Sunday, April 13, 2008

Week 13

First job of the week, escorting the top class from the local primary school around the river for the morning; every other year the top class study rivers, and it helps if they can come out and see the effects of erosion and deposition, what an eddy looks like and where an ox bow lake would be formed if I didn’t do anything about it. As well as the general features that are common to all rivers, they also get to see why the rivers on the doorstep are unique to this area chiefly due to the surrounding geology.
A visit of any kind, be it children or an adult group is today fraught with difficulty, various risk assessments need to be made. The appropriate people with the appropriate qualification must be present and the required ratio of adults to children, plus a designated leader to count them all out and count them all back. With the added danger of water, I am sure that many schools would not entertain the idea of a trip such as this, because of the “high risk” and prospective “danger” of the site. Of course if they were out with their families at the weekend not a thought would be given to a riverside walk, indeed many of the children have already been introduced to fishing, some even on this particular stretch of river with a handline! In today’s litigious climate, all bases must be covered, all risk eliminated, so as to avoid the attention of the “finger pointers” who thrive on the current climate of blame culture. Fortunately everyone on the trip came back alive, if a little muddier.
Over the past few seasons, at different times of the school year, I have taken various year ten pupils for their two-week period of work experience. Each year it has become increasingly more difficult to satisfy the various health and safety demands, and for many work placements it has become impossible to tick all of the boxes required to satisfy the various agencies that handle the placements. Many fisheries on the river that used to take year ten or college placements now no longer do so because it has become just too much trouble. Many non-office placements have been reduced to the pupil following someone around for the two-week period, which is frustrating for all involved.
Many College courses in fishery management and Game keeping require a certain amount of work experience to have been gained to be accepted on to a particular course. To gain a place on the HND course that I completed in the eighties I had to have gained a years work experience in fish farming and fishery management. At the time this was relatively easy to find, many places were keen to take on unpaid students keen to gain experience, and some even managed to perform a useful role. Again due to the level of beaurocracy now involved with taking on long-term work experience students, many of these placements are no longer available.
Taken to the letter of the law the Health and Safety executive and various other pieces of Government legislation would render my job non-existent. Many River keepers work on their own, yet the H &E state that another person should always be present when entering the river, legislation regarding various pieces of machinery grows ever more restrictive, while the very business of allowing somebody to pay to come fishing, demands various hand rails and life belts along the river, warning signs, and signs informing the angler that he is having his day out at his own risk and has he informed the relevant rescue authorities of his presence on the river bank. Some of our older regulars would find the whole business laughable and would rail against the restrictions placed upon them; several commented on the introduction of a first aid kit to the fishing hut, with accusations of selling out to the safety brigade.
Of course if you work for one of the government agencies you are bound to work by all safety rules and have money thrown at you to acquire the various bits of kit. Several years ago the Environment agency would survey a particular section of our river annually to assess the fish population. A huge Electro fishing operation swung into action to survey a particular 80-yard stretch of river that was no more than two feet deep. Well dressed, and well-meaning fishery agents arrived in a plethora of landrovers, along with an 18-foot boat with outboard. The latest electro fishing gear was installed in the boat and the five agents who entered the water put on their dry suits and life jackets. The safety crew on the bank stood well back, crossed their fingers and linked hands After five minutes of careful progress up the shallows it began to rain, unfortunately the cutting edge lifejackets supplied to the agents were one of the first to self inflate on contact with water. The rain got heavier and in the space of a minute every lifejacket self inflated, with the agents stood ankle deep in the water. The operation was aborted as each life jacket had to be sent away to be reset by an appropriately qualified person. The survey was compromised because the electro fishing had to be halted, on no account could they re-enter the water with or without their inflated jackets, but they would be back next year to have another go. I know many Environment agency officers who are good friends. They are frustrated as anyone by the amount of beaurocracy they have to deal with, which is affecting their ability to do their job. To contrast this with an electro fishing operation I was involved with as a student. A punt filled with electro fishing gear and four unlifejacketed men was pulled upstream by ropes held by men on either bank. On one occasion the punt sank in around six feet of water, all souls in the punt were saved, including one experienced keeper who never swam a stroke in his life, the electro gear was retrieved, dried out, and in use the next day. All involved had a good laugh about the incident, which is still talked about today. Each day I carry out my own mental “risk assessment” for the task I am about to carry out, taking on board previous mistakes, trying to identify areas where it could all go “pear shaped” and undertaking the task as carefully as is necessary. I am happy to take responsibility for my own actions, unlike many today who feel a need to sub contract out responsibility at the earliest possible opportunity.

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