Saturday, 21 March 2015

Hickling Broad

I have committed a cardinal sin in naming a Pike water and what’s more I’m now about to make it worse by writing about it. I apologise if this offends anyone but I don’t do this lightly, I do it for good reason.

 The Broad’s fishing history is one of periods of good fishing punctuated by blooms of the toxic algae Prymnesium parva which destroys the fishery.  These blooms have an uncanny knack of “coinciding” with dredging or weed cutting carried out by the Broads Authority.  One such cycle which took place in 1999-2000 is brilliantly described by Stephen Harper in his book “Dream Pike”.



I first fished the broad over a decade ago on a wild wintery day which saw Rich and I blown off the mudweights and drifting down the broad in a blizzard.  This water is renowned for being rock hard but over the years I learnt how to fish it and discovered a handful of spots where I could be confident of finding a Pike or two.  I grew to love fishing the wide open waters beneath a massive flatland sky.  The Harriers soaring overhead became familiar, we often heard Bittern and occasionally saw them too.  Rich and I both caught memorable fish from the broad and by 2011 I would back myself to catch a Pike from it in almost any conditions, throughout the Pike season.  What we didn’t realise at the time was that winter was the peak of another mini revival for the biggest of Norfolk’s broads, in fact a Broadland angler of long experience stated it was as good as he’d ever known.

Near the peak

The following spring the BA commenced its ill-conceived dredging and ‘island recreation scheme’ and the subsequent deadly bloom of Prymnesium parva was well documented on these pages.  The Pike fishing on the Broad was dire the following season, Pike were notable by their absence.  However the next season (2nd since the bloom) showed promising signs and it seemed like the Broad was on the road to recovery.  Unfortunately the season that has just passed was very poor again, not just poor it was, well it was just weird.  Before Christmas there were a few fish about but not where we would expect them to be in any numbers.  Most of those we caught were small and came from unexpected places.  The new year saw silver fish massed in unbelievable numbers but a broad that seemed to be devoid of Pike.  This I experienced myself and it has become apparent that other anglers have found that the Pike in particular have behaved in totally unpredictable ways.  Something strange was happening on the Broad. 
 On March 9th reports came through of dead fish being spotted on the broad, rumours of recent dredging circulated.  This eventually jogged my memory; I had seen a crane or something in the woods on the other side of the road at the end of Catfield dyke.  The ditches in this area are pumped under the road and into the dyke.  I emailed Dan Hoare at the BA who stated that the authority had not undertaken any dredging in the area, this work had to have been done privately and evidently had not received permission from Natural England.
 Over the weekend there were sporadic reports of dead fish on the Broad then on Monday 16th fish were seen in distress in the boatyards at the far Northern end, the Environment Agency took action and with PAC's main main John Currie helping, over the next two days more than two hundred thousand fish were netted and relocated to safe parts of the system.  Boats surveyed the broad and discovered around two hundred dead fish including Pike, Perch, eels, Bream and Roach.  Steve Lane and co. from the EA worked hard and went beyond the call of duty saving fish. Scientists from the John Innes centre who are researching Prymnesium parva took water samples and removed dead fish for testing.
 The next day more dead fish were reported and by the evening of the 19th the boat yards were once again heaving with fish that had left the main broad to escape the toxin.  The following morning the EA team were in action again netting and transferring fish to safer waters.  Details of the EA’s work can be found here;
 Water samples taken at the end of Catfield dyke were negative for toxins.  Those with their heads in the sand will say this proves the Prymnesium outbreak was not down to dredging, it’s just another “coincidence”.  Those of us that don’t believe in such things will point out that the toxin would have dispersed naturally down the dyke, aided by the strong westerly winds on the days that preceded the first dead fish being sighted.  The water may have been fine when the tests were taken but was almost certainly deadly a few days before.


Friday 20th saw the EA team in action with the nets once again, another successful operation which saw a further forty thousand fish netted and released in safe waters.  This brought the total to over a quarter of a million fish saved.  It’s interesting that the fish massed in the boatyards would risk death through lack of oxygen rather than face the lethal toxin on the main broad.  As yet there has been no official confirmation that Prymnesium parva is present on Hickling Broad but no one involved doubts for a second that this is the case.  At this time few fish are turning up dead on the Broad so it seems we may have been lucky, the fish have moved away from the toxin in numbers and a full scale fish kill has been avoided.
9th March 2015

So having established that disturbing sediment through dredging or other work can lead to outbreaks of a deadly fish killer, surely people would have enough sense to avoid such action?  Sadly not, voices within the yachting fraternity continue to pressure the Broads Authority into more dredging and damn the consequences!  This will seem ridiculous to many but dredging is scheduled for this coming autumn and this work is set to take place at the northern end of Hickling Broad, close to the very area where the fleeing fish have taken refuge this week.  These people are only worried about sailing their unsuitable boats and care nothing for the chain of life invisible to them beneath the water.  They presumably care nothing for the birds and mammals that rely on fish for food either, but why would they?  They make far too much disturbance to stand a chance of actually seeing Bittern, Grebes, Kingfishers, Egrets, Herons or indeed Otters.  As long as ignorant attitudes remain, Hickling Broad will remain at risk from Prymnesium parva blooms and as was witnessed in 1969, a big outbreak could literally wipe out the system.

1 comment:

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