Friday, 14 August 2020

Time to cheer?




Plenty of cheers went up last week when news was released that the industrial scale ‘watercress’ plant on the River Alre, the main tributary for the River Itchen, was to close. In truth, the locally reared watercress had long become insignificant; the bulk of the operation involved processing salads grown in Spain and Portugal. This, and other similar operations, around Alresford have been subject to much scrutiny in recent years as insect life and water quality has declined precipitously on the Alre and Itchen.


The residents of Alresford, who famously ran a TRUCK OFF campaign 15 years ago when the banners were removed by the police, will be able, at least for a while, to sleep a little easier as the stream of European juggernauts, horribly unsuited to the Georgian High Street, disappear. But, on the other hand, 100 jobs will go and the business created by Hampshire man Malcolm Isaacs will be scaled back to the plant on the River Test.



Simeon Hay at Itchen Stoke for CHALK


The current owners, Bakkavor, of Icelandic origins but now listed on the FTSE, deny the closure has anything to do with pollution issues and all to do with the loss of a key customer. It is hard to judge the truth but with a share price currently trading at 60p compared to a 52-week high of 160p clearly not all is well.


It feels to me rather Luddite to join in the cheering. I doubt the processing plant will remain long mothballed. At worst, another similar company will take over the plant that has valuable water use licences. At best, the site will be snapped up as a distribution centre. Or maybe, with the new planning regime on the way, a prime rural brownfield site will become box standard housing. Which really brings me to the nub of the issue in the Itchen valley.


If I’d have been writing this a century ago light industry would have been to blame for the polluted rivers. Tanning plants. Fulling mills. That sort of thing. Fifty years on agriculture, and to a lesser extent the nascent aquaculture business, would have been in the dock. For back then Hampshire was a major farming county. It is no coincidence that the wide streets of both Alresford and Stockbridge evolved to accommodate the sheep trade.


But today it is us, people who are to blame. Our houses. Our pollution. Our lifestyle. Our relentless pressure on a fragile ecosystem. In living memory, the population of the Itchen catchment has more than doubled. It is set to grow further. If the Itchen, and for that matter many of our chalkstreams, are to be preserved it will require an end to the government led transformation of the rural into the semi-urban.



Late note: never usually my favourite environment 'campaigner' George Monbiot wrote a great article (12/Aug) about the latest river disasters in Wales and polluted rivers generally for The Guardian. Read it here.... And read here about the greatest water scandal of the last decade.



Of Fish and Foe


The names Heike Bachelier and Andy Heathcote popped up on my Google news alert; something about fish was flagged. The names bugged me. They seemed familiar but it was not until I followed the link to the just released documentary Of Fish and Foe all became clear. I had helped out Heike and Andy with their 2008 film the Lost World of Mr Hardy, a triumph for us fly fishing gear heads. Not quite the same triumph for those unsuspecting in search on Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.


Of Fish And Foe | Trailer | Coming Soon



The PR release succinctly reprises the Of Fish And Foe plot: The Pullars are one of the last families using traditional methods to fish for wild Atlantic salmon off the coast of Scotland. When these methods involve killing seals, the salmon's natural predators, conflict erupts. Animal activist groups Sea Shepherd and Hunt Saboteurs oppose the Pullars at every turn, despite the legality of the fishermen's actions and the consequences to their livelihood. Challenging preconceptions, this ambiguous film puts modern environmentalism under the microscope.


It is not a cheerful 91 minute watch but it may well change your view of salmon netting; it is a fascinating slice of a disappearing life. The film is available on Amazon TV (free for Prime subscribers) and Apple TV.




Photo of the Week


I have an idea this might just be my photo of the year, young Isla Spears, loving (I think?) the wading at Bullington Manor on the Kids Fish Camp. If you are interested in enrolling your child, either 8-11 years or 12-15 years, drop me an email and I’ll let you know when we have dates for July 2021.



Just having fun ......



Special Offers


The half price special offer for Kanara on the River Itchen sold out in double quick time. Maybe the thought of being able to wade in the chalkstream cool of 10C was just too tempting …..


There are a few 2-for-1 days left at Bullington Manor and plenty of opportunities for the free lake ticket (value £20) at Avon Springs.


Click here for details ....



Keeping up with Frankel


I have to mention this because my pal Frankel (the horse) would have been very disappointed had it been otherwise – he doesn’t entirely understand the concept of coming second.


Frankel: The Greatest Racehorse of All Time and the Sport that Made Him (I know, modest title ….) is firmly at No. 1 in the Amazon bestselling charts for the sport. Sorry if you tried to order a signed copy last week and the link failed: all rectified now.


It is available in all bookshops, via Amazon in Hardcover, Kindle Edition or Audiobook. For a signed copy visit the Fishing Breaks web site.




That was July .......


It is hard to imagine, after our recent run of 30C+ days, that last month was one of the coolest July’s on record. It was also a very dry month, following on an equally rain-free April, May and June. Fortunately, the super wet winter has kept the chalkstreams in good stead with only the headwaters in any sense ‘suffering’. The August weed cut, that starts next week, will be brief and insignificant.


As Covid continues to disrupt holidays and trips abroad, it seems plenty of you have disconnected Zoom and headed for the river. July has been our busiest ever at Fishing Breaks not only on the river but here at Nether Wallop Mill. I think we have just done 11 days straight; the fish have been issued with tin helmets.


The monthly July Feedback Draw winner is Michael Jones, a client since 2009, who fished at Whitchurch Fulling Mill, winning a bottle of the meadow sweet River Test gin.





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)     Which colourful annual plant, often used in tubs and hanging baskets, produces an oil similar to that of watercress?


2)     What is the origin of the name Alresford (pictured)?


3)     August used to be 29 days. Who added the extra two?




Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




1)     Nasturtiums.

2)     Ford across the River Alre.

3)     Julius Caesar.

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