Saturday, 29 August 2020

Is this the most powerful man in Britain?



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 Agency (EA).


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 Minster.


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.





On the masthead with Joan Collins


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 for places.


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.


Avon Springs – River Avon

Free lake ticket with every river ticket


Compton Chamberlayne – River Nadder

2-for-1 on selected weekends


Deans Court – River Allen

2-for-1 until 6th September


Wimborne St Giles – River Allen

£20 off all day rods


Click here for details ....



Autumn Two Pack


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 edge.


Click here to order ....





A newsletter topic theme this week but as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the page.


1) The Windrush is a tributary of which famous English river?


2) In what year did India become an independent nation?


3) Who was editor of The Spectator 1999-2005?


Bridge at Newbridge, at confluence of Windrush and river

in question and thought to be oldest bridge over that particular river.



Have a great Bank Holiday - the next is Christmas Day!



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




1)     River Thames

2)     1947

3)     Boris Johnson

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