SHIVER me timbers – where on earth did that year go? I was amazed when I came to write this final column of 2008 to realise that I’d been doing it for nearly 12 months – firstly in our now defunct sister paper, the Leader and more recently in the Herald & News.
It’s been an interesting year for lovers of the river with highs and lows in almost equal measure.
On the ‘lows’ front, we had the Environment Agency announcing midway through the year its ludicrous plan to sell off the cottages occupied by some of the lock keepers in our area on the pretext of saving money.
The EA were obviously taken somewhat aback by the public outcry – led by this column – which followed the revelation and they were eventually persuaded to ‘reconsider the matter and conduct a further study.’
Why it took them a further six months to admit they were wrong and to announce, three weeks ago, that they’d decided not to go ahead with the sell-off, only the EA knows. But I suppose we should just be grateful that they’ve finally seen sense – definitely a high because it would have been unforgiveable to push our excellent lock keepers out of their family homes.
Another worrying development was the news that millions of Chinese mitten crabs were heading up the Thames having been dumped, as larvae, in the ballast water of ships arriving on our shores from Asia and threatening the local fauna. Nobody seems to have a solution to this problem other than to suggest that these dinner-plate sized invaders make good eating. But how many crab dinners can you face in a single week…?
On the brighter side, the EA conducted their annual survey of fish stocks in the Thames and were pleased to report that water quality had continued to improve and that salmon and brown trout had been found as far up river as Molesey and Penton Hook. It says a lot for the measures adopted over the years that the cleanliness of the water in the Thames is now better than for many, many years.
It was also encouraging to see so many folk getting out on the river in one way or another this year – with our local regattas pulling in tremendous crowds and sailing and rowing clubs providing great opportunities for waterborne fun.
I’d also cite the activities of our local river-based PC Jim Halstead as cause for celebration. I welcomed the return of a police presence onto the river when it was announced that the EA had agreed to share one of their boats with Surrey Police as a positive step in the right direction. It’s certainly not going back to the good old days when there were a number of police launches based at Hamhaugh Island at Shepperton but it’s better than no police at all. And seeing PC Halstead on the river is a reassuring sight both for boat owners and riverside dwellers.
I’d like to wish readers a merry Christmas and a happy New Year – and here’s looking forward to many splendid days enjoying the river in 2009.