Anglers beg Prince to save stream

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The Independent Online
PRINCE CHARLES is caught in a dilemma between his two favourite sports: fishing and polo. He has been asked to help save a trout stream from being dried out by the demand for water from a polo ground.

Only last month the Prince captained the Royal Navy team in its annual match with the Army on its pitch at Tidworth on Salisbury Plain, and scored a vital goal. For years the Army has had unlimited water supplies to irrigate the pitch. Its Crown immunity meant there were no controls on how much water it used. But the abstraction, say local fishermen, is drying out the nearby Bourne, a stream which until recently was full of fish and a vital source of food for wildlife.

Abstraction has long been blamed by anglers for the death of trout streams, and the Salmon and Trout Association - its president is Prince Charles - has pledged to fight it.

Thames Water is paying the Ministry of Defence pounds 20m over five years for the right to extract millions of gallons of water.

The deal has led the trout fishers into conflict with a powerful trio: the MoD itself, Thames Water, which won the licence to take over operating boreholes to supply the pitch with water, and the Environment Agency, which granted Thames Water a five-year licence to carry out abstraction. Thames Water's application confirmed that it wants to abstract at a higher peak limit than the average daily limit.

Gordon Mackie, founder member of the Wild Trout Society and a committee member of the Salisbury and District Angling Club, which fishes the Bourne, said: "The Bourne was a jewel of a stream, but no aquatic life can survive without water. The authorities claim lack of rainfall is responsible rather than borehole abstraction, but who are they trying to kid? Rainfall has been well above average since last November yet how has that benefited the Bourne and its wildlife? Just look at it; it's as dry as ever. Slowly but surely the streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire, like those around London, are being abstracted to extinction."

Now a plea for help has been sent to Prince Charles by Mark Hatcher, director of the National Association of Fisheries and Angling Consultatives, the body which represents anglers in the area.

It has already objected to the licence application because it claims the stream, home to increasingly rare wild brown trout, is being destroyed. It says the proposed peak abstraction rate is 50 per cent above that for 1990.

"There is an important principle at stake here," Mr Hatcher said. "It can't be right to allocate abstractions to a privatised utility which is prepared to maximise profits by risking an environmentally important resource in preference to getting supplies from a safer site elsewhere. I'm amazed that Thames Water's ideas ever got to the stage of making formal applications. It shows that the regulators - the Environment Agency and Ofwat - are not really on the ball."

In his letter, Mr Hatcher wrote: "We do not know how much the irrigation of the polo pitch contributes to the level of abstractions, but, as the greatest need is likely to coincide with peak demand for water for all uses, its impact in these conditions could be significant."

The impact of Tidworth on the Bourne is made worse because of the heavy amount of water used by the Army. Vehicle washing, for instance, uses thousands of gallons. The Army has always maintained that the Bourne is a "winterbourne" - a stream that only flows in winter, but the local angling club has photographed it, proving that even after the wettest record in January it disappeared underground at Tidworth, only to reappear when out of range of the boreholes.

The Environment Agency said last week that it had only granted the licence on condition that Thames Water measures all water use, reports the results to the agency, and starts a leak-reduction programme.