Over 100 of the top figures in English fly-fishing packed into a special summit called to discuss the plight of our chalkstreams at the Grosvenor Hotel in Stockbridge this week.
Of these unique rivers, 85% are situated in England and most of these are in the South with the most famous being the Test, Itchen and Avon in Hampshire – rivers that were once considered to offer the finest trout fishing in the world.
Chalkstreams are internationally significant habitats which are under extreme pressure from diffuse pollution, over abstraction and habitat damage. Many came close to an environmental disaster during last year’s drought and were only saved by exceptional rainfall during the summer of 2012.
Speakers at the summit, including the Angling Trust’s Martin Salter and leading conservationist Tony Juniper, argued that special protection for chalkstreams should be enshrined within the current Water Bill. They called for radical reform of water resources and land use policy to enable all rivers to return to good ecological status free from damaging environmental impacts. It was agreed that a special Chalkstream Charter would be drawn up as a matter of urgency and presented to Environment Minister Richard Benyon early in the New Year.
The summit was addressed by Lords Environment Minister Rupert de Mauley who stood in for Richard Benyon. The day began with the showing of two films on the plight of chalkstreams made by award-winning film maker Hugh Miles. It concluded with a panel discussion with top officials from Defra and the Environment Agency along with representatives of the Angling Trust and the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA). Participants included broadcaster and writer Charles Rangeley-Wilson, top flyfisher Charles Jardine, local river trust and wildlife groups, a number of MPs and many prominent fishery owners on the Test, Itchen, Kennet, Avon and other chalkstreams. The meeting was chaired by George Hollingbery MP, who is Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group.
Paul Knight, Chief Executive of the S&TA, said, “The Defra civil servants praised the passion of the hundred plus people in the room. What they must realise is the huge knowledge, experience and scientific evidence that the assembled company represented which, in addition to the passion, means we are determined to achieve the protection for our chalkstreams that these iconic rivers deserve. The Government has two choices; be proactive and provide the legal structure and new resources required for the job now, or risk infraction from the European Commission if chalkstream degradation continues.”
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal said: “The fact that this meeting was standing-room only indicates how strongly the angling community feels about the disgraceful management of our chalk streams over the past few decades. We are all fed up with sitting through consultation events to draw up plans which never get implemented. I hope that the senior Defra officials who attended will have taken away a clear message that the time for fine words has long sincepassed and that millions of anglers expect to see real action that improves the water quality and quantity of these precious, unique rivers and restores the habitat which is vital for healthy, wild fisheries. Our Chalkstream Charterwill set out in detail what needs to be done.”