Friday, 9 October 2020

Does Boris get it?




I try to steer clear of politics, so I hesitate to write this, but whatever side of the political aisle you choose to sit accept this in the context of politicians in general.

I was hopeful of late that we had broken through the glass ceiling on national consciousness in respect of the woes that assail our rivers – the All-Party Parliamentary Group. Chalkstream summit. Public awareness that only 18% of our rivers are in a good state. Fergal Sharkey using his status to motivate parts of society who had never previously given the plight of rivers a thought. All amazing stuff.



Over an early lunch on Wednesday I tuned into Prime Minister’s Questions and how my heart soared when, from out of the blue a Zoom call beamed into the chamber of the House of Commons, Dame Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham who asked this question:


“May I welcome the Prime Minister’s excellent Conservative party conference speech yesterday, which outlined his vision of our Government’s plans for a green economy that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the merits of his green economy proposal extend far beyond energy production, and also include the preservation of our green spaces? As the UK prepares to host COP26, will the Prime Minister show the international community the way, by committing the UK to championing greater protections for our chalk streams? Will he extend his vision to redesignate the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty as a national park, following Julian Glover’s recommendation in the Landscapes review?


In the few moments between the question and Boris climbing to his feet my brain went into overdrive. Chalkstreams? PMQs? Yes. Yes. Yes. Our moment has arrived. Boris, primed as he would have been for this question from his own side, would have the answer off pat. Welcome to the new chalkstream dawn. I was ecstatic. This is what the Prime Minister replied:


“I thank my right hon. Friend, and we are committed to protecting areas such as the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is considering each of the recommendations in Julian Glover’s review, and following the correct procedures. I hope my right hon. Friend will acknowledge—I hope she knows—that the Government are also leading the way globally in protecting biodiversity, habitats and species, and that is what we will be doing at the G7, and in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow next year.”


Oh dear. Cue massive disappointment. Even my sandwich seemed to curl in distaste. I had at least hoped Boris would use the word chalkstreams. Acknowledge in some way the problems we all know to be true. But like too many who have control of the levers of power they default to pretending that local problems will be resolved by global solutions. It is, of course, absolute nonsense.


We can discuss climate change at eternal length – they certainly will at COP26. But the truth is that the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse that threaten our rivers – agriculture, water management and urbanisation are problems entirely of our own making. We will poison the green fields of England long before the seas rise to flood them.


We need the Fourth Horseman to ride to our rescue; it seems we will have to teach Boris how to mount that particular horse.



More stings in the tail


Who would have thought wasps could excite such passions? I had some, best described as heated, emails in response to my piece last time about wasps. It seems bee lovers have a passionate hatred of wasps, so there is nothing on God’s earth that can be said in favour of yellow backs who can invade and destroy beehives. However, I did discover a few things further about wasps.


Firstly, they are much loved by badgers who will dig them out, especially in summer to primarily eat the grubs but generally the entire nest. The grubs are also a great fishing bait. Dame Julia Berner (born 1388) cited them as excellent for chub and more recently they have largely been banned from competition use. Frankly, sourcing them requires more dedication to the cause than I’m willing to give.



Finally, I did discover why they might gravitate towards rivers in the summer as other sources of moisture dissipate. Wasps require water to dilute honey so it can be fed to young and to regulate the nest temperature and humidity. Top tip to keep wasps away from your picnic: place a bowl of water at short distance where they will hover to drink out of harm’s way.



Going underwater


Jack Perks, the underwater filmmaker who recently became the first person to capture every British freshwater species on film and in the wild, spent a week in September on, or rather in, the chalkstreams.


His target was grayling, but in the course of that pursuit he revealed a new perspective on the many fish that inhabit the southern rivers. Jack does film with a handheld camera, but actually many of the best shots come by way of a series of Go Pros that he places on the riverbed.


You can see a brief clip of his chalkstream filming here or visit his web site




The Fishing Cast


Charles and I took something of a sojourn over the summer but now with time on our hands and plenty to say (in truth more of the latter …..) we met on Wednesday to catch up.


Charles was aching from what he promises will have been his last ever marathon, which brings to a close many years of raising many thousands of pounds for Fishing for Schools. I’d like to believe Charles but somehow, I wonder; I do recall how often The Eagles and their like have ‘retired’.


So, hear all about Charles’ marathon effort, our views on the latest Angling Trust Anglers against Pollution campaign, tips for the grayling season and our wishes for the coming winter.


Listen here ….




Get in the tonics


We have just two bottles of River Test gin left in the office, which works out handily as September marks the penultimate feedback draw of the year.


People often ask me which is the best month on the chalkstreams – aside from Mayfly I always reply September. Actions speak louder than words so, for those of you not lucky enough to live beside a river you should take a clue from those of us who do. The month of autumn mists is the moment we shrug off our summer slough and head out – September is truly a great month and this one proved to be a cracker. Daddies, which came late, were supreme but equally ants were on fire. It was the best curtain call to a season I can recall in a very long time.


Well done to Angus Dodd who enjoyed one such day at Bullington Manor. Angus, the gin is in the post – get in the tonics.



Last calls


Half Term Fish Camp

I have two places left for the 8-11 year group on Monday 26th October and four places for the 16-17 year group on Wednesday 28th October.


Grayling Course

The one day Grayling Course at Bullington Manor with Bob Preston at Bullington Manor on Friday October 16th has one place left.




This week as we return to the random collection of questions to confound, dismay or delight.


The answers are, as ever at the bottom of the page.


1)     What does COP26 stand for?


2)     What is the smallest UK freshwater fish?


3)     What is the fish pictured?



Have a great weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director



Quiz answers:


1)     Not exactly straightforward. Here is the Wikipedia explanation: the Conference of the Parties will be attended by countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty agreed 1994. This meeting will be the 26th, which is why it's called COP26. Hope that is clear!

2)     Ten-spined spickleback at 20g

3)     Atlantic salmon

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