Wednesday, June 02, 2010

More Tales From The Riverbank

Not the right picture but I am still looking for that...

In this era of ‘Silent Spring’ the Avon was a seldom full of natures riches. Unles of course you count the ones that fell in and died or died and fell in.
From Bath in particular a number of small industrial units regarded it as a convenient see no evil dumping ground. Oxygen stealing effluent of all kinds was stored so close to the edge that it was merely a matter of time before it was taken or assisted on its journey without the inconvenience of any expensive clean up procedures. Diluted thousands of times and eventually swept out in to the tidal Severn Estuary there was a lax attitude to pollution at the time and tracing the source was pretty hard.
And when the river rose with floodwater, the trees along the bank caught plastic debris in their winter fingered branches. These rags hanging like torn Christmas decorations until the leaves hid them as summer came.

Compiling insult upon these injuries were some of the legitimate licences to pollute. The first, just a half mile upstream from our village was a local tannery. Making gut rope out of the foul smelling intestines of what I always presumed to be cattle. These laid out in long trays to dry and tighten and as they did, a gagging rancid effluent guaranteed to put you off your tea was regularly washed away downstream. The willows on the bend below this tannery dipped leaf heavy branches in the waters catching indescribable bits of grey slime offal. These then fed some of the sleekest scale tailed rats I have ever seen. In the waters below bloated giant eels rose open mouthed and further competed for these titbits. In later life these twin scavengers became great sport for teenage boys as we set about them with rod and rifle but my earliest thoughts of them were fearful indeed. No Danteesque vision of hell or the apocalypse could conjure the horror with which these pursued me in the night, and even now I shudder as if in wait for their hideous eyes to turn my way.

As if bookending the village watercourse the counterpart, just below the village was the outfall of the local sewage works. Never at rest, a stream of waste water from this processor of human effluent became an unchecked torrent when the river was in flood.

A testament to the power of nature, the river did see dramatic improvement over the period of the late sixties as this waste was made subject of a more robust legislation, withdrawn, and recovery allowed, but when first I saw it back then, its majesty was polluted and the only large fish we saw were floating belly up on the surface having ill advisedly strayed in from some tributary higher up the stream.
Small surprise then that for a while we were held back and advised not to drink the water!

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