MAIL ONLINE – 16 August 2020
Our rivers are in trouble and this distresses me. I love all our waterways. I have fallen in most of them.
I have paddled up to Runcorn. I have surfed the Severn Bore. I have punted the Great Ouse. I have kayaked the Wye. I have upset a coracle in Welsh rapids, abseiled through waterfalls in Scotland and swum in the Waveney. I remember the eerie feeling of the reeds brushing against my thighs and the sweet taste of fresh water in my mouth.
I even went ‘lave fishing’ with one the very few remaining operators in the Severn. That’s catching the fish with nothing but a net in the shallows. Not easy. But even then, 15 years ago, I was ashamed to discover that the highest recorded catch of salmon on that river had been as recently as the 1970s and the number had then sunk, during my own lifetime, to become a crisis. This year the few remaining lave fishermen who catch no more than six in a year have been ordered to stop to preserve stocks.
I also went out with our last remaining professional eel-catcher. His trade had died, in the very place where they named a cathedral after the huge number that used to be caught there, Ely.
Salmon have gone. Eels have gone. Fish are expiring. Rivers have dried up. The weeds are rotting. The water is dying. We have a growing emergency. Little Welsh rivers such as the Llynfi have recently choked with dead fish. Singer-turned-campaigner Feargal Sharkey is pleading with us to pay attention to the chalk streams.
What is going on? I thought we were a good, aware, hip, green generation. Yet things are getting worse and worse, while the water companies trumpet that we have never had it so good.