Urban river restoration: New strength in numbers for grayling in Chesterfield’s Rother

Grayling News - Autumn 2015

For those of us who like to make a note of future fishing prospects on our urban rivers (not to mention small but significant rewilding stories for our favourite inner city ecosystems!) here’s a good one for the diary.

On 25 June this year, according to Brian Clarke in the Grayling Society’s latest newsletter…

… the Environment Agency stocked 3,000 0+ to 1+ year class grayling in the River Rother in Chesterfield. This was the first of three stockings planned (3,000 in 2016 and 3,000 more in 2017). 

Grayling have for several years been caught by local anglers in small numbers, but this stocking programme by the EA will add to the existing small population, and also shows the EA’s confidence in the improving quality of the river.

Partly because of the very small and tenuous (and highly pollution-sensitive) grayling population that Brian mentions, Chesterfield and the Rother never quite made it into Trout in Dirty Places. But the story of the Yorkshire Colne shows how a little judicious stocking from the EA’s fish farm at Calverton can sometimes make all the difference, when once-great rivers have been almost completely wiped out by industrial and post-industrial pollution, and a new kick-start is all they need.

Sometime around 2017-18, somewhere in the Rother’s rusty canyons, you’ll probably find the Urbantrout team doing a little careful rod-and-line sampling…

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Cleaning up the Mersey Basin: Urban river cleanups for World Rivers Day 2015 and beyond

River cleanup - Mersey Basin Rivers Trust

Inspired by the success of community cleanup events on urban rivers all over the UK (including the Don, Cale, Slea and Wandle), the Mersey Basin Rivers Trust has announced a new series of last-Sunday-of-the-month river cleanups across the Manchester area.

Cleanups will run from 10.30am until around 2pm, and heavy gloves, hot drinks and cake (yes, every good urban river event really does run on cake!) will be provided.

The first cleanup takes place this Sunday, and frankly we can’t imagine a better way to celebrate World Rivers Day 2015.

If you’re anywhere near Manchester this weekend, why not get down to the Irwell in Bury (postcode M26 2QJ) and see how much rubbish you can help clear off the banks of this amazing urban river?

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Pic of the day: Tipping point

Tipping point - Adrian Grose-Hodge

You know that moment when all your friends’ Facebook and Twitter feeds start saying we’re tipping over from trout time into grayling season on our urban rivers and streams?

Yes, that moment.

(Photo: Adrian Grose-Hodge)

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Film night: CATCHing up on the Cale

Just in case you missed this back in April (even if you didn’t, it’s still well worth another look) here’s a great little video recording the moment when CATCH committee members and their local Environment Agency team got all low-cost medieval on a significant barrier to fish migration on the Cale in Wincanton.

(And while we’re talking about weirs and dams, here’s how not to do it on the Dordogne, without even removing the offending dam itself…)

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Urbantrout sidecasts: Monday 31 August

London's rivers - M@ Londonist

(Photo: M@ / Londonist)

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Pic of the day: If Carlsberg did balsam bashing…

Beddington balsam - Sally Ann Symis

It’s a fact that invasive non-native species like Himalayan balsam positively thrive in places where the balance of nature has already been thrown out of whack by human activities (not to mention the human activity of bringing them to western Europe from their native home in the Himalayas in the first place!)

This makes urban rivers, and the edgelands around them, some of the most important invasion pathways for INNS of all kinds.

And that puts urban river restorationists right on the front line.

Since 2010 or even earlier the Wandle Trust’s volunteers have been steadily pushing vast swathes of Himalayan balsam downstream from the river’s headwaters in Croydon and Carshalton, and last Sunday’s efforts were focused on Beddington Park, where Carlsberg recently filmed their latest TV ad, Kickabout.

Which meant we couldn’t help wondering, as we hunted down every last balsam plant on the banks of the Wandle under that sweltering sun…

… If Carlsberg did balsam bashing, how could they possibly do it better than this awesome lot of urban Rivers Trust volunteers?

(Photo: the Wandle Trust / Sally Ann Symis)

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Urban fly-fishing report: River Frome, Bristol

Bristol Frome trout - Robert Brown

For the last couple of seasons we’ve been hearing intriguing urban-trouty rumours about the Bristol Frome, a little limestone river which rises in the rural Cotswolds and flows broadly south-west past the university quarter at Frenchay to meet the much larger Avon in the centre of Bristol.

So when we heard how respected competition angler (and confirmed urban big fish hunter) Robert Brown was marooned in Bristol with fishing wagon problems, far from the Wye & Usk Foundation waters where he’d really planned to be fishing…

… we wondered if he’d like to have his rubber arm twisted volunteer for a bit of urban exploration along the Frome Valley Walkway instead?

Challenge accepted, came back the answer. And here’s the brilliant report he sent us:

By the time I was able to visit the Frome, it was the end of June and not ideal conditions as it was dead low – barely a trickle – and quite clear. Not ideal conditions for fishing as there were few flies and a lot of trout could be in hiding. However, quite good for surveying as visibility was so good.  

As it was trout were thin on the ground. I had 8 trout over 2 days fishing totalling about 10 hours. My first fish was quite a good one of about 2 1/4lb. This was also the biggest I saw; though I saw 2 others that were close to 2lb and had a fish of around 1.5lb. Most of the rest were about 30cm.  All the smaller fish came out of the streamy water, whilst the bigger fish (pictured above) was stalked. With effort you could probably get more. I spent quite a lot of my time chasing the abundant dace and chub. This was quite fun and I even had a bream, but that probably gives you a good idea of the kind of water it is – perfect for dace and chub, with the odd trout. 

The river bed is about 20 feet wide on average and where there is flow mostly very shallow.  Mostly this water doesn’t have the depth trout would require where it is in a natural state. However, being post industrial it is regularly impounded by weirs with long flats resulting. Again not ideal trout water, though the weir pools mostly have the odd trout in them. 

What I couldn’t help noticing was the heavy angling pressure. There were several people fishing on the days I visited. Mostly bait fisherman, but I did meet one fly fisherman. Even the coarse fish are most common in the areas that are inaccessible and/or private.  It was very noticeable that such areas had a lot more fish. However, as there is a path among most of the river, and much of it is in public parks, such areas are few and very difficult to access. 

As it was, the river was heaving with both people and dogs, being public parkland. No doubt you know the kind of place, but I still don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with so many dog walkers. It is like all the world’s dog walkers have converged here for some kind of international convention. They arrive in fleets of vans each filled with cages of dogs. It is manic. Compared with here rivers like the Calder, Colne and Irwell really do feel like wildernesses. 

To be fair, I probably didn’t see the river at its best – it would have been nice to go one evening, or earlier in the season; or when it had more water. Or there was some kind of hatch. 

If you do visit then there are car parks at Oldbury Park and Snuff Mills with good access to the water. Snuff Mills seems to be a hot spot with fish to 5lb reported from the weir pool there on bait.  Further down the top part of Eastville Park is nice water, but hammered by anglers as I’ve mentioned above.

The Bristol Frome now comes under the care of the Bristol Avon Rivers Trust.

If you’re a local angler who’d like to get involved in a little urban river restoration, why not think about getting in touch with BART or even the Wild Trout Trust to start a new Trout in the Town project?

Bristol Frome - Robert Brown

(Photos: Robert Brown)

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Urbantrout welcomes the launch of Rewilding Britain

Rewilding Britain-001

This morning saw the official launch of a new national charity, Rewilding Britain, with an only slightly ambitious mission statement that includes…

… mass restoration of ecosystems in Britain, on land and at sea, reversing the decline in nature so that living systems and our sense of wonder can thrive.

Some might argue that the UK’s third sector landscape is already full to bursting with wildlife and conservation charities, all competing for public attention and the same shrinking funding pots. Do we really need another one?

Here at Urbantrout, we say yes, in this case we do.

Rewilding Britain presents a properly Big Idea, facing up to the colossal scale of our collective environmental challenges, and the undeniable fact that the UK’s conservationists can’t just carry on doing the same things and expecting different results. (As Einstein reputedly once said, that’s the definition of insanity).

If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of George Monbiot’s highly influential book Feral, almost certainly the launch pad for Rewilding Britain, we highly recommend it: we spoke extensively with George when he wrote about the Wandle Trust in 2013, and we’re thrilled to see the Wandle featuring as a case study on Rewilding Britain’s new website.

In fact, at this point in time, it’s possible that the urban river restoration movement is the most visibly successful form of rewilding yet.

That’s because we’re not just concerned with restarting catchment-scale natural processes in rivers that were still biologically dead within our own clear memory, so that beautiful, iconic clean-water species like trout and grayling can live again in our post-industrial edgelands.

With lots of personal experience, we’ve also been inspired by the idea of reconnecting people with their local rivers, providing them with a sense of ownership and access to blue-green spaces that transform their quality of life, perhaps even giving them a positive reason for living in the city.

Trout in Dirty Places took a snapshot of the state of urban river restoration in the UK in 2011/12, and this site is still tracking the urban river restoration movement as it spreads across our towns and cities. Today, we’ve just become a part of an even bigger picture.

So welcome, Rewilding Britain. Fish Where You Live – and thanks for joining us on the grapple!

The Trout Man

Rewilding the Wandle 2 - Wandle Trust


(Photos 2 and 3: Wandle Trust)

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Urban river restoration: Manchester’s River Irwell makes headlines in the Telegraph

Tom, Mike, Matthew Duddy - Paul Cooper

If you’ve followed this blog for any time at all, you’ll have no doubt about how much we love Manchester’s mighty Irwell system and its big wild trout. So we’ve been truly stoked to see that awesome urban river getting full attention from this weekend’s Telegraph

… complete with a namecheck for Trout in Dirty Places, and a profile of three generations of the Duddy family who’ve been closely involved in the river’s restoration so far:

Tom taught in the girls’ grammar school in the early 1970s, which was on the banks of the Irwell. 

“The river then was a by-word for filth and pollution,” he says. “If anybody fell in, they would be carted off to hospital straight away. Fortunately, Salford Royal was right next door to the school!” 

Now, here we are in 2015 and Manchester’s Lowry Hotel is offering guided fly fishing trips on its own river – the Irwell. Tom can’t quite believe he has lived to see it.

Salford Friendly Anglers is reputedly the oldest angling club in the world: today it boasts 2,500 members, and hosted the Wild Trout Trust’s Urban River Champions’ Conclave in 2013.

Inspired by the Wandle Trust’s ongoing success in restoring south London’s River Wandle (described in the article as ‘the UK’s first urban river success story’) Mike Duddy and the SFA crew are now turning their campaigning sights on cleaning up the Irk as well as developing new fisheries plans for the Irwell, and maybe the rest of the massive Mersey Basin too.

Click here to read Andrew Griffiths’ full story in the Telegraph, here to check out the Lowry’s guided urban fishing trips with Fish On Productions’ John Tyzack, and here if you’re still looking for the perfect fishing hoodies and hats for your own adventures in the urban jungle

(Photo: Paul Cooper / the Telegraph)

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Urban fly-fishing report: River Aa, Ouve-Wirquin

Urbantrout Aa 1Thanks to our good friend Jeremy Lucas, the Urbantrout team has been out on the road again… this time exploring some of the chalkstreams of northern France.

One of these was the River Aa: a ruisseau craie that rises at Bourges on the high chalk plateau of the Artois region, and flows broadly north east to meet the English Channel between Calais and Dunquerque. Within just 40 km, it falls from a height of 122m above sea level to 11m at the point where it meets the Blequin at Lumbres, and is canalised and navigable from St Omer downstream to the sea.

Steep chalkstream headwaters with constant year-round flow can only mean one thing… historic harnessing for hydropower. Which also means that the valley of the upper Aa offers more than a few opportunities for the kind of post-industrial edgeland exploration we love best (and which other, less epicurean fly-fishers, may pass by on the other side!)

At Ouve-Wirquin, for instance, now a sleepy rural town of less than 600 inhabitants, the Aa flows past (and under, and through) an industrial complex which was once a paper mill, then became a welding factory, and was finally abandoned for decades before being converted into a motor museum showcasing the pride and joy of les Brigades de l’Aa – a meeting of motoring and industrial heritage in a place that nature was already rewilding for itself.

According to local newspaper reports, repurposing the old mill apparently took more than 6,700 hours of voluntary work to strip out 109 lorry loads of waste and replace 197m of pipework and guttering… but the former factory’s back is still firmly turned on the Aa.

Generations of rusty, evil-looking pipes are topped off with a single massive concrete retort that looms over the river, while a flock of pigeons flutters in and out of holes in the walls, oblivious to one of their confreres that’s floating, freshly dead but still quite dry, in the margins.

Still, the clear waters and billowing ranunculus beds below are swarming with caseless caddis and blue-winged olive nymphs, and a rare riseform shows where a trout has snatched something off the surface, tucked so far under the Japanese knotweed that no number of daring casts will actually tempt him out into the daylight. It’s already clear that these ruisseaux craie do get a lot of fishing pressure, so chances are good that he’s seen my kind of CDC Plume Tip before – maybe all the more because this stretch of the river has been designated as fly-only and ‘No Kill’ (controlled under the local association’s carte de peche).

Tomorrow, under blistering sun and the keen scrutiny of the local deputy garde, this same pattern will finally earn a triumphant permanent place in my fly box – crowning a long, drag-free drift with a wonderful trout from translucent currents beside the all-weather sports pitch in Wavrans.

But here and now, waist-deep in the big mill pool, I switch back to a pink-beaded tungsten nymph that’s served me well on high-gradient limestone streams back home in the UK, and flip it into the roiling currents along the opposite concrete bank. On the third cast, a sharp tug straightens the subtle grey fly line, and a little silver truitelle goes wildly airborne.

There’s a nasty moment when I think we’re tangled in an all-too-familiar skein of fallen metalwork, but the hook holds, and the glistening beauty of my first French fish for far too many years finally slides into the net under the shadows of that brutalist concrete gantry.

Bonjour, les truites de la France industrielle…

Urbantrout Aa 2

Urbantrout Aa 3

Urbantrout Aa 4

Urbantrout Aa 5

Urbantrout Aa 6

Urbantrout Aa 7

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