John Bailey: A big tick for the BBC

John Bailey with a mighty mahseer. John Bailey with a mighty mahseer.

by John Bailey
Thursday, September 13, 2012
2:15 PM

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the nicest time of the day for me is somewhere between 6pm and 7pm, providing I’m not travelling and working away.

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I’ll have done my day’s work, I hope, probably have had a run, a shower and be settling down in front of the wood-burner conceivably with a glass of red. Now is the time of the day when I can reflect and plan work upcoming. I hate talking clichés like ‘blue sky’ but this is my lateral thinking moment. It’s when most of my creative stuff is actually mapped out...pretentious moi! Sorry. On with the show.

So it was on August 27 that I was sitting there with BBC2 a murmur in the background. Countryfile was on featuring a North Norfolk Special would you believe?

Most of it was the usual stuff and it was nice to see one or two familiar faces cropping up. I’m sure many of you enjoyed the programme. However, the strand that really made me sit up, put down my glass and pen and turn up the volume was when they were out with the kids on Cromer beach picking up rubbish, generally plastic. I loved the comments from the children. They were clearly disgusted by the amount of waste that they were wading through, horrified in a surprisingly mature way that we could treat our planet so horrendously.

The facts are damning. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the vast plastic-strewn stretches of the oceans or the garbage washed up on Cromer beach. These children appreciated there is far too much plastic refuse on our planet and perhaps it’s the next generation that will do something about it.

Of course, I’ll admit, anglers have never had a great reputation when it comes to litter and litter removal. Sea, coarse and even game anglers, we’ve all winced sometimes when we’ve seen what our angling brethren have left behind them on the bankside.

Whilst I’m on this, I think all anglers have to admit that the worst elements of our environmental footprints are our lines and our hooks. It’s always seemed to me possible that we could design both lines and hooks that are quickly degradable. Surely it is not beyond the wit of our tackle manufacturers to design a line that will simply melt away after, say, seventy-two hours in the water?

Surely, in this advanced age of ours, we can think of hooks that are not necessarily made out of metal but out of some substance that can actually melt down after a certain time in weed, on the bottom or even in a fish’s mouth. Of course, should these ideas ever come to market, I’m sure anglers would complain mightily because they would have to spend a lot more on both line and hooks...but wouldn’t that please the manufacturers? And isn’t there a fortune sitting out there for someone who can come up with the science? I want my cut!

Then, at 7pm that evening, I reached for my remote and moved over to BBC 4 where Robert E Grant was presenting the History of Safari. Probably like you, I did not relish much of the programme, seeing the corpse of one magnificent creature after another, often straddled by a grinning white hunter. However, very important points were made. At least one of Grant’s interviewees stressed that it is possible to be both an avid hunter and an avid conservationist. The two do not always clash in actuality. I’d go along with that. Whilst I’ve never shot a stag in Scotland, I have joined several stalking parties and I’ve marvelled at the amount of skill that goes into tracking down the stag on the hill.

I’ve also appreciated the humanity of the stalkers themselves, the way they insist the beast is killed instantly and without any knowledge of its forthcoming doom. And, of course, these animals are specifically picked in my experience, because they are old and they are probably going to face a slow death throughout the winter coming. Of course, like all of us, I lament the death of any fine, wild creature but sometimes this type of sensitive culling can be good for the animal and the environment both.

Grant also talked about the modern trend of hunting without shooting, the skill of getting close enough to an animal to shoot a gun if desired but, frequently now, to shoot a camera instead. This again, is not unlike fishing. Sometimes it’s enough just to stalk your prey, watch it and admire it.

Finally, it is important to realise how field sports can benefit the entire environment. There is no doubt that the money that hunting brings to many African communities helps progress and development there.

Equally, when I or Dave Plummer take groups of anglers out to India, a vast amount of that money goes into the riverine community where it does a huge amount of good. Also, because the locals are now guiding, they’re not poaching and the fish stocks have recovered magnificently over the 25 years that I’ve been going out to India. It’s one of the most complete win-win situations I’ve ever been a part of.

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