IIf you descend into the quiet stretches of a river in the UK at the right time of year, you are likely to find people standing there peacefully with a fishing rod, staring at the shimmering, steady stream, hoping to get a bite.
Fishermen, of whom there are at least 2 million in England, descend upon their cherished segments of the watercourse whenever they can graze them, trim vegetation, create wetland breeding habitats, and even painstakingly clean gravel. It sounds like a peaceful chase, but when The Guardian went to visit some Angling Trust members at their clubs around Reading, there was palpable anger in the air.
This is because water companies have been dumping waste in many of these stretches, ruining the hard work, money, and hours of time fishermen spend keeping rivers healthy. Now, they are fighting with determined fishermen across the country to test their river stretches for pollution using kits from the Angling Trust. Often no one does that – Reductions in testing by the Environment Agency It means that many sites are not regularly tested, making it impossible to know the true state of sewage pollution in England.
So far 150 volunteers have signed up for the England sampling scheme, which covers 50 rivers across 18 watersheds, and more clubs are being registered every day. Their results so far are very grim – half of all samples exceeded the upper limit for phosphate, and 60% for nitrate. These are levels that can seriously damage rivers, as they promote algae growth and harm fish health. Elevated phosphate and nitrate levels are telltale signs of potential sewage spills.
“It’s sad but necessary for the fishermen to do this,” said Martin Salter, a former MP for Reading who is now head of policy at the Angling Trust, looking sadly at the Loudoun River. The fishermen found that this chalk stream contained above-average levels of phosphates and nitrates.
“This is evidence of the fact that the operator’s self-monitoring was a fiasco, as evidenced by Southern waters faking their resultsSalter said. “We are determined to ensure that this type of behavior is not tolerated, and that we will use our findings to overcome it. We will use this scheme to find the truth, which we will bring to the attention of both the government and the public.”
The Guardian is joined by Richard Maude of Twyford and District fishing While testing Loudoun’s chalk stream, the Club threw out a small white plastic bucket to collect a sample for examination. The stretch of river is adjacent to a wild footpath. A secluded and quiet oasis near a relatively urban area.
Maud has been fishing there for the past two years since moving to the area, but has been fishing since childhood. “Typical, like most working-class boys, I suppose; it was my dad or my grandfather who taught me how to fish and it stuck with me,” he says.
The people with whom he fishes near Reading are also often engaged in the hobby since childhood, they are “fond” of the river. “Now, this river catches many people of a certain age – some of them have been fishing for 50 years. Everyone is in love with Loddon.
“The pollution that has been pumped into the river has been fairly well documented for a while, so we all want to do everything we can to help the situation, to help, and if that means coming here to collect a sample, we’ll do it,” adds Maude.
Anyone from the club would be well prepared to spot a pollution event – they spend more time gazing at the river than any other user of our waterways.
“We’ve seen areas of the river that look different,” says Maud. “When it happens here, it looks to me like you might have poured red paint into the water; you can see it’s kind of brown and horrible. It just doesn’t feel right. Maybe a lot of it is instinctive to people who are used to Looking at the river.
Standing on the bank with Maud, the river looks great; You can see the bottom approx. It has just rained, making the lush vegetation look greener, and the riverbank is strewn with ripe black berries, wild hops, and plump heroines.
“Right now, it looks exactly how a river should look,” he says. “But sometimes, parts of it look like old paintbrush water. That’s how you know something might be wrong. Now, hopefully we can get the data.” to support this.
Our next stop is Swallowfield Angling Club. Members rented their own playground near their cherished waterway, complete with a wooden gate with a mobile banner proudly decorated with the club’s name. They have access to both Loddon and Blackwater, and you can see how much effort the members put in to help the fish populations there. They created a small area of wetland for breeding and kept the river bank so that it was rich in vegetation, but not overgrown.
Ross Hatchett, decorator, does the audition here. “I’ve been fishing all my life,” he says. “I have definitely noticed a slow decline in fish over the past few years in these parts. We have been reporting on fish that have been caught by fishermen over the past seven years, and there has definitely been a noticeable decline.”
The water here flows quickly, so you don’t see the blue-green algae blooms that are a hallmark of sewage. But sometimes, Hatchett is shocked to see the water, usually clear with a speck of brown. For someone who spends hours upon hours tending to a river, this just gets stuck crawling.
“We notice the color of tea in the water, which is not true. We are very concerned, which is why we have joined the Angling Trust and have sampled, and hopefully we will take care of someone on this matter.”
There is real anger among fishermen around water companies, who can undo years of meticulous conservation work with just one spill.
He says, “They shouldn’t do what they do, it’s not true. I think everyone would say that if you asked them. Especially when we pay them as members of the public for their services.”
Christian Kent, of the Angling Trust, has a warning for water companies. He says, “We are not leaving.” “Citizen science is a reality for the world in the future, so they won’t be able to sweep it under the rug. If this was just one community group on the river, it’s easy to ignore. But now, when you’re 150 years old, plus many more to come, in most catchments In England, it’s hard to ignore.”