They say you always remember where you were when hearing of calamitous events like 9/11, or for some of us oldies, the death of Kennedy. Nearly three years ago, I was with Gone Fishing on the Ure when the banks were alive with the rumours of the passing of John Wilson. I paused my so-called advisory role on fishy tactics to give a couple of radio interviews, and even to meet with a TV crew to offer my thoughts. It was a sad day, cold, bleak and full of reminiscences. I realised I was one of the remaining few who had known John before his TV fame days when, in truth, he was a more simple person to deal with.
It strikes me this week, brooding on my days with Wilson in the early 70s, that he was one of the first to recognise the problems facing Norfolk’s upper rivers, and to prophesy their eventual failure, a catastrophe we see come true today. It is very largely true that he left the UK for Thailand in 2013 because he could not abide to see the continued destruction of rivers he had once held so dear.
So, I wonder what he would have made of events in autumn 2021? First we hear that the Environment Agency has agreed to the installation of fish barriers on the access to Hoveton Great Broad. The agency spent £250,000 researching the possible effects of this move on spawning fish, bream especially, and their own staff reported it would probably be a disaster for the fish stocks of the North Broads. Stuff them, the EA has decided, we’re going ahead anyway.
Then we hear that it took the Angling Trust to make the EA amend its recent Regulatory Position Statement that had allowed the illegal discharge of raw sewage into our UK river systems. Next up, the relatively new Chair of the EA, Emma Howard Boyd, has issued a statement paper entitled ‘Adapt Or Die’. After twenty five years in fund management compliance, Boyd feels entitled to predict that because of climate change we’ll run out of water by 2050 if we are not careful. In fact, the EA’s forecast for thirty years hence suggests that the UK will then have an annual average rainfall of 32 inches, instead of the present 33 inches.
In short, the EA demonstrates either no activity or harmful activity. We have a myriad problems facing our rivers, but the EA blames them all on Covid, Brexit or climate change, exonerating itself at every twist and turn. Back in the day, JW railed against both the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Boards, and then against the National Rivers Authority, but I guess he’d reckon the abuses of both those bodies pale into insignificance, compared with what we are seeing today. One morning, back in 1974, we watched a dredger hacking the guts out of the poor old Wensum, and agreed things could not get any worse. How young, how naive, and how wrong we were!