July 2019 

Last year provided a great test of journalism trying not to be too gloomy about July ’18 and it hasn’t been any easier in 2019. Historically the rivers of Wales thrive on rainfall in the summer. This and last year were similar in that just 1” fell in mid Wales. Frustratingly, the rest of the country had (enjoyed?) thunder, lightning and flooding, while Wales again missed out, though a small quantity fell right at the end of the month. Finding anyone who actually went salmon fishing was hard enough: getting a report even harder.

On the Wye, the month started with levels dropping off from the June rain. Levels held just enough for two fish to be caught in the upper Wye: Nyth and Rectory; two from the lower Wye (Wyesham and Bigsweir) and one somewhere in the middle…. 5 in all, arguably a significant improvement on 2018 which was zero! The new temperature gauge at Llanstephan initially showed typical summer levels and didn’t reach critical levels until the end of the month, so why wasn’t the lower Wye fishing as it normally would?

The Erwood (upper Wye) hydrograph for July

The answer: a massive algal bloom, turning the river brown below Hereford and bringing salmon fishing from there downstream to a sudden and abrupt end. It was present before the June rain but even more so afterwards. In July it became apparent that the bloom was starting further upstream in Wales. Any prizes for guessing what has changed to bring this about? Well, the sewerage systems are in the same places, some working more efficiently, some maybe not. Possibly the amount of slurry/farm yard muck that finds its way into the system is roughly the same.

Obviously the nature of the algal problem is worse in a long river where multiplication can take place many, many more times in the water column as it slowly progresses downstream. However, the problem today is that the bloom starts above Glasbury, allowing an opportunity for a massive increase in cell numbers. Of course, the modest June spate and warm weather has something to do with assisting the blooms. Nevertheless, the whole ecology of this protected Special Area of Conservation (SAC) changes when blooms are as bad as they have been in the past few years and that needs recognition and urgent action from both Governments if there is to be any credibility to their respective Green and Sustainability credentials. I have always maintained that water quality is a function of good and sustainable land management. There also needs to be a halt to the ‘back door’ planning consents for intensive units in Wales.

Moving on, we have no reports from elsewhere but a notable first Wye fish: Magnus Philipps caught his fish from the Neck of the Rectory and that was exactly where his father, Ivo took his first fish a generation ago! Magnus’ fish came to a trout nymph and you can see the delight on the face of both father and son: just one of five fish for the month.

 

And what of August? As always rain is needed to clean the system, end the algal bloom, bring in new fish and liven up those there. There was a 6” rise at the end of July and fish were seen in the upper Wye including a grilse but this is not nearly enough. If you study rainfall predictions you see an all too familiar pattern: rain promised few days ahead but as that day dawns, the promise has shifted a few days later only for the same thing to happen again. Is this a climate change phenomenon or an overly defensive approach by meteorologists? So as usual we need rain and even more of it as the season is running away…..

Next month I will update you on progress with the Foundation’s fish pass work.

Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE