Saturday, 15 January 2022

Ash Tree Corner is no more




I didn’t think it would be possible to become attached to a tree, but I was genuinely upset when Bullington Manor river keeper Si Fields sent me this photo on his return after the holidays.




For as long as I have been associated with Bullington Manor, and I am now into my fourth decade, this ash tree has stood on the righthand bend halfway up Beat 2. Its trunk had become part of the opposite bank; once upon a time the tree stood well back from the river, but over the years the flow gently caressed away the soil and turf that once delineated tree and water. 


Was it this that did for the ash tree, the undercut exposing the roots? It might have been eventually, but it was the wretched ash die back that ultimately caused its early demise. No longer will we have the shade afforded by the tree, an insect larder for the fish, the ash being only second to our native oak as home for the greatest variety of insects and bugs, numbering somewhere above two hundred species.


On the plus side it won’t be there as a magnet for your flies; such are the number impaled upon it we did joke that it may have died of metal fatigue. But don’t worry the respite will only last a year or two. We are off to find a suitable replacement from the surrounding woods.




Happier days!




Executive Director Test & Itchen Association


You may not know this but the Hampshire chalkstreams have their own trade union in the Test & Itchen Association.


When I first became a member, it was a long way from the professional body it is today. Back then it was a loose collection of river owners headed for many years by Peggy Baring, a fearsome matriarch. The membership, closer to 300 rather than the 500 it is today, read a bit like an extract from Debrett’s. Was it more or less effective when compared to today?


The truth is, I don’t think it is fair to judge. In the 1980’s we really didn’t have true idea of the ecological disaster that was to later unfold, though the twin evils of sewage and pollution were addressed by the Association. The primary concern was for the fishing which largely involved the schedule for weed cutting which required the only proper meeting of the year. It was usually a two-way fight: in the red corner the river keepers who, given the choice, would be free to cut whenever they wished. In the blue corner it was mostly me, that rapacious agent, trying to suggest that maybe more days spent fishing than weed cutting might be a good idea.




Much of the work the Association does today involves lobbying government, quangos and various agencies. It is through necessity rather than choice; you have to play the game to get your voice heard in the corridors of power or you’ll soon find yourselves on the wrong end of some diktat or unwelcome policy. That is a big change from the past, in the days before the environment movement and privatisation of the water industry. The predecessor to the Environment Agency, the National Rivers Authority and the River Boards before that, preferred to get on with the work and worry about policy later, if at all.


That said there was one huge policy issue in the 1980’s when a group of canoeists asserted their right to paddle on any section of the Test or Itchen. This resulted in a mighty legal tussle. As members we pledged £70,000 (£225,000 today) to fight the case all the way to the House of Lords, calling in anyone on the membership list who happened to have the initials QC after their name to help pro bono. As it turned out it did go all the way to, but not into, the House of Lords, the case being settled on the steps with a compromise that restricted canoeing to the tidal sections.


Today the Test & Itchen Association is a far more rounded organisation, encompassing a far wider range of members and interests. Needless to say, we still have the annual weed cut slugfest but that is minor compared to keeping riparian owners abreast of new regulation proposed or actual, plus a series of annual events aimed at the wider membership who are chalkstream enthusiasts rather than owners.


I tell you all this because our current Executive Director Jeremy Legge is standing down after six years in the job so there is a vacancy for this well-paid part-time role that advises the Board on the strategy of the Association, represents the Association's riparian owners, river keepers and fly fishing members on all issues impacting on Hampshire's rivers; and coordinates and advises on river management best practice.


I’m sure Peggy Baring, reading this beside a chalkstream in the sky, will let out a full-throated laugh at this moment. She styled herself Secretary and received no pay. But as I say, times change as have the rivers and the county through which they flow.


If you know of anyone interested in the Executive Director role, please email Jeremy Legge who will forward full details for the position which is based at Kimbridge on the River Test with some scope for homeworking. Applications close 12th February.




Feargal Sharkey on BBC New at Ten


I was hoping to bring you Feargal Sharkey on BBC News at Ten talking about river pollution last week.


Sadly, for reasons best known to the BBC and nobody else, the clip disappeared from iPlayer after three days. It is a shame. It is an impassioned 10-minute piece that eloquently explains to a wider audience than usual, the nub of the river pollution debate on prime-time TV.


It was, coincidentally, mostly filmed on Beat 2 at Bullington Manor just days before the ash tree fell.


PS Feargal's pollution tweet is up from 4m views when last reported to 12m.




The Wright Flyer


I am always astounded the huge variety of people who read this Newsletter. Aside from the global spread the knowledge base and vast range of professions is extraordinary. I have learnt that if I get something wrong, I’ll know in less than an hour!


As I mentioned last time, I got it wrong with the question regarding the first aircraft to fly it being The Wright Flyer rather than the Kitty Hawk, the latter being the name of the place it took off from in North Carolina 17th December 1903.


Ged Clarke, a Fishing Breaks regular, not only gently put me right on this but also included the advert he made for Virgin Atlantic on the very topic. Enjoy!




Watch here or click on photo above






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 was scored for the first time in a cricket Test match on this day in 1898?


2)    Is ash a hardwood or softwood?


3)    If you suffered from entomophobia what would you fear?





Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing





Quiz answers:


1)    A six by Australian cricketer Joe Darling (pictured)

2)    Hardwood

3)    Entomophobia is an abnormal and persistent fear of insects










The Mill, Heathman Street, Nether Wallop,

Stockbridge, England SO20 8EW United Kingdom

01264 781988