Plastic In Our Rivers

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Plastic In Our Rivers

Plastic Problems

As anglers, the waters we fish matter to us. You don't need a degree in environmental science to know that a polluted lake, river, or ocean means, at first, smaller fish, and, soon, no fish at all. Anyone who spends any time by the water knows that, once the fish go, everything else crashes soon afterwards.

Britain's waters, both coastal and inland, are a major tourism draw, with anglers making up a community of holiday makers that includes bird watchers, the yachting fraternity, photographers, artists, families, and those who simply want a quiet, relaxed few days, at a slower pace, with some beautiful scenery. In areas such as the Broads National Park, angling tourism provides a vital cash injection for communities that are often in rural situations, with very little permanent, full time employment on offer for those who live there. If recreational sea angling were to be developed, with more charters offering guided sport fishing trips, from locations around the UK, coastal communities, many of which have been struggling for decades with loss of commerce, low wages, and all the social issues that come with economic deprivation, would likewise be given a hand up, and a route to sustainable economic development.

One of the most prominent issues at the moment, that is attracting attention and concern from surfers and socialites, businesses and beach bums, is the amount of plastic in oceans across the world, with many lively and passionate conversations taking place on social media, at government level, and in the press, as to what needs to be done to clear the ocean of the plastic already there, and how we can prevent plastic from getting into the oceans in the future.

Closer To Home

However, oceans are the end part of the story, and the focus on it makes it easy for those of us who don't live in coastal areas, or in the parts of the developing world that have been centred in discussions on plastic pollution, to feel we are somehow absolved of responsibility, that plastic pollution is nothing to do with us, that we're not to blame, and there's nothing we can do about it. That's a comfortable position to be in, and an untroubling one; however, with the River Thames – the historic life force of Britain, and home to many species of coarse fish, with regular matches and plenty of pleasure anglers coming to the banks of the river at every part of its course, from Seven Springs down to the sea – carrying 18 tonnes of plastic per year, it is no longer a viable one to hold. Thames anglers, particularly those in the East End of London, have often been at the forefront of raising environmental concerns relating to the health of that river in particular, and have always understood, instinctively, that the health of the Thames will likely reflect the health of other rivers across the country.

Environmental activism organisation Greenpeace are planning to travel the length and breadth of the UK, surveying rivers in towns and villages across the country, in order to map the problem of plastic pollution in rivers. As an angling retailer staffed by anglers, and on the front line of direct engagement with people as passionate about the sport as we are, we've long known that our rivers are changing for the worse. Barbel stocks in the Wensum are now virtually no existent, specimen fish are coming up smaller than anglers would expect, or simply not appearing to be present in their favoured waters at all, even larger predators such as pike aren't reaching the headline-grabbing sizes they have done; often, one or two large pike are simply being caught over and over again, which is not in the spirit of the sport, nor is it good for the health of this fish themselves.

If plastic pollution is contributing to declining health and populations in our coarse fish, in the same way as has been shown to be the case when it comes to ocean plastics, then it benefits anglers, among many other groups, to be involved in efforts to reduce the amount of plastic currently in our oceans, and resolve the issue of plastics entering our waters in the first place.

So, What's New?

With Brexit dominating Westminster, no one in the UK – from anglers to local residents to tourists, can afford to let the government lose sight of the bigger picture - the natural world we live in, and the new challenges on our doorstep.

The world has seen the impacts of plastic pollution on our oceans- turtles eating plastic, seabirds feeding plastic to chicks -but now it's time to look closer to home, to the rivers that connect us.

Just last year, scientists revealed shocking levels of plastic pollution in the River Tame in Manchester -up to half a million plastic particles per square metre.

As a result, members of Greenpeace will be crossing the UK with scientists and experts to carry out the biggest ever survey of plastic in our inland waters, and looking to see how bad things have become on the rivers that are meant to be a life source – for fish, plants, bird and mammal species, as well as for the human communities around them - not plastic waterways. Greenpeace intends to demand a rigorous, strong, and far-reaching Environment Bill, which will benefit those who take pleasure in, on, and along Britain's rivers, by ensuring their health and vibrancy for years to come.

Strength In The Bill

The Environment Bill is an opportunity for the UK to become a world leader and turn the plastic tide. Ambitious new targets can be set that massively reduce throwaway plastic and restore our natural world, with a strong environment watchdog to enforce them.

As a retailer, Angling Direct is already actively involved in working to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment, both through our policy of using biodegradable bags in our stores, and by supporting the Anglers' National Line Recycling Schemewhich takes used fishing line – which would otherwise go to landfill, with the associated risks of ending up in rivers and oceans – and turns it into new products. Our success as a company is always dependent on the success of angling as a sport, which relies on the rivers people live near, and fish regularly, being in the best possible health, with large, strong, good-looking fish being caught regularly, on waters that are observably clean, healthy, and vibrant.

You don't have to agree with everything Greenpeace say or do to see that knowing whether the UK does have a problem with river plastic pollution, and, if so, just how bad it is, is of vital importance to anglers and angling. You don't need to be any kind of activist to understand that anything that puts the health of river fish stocks at risk also puts the future of our sport at risk – if the fish are dead, you can't catch them. If they're dying, there's no sport to catching them. Nobody likes fishing a river where you're snagging on other peoples' discarded rubbish every other cast; the presence of that rubbish is a visible symptom of the wider, global problem of pollution, including plastic pollution, and your annoyance with snagged hooks and lost rigs is something you can use to change the world we live in, the world anglers enjoy fishing in, for the better.

An Environment Bill that protects Britain's rivers also serves anglers. However you feel about government legislation, you can't deny that anything that gives us, and our sport, bigger,better, healthier fish, and cleaner waters to catch them from, has to be a good thing.
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