Saturday, 11 September 2021

A plague on all your rivers




Do you remember the plagues in the Book of Exodus? The ten disasters inflicted on Egypt by the God of Israel in order to convince the Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to depart from slavery. The waters being turned to blood, plagues of frogs, lice and locusts, three days and nights of darkness …. all eventually working up to death of the firstborn.


I am beginning to think that something similar is being visited upon us so that eventually the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will release all those that love rivers from the servitude of the Environment Agency (EA). The fishing community has been rarely well treated by the EA but the yoke of oppression has become ever heavier with each passing month since the start of the pandemic. Let me take you through some of our new hells.



The plague of the homies: EA officials were confined to their homes as visiting river pollution incidents was deemed too dangerous in the early months of Covid. Turning your money into EA money: fishing licence fees were retained by the EA even though fishing was banned by law during lockdown. Death of common sense: weed booms were not put in place as EA officials failed to work out a way of working outside whilst 2m apart when construction sites were fully operational. Infestation of sewage: water companies use rivers as open sewers.


I’m sure, given a bit of time I, or you, could fill up the other six but let us suffice with the latest bit of EA madness when they announced on Monday (6/September) that water companies would be allowed to discharge effluent that has not been treated to levels stipulated in their environmental permits if they’re unable to get the chemicals needed to treat the sewage due to “the UK’s new relationship with the EU”, “coronavirus” or “other unavoidable supply chain failures”.


Don’t think (or hope) this waiver applies just to the lowest risk waste; both A (low risk) and the B (medium risk) discharges will be allowed with only C (high risk) exempted. However, I’m sure the cynic in many of us might well wonder about this tiered system allowing the possibility for comingling.


Now, if we had a water industry with an exemplary record you might just say, OK exceptional times/ exceptional measures. But we all know from the recent Southern Water fines, BBC Panorama investigation and the 400,000 discharges that annually ride a cart and horses through the current permitting scheme that the water treatment companies will likely grasp this legitimisation of many already dubious practices with both hands.


Perhaps what worries me most is the open-ended nature and inherent vagueness of this supply chain waiver. There is no end or review date. It is essentially self-certificated. Harm to water, air, soil, plants or animal is only limited to being ‘significant’. And towards the end of the new regulations, it becomes clear that the water companies will also be able to apply the waiver for not just supply chain failures but also staff absences and contractors being unavailable.


Maybe I’m being overly paranoid but it does seem that the EA has been taken hostage by the very industry it is meant to police.




Robina Thompson


I am sorry to bring you news of the death of Robina Thompson, owner of Fisherton de la Mere on the River Wylye, who passed away peacefully on August 29th.


Robin as she preferred to be called, was something of a Fishing Breaks legend not so much for her fishing knowledge or prowess (I’m not even certain she ever held a rod in her life) but for the afternoon teas she served visiting anglers. On the lawn overlooking the river, or in her conservatory, she plied all comers with tea and cake. Twenty years after the event she still talked of guests Brad Pitt and Vinnie Jones. Which reminds me, I must rescue the photo of that occasion from the rod room.


My connection with Robin dates back to the early days of Fishing Breaks. She was then (this is the early 90’s) still in her 50’s, already a widow having bought The Dower House, the fishing and land a few years prior with her husband when they retired from farming and horse dealing to one of the quaintest Wiltshire villages you will ever find. It is not exactly off the beaten track, just west of the busy Salisbury to Warminster road, but the village is effectively a dead end and the locals jealously guard their anonymity. The highways authority long ago gave up replacing the Fisherton de la Mere sign which repeatedly disappeared in the night.


Robin loved that about her village; there was always something of a mischievous streak in her. I’m pretty sure that if there is a sign on the way to heaven that might likewise disappear just so she might watch the rest of us get lost. Goodbye Robin. It was tremendous fun.



I'm a vole who lives in a hole


Many of us miss Jaffa, the Nether Wallop Mill cat, who died last year. However, not everyone appreciated his 17-year reign of terror.


Jaffa’s food of choice was small mice. There are literally hundreds who inhabit the thick margins around the lake and along the Brook; a breakfast toll of four to six was pretty normal fare as he ate them whole in just a few crunching bites. But he often didn’t eat what he killed. Frequently I found dead rats, moles and water voles intact bar the puncture wounds that did for them.


Why cats don’t eat these I’m not entirely sure. Moles I can guess at; a diet that entirely consists of earthworms probably doesn’t make for tasty flesh. But rats? They are pretty high-level eaters. And water voles have a blameless vegetarian diet. But killed they are. Maybe it’s a territory thing. Or simply for fun. However, in the absence of a cat our water vole population has spiked, so much so we have a resident living right under the house.


He has cleverly constructed a run behind the boards that hold up the bank chewing away some openings in the oak timber to allow him brief forays into the open to feast on a vole favourite, ranunculus. I assume he’s mostly a dawn eater but who knows really? He’s pretty nimble so spying on us as he does from behind the boards its really anyone’s guess as to what happens when our backs our turned.


However, I have some bad news for our cautious vole ..... we have a new cat.




Half Term Kids Camp


I know it is hard to believe but your current domestic tranquillity only has a six-week shelf life - half term looms towards the end of October.


This will pretty well be our last gasp here at Nether Wallop Mill as we close for the season at the end of October, so we’ll have plenty of fish to clear out ahead of the winter and we might even deploy the odd mouse pattern (!) or two for a last hurrah.


The Kids Camp takes on Monday 25 October (8-11 years), Tuesday 26 October (12-15 years) and Wednesday 27 October (16-17 years).  There is a 10% discount for sibling or groups. Details here .....





The 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)     What is the origin of the Dower House name?


2)     In what book was Ratty, a water vole, a central character?


3)     What was the name of the single released by Nirvana on this day 30 years ago often dubbed the anthem of Generation X?


Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (Official Music Video)


Have a good weekend.


Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing




Quiz answers:


1) A house intended as the residence of a widow, typically one near the main house on her late husband's estate

2) The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

3) Smells like Teen Spirit. PS The video has been viewed 1.3 billion times.

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