Barbel fishing on the River Ribble - discuss

lutra

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After 40 odd years of fishing the Ribble with endless talk from anglers about how cormorants are eating all the fish. I try not to listen to it anymore. It’s just BS, the fishing has never been so good.

Despite all this cormorant BS there has been for the last 40 years that I know of, we now have huge stocks of barbel and even roach that just weren’t in many parts of the river 40 years ago.

If I’ve learnt one thing in angling over the years, it’s that anglers love to scaremonger and talk utter BS.
 

Jim Crosskey 2

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TBO good point, we're all getting a bit off topic aren't we? I have to confess that I don't know the Ribble at all - however, a number of rivers in the area where I live - Thames, Kennet, Windrush, Cherwell (just to pick the first four) have all seen significant downturns in their barbel population, so I will offer an opinion based on what I believe has happened there... which is simply that a number of parameters have changed in relation to the river environment that have made spawning and fry recruitment decrease significantly, perhaps cease all together. Abstraction is one thing, there's just less water in the rivers than there used to be... and what is left flows much slower than it did. That in turn leads to more silt in the water, which means that the perfect gravel conditions that barbel need to spawn are just not there. In some cases, I believe that signal crayfish have also had a pretty catastrophic effect, not just in the obvious one of eating fish eggs (though undoubtedly they do this...) - but in two other ways, firstly by massively decreasing the bio-mass that would be available to other organisms to eat if they weren't there; and also by causing bank erosion and increased silt by burrowing into mud banks. Another environment changer would be pollution - whilst I think the water quality in a general sense has in many ways improved, round this way we seem to have had an uptick in properly catastrophic pollution events (sewage discharge during flooding for example). Flooding undoubtedly exacerbates this (particularly in summer, as mentioned previously) Predation does also play it's part, increased otter numbers have wrecked a number of small barbel rivers, however I believe that they are really a small (and unfortunately often final) piece of the puzzle.

Because what actually happens when all these circumstances come together is that the surviving barbel population starts to grow, because the year groups beneath are not there competing for food. So a river that had maybe only ever turned up a 12lb fish is suddenly becoming well known for 14s, 15s, 16s.... and all the time those sizes keep going up, the anglers make hay whilst the sun shines, instead of asking themselves.... why is it I never catch a 3 pounder here anymore? I used to, but now they're all gone...

And this next bit is purely hypothetical and I have no evidence to back it up, other than the anecdotal evidence of what has happened to so many (particularly smaller) barbel rivers.... at the point that the otter turns up on a river, instead of finding a range of year sizes in the barbel population from years 1 through to 20 (or however long they live)... all it finds are 13lb-plus fish that are not as quick as they one were and relatively easy to catch. So it catches one or two every day for a week or two, and just nibbles out the gills and the liver because they really are the best bits... and in a matter of weeks, that once nationally famous barbel fishery is completely ruined.

Also, I'm not sure that the EA turning up with a bucket of baby barbel to dump in the river will ever really alleviate the problem (and it does seem like these fish have a habit of disappearing once they've been stocked, as opposed to creating a new breeding population). The issue will always be - are there spawning areas where new stocks can be recruited from?
 

The bad one

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Little there Jim that I disagree with other than the minor point of otters eating the gills out of a large fish. The area of a fish's body to break into is the softest part and that happens to be at that point. It's why game anglers or a fishmonger breaks in at that point. More a case of those organs just happen to be there once the predator opens up the carcass.

It also reinforces the argument I consistently have state ad nasueam on here with threads like this that we need fully sustainable systems with fish of all riverine species and sizes.
 

whitty

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Jim,on the Thames another major issue has reared it's ugly head imo,with low water conditions through summer/s and Autumn/s the river can't cope with constant lock movements,so several weirs have little,if not no flow,as it's all being used on the locks,I used to fish Culham up until recently,the only time the river flowed was when the locks opened,ten or more years before the river flowed summer,winter whatever,as for siltation,do not forget the amount of wash eroding the banks,it must be a colossal tonnage over a year...

In the South we have a lot of interference on our rivers,with the EA trying to prove that our rivers are in good hands in spite of heavily populated towns and cities,so often do very dodgy things,ie electro-fishing barbel whilst spawning(several died,two years running),cutting weed(completely)in November of this year during what amounts to drought conditions,which lowered the levels even more,which in a clear shallow river left the remaining fish completely open to predation,especially from otters.Do you get as much interest from the EA in the north?
 
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The bad one

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Jim,on the Thames another major issue has reared it's ugly head imo,with low water conditions through summer/s and Autumn/s the river can't cope with constant lock movements,so several weirs have little,if not no flow,as it's all being used on the locks,I used to fish Culham up until recently,the only time the river flowed was when the locks opened,ten or more years before the river flowed summer,winter whatever,as for siltation,do not forget the amount of wash eroding the banks,it must be a colossal tonnage over a year...

In the South we have a lot of interference on our rivers,with the EA trying to prove that our rivers are in good hands in spite of heavily populated towns and cities,so often do very dodgy things,ie electro-fishing barbel whilst spawning(several died,two years running),cutting weed(completely)in November of this year during what amounts to drought conditions,which lowered the levels even more,which in a clear shallow river left the remaining fish completely open to predation,especially from otters.Do you get as much interest from the EA in the north?
Clearly a double whammy, the crays tunnel into the bank making it unstable, the boat wash collapses the unstable material into the channel to be flushed down onto the gravels when it gets some flow on it.

As to interest from the EA Northern rivers tend to be spate rivers, and to a greater extent they do their own thing. The medelling tends to come from the river trusts in cahoots with the EA whether angling clubs want it or not :mad:
 

lutra

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TBO good point, we're all getting a bit off topic aren't we? I have to confess that I don't know the Ribble at all - however, a number of rivers in the area where I live - Thames, Kennet, Windrush, Cherwell (just to pick the first four) have all seen significant downturns in their barbel population, so I will offer an opinion based on what I believe has happened there... which is simply that a number of parameters have changed in relation to the river environment that have made spawning and fry recruitment decrease significantly, perhaps cease all together. Abstraction is one thing, there's just less water in the rivers than there used to be... and what is left flows much slower than it did. That in turn leads to more silt in the water, which means that the perfect gravel conditions that barbel need to spawn are just not there. In some cases, I believe that signal crayfish have also had a pretty catastrophic effect, not just in the obvious one of eating fish eggs (though undoubtedly they do this...) - but in two other ways, firstly by massively decreasing the bio-mass that would be available to other organisms to eat if they weren't there; and also by causing bank erosion and increased silt by burrowing into mud banks. Another environment changer would be pollution - whilst I think the water quality in a general sense has in many ways improved, round this way we seem to have had an uptick in properly catastrophic pollution events (sewage discharge during flooding for example). Flooding undoubtedly exacerbates this (particularly in summer, as mentioned previously) Predation does also play it's part, increased otter numbers have wrecked a number of small barbel rivers, however I believe that they are really a small (and unfortunately often final) piece of the puzzle.

Because what actually happens when all these circumstances come together is that the surviving barbel population starts to grow, because the year groups beneath are not there competing for food. So a river that had maybe only ever turned up a 12lb fish is suddenly becoming well known for 14s, 15s, 16s.... and all the time those sizes keep going up, the anglers make hay whilst the sun shines, instead of asking themselves.... why is it I never catch a 3 pounder here anymore? I used to, but now they're all gone...

And this next bit is purely hypothetical and I have no evidence to back it up, other than the anecdotal evidence of what has happened to so many (particularly smaller) barbel rivers.... at the point that the otter turns up on a river, instead of finding a range of year sizes in the barbel population from years 1 through to 20 (or however long they live)... all it finds are 13lb-plus fish that are not as quick as they one were and relatively easy to catch. So it catches one or two every day for a week or two, and just nibbles out the gills and the liver because they really are the best bits... and in a matter of weeks, that once nationally famous barbel fishery is completely ruined.

Also, I'm not sure that the EA turning up with a bucket of baby barbel to dump in the river will ever really alleviate the problem (and it does seem like these fish have a habit of disappearing once they've been stocked, as opposed to creating a new breeding population). The issue will always be - are there spawning areas where new stocks can be recruited from?
For me Jim, without good natural recruitment and the massive numbers it produces, any river is goosed. Killing a few of your least favorite predictors and tipping a few more fish in, is not the solution, it's a cheap fix from the EA that does just about does enough to keep anglers happy so the money keeps coming in.

For me, if you want good fishing and a longer term solution you have to look at natural recruitment, not cheap fixes.
 

Jim Crosskey 2

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Jim,on the Thames another major issue has reared it's ugly head imo,with low water conditions through summer/s and Autumn/s the river can't cope with constant lock movements,so several weirs have little,if not no flow,as it's all being used on the locks,I used to fish Culham up until recently,the only time the river flowed was when the locks opened,ten or more years before the river flowed summer,winter whatever,as for siltation,do not forget the amount of wash eroding the banks,it must be a colossal tonnage over a year...

In the South we have a lot of interference on our rivers,with the EA trying to prove that our rivers are in good hands in spite of heavily populated towns and cities,so often do very dodgy things,ie electro-fishing barbel whilst spawning(several died,two years running),cutting weed(completely)in November of this year during what amounts to drought conditions,which lowered the levels even more,which in a clear shallow river left the remaining fish completely open to predation,especially from otters.Do you get as much interest from the EA in the north?
Alan I'm not sure about those northern rivers and EA attention - I'm only a few miles away from Culham myself having grown up in Abingdon... I spent a lot of time fishing the river round that way as a kid, Abingdon and Sutton Courtenay... can only agree about the level of flow, also another aspect is that the river would flood pretty much every year, properly out over its banks... for example at Sutton the fields between the lock cut and the main cut would flood every single year without fail. I realise that no-one needs there home to be flooded so the level of water management has stepped up... but again, it's just one indicator that the environment concerned has changed a great deal.

However, chances are that other species have thrived in the wake of the barbel. I could be wrong but I don't seem to remember the thames being the chub fishery then that it is now. A 6 pound chub is a very realistic target fish now in the winter, whereas I'm pretty sure a 4 pounder would have raised eyebrows in the tackle shop in the late 80s. I never kept any fishing mags from back then but it would be very interesting to dip in to the pages of Mail or Times to see what kind of fish (from which rivers) were making the catch of the week photos... (google might help here, I'm going to have a look)
 

Jim Crosskey 2

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Little there Jim that I disagree with other than the minor point of otters eating the gills out of a large fish. The area of a fish's body to break into is the softest part and that happens to be at that point. It's why game anglers or a fishmonger breaks in at that point. More a case of those organs just happen to be there once the predator opens up the carcass.

It also reinforces the argument I consistently have state ad nasueam on here with threads like this that we need fully sustainable systems with fish of all riverine species and sizes.
That makes perfect sense, cheers!
 

whitty

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Alan I'm not sure about those northern rivers and EA attention - I'm only a few miles away from Culham myself having grown up in Abingdon... I spent a lot of time fishing the river round that way as a kid, Abingdon and Sutton Courtenay... can only agree about the level of flow, also another aspect is that the river would flood pretty much every year, properly out over its banks... for example at Sutton the fields between the lock cut and the main cut would flood every single year without fail. I realise that no-one needs there home to be flooded so the level of water management has stepped up... but again, it's just one indicator that the environment concerned has changed a great deal.

However, chances are that other species have thrived in the wake of the barbel. I could be wrong but I don't seem to remember the thames being the chub fishery then that it is now. A 6 pound chub is a very realistic target fish now in the winter, whereas I'm pretty sure a 4 pounder would have raised eyebrows in the tackle shop in the late 80s. I never kept any fishing mags from back then but it would be very interesting to dip in to the pages of Mail or Times to see what kind of fish (from which rivers) were making the catch of the week photos... (google might help here, I'm going to have a look)
The river as you say was way over the bank at least once a year and for more than a week more often than not,as for chub on the river,I'm afraid the chances of a six have increased because there are less chub competing for food,imo there were five or six times more chub in the Thames fifteen years ago,it was easy to catch them if you had an inkling if how to fish,today it is quite easy to blank,or at least only pick a couple up,I for one prefer it how it was...
 

whitty

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For me Jim, without good natural recruitment and the massive numbers it produces, any river is goosed. Killing a few of your least favorite predictors and tipping a few more fish in, is not the solution, it's a cheap fix from the EA that does just about does enough to keep anglers happy so the money keeps coming in.

For me, if you want good fishing and a longer term solution you have to look at natural recruitment, not cheap fixes.
Couldn't agree more with your post Brian,the thing is in the South these days somebody in authority needs to take charge and try to get normality back to our rivers,flow rates etc,abstraction,which in turn would clean the gravels,which would in turn and recruitment,it will never happen,money talks I'm afraid,that is why I asked the question about the Ribble/northern rivers and EA involvement,wondering if spate rivers get left alone more.
 

The bad one

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Couldn't agree more with your post Brian,the thing is in the South these days somebody in authority needs to take charge and try to get normality back to our rivers,flow rates etc,abstraction,which I'm afraid,that is why I asked the question about the Ribble/northern rivers and EA involvement,wondering if spate rivers get left alone more.
Alan I'll answer this question more fully from a historical viewpoint later today when I've more time.
 

The bad one

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Alan as to whether the northern spate river are left alone more by the EA?
In the main a spate river is one that rises on high ground and descends steeply. In England that mean flows off the Pennine range which roughly are central to the whole of the northern part of England. With the exception of the Trent, most of the larger ones are approximately the same length around 80 miles length. The descent again is also roughly the same on these rivers dropping from around 900 -1500 ft to 0 along the full length.
Because of the steep descent and when in full spate they can move vast amounts of material, moving boulders the size of an old wicker basket. This awesome power doesn't lend itself easily to man-made river management or modification as the southern lowland rivers do. So no is the direct answer to this aspect.

From a fish species perspective the added complication is in the NW from the Ribble downward, it's the old industrial belt and many of the rivers (Mersey Catchment and tributaries) were grossly polluted, to the point where nothing lived in them. So they have been stocked over the last 30 years as the catchment became cleaner and would support aquatic life including fish.
Below the Mersey other rivers like the Welsh Dee, Weaver suffered from bouts of pollution. The Dane a smallish river and part of the Weaver Catchment was always the jewel of the Cheshire Plane, mainly due to the fact it ran through low intensity pasture land for most of its course.

From the Ribble upwards is mainly Game fishing country, which over the years has had stockings of hatchery brown trout and salmon parr put in them periodically.
The Ribble itself has had stockings of fish, both coarse and game, put in it historically either legally or illegally.

The Yorkshire Rivers (Ouse Catchment) mirror in the main what I've described above but were always from my experience cleaner than those in the NW, until you got into the industrial belt of South Yorkshire.

The NE (Tyne Wear Catchments) I can't write about as I have very little experience of them. May be Sam can add his two pence worth on them?

So that's the historical aspect of the Northern Rivers Alan over the 50+ years I've fished them, so yes they have been messed about with a little, but no where near the extent the southern rivers have been from what has been said above.
 

whitty

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Strangely Phil on the Gt.Ouse at Paxton there is a large weir,even in the lowest conditions there is a good flow and it is deep,well the EA sent divers down and found that over the years due to heavy flooding the concrete structure of the sluices had been undermined and had increased depths to up to seventy feet and the whole lot was in danger of collapse(I'd found through a club source),so they brought countless tons of granite boulders in on barges and filled up the area,since this was done several heavy floods have shifted some of these boulders some seventy yards or more to the edge of the weirpool,similar happened on the D.Stour on the boulder as if at Christchurch,where the river becomes tidal,the rivers local to me are man managed,where flow rates are computer controller and sit-say up and down continually,I wonder sometimes it they know the results of they're interference with nature's way and conclude they do not.
 
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The bad one

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I know the Gt Ouse but more in the Fens around the Ouse Washes. Looking on Google Earth street view, it looks a fair weir and pool at Little Paxton. The British Geological Survey gives the whole of the Gt Ouse valley as topped with Glacial Till underlaid with Mudstone.

As both materials are either soft (mudstone) or poorly consolidated (Glacial Till) it's not surprising the weirpool is as deep as it is and the weir sill itself has been undercut and needed reinforcing.
 

The bad one

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Whilst writing the last post it triggered a memory that is in the Filing Cabinet in my head of a series of articles written by Barrie Rickards. Or to give him his proper title Professor Barrie Rickards Geologist and Palaeontologist, on the Geology of the Fens. I think the series appeared in Coarse Fisherman in the 1980s.
Must dig them out and reread them as at the time I found them fascinating.

At the risk of name dropping, I knew Barrie quite well from my SACG and SAA days and as he knew I had an interest in Geology, after catching me doing some cramming for an exam for Physical Earth Systems in a corner at a NASA conference. As a result of this, we always had a conversation about geology and its influence on fish an d fishing as and when we met after that.
 

nottskev

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So that's the historical aspect of the Northern Rivers Alan over the 50+ years I've fished them, so yes they have been messed about with a little, but no where near the extent the southern rivers have been from what has been said above.
Interesting post. Talking of the effects of management on rivers, what can you say about the Dee?

I lived in Chester for two spells 1957 – 1975, then 1992 -2004, and this beautiful river was a bit of a mystery to anglers.

Before I got any tackle, I used to watch anglers catching plenty of fish in the last stretch above the weir marking the tidal – the Groves – and when I was 11 or so I saw an angler put back a net of roach from an overnight session the likes of which I’ve not seen anywhere since – 20-odd fish over a pound, some near two. By the time I was equipped to fish, the fish had largely disappeared from the lower stretches. An angler won a qualifying match for a Danish final with a catch of an eel and a small flounder, for instance, and a few small dace were a typical pleasure catch. At the time, many locals just said, by way of “explanation”, the Dee is ****, or the Dee is overfished etc.
The better overall explanation seemed to concern the water management schemes of the early 1960’s which plugged the Dee into Welsh mountain reservoirs, the river becoming a conduit for water supply to the waterworks outside Chester, and onto Wirral and Merseyside. The water in mountain reservoirs is cold, and the average temperature of the river was lowered, suppressing the plant and insect life at the base of the food chain. This was compounded by the way the river rushes quickly and steeply down to the flat, coarse-fishing plains – still cold – and by the tree-lined banks in many areas which shade the margins from sun, further inhibiting plant and insect growth and hence fry survival. There was never any official explanation of why the fishing collapsed for a long time, but that was what I pieced together, rightly or wrongly; I wonder what ideas on the river you have, as I still have a soft spot for it though I no longer live in the area.

During the second spell I lived there, in the 90’s, it was recovering, but slowly. A mate with no car used to cycle, with his tackle, up the meadows from Chester to Eccleston, stopping to fish at intervals, looking for roach. (we didn’t think it helped when the cormorants started doing much the same thing, but not putting them back). Sometimes he’d find a pocket of fish, and catch a few, but you knew if you went back they’d be somewhere else by then. By the time I left, in 2004, the fishing was much improved, some of the enhanced catches down to EA re-stocking after a serious pollution in 2000. (But it was still a risky choice for a day out, and 8 times out of 10 I opted to drive to the Weaver or the Dane rather than risk a poor day on my doorstep.) I remember catching 35 barbel from 1-2lb in a morning on a Warrington Anglers stretch, for example, and they were growing on well, and catches in general were getting more reliable.

I believe the river is fishing very well, now that I’ve left. I’m glad if this is so. I used to wonder how the fish stocks could ever recover, given the main obstacle, the lowered temperature, seemed so fundamental. I’d be interested to hear your take on the Dee, and what has shaped it’s recent history.
 

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I have various stretches of the Dee at my disposal from Bala and Bangor on Dee to Farndon, and I've not been near which is shameful! One day Kev one day!:)
 

sam vimes

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The Yorkshire Rivers (Ouse Catchment) mirror in the main what I've described above but were always from my experience cleaner than those in the NW, until you got into the industrial belt of South Yorkshire.

The NE (Tyne Wear Catchments) I can't write about as I have very little experience of them. May be Sam can add his two pence worth on them?
I'm familiar with most of my local rivers, even though I've rarely, or never, fished some of them. From north to south you have the Tyne, Wear, Tees, Swale, Ure (the Swale meets the Ure and, a few miles downstream from the confluence, becomes the Ouse) and Nidd as main rivers.

The northerly three are quite different to the Yorkshire three. They are, or were, significantly industrialized rivers, at least in their lower reaches. Coal, steel, shipbuilding and chemical production, once on a huge scale. Significant levels of pollution were evident on all three until fairly recently. Despite having grotty lower reaches, all three have been historically considered as game fishing rivers. With some anglers, those attitudes persist. The Tyne and Tees are hugely influenced by reservoirs in their upper catchment areas. This is less significant on the Wear, but it still has some reservoir interference. The Tees is doubly interfered with in the shape of a barrage, which renders formerly tidal areas non-tidal.

The Swale is unusual in that it has absolutely no reservoirs to interfere with the natural flow. The Ure and Nidd do have the odd reservoir, but they aren't huge. Post Industrial Revolution heavy industry has had very little impact on these three. Any significant impacts on the rivers come in the form of agricultural pollution and water extraction.

Most of the rivers have suffered with ill advised peat cutting in their upland catchments. It's hard to get straight answers as to exactly who carried out such work, or the exact reasons for it, but it has altered the way the rivers respond to rainfall. You can only assume that the EA, or their predecessors, must have some input. Not surprisingly, the rivers with fewer reservoirs are the worst affected by this. Sadly, now that there are significant V channels, it's proving to be rather difficult to repair the damage to the peat.

In the last few years, there have been some efforts at flow management, certainly on the Swale. The big flood events that occurred in York, Cumbria and Somerset seemed to be the catalyst for these efforts. It was in the period where lots of people were shouting loudly that "something must be done". Gravel has been shifted around by huge diggers and bankside trees and vegetation ripped to pieces. Much of this seems to have been carried out by contractors under the auspices of the EA. This generally seemed to occur in places off the beaten track. Most people that got to see it considered it little more than pointless vandalism that would do nothing much in the longer term. The first big flood after the work was completed shifted the gravels back anyway.

My impression has always been that spate rivers are messed around much less than lowland rivers, especially those that have been altered to suit navigation or drainage purposes. However, I suspect that it's not entirely for want of trying. The simple fact is that the next big flood is likely to destroy much of whatever you try to do. The other issue is that cost/benefit analysis is likely to render all but the simplest project as a non-starter.
 

lutra

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Couldn't agree more with your post Brian,the thing is in the South these days somebody in authority needs to take charge and try to get normality back to our rivers,flow rates etc,abstraction,which in turn would clean the gravels,which would in turn and recruitment,it will never happen,money talks I'm afraid,that is why I asked the question about the Ribble/northern rivers and EA involvement,wondering if spate rivers get left alone more.
I think Phil has answered you very well, but just to echo that the Ribble is the northern border of the industrial northwest and paint my view of it.

Apart from a bit boat traffic on the tidal reaches below preston, it's a non navigable river. So no locks with the EA men knocking about and much of it runs through private farmland, so not much of anyone for large parts of it.

I would say its a river made of three rivers. The upper Ribble a nice clean largely game river that comes from lime stone country. The Hodder a clean river that comes from peat bogs over sand stone country and the Calder, a dirty river that historically brings nothing but trouble from industrial east lancashire.

Being a spate river as well being very powerful in times of spate, it can get very low in times of drought and thanks to the Caldder and farming, green and slimy with it. The next spate soon flushes it out (with east lancashire finest if it's a big spate). So not a river without its problems and I do wish at times that we saw a bit but more of the EA.
 

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Some interesting discussion above but to bring this thread back on topic if I may, are some saying that the cormorant issue is actually not an issue at all and that the river and it's catchment would be in similar or better position if we gave up their licensed control? I ask as someone who is named on several site specific (6 bird pa) licenses in the area.
 
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