Does an SSSI mean anything at all ?

Here we are then, arriving at the beginning of the 2012 trout fishing season, enthusiastic – certainly….. but not as excited as we should be.  We’re all chastened by a nagging fear, and there is also a nervous tension.  Its jacked up quite a few more notches since last season.  Every one of us will, either between casts or when we’re just watching the river, be visually absorbing, mentally comparing past seasons water line with what we see now.  We’ll take interest in exposed bankings not seen before, from the revealed tree roots and bridge supports, we’ll see, risen up, the snags where we lost fish a few seasons ago.

It conveys a feeling that very soon, we might be all dressed up with nowhere to go. Water levels that only a few years ago, swirled and chilled just above your crutch, is now only up to your knees, once essential chest waders have given way to thigh waders, their poignant redundancy epitomises what many better informed observers, consider to be an avoidable environmental obscenity, and, if their prognositcations are half accurate, then it should make anyone with an interest in the environment take to the streets.  

Past seasons comments and concerns about the welfare of Chalkstreams, have given way to very genuine fears for the immediate future of these beautiful and unique eco systems, that fear is now fuelling a burgeoning regional anger …. and its not just from fishermen. Hardly surprising really, everyone in the country is aware of dry winters and the drought measures brought into effect in neighbouring areas. 

Anger in the Wiltshire and Hampshire chalkstream region is specifically because of the perceived obfuscation and weasel words of Wessex Water, who it is felt, are taking cover in the impenetrable fine print of their Abstraction Licences, which permit them to remove seemingly huge amounts of pure fresh water, (literally, tens of millions of litres of sparkling nitrate free water) from the aquifers, their fudged answers to specific questions, their convoluted interpretation of scientific data and complex geographic terms, all of which can only really be deciphered, by hydrologists, scientists, engineers, for them to be properly challenged, emotive invective is easily dismissed.  Careful analysis of their statistics with more of the river watchers own is the way to go.  Legal action would be a high game requiring high stakes, not something the concerned can currently contemplate. While this all might take place, the worrying drop in river levels plays on in the background; the monthly flow for Nov 2011 on the River Wylye is the lowest on record, and the calculation of groundwater levels in a primary aquifer for the Hampshire River Avon is the lowest since February 1976, and the most recent figures from the Environment Agency starkly illustrate that the monthly flow rates between Warminster and Salisbury, as a percentage of the long term average, is on a very worrying downward spiral during the critical winter period when it was hoped the aquifers would recover.  It was only 32% in November, but alarmingly 22% in February.  

It is inconceivable that specific chalkstreams which are designated as SSSI\SAC can have their very exisitence put into such an ecologically damaging position with impunity.  If Wessex don’t take action to protect these chalkstreams, not from within the security of their data, but from an ecologically and socially responsible position of having their officers visit and see the real condition of the river, rather than baldly stating that their statistics show sufficient to meet the anticipated demand, they would gain the moral high ground in the eyes of the regions consumers and at a single swipe reverse the negative press they’re currently receiving in so many fora.  Failing that, this years thigh waders might next season be replaced by wellingtons.  The picture isn’t mine but it shows how the winterbournes haven’t filled or flowed this winter, it portends a grim picture for the coming summer.

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