Michelle Werrett’s book ‘ Song of the Streams’ is set to become a classic of its genre painting an evocative portrait of Exmoor’s rivers and streams as they are today and comparing them with their glorious past. The prose flows throughout the book reflecting upon days with rod and line spent beside the bright waters that flow through Exmoor’s landscape. Pausing frequently to savour chocolate along the way and glimpse dippers, wagtails, kingfishers and other wildlife.
Joyful Spring and Summer days are described in enchanting detail making it perfect reading for those long winter nights beside the glowing embers of the fire. The book highlights the “ ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’, which basically means we have short memories. As the world around us changes we come to accept the new state of things, constantly updating our expectations of what is normal.”
Michelle draws upon the writings of earlier generations to highlight the abundance that we have lost from our rivers. The beauty that remains is recorded within the pages of this book as we wander and wade the streams, rivers and paths of fishers from a different age. The beautiful wild brown trout may not be so plentiful as in Claude Wade’s Exmoor Stream days but they still offer tranquil days and escape from the modern world.
The monochrome images taken by Robin Baker give the book a timeless essence that links to the past.
The sterling work of angling groups in conservation efforts is described giving a glimmer of hope for the future. On a personal note; I could connect closely with the book and the locations it describes so vividly having grown up to walk and fish the waters frequently over the past fifty years. I bought a first edition of Exmoor Streams at an auction in Dulverton over thirty years ago and conclude that ‘Song of the Streams’ is a worthy companion.
There are few books that bring a tear to the eye but as I finished reading ‘Song of the Streams’ I could not help but feel moved as the book could almost be an epitaph to the once prolific salmon that are now endangered and could be extinct within our lifetimes.
Hours Spent in company with the river are always enriching and life affirming; relaxing in times of stress, reviving at times of staleness, cheering on days of sadness and always brightening as reflected sunlight sparkles from the shimmering surface. And like the best of companions, the river often makes me laugh and sometimes laughs at me”.
Memories of past glories effectively highlight the process of change and loss our land has suffered. Losses of some things – cuckoos and nightingales for example- are obvious to almost everyone but only fisherman notice the loss of the fish.
‘Song of the Streams’, Michelle Werrett’s first book, is in stock now! Priced at £26.
Michelle will also be signing copies at Lance Nicholson’s shop in Dulverton, on Saturday 18th November from 10am to 12.
The perfect Christmas gift to yourself, or any other angler in your life!
Reserve your copy now…
Introduction by Medlar Press
Fishing and Conservation on Exmoor Streams
Inspired by tales of the past gleaned from old fishing books, the author sets out to fish those same waters, to cast the same flies on the same pools, to explore how fishing the streams of Exmoor might compare with fishing them over a century ago, whether those streams have changed and how they might be faring today. Exmoor rivers and streams appear pristine, barely changed since Claude Wade described them in his 1903 book Exmoor Streams, yet the numbers of trout he and other long-ago writers reported catching seem unbelievable today. Those streams must once have held an astonishing abundance of fish.
Modern problems affect even upland streams, yet many good folk are dedicated to their restoration and there is much we can do to help. River conservation work can be fascinating and rewarding as we develop a deeper understanding of river habitats through, for example, managing a balance of light and shade, monitoring aquatic invertebrates and cleaning riverbed spawning gravels then watching for their use when migratory salmon return home from the sea.
Those nail-booted, greenheart wielding fishermen of the past have gone but the streams still run on their wild ways, singing their endless songs to the moor. This book is for all who share concern for the wellbeing and conservation of our rivers and streams as well as those entranced by the rise of a trout to a well-placed fly.
Over fifty years ago I caught my first brown trout from the River Umber that flows through the village of Combe Martin. The fish was tempted on a small red worm a small wild brown trout with a butter shaded belly, olive flanks and crimson spots. Sadly, their numbers have plummeted in this tiny stream as a result of pollution and reduced flows.
Fortunately; there are still many miles of healthy rivers in North Devon and whilst migratory fish have declined the wild brown trout are thriving and offer delightful sport on light fly fishing tackle.
I decided to start my 62nd birthday with a couple of hours on a local river chasing those wild brown trout that were amongst the first fish I caught as a child. Armed with a 7ft Snowbee 4 wt rod I waded into the clear water and started to search flicking the flies upstream beneath a canopy of green.
Starting with New Zealand style tactics I made my way slowly up river. A kingfisher flashed by an electric blue streak that brightens the day.
After searching several runs and stickles I hooked a sprightly brownie that pulsed and turned in the current before being coaxed to the waiting net. A beautiful trout of perhaps 10” that had taken the nymph. I admired it briefly and reflected that fifty years on I still enjoy those same emotions of pleasure from catching these jewelled creatures that dwell in cascading waters.
I tempted another three pristine browns using dry flies in the next couple of hours.
Pheasants called in the nearby fields a reminder that the shooting season is not far away. Another six weeks and the river trout season will have closed again. How times flies it seems ever faster as life passes by.
There are plenty of fishing adventures on the horizon with mighty tuna and shark on the agenda. Its still good though to tune back into those wild browns in intimate waters.
I had been looking forward to Roger Furniss’s talk at the Lanacre Barn Gallery on April 5th. Situated in the heart of Exmoor a short distance from Lanacre bridge that straddles the River Barle. For two weeks the gallery has hosted an art exhibition focusing on fish and life within water. https://moorlandart.com In conjunction with this Jo Minoprio has invited various speakers to focus on and raise awareness of the tragic decline in salmon and river life.
After a drive across a mist shrouded moor our son James and I arrived at the gallery where guests were already mingling, chatting and perusing the fine fishy art on display.
Roger Furniss has been a keen angler since his childhood days and shares my own passion and fascination with fish and water. He has worked within river authority’s, the water industry and since retirement has worked tirelessly with the Westcountry Rivers Trust the Angling Trust and other bodies to protect the rivers of the Westcountry.
This evening’s talk was entitled, “ Exmoor’s Rivers – A National Treasure”. Roger delivered the talk from the heart meandering through the complexities of rivers and the life within. Drawing upon his own in depth knowledge and experience Roger painted a vivid picture of troubled waters and a desire to put their survival high on the agenda.
Exmoor’s rivers are an integral part of the Exmoor National Park with the names of many moorland towns and villages and the moor itself derived from the rivers that flow through the landscape. Lynmouth, Lynton, Brayford, Exford, Winsford, Allerford, North Molton and South Molton a few examples.
Reflecting upon his own childhood days beside rivers Roger drew upon the words of William Wordsworth. “Sweet childish days, that were as long, As twenty. “Sweet childish days, that were as long, As twenty days are now.”. Poignant words that we can all perhaps relate to as our perception of time passes as our living years tick away all too fast.
The story of rivers and the history of their protection is a fascinating tale that reflects the changing values and vagaries of our political system. In 1923 the Salmon and Freshwater fisheries Act imposed a statutory duty to protect and improve the life within the nation’s rivers.
“The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1923 was an Act of Parliament passed by the United Kingdom Government which attempted to consolidate fishery legislation, which at the time consisted of the Salmon Fishery Act 1861 and 18 amending Acts which had been passed subsequently.”
The 1995 Environment Act set out that National Parks should conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the public. The Sandford principle states “ If there is a conflict between these purposes the authority shall attach greater weight to the former’. The 1995 Environment Act also updated environmental guidance with a statutory duty ‘ To Protect or Enhance the Environment…so as to promote the objective of achieving sustainable development’. This dual duty introduces Government allowance to prioritise.
The above legislation is there to protect the rivers and Environment but as with all laws they are only effective if adequately policed. In this instance the body that upholds the legislation is the Environment Agency a body that has had funding cut severely in recent years.
River’s matter to us all as they are used for water supply, drainage, Industry, Irrigation, recreation, wildlife corridors and landscape. From the perspective of nature the wildlife corridor aspect is vital in ensuring that local habitats do not become isolated.
There are many threats to the rivers of Exmoor and the UK. These include pollution, sewage, land use, abstraction, obstruction and diversion, climate change, access, non-native species, predation and taken for granted. Roger emphasised that TAKEN FOR GRANTED is the largest threat for without public pressure there is no political will to protect.
Roger gave an in depth description of each threat bringing the reality of each to life with images that illustrated each point. It is fair to say that a significant factor is the dense population of the UK. Roger drew comparisons with other less populated countries that have a greater connection with nature and of course have less pressure. For example; Canada has 3 people/ per SQ KM the UK 200 people/ per SQ KM.
The European Water Framework Directive set out ambitious targets for water quality improvements. Brexit has impacted upon this with the UK governments ambition to enshrine the legislation into UK law complex and drawn out. The Environment Agency is dual purpose with its focus politically motivated.
The picture painted is bleak but there is perhaps some room for optimism with significant efforts being made to address the issues. South West Water’s Upstream Thinking and MIRES initiatives have brought welcome funding to improve water quality with the aim of reducing the costs of water treatment. The MIRES project looks to retain water on the moors maintaining healthy flows in the rivers for longer. The charitable sector including the Westcountry Rivers Trust are undertaking and supporting various projects to protect and enhance the river. They work in partnership with the River Exe and Tributaries Association and Exmoor Rivers and Streams Group. The Exmoor National Park also play a significant role in the custodian ship of the rivers.
The river Barle and Upper Exe are the key spawning areas for salmon. There is therefore a strong focus upon the health of these areas. The River-fly Monitoring scheme has proved a useful tool in assessing the health of the river. The results clearly indicate that the high tributaries of the Exe on Exmoor are the healthiest areas.
Gravel washing of potential redds in late summer and early Autumn is seen as a valuable operation to remove silt and loosen compacted gravel. Gravel introduction has also been undertaken in some areas where gravel depletion has occurred.
The fencing of banks to reduce diffuse pollution from cattle and selected coppicing of trees to reduce overshading and allow natural light to penetrate.
The 30 weirs on the Exe Catchment are a major issue – a salmon heading for the upper Barle has to pass over 17 of them – as does every smolt. Good evidence that delays have a lasting effect on probability of reaching target spawning site. Will get worse with climate change. Smolt losses occur at weirs – if 2% at every weir half of upper Barle smolts don’t get to sea. Many kilometres of impounded reaches useless for juvenile salmon, great for predators.
The efforts to remove and improve the migration routes for fish on the Exe are an ambitious project that will require considerable investment.
Roger emphasised the importance of the three E’s. Economics, Enforcement and Education. Education is vital in the class room, engaging in river quality investigation, river restoration with landowners and via the Exmoor Rivers and Streams group.
I spoke with Roger before his talk and expressed my concerns regarding the future for salmon and how recent talks I had attended had been increasingly depressing. Roger assured me that there would be some optimism with in his talk. This was true as there is a deep desire and conviction to do all that is possible to help nature to heal. Climate change is perhaps the greatest threat to salmon. And to mankind as a species. Some scientists have labelled this as the Anthropocene.
from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.
This recognises the fact that mankind has become the first single species to significantly change the worlds complex eco system and climate.
Whilst climate has changed over millions of years nature has adapted to cope and thrive. In this new age where mankind has broken the natural cycles climate is changing at an unprecedented rate that salmon and other creatures cannot adapt to. Without significant intervention salmon may be extinct in the UK within 20 or 30 years.
An angler’s connection with nature is strong. Non anglers will struggle to grasp the passion that anglers like Roger and I share. Perhaps it is as simple as the fact that without salmon there will be no salmon anglers for where fins swim so do we.
Our generation have been fortunate to have enjoyed nature. As a child I played in our rivers relishing simple delights. In the years since my childhood the world’s population has more than doubled.
Our impact on nature is now significant and how we retain that vital connection without destroying it is certainly a challenge.
I expressed my view at the end of the talk that the world needs to refocus and challenge the perception that GDP is how we measure success (Gross domestic product (GDP) is the standard measure of the value added created through the production of goods and services in a country during a certain period. As such, it also measures the income earned from that production, or the total amount spent on final goods and services (less imports).
How do we put a value on the natural world that is vital to our physical and mental health?
Below is my own attempt at poetry and the demise of salmon in Westcountry Rivers during a brief passage of time.
I REMEMBER WHEN
The old guy said,
I remember when the salmon poured into the pools,
Packed like sardines you could have walked across their backs, (1983)
I remember when some anglers caught one hundred salmon in a season, (2003)
It’s been a better season we caught forty from the river last year, (2023)
I remember when there were salmon in the river, (2043)
I remember being told there were once salmon in this river, (2063)
A new exhibition on Exmoor is set to put the alarming state of our rivers in the spotlight. ‘Fabulous Fish’, ideated and created by well-renowned artist Jo Minoprio, will showcase the work of 10 professional artists which all together will form a compelling artistic intervention into the situation under the surface of our UK waterways and further afield.
‘Fabulous Fish’ will run daily from 25thMarch – 8th April 2023, from 11am-5pm, at Lanacre Barn Gallery in Withypool, Exmoor, TA24 7SD. It will be open to the public, admission is free, and refreshments will be available.
The exhibition will serve as a celebration of the rich biodiversity surrounding our rivers, and significantly, draw attention to the pressures that are inhibiting it. It will be an ambassador for the realisation that we all have a part to play in addressing the challenge of global climate change and habitat destruction.
At the epicentre of these pressures, and therefore the exhibition, is a species facing devastating collapse; wild Atlantic salmon. As a migratory species that traverses many regions and habitats, including freshwater and marine, salmon act as a key indicator species; representing the global health of our rivers, oceans and ultimately, our relationship with the natural world that sustains all human activity. Legendary in reputation and persistent in nature, the wild Atlantic salmon is our waters’ equivalent of the canary in the coalmine and are informing us of the wider issues caused by the twin crisis of climate change & biodiversity loss.
Lanacre Barn Gallery overlooks the River Barle, where according to electrofishing research, 70-80% of returning salmon in the entire Exe catchment spawn.
The exhibition has brought together a community of artists, scientists, educators, and environmental groups from all over the UK. Members of the Missing Salmon Alliance (MSA), a group of leading salmon conservation organisations fighting to reverse the decline of wild Atlantic salmon around the UK, are providing support for the exhibition. This includesessential scientific background advice from Game Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and some ground-breaking footage on the life cycle of salmon for visitors to watch throughout the exhibition from Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST). The MSA continue to advocate for the protection of freshwater environments and the improvement of water quality and quantity in order to reduce losses of salmon in our rivers, coastal waters, and open ocean.
‘Fabulous Fish’ draws attention to the salmon crisis and thus the challenges faced by many other species across freshwater and marine environments. For example, celebrated artist and Society of Wildlife Artists member, Julia Manning, will be exhibiting her work ‘The Decline of Eels’, a series of 12 limited edition print reliefs, to raise awareness of this important conservation issue and pose fundamental questions about man’s relationship with wildlife and the wider environment.
There will be talks from local experts and conservationists throughout the exhibition. Phil Turnbull of The Westcountry Rivers Trust, crayfish researcher, Nicky Green, and Riverfly Monitoring lead on the Exe, Fred Leach, will be presenting on March 27th at 5.30pm (this event is fully booked). Roger Furniss will also be giving a talk on April 5that 5.30pm titled ‘Exmoor Rivers, A National Treasure’. To attend, get in touch here: CONTACT LANACRE BARN GALLERY | moorlandart
Speaking about the project, artist Jo Minoprio said: “I have decided to use my Fish exhibition as a platform to raise awareness of how desperate the situation is, right now, beneath the surface of our rivers here on Exmoor. I am a keen angler, carry out river fly monitoring, am a voluntary water bailiff, am on the board of the Exmoor Rivers and Streams Group (ERASG) and am passionate about saving the salmon and therefore our rivers. I am incredibly grateful to all those that have helped me better form my views and have supplied me with equipment, words and advertising. Namely, The Atlantic Salmon Trust, The Westcountry Rivers Trust, The Exmoor National Parks, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Missing Salmon Alliance and The Exmoor River and Streams Group. With much appreciated sponsorship from The River Barle Fishing Club and The River Exe and Tributaries Association.”
Missing Salmon Alliance: Founded in 2019, a group of Britain’s leading conservation-focused organisations formed the Missing Salmon Alliance. Their combined expertise has continued to drive action to save our wild Atlantic salmon from the brink of extinction. The member organisations are the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Angling Trust with Fish Legal, Fisheries Management Scotland, and the Rivers Trust.
The Atlantic Salmon Trust was established against a backdrop of growing concerns over the significant decline in numbers of wild Atlantic salmon. The Trust is recognised to be one of the first conservation charities to be working on behalf of wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout.
The Atlantic Salmon Trust exists solely for the protection of wild salmon and sea trout. Their aim is to create a positive future for these keystone species; using scientific research to understand their decline and put evidence-based solutions into practice to better protect them.