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A company that polluted nearly 5km of the River Mole, the principal tributary of the River Taw, in Devon has paid £18,000 in damages to local angling clubs and fishery owners following a legal claim. In July 2019 liquid anaerobic digestate deposited by agricultural contractors AJ Sing and Sons Ltd on fields north of South Molton entered the river, causing what was described by one Environment Agency officer as the worst fish kill they had seen in 30 years. An estimated 15,600 fish died as result of the pollution, including juvenile salmon, adult brown trout, sea trout and juvenile brown trout.
Represented by Fish Legal, the anglers’ damages claim followed a criminal prosecution brought by the Environment Agency (EA) where the company and an employee were fined a total of just £2,667 at Exeter Magistrates Court on 28 July 2021.
The anglers are donating all of the damages to help fund projects run by the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT) in co-ordination with River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association (RTFS) that improve and restore the habitat and spawning potential of the River Mole, giving fish populations the best chance of recovery.
Justin Neal, Fish Legal Solicitor, said: “The digestate was being spread at a time when there was rain and the leaking pipe was left for days, meaning that this highly damaging waste washed into what was a pristine river habitat, causing a total wipe-out of fish for a considerable distance.”
He added: “Whilst we are pleased that the EA prosecuted those responsible for pollution offences, we are finding in other cases across England and Wales that the spreading of digestate and fertiliser is not properly controlled with full oversight by regulators. Nevertheless, we hope that the money which was paid to our angler members can now be put to good use to assist the recovery of the catchment.”
Alex Gibson, who was Chair of RTFCA at the time of the pollution incident and is also a claimant said: “It is not just anglers fishing below the polluted stretch, but all those who enjoy the river and its ecology that have felt the devastating effect of this pollution incident and unfortunately will continue to do so into the future. Our collective claim enables us to provide £18,000 to the WRT for river improvement work on the Mole.
He added: “We hope the fact that anglers on the river have come together to take legal action directly against these polluters will send a message to others in the catchment that they need to take care when dealing with highly toxic substances or pay the consequences.”
Statement from Alex Gibson
“We all remember too well the Mole pollution incident at the end of July 2019. Anaerobic digestate being spread as a fertiliser on fields north of South Molton by Alun Sing, a farmer and contractor, was allowed into the River Mole in large quantities.
The EA estimated that about 15k fish were killed over a 5km stretch. That made it an EA Category 1 incident. Adult sea trout, adult brown trout, juvenile salmon and juvenile brown trout, some of which would have become sea trout, were killed. Also killed were stone loach, bullhead and minnows. In short it was an ecological disaster.
The EA’s prosecution was successful and we then mounted a private action using the services of Fish Legal. This took the form of 5 RTFCA members of Fish Legal acting as claimants. I am pleased to say that our claim has now been successfully settled. The £18k received is being paid by the 5 claimants to WRT for river improvement work on the Mole.
Here are a few conclusions of my own.
Farmers should not be allowed to get away with polluting our rivers. Category 1 and where possible Category 2 incidents must be prosecuted by the EA.
Offers of Enforcement Undertakings should be declined as RTFCA did in this case. By offering money direct to affected parties the polluter seeks to avoid prosecution. If farmers are not prosecuted there is no deterrent effect to bad practice.
Private actions can be successfully brought, but only by concerted action using a specialist service, namely Fish Legal. It was disappointing that only 5 Fish Legal members could be found among RTFCA riparian owners. More members will be encouraged to join Fish Legal and I would make the point more generally for all owners of fisheries elsewhere.
As RTFCA has always been aware, anaerobic digesters, of which we have 3 on our river system, and the spreading of digestate from them are a continuing threat to our river and need to be properly regulated and overseen by the EA.
This incident happened during my chairmanship and has reached its conclusion during Andy Gray’s. I hope Andy never has to face anything similar. The RTFCA Committee asked me to continue taking responsibility until the file could be closed. Thankfully we have now reached that stage.
Thanks are due to the other claimants and to the RTFCA Committee, both of which groups, I would suggest, have made the right decisions during this long, drawn-out process.
The success of our private claim though is really down to the excellent work done by Fish Legal and in particular by Justin Neal. For many reasons this was never going to be a straightforward case. I have enjoyed working with Justin, but we will both be happy to close the file.”
Fish Legal is a not-for-profit organisation of dedicated lawyers who use the law on behalf of anglers to fight polluters and others who damage and threaten the water environment. Fish Legal secures compensation for its members to help restore polluted waters and challenges Government and regulators when they fail to protect fisheries.
Fish Legal represented five fisheries on the Mole and the River Taw including the Barle Fishing Club, the Wampford Syndicate and three riparian owners.
The River Mole sub-catchment is a highly important spawning and nursery area for salmon in the Taw catchment. The impact on juvenile salmon from this incident will potentially result in some reduction to the number of adult salmon returning to the River Mole in 2021, 2022 and 2023 migration periods.
The dead fish included 1,127 adult brown trout, 14 adult sea trout, 1,222 brown trout fry, 328 brown trout parr, 1,155 salmon fry and 315 salmon parr
Fish Legal took legal action on behalf of a member club on the River Leadon in a similar incident in 2016 when an employee instructed to fertilise one of the orchards at a farm near Dymock in Gloucestershire failed to check the valves before turning on the irrigation system designed to take the digestate fertiliser from a lagoon to the orchard. https://fishlegal.net/case-studies/river-leadon/
I have been privileged to enjoy over forty years fishing North Devon’s varied waters enjoying both success and failure. The places and the many people I have met along the way have greatly enriched the journey and as the years pass I realise that all we ever get is a fleeting glimpse of a period in angling history.
In this book I tell a few of my own stories of North Devon angling along with recollections from others; some from an earlier generation who enjoyed fishing in those good old days.
I have no favourite species of fish just the one I am fishing for at the time and this book reflects this with every discipline of angling represented. From the small crimson spotted trout of tumbling streams to the huge shark that roam the Atlantic Ocean.
Angling is in essence an attempt to reach into a different dimension. Its fascination has for me never ceased and I always believe that the next cast will be the one that connects, that marvellous moment of completed deception. The anglers I have interviewed in writing this book reflect upon past times when they too glimpsed piscatorial events that they enjoyed recalling. Stories of lost fisheries, big fish, record fish of angler’s their attitudes and love of fishing.
I hope that I manage to share and convey the joys of angling in North Devon and provide a glimpse into a century of marvellous fishing.
Just a fleeting glimpse,
Of Memories gone,
A hopeful glimpse of what may come,
When its bitter cold outside its often good to settle down by the fire to read a good book. ” I Caught A Glimpse” has an array of fishing stories from North Devon with all disciplines catered for if your interested check out this review from Dominic Garnett and the comments from my friend Paul French.
I received this email from my friend Paul French who took the book on a cruise.
“We’ve recently returned from a cruise to Norway which provided me with ample time to read your book and what a thoroughly good read it was too! The passion you undoubtably have for this pastime of ours is embodied in the words on each and every page. The part mix of autobiographical and part historical is I believe a unique blende and certainly not something I’ve seen attempted elsewhere. It couldn’t have been an easy project to undertake and metaphorically reading between the lines the reader may understandably not appreciate the hours and days of research you have put into it. You’ve smashed it, all round my kind of book.
Many thanks to the Summerlands Team for welcoming me into their treasure trove of fishing tackle to promote my book “I Caught A Glimpse”. It was an enjoyable couple of hours spent chatting with local anglers and reminded me of the importance of tackle shops in maintaining angling rich community.
Due to circumstances beyond the control of myself and the Little Egret Press we are forced to delay the launch of my book “I Caught A Glimpse”. A problem with the printing process has resulted In a minor defect in the books that we are not prepared to accept. Please rest assured that the book will be well worth the wait and I anticipate a new book launch date within a few weeks. Please accept my apologies for this unfortunate delay.
The market town of Barnstaple straddles the River Taw that meanders from its sources on Dartmoor and Exmoor to converge with its sister River Torridge before flowing into the lower Bristol Channel. There are many opportunities for the angler in and around Barnstaple with the estuary providing sport all year for a variety of species.
The Autumn is very popular with flounder anglers whose season traditionally kicks off around the time of the towns famous fair that visits the town in mid-September. The humble flounder offer relaxed fishing from Rock Park above the towns bridge down to Fremington Quay and beyond.
During the summer months the upper estuary provides good sport with thin lipped grey mullet that can be tempted using spinners baited with ragworm on light tackle. Thick lipped grey mullet are also present in the estuary and provide a real challenge for anglers prepared to persist with light tackle and freshwater tactics.
Bass can be caught throughout the estuary from April until late autumn with the lower estuary proving most productive with a variety of tactics working. Fly-Fishing for school bass has become increasingly popular with large numbers of these silver flanked sport fish caught. Lure fishing is also very popular with a wide range of patterns bringing success.
The lower estuary also holds increasing numbers of gilthead bream with fish of over 5lb caught each season to anglers using small crab or worm baits. May through until early autumn is probably the best time to target these hard fighting fish.
During autumn and winter the lower estuary once produced good catches of codling and these fish are still occasionally caught but sport is a shadow of what it once was. During the 1970’s several outsize cod were caught from Crow Point the best over 30lb.
Recent seasons have seen smoothound and dogfish caught in the Lower estuary.
The estuary around Braunton where the River Caen flows into the estuary also brings success for anglers targeting grey mullet and bass.
Salmon and sea trout
The River Taw is an iconic game fishing river famous for its salmon and sea trout fishing. Whilst much of the river is Privately owned day tickets are available via the Rising Sun at Umberleigh and via the West Country Passport Scheme. The Barnstaple and District Angling Club gives access to water at the top of the tidal section of the river at a very reasonable cost. Day Tickets can also be obtained at the Fox and Hounds, Eggesford and from Highbullen Hotel., Chittlehamholt.
Brown trout are to be found in the majority of rivers in the Barnstaple area and can provide great sport on light weight fly tackle. In some instance’s permission can be obtained by asking the landowner. The Lower Taw has water available via the Barnstaple and District Angling Club. The West Country Angling Passport provide access to some fine trout fishing via their Token scheme: – westcountryangling.com
The Stillwater Trout anglers is well catered for with two of North Devon’s top fisheries located within five miles of the town.
Blakewell is a well established trout lake situated just off the B3230 road to Ilfracombe.
The fishing lake is generally crystal clear and is well stocked with quality rainbow and brown trout to specimen size. Additional stocking is also made with both spartic trout and tiger trout.
The fishery is an ideal venue for both the experienced fly fisher or the novice with fish responding to a wide variety flies. Small imitative patterns are generally favoured with floating fly lines effective throughout the year even during the depth of winter when longer leaders and bead headed nymphs a wise choice.
There are two main day ticket options available including a catch and release option that allows the first two fish to be retained with fishing then allowed on a catch a release basis for the remainder of the day. A standard five fish ticket entitle the angler to retain five fish and then stop fishing.
The fishery has well stocked tackle shop on site that sells a variety of flies suitable for the venue and a range of tackle from West Country Tackle company Snowbee. The tea room is open throughout the day with delicious cakes, tea and coffee to enjoy during a break from the fishing.
The few miles North of Barnstaple is Bratton Water situated in a steep wooded valley it is well sheltered from most winds and boasts crystal clear water and some stunning brown trout that can often be tempted on dry flies or small nymph patterns. This water is also suitable for novice or experienced fly fisher with its small acreage proving less daunting than the larger reservoirs.
There are numerous Coarse Fisheries in the Barnstaple area including Furzebray Near South Molton a fishery that has a well-deserved reputation for producing some stunning carp approaching fifty pounds.
Hacche Moor Fishery near South Molton opened to day ticket anglers in April 2019 and has already produced carp to well over thirty pounds.
Riverton Fishery also has day ticket opportunities for a wide variety of coarse fish.
Barnstaple & District Angling Club have fishing at Aller Pond near South Molton for details contact:- John Webber [email protected]
The River Torridge starts its journey at Meddon near Hartland surprisingly close to the source of the Tamar that in contrast journeys to Devon’s South Coast flowing into the English Channel at Plymouth. The Torridge flows through the heart of Devon’s rural interior. Rolling hills, lush green fields and abundant woodland it is famed for its association with Tarka the Otter. Otters are fortunately still a common site for anglers as they cast their lines for salmon and sea trout on the many miles of water that are available to fish.
The Torridge is a smaller river than its sister river the Taw and is perhaps less daunting to fish with plenty of excellent fly water. Day Tickets for salmon, sea trout and brown trout are available from the Half Moon Inn at Sheepwash that boasts a rich fishing pedigree with several beats available throughout the river. The Little Warham Fishery also offers excellent fishing opportunities for salmon, sea trout and wild brown trout.
There are plenty of opportunities for the coarse and carp angler in this heart of rural Devon with a variety of waters. The famous Anglers Paradise complex owned by the notorious Zyg Gregorek and family offers a vast range of opportunity with everything from gudgeon to huge carp, catfish, pike and trout. Whilst renowned for its holiday complex the venue also boasts some superb day ticket fishing with Anglers Nirvana and Eldorado home to catfish over 60lb and carp in excess of fifty pounds.
Close to Holsworthy are Thornbury Fishing Lakes that offer carp to double figures along with tench, bream and other coarse fish. Day tickets are available for the two lakes that are set in a tranquil rural setting.
Stafford Moor Fishery close to Dolton has a well deserved reputation for its prolific carp fishing and match fishing. The lakes are well established and run by the Combe family who have invested much time, effort and money to build upon the sound foundations laid by the previous owner Andy Seery. The Match lakes regularly produce ton up bags of carp with Open events held on a regular basis throughout the year.
Carp anglers have the choice of two lakes Beatties and Lodge Lake both of which contain carp to over thirty pounds with twenty pound fish frequently gracing the bank.
The lakes also hold a variety of other species to specimen size including perch, eels and a few surprises.
Melbury, Jennets, Darracott, Upper and Lower Tamar are all controlled by South West Lakes Trust and all hold some impressive stocks of coarse fish. Specimen Carp are caught in all of the venues with multiple catches of double figure fish common. These waters tend to offer more of a challenge than the heavily stocked commercial venues and are often less crowded as a result. Though this is not always the case at weekends when news has spread regarding good catches.
Carp are not the only specimens to dwell within these waters with some huge perch to over five-pound present in several of the lakes. These long-established waters are also home to some huge eels that offer a serious target for the dedicated eel angler.
Lower Tamar also holds a good head of bream to double figures.
Match fishing on the reservoirs brings bulging nets of silver fish with Upper Tamar considered one of the best venues for silver fish in the West Country.
Ilfracombe is a town with a Victorian heritage located on the North Devon coast that has a wealth of opportunities for the angler. Sea Anglers are well catered for and there are several Coarse Fishing lakes within the surrounding area. The town has plenty of facilities for visitors which makes it a good base to explore North Devon with plenty of scope for family fishing and for more serious angling excursions.
Anglers visiting the town can benefit by calling into the towns only tackle Shop – High Street Tackle. The shop carries a wide range of sea angling tackle for both boat and shore along with essential items for the coarse angler. Owner Danny Watson is an enthusiastic lure angler and ensures the shop has all the latest lures to tempt both angler and fish. The area has plenty of opportunities for the bass angler with lure fishing productive from mid April until December depending upon sea conditions.
The Pier is Ilfracombe’s most accessible shore venue and has provided a fishing platform since Victorian Times. The original structure was demolished at the end of the last century and landing platforms built to enable boats to land at various states of the tide. The famous Damien Hurst Statue Verity has raised the profile of Ilfracombe and its Pier in recent years and is a stop off point for hoards of tourists who debate its merits.
These landing platforms provide easy access fishing for anglers of all abilities. The venue is one of very few places in North Devon with good disabled access.
The Lower landings can be safely fished 2.5 hours either side of low water in settled weather. The right-hand side by the Stone bench can be fished over High Water but only allows casting access to the less productive harbour area.
Anglers must be aware of boat traffic at all times and ensure they take care when casting and always retrieve lines as boats approach.
There is a vast array of species caught from the pier each year with target species varying throughout the seasons. Standard beach casting tackle can be used to catch dogfish, conger, ray, bass, flatfish, Pollock, pouting, whiting and codling.
Float-fishing tactics will bring mackerel, garfish and Pollock.
The pier is a popular venue for species hunting with many mini species caught. LRF tactics are at times very productive with blennies, dragonets, wrasse and clingfish amongst catches.
Grey mullet can be tempted using light freshwater tactics with bread flake the number one bait.
There is ample parking adjacent to the pier and the Aquarium located at the rear of the Pier car park is well worth a visit.
There are plenty of rock marks close to Ilfracombe that provide access to a wide variety of sea bed ranging from sand to rock and kelp. Capstone Point is a popular mark that gives access to deep water with a strong tide run. Great care needs to be taken here as the point is exposed to treacherous swells that have swept anglers into the deep water. The rocks here are also very slippery ensuring the need for studded boots especially if attempting to net fish.
There are also various marks between the pier and Capstone including Cheyne Beach and Salty Dog that can yield a variety of species.
Six miles East of Ilfracombe is the village of Combe Martin that has a sandy beach that is seldom fished but has in the past rewarded anglers with bass, flounder and the occasional conger.
There are several rock marks between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin most of which are on Private property where a permit is required. Broadsand’s Beach and the rocks to the East of the beach can be productive but care must be taken not to get cut off by the rising tide. Fishing is possible over low water with a variety of species available.
There is a small fleet of Charter Boats operating out of Ilfracombe giving access to a wide range of species throughout the year. Recent years have seen several boats venturing to new ground with porbeagle, blue shark and thresher shark brought to the boat.
The summer months give the opportunity for anglers to catch mackerel, pollock, bass, ray, tope and many other species. The winter months see spurdog, conger and bull huss dominate catches with the occasional cod.
Lower Slade Reservoir is run by South West Lakes Trust and boasts an impressive range of specimen fish including carp to 25lb, pike to 25lb, bream to 7lb, perch to 5lb and large numbers of roach. The six-acre reservoir with depths of up to 25ft is set in a tranquil valley that was once adjacent to the Ilfracombe to Barnstaple railway.
Mill Park Campsite is home to an attractive former Mill Pool that teams with quality roach offering some of Devon’s best silver fish sport. The lake also holds carp and bream.