Friday, 18 June 2021

It's not you Mother Nature, it's me.




The Guardian carried a call to arms for all of us who love rivers in the Sunday online edition (6/June): The battle to save England’s chalk streams, one of the planet’s rarest habitats as they interviewed Alan Beechey, who manages the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project focussing in particular on the reduction of abstraction to Buckinghamshire’s River Chess.


Essentially, dating back to the 1970’s, the Chess has been increasingly abstracted with each passing year to the point of near extinction as more houses use more water that is pumped directly from the local river. The drought of 2019 dried out 67% on the Chiltern chalkstreams.


Who is to blame? Ultimately, it is us the consumers of water but since we have to rely on a monopoly supplier the water company has to shoulder part of the blame for not seeking out alternative sources by way of building reservoirs or bringing in water from a surplus area. To their credit the latter is what Affinity Water have done, building a pipeline that will see the end of abstraction from the Chess catchment this year, bringing the river back from the brink.



Cannon Mill back to life of the River Chess


Kudos to all involved but the sub-headline to The Guardian article continues to perpetuate one of the great intellectual environmental fallacies of our age when it says, “Rivers are especially vulnerable to water abstraction and global heating, but now there is hope for River Chess”. The underlining is mine. Why?


Well, as John Lennon did not sing, imagine an England without climate change. Would our chalkstreams miraculously recover? Would abstraction suddenly end? Would sewage pumping cease to be a problem? Would farmers stop farming? Would politicians end the building of houses (1m in the past 20 years) on floodplains?


Now, I’m no climate change denier – we are daily trashing our planet in a bold bid for human oblivion – but to use a global problem as an excuse for locally sourced destruction is delusional. We have all the water we need; the rainfall total for 2021 will be much the same as it was for 1921 which was much the same as in 1821. It is not the climate it is us! The problem is we treat the water we have with disdain. We don’t preserve it, use it wisely or care for its purity.


Of course, the counter argument to this is that our weather is more unpredictable. We have the right rain but increasingly at the wrong times. Or so it is said. But as I have quoted to you in this column before this is far from new news. Rider Haggard, he of King Solomon’s Mines fame, became a farmer in the later years of his Victorian life, bewailing in his chronicle wet summers and dry winters all in sage agreement with his Norfolk neighbours in that the climate was irreversibly changing.


I don’t know why it is but for some reason there seems to be an expectation that British weather should behave as if directed by some super algorithm that will provide all the weather, at all the times exactly as we wish it to be. I have this strange paperback book I unearthed when clearing out the house of my late mother. It is not so old, 1993, but it charts the freak weather of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight dating back to 1600. I will not bore you with all the events, pretty well at least one for each decade of the past five centuries, but here are a few highlights:


·     1600’s It rained every day on the Isle of Wight in August 1648 ruining the harvest. In 1684 Southampton Water froze over.


·     1700’s In 1703 a tempest in the Solent claimed 8,000 lives. Naturalist Gilbert White recorded the coldest ever day in 1776.


·     1800’s A tornado struck Portsmouth in 1810. In 1859 a severe, and unexpected October frost, caused the mangolds, turnips and swedes to rot and decay. Southampton recorded an earthquake in 1878.


·     1900’s 22 inches of snow fell in a single day in north Hampshire in 1908. In 1929, generally considered a freakish year, after 136 consecutive days without rain the Water Board implemented a hosepipe ban for gardens and motor cars. Sound familiar?


I could go on (and on, and on the book runs to 167 pages ……) but you are getting the idea. And remember, this is just one relatively weather benign southern county of England.


The truth is, as has been similarly said in the breakdown of many a relationship: it is not you Mother Nature, it is me.



Fly fishers to the barricades


Which would you pick as the most revolutionary book of all time? The book that would cause nations to rise up against their oppressors. Hitler’s Mein Kampf? Mao’s Little Red Book? Marx’s Communist Manifesto? I guess, judged at least by the scale of global spread and the wanton destruction of life (100m million plus and still counting) Karl Marx’s mere 23 pages, published and printed ironically in the City of London in 1848, at the heart of what has become one of the world’s greatest financial hubs, takes some beating. Unless, of course, you throw The Compleat Angler into the mix.


Yes, Izaak Walton’s 17th century practical fishing guide and pastoral idyll was chosen by the Danish resistance as one of the books to translate, and secretly publish, to raise spirits during the depths of the German occupation.


So, on August 9th 1943, to mark the 350th anniversary of the author’s birth the special Danish edition Den Komplette Lystfisker was published as an act of silent resistance. The edition was such a success that 10 years later the Danish Izaak Walton Club was formed which has spawned a continuing interest in all fishing things English and visits to Walton’s tomb and his Silkstead Chapel in Winchester Cathedral.


Frankly, I’m not sure I’d have much confidence with Piscator, the laconic central character of The Compleat Angler at my shoulder when manning the barricades, but I guess they are worse ways to spend your last few moments on this earth than swapping fishing anecdotes.



Cotton's Fishing Temple



Bullington Manor Mini Rod


Regulars to Bullington Manor will have spied that, for the first time in 30 years (!), we now have fishing at the weekends.


With a more flexible diary I can now offer a Mini Rod to take us through to the end of the season which is a sort of Season Rod without the Mayfly months which keeps the cost down. It is two days in August, two days in September and one in October. You may split the days up, take them back to back or bring a friend.


Mini Rod for one             Five days Aug-Oct                                          £780

Mini Rod for two             Five days Aug-Oct sharing beat                 £1,365


To book call or email.



Bullington Manor - Ash Tree Corner



Kids Summer Fish Camp


The Kids Summer Fish Camp is back for, if I recall correctly, its fourth year. 


Run over three days, with different groups for different ages, we spend two days here at Nether Wallop Mill and the third on the river at Bullington Manor.


The idea is not just to teach the kids about fishing, but something about insect life, the river environment and some of the work we do to preserve and improve the chalkstreams.


8-11 years         19-21 July          Two places left

12-15 years       26-28 July          Four places left


£285/child. 10% discount for siblings or groups. Book online or call.


Weekend Lake & River Course


A week on Saturday Bob Preston will be hosting our only Weekend River & Lake Course of the year at Avon Springs. It is the chance to hone all your skills, both lake and river.


If you missed out on the mayfly this might be a chance to see it in action as the River Avon is renowned for hatches that continue through June and into the summer.


Saturday/Sunday           June 26/27         Two places left


£385/person. Book online or call.



An Avon Springs beauty




Back to the more normal random collection of questions inspired by the date, events or topics in the Newsletter.


It is just for fun with answers at the bottom of the page.


1)     In what year did the German’s invade Denmark?


2)     Gilbert White is famous as an English naturalist, ecologist, and ornithologist. But he is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary as creating what symbol for a kiss?


3)     Which countries went to war on this day in 1812?



Happy Father's Day!


PS We have a last minute slot for a Family Day (or Parent & Child) at Nether Wallop MIll on Sunday.



Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing




Quiz answers:


1)     1940

2)     X to represent a kiss in a letter he wrote in 1763

3)     US President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain

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