Friday, 16 November 2018

Not wild about re-wilding

Not wild about 're-wilding'


Sometimes issues that concern us in the countryside, and the solutions or alleviations that we propose to resolve those issues come back to bite us firmly on the arse as others, with a different agenda, ride on our coat tails. Take re-wilding for instance.

It is interesting how a particular word or phrase is able to become the currency of a particular cause or set of beliefs. For a while sticking eco in front of anything worked a treat if you wished to burnish the credentials of a person, movement or thing.

Global warming and climate change are clearly the big two that fall into this category. We have all experienced it. Dear Customer: To help the fight against global warning we will no longer be posting you a bank statement. 

Now I'm perfectly happy with that but be honest - it is all about a cost saving that drops straight to the bottom line but by using the phrase 'global warming' you have taken the moral high ground. Anyone who, for perfectly valid reasons still wants the paper version, is suddenly against the proposition. But back to the rivers.

For some time now there are plenty of us who have felt the best way to protect the chalkstreams for future generations is to step around progress. Not avoid it. Not oppose it. But craft a countryside that protects what we have from the downsides of progress and rolls back the damage that progress has caused. Strangely we haven't had to do anything radical or invent some fancy new initiatives because by some bizarre twist of fate the European Union handed us the solution on a plate.

Younger readers will probably not recall the agricultural excesses of what was back then the European Economic Community of the 1980's. It seemed like every week we were assailed by some new glut of products as farmers were paid to produce food nobody wanted to buy. Nobody excepting the EEC who bought and stockpiled millions of tons and gallons (sorry litres). We had wine lakes. Butter mountains. Potatoes. Wheat. Olives. The list went on and on. So the solution was a new policy: set aside. Farmers were paid to produce nothing. In the topsy-turvy world of European economics it was cheaper to pay a farmer to do nothing than do something so suddenly 10% of agricultural land was taken out of production.

And what happens if you let nature take over? It goes wild but in a good way. Suddenly there were hundreds of thousands of acres free of the plough. Free of chemicals. Free for creatures, animals and insects to thrive. Which they did. Saving the countryside was simply as uncomplicated as doing nothing. On the chalkstreams the penny dropped: the less we interfered the better. We needed to bend to the will of nature rather than bend nature to our will. Wild was good. But somehow, somewhere wild has become re-wilding, creating in an Animal Farm-like turn of events. A whole new concept of its own, as if wild in itself was not good enough. Now, not only do we have to return things to the wild but we have to return them to a wildness that exists only in the imagination of a body or group who have a particular cause to espouse.

I have absolutely no idea why the re-wilders have taken beavers to their hearts, using the cover of 're-wilding' to promote a species that has been extinct from the British Isles for at least six hundred years and probably longer in all but the remotest part of the nation. But they have the ear of government. The recent press release from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs extols the introduction of a pair Eurasian Beavers to Essex in a project that will see this 'keystone species' who, if you believe what is written in the text, save the county from the effects of global warming by juxtaposing the life of a beaver in the huge expanses of Canada with life in a 4 hectare compound in East Anglia.

It really is ecological madness. In a time when squeezing any money from any government body for even the most basic of environmental project is all but impossible I simply dread to think how much time and effort is being wasted in this pointless project. It involves, if you care to know: the Anglian Eastern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environment Agency East Anglia, Essex County Council, Essex & Suffolk Rivers Trust, Essex Wildlife Trust and Natural England.

The time when beavers were key is long past. They disappeared for a reason - the landscape they require, for right or wrong, has disappeared. It will not be coming back any time soon. Nor should the beavers

John Wilson dies

I was very sorry to hear that John Wilson died earlier in the week; he was really an unlikely fishing celebrity. Did you know he started his professional life as a hairdresser?

John was born in Enfield, London, where he fished on several local waters including the River Lea. When hair proved to not be his thing he joined the Merchant Navy, then tried his hand as a printer before opening his own fishing tackle shop in Norwich in 1971.

I recall it well, tucked down the tiny Bridwell Alley, when I was a student at the University of East Anglia.

He was a prolific author with over twenty books to his credit but his big break came in 1986 when the first of the Go Fishing series was commissioned by Anglia Television. Today angling shows are two-a-penny but John's genius was to have a hit TV series on terrestrial television when angling was desperately unfashionable and politically incorrect. Quite how he secured his prime time slot year after year on Channel 4 I will never know but he kept the angling flame alive with his sheer enthusiasm for our sport.

It is a while since I last saw the programmes but if I recall it wasn't overly technical. Just a guy going fishing sharing his passion for the sport - all the different aspects of it - as it grew to cover locations all over the world. He, as he would admit, wasn't the most elegant fly caster, but he was a regular on the chalkstreams with a particular penchant for the Indian restaurant on Stockbridge High Street. The last show was broadcast in 2009, the same year John was awarded an MBE.

John, voted as 'The Greatest Angler of All Time' by readers of the Angling Times in 2004, died on 13th November of a stroke in Thailand, where he had lived since 2013. He was 75.

Sea bass back on your menu

Good news for those of you who like to catch a sea bass for your tea: you are no longer an enemy of the people.

The history behind this was a botched, if worthy, attempt by the EU Council to arrest a dramatic decline in sea bass stocks when they banned all recreational fishing for the species last year. This came out of the blue for most of us, resulting in some considerable head scratching when it transpired that the commercial sea bass boats were left unaffected by the ban even though they take 25 fish for every 1 caught recreationally.

It did seem incredible that we were being banned from catching a publicly-owned fish for personal consumption from public beaches but such is the power of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

However, it was soon proved that recreational anglers took 85% fewer fish than the data supporting the ban had purported.

So now a catch limit of one fish (under 42cm) per angler per day is in force until the end of the year. But watch this space as the rules for 2019, Brexit or no Brexit, are yet to be set.

Photo of the week

Gorgeous morning on the River Coln with my friend and French agent Jean-Pierre. Two grayling, one on the dry and one on a tiny nymph plus two accidental browns. 

Enjoy the weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

Friday, 2 November 2018

That was the season that was

That was the season that was


Until I scrolled through the Feedback Form Inbox to randomly stop at the 2018 Simms Pliers winner I didn't realise quite how many of you had taken the time and trouble to report on your fishing day.

This is Britain ..... allegedly
To you all, thank you. I am pleased to report back that nearly all were overwhelmingly positive. The compliments you pay, not just in regard to the fishing but also the river keepers and guides you meet, are deeply appreciated. You also pick up on those little things that we don't notice or know but are easily remedied saving the day for whoever follows. That is a huge help, so do keep the reports coming.

How would I summarise 2018? Confounding. Three months out from the start we were bewailing the lack of rain. Then it, plus snow, arrived in deluges and drifts. Be careful what you wish for. The rain continued, barely without respite until the first week of May when, quite suddenly, it went away. As I write we are awaiting its return.

That absence of rain came as something of a shock to some of our overseas visitors for, Americans especially, are conditioned to believe that it rains in Britain all the time. No, I explain, that is Scotland. We hosted three consecutive weeks of parties flown over from the USA who had, in total, just one half morning of rain. I think the organiser was mildly affronted having included a vast array of all weather clothing on his 'must have gear' list. They are coming back in 2019 so he might turn out to be correct in the end.

The Mayfly hatched on time and in vast clouds; there was no shortage of insects. The only problem, which in truth was a big one, was that the trout paid scant attention. I simply can't recall another season when the Mayfly catches across the piece were so poor. The reason? I have no idea though I'd speculate that the fuller-than-average rivers may have had some impact on the behaviour of the trout and nymphs. There were, of course, still good days when Duffers Fortnight lived up to its name but it was sporadic. We joked, with an element of truth to it, that the real Duffer days came in July - sometimes it was incredible.

Congratulations to Tim Hodges who wins the Simms pliers in the end of season draw and Scott Mulholland the snood in the October draw.
And so to summer. I recall some years ago Capital Radio ran a competition inviting listeners to predict the date and hour when the London temperature, such was the rarity, would top 30c. In 2018 for six weeks from late June to mid-August we laughed in the face of such old-fashioned notions when 30c became the new norm; nine consecutive days were logged at one point. 

The chalkstreams and the trout in them, on the other hand, remained blissfully unaware of the temperature gauge. The groundwater statistics, which is basically a measure of natures' underground reservoir, were then, and remain thanks to that beastly spring, at average or above average levels. As to the fishing the weather ground us all down in the end; for a while it was something of a novelty but by August we were all feeling the heat. The autumn, such as it was, could not come too soon.

So another season draws to a close. Today we are packing up the fly fishing school here at Nether Wallop Mill. The trees are fast shedding their leaves. We will start to put the rivers to bed very soon. The last trout has been caught; all they have to fear until April is otters, herons and the deprivations of winter.

It is time to plot and plan for 2019.

Chalk Talk in Trout & Salmon

I am not entirely sure how it came about but I now find myself as a regular columnist in Trout & Salmon magazine with my monthly Chalk Talk page. For someone who campaigned (successfully) that his boarding school library should carry the magazine (1970's cover price 17½p!) it is an enormous honour.

During the fishing season the column is largely topical, featuring what is going on across the chalkstreams plus an interview with a river keeper and his Fly of the Month. However, out of season editor Andrew Flitcroft allows me to range over any topic that takes my fancy. If you'd like to catch up on the most recent "Harsh times for grayling" click here.

If you'd like to subscribe to Trout & Salmon, which is available in print (£32 for 13 issues) or electronically (£26) here is the link. My next piece is on the dramatic decline in Rod Licence sales and the best possible remedy.

Photo of the week

I love great photos - aside from Pop Art it is my favourite form of art so I always enjoy scrolling through the finalists for the Landscape Photographer of the Year. Unusually fishing got a look in this year, though in truth by accident. 

Mick Blakey, winner of the Living the View (adult class) takes up the story: 'I hoped to photograph a serene sunset - but was in for a shock. There had been strong winds, which resulted in a big Atlantic swell. Initially disappointed, I started to notice spray around the cliffs as the waves were breaking - backlit by the sun. I sat happily on the rocks photographing the waves but then the magic happened ... a fisherman appeared in frame.'

Does anyone want to admit to being famous by accident? The photo was taken at Porth Nanven, Cornwall. Review all the entries here.

Video of the week

The Hatch
The Hatch
One of our old friends at Fishing Breaks, photographer and film maker Matt Dunkinson, has just released a great video courtesy of Loop Fly Fishing featuring a bunch self-described 'hairy arsed' Hampshire river keepers fishing the Mayfly.

It is a fun six minutes or so as a reminder to what has been and to what will come again as we set off through another winter. All I can add is that it is a good thing the hairy ones fish better than they play the banjo.

Here is the link. Happy watching!


The usual random selection of questions to confirm or deny your personal brilliance. As ever it is just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the page.

1)     In what year was the Gunpowder Plot discovered?

2)     If you were kovtapyroergasoiphobic what would be scared of?

3)     Who is the world's largest consumer (not a country) of fireworks?

Enjoy the weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 

Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:

1)     1605
2)     Fireworks
3)     Walt Disney Corporation