The next time you are scanning down a newspaper list of the
nation's most powerful look for the name James Bevan. I’ll hazard that be
it a list of the top 10, 50 or 500 you’ll not find his name amongst the
politicians, royalty, celebrities, social media influencers, billionaires
and their like. But it should be. For Sir James Bevan runs the Environment
At first glance you might think, really? A few rivers. A bit
of pollution here and there. But the truth is the EA has the most
astonishing remit from nuclear waste to boating on the River Thames, with
responsibility for the air, water and land quality for each and every of
our 13 million English hectares of land, 22,000 miles of river and 3,100
miles of coastline seawards to the three-mile limit which includes 2
million hectares of coastal waters. It is fair to say that there is not a
moment of your life that the EA does not touch.
Sir James Bevan
Is James Bevan qualified to run the EA? Frankly, knowing
that he could be dealing with floods, nitrate vulnerable zones, issues with
Hinkley Point, oil spills and landfill tax all before morning coffee it
makes you wonder whether anyone might be qualified. But for the record,
Bevan was a career diplomat with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before
taking up his current position as Chief Executive in 2015 having stepped
down from his final posting as High Commissioner to India. In case you
wonder at £185,000 a year he earns thirty grand more than the Prime
We don’t tend to hear much from Sir James, he is not exactly
‘the face’ of the EA, but from time to time he pops up with a keynote
speech. Last week (19 August) was such a moment when he addressed a group
of business leaders with proposals to reform the EU Water Framework
Directive (WFD) post-Brexit. I know that sounds inestimably dull but WFD is
the measure by which our rivers are determined as clean or not. Currently
just 14% are. The Bevan proposal to move the WFD goalposts would raise that
to 79% at the stroke of a legislator’s pen. Cue delight from the water (aka
sewage) industry and outrage from environmentalists. In case you think the
sewage mention is an aside, here are some statistics. Water (!) companies
released 1.5m hours of raw sewage via storm outflows into rivers in 2019,
in 204,000 discharges all of which are permitted by the EA.
Earlier in the week I joined a webinar hosted by the
Cotswolds WASP group – Windrush Against Sewage Pollution. This once bright
limestone river is regularly turned grey by sewage outflow; I’m told you
can not only see it but smell it such is the volume. Now the EA might claim
this is within the current regulatory guidelines but that is not really the
point. The EA should be asking whether those guidelines are sufficient.
Surely, we are past that moment in time when we allow our rivers to become
open sewers? How is it that the fight against climate change (an EA core
value) fails to include our rivers?
I don’t think Bevan had anticipated the whiplash against his
words; a defence of sorts was quickly mounted on the EA web site with the
suggestion that in Trump-style post justification he was just ‘floating’’ a
few ideas. That may well be true, but I think the worrying aspect of this
is that arguably one of the most powerful men in the country prefers less
regulation to more when he is meant to be addressing the precipitous
decline in the state of our rivers.
Last week, the moment I clicked the send button for my The
Spectator featuring Simon Cooper missive, I was overcome with hubristic
angst. So, for that excessive indulgence, I do apologise but, as many
of as you will have gathered, the beaver thing does rather get my goat to
mix mammal metaphors.
All that said, I’ve become a great fan of The Spectator
in recent years. Rod Liddle and Toby Young are my ‘go to’ columnists in
every issue. You might not always like what they write. In fact, sometimes
they appear undeniable prats. But you end each piece the better for the
reading of it; it is a cranial work out for those little grey cells to
which Agatha Christie’s Christie’s Poirot often alluded.
So, to get a piece in the magazine (and be paid for it!),
plus a by-line on the front cover along with Joan Collins, was massively
exciting. They also selected Beaver Fever as one of the three topics to be
featured in the weekly podcast, which I had to narrate myself. My impromptu
studio ended up being one of the spare bedrooms (least echo) with my iPhone
perched on a tower of toilet rolls. Very rock ‘n roll.
I was rather dreading that the article might ignite a bit of
a Twitter storm from the pro-beaver lobby but for the most part nearly all
the comments I received, both on social media and by email, were
supportive. Thank you to all who took the trouble to write.
On the more important issue as to whether Beaver Fever had
any effect I’m delighted to say, probably yes, unless you are a believer in
massive coincidences. The day after publication the River Otter Fisheries
Association received a reply from environment minister Rebecca Pow to a
letter they had sent her 23 June; the granting of further wild release
licences in England is now suspended pending further consultations.
However, this is not really a moment for celebration as the
subtext of the letter suggests that the pro-beaver lobby still holds most
of the cards. They recently stepped up the rhetoric with a carefully
crafted PR release that posited that now beavers were an accepted native
species (sic) they should have full protection under the law, in much the
same way as otters.
Us beaver sceptics are clearly playing catch up but there is
some good news. An alternate report will soon be out to question the
evidence of the previous report (largely a love ode to beavers) on which
Rebecca Pow based her decision to allow the River Otter colony to remain in
place. There is also a beaver summit being held in September at the
instigation of the Beaver Trust. Yes, such a thing really does exist with
the aim of nationwide reintroduction. Ironically, of the 40 or so invitees,
9 have stated their opposition to beaver introductions and as the news of
the event has spread more beaver sceptic organisations have been applying
Mysteriously, my invite has been lost in the post, but my
mole will be reporting back.
Bank Holiday &
September Special Offers
I have to tell you that you all rather knocked us down in
the rush with the first tranche of special offers earlier in the month; the
SOLD OUT shingle went out faster than I anticipated. However, we’ve picked
ourselves up. Dusted down. And have four offers running over this holiday
weekend and into September.
You need to be armed and ready for both eventualities in the
autumn; the fish on the surface. And the fish on the fin. My Autumn Two
Pack with September/October dries and the Chalkstreams nymphs should cover
just about every possibility and the 12f/6xt leader will give you an extra