Char, Fly-fishing, Gamefisher, River restoration, Trout, Uncategorized, Writing

S&TC Gamefisher 2018: Wild Ennerdale

For the second year running I’ve been greatly privileged to contribute a feature to S&TC’s Gamefisher magazine – this time on the hot topic of rewilding, and how it’s actively taking place in Ennerdale on the western edge of Cumbria:

Because water flows downhill, rivers are the sum total of everything that’s happening on the land around them, and now it’s deeply satisfying to look out over Ennerdale’s valley floor and see it covered in an open fuzz of willow, birch and other native trees that our Mesolithic ancestors would have known.

The Liza has a reputation for being one of the most violently energetic spate rivers in Britain, but clearing the conifers has set the river free again, and walking across the bare, wandering braids between the remaining belts of spruce and larch already gives you the feeling of being somewhere much wilder than the edge of the Lake District: Norway, perhaps, or the west coast of Canada…

Most anglers like to think of their favourite fish (whatever those may be) as Churchill apparently thought of Russia: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In the case of Ennerdale’s char, this search for mystique may have some truth to it, because these fish really are the riddle at the heart of the Wild Ennerdale project, a landscape-scale partnership between Natural England, United Utilities, the Forestry Commission and the National Trust since 2003.

If the char are doing well again, it’s because the whole valley is coming back to life around them – complete with half-wild Galloway cattle doing the work of ancient aurochs, grazing at deliberately low densities and ploughing up muddy areas to help native trees set seed – and a newly-wild river that’s learning how to throw itself around in the landscape again, eating footpaths, chewing on trees and ripping up joyful meanders at will…

I’m hugely grateful to Tom Fort for giving me the opportunity to write this article (one that I’ve had in mind for some time) and also to Rachel Oakley, the National Trust‘s Wild Ennerdale project officer, for double-checking my facts and supplying some really beautiful extra photos.

It’s my understanding that Gamefisher is prioritised for members of S&TC, but if you haven’t joined yet, you may be lucky enough to pick up a copy at one of the country shows this summer (I’ve sometimes seen them in shops like Farlows too…)