Tuesday, 9 December 2008

No one is making rivers anymore

This might sound like an obvious statement but it amazes me when I pause to reflect on the sheer scale and levels of sustained abuse society has thrown at our precious burns, streams and rivers.

We now have been left with a legacy of gross mischief caused by successive generations of governments, people and corporations. Since the start of the industrial revolution our running waters have been subjected to an unceasing onslaught of diffuse pollution, dam building, over-grazing, toxic discharges, dredging and sometimes sheer bloody minded neglect. Sometimes this has been in ignorance, sometimes it's been by greedy or arrogant design. In many cases I feel our rivers have formed the front line in the battle between the development of human kind and the natural environment.....many battles have been lost. The victors know not of what of they do: as a world that looses it's connection to nature drains the very lifeblood from our souls that knits us all together.

All hippy'ish stuff I hear you cry....but is it? Squandering our natural resources for short-term economic and political gain will mean a poorer outlook for future generations. Rivers aren't just for fishermen they are for society as a whole. In my mind clean healthy rivers are good for our souls as well as ecology. For instance, urban rivers that have been restored inspire whole sections of the local community to come together to enjoy the natural environment in a way that they dare not even contemplated. The river is now the focus. Litter disappears and anti-social behaviour moves on. Projects on the Wandle in London and the Lancashire Colne are testament to that.

When we talk of conservation and restoration I really do feel that we should place a higher value on human health and well being. How many times have you walked alongside a river, paused and just taken the view in. It may be that there was a trigger...the electric blue flash of a kingfisher or perhaps a mayfly emerging on an epic quest to complete it's life cycle. You then, perhaps, re-commence your journey feeling slightly uplifted..I know I do!

A few months ago I spoke to a non-fisher who whilst hurrying to work crossed a bridge over recovering industrial river. It was dawn and he happened to glance up to see a fly fisherman in mid-current. It stopped him in his tracks. He described the angler as a beacon of hope. It was only 10 years previous to that the river in question was so polluted it was devoid of all life. He was amazed that life had once more returned to the water and was truly inspired by what he saw. He's now a member of WTT!

WTT is a grassroots organisation and we recognise that people are just as important as the cause we are fighting for. This is in terms of our volunteers, staff and the public, but also our children and grandchildren and their children. We must seize the opportunity to stand up and be counted and fight for the right to pass these priceless resources on in fine fettle. History will hold us to account if we fail.

In these days of high octane consumerism (even with a credit crunch) perhaps we should label our rivers as 'limited editions of one', perhaps even get them branded by Apple as iRivers. Who knows perhaps the iPod generation may start to value them for their true worth. It's not too late!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Delivering our way out of the economic gloom

We are now entering uncertain economic times. For a small charity like WTT there may well be impacts on our core income, in terms of donations, memberships, raffles and auctions. At WTT we are acutely aware of this (we never take income for granted) and we are currently looking at ways of mitigating against any loss of income to allow us to continue to deliver our conservation work. All aspects of our business are under scrutiny including discretionary spending. We may be faced with some difficult decisions and the odd 'sacred cow' may have to be put out to grass. This is the harsh reality of working in the charitable sector - when people feel the pinch, charitable giving could be one of the first casualties. Although the Children In Need appeal seemed to buck the trend!

However, despite the doom and gloom, I am feeling very positive. Whilst we can't spend our way out of a recession, I feel we can deliver our way out of it. Ten years of very hard work has turned WTT into a highly efficient, action focused organisation that has always delivered on it's promises. We have a sound platform to keep moving forward. This is all backed-up by a robust budget, annual business plan, five year strategy and conservation, funding and communications strategies. The team at WTT is a formidable one. Our Conservation Team, Administrator, Executive, Trustees and Presidents are all incredible people. We are an ideas factory and have a huge array of experience and skills to steer us a on a safe voyage through difficult economic waters.

Partnership is a central to everything that WTT does. In the last ten years we have developed national partnerships with The Environment Agency (England & Wales) Natural England, Loughs Agency (Northern Ireland), National Trust, Association of Rivers Trusts, Rivers & Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS), Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, various Wildlife Trusts, The Grayling Society, RiverFly Partnership and the Atlantic Salmon Trust.

We are now firmly established as third sector delivery partner and our funders recognise that we have a unique ability to blur the boundaries between fisheries and conservation. Coupled with this as an independent charity our advice is often taken more readily than that provided by organisations that have regulatory functions as well (even though it may be the same!)

Our project work is getting very exciting with Wild Trout Wales, Cinderella Chalk Rivers Project, Anglian Sea Trout Project, Trout in the Town, etc.... These projects not only inspire us, they inspire funders but most importantly the grassroots to start conservation projects.

Our approach during these tough times will be the same as always;

  • stay true to our founding principles

  • keep on delivering to high standards

  • develop innovative ideas and solutions

  • develop new and existing partnerships

  • be as efficient and prudent as possible

  • share knowledge

  • enjoy our work

Our corporate sponsors are backing us all the way. Special mention must be made of Orvis and Sage who have been there from the very start of the then Wild Trout Society....true friends indeed. New friends have come on board in the last 10 years too including, Hardy & Greys, Japanese Knotweed Solutions, John D Wood and the Lloyds Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, etc....their support is invaluable interms of finances but also in helping us to get a toes in the door of other board rooms.

Whether we are in boom or bust cycles ..I feel the top priority for WTT is the delivery of our conservation objectives and I can assure you that at WTT this will always be our top priority. This is why WTT was set-up and as far as I'm concerned it's Business as Usual.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Getting Your Passport To Wild Trout Heaven

As promised in my last blog I thought I would expand on the fishing passport schemes. Currently there are four initiatives being run by:

  • Eden Rivers Trust - Go Wild

  • West Country Rivers Trust - Angling 2000 (Devon & Cornwall)

  • Tyne Angling Passport - Tyne Rivers Trust

  • Wye & Usk Passport - Wye and Usk Foundation.

Between them the schemes represent some of the most enjoyable, accessible and affordable wild trout fishing in England & Wales. But the real beauty of the schemes is that they link farming, fishing and the environment. Many of the beats have been sourced as a direct result of habitat restoration works undertaken by individual rivers trusts. By marketing the fishing the farmer gets an income and will look upon the river as a asset. A river that is viewed in this this way by the people that own and manage means that it is much less likely to get damaged and polluted in the future.

All income (minus a small admin fee) goes back to the farmer for the maintenance of the beat.

WTT in conjunction with the Association of Rivers Trusts has launched a new website http://www.wildtroutfishing.co.uk/ which acts as a gateway for fishermen wanting information on all four schemes.

By far the best organised and largest scheme is the Wye and Usk Passport scheme. With over 40 beats and 6okm of high quality fishing the opportunities and variation in rivers types is enough to keep even the most ardent of fly fishers occupied for some time!

For between £5-£10 you can not only enjoy some fantastic fishing but you are also putting something back into the sustainable management of the rivers, burns, etc in these beautiful catchments.

Go on.......... Go Wild!

Fair Do's

The WTT team have just returned from another successful two days at this years British Fly Fair. Despite the harsh economic conditions recruitment of new members was very good.

The stand was buzzing throughout the two days. Special thanks must go to Stuart Crofts was on-hand to man the ever popular 'Put the Fly back into your Flyfishing' exhibit. Paul Procter was also in attendance to demonstrate his considerable fly-tying skills. The event is always a great opportunity to catch-up with old friends, sponsors and new contacts. It is also particularly important in generating new requests for Advisory Visits and project funding.

This year I gave a talk on both days titled 'Getting your passport to wild trout heaven'. The talk highlighted the fishing passport schemes being run by Eden Rivers Trust, Tyne Rivers Trust, Wye and Usk Foundation and the West Country Rivers Trust. WTT has recently funded the development of a new website (http://www.wildtroutfishng.co.uk/) to act as a central point of information on these wonderful initiatives (more on my next blog) Despite having the early 'Graveyard Shift' the talk stimulated lots of interest and a few new members too.

The only downside to the weekend was having to go through the pain of watching the England cricket team get a complete trashing in the $20 million, 20:20 match...never mind!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Dirty But Clean Fun

Here at WTT we are always looking to innovate and share knowledge. So it was with great interest that we learned from one of our conservation project leaders about a new technique he'd been trialing.

Neville Walker is part of team of committed fishermen who are members of Gopsall Fishing Club. Over the last few years they have undertaken an ambitious programme of habitat restoration and management.

Like many lowland rivers the Scence suffers from siltation problems and each year the club undertakes a programme of gravel cleaning. This is usually undertaken using rakes and heavy high pressure water pumps. Although successful it's can be very labour intensive and some times difficult to transport equipment around on steep river banks.

By chance Neville happened to be in a local garden centre and spotted a high powered backpack leaf blower. In no time at all he a blagged a free loan and rushed off to the river to give it a whirl. The results seemed impressive and he phoned me to tell me of his latest discovery (there have been others!)

I couldn't resist the temptation to try out a new bit of kit. Thankfully I had some sponsorship for practical equipment and purchased a new Sthil leaf blower.

Soon after it was off to the Honddu (trib of Monnow) in Wales to give it a go. My friends looked on with bemusement as I donned the equipment and asked them to "fire me up!"

After a few mins we stopped and inspected what had been a heavily silted area of gravel. It had been well and truly blasted clean and to a depth suitable for trout spawning.

"Told you it would work" I stated with new found confidence!

Since then we have continued to trail the equipment on different river types. The result continue to be encouraging and we may be onto a winner. The equipment has a major advantage in that it is lightweight. On the downside at times perhaps it is a little too powerful, so restraint may be required!

Some points to note:

1) Spawning gravels are also important habitat for invertebrates and plants too and operators should avoid the temptation to clean 100% of the available spawning resource. I would recommend starting a programme of rotational jetting doing no more than 25% in any one year (4 year rotation).

2) I would always recommend you spend the winter preceding any jetting operations to identify areas were trout redds occur. This will enable you to target your time more efficiently.

3) Undertake your jetting in October prior to spawning season. On no account do it later than this or you may be causing more damage than you are trying to rectify.

4) Evaluate your efforts - are there any redds in evidence in the winter after your efforts?

5) Health & Safety - Work in pairs and use goggles/ safety glasses to protect your eyes. Undertake a risk assessment.

6) Let your local 'River Authority' know what you intend to do - you may need special permission.

7) Jetting does not solve the problems of excessive siltation. It merely mitigates against the effects. To tackle this issues effectively you must look at landuse and address problems at the catchment level.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Norfolk Practical Visit

I have just returned form the River Nar in North West Norfolk where the WTT Conservation Team have undertaken a Practical Visit (PV) with a local fishing club.

The section of river we worked on suffers from the effects of over-shading and being over-wide. There is very little variation in bed depth and marginal cover. The river is also suffering from an excess loading of silt (sedimentation) which is possibly entering the system from agricultural sources higher up in the catchment.

Over three days 'Team PV' introduced Large Woody Debris and narrowed the river using trees felled from the shaded banks. In total around 500 metres of river has been enhanced. The effect of the works was pretty instant with new scouring flows creating much needed pool habitat and the purging of fine sediments from spawning gravels.

The PV demonstrates first hand the techniques fishing clubs need to learn to improve their waters and acts as blueprint for other projects on the rivers they control. The cost of the visit (worth around £1800) is subsidised from partnership and corporate sources. The only cost to the recipients is to arrange accommodation for the team during the visit. (preferably near a pub serving fine ales!)

The project on the Nar was jointly funded by WTT and the Environment Agency. Equipment and the PV Trailer is sponsored by Japanese Knotweed Solutions Ltd.

If you would like an assessment of your fishery with a view to arranging a PV and starting a project of your own, please email projects@wildtrout.org and we'll do our best to help!

Monday, 29 September 2008


This blog will keep readers up to date regarding some of the more interesting developments and opportunities the WTT gets involved with.  

More detailed information can be found on our website www.wildtrout.org. If you are interested in wild trout and conserving the precious environments that sustain them then this could be the blog for you!

This is all new territory for me and technology is not one of my strong points. I'm giving this a go as a result of a discussion I had with one of our corporate sponsors (Mike Clough)  of Japanese Knotweed Solutions Ltd........like I have loads of spare time Mike!

Seriously though, Mike made a very good point that the work of the Trust and the information we supply needs to be very current and on very accessible forms of media.

So from here on I will endeavor to share some of the challenges, opportunities, successes and dare I say it disappointments that are the daily reality of working in the charitable sector.

The picture accompanying this first blog is of volunteers, supported by WTT, in Norfolk restoring habitat on the River Stiffkey. Very much what we are all about!

I hope you enjoy reading the blog and please do let me know what you think. 

You may be interested to know that we are also running a related blog - www.urbantrout.blogspot.com which focuses on our new urban trout project - Trout in the Town.