I know when you look at the price of the a day on a prime chalkstream it might be fair to assume that someone, somewhere must be coining it, raising a glass to us fly fishing fanatics from the sun-drenched beach of a tax haven far, far away. A bit of me (actually quite a big bit) wishes this was true, but it is not which makes the latest news from the Environment Agency all the more depressing. Here is the story so far.
An endangered species?
Chalkstreams are very much the product of man. That much you well know, the original rivers created many millennia ago as primitive man drained the marshland to provide fertile farmland. Over time the streams have been variously, to use the modern argot, re-purposed: for navigation, irrigation, drinking water, numerous industrial and agricultural needs and more latterly fishing.
Until the early part of the 20th century this was largely a process of evolution, river owners doing whatever suited their requirements until oversight appeared in the form of government bodies such as Drainage Boards and Water Authorities that eventually combined into the National Rivers Authority that in turn became what we have today in the form of the Environment Agency (EA). I would attempt to tell you in a brief sentence the duties of the EA but they straddle a list so diverse it almost blows my mind from licencing passenger carrying boats to radioactive substance regulation for nuclear sites. Rivers are just one tiny bit of this regulatory monolith. Take a look if you dare at the EA services information page on their web site.
How does this impact on the chalkstreams? Well, if I or anybody or any organisation wants to embark on a river conservation project they must seek EA consent in the form of a Flood Defence Application. I know that in itself might sound weird but the EA duty of care (sorry, more jargon) is to prevent flooding as opposed to improving habitat. That is the benchmark by which they will measure the application.
Fair enough you might say, why should you have the right to flood your neighbour? And I would agree though in reality few projects would have the potential to have this effect however badly implemented. So, you dutifully fill in your SR2015 form. That in itself will not be easy; you will require the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and many hours. I am paid to complete them and I find them confusing, designed as they are to cover every eventuality, for every type of river across England and Wales.
But you do it because in the case of most clubs, societies, river trusts, owners, tenants and passionate anglers you love your river. You want to make it better. Better for fishing. Better for trout. Better for all the bugs and creatures. And preserve it for the next generation. And then the EA stick you with a bill and here is the rub. Two years ago it was a nominal £50. No problem. Then in 2016 the charge rose to £240. Ouch we all said, but austere times and all that. Now the EA are proposing to raise the charge to £764, a bill the experts tell me will likely rise to double that for anything other than the simplest of schemes.
If you are wondering what I mean by a 'scheme' here are a few helpful examples put together by Jeremy Legge, the incisive Executive Director of the Test & Itchen Association:
£446. The proposed cost of an application to carry out activities such as putting up a notice-board, erecting a fishing shelter/hut or creating or improving a riverside track or path.
£764. The proposed cost of an application to carry out bank protection work over a distance of less than 100m, construct a footbridge or install a flow defector affecting a distance of less than 200m.
£968. The proposed cost of an application to remove silt, sand or other material, to install gravel, or to manage woody debris over a distance of more than 200m.
I suppose in some respects these sums do not sound a great deal but actually in most cases the cost of the application will greatly exceed the cost of the project itself. For the vast majority the cost is just few hundred pounds on materials but hundreds of hours of freely given labour.
For that is the truth about river conservation. Nobody is making fortunes from our rivers so all improvements rely on goodwill and enthusiasm; volunteer effort if you like. And it really is happening out. I have a Google news alert that flags up anything chalkstream and every week new projects pop up that are simply the product of enthusiasts - schools, clubs, associations, wildlife groups - the list goes on and on, who want to preserve our rivers. But put this EA administrative and financial burden in the way and they simply will not happen. Given the choice between spending your hard won money on gravel and chainsaws or lining the pockets of government what would you do?
The simple fact is that the EA is being both greedy and short-sighted. The net result of these proposals will be to discourage conservation work, send other projects underground and in the end the EA will be a financial loser as the applications dry up. Except of course, ironically, for all those grant aided projects which are for the most part funded by government, which makes for nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul.
EDITORS NOTE: The deadline to respond to the EA consultation document that contain these proposals is today (26 January). The new charges are due to take effect 1 April. If you would you like to write to or email the Environment Agency with your views I can supply a draft response template which provides the postal and email addresses for your submissions. Or visit the EA web site here
THINGS YOU MAY NOT WANT TO BUY
I confess I am a sucker for any headline that screams The 10 Best new Bits of Gear or some such.
Field & Stream the US magazine are masters at this. I am the very personification of the click bait they seek and today, once again they got me: New Gear For The Warm-Water Fly Addict.
Well, I'm not really into large-mouthed bass, but hey it's all fly fishing so I had to look. Oh dear. I do wonder who a) invents these things b) puts them into production c) markets them in an absolute belief of success.
O'Pros Clip Rod Holder
O'Pros Dragon Fly Belt Clip Rod Holder
I am still at a loss to understand why I (or anyone) might want this. But on the plus side it is available in three colours. $25.
Loon Rouge Quick Draw Forceps
Now, I like the look of these. A much better use for $25.
Vedavoo Sling Pack
Vedavoo Tightlines Sling Fishing Pack
Anglers are rarely the last word in sartorial elegance, but have some pride. $150.
Smith Creek Rod Rack
Only an amateur would buy this. Pro guides rely on bits of old fly line strung washing-line style. $130.
Smith Creek Rod Rack
SIMMS SolarFlex Armor Shirt
The marketing guff promises 'a built-in hood .... giving you the option to look like a ninja and cover your entire face and head from the sun's harmful rays.'
A bit optimistic for the British summer but I like it nonetheless even at $130.
Total Redneck Manual
I told you I was click bait. I saw this as a pop-up as I read the Field & Stream piece and went to Amazon. At £22.50 it is now on its way. I did try to precis the book blurb but really you need to read the entirety:
"Do you keep a few favourite squirrel recipes committed to memory? Know by heart the way to the best deer stand on Grandpa's 20-acre farm? Have an old tractor rusting in the back field, because you just might need the parts one day?You're not alone. So do the authors of The Total Redneck Manual.
Whether you're winching your truck out of a mud hole, packing in a good dip, or teaching your bird dog to fetch a beer from the mini-fridge, there's something in this country-fried cultural document for you.
This is a loving celebration of an all-American cultural icon, but it's also a hands-on working book that can help anyone better enjoy the great outdoors. In true Field & Stream fashion, it's packed with 200+ tips on essential outdoor
skills, from picking the right hunting dog and sighting in a rifle, to fixing just about anything with duct tape and paracord (thin nylon rope), to frying up catfish just like grandma used to make. You'll also learn to open a beer bottle with just about anything, spit on a campfire with deadly accuracy, and kit out the truck of your dreams ... with spray paint.
So, kick off your boots, crack open a cold one, take a seat on the porch, and learn from the best."
NEWSLETTER GOES AUDIO
My publisher tells me talking books are now the thing. Goodbye Kindle hello Audible.
I have to tell you creating a podcast is no easy task. You have to buy a strange looking microphone, download some audio software, record the thing, then upload it to the internet via some other software, this time for a podcast. The one I use goes by the marvellous name of Buzzsprout.
Well, it is done. If you'd like to listen rather then read here is the link.
Three questions which are as ever just for fun and the answers are at the bottom on the Newsletter.
1)What is the origin of the word 'podcast'?
2)When does the salmon fishing season on the River Test open?
3) Who recently advertised for an 'access officer'?