Simon Cooper looks at the recent research work undertaken by Salmon & Trout Conservation UK and is not entirely convinced by the tone.
The headline in The Sunday Times over the weekend was not one you ever like to read: Pollution destroying life of England's chalk streams. The story comes out of some recent research commissioned by the Salmon & Trout Conservation UK which has concluded that, in the words of the S&TC UK Chief Executive Paul Knight, 'Almost all of them (chalkstreams) are in a dismal state of decline.'
Frankly, I think he is wrong or if I'm being generous overstating the position for the point of emphasis.
The difficulty we have with this and other river fly censuses is that they come from a group who hold a particular belief that is well summarised by Nick Measham, the S&TC UK Freshwater Campaigns Consultant who penned the introduction to the report in which he says:
‘Historic angling literature refers to fly hatches that, sadly, are now a distant memory on many rivers, leading to comments such as, "When did you last see a prolific Iron Blue hatch or a Blue-winged Olive spinner fall?" These fishing memories are also supported by factual evidence.'
Sorry Nick, I don't agree.
I'm afraid time plays tricks on all our memories; the beer was always cheaper, the girls were always prettier, the summers warmer and… well, you get the idea. It is the same with fishing.
In a previous piece I quoted a letter to the editor of The Field magazine that bewailed the lack of fly life. That was dated 1906. Frederick Halford, the high priest of dry fly fishing abandoned the River Kennet in Berkshire for the River Test for similar reasons. That was in the 1870s. As you can see this is an age old complaint, not that that necessarily invalidates it.
However, every day of the season my inbox fills with reports from fishermen who are on the chalkstreams from Dorset in the west right up to Yorkshire in the north. I receive all sorts of news and views. They all make for fascinating reading but I can truly say very few complain about the lack of fly life. Lack of rising fish yes, but lack of flies no. And that would chime with my personal observations and in the 25 years I have worked on the chalkstreams I have never seen such an abundance of wild fish in so many different places. There are clearly some good things going on.
Now I'm not enough of a scientist to argue with the data the S&TC UK have published. On the face of it the decline in some aquatic creatures like freshwater shrimp and familiar flies like the Blue Winged Olive is hard to argue with, as is the cri de coeur that many insidious pollutants from farming, industry, aquaculture and domestic sewage should be regulated.
But, and this is a big but, by relentlessly pointing the finger without presenting a balanced picture you run the risk of damaging further the very thing you seek to protect, crying wolf, alienating the people who might help. To drum up support to save anything, be it a panda or a river, requires it to be loved and valued. Garnering doom laden headlines is not the answer. Tell the story. Emphasise the good. Point out the problems. Enlist support.
There is plenty of wonderful stuff happening on the chalkstreams, so let us make sure that no single body or pressure group hijack the agenda to the detriment of us all.
If you wish to read the S&TC UK report in full click HERE
Flyfishing.co.uk is delighted to bring you Simon’s feature, which was first published in his ‘Fishing Breaks’ Newsletter. Simon’s company, Fishing Breaks, based in the heart of the River Test Valley, offers some of the finest chalkstream fly fishing available in the UK – and a whole lot more. Check out their website HERE
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