Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thurne pike living on borrowed time

For once, pike in the vulnerable River Thurne seem to have escaped the worst of the floods which ravaged Norfolk.

But tens of thousands of coarse fish died as a North Sea storm surge drove salt water inland, what some described the highest tides in 40 years.

And climate change experts are already warning such occurences will become common place, as climate change leads to rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns.

As hopes faded that a missing sea angler, who was swept out to sea by a massive wave would be found alive, a leading scientist said similar storms to the one which lashed East Anglia's low-lying coastline on Tuesday night would become a regular occurence.

Keith Tovey, of the University of East Anglia, told the Eastern Daily Press: "Where such events might have occurred once in a generation, they may now happen every decade, and in the not-too-distant future that could be every two or three years.”

As the flood waters recede, the worrying thing for all anglers is that the incurion of salt water into the Broads would become increasingly common.

Pike anglers know that the shallow Thurne is particularly vulerable to salt tides. At times the river's predators have been all-but wiped out, taking a decade or more for the fishing to recover.

Some are already blaming the worst of the flooding, along the Yare and Waveney valleys, on new flood defences which contain rivers instead of allowing them to spill onto flood plains which have soaked up excess water for centuries.

Pressure to build new homes means housing encroaches onto more and more of them, meaning flood defences are built in a bid to divert water away.

The Upper Thurne and its legendary pike fisheries are in the front line, as the Government talks of managed retreat, rather than trying to protect the fragile coastline which stands between them and the increasingly-unpredictable North Sea.

But there was anger in Parliament today when North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham - a keen angler - told the Commons the Environment Agency would be spending £14.9m less this year on flood risk management, claiming the cut would mean less channel clearance and maintenance, less flood mapping and fewer feasibility studies.

Pike anglers are no strangers to the affect of EA budget cuts on their fishing, with the agency seemingly powerless to combat widespread fish killing.

Environment Minister Ian Pearson said the EA's budget for next year had not yet been set, but admitted there had been a cut this year.

But Mr Bellingham said: “The minister doesn't seem to understand that if you cut revenue spending on flood defences, they will deteriorate”.

While the Thurne's pike appear to have escaped the anger of the North Sea this week, it's clear some of our finest pike fisheries are living on borrowed time.