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The Salmon & Trout Association - National River Fly Survey



The Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) National River Fly Survey results demonstrate that there has been a dramatic decline in river fly numbers from the 1950s to 2001. Peter Hayes, the Survey coordinator, explains that, "River flies are the miner's canary of environmental quality. They have been declining
at a tremendous rate. While there are indications that the Government and its agencies are moving to understand this problem, the willingness to ensure adequate investment to overcome the problems is perhaps still in doubt. The government and EU concerns about the poor quality of our water ways are well placed. These results place further pressure with Government to comply with new EU water regulations."

Over 182 river keepers, riparian owners, angling club officials and anglers, together spending 3,822 days on the river bank, from the Scottish Highlands to the Southern chalk streams, participated in this comprehensive overview of river fly life. The results from this national fly life survey parallel the decline
previously revealed by the Millennium Chalk Stream Fly Survey. The river fly decline is revealed as a national problem, and not just one of the chalk streams. Overall, fly numbers have fallen to one third of those observed in the 1950s and 1960s. This is not surprising given the well-evidenced declines in terrestrial insects extending across the country as a whole, with their damaging impact upon numbers of insect eating birds and other wildlife.

The survey posed the key question "How good was the fly?" Respondents replied with "Good Hatches Frequently" (GHF), "Good Hatches Infrequently", "Sparse Hatches Frequently", "Sparse Hatches Infrequently", "Very Little Fly" and "Absent". The percentage of GHF reports has fallen nationally from 85% in the
1960s to 33% in the first half of the 1990s to a devastating low of only 13% in 1998 (which increased slightly to 17% in 2000 and 2001, probably because of improved river flows following the drought years of the late 1990s).

The angler is uniquely qualified to observe and report on fly life, as anglers study flies almost as closely as fish. Fly fishers, as anglers call themselves, create imitation flies in their larval, nymph, and adult form, and cast them out to tempt fish, which rise to the surface of the water to catch river flies. Without the fly, and
the fish that feed on them, there is no fly fishing. "We now know how vital healthy river flows are in encouraging an abundance of fly life," Paul Knight, S&TA Director, declares. "Diffuse pollution including pesticides and silt, excessive water abstraction, inadequately treated sewage, and urban run-off are all having a negative impact on the health of the aquatic environment throughout the nation."

Dr. Cyril Bennett, a river fly expert with the John Spedan Lewis Trust for the Advancement of Natural Sciences, and member of the Riverfly Interest Group says, "the decline may not be one single problem across the whole country. It may be many local problems in a lot of places." Paul Knight adds, "We must do everything we can to reverse this parlous situation. The stark equation is: no fly life on the river equals no life in the river. It's that simple. The survival of fish, and ultimately, all other water-dependent wildlife, relies on an abundance of river flies heralding a healthy aquatic environment."

We must not forget, its not only the aquatic environment, which is in trouble, many birds such as Swifts, Swallows, Martins, Dabchick, Dippers and Ducklings rely on waterborne insects for their survival. We only have to look at how the Puffin numbers have dropped through their AQUATIC food source being destroyed. Action is needed now!!


Martin James Fishing
Email: info@martinjamesfishing.co.uk