Fishing Lines: Goose steps to be applauded

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SUDDENLY, the world wants to take care of fishermen. In an extraordinary week, the authorities have moved to rescue us from assaults by animals, vegetables and minerals.

The vegetable in question is not one you would want to eat, though I suppose the tree-huggers could probably make some kind of tasteless soup from it. The giant hogweed is related to cow-parsnip, the rough- stemmed plant with tiny white or pink flowers that is one of our most common wild flowers. But its big brother has some very unpleasant habits. It's the nearest thing we have to a triffid. If you rub against it, the coarse stem can blister or leave a rash on your skin. I'm told that, in some cases, this becomes a permanent scar, and that it reduces the skin's natural protection to ultraviolet radiation.

Giant hogweeds are not hard to spot. They can grow 15ft tall, and have huge rhubarb-like leaves a yard across. They look so out of place in the English countryside that you could be forgiven for believing they came down the beanstalk with Jack. The truth is rather more prosaic. They were brought here from Russia by Victorian explorers, and have now spread over most of Britain.

Now the North-west region of the National Rivers Authority has started a spraying programme to stop the giant hogweed's advance. It is paying particular attention to the banks of the rivers Ribble, Calder and Darwen in Lancashire, but the NRA stresses that this can occur anywhere in the country.

I've been particularly wary of them ever since my hand blistered when pushing one aside. From that day, I've declared a one-man war against the nasty blighters. A hefty boot with a well-shod foot will bring even the largest one tumbling down, because their stems are hollow rather than solid. But for the unwary, hogweeds can pose a nasty hazard, especially if you're strolling along the bank in this unseasonally pleasant weather with your shirt off.

Still, at least hogweeds don't haul up their roots and go looking for punters. The same cannot be said of Canada geese.

Back in the Sixties, these birds were a rare sight, though they were supposedly introduced by Charles II. But in the past 20 years, their numbers have soared to 60,000, and it is estimated that there could be 120,000 by the end of the decade unless action is taken. Now a government report has cleared the way for geese numbers to be curbed.

Townies may wonder what's so bad about a few honking geese. The answer is in their soiling. A mature goose can produce one hundredweight of excreta in a week. They travel in gaggles of between 20 and 50, so it's not hard to spot where the geese have been, so to speak.

Canada geese particularly like disused gravel pits and lakes. So do fishermen - but not when a mob of crap-happy geese have been dumping in your favourite spot. Banksides are turned into a giant lavatory.

To make it worse, these geese are about as shy and retiring as Jeffrey Archer. They have realised that fishermen mean food, and if you don't watch out, they will snaffle your sandwiches and your bait, then hiss aggressively at you when you remonstrate. And now their number's up. Government anti-goose measures include shooting, egg pricking and removing nesting sites, but I can't see their numbers dropping (if you'll excuse the expression) much now. They're with us to stay.

All this toilet talk reminds me of an unpleasant but amusing incident a couple of years ago when I went fishing with a friend called Wynford who had just bought an expensive quilted one-piece fishing suit. Halfway through the day, he was desperate to find a lavatory but we were on a virgin stretch of the Kennet, miles from civilisation. His only choice was to head off into the woods.

About an hour later I went to see how his fishing was going. He had caught a couple of trout, but was more concerned about the strong smell of ordure that drifted on the afternoon air. 'I've cleaned my boots and searched the bank. I've even moved and the smell is still around,' he said, mystified.

The answer was right behind him. He had not taken off his new fishing suit, merely pulled it down when he went off into the woods. And there, nestling in the hood like the eggs of a very strange bird, was the source of the smell. The poor chap has ever since been known as Winnie the Poo.