Worrying Times

Photo – With kind permission of Ian Lewis
Wistlandpound Reservoir

As I write this drizzle is freshening the land but will do little to replenish local rivers and reservoirs that are showing the signs of an extensive drought. If the dry weather continues our news screens will be filled with drought fears and water companies will undoubtedly be forced to contemplate imposing hose pipe bans. If we do not get substantial rain this will be inevitable but all too late I fear. Water is a precious commodity for both ourselves and the environment. As anglers we see the dwindling rivers and most of us have ceased fishing many rivers as fish are threatened with low oxygen levels and increasing risks from pollution.

Dwindling water flow in the River East Lyn

Harts tongue ferns wilting

On my trips to the waters edge I have been alarmed by what I perceive as a significant lack of swallows, swifts and martins. Whilst at Wistlandpound recently I failed to spot any swallows. The swallows are often seen swooping low over water feasting upon fly’s emerging from the lake. The evening rises of years ago are few and far between now as I fear a dramatic reduction in insect life.

The impact of climate change is widely apparent compounded further by mankinds intensive use of the land fuelled by  an ever increasing population. There is hope in the growing awareness of natures decline but I fear it is all too late. I hope that I am wrong but the decline I have witnessed in my life is dramatic and life is short in real terms.

” Life’s a long song but the tune ends too soon for us all”

A parched outfield at North Devon Cricket Club, Instow

I attach a copy of correspondence from South Molton & District Angling Club. This highlights typical issues that impact upon local rivers and how anglers are at the forefront of raising concern.

Dear all

Its been brought to my attention of potential water and general environmental pollution on the bray by hanson quarry activities.
Mike Coulson, a club member, emailed me yesterday. I thought all club members should and keep an eye on our precious river. Fishing activity should not be encouraged in these low water conditions as the fish are probably stressed enough already but if you are in the area, walking, driving and notice any discolouratioin, milky colour, take a picture,time and place and inform the EA to keep the pressure on. 
I have copied mike’s email for your digestion.
Ed Rands (chairman)
  I attended a small meeting at the village Charles on Tuesday with 3 local people, including a contracted employee of Hansons and other quarries, a Parish Counsellor and a doctor,  to discuss the extended working at the Hanson Quarry below Brayford (due to work on the link road) and the increased pollution caused by the more frequent blasting. The concerns of those attending were the potentially serious health issues connected to breathing in silica dust from the atmosphere. (Silica dust particles become trapped in lung tissue causing inflammation and scarring. Silicosis results in permanent lung damage and is a progressive, debilitating, and sometimes fatal disease).
I was invited, with the blessing of South Molton Anglers, to provide a view from the angling community about the blasting – particularly about the potential damage caused by run-off from the quarry entering the river Bray (silting up Salmon and Seatrout spawning beds). The 3 locals approached Hansons about their concerns and so far have not had any response to their request for a plan to stop the dust and run-off. They intend to hold a meeting at Brayford village hall to increase awareness of the silica issue, gather more information from people who may have been affected and then with this information, put pressure on Hansons to act. From an angling/conservation point of the view one of the major worries is that if Hansons are to stop the increased dust they will have to use more water to spray on the workings. This will mean more run-off. The manager of Hansons who talked to the residents of Charles before my meeting admitted that there were traps at the quarry that are supposed to capture run-off but they haven’t been cleaned or maintained for as long as he’s been there. The Charles resident who is a contracted employee of Hansons and other quarries stated that Hansons are well known for their lack of regulation and limited concern about safety/ environmental matters. 
One other concern is whether Hansons has an abstraction license – there are large pumps placed in the river near the quarry. It would be useful to know when they can abstract and how much water they are allowed to take.
In my recent discussion with the Charles group, I understand that next steps are a request for monitoring of the river Bray and a record kept of any visible run off. South Molton Anglers could probably assist with this. There is also a chap with a small holding below Newton Bridge who has already reported seeing “the river run white” who could be approached. More information will hopefully be gathered from the Brayford town hall meeting and then perhaps a careful approach to the press can be made – if no response from Hansons. 
I hope these two issues are of interest. Any thoughts you might have about how the angling community could help would be much appreciated.

The below report is full of statistics that makes grim reading. Statistics are of course complex and influenced by many factors that make them difficult to analyse. Data is vital in gaining knowledge yet there is seldom a level playing field. There are those who will want to ban angling completely in an effort to protect salmon stocks. In my view this would be counterproductive as anglers care deeply about the rivers and the salmon. Take away the anglers and who will care? Who will be there to observe the unfolding disaster?

The latest news on salmon stocks makes for grim reading see below from Mike Moser of the Nature Recovery Group.

Worrying news for Atlantic salmon in the Taw and Torridge river systems as the Environment Agency issues its latest assessments.
Salmon populations in both rivers are now considered “At Risk” (of local extinction); in the previous assessment, populations in the Torridge were “At Risk” and in the Taw “Probably At Risk” – so this is another step in the wrong direction. We urgently need concerted action throughout the catchments to identify the sources of pollution and sedimentation which are so damaging to salmon breeding. And we urgently need more restoration of peatlands and wet grasslands throughout the catchment to help maintain river flows.
The Smart Biosphere project in the Umber (Combe Martin) catchment has done just that, with sensors throughout the catchment delivering real time data for land management so that farmers and others can take positive actions to address any issues.
Let’s replicate this throughout the Taw/Torridge systems, and all work together to address the issues before it is too late for our Salmon.


Drought Thoughts 2022

Advice from Richard Fieldhouse of Barbless Flies

As I’m sure you are well aware, it’s been pretty hot over the last few days  in this weather it is recommended to leave the fish in both rivers and stillwaters alone. Water temperature has a massive effect on the ability of a fish to recover once it has been caught – it is generally accepted that once the water temperature is above 18°C, fish will start to become stressed (the warmer the water, the less oxygen is dissolved in it).

For the above reasons, it’s probably just best to give the fishing a miss and sit in the garden with a cold drink for the next few days – enjoy it while it lasts!

The above is good advice for those who fish rivers and small still waters. It is alarming to see how low our rivers are here in the South West. I paused to look over the wall at Barnstaple Square on a recent evening out. A large salmon was swimming lethargically close to the wall. It was sad to see this iconic fish aimlessly swimming the estuary as it waits for rain to swell the rivers enabling it to forge upriver to achieve its life goal.

A few weeks ago whilst on the lower Taw I found a dying lamprey languishing in the shallows. These prehistoric creatures have been migrating  rivers since before dinosaurs roamed the land. And that is a long time ago. It is good to see that they are surviving in our rivers though it is worth thinking about their perilous existence as mankind continues to trash the world.

Are there many left who deny that climate change is happening? Are those that deny it totally removed from nature?

Wimbleball levels dropping after months of dry weather.

Drought Hit North Devon

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The River Taw showing its bones a couple of weeks ago. (photo Dr Mike George)

Whilst this long hot summer has its delights it also has a serious downside in that many of our local rivers are at all time low levels. In the short term this results in a catastrophic season for salmon and sea trout fishing and related businesses. It can result in fish kills when any pollution enters the watercourse, as there is minimal dilution. It also causes serious problems for fish farmers who often suffer heavy casualty’s as oxygen levels plummet in the high temperatures. Lakes are also prone to serious issues with oxygenating equipment sometimes required to maintain a healthy environment. If you have concerns about fish stocks or water quality ring the Environment Agency’s Hotline 0800 807060.

Local Reservoirs like Wistlandpound are also showing signs of a dry summer and this can be an advantage to anglers if they take time to look at the features that are uncovered as these can prove valuable at a later date when water levels return to normal. The same applies to rivers where depressions in the riverbed or location of boulders can be an indication of a place where salmon or sea trout could lie up when the river is at normal height,

Wistlandpound Reservoir view from top water level.