Fishing for Ted Hughes

‘Owned by everyone’: the phrase has inspired two Cambridge conferences, on the Atlantic salmon in 2019 and, in March 2023, on chalk streams. It comes from Ted Hughes: the great poet, fisherman and champion of wild fish and wild waters. Here Mark Wormald introduces the latest response to the man and his work: a new book, The Catch, published by Bloomsbury on 28 April.

Ten springs ago, I spent a week of glorious Devon sunshine in a cottage above the river Tamar. I’ve always loved rivers. For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried, and often failed, to catch fish in them. And since August 1983, when I was seventeen, and a course my father sent me on at the Arundell Arms hotel ten miles north of Rose Cottage, on the Tamar and its tributaries,  I’ve at least known how to cast a fly. But on this trip I deliberately didn’t bring my tackle with me. I needed to keep my hands dry and my head above water. I was here to read and then to write an essay about a collection of poetry published the month after that course, almost forty years now: River, by Ted Hughes. 

My day job is as a teacher and researcher of English literature. It so happens that the Cambridge College where I work was where the poet studied in the early 1950s. But such chance coincidences don’t usually feature in literary critical essays. So even though, by the time I opened River and started reading, I knew that Ted Hughes had started keeping fishing diaries six years before he published this collection, and even though, in the manuscripts room of the British Library, I’d recently had a first startling encounter with this essentially personal and even private record of his fishing, I thought I knew what I was about: a fun but containable exercise, an essay, nothing more. I’d demonstrate how those handwritten diaries fed the printed pages of poems, open before me as the sun drew me out onto the terrace, and beginning to stir and flap in the warm breeze.  

Reading River at Rose Cottage (picture: Mark Wormald)
Visitation? Footprints and catkins on Tamar river-sand (picture: Mark Wormald)

That week and the adventures that followed changed my life. 

Not immediately. I wrote and published that essay as ‘Fishing for Ted’, a gentle variant on a fine essay, ‘Fishing with Ted’, which the novelist Graham Swift had written as soon as he’d learned the shocking news of Hughes’s death in 1998. They’d got to know each other on the banks of a river they both loved, the Torridge, which twisted through a secret shared Paradise of a subtly different landscape, an hour or so northeast of where I read River that week.  I envied Graham those direct memories, which he soon shared with me in person, in my Cambridge study: for hours he stared, rapt, through me into experiences and recollections as vivid as any as I’d heard a stranger tell.

I never met Ted Hughes.  But soon, meeting Ted’s fishing friends, in place, theirs and his – and he had different friends for different species of fish in different countries – convinced me of two things. 

Stump Pool on the Torridge in May (picture: Mark Wormald)

First, that fishing, for Ted Hughes, was more than the hobby or pastime or even source of analogy that those non-fishing friends and admirers of his work thought it to be. It [‘went] deep’, as he put it in one of his wonderfully intense radio broadcasts of the nineteen sixties. As a boy, fishing had helped him learn to think; always it provided deep and sure contact with aspects of his true self – even, I began to sense, with different aspects of that self, according to the species of fish he was hunting.

A Torridge sea-trout (picture: Mark Wormald)
Irish pike: Castle Lake, County Clare (picture: Mark Wormald)

Fishing sustained him, helped heal him, among the many personal tragedies and losses he suffered. Some of those tragedies were unspeakable. But so, literally, was fishing, at least for the hours after he’d been alone beside or in the river, with the fish, the flies, the birds, the creatures of those hidden places of essential flow.

Lose words


Be assumed into glistening of lymph

As if creation were a wound

As if this flow were all plasm healing

Ted Hughes, from ‘Go fishing’ in River (1983)

As I joined those friends on those same waters, I heard them speak of their unconditional love for the man, even if not all of them quite understood his poetry, and I came to realise something else. To fathom these poems myself, as I’d begun to beside the Tamar, and the depth of what they stirred in me, opened for me, I would need to do more than sit back, more than keep to my desk and chair and keyboard. I would need actually and actively to fish for him myself.  As truly as possible: as faithfully, to the place and pool and date and time of day, as I could manage.

Midnight moonlight on the Tamar in June (picture: Mark Wormald)

Much more often than not, it worked. Doors and gates swung open, ‘opened inwards’, as Ted liked to say. I forged friendships of my own, learned much about these waters and the secrets they still held. 

The West Dart, Saturday 14 June (picture: Mark Wormald)

But I learned what they’d lost, too.   The health and flow of the rivers Ted Hughes loved have changed, over thirty, forty years. Shrunk, along with their populations of fish, their fly life, their fauna. We have missed opportunities to respond to his own passionate care and advocacy on their behalf, a care that itself underwent a profound change, from that of predator – a mutual friend described him to Graham Swift just before the novelist’s first meeting with the poet as ‘A great killer of fish’ – to protector. The Torridge, he came to realise, after an hour of shockingly successful plunder from his favourite pool, already under assault from intensive farming, abstraction and pollution, was ‘a river that needed its fish more than I did.’

Okement Junction on the Torridge (picture: Mark Wormald)

I’ve come, myself, to find the enduring truth of those words, fishing in Ted Hughes’s footsteps this past decade. More, I think I’ve found myself, fishing. I’m 56 now. His writing, in and beyond River, his way of being, fishing, with his son Nicholas, to whom he dedicated that book, has helped heal me, as a son, a brother, a father, from habits I suspect I share with many other British men, of my generation and his: assumptions and failures to look at and below the surface of things as honestly and closely as his writing did, and still does. 

Nick, Gwen and Mark Wormald: fishing in Assent, 1968 (picture: Nigel Wormald)

I’d urge anyone who cares about wild fish, wild rivers, and the wild somewhere in themselves to read River. And if you want a guide,  The Catch: Fishing for Ted Hughes, is published by Bloomsbury on 28 April.

Stainless still? The vulnerability and wonder of our chalk streams

This week, we had been hoping to host a second gathering in Cambridge, between the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and Pembroke College; those of us involved in the months of careful planning, and the assembly of an impressively diverse array of distinguished speakers, have got into the habit of calling it OBE2. Its subject, announced along with the date on earlier posts, is the wonder, plight and future of chalk streams. England is home to 85% of the world’s chalk streams, and they’re not making any more. After centuries of more or less equable management of them, the last seventy years have witnessed a steady and steadily more terrible decline in their health.

In the chalk light: a Test trout on the fin. Video: Mark Wormald

OBE stands, of course, for ‘Owned by everyone’, the phrase Ted Hughes gave to the salmon smolt hero and slave of the poem he wrote in aid of the Atlantic Salmon Trust in 1985, ‘The Best Worker in Europe’. The most iconic of our chalk streams cannot be said to be ‘owned by everyone’, but everyone of us — water consumers and bill payers, dog walkers, farmers, trout farmers, wild swimmers, those who watch pouring rain wash over and off the concrete and asphalt with which ever more of our country is covered and into and out of storm drains, as well as the privileged few who own or fish the iconic rivers of Hampshire and Wiltshire — has a responsibility for their future. Because it’s ours, too, and our children’s. And thus enough of us have to learn to feel for them, to care, too.

Back in January, the surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 led to advice from our hosts, the University of Cambridge, that we could plan only for limited numbers at OBE2. But all of our speakers and our invited guests wanted to come. So they will — just a year later than planned. We will be confirming dates very soon.


In the meantime, and now that spring has taken glorious hold of the land and its waters, and rivers and their fish and birds and flylife beckon some of us, here is one man’s hymn to chalk streams. David Profumo is one of our finest fishing writers, and the fishing correspondent for Country Life magazine. His wonderful memoir, The Lightning Thread: Fishological Moments and the Pursuit of Paradise, first published last year, is out in paperback from Scribner on April 28th and may be ordered here.

David writes:

I was brought up on a stretch of chalk stream that nobody else fished, and even back then (in the late Sixties) I realised what a singular privilege this was. 

 The Rib – near Westmill, in Hertfordshire – ran through a dishevelled wood at the end of a pasture opposite our home. The river itself was less than kempt: no fly-boards, or nice footbridges upholstered with chicken wire, or even a path up its banks. You couldn’t wade, for all the treefalls. Its holt-like pools harboured a few long, lean wild brown trout, which I spent hundreds of teenage hours trying to deceive – occasionally with unorthodox methods. 

  If the Itchen is a love lyric by some Romantic versifier, this stream was a garbled diary entry by Hunter S. Thompson. 

The Itchen at Chilland. Photo: Mark Wormald

   It kept me (mostly) out of trouble during certain crucial years; and it also imbued me with five decades of being in thrall to the charm – or should that be ‘the glamour’ (as in love spell)? – of chalk country. I have now fished a fair few of the two hundred-plus such streams, but have always had a penchant for the more minor waters. Dun, Dever, Chess and Misbourne have beguiled me with their spring-fed beauty, their gravel glimpses and soft punctuations of green, their spilling and whispering, the peek they afford into another world entirely. And I have an abiding fondness for the life that thrives there, when all is well:  starwort and milfoil, grayling and minnows, dippers, water voles and scudding shrimp – as the poet Auden wrote (in praise of Lakes) ‘Just reeling off their names is ever so comfy’.

  I have come to believe there is something else, slightly peculiar, about the appeal of chalk streams, too. It’s to do with their delicacy, that hint of glass-blown perfection and delight, a certain managed gentleness. They are, after all, partly human artefacts, which perhaps makes them all the more fragile and valuable. Subjectively, I associate them with the apparent pastoralism of England prior to the Great War, or the uncluttered milieu of The Wind in the Willows. There is a mesmerised, slightly cross-eyed, body of literature that celebrates these waters (by Kingsley, Grey, Hills and Plunket Greene, for instance) which you don’t get from, say, the hydrodynamic celebration of Highland rivers and their hurly-burly, or indeed the heroics of billfish safaris, and the like. If I’m being fanciful, I might suggest chalk streams are good for the soul (though some of us by now may be beyond salvation). ‘Glory was in me,’ wrote John Betjeman, of his beloved Kennet. Well, what’s so wrong with a bit of that?

The Oakley beat on the Test at Mottisfont. Photo: Mark Wormald

   John Ruskin hymned the Wandle, back in 1870, for its ‘welling of stainless water, trembling and pure, like a body of light.’ These days, as we all know (though occasionally you must preach to the converted) all is not well in chalk country. Sometimes referred to as the English equivalent of the rain forests – though I prefer Dr. Janina Grey’s analogy of the imperilled coral reefs – there is a crisis that has recently been highlighted with admirable, and apt, clarity in the Restoration Strategy of the Catchment Based Approach Chalk Streams publication. It reminds us that these rare waters have for centuries been managed, harnessed, modified and exploited, but now (thanks to excessively thirsty British households) they need better protection, fast. The present ‘priority habitat status’ designation is not enough. There are ingenious and complex ways in which chalk streams can be enhanced or ‘mended’, but the will to implement such practices is not yet widespread.

  This is symptomatic of an inexplicable national attitude towards the provision of good, clean water in quantity and quality. Fewer than one in five of our English rivers are considered to be in an acceptable ecological state. Is it because we covertly subscribe to the myth that we inhabit a soaking wet island, and that therefore Nature always remedies itself? Setting aside the disgraceful whipping of MPs to vote down that amendment to the Environment Bill, or the outrageous claims from some of our privatised Water Companies (who continue to dump untreated sewage into our waterways on a Third World scale), what will future generations make of our failure to curb pollution and abstraction, the lack of investment in reservoirs to reconcile these new cycles of drought and inundation?

  If chalk streams don’t matter, there is not much hope for the future of the more unlovely parts of our British environment. Right now, I can’t think of a better call to arms than this.

  We can’t just invent fresh, clean water – and we can not allow our chalk streams to die of thirst.


Wild Fish, The Lightning Thread, and dates for your diaries

The most recent post on this website announced a major fundraising initiative being launched by Salmon & Trout Conservation to make possible a much-needed reassessment of Atlantic Salmon by the IUCN Red List. It also looked forward to a new magazine, WILD FISH.

It’s a delight to bring excellent news on both fronts. Thanks to the generosity of individuals and organisations, above all Salmon & Trout Conservation itself, the funding has been secured, and Will Darwall and his colleagues at the IUCN are now at work on reviewing global and sub-population data. Results are expected next spring, and should provide an enormously important tool in the ongoing fight for wild salmon and the waters in which they swim.

John Fanshawe and I are also thrilled to announce that, all the more dazzling for its second winter at sea, WILD FISH is now available as a breathtakingly beautiful ebook and in print — again thanks to the generosity and expertise of the Salmon & Trout Conservation team and the designer Jon Ogbourne. You can download the ebook here, or via the S@TC website.

The contents of WILD FISH reflect the structure of our conference in December 2019, and its ethos — to encourage the fisheries scientists, anthropologists, literary critics, conservationists, poets and anglers who spoke then and have written now to reach beyond their accustomed audiences in passionate defence of the scientific, spiritual and cultural wonders of the salmon and the importance of our relationship with him. But the power of the prose, poetry and scientific evidence it contains, the stories and videos and further reading to which you’ll find live links, go well beyond what we could have hoped for. From its first page to its last, WILD FISH also reflects the enduring inspiration of Ted Hughes, a reading of whose poem ‘October Salmon’ from his great collection River (1983) concluded our gathering in Cambridge, and which with the permission of the Ted Hughes Estate and Faber & Faber Ltd is reprinted here. Please enjoy WILD FISH, and help ensure that it reaches as many eyes and hearts as it can, by sharing it widely. Print copies are also available at £5 from, and I have just this morning received mine through the post. It really is very fine: order yours now!

None of us who attended the dinner at our ‘Owned by everyone’ conference in Cambridge will have forgotten the wonderful speech which the distinguished novelist and journalist David Profumo gave about his own friendship with Ted Hughes, and the importance of fishing for them both. David was then deep at work on the dazzling memoir of a life spent fishing and learning, The Lightning Thread: Fishological Moments and the Pursuit of Paradise, which was published by Scribner on the very same day as Salmon & Trout Conservation released WILD FISH.

David’s title combines Dylan Thomas and the Irish fisherman-philosopher A.A.Luce, and the book as a whole is written out of a love of Izaac Walton, whose ‘watery discourse’ is clearly an inspiration. But it also reminded me of Hughes’s praise for Dermot Wilson’s Fishing the Dry Fly: ‘Wherever I open it my eye alights on a paragraph that is delightful to read, and that leads on irresistibly to the next paragraph that is equally delightful and that leads on irresistibly . . . ‘ David fished with both men, and with many of the other great fishermen writers from the nearly six decades in which he has been catching fish, and fish lore. He wears his immense and quirky learning lightly, shares many intensely personal portraits of the people, places and fish that have made David’s life on and in the water one of real  happiness, and throughout casts a beautiful line. And amongst his adventures you will find a strange and moving story from our Cambridge conference.

Or, I should say, from our first Cambridge conference. As John Fanshawe describes in his ‘Afterword’ to Wild Fish, plans are now in place for a second ‘Owned by everyone’, devoted to the ecological and cultural importance of chalk streams, their water fish, their fauna and flora, the manifold threats they have come to face over recent decade, and what we can do to remove all kinds of barriers — chemical, physical, political, economic — to their health and even their survival. This will take place in Cambridge from 31 March to 2 April 2022. Watch this space for more details.

Big Fish, Bog Slides, Real Water and the realities of Atlantic Salmon populations: looking back to look forward

On 14th November, a gleam of silver in the turbid autumn of this dark year, Pembroke College Cambridge announced the acquisition of a wonderful literary archive and collection of associated artworks. At the heart of the archive are the products of a great triangular friendship, which grew beside, in and from the waters and bogs of Ireland. The friends were Ted Hughes, the inspiration for our Cambridge gathering, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and Barrie Cooke (1931-2014), British-born Irish expressionist artist and fanatical fisherman. The announcement was widely covered in the international press and media, but if you’re interested in an introduction to the archive, which will open in 2021, you can read and listen to Tom Almeroth-Williams’s feature on the University of Cambridge’s research pages here, or — for the story of the salmon that led to the archive’s discovery — Will Gompertz’s piece on the BBC website.

Ted Hughes and Barrie Cooke, by Aoine Landweer-Cooke

When they open in 2021, the archive and collection promise to transform our understanding of the careers of two of the greatest poets of the English language. In the meantime, events this week have also highlighted a crucial, foundational and enduring dimension to their relationship with Barrie Cooke. Hughes and Cooke were lifelong environmentalists. They believed that fishing was their contact with the earth, their way of breathing. On Monday 16th November, BBC News reported a horrifying bog slide and massive pollution incident in the boglands of County Donegal. The dark richness of a Donegal bog led Seamus Heaney to write the first of his extraordinary bog poems, ‘Bogland’, after a day spent with another painter friend T.P. Flanagan. But now the collapse of a wind farm has produced devastation: anglers fear irrevocable damage and a complete fish kill throughout the Mourne Beg river. They dread the destruction of crucial spawning grounds for salmonids, as well as losses throughout the Foyle catchment.

The Mourne Beg bog spill, Co. Donegal — image Patrick Collins

Local reporters pointed out the bitter irony of this unforeseen consequence of green energy tarnished, blackened, with the waters. The same day, a second bog slide occurred in Co.Kerry, near Mount Eagle; as it happens, Barrie Cooke illustrated some darkly disturbing monotypes of John Montague’s collection of the same name in 1985. An Irish farmer captured the Mount Eagle bogslip on video.

The Donegal disaster was discussed on The Mark Patterson show on BBC Radio Foyle, a few minutes before an interview devoted to the Barrie Cooke archive. You can listen to the entire episode here, or a recording of the interview alone, edited to remove signal drop (truly a sign of our times) by clicking the link below.

The interview mentions one hitherto little-known collaboration about water pollution between Seamus Heaney and Barrie Cooke, for an arts conservation fundraiser initiated in 2005. Heaney, ‘an apt pupil’ of Cooke and Hughes, whom he knew had been passionate activists in protection of what Hughes called ‘real water’ — water clear and healthy enough to support wild fish and their prey — was prompted to revisit the River Moyola, which used to flowed past the family farm and home of his childhood, Mossbawn ‘in the swim / of herself’. She was alive, only the seasons changing her, what Cooke called ‘actual vitality’:

her gravel shallows

swarmed, pollen sowings

tarnished her pools.

But that was before Nestlé opened a milk processing plant nearby in the 1950s. Then the Moyola was sullied:

Milk-fevered river.

Froth at the mouth

of the discharge pipe,

gidsome flotsam…

Barefooted on the bank,

glad-eyed, ankle-grassed,

I saw it all

and loved it at the time

Heaney would publish the whole poem in District and Circle (2006). But first he invited Cooke to supply a painting to go with it. Though the picture auctioned for charity is now in private hands, the Pembroke archive and collection contain two more paintings. Here is one of them — Cooke’s painterly imagination was generous and generative. It is a vivid response to that change in the river of life which his friend had witnessed as a small boy, and which he came to mourn in his maturity.

Barrie Cooke, ‘Seamus Heaney poem’ (2005), reproduced with permission of The Estate of Barrie Cooke

This was the latest in a series of paintings on the theme of pollution. Cooke had painted, and fought against, the horrifying beauty of polluted water since his first encounter with sewage on the River Nore. After he moved to a house above Lough Arrow in County Sligo in 1992, only to watch its extraordinary clear waters succumb to fatal eutrophication and algal bloom, he painted that too, and fought, successfully, to revive it.

Cooke would go on to observe and research the horrifying beauty of Didymosphenia geminata, documenting it in an exhibition and catalogue in 2007. He’d seen it blight both Irish and New Zealand rivers. Commonly known as ‘rock snot’, it is claimed not to endanger human health; this week’s comment by Invis Energy, the company that runs that Donegal wind farm, that ‘There is no risk to public health’, echoes this complacency. But Cooke, Hughes and their pupil in the fight for real water would surely have risen up against this latest outrage. In the introduction to the 1993 edition of his marvellous collection River, itself influenced by his and his son’s fishing adventures with Cooke, Hughes wrote: ‘Streams, rivers, ponds, lakes without fish communicate to me one of the ultimate horrors — the poisoning of the wells, death at the source of all that is meant by water.’

That too was the product of personal experience. A decade earlier, near the start of his own battle to save his beloved River Torridge from agricultural and industrial pollution, water abstraction, sewage, as well as the nets, he risked an expression of cautious optimism against the bottle-green gloom of algal eutrophication he was getting used to in periods of hot weather and low flows. Noting growing public concern at the way untreated sewage of Bideford rode up and down the estuary which the Torridge shared with the Taw, he saw ‘signs that the recently-discovered not to say revolutionary truth — what you pour down the drain reappears in your cup — is beginning to filter through.’


That was then, as Hughes was writing an essay on the Taw and the Torridge and their fish and their beauty for a book called Westcountry Flyfishing (1983).

This is now, after a year when some good news, in many rivers — a better salmon run than for years — has been tempered by new horrors. Corin Smith’s pictures capture, as he has done before, appalling suffering in the open-net salmon farms off the Scottish west coast. The mass escape from a salmon farm has led to devastating consequences for the genetic integrity of wild salmon stocks. The Environment Agency has provided new evidence of the profound ill-health of the waters of most of our rivers.

Farmed Scottish salmon, 2020: image by Corin Smith

We now know that, for all Hughes’s fundraising and lobbying on behalf of the Atlantic salmon, and for all Hughes’s achievements in working with farmers and riparian landowners to found The Westcountry Rivers Trust, the source of the dozens of Rivers Trusts that have now sprung up around the world, we still have much to learn about the most urgent and effective ways of combating corporate industrial interests. In 1986 on the western coast of the Isle of Harris, Hughes was appalled by the sight of a boat full of salmon on its return to shore: ‘The layered loafed fish, and the netsmen, alarmed with what they had done, hushed, culprits.’ He also noted a newer threat: ‘Horrible atrocity scar of the smolt farm.’

We need to connect these local incidents, and what they, like man-made algae, have done to our waters and wild fish. Salmon farms promise to feed the world. Their owners respond to the complaints of passionate local activists by asking them for yet more evidence of what locals know has been happening to the fish in their rivers. This is indisputable and real. We also need a tool to provide that evidence, irrefutably, a tool which will allow all of us to make informed choices about the fish we buy in supermarkets and its origins. The salmon is still ‘owned by everyone’. It’s up to us to decide whether we carry on caging it, eating it, tainted with toxins, or find a better way to live with it and respect it and our own health.

But there is good news, for the future of wild salmon, wild rivers, and us. Such a tool exists. Our conference in Cambridge last December began with an extraordinarily powerful description of this tool by Will Darwall, who for eighteen years has headed the Freshwater Biology Unit at the IUCN, based at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative in the David Attenborough Building but with global reach. Freshwater fish, by their nature, swim under the surface. We need to bring their plight to light, wherever they swim, and in the case of the wild salmon, whatever marine and freshwater ecosystems they connect.

Please take the time to listen to Will’s presentation to the Cambridge conference

then refresh your memory of the Owned By Everyone conference programme, where you’ll find other talks. In his presentation Will describes the way the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species works. And make no mistake: it really does work. A recent reassessment of the eel demonstrates the huge power and influence it can have on policy makers, governments and thus on the businesses and multinationals corporations they regulate. Will’s salmonid subject case study here is a recent reassessment of global and sub-populations of sockeye salmon, which Ted Hughes fished for in the 1980s. But, a west country man himself, Will also refers back to Ted Hughes’s essay “Taw and Torridge”, with its own history of the decline in salmon stocks in his beloved rivers in the thirty years to 1983, and he brings us chillingly up to date. The numbers of wild fish caught in these rivers have dwindled. But then Will looks forward, longingly, urgently, to the real benefits that a reassessment of our own Atlantic salmon could bring.

To find out more about Salmon & Trout Conservation’s engagement with the issue, and their determination to raise the relatively modest funds required for that urgently needed reassessment by the IUCN Red List team, visit the S&TC home page. Or just visit their Virgin money just giving page. There you can make a donation yourself, however modest — big fish start in small eggs! — and learn more about ‘Owned by Everyone’s part in the conversations that led to this exciting initiative. Salmon & Trout Conservation prides itself on being ‘Science-Led. Action Driven.’ But it’s also, as it must be, culturally informed. The more inclusive, imaginative, and diverse the conversations we have about wild fish, the more we root them in local experiences and individual encounters (catch the excitement of one such meeting on the fast clear waters of a Welsh stream high above the River Tywi here), the more engaged and responsible our ways of caring for these extraordinary fish and their beautiful, mysterious habitats will be, and therefore the better our chances of protecting them and ourselves.

An October salmon? Image by Julian Wormald, October 2020

You’ll find out much more about all this in a new magazine, Wild Fish, which the OBE team in partnership with S&TC will be publishing online and in hard copy in the coming weeks.

Slutprodukt or creatures of light? The past, present and future of the oldest animal

It sounds better, or at least blander, in English translation: ‘finished product’. And those of us who are confined to just one tongue need translations, to bring home to us the dimensions of the great, or at least huge, Norwegian industrial salmon complex.  But it was the Swedish original — SLUTPRODUKT —  that caught the eye with its frank brutality. And weeks later, it still does.

It lurked near the bottom of one of the terrifying and moving slides Mikael Frödin, salmon fisher, guide, fly tier and activist, shared with us in his talk in Cambridge in December, the morning after we had watched his footage of swimming in a Norwegian salmon cage amid hideously deformed and diseased salmon. Most of the feature film in which that footage appears, Artifishal, is concerned with North American hatcheries, dams and fish farms, and the sobering evidence of the consequence of over-reaching ambitions to manage wild ecosystems and their keystone species. But the five minutes of Mikael’s chilling testimony (beginning 52 minutes in) brought things closer to home. Aquaculture is Norway’s second biggest industry, behind only oil; and like its bigger brother, it does things professionally. A  BBC Panorama film, ‘Salmon Farming Exposed‘,  aired in May 2019, and is still available to British viewers. It was shocking enough about mortality rates and pollution in and around Scottish lough farms, but looked to Norway, home to Mowi and the other multi-nationals that own and run most of the open-cage farms on Scotland’s west coast, for a vision of a cleaner future. Mikael cut through this. A single salmon farm produces as much shit, as he put it, as the city of Oslo. Salmon farm escapees  outnumber Norwegian’s entire population of wild salmon, and in interbreeding with them destroy the DNA of the wild fish.  We are accidentally practising unnatural selection; we are, in Yvon Chouinard’s words, devolving salmon.  But strong words and images can reverse this madness and halt our complicity in it. In 25 seconds of underwater footage Mikael shot inside a salmon cage (55.30-55) he stopped me eating open-cage farmed salmon for good.

The next morning in Cambridge — 12 December, General Election day in the UK — Mikael spoke for half an hour, to slides now kindly translated from Swedish and Norwegian by my colleague the environmental historian Professor Paul Warde.   I urge you to listen to Mikael’s presentation in full here.  It’s worth it. His passion, the urgency of his case, and his insights into the geopolitical agendas of salmon farming, all demand your attention. But —  to make sure you click on the evidence in full — I want to share a few of the images he showed us. This one of a salmon, eaten alive by huge concentrations of sea lice that, in small numbers, cling to a wild fish for its first hours back in its home river, presents raw horrors.

salmon eaten alive

Now, farmed salmon has of course brought employment to remote coastal communities. Harry Clifton’s moving new poem ‘The Salmon Cages’  presents the ambiguity of those who depend, uneasily, on the salmon farms, onshore, alongside those silent ones who swim below the surface of the waters they exploit. And affordable farmed salmon has also brought within reach of a growing global population nutrition that was once the preserve of the privileged, as this extraordinary image of a single day’s catch from the Grimersta estate on the Isle of Lewis in August 1982 — truly another age of indulgent slaughter and misplaced pride in it — reminds us. Sixty-nine fish, 364 lbs in total. (Still you have to ask: why, on that extraordinary day, would anyone kill those two small sea-trout arranged in a v to left?)

IMG_6061 (1)

When, later in the 1980s, Ted Hughes saw such Grimersta bounty, such a harvest, he compared the ranks of the salmon to loaves laid out on a baker’s counter.

But Mikael showed us another image of industrial waste, Slutprodukt abandoned in a roadside ravine. You can smell the rotting flesh.

Slutprodukt waste

And, in case you think that is a one-off, the exception that proves an otherwise hygienic efficient rule, first compare the way the colours in that sick seething glacier melt of salmon carcasses change, old to freshly dumped, bottom to top. Someone is making a habit of this. And then reflect on how we are not so distant from it: that what Mikael calls Norway’s  salmon industrial complex depends on global inputs, from Chilean anchovies to java beans and all manner of cleaning agents, chemical and zoological.

NORWEGIAN SALMON Mikael slide 15 English

Then look at how at least some of these chemical traces persist in the flesh held in those chopsticks. In pursuit of affordable and nutritious food for a growing population, no one should pretend that salmon may not have a part to play. But is this the FINAL PRODUCT, this the Slutprodukt, we really want? Is the only way to bring the taste of salmon within reach of the many by cheapening it so distastefully? Must we compromise the welfare of these extraordinary creatures by sacrificing the wild salmon whose life cycle we have so efficiently managed to exploit, accelerate, compress?

Mikael showed us an alternative. It’s been around for some years. Michael Wigan’s fine book The Salmon: The extraordinary story of the King of Fish (2013) explained it too. It works. It spares wild salmon and sea-trout the hideous concentration of lice that eat them alive as they swim past the salmon cages to spawn. It spares the pollution of successive sea lochs or fjords, the devastation of the marine ecosystem with all its other wonders of fauna and flora. This alternative — closed containment land-based aquaculture — is twice as expensive per unit cost, if cost is measured in pounds or Krone. But now think of the extraordinary foresight shown by the Norwegian government in the stewardship, for the state, of revenue from its biggest industry, North Sea oil. The Norwegians have ensured that their oil really is owned by everyone.  Think of the poverty of a world in which wild salmon and value of the habitats and ecoystems they connect had disappeared. Finally, imagine the global benefits that could follow, and the moral authority that could accrue to the home of so many wild salmon rivers, if, prompted by consumer pressure and a respect for its wild salmon and the waters of the rivers and seas they swim, Norway lent its weight to investing in truly sustainable land-based aquaculture, which produces healthy salmon wherever it is needed, cutting food miles, leaving wild rivers to wild fish.

Closed containment land-based aquaculture

What if all of us only bought, or ate, salmon where we saw this sign?

Sustainable salmon


You can be sure that the big players would respond to educated consumers. Share this with any teenagers you know. (Mikael mentioned that his home town in Sweden is also Greta Thunberg’s…..)

Meanwhile, we read of another catastrophic incident, another tear in the fabric of our open net salmon farms, this time from Iceland.  The hole was twenty metres down; the farm in question, in the Westfjörds region, holds 170,000 fish. Or did….

Ted and Nicholas Hughes drove around Iceland twice in the summer of 1979 in pursuit of wild salmon. Deterred by what, even then, were prohibitive costs, they eventually found huge trout on the upper Laxa. The following summer they went to Alaska.  There, one July morning, fishing together near the junction of the Moose and Copper rivers, father and son watched bears at work amid the extraordinary majesty of a salmon run, and were transformed by it. By that Christmas, Ted had a fair copy of the poem he caught to give to his son.

In her Cambridge talk ‘The Oldest Animal: Salmon in Early Welsh Literature’, Katherine demonstrated how far the poet reached, back into his own childhood, and the old stories he read there, to inform the marvels they saw, and briefly became, ‘That Morning’ in Alaska.  Katherine’s presentation includes a marvellous image of two earlier travellers in The Mabinogion riding a great salmon on its shoulders, on their own noble quest.

salmon shouldering arms


Advanced Western industrial civilisation needs to rediscover some of that reverence for the fish we have caged this past half-century. And fast.

Traditional cultures of salmon fishing do persist, and can thrive, in harmony with science. The River Tweed, which Hughes first fished in 1985 at Floors Castle, is one of Scotland’s greatest salmon rivers, and the Tweed Foundation helped inspire Ted Hughes and Michael Martin, one of those he fished with that year, to found the Westcountry Rivers Trust a decade later.  Ronald Campbell, the Tweed Foundation’s Senior Biologist, shared some Thoughts on Renewal and Sustainability in our Cambridge conference’s closing session. Ronald began with a translation of his own, from the Latin motto, ‘Contra Nando Incrementum’, for the coat of arms of the  Royal Burgh of Peebles, an ancient town on the Upper Tweed.


It shows one salmon swimming up stream, two down. “I swim against the current and increase”,  Ronald told us, was an exemplar of the medieval attitude to animals as moral exemplars. Animals had been put on earth as examples to humans of how to live. And the evidence of the last hundred and fifty years, since hatcheries were first introduced, is that salmon are better at sustainability when left to themselves than any of mankind’s attempts to interfere with them.  Natural predators, however, may be a different story…. Listen to Ronald’s talk, and view his slides, here.

When wild mature salmon return to the rivers of their birth, they do not eat. Instead they survive,  for the weeks and sometimes months they spend in fresh or stale water, sometimes in a sort of low water coma deep in still pools, waiting for the floods that will revive them and take them upstream to the spawning redds, on the fat reserves and musculature they built at sea. But none of this amazing capacity to convert the wealth of what they encounter in their arctic feeding grounds into the flesh anglers and bears prize and, in Alaska and Canada at least, the whole riverine and forest ecosystems depend on, would have been possible if the water in these same river waters had not held the life that nourished them in the first years of their lives, before they silvered, smelted, went to sea.

Ted Hughes wasn’t just a champion of the salmon; he also wrote with rapt tenderness about ‘Poetic electrons’, or the Mayfly. Indeed, Hughes saw the value, and the mystery, in all aquatic insects that, as nymphs and duns and spinners, move between elements, stone or mud to water to air. In transforming themselves they also sustain salmon parr and smolt and trout and sea-trout. He wrote a wonderful poem about the life-cycle of the ‘Caddis’, from ‘struggledrudge’ encased in an armour of pebbles to its own brief hour of courtship and consummation up in the trees. Hughes’s poem was almost certainly inspired by his son Nicholas, whom at fifteen Ted described as ‘an extremely keen underwater creaturist.’ That might describe another of our speakers in Cambridge in December, Nick Measham, who here describes Salmon + Trout Conservation’s important recent work following in the Hugheses’ wadersteps, first by means of the Riverfly Census, and now by the SmartRivers project into which it has now itself evolved.

Speechless water?

In one of the many remarkable poems to which Ted Hughes brought his passion for the salmon and the water they swim in, he noted how ‘the Gulf Stream weather / Cooled in the Cairngorms’, and ‘the snowmelt speechless water spilling / Off the island’s / Highest, holiest hill’. Though he discovered Scottish salmon rivers relatively late in life, and in the most privileged of company — this poem was a Laureate’s birthday gift for the Queen Mother who was, in 1990, as old as the century   — Hughes recognised something timeless in the movement of that cold water, the life it contained. It was, he said,

a drama

None has revised

Since it rehearsed

The first scene first:

Then Hughes described an older, younger, mother by far: the nameless salmon river herself, who took strength from her tributaries and the weather that fed them:

A mother of heather,

Her gravelly burns,

Her ballad of weather,

Her cradle where turns

A salmon beneath

A breathing shawl

Of bubbles….

But however simply beautiful, natural this scene, Hughes knew all too well that its essential elements were not invulnerable, and that he was living through times that made him raise his voice in their defence. Six years later, in evidence he submitted for a public inquiry into the damage estuarine drift netting which was inflicting wild salmon runs on his own beloved Devon rivers, hundreds of miles to the south, he wrote about the damage already done by another human factor, high up on Dartmoor, on the headwaters of the Taw. Its spongy bogs and wetlands had once held rain and released it in floods that lasted long enough for salmon to find their way even over the many weirs of the lower river. But a misconceived plan in the 1960s to drain Taw Marsh for drinking water had, with decades of subsequent agricultural abstraction, combined at once to reduce the flow of the Taw and to make spates, when they came, rushing down the lower river, all too short.


Taw March, and the ribbon of the upper Taw running through it, August 2019


One of the drainage system access points

I thought of Ted Hughes and his defence, over twenty years ago, of speechless water with the horrifying news, this last week, from the United States, and the Trump administration’s decision to defy the advice even of its own Environmental Protection Agency and undo much of the legislation put in place to protect wetlands and streams from agricultural and industrial pollution wrought by the farmers and businesses who own the land through which these waterways pass. You can read the New York Times story here. It’s not just salmon which will be affected, of course: whole riverine ecosystems and all the biodiversity they support are at new risk.


A shawl of bubbles, and a lambswool coat — the Taw below Steeperton Tor

Hughes’s lines about that Cairngorm burn, oxygenated bubbles nurturing the wildest of fish, also called to mind what our friends at Salmon & Trout Conservation call nature’s hatchery.  At our Cambridge conference in December, Kyle Young spoke very powerfully of the unintended consequences of well-meant but obstinate decades of devotion to hatchery use in North America. So I hope that Kyle and others will be called on to contribute to the review of stocking policy in Scotland’s rivers for which a petition has been running this past month. I’m delighted to announce that Kyle is among the first of the conference speakers whose talks and presentations are now available on the updated blog ‘The Cambridge conference’ which you can find by clicking here or on the sidebar to the right. Also there is Steven MacKenzie, whose management of the Lower Oykel has found a way of practising the most sophisticated methods of releasing salmon, promoting the fish’s welfare to the local community, and continuing to welcome visiting fishermen. Among many wonders Steven shared is this video, not of salmon, but of a journey up river even more ingeniously determined to conquer all obstacles:

Also now up on the conference post is Jamie Stevens’s fascinating presentation on the genetic distinctness and species plasticity of our chalk stream salmon, and their own dependence on and adaptation to the quality — long prized, famed, but again by no means either to be taken for granted or surrendered, as Salmon & Trout Conservation’s recent campaign to counter chemical pollution by watercress and salad packing plants on the Itchen has proved. Jamie’s work has started us thinking about another Cambridge gathering on chalkstream ecology. Watch this space.

But for now, I want to relay news of the conquest of another space, which a number of Cambridge contributors, including Ken Whelan, whose fascinating presentation is also now available to listen to, shared with me. As Ken put it, 7 January was an important day for everyone involved in the conservation of Scottish salmon. For that day, the Scottish government, at a day long meeting at the Holyrood Parliament, finally acknowledged what many have long known: that wild Atlantic salmon are in crisis. With it came the recognition that continued and further action is needed, and on the same day the Scottish Government announced that they had agreed to funding of £750,000 for a major tracking study along the west coast, to be conducted by the Atlantic Salmon Trust and Fisheries Management Scotland. The aim is to identify the migration routes and distribution patterns of salmon smolts as they head northwards to their feeding grounds. Read the Press & Journal story here.

And then read, and watch, this: the hugely powerful report that suggests everything else we need to do as consumers, and supermarkets need to do as sellers of the meat we have assumed is sustainable, healthy. Salmon & Trout Conservation and OneKind’s report asks, simply, ‘Responsibly Sourced?’ It presents data about sea-lice concentrations, mortality rates and damage to marine ecosystems in the vicinity of Scottish open cage salmon farms, and some horrifying images besides. Watch this short film:

Responsibly sourced?

And then download the report in full — which marries that data to the packets of supermarket salmon too many of us think is sustainable.

Responsibly Sourced Full Report

There are other ways of acting, positively, to celebrate the wildness of the salmon and the beauty of its waters. Back in the darkness of December, on the eve of the General Election, Folk singer and song collector Sam Lee charmed and moved our Cambridge gathering by sharing a salmon song he’d first heard in a village on the Norfolk coast, then told us of the four-day salmon pilgrimage he leads, through the Cairngorms, from the Feshie to the Dee, at mid-summer. It sounded implausibly wonderful at the time, but it’s real enough, this pilgrimage. The Nest Collective website has just advertised it for June 2020. Read about it here. If the wild salmon and the cold pure water they need are still speechless, we needn’t be. 


The salmon leap

Towards the end of the Cambridge conference, one of our contributors, who knows more than most people do about the decline in global salmon populations — enough, that is, to know that we need to know much more, particularly about the Atlantic salmon, Salmo Salar — pointed out one sad consequence of that decline for our attempts to engage the public imagination with the plight of this extraordinary creature. We just don’t see as many of them as we used to. Whether or not we think of the caged pens of salmon farms, so much of the drama and perils of their lives happens under water, so little within our own line of sight, that it becomes harder for us to imagine them: and if we struggle to do that, then it’s too easy to lose, or never learn, a sense of wonder at their life-cycle. And if we never learn it ourselves, or find a way of sharing our wonder with our children, our grandchildren, those future generations will risk growing up with only a word to remind them of the wild beauty of these fish and of all they represent, and have represented, for so many ecosystems, so many linked cultures, for so many thousands of years.

That said, one encounter can seal that sense of wonder, keep it fresh for years. A boy at eleven was taken one Christmas to stand beside a raging weir on the river Tanat on the Welsh borders and watched, and shivered, in excitement at these huge fish leaping, falling back, leaping again. Almost forty years on, the example of Ted Hughes set me on my own search for salmon. And then, one afternoon in July 2014, I saw them leaping again, at Aasleagh, on the borders of Connemara and County Mayo. Twelve hours of rain made the Erriff roar, and glancing across the main falls I saw something silver flash, and then, not daring to believe my eyes, caught it or another with my lens, sunlight glinting on it against the foaming white of the water.

That set me watching for more of them. It was, in the midst of that tumult, easy to miss the smaller fish, nibbling, snouts probing, feinting in the thresh of the water under the wall, then thrusting themselves up. Oddly they seemed to ignore the concrete steps of the fish ladder close against the southern bank; instead they congregated in the froth pot below a much higher challenge, impossibly high it seemed. But still they leapt. The wild oxygenated water drew them; its seaward rush brought the best out of the sea, grilse and sea-trout too. I watched them for over an hour that afternoon, crouching on a spray-drenched rock.

Late that same evening, on Connemara’s southern coast, Terry and I met another tribe, fresh in on the salt of the high tide at the mouth of the Owenduff at Toombeola Bridge, feeling their way into fresh. We were following a tip off: an otter had been seen there, downstream of the bridge, the dusk before. But the head we saw break the surface, and then the back, and then the other heads and backs, belonged to a different race. Others since have told me they were mullet. They weren’t. Risking half a dozen casts, I hooked and held and lost one, which leapt, twisting against me, and came free. Salmon all right. Terry missed that; he was on the bridge, already writing this.


A Shoaling at Toombeola Bridge


They came marauding up with the tide

under the bridge between salt and freshwater

gathering themselves in the greatness of their condition,


remembering this shadowed place, this taste,

those far skylarks, this dark entry to the birth place,

the old underworld to be their gravelled graves.


Between peat banks their decompression chamber

is a river, risen by recent rains in the big Bens,

where they wimple their fins on the water surface


in silver flashes of strength for the falls ahead.

Fat from the sea, beyond feeding now, feeling

that thrust upstream that powered them past


the nets in the neck of the bay and around foul

plugs from the pipes of white shoreline homes

towards the leaks and overflows of small farms


they must outrun and hopeful rods tempting

with the flick of a handmade fly, now they shoal

at dusk under the fading furnace of the west.


Terry Gifford, A Feast of Fools (Blaenau Ffestiniog: Cinnamon Press, 2018) 

There can never be enough of these meetings. And the evidence of statistics, surveys, however imperfect as yet, is that they are getting rarer. Nets, and salmon cages, and sea lice, and pollution, and the physical obstacles — weirs, dams — we continue to put in the way of wild fish’s progress up river, and the rise in sea temperatures and the thousand other perils their salmon face, as smolts on their way downriver, at sea, to and from their feeding grounds, and on their journey home, to spawn and die, are helping to see to that.

So we need to keep on the look out for salmon, and wild rivers, and unimpeded swimlanes, where we can find them. In print, online. In the days since the conference, friends have been sending me links, sightings, from both sides of the Atlantic. Here is the first in what we hope will be a series of gatherings, shoalings.

It began the day after, on Friday 13th December, with NASCO’s own report, State of North Atlantic Salmon. Emma Hatfield, NASCO secretary, had given it a trail when she spoke at our confrence. It is powerful because so broad and interdisciplinary in its scope. And it features a fine article co-written by another of our speakers in Cambridge, Martin Lee Mueller, author of Being Salmon, Being Human. A copy of the report is available from NASCO.

Then a member of our audience began sharing revelations. First came this fine ‘Poem of the Month’, from The Guardian newspaper on October 12th: ‘The Poet’, by the Alaskan poet John Elvis Smelcer, from Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages, edited by Chris McCabe (John Murray, £16.99. Smelcer’s poem, below David Cheskin’s fine photograph of that upside down half moon of a fish in flung flight, does exactly what we all need to do: it recognises the vulnerability of the salmon and giving it voice makes it our own, by speaking so powerfully from real experience, a specific time and a place, a culture, threatened.

The week before Christmas, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a fascinating episode of ‘Crossing Continents’, which itself combined a sense of the cultural and mythological value of the salmon with urgent environmental crisis. In the great Finnish poem cycle, the Kalevala, the first spark of fire falls into a lake, where it is swallowed by a white fish, in turn eaten by a salmon, and recovered by a fisherman. Tero Mustanen is a Finnish fisherman-turned-climate scientist, who believes that rewilding his country’s peat fields and wetlands against huge commercial and political pressure from government and corporate interests of the peat industry can be a means of mitigating Finland’s contribution to climate change. It’s a story that ends as it begins, with the salmon, the oldest animal.

The following day, on 20 December, The New York Times highlighted another confluence of salmon and commercial pressures, this time in the semi-autonomous Danish territory of the Faroe Islands. The Faroese economy depends on fish exports, including very significant exports of farmed salmon of high quality. According to the Faroese closely consolidated industry website, the Faroes are ‘where salmon thrive‘. Their open cages are sited in the cool Northern Atlantic waters that provide feeding grounds for over-wintering wild Atlantic salmon from European river systems far to the south, but without the proximity to local populations that has wrought such terrible decline on wild salmonids in Norway, Scotland, Ireland and England. Strong currents around the archipelago’s eighteen islands, low sea temperatures, low stocking density and stringent regulation is, the Faroese industry maintains, responsible for high quality and sustainable production, free of the antibiotics which affect other open-cage farmed salmon. Faroese farmed salmon is now being exported in significant and rapidly growing quantities to both Russia and China. Which perhaps explains both the ferocity of another high-tech trade dispute also hitting the Faroe Islands, and the discomfort it it causing the islanders.The dispute is part of the ongoing technological cold war between the USA and China, where intense American pressure is being exerted on the Faroese not to purchase Huawei equipment for the 5G mobile phone network the Faroese are installing. The article quotes this vivid testimony from Torshavn resident and academic at the University of the Faroe Islands Rógvi Olavson, on what it’s like to be “squeezed by the U.S. on one hand and China on the other.” “It is a lice [sic] between two nails.” It’s unclear whether Mr Olvason, who works in the department of History and Social Sciences, had Lepeophtheirus salmonis in mind… Maybe not.

Ted Hughes wrote a wonderful poem, ‘The Morning before Christmas’, about a frost-crisp morning in 1979, spent with his son Nicholas and the photographer Peter Keen watching men from the North Cornwall fisheries board stripping salmon eggs and milt from a fish trap at Hartley Weir on the River Lyd, a tributary of the Tamar. Later he wrote ‘Salmon Eggs’, imagining the salmon spawning in a turbid January River Torridge.  Both poems appeared in River (1983).  On Christmas Eve this year Ness Fishery Board published something almost as good: this underwater footage of salmon spawning on their gravels, and a small opportunist trout….


‘Owned by everyone’: the Cambridge conference


Welcome by John Fanshawe

A short film narrated by Sir David Attenborough for Salmon & Trout Conservation to mark the International Year of the Salmon. 


Session One: Understanding the diversity and distribution of salmon species populations


The future of salmon: how to assess species extinction risk according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – William Darwall

Listen to Will’s presentation here:

Conserving genetic diversity in Atlantic Salmon: challenges for the chalk stream populations of Southern England – Jamie Stevens

                       Listen to Jamie’s presentation here:


                        and view a pdf of his slides here:

Jamie Stevens presentation


Cultivating and classifying salmon: indigenous engagements with Sockeye ( O, nerka) and Dog salmon ( O. keta) in the North Pacific – Thomas F. Thornton

Alaskan postage stamp, 2004




Review of the state of North Atlantic Salmon – Emma Hatfield

The mystery of Atlantic Salmon mortality at sea: the Likely Suspects? – Ken Whelan

                       Listen to Ken’s presentation here:

Ted Hughes’ s poetic electrons and the salmon’ s freshwater habitat — Nick Measham

                        Listen to Nick’s presentation here:

                        and view a pdf of Nick’s slides here:

Nick Measham presentation

Being salmon, being human: from enlightenment to enlivenment practices – Martin Lee Mueller




The oldest animal: Salmon in early Welsh literature – Katherine Robinson

                         Listen to Katherine’s presentation here:

                         and view a pdf of Katherine’s slides here:

Katherine Robinson The Oldest Animal slides

“The Mouth of a River” and the fortunes of County Mayo salmon and sea trout – Sean Lysaght

Naen Skeylls: Salmon, Poetry and the Inshore Fishing community of Northumberland – Katrina Porteous

Singing salmon – Sam Lee





‘Engines of earth’ s renewal’: Ted Hughes and the Torridge and Taw salmon – Yvonne Reddick

Ted Hughes, The Rivers Trust & Salar the salmon – Arlin Rickard

The past, present and future of the Maree catchment and its wild salmonids – Corin Smith


At Pembroke College

ARTIFISHAL: Screening of the Patagonia production, followed by a question and answer session with Mikael Frödin and Kyle Young

Conference Dinner, The Old Library, Pembroke College. Speech by David Profumo


That night, the hostel being full, we  slept  in  a  double- bedded  room.  At  the dead hour of twelve I  was awakened by loud cries of “ I  have him,  I  have him!”  –   “ Hold him fast then,” said I, for I thought he had collared a thief; but in truth he had not: he had only got hold of the bell- rope, and was fishing away with it in his dreams, with a salmon, of course, at the end of it.

William Scrope, Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing in the Tweed (1843)



The Salmon Cages
Remember me? I was left behind
Years ago, to farm the cages.
The rest of you went away
To greater things. My friends,
My brothers, there has come a day
When you sit here, like judges,
Looking me over. The mote in the eye
Of Ireland, the umpteenth son
Who minds the mother, stooks the hay
In summer…boredom
And horror, the lie of the country,
Everything can be laid at my door.
Look at them, out there on the water,
Hanging, fathoms deep,
The cages. And the million selves
I might have been, ripe for the slaughter,
Dreaming continental shelves
As the factory-ship
And the ice-plant on the drizzled pier
Digest them, year by year,
Like Jonah. Ptomaine
Dropping, like a slow rain
Of pellets, into the food-chain –
Tell me about it. I live here…
Mother is taken, once a week,
To the clinic. And John,
Arthritic from the cold of Spokane,
Is back with us now, half-witted.
The broken and the terminally sick,
We are growing again
To a kind of family. Grey days
Absorb us. The unbeautiful
Is our element – the way of duty.
No-one speaks of nationhood
Anymore. There is no taste
To the fish, but sales are good.
Harry Clifton




Welcome by Mark Wormald, Pembroke College





The history and future of stocking – Kyle Young

                     Listen to Kyle’s presentation here:

                      and view a pdf of his slides here:

  Kyle Young Future Stocking

The political economy of salmon, 2019 – Barbara Bodenhorn

Commercial conservation deals in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, from 1991 to today – Kateryna Rakowsky

The impact of fish farming on wild salmon – Mikael Frödin

                       Listen to Mikael’s presentation here:

                      and view a pdf of Mikael’s slides here:

Mikael Frödin Presentation Cambridge English




The Sámi People and the salmon – Jon Petter Gintal

From Polar salmon to ubiquitous Pacific icon: the triumph and tragedy of the steelhead – Ehor Boyanowsky

Ted Hughes justifies fishing – Terry Gifford




Salmon conservation for long- term sustainability: the Oykel way –Steven MacKenzie

                      Listen to Steven’s presentation here:

                      View a pdf of Steven’s presentation here:

Steven MacKenzie PPT Dec 2019 Final

                     Watch Steven releasing a salmon without touching it, or risking injury to it:


                  Steven also shared two remarkable short videos of the life of the river Oykel. First, a pair of kingfishers:


                     And finally, elvers climbing the Oykel falls:


Issues with, and examples of, renewal and sustainability – Ronald Campbell

                         Listen to Ronald’s presentation here:

                         and view a pdf of Ronald’s slides here:

Ronald Campbell S+TC panel presentation


The wild salmon proclamation: a global scientific consensus on recovering wild salmon – Kyle Young

Policy, protest and the law: Extinction Rebellion, and a poem from the Taw Estuary – Mark Haworth-Booth

A poem in Northumbrian dialect – Katrina Porteous

A reading of ‘October Salmon’, by Ted Hughes