The Net

The gang with the days finds

The gang with the days finds

Back to the beach last week with my loyal gang of volunteers. This time we were cleaning one of our most protected pieces of coastline under the watchful eye of Reculver Towers on the North Kent coast.

After another blustery hike along the shingle collecting the normal hoard of drink cans, bottle tops and strange plastic cockle pots which have been washed up on the shoreline we set ourselves the task of retrieving a huge trawler net which had been torn loose from one of the factory fishing vessels which line the coast and had become firmly wedged in the shingle. The guys in the group quite liked the idea of this challenge but no amount of grunting and tugging could pull the thing loose so we tied together every bit of rope and haulage strap we could find and attached the lot to our mini bus.

At the wheel of the mini bus I inched forward, feeling the ropes strain and the shingly weight of the net slowly drag itself a few inches up the beach before….ping, the ropes would snap. Time and again, we shortened the ropes, created more and more elaborate knots and reattached the whole lot to the net.

cutting up the net

Hilary, one of my feisty women who had declared it was too cold to leave the mini bus was soon to be found on top of the net giving instructions and wielding a knife to cut bits free.

“I thought you didn’t want to get involved,” I said.

“But now it’s a project,” she said

and so it was, a project to get this huge destructive bit of debris off our beach before it washed back out to sea in a storm and floated around ensnaring all manor of sea creatures before eventually breaking into fragments and drifting away to be swallowed by turtles and dolphins and seabirds and join the swirling vortex of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Eventually the net topped the sea wall and like a giant, many tentacle squid we dragged our prey triumphantly behind the vehicle to join the rest of the days rubbish.

Seeing this net up close and thinking of the damage it could cause to our marine wildlife I can’t help but think that the fishing industry should be made to foot the bill for the clean up and financially support those who take the time to do the cleaning.celebrations and we finally succeed in capturing The Net

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Book Review – Waterlog ( a swimmer’s journey through Britain) Roger Deakin

Waterlog-A-Swimmers-Journey-

In Waterlog Roger Deakin sets out to swim his way across Britain taking us on a summer’s journey through leafy backwaters, plunge pools in the hills, across the mouth of estuaries and through a series of outdoor swimming pools. On the way he argues with officious river ‘owners’ and challenges the Environment Agencies insistence that our rivers are nowadays dangerous, polluted waterways likely to drag you into there depths or poison you with all manner of chemicals and mysterious sounding diseases.

Roger is seemingly oblivious to social conventions which, in Britain at least, dictate that, nowadays, stripping down to your trunks or beyond and going for a swim in the local river is simply not on. He reminds us that it was not that many years ago when most people learnt to swim outdoors. With every stroke you want to cheer this man on. He liberates us from the chlorine filled crowded halls of our local swimming baths, he invites us to reclaim our rivers, lakes and forbidden waters, he encourages us to ignore what others might think of us.

This has been the perfect read for a winter in which rivers have been rarely out of the news. Usually because they have burst their bank,s like a convict escaping from jail. Waterlog reminds us that our rivers are also a national treasure which should be kept as wild as possible and not trained into concrete sewers.

Reading this beautifully written book I wanted  to head out and take back my local river by plummeting into it, but it is winter and the river’s are flooded and spreading across the land. Instead I am going to head to my local baths and learn to swim with the same elegance and economy as Roger so I will be able to sample their delights come summer.

Roger Deakin died before he ever had a chance to publish another book (although two further books were posthumously published) but Waterlog is a beautiful testimony to a fine writer and I like to think that, as the final line of the book tells us, at the moment of death he simply ‘turned and swam on into the quiet waves.’

Life’s a beach

on seasalter beach

While others stayed tucked up in their homes as winter gales and rain battered the coast of Kent, my hardy gang of volunteers were litter picking the beaches along the Swale nature reserve near Seasalter and strangely finding the whole thing rather therapeutic.

Ralph, me and Simon

Unlike lots of conservation work which seems to involve cutting down trees and bushes as often as planting them, litter picking is obviously 100% a good thing. removing all those bottle tops and crisp packets and helium balloons from beaches stops them tangling round birds legs, or ending up in the stomachs of porpoises or floating out to sea to end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of floating plastic estimated to be as much as 15 million square kilometres which is out beautiful 20th century legacy to the future.

Also, despite the windy weather, the beach was bleakly beautiful, parties of knot and dunlin scurrying along the shore, skeins of brent geese overhead, the vast mud flats and the distant stick figures of bait diggers out by the tide line. My eyes, when I closed them, still swimming with the pebbledash patterns of cockles shells and tellin shells and creamy belied oysters.

seasalter groin

I walked along the beach with Marshall, putting the world to rights, working our way along the tide line like the dunlins, eyes down, focusing on the unnatural dashes of red and blue among the fluffy mosses and seaweed forest debris, turning aside whelk egg cases and mermaid purses. We joined the others sheltering in the sea wall and ate our sandwiches, the rain came across from Sheppey, hanging in grey drapes across the bay.

Back across the beach we hurried to shelter in the lea of a beach hut, then a final dash to the mini bus for hot tea and shortbread as the rain came battering down.

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Water on the brain

Fancy a wild swim?

Fancy a wild swim?

Have been thoroughly immersed in reading Waterlog by Roger Deakin for the last few weeks. A book dedicated to the many joys to be had by wild swimming. Roger set out to swim his way through the British Isles, venturing into moats, rivers, lidos and sea with a reckless abandon which you want to stand up and applaud. He argues with officious river ‘owners’ and challenges the Environment Agencies insistence that our rivers are nowadays dangerous, polluted waterways likely to drag you into there depths or poison you with all manner of chemicals and mysterious sounding diseases.

Feeling keen to follow Roger’s example I poured over the map for village names which sounded like they might have once been the place for some waterbourne fun, but can find nothing so exciting as the fabulous Water-Cum-Jolly which Roger discovered near the Peak District. Undeterred I turn to the internet and swiftly find some wonderful maps detailing all the outdoor swimming locations in my area. Some are well known to me but others show swims in rivers and gravel pits. I am tempted but then I remember that wild swimming and I have not exactly worked that well in the past.

Following a hot day last summer surveying out on the marshes, I had flopped down beside a wide weedy pool where rudd and sticklebacks swam lazily in the black depths, it was too inviting. I stripped off and sunk to my waist, balancing on a shelf. I knew all the reasons not to jump in, the danger, the isolation, the mobile phone left on the bank but what is a life in which you never dare to take a risk. I belly flopped in, scaring the fishes, thrashing around on top of the Canadian pondweed, giving myself a scare, whaling back to the bank and clinging breathless to the grass before hauling myself out with life protecting super strength.

At this moment wild swimming did not seem the blissful, ‘one with nature’ tranquil experience that Roger Deakin would have me believe but at least I had tried.

I lay on the bank, duckweed sticking to places it never wanted to be, the sun warming my body revealing its newly earthy watery fragrance. A naughty 21st century forbidden delight of being naked outdoors. A bi-plane buzzed overhead, I vaguely hoped it was not Google Earth photographing the land. Would my white form be forever immortalised on world maps? Puzzling generations of viewers over what it might be.

A cormorant swam underwater, easily, nimbly, hunting for fish, it surfaced beneath me, nothing I could do to prevent it getting the fright of it’s life, it dived again and I watched the silver sheen of air washing over it’s feathers.

Maybe I should learn my lesson, leave the pools and rivers to the fish and the cormorants and to those more naturally adapted to there delights. At this time of year, when it is wet and windy and frankly horrid outside then it is easy to think sensible thoughts, but, as I plummet back into the delights of Waterlog, I know that, come summer, it will all be too too tempting once again.