Thursday, June 07, 2012

Pike fishing part of way of life in the Fens, says MP

"With Chris here, we're also providing an amenity for fishing people as well which is incredibly important," says North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham before he unveils the plaque, declaring the end of a three-year refurb of the Relief Channel Tail Sluice. 

"One thing I would like to say about the Environment Agency, they do take the fisheries policy incredibly seriously and that is part also of the culture and way of life of this area."

Clouds sailed menacingly overhead, as dignitaries and journalists gathered for the official re-opening of the imposing structure, which stands at the end of the Relief Channel, dug after the catastrophic floods of 1947 to protect large swathes of the Fens from future flooding.

The channel acts as a 12-mile-long reservoir, storing excess water from the Ouse. When the tide falls in the tidal river south of King's Lynn, the mighty gates rise and allow water to escape down the tidal river to the sea.

As the speeches finish, I spot a seal close to gates. Cameramen rush to catch a glimpse, as I point it out. Mr Bellingham asks me what it's feeding on. My guess is smelts, I say, judging by the herons lined up along the mud bank, as the gates lift and water swirls into the tidal.

We talk pike, as reporters wait their turn to speak to the MP. Asked whether I could catch one this afternoon, I say it's doubtful as their numbers have declined in the channel in recent seasons. Dr Geoff Brighty, regional manager for the Environment Agency, concurs when I say believe this is down to fluctuating water levels and flows around their spawning time.

I explain this to a couple of hacks. "Don't, just don't get him going on about pike," yawns a photographer, as the press pack tire of my thoughts on the predator/prey balance in the drains. A few miles from our offices, the sluice stands between thousands of homes and the onset of climate change, protecting properties and farmland from rising sea levels and our increasingly erratic weather.

The EA has spent £1.8m replacing the chains which lift the huge steel sluice gates. It's also replaced the seals, as in the ones which stop salt water leaching through into the freshwater channel at high tide through the gates.

A few miles upstream at Denver, the gates which allow water to flow out to sea from the Ouse have also been de-silted, meaning less water will be diverted down the Relief Channel, meaning less of the harsh run-offs which may have impacted on predators' spawning success.

I feel good about the start of the season, as I drive back to the office.

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