After fishing all night on one of my club gravel-pits in Essex, the dawn chorus back then was indescribably beautiful and very loud. Tens…hundreds of thousands of birds of different species heralded another day in a joyous cacophony of whistles and songs.
There were half a dozen big, gin-clear pits, each teeming with fish and other wildlife now classified as rare – water voles were two-a-penny – and these waters could have raised one of England’s grottiest corners to become a premier site of scientific interest with bird-watching and all manner of water-sports. But this was Essex – close to London and all too convenient for the capital’s rubbish and industrial waste.
Corruption was rife with every rule in the book being broken in order to cheaply dispose of horrific chemical cocktails by the millions of gallons. With the blessing of Thurrock Council, just about every pit and lake in the area was back-filled by a number of disposal companies who became very, very wealthy on their illegal practices. The police were not interested. Neither was the local press despite my protestations and letters to them. During the hours of darkness, convoys of up to 15 lorries at a time would race onto the site nose-to-tail in order to dump as much prohibited material as possible before sun-up…then it would return to normal, as if the night-time frenzy had never happened.
At times, the ground would erupt in a deafening explosion and always there was a sickly fug hanging over the site and over the adjacent housing estate. Cyanide could be found, granulated, in drums; and mountains of literally millions of barbiturate phials dumped just yards from the school playing-field.
I was just a teenager, but I was fully aware even then that these foul deeds were just the tip of the iceberg which would blot the country’s landscape beyond recovery. Today, nearly 50 years on, most of these once-idyllic areas lie barren and useless, their suitability for housing or other development deemed ‘unsafe’: the ground is toxic.
To this day, the memories are bitter and the title ‘Thurrock Council’ leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Essex had nothing less than a natural paradise of potentially international importance – but the bastards filled the lot with rubbish and this same crime would have been played-out, I’m sure, all around the country, ousting untold numbers of birds and mammals and insects from their homes.
My lingering resentment is pointless; it’s history and nothing will bring back those beautiful, bountiful areas in which I spent the entirety of my teenage years, but maybe we can learn from the ‘mistakes’ and the greed of the past by adopting a proper ‘reclamation’ regime which sees councils and aggregate companies legally obliged to develop or merely conserve the oases they create. In the meantime, I strongly suggest that angling clubs and allied organizations refuse to allow the annihilation of their precious pits and quarries – even if it means level-headed wellie-wearers blocking the bulldozers’ paths and creating merry-hell. Whether or not you regard Extinction Rebellion as a bunch of left-wing pawns or as well-meaning, conscientious individuals, you must admire their willingness to stand-up (or sit down) for what they believe in and I think we as anglers should be equally active in our opposition to corporate destruction.