John Bailey: As anglers, we have to act now, before it’s too late

Abstraction and pollution are killing JB takes a sample from a suspicious inflow Pictur

Abstraction and pollution are killing JB takes a sample from a suspicious inflow Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I was going to write about a recent trip around our coast, investigating bass, mullet, mackerel and even sea trout possibilities.

Cheeky chicks! Picture: John Bailey

Cheeky chicks! Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Then I was going to mention a waterhen chick that had learned to take stray pellets from a lily pad that had landed there rather than in the swim.

Finally, I was going to reply to a letter sent to me by a pensioner that I have unaccountably and inexcusably lost. In it, my correspondent wrote that we spend so much energy worrying about how to get children into the sport that we forget the old who may be struggling to get to the water because of lack of funds or transport. How true. Old lives matter. And I write from experience. I once guided an 85-year-old to his first 2lb roach and he cried with sheer joy. A lad of 14 would probably have complained it wasn’t a carp.

However, noble as these subjects might have been, I have to quote the email sent to me by Stuart Brooks in full.

Stuart is Chair of the Abbots Hall Syndicate on the upper river Bure, just north of Aylsham. I have the happiest memories of this gorgeous piece of water, right back to Michael Robbin’s day there. He ran the work parties, and woe betide you if you failed to show any Sunday morning. History is not the point. Stuart writes: “I am trying to raise objections through a number of organisations to the proposed amendment to the Agriculture Bill proposed by the British Canoe Association. The Association is asking for total access to all rivers and lakes on land that is subsidised by government funds. The consequence of this amendment, if it became law, would result in the destruction of Norfolk’s riverine environment and the riverine environment of the whole UK. We have seen the impact of unrestricted access during lockdown. On our stretch of the Bure we have been invaded by canoeists, paddle boarders, free swimmers, picnickers and four men in a boat. They had to push their way down the river, destroying the spawning redds and the significant water crowfoot beds, something that will devastate the river invertebrate population. If this amendment becomes law, I suspect that most syndicates like ours will close, leading to further degradation of the river profile. I await your comments and views on what action we can take.”

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In this column, I have discussed this issue and others related to it until my nib has wilted. I take no pleasure, though, in hearing Stuart’s voice coming from what I had begun to fear was a void. What action can we take? That is everything. I guess the Angling Trust should be on the case. I know we should ALL write to our MP, all of us, not just the committed few. And vitally, somehow, we have to state our case in a wider arena than the John Bailey column, however brilliant that is! We simply have to get the media to listen and then, just possibly, the truth might begin to emerge.

Calling all canoeists, kayakers, boarders, free swimmers and the like. Can I ask you this? Do you know the damage you do to the shallow, fragile, upper rivers of this region as you go about your pleasures? Have you any idea at all of the ravages you inflict on fish, insect and bird life? Do you understand that our small non-tidal rivers are dying and that you are a significant contributing factor? Do you realise that debates over canoeing on upper rivers are not about legal niceties but about the very future of our environment? Listen up, you free swimmers, I’m still talking to you! Chances are you love the natural world and you go to Blakeney Point. You would not dream of tramping over the freshes when the terns are nesting. You’d be horrified to think you were doing any harm whatsoever. So, I demand of you, why do you think it is fine and dandy to trash rivers when you would die rather than crack a single egg? Are you self-centred or are you just mad? Or perhaps, probably even, you just don’t know the truth of it. Certainly your so-called associations and organisations aren’t keen to put the truthful environmental issues about so you won’t get guidance there. And as for the media, well, by and large, what a joke that is.

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The BBC? Country File? What a pretty, Beatrix Potter version of the countryside they paint. Everything is hunky dory and Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tiggy Winkle are happily going about their business like it was 1920, not a century later. God forbid that the rosy view kayakers have of their sport should be tarnished by the Beeb. Why, they might withhold their licence fee if they were told to keep off upper rivers and cavort where rivers are bigger, deeper and meet the sea.

I have some faith in the British public still. I do think that if water enthusiasts knew the carnage they were creating, they would pull off these skinny rivers voluntarily and we would have less need for a political battle. Or perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps people are lacing up their egg crushing boots as I write. Or swerving to crush hedgehogs or serving up fresh hare pie. If only the actual truth could shine out, we might find the answer. And help save our upper rivers in the process.

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