Friday, 25 January 2013


In the wilds of Patagonia with a not so wild Chilean fox
I have been passionate about wildlife and it’s conservation since childhood and have been privileged to spend most of my life travelling the world making more than sixty wildlife films for all the major broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Nat. Geo. and Discovery.

Most of these films stressed the need to protect our planet’s natural resources and I have produced films about oceans, jungles, savannas, lakes and mountains. Film stories have included an extraordinary expedition to the New Guinea Highlands with Sir David Attenborough looking for natives that had never seen white men, polar bears in the Arctic, penguins in Antarctica, fish and whales in Alaska, tigers in India, leopards in Africa, mountain lions in South America and snow leopards in Ladakh – I like cats!

Closer to home, there are subjects that are just as important. Our freshwater world is threatened by lack of water [not recently!] and the UK has already suffered dramatic declines in fish and other aquatic wildlife.

The source of the gem-like River Allen
Chalk streams in particular have been ruthlessly exploited and damaged. There are only 160 chalk streams in the world and 85% of them are in England … so we have an international responsibility to protect them … and we don’t.

Chalk streams support some of the richest diversity of wildlife anywhere in Europe but we abstract the life blood out of them and kill the animals by the bucket load. Pollution is widespread, silt off farmland a nightmare for fish and invertebrates. Some streams have already dried up. Everything is Dead.

So as a life-long film-maker, my passion for the natural world and determination to try to make a difference is un-diminished. Over many years I have become increasingly aware of how almost all TV, the media and conservation organisations ignore our threatened freshwater world, notably the fish and other aquatic wildlife that lives below the surface.

Brown trout
Atlantic salmon
‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a cliché but in the case of our fish life it is alarmingly true. We can’t see them, know little about them and as a result, don’t care. However, fish are a vital part of healthy ecosystems and without them, fish eating birds might suffer and even our otters will go hungry. So education is long overdue and showing adults and children is the key. Entering the water disturbs the wildlife but an under-water camera works a treat and within a mile of our home is the ideal location.

The crystal clear, chalk stream waters of the River Allen and the unique wildlife it supports makes it one of the most important rivers in Europe and for years it’s been my ambition to bring it’s fish and other watery wildlife into the consciousness of the local community.

'Liquid Gold' - the upper reaches of the River Allen
The river is only thirteen miles long but it is a little jewel flowing through the Dorset countryside. It provides a haven for species such as wild brown trout, the endangered white clawed crayfish and the fastest declining mammal in Britain, the water vole, this is just one of only a few rivers in England that achieve ‘good ecological status’. More than two thirds of our rivers fail and for starters, if we want to save them, we have to save water.

No doubt catching more than me
Freshwater is a vital element in all life, not least to us humans and if the river’s wildlife is to survive in the long term we need to ensure the community realise how important clean freshwater is.

My dream is to have permanent underwater cameras set in the River Allen, with viewing facilities for the public and school children in the Allendale Centre and Waitrose in Wimborne. These will provide live images to a  TV screen surrounded by educational material, along with a DVD player to show films and pre-recorded images that will be played when nothing is visible on the cameras in the river.
Some of them enjoyed the fish best!

Luckily, the Dorset Wildlife Trust, [who we’ve supported for thirty or more years], has a ‘Wild Rivers Project’, led in East Dorset by Amanda Broom. We needed £5,000 to put the screen and u/w camera in the river and DWT successfully raised the funding to do so. Bravo to them. The first stage is complete, with the screen and several school parties already taking advantage of this educational facility in the Allendale Community Centre alongside the river. The enthusiasm of the children is wonderful and with several talks and film shows with Amanda already completed, we have done a little to raise the profile of our precious fish and other wildlife.

roach and chub
There is a lot more to do and the u/w cameras will be installed in the autumn. In the meantime, we hope you too enjoy this little celebration of chalk streams and the wildlife they support.

One of the children watching the pike catching a perch exclaimed “ Cor Miss, that’s well ‘arsh”!

One of many school parties watching the film


Now, where's that polar bear?

Time to write a few words about fishing instead of doing it. Well, I’m not going out in this Arctic blast am I, even if my ‘Catching the Impossible’ mate Martin Bowler is out there – carping – he’s mad you know …

Chilly garden at Chillbrook Croft
                          ANGLING ADVENTURES – 2012 – part 1

The dictionary says an adventure is ‘a risky undertaking, the ending of which is uncertain’.

My angling certainly fits that definition and I’m very grateful for that. Who wants to go fishing when you know what you are going to catch? The mystery of the unknown is everything.

Brightening a winters day
I started the year on the Hampshire Avon and blanked – well, only two minnows. Then next day on the same stretch caught two big chub. Moving to a lake I had an unseasonable golden tench of 5lb on very light roach gear, so for starters, enough uncertainty to fulfil the criteria.

In mid January I headed off with a group of friends for our annual pilgrimage to catch India’s sacred fish, the golden mahseer. We should be there now and given our present snow covered landscape, I wish we were.
Catching the bait 

Thomas - our chief guide
Splendid scenery
However, some ‘do-gooder’ decided that fishing in wildlife parks should be banned, so they did! It’s a disaster on two counts. Firstly, the rural economy around the area of the Cauvery River will be devastated because angling brought in tens of thousands of dollars every year. Secondly, the angling guides who carefully protected the mahseer will not be there to fight off the poachers. They might even get hungry and poach the fish themselves. So, yet another sustainable resource is likely to be destroyed by the stupidity of man.

Murrell - good to eat - no wonder he's smiling
Rama with 'small' silver mahseer
A perfect dawn
Thirty pounds of violent beauty
I’m also upset because I’m missing my angling highlight of the year. I love India and its’ people, let alone the wildlife and fishing on the Cauvery. I’ll write another post on the fishing and wildlife in a while but suffice to say it is wonderful, with all of us catching plenty of mahseer – some big ones too. I caught exactly 150 mahseer in the ten days with several of about 30lbs. but the most remarkable achievement was by Gerry Higham who caught one of 50lbs – on barbel tackle! I hope I’m proved wrong on my gloomy predictions for those wonderful fish and their guides that we’ll be back there next year with them for the ultimate holiday.
Fifty Pounds to Gerry - what a fight!

The sport was good on our return to the UK too, a day on the Avon at Britford trotting a little waggler down the far bank yielding about 40lbs of roach, dace and big chub. Several of the roach had been damaged by predatory cormorants that relentlessly  straff the valley.
Some of the few survivors

Nearly 2lbs - over ten years old and nearly dead

Mid. Feb. saw us on the Avon again but this time with a BBC News crew. The Angling Trust’s Martin Salter, Trevor Harrop of Avon Roach Project fame and myself had been invited to explain why there was a need to change the law to allow us to protect our fisheries more effectively from cormorant attacks. I supplied them with appropriate film clips and we made the national news with a well balanced story – certainly a result.

Presenting the truth to the Minister - Richard Benyon
Next day we delivered the 16,000 signature cormorant petition, ‘Our Biodiversity in Danger’ with its’ carefully researched arguments supporting a law change to the Minister, Richard Benyon. 16,000 signatures sounds impressive but when you consider that there are well over one million anglers out there, it’s pathetic. All wildlife enthusiasts are suffering because of excess cormorant predation so it is frustrating that so many anglers couldn’t even be bothered to sign their names. That school report ‘must try harder’ springs to mind! [A lot more to come on cormorants and the state of our rivers plus three films in future posts].

We hope for a concession on cormorant licencing from the Minister in February but since the petition hand over I’ve been trying to winkle out some big roach from the dwindling stocks and it’s not easy. However, I did say I like it difficult didn’t I.

Sorry about the pic. - a one arm self take - nice roach tho'
In March I was kindly invited to try to catch roach from an extremely low and clear River Dever. It was the best sort of angling, exploring a new place with very difficult fish … and I was told by the keeper that the one and only John Wilson had fished for the roach there and found them difficult, so it must be. However, they were there, which makes a pleasant change. Creeping on hands and knees, using a little Drennan bomb rod, a link ledgered AA shot on a five foot hook length with a 20 hook and single red maggot, I managed to extract seven roach, the best going 1/7. I managed to avoid most of the brown trout and grayling too, so it was a most rewarding days sport.

a bronze beauty
Roach proved elusive at the end of the season but I did snare a lovely 5+ bream from an Avon weirpool. The contrasting pictures of the weir show graphically the effect of the summers’ rain – end of season to start of season. At least the deluge saved us from an environmental disaster, a lucky escape – this time.

March 14th low water
June 16th and plenty of water

Where's those roach?
More important than catching fish is the friends that you fish with and one of my regular mates on the bank is Trevor Harrop. We were sharing a day at Sway lakes after the end of the river season and though we struggled to catch roach, I managed plenty of perch on maggots, even rudd, while Trev. remained biteless on bread. Then eventually he did get a bite and twenty minutes later he still hadn’t seen the culprit on the end of his line. Eventually success triumphed over adversity and he landed the most perfect common carp of  17/9, not even close to a monster by carp fishing standards but on 2lb line and a fine wire hook a rather skilful bit of angling. It was smiles all round.

Mud Suckers don't come any better looking than this ... the fish I mean!

On 3rdApril, Trevor and I were invited to a meeting of the ‘great and the good’ in London to discuss progress on the government’s cormorant review and the impending drought orders, ironic because as we left the building it started raining and hasn’t stopped since!
Yellow and red is the rain - a familiar radar image this summer

I never used to fish in the closed season but I so seldom have time to fish now that I have abandoned my principals and escape to the waterside whenever I can. A couple of local lakes gifted me lots of roach to 1/14 and on warmer days several carp to 18lbs. Life is too short to sit behind bolt rigs for a week to catch a mud sucker but I find stalking carp really exciting, with all mine being caught within a foot of the bank – magic.
Perfect pin country
A nice little scrapper

Our computer guru Chris Wild joined us at Beeches Brook for a cast or two and stalked several feisty carp and Trevor and Budgy, the co- founder of the Avon Roach Project bagged up on roach, watched by Robin, the bailiff and the New Forest’s champion talker.

Trevor, Budgie and Robin
Swaying with delight
I do love roach 

I fished Sway for roach a couple of times just before the proper season opened and managed to winkle out eight two pounders on the pole with a best of 2/6. I caught lots of others too, along with tench, the best a manic male of 6/8 on the pole - stretched elastic and taught nerves.

Careful with that old bit of wood Chris
Nice one Mr.Yates

A perfect summer fish

Two happy boys

June 16th dawned cold, wet and windy and I’m too old and wise to fish in horrible weather now ; after all, fishing is only a bit of fun. Trev. and I didn’t start until the 19th … and what a start. After boldly shattering the tranquility with a rake we caught 34 crucians between us, with 31 over 2lbs, all from a delightful little lake near Shaftesbury. My best was 2/12 and Trev’s 2/14. Mr Yates and Chris joined us and also had some biggies. The cake was good too.
Sue's Victoria Sponge - perfect
Deepest Dorset

Always one ounce short of the target
Next day I fished the lake above and had dozens of big roach to 1/15 on either the pole or wagglered pellet. What an opening to the season. It could only get worse – and it did. I had to do some work!



Friends for many years, Simon King and I have shared the thrill of living in Shetland with our respective families while filming otters for the BBC. We both wrote books about the experience, having grown to love the place and it’s people, the otters too.

Simon is not ‘just’ the presenting star that we are familiar with on ‘Springwatch’ but a brilliant cameraman and film maker. He has helped me out with my films several times in the past with tricky sequences like hobbies hunting dragonflies – with predictably splendid results. So when he asked me to make a little film for him celebrating the local otters return to Dorset, a far cry from Shetland, then I was pleased to oblige, particularly as it was for a Wildfowl and Wetland Trust weekend he was hosting in London. The WWT is one of my favourite charities as I’m passionate about wild geese and the wonderfully remote places they live.

Wildest Shetland 

John Busby's lovely illustrations
a far cry from Dorset

'My' otters two cubs

She trusted me
Simon had hoped to join me so that I could film him with the otters but he’s so busy we weren’t able to make it happen. It would have been ‘harmonic convergence’, for when he was a schoolboy he joined me for a week or three when making a film for his dad John and the BBC on the New Forest. I was trying to teach Simon a few basics of the film making business. Maybe I succeeded for the rest, as they say, is history. The boy done good!

Anyway, the attached film is a brief celebration of the return of the otter, one of wildlife conservations greatest success stories. They were almost extinct in southern England, restricted to just a few rivers in Devon and Cornwall, Northern England and Wales but legal protection and more importantly, the banning of the pesticide poisoning of our  countryside allowed them to recover. It just goes to show how, given the chance, nature will bounce back.

Their return has created several issues in the freshwater world but I’ll be going into that in detail in future posts. In the meantime, enjoy the otters on you doorstep while you can. They are wonderful animals.

Dorset Otters by friend Stewart Canham