Tuesday 26 March 2013


           Wildlife Film Maker Killed by Otter – from Sleep Deprivation

28yrs old and a family treasure - killed by an otter in mid afternoon
I can believe the headline because I’m that victim. The time is 02.45 and the otter is just outside the window right now, eating the last of our golden orfe. I have tried to keep it away with a six foot fence and by lighting the pond, even shining a torch at the ‘playful’ little otter as it runs around our garden but every night this last week it has found a way in, keeping me awake in my futile attempts to protect our fish. It’s all over now, the last fish has just been eaten, I’m exhausted and the otter will go hungry.
just nine inches long - poor little fish

the children's pet fish
just orful - sorry - sick joke
a prize rudd left for dead
It is distressing and sad when fish that have grown up as our children’s pets are killed, especially when a healthy ecosystem is destroyed. The pond was a vibrant haven of life, native fish such as rudd breeding successfully, weed growth flourishing, the surface alive with dragonflies, damselflies and even mayflies, aquatic life flourishing, fed on by mallard ducklings and minnows dived on by kingfishers. Now it’s all gone and the situation is deeply disturbing.

home sweet home or otter heaven?
a wildlife haven
under siege last year
midnight feast
the remains of a once vibrant ecosystem - heartbreaking
The final act was when the otter absolutely trashed the place, ripping up lilies in order to eat the last few minnows. I feel sympathy for an otter that is so hungry it has to hunt minnows. I also realise that my losses are nothing compared to those that are trying to make a living running carp fisheries and farming fish. There are big problems out there and I naturally ask why?

chomping on a grayling c. Stewart Canham
It’s easy to suggest that the increase in the numbers of otters leading to competition for territory and food is a contributory factor and more than likely it is. For a more significant cause look no further than the cormorant, emptying the River Stour of silver fish so that this young otter just outside my window tonight has had to travel a mile from the river, over the A31, up a little stream across the fields and over a six foot fence just to look for something to eat.

an Anglers Mail report - the dangers are real
Adding to the problem is the 95% decline in eel numbers, a favourite food of otters. We can’t change the fact that otters are fish eaters and that they are hungry. We can only hope that the government changes the law regarding the right to protect our rivers and lakes from the ravages of the hordes of hungry cormorants.

as appearing in the RSPB's Birds Magazine
If we accept the scientific evidence that each of the 23,000 cormorants that travel from the continent each winter eat a pound of fish a day, then it is also easy to accept that removing 23,000 pounds of our native wildlife a day every day throughout the winter is surely un-sustainable, especially in the long term. It is already having a detrimental effect on our biodiversity.

Then we have the non-native signal crayfish destroying fish recruitment by eating their eggs, an Oxford University Study on the Thames calculating that there are 10,000 crays per half mile of river. Now that is simply depressing.

Red for danger c. Stewart Canham
one down, millions to go c. Ton Dopp
Worse still, it seems that most wildlife conservation organisations are either ignorant or are in denial that our rivers face serious problems and when I try to explain what is going on, they say I am wrong. If they had observed the declines that I have witnessed these past thirty years, they would be moved to tears like me. As I’ve said before, it takes ten years for a roach to grow to 2lbs and two minutes for a cormorant to eat it, so we’re running out of time – fast!

the king of fishers c. Charlie Hamilton James
down the hatch c. Roger Cresswell
Being a lover of all wildlife, I wrote to the RSPB’s Chief Executive, Mike Clarke. I have been a member for over fifty years and ran their Film Unit for five years but when I described what was happening out there and the loss of fish eating birds, [three local pairs of Great Crested Grebes for starters], he as good as told me I was lying. In fact, despite telling me so, he had no evidence that grebes weren’t in decline because when I checked with the British Trust for Ornithology they told me that there hasn’t been a breeding survey since 1975. I was disappointed by his dismissive attitude and alarmed that just because it’s got feathers, he’s prepared to invent facts to protect the cormorants’ reputation. I reminded him that there are lots of fish eating species out there and some might already be struggling through lack of prey.
big but thin as a rake, caught on a 10mm boilie while barbeling

predator eats predator

bitterns c. Val Smith
big bills but lovely birds c. Niall Benvie
Sadly, we have to accept that most wildlife enthusiasts aren’t even aware that fish life is wildlife and that it plays an important part in our freshwater ecosystems. It’s up to us anglers to join the conservationists, to change their attitudes, to educate them about life underwater … and the sooner we do so the better. As a contribution, the attached film attempts to explain some of the facts. I plan to do a lot more, but this is a start … and don’t knock me for suggesting that the return of the otter is a conservation success story with few parallels because it is. The otter is a problem because the freshwater environment is in trouble and they are hungry but you have to accept that most folk are excited if they see one and so am I, even in the garden! It’s a shame for all of us that because we have filled the countryside with carp, they’ve become the otters’ favourite food.

one of our big carp - pulled out of the pond into the stream
another night of killing

As many of you are aware, the thing that has upset a lot of anglers is the thoughtless release of large numbers of captive bred otters into an ecosystem that might not be able to support them, especially after the 95% decline in eels. There should be a law in place that allows Natural England to insist on an ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ before any release to protect the balance of nature and the otters, because the increasing incidents of otters killing each other due to lack of space is alarming. Deaths on roads have increased a lot too. Releasing an apex predator into the wild should require a license. We should push for that, not seek to control their numbers and shoot ourselves in the foot. No one will condone the killing of otters, however valid it appears to be.

Otters are one of the UK’s most popular animals and my wife Sue suggests that I may be partially responsible because in 1982 I made the first ever film on wild otters for BBC1. It attracted an audience of a staggering 17.3 million and it’s ironic that they were so rare then that I had to travel all the way to Shetland to film them. Now one is outside in the garden, eating the last of our fish.

great animals but trouble for fish c. Stewart Canham

Everyone is claiming that no further releases are taking place but it seems clear that this is a lie. Now there is a report that otters are having re-productive problems due to hormone disrupting chemicals in the water. So maybe the much celebrated return of the otter is reaching a natural watershed? There are no easy answers!

Thursday 21 March 2013


a cracking 2lb roach and now a rarity
Emotions run high when the river season ends, a mixture of regret and relief. There is nothing better in life than trotting a float down a lively river in the hope that it will cease floating and it’s sad when that pleasure is denied us. At the same time it is a relief when we don’t have to agonise over when the river will be just right for roach or whether there are still any roach to catch.

1lb15 and a half of H.Avon roach - I need new scales.
Being a roach fanatic isn’t easy these days and the last two winters have been a struggle for me, the first for years when I have failed to catch a Hampshire Avon two pounder. I came close before Christmas, a cracker of 1/15 and a half encouraging me to think that it was the start of a good winters fishing but alas, it turned out that it was the largest I caught from any river this past season.

I didn’t even catch lots of roach and the suggestion from my ‘friends’ that it was because I’m rubbish might have an element of truth in it. However, I suspect it was because at almost every swim I tried a cormorant surfaced just downstream, though I won’t bang on about them in this story, just celebrate the pleasure of being by the waterside.

John Slader with lovely Test trout
My last angling adventure post ended with me being mullered by mullet, tho’ Trev and I did catch a few more before they left the estuary for the deeper water in the English Channel. Variety being the spice of life – and fishing – a stint of fluff flinging on the Test, courtesy of S&TA stalwart and fishing pal John Slader fitted the bill perfectly. It is great sport, trying to land the right fly in the right spot to fool a fish that has seen it all before. Judging by my inept attempts, ‘spotty herberts’ certainly prove a lot easier to catch than big roach.

easier to catch than roach
Minister Richard Benyon with S&TA's Paul Knight
One of the days was set aside to help MP’s catch trout … along with bending their ears about what is ailing our rivers, eloquently expressed by S&TA Director and all round good guy, Paul Knight. It is an invaluable opportunity to show anglers concerns for the environment , especially when Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon is able to attend. The river might look splendid on the surface but below it is a different story, much to the surprise of non-angling MP’s. It makes for a cracking day and even the beginners catch fish … much to their delight.

MP Jon Crudass with a good 'un
the River Test at Dave's - a little bit of heaven
the legendary Dave Steuart showing us the way

The next highlight was a trip to Dave Steuart’s beat on the River Test at Romsey with angling mate and Man.U fanatic Gerry Higham. It was a cracking day of roach and grayling in the sunshine as well as reminiscing with Dave over mugs of tea. What a host of stories Dave has … he is an important part of angling’s history and needs to be archived!

Gerry Higham with a lovely Test roach
Autumn glory on the H.Avon
Autumn for me and many of you no doubt is barbel and chub time and I managed one memorable day when I caught three chub and four barbel, the best only 7+ but a cracking days sport. On another day I thought I’d hooked something larger as a lump gave me a good scrap. It was 12lbs. but a carp, tho’ a beautiful, Billy Bunter of a common.

a really beautiful common
Roach fishing commenced and over several scattered ‘last knocking’ evenings, I had several to 1/12 plus a few chub and big bream, but the largest roach as mentioned earlier fell an agonising half ounce short of the magical mark. It was nearly Christmas so I asked for a new set of scales, ones that always make some anglers roach over two pounds!

Polar bear on melting ice in the midnight sun
will this winter never end?
There was a time when I could happily sit for days in crippling cold temperatures in the high Arctic, waiting for a polar bear to appear, but the years of mileage are making me more sensible and less inclined to sit for hours waiting for a blank to unfold. I feel the cold now too. This winter – that seems reluctant to go away – has felt cold to my old bones and with the rivers running so fast with snow melt too and few fish or blanks the norm, I have few successes to report.

outside the office window it's not much of a day for roach
a winters day at Sway and some cracking sport
getting lucky - first cast and 2/3 of perfect roach
Lakes seemed more sensible when I did venture out and I’ve already mentioned the 2/3 roach on my first cast into Sway Lakes this year. I had another day out there and caught a perch of 2/3 and roach of 1/13 but as my wife Sue said, “you only catch when you go to a pond and what’s the point of that”. Harsh!

2lb+ of Sway perch 
a proper river bream and on the float too

A last throw of the dice on the Avon produced just two roach to 10ozs and a couple of fighting fit bream – I really like fast water bream – also a host of happy memories shared with Trev and Jim. 

Trev doing what he loves best

Trev caught three roach and Jim blanked, though he did get a bite and was so surprised he swears his heart stopped.

Jim still ticking

Just to prove that at least some of his family aren’t plonkers, Jim’s sons often show him how it should be done, though to be fair, I guess he did teach them everything they know, or so he claims. But isn’t it great to see youngsters catching fish. Sadly, the pics wouldn't scan properly but Charlie caught roach and grayling to 1/8 and Ben a really fat pike of 13lbs.

celebrating seasons end - I wonder why there's camera shake

I decided the final day of the season was just too cold and bright to catch any roach so I dug the garden instead. It almost makes up for missing the last day of the season … but not quite.

Tuesday 12 March 2013


There’s a toxic concoction of threats out there and at risk of putting a dampener on your end of season fishing, the reality in the world of wildlife is alarming. We live at a time of unprecedented declines in many species of freshwater wildlife and unless we all work together to reverse the declines, it ain’t going to get better any time soon. The list makes depressing reading.
seriously cute - c. Stewart Canham

- Water voles down by 90% - the fastest declining mammal in Britain.

European eel - maybe 20yrs. old
- Freshwater eels down by 95%

- White-clawed crayfish facing extinction.

like a little jewel c. Sarah Williams

Royalty grilse - one of the few survivors

Hen salmon heading for their redds

- Southern salmon threatened by global warming.

- Many river species in decline, especially roach.
Hampshire Avon roach at Britford
The list goes on and sometimes I feel powerless to do anything to help … but I try, not just by making conservation films but by supporting the Angling Trust, the Salmon and Trout Assoc. the Dorset Wildlife Trust, the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB. They don’t always say what I think they should! but at least I have a voice through them and access to the facts to carry the protection of our beleaguered freshwater habitats forward.

  The Avon at Downton - roach heaven - in the good old days!
a fish's last look c. David Kjaer
The good news is that nature, given half a chance, has wonderful powers of recovery. The bittern is a classic example. Extinct in the UK in 1886, recovered to only  eleven booming males by1997, the creation of habitat by the RSPB and other conservation organisations has seen them increase to a present population of seventy five breeding pairs ; a brilliant result. If we anglers did more to create habitat for fish they might well recover too and it won't be just bitterns that are grateful.

If every conservation organisation worked together to create a healthier freshwater environment then we would all be a lot better off - our wildlife too. And if each of us joined at least one of the Trusts we might influence the government to change things for the better. I know times are hard financially but joining the Angling Trust is not expensive and we sure need them to fight our corner.

another perch down the hatch c. Steve Allen
The excessive predation by cormorants is just one issue and it’s reaching the crucial stage when decisions will be made by the government on future licensing controls  – or not – so please read the attached and support the work of the Trust in protecting our threatened fish.

Cormorants - Dossier of Destruction