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 interviewedAlan
Beechey, who manages the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project focussing in
particular on the reduction of abstraction to Buckinghamshire’s River
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
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
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
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 17thcentury 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 9th1943, to mark the 350thanniversary 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
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
Mini Rod for
days Aug-Oct sharing