting place.

Who would you save: heron or duckling?

On the subject of herons there was a most bizarre incident reported in the national and local press last week when a man killed a heron to save the life of a duckling it had just eaten. The Times reported, 'For one man who saw a heron pluck a duckling from the water in front of him and swallow it whole, enough was enough. The man decided to intervene and save the life of the duckling, by killing the heron and pulling the baby bird still alive, from its stomach.'

The North Wales rural crime team who questioned then released the elderly man with a caution Tweeted, 'Strangely he actually did rescue the duckling alive from the dead heron's stomach. But obviously he was then left with a dead heron. You couldn't make this up!'

I think on that we'd all agree and the whole tale probably makes for a good morality question: heron or duckling? That said I do wonder who goes around equipped to kill, then eviscerate, as sturdy a bird as a heron. Very bizarre.

London Fly Fishing Fair

I can't be sure how the economics of the London Fly Fishing Fair will stack up for us but it was great fun and a pleasure to catch up with the many of you who dropped by to say hello. managed to persuade our cover girl Marina Gibson to pose with our new brochure (thank you Marina) and I had a fascinating chat with Ed Porter (he is the one with the beard....) who you may or may not recognise from his time in the Orvis Stockbridge store, though he hadn't gone 'native' at the time for he now runs Hidden Gem Fly Fishing in Fiji.

It is a hell of a place to get to. Prepare yourself for three connections, the thick end of 24 hours and goodness knows how many time zones. But it does look pretty amazing with big game fly fishing for yellow fin tuna and marlin, plus all the inshore species such as trevally. The gear guide for a 12 wt rod and tippet material of 30lb-130lb gives a clue to what might just be on the end of your line.

You can contact Ed at

Grayling feedback winner

I think we had one of our busiest ever grayling seasons, which went right down to the wire with some of you fishing on the very last day, not to mention others who headed out even in the snow. Now that shows dedication!

Well done to Kieron Harney who wins the new style Fishing Breaks snood fishing at Donnington Grove on the River Lambourn back in November. We are now officially back with the trout so I've picked as the grand draw prize for 2018 the rather cool Simms Guide pliers with the snoods the monthly prize.

Quiz to usual this time with a quiz purely dedicated to the pleasure of knowing you are right. Answers, as ever, at the bottom of the page.

1)      Fiji, granted independence in 1970, was a colony of which country?

2)      Who, in the bible, was swallowed by a whale for three days and nights?

3)      What was the name of the whaling ship in the novel Moby Dick?

Hope you had a good Easter.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature
Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:

1)      Britain
2)      Jonah
3)      Pequod