Share alike

Re­spect the tree-hug­gers and bird­ers, writes Richard Donkin

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - First Cast - Richard Donkin is a jour­nal­ist and has fished in Nor­way and Ice­land. His favourite river is the Aberdeen­shire Dee.

IT’S DIF­FI­CULT, WHEN STAND­ING ON a river­bank in­tent on fish­ing your favourite pool, to see things as oth­ers see them. Imag­ine – well you don’t have to imag­ine on lower beats – look­ing down the pool at a bob­bing be­whiskered head, its moon-eyes re­turn­ing your gaze. For a large swathe of peo­ple, the bul­bous form of a seal is the em­bod­i­ment of cute. Bask­ing on the blad­der-wrack at low tide, the seal may not im­press as a hunt­ing ma­chine. But to my prej­u­diced eyes, the an­i­mal I’m look­ing at is a barely-dis­guised sack of re­con­sti­tuted fish. I’m not imag­in­ing cod, crab or any other sea-liv­ing species dis­solv­ing in its di­ges­tive juices, but sil­very slabs of sal­mon and sea-trout, snatched from their mi­gra­tory path. That might ex­plain how I could so dis­pas­sion­ately wit­ness the clin­i­cal shoot­ing of a seal, when min­utes ear­lier I had seen it chomp­ing on a spring sal­mon that could have been mine. The seal was only do­ing what seals do, though here it was well above the es­tu­ary, hav­ing de­cided there were rich pick­ings fur­ther up­stream. And we, in turn, were do­ing what we do, the shooter with his gun, the fish­ers com­pet­ing with ev­ery other preda­tor to catch a re­turn­ing fish. Un­like the other river preda­tors, for us it’s not about sur­vival. Our crit­ics, nev­er­the­less, should ac­knowl­edge that thou­sands of liveli­hoods de­pend on our pres­ence. On a broader front we might con­sider all the other re­lated field­sports – the game-shoot­ing, fox-hunt­ing and fal­conry that have en­riched, or de­spoiled the coun­try­side, de­pend­ing on your per­spec­tive. I be­long to that bloc of game-fish­ers – I’ve no idea how big it is – that also en­gages in shoot­ing. I don’t shoot with the same in­ten­sity as some, nor do I con­done all that hap­pens in shoot­ing. Some prac­tices, such as bury­ing shot game, dis­gust me. The shooter who can’t be both­ered to mark and pick his kill or who takes no in­ter­est in bird wel­fare or their culi­nary use, is not wor­thy of the name. Too many es­tates are pan­der­ing to wal­let-driven shoot­ers who buy their space in the butts while re­main­ing un­apolo­get­i­cally ig­no­rant of their sur­round­ings. Once, es­tab­lished es­tates were un­der­pinned by a strong sense of stew­ard­ship – pre­serv­ing the land for the en­joy­ment of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. To­day, new money turns up in “Chelsea trac­tors”, sport­ing the lat­est tassled fin­ery, then re­turns to the city, hav­ing gained no more un­der­stand­ing of the coun­try­side than a cow herd has for a col­la­toralised debt obli­ga­tion. There’s far more of this non­sense in shoot­ing than in fly-fish­ing, for the sim­ple rea­son that fly­fish­ing in­volves a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the quarry and takes some com­mit­ment in time for un­cer­tain re­turns. We have not yet, and I hope we never do, reached the stage when a fish can be guar­an­teed. Yes, there are spates that de­liver good heads of not-too-fussy tak­ing fish, but, even then, the fish must be brought to the net and landed and ei­ther swiftly dis­patched or re­turned with care. Tech­ni­cal shoots have emerged pre­sent­ing high birds that re­quire a skilled shot. But any­one can hit a bird when the sky is thick with them, at vary­ing heights. Does any of this mat­ter? Well, yes it does, be­cause if we don’t take care to build un­der­stand­ing of what we do and how it re­lates to the greater en­vi­ron­ment, there can be no fu­ture in game­fish­ing or shoot­ing. Fish­ing is a great and hon­ourable past-time with a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and deep tra­di­tions, but those of us who par­take can­not al­low our­selves to get out of step with the con­cerns of the wider com­mu­nity, nor can we dis­miss other lovers of wildlife as lightweights. We must ac­cept that thou­sands of peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about wildlife arm them­selves with noth­ing more deadly than a cam­era and do not share that al­most primeval de­sire to con­nect with the wild in ways ex­plored by our an­ces­tors. Be­fore the Vic­to­rian era, most peo­ple would have been puz­zled by the no­tion of “live and let live”. Preser­va­tion for the first col­lec­tors of but­ter­flies and birds in­volved traps and formalde­hyde. Charles Dar­win, one of the fa­thers of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism, de­scribed shoot­ing as “bliss on Earth”. To­day we live in dif­fer­ent times. We put back most of what we catch, while qual­i­fy­ing our at­ti­tudes to other species. There’s al­most a hi­er­ar­chy of an­i­mos­ity di­rected at river preda­tors. Ot­ters, hunted indiscriminately in the past, are a source of joy and af­fec­tion to­day. We’ll over­look the odd fish car­cass or shrug if they’ve ran­sacked our pool. Seals we view dif­fer­ently, par­tic­u­larly if they have the au­dac­ity to swim up­river. Mean­while, we re­vere the sight of a cir­cling osprey, yet the ma­raud­ing cor­morant we eye rather as Edgar Al­lan Poe wrote in The Raven, as a “ghastly, gaunt and omi­nous … thing of evil”. If game-fish­ing is to en­joy a rep­u­ta­tion as the most en­light­ened field­sport, it can only do so through a de­sire to learn how the cy­cle of life and pre­da­tion re­lates to the of­ten-rub­bery con­cept of sus­tain­abil­ity. We shouldn’t shoot now and learn later, and nor should we cloak our­selves in club­bable prej­u­dice. Each of us needs to ap­pre­ci­ate fish­ing in a way that squares with how we view the world, and that view can­not be blink­ered to en­vi­ron­men­tal change – it’s hap­pen­ing and it mat­ters. Fish­ing has to be a broad church for in­di­vid­u­als of an in­de­pen­dent mind. Let’s leave the pack men­tal­ity to other pur­suits.

“…nor should we cloak our­selves in club­bable prej­u­dice”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.