Down and not out, the benefits of foot-and-mouth

Annalisa Barbieri on Fishing
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The Independent Online

So much for the start of the trout season. Supposed to start in days, but, because of foot-and-mouth disease, it might be weeks or months, although my instinct tells me the worst will be over by end of this month.

So much for the start of the trout season. Supposed to start in days, but, because of foot-and-mouth disease, it might be weeks or months, although my instinct tells me the worst will be over by end of this month.

Pete has been mournfully repeating, "my fishing has been cancelled," over and over this week since he got the call from Pitsford to tell him that the fishing trip he had planned with his cousin David for next Saturday was not going to happen. Part of me, a very wicked part, cannot suppress a small smile as I imagine men all over the country having to contemplate not being able to go out fishing but - sharp intake of breath - having to stay home with their wives. I know this will not concern any of you, it is readers of other newspapers I am imagining. I also cannot help being secretly pleased that the fish get a little peace for a little bit longer.

If nothing else, this should make us re-appreciate our countryside. For so long it has just sat there, ready to welcome us if we fancied a trot across it one weekend on the way from and to some pub or teashop. But now we just cannot get near it. My spies on Dartmoor tell me they cannot set foot on their moor, and have to have buckets of disinfectant on their doorsteps to cleanse their shoes every time they cross the threshold. Calls to my friends in Dorset reveal that their dogs are going mad at not being able to roam free across the fields. Small fry in comparison to the wholesale slaughter of animals, I realise before you all write in.

Nature has a fantastic way of eliciting revenge and making us sit up and think. Here we all are with all sorts of debates raging about our countryside and, for the moment at least, our minds have been made up for us. The countryside has told us, in no uncertain terms to naff right off.

Anyway, I rang up MAFF, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to find out what the exact directives were regarding fishing and foot-and-mouth. I spoke to a couple of charming women, who are obviously paid in direct proportion to how many words they could say. A talent honed by watching too many US legal programmes no doubt: "Yes, no, yes, no, no, yes, no," were the replies to my perfectly innocent and understandable questions. The Postboxes around MAFF's way must be bursting come Valentine's Day.

MAFF strongly recommend that fishing, "where it involves fishermen going on farmland or land where there may be any livestock", does not take place. But it is not banned in infected areas, unlike racing and hunting. Of course fisheries should and are supporting their local farmers by not allowing fishing on surrounding land. Some fishery managers I spoke to review the situation on an almost daily basis and suggest you ring regularly to check. Not because they will say "all clear today, come on down" - it will take at least two weeks after the last case of foot-and-mouth before things can go back to normal - but because you can at least start planning and booking boats again.

One place that is open is Rib Valley in Herfordshire (01920 484913) where there have, as I write, been no cases of foot-and-mouth. They did have sheep surrounding the lakes but they have been moved anyway, as a precaution. All the 29 fishing sites run by South West Lakes Trust (01837 871565) are understandably closed, there have been 22 cases at the last count in the South-west, although they review the situation every Monday. Hanningfield (01245 212 034) in Essex (seven cases) is closed until further notice, as is Grafham in Cambridgeshire, which has handfuls of outbreaks in surrounding areas.

I could go on, but won't, the story is much the same everywhere. If you are that desperate to get your rod out and need to find somewhere then check out my back catalogue on the website, listed below. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to find places to fish.

In the meantime, I can but offer these words of solace: it will be nicer to have to wait for the fishing; it will be warmer in a few weeks' and therefore more pleasant; the fish will be bigger; you might discover you had more children than you thought as you spend more time with your family instead of fishing; you now have time to read all those fishing magazines that you pile up by the side of the bed. Or, if you are really crafty, you could tell your partner that fishing is still on, set off as normal and use that time to do something else. Use it wisely.">