Sea-Change:  Wivenhoe Remembered   

Sailing and Ecology

Seals: fishermen versus sailing –Barry Green

The less said about them, the better! You don�t get no fish. Yes, they take the herrings out your nets, and they also take the soles out your nets when you�re trawling. Their numbers are increasing because of just being protected. There weren�t so much talking, in the old days, about it, there was more action. There wasn�t so many sailors, was there, about? There was only fishermen, or people doing commercial work. Now it�s the other way around, isn�t it? There�s more people not earning a living, and finding time to report people, and feel sorry for things, which don�t really involve them, does it?

The river is much cleaner –Don Smith

The river is much cleaner now. It�s gotten better. You see cormorants up here [to Wivenhoe] now. And a seal comes up too. Years ago, there used to be a terrible discharge, all the time, from the gasworks at Colchester, used to come down the river. But you haven�t got that now. And you�ve no commercial craft coming up now. Because you used to get oil, too, on the water, with the commercial craft up here.

Sandpit to nature reserve – Ray Hall

But the Second Beach, in those days, they were still taking sand and ballast from it, and they had, on the end, the elevator and grader, and I should think for at least a mile along the beach, there were these little rail tracks which they had trucks on, so we used to delight in pushing them along every weekend, because there was nobody working there! That�s beyond Brightlingsea, on the Second Beach, on the Colne Point. The elevator was there way into the Sixties. But then, of course, that�s become a nature reserve now.

Just magical – Tim Denham

I�ve always loved birds. And sailing, you can get so close. When you�re at anchor, they�ll come and perch on your boat. When you first see the terns � summer visitors � dropping into the river all round you, catching little shrimps and sand eels, it�s just a lovely sight. And then you get magical flocks flying over. Even a bird as ordinary as the starling, they land and take off in large numbers on the marshes, and they fly in formation � when one turns, they all turn. Lots of the little shore birds � the ringed plovers, the sanderlings, the dunlin – they all have this skill of flying in fairly tight flocks and all turning at the same time, and one minute you see them brown, and the next minute you see them white, as they flit off in another direction, and somehow, it is just magical.

Some birds have disappeared a little. There used to be lots of little sparrows on the marshes, and they�re not so common now. I think the lack of commercial shipping has had an influence on the river, and the bird that has reduced vastly in numbers is the swan, because while the shipping was here, they were unloading grain at Rowhedge and up at Colchester, so the spillage there was wonderful for the swans.

We�ve got the most romantic of all the geese on the Colne, the smallest goose in the world, and probably the wildest one, the Brent Goose, which breeds in Spitzbergen and North Russia, in Siberia, and it comes down here October time. Quite good to eat, they tell me, if you soak them in boiling water for 24 hours before you actually roast them! But I�ve not done it!

Cormorants were very very rare on the river, in fact so rare that when the fishermen went away as yacht crews, they came across them first in the Solent, standing on the end of the groynes, with their wings up drying, they nicknamed them �Isle of Wight Parsons,� because of their black plumage and their white throat breathing pads. But now, of course, there are over 500 pairs at Abberton, and they�re a complete nuisance!

Of course, on the river the one that I longed to see when I was little, was an avocet. The RSPB emblem is, of course, the avocet. I never saw one on the River Colne. Now we�ve got flocks of 450, and it�s just wonderful to see them. They fly like butterflies, so elegant!

The birds and the rain – Pat Ellis, Joyce Blackwood

Another nice thing that we do now, it doesn�t take long, we sail down to Pyefleet, and if you wait until the tide has gone a bit, and you can sail right up to the end of Pyefleet. There were seven or eight seals up there. The fishermen don�t like them very much, but we all think they�re very nice.

If you go on the water before high tide, when the mud is exposed, that�s when you want to see all the birds. And now, there are hundreds of avocet and dippers and egrets. And herons. That�s really lovely when you�re down there. There�s Rat Island as well, where the gulls all go, and we used to go on the island to pick up gulls� eggs. Of course, you�re not allowed to do it in any more, but you�d get a bucket of gulls� eggs, and they made beautiful sponges! But when the tide is very very high, and it covers that island, the gulls, the noise they make, as they�re wheeling about above it…

At night, I don�t sleep! That�s why I can hear the birds! Oh, curlews, you hear them, and you hear the oyster catchers, which squeak as they fly, and they seem to be on the go all the time, the oyster catches. And you definitely hear the rain! Oh God, yes, you hear the rain! You don�t hear much else. That�s one of the nice things about sailing, if you�re not using a motor, and you�re just sailing along, you might hear the swish, a bit of water swishing, but there�s no other sound at all, that�s lovely. We try not to use the engine when we�re down there, and it�s lovely!

The last wilderness – Tim Denham

It�s the last bit of real wilderness out there. When you�re out there, midweek, there�s nobody else there, and you really are living life to the full, pitting yourself against nature. And when the weather�s beautiful, it�s absolutely heaven on earth, and when the weather�s awful, it�s very exhilarating, very frightening, but very rewarding when you get safely back.

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