• Trout in Dirty Places

    By Theo Pike, published by Merlin Unwin Books

    £20, +44(0) 1584 877456, www.merlinunwin.co.uk

    We’re all seen them: those sorry rivers in the hearts of towns and cities, whose features are not fast runs and deep pools, but bicycles and supermarket trollies. If you love water, they make you despair.

    How many times have you said to yourself: “Something ought to be done about this?”and walk on. Trout in Dirty Places is a range of tales about those who are doers rather than complainers. This is the sometimes inspiring story of those who done more than mutter vague platitudes, pulled on their waders, rolled up their sleeves, harassed local councils and turned dreams into reality.

    Some of the towns he visits would scarcely qualify as dirty places in most people’s eyes: Romsey, Salisbury and Taunton, to name a few. But urbanites see through different eyes, and lethargy knows no posh names.

    Some readers may cavil that Pike is obsessed with trout. I’m not sure he could ignore other fish with a surname like that. But the lesson is that if trout can survive among the trash, then other fish can too. They are bellwethers of badness, prophets of pollution.

    I was delighted that the author has not taken the lazy route, fished a couple of southern streams and pronounced them as typical. He covers not just the whole of England but also Scotland, Wales and Ireland, with a visit to the river Ballinderry at Cookstown too. And the lessons from those book are those relevant elsewhere in the world. They are the very essence of what Trout Unlimited is achieving in North America. We can change things wherever we are, however bad it seems.

    Its underlying message is that things are getting better. Well, maybe for the waters mentioned here (there are 40), it’s largely true. But all is not all sweetness and light. Theo rather dismisses the appalling pollutions on his own river Wandle in south London (and the sterling work done here by Alan Suttie), though it could easily happen again.

    These are fragile environments, so often awaiting the next sewage leak or storm drains flood to wreck months of volunteer efforts. A few tales of rivers where battle has still to be joined, let alone won, would have made the theme a little less upbeat, a little more real.

    I was expecting this to be one man’s tale of splashing around in shallow town-centre streams, sometimes catching a few trout, most times seeing nothing at all. Instead, Theo has turned a potentially self-indulgent project into a work of great value. It ought to inspire others to take up a rod and explore these forgotten, often hidden waters and appreciate them far more for their ability to thrive, despite the modern world’s efforts to turn them into aquatic dustcarts.

    Keith Elliott

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