It’s been a very busy couple of weeks here at Severn and Wye building up to our inaugural “Severn and Wye River Festival” which we celebrated on the Saturday and Sunday of this last bank holiday weekend. On the Friday before we had some foul weather, and winds gusting up to 45 mph resulting in us losing one tent and preventing us virtually from putting anything else up and working on site. But with the help of a large number of volunteers, starting in the early hours of Saturday morning the site soon quickly took shape and when the gates opened at 11 o’clock we were fortunate to be basking in glorious sunshine that would last until the festival closed late Sunday afternoon.
What a wonderful weekend it was. While children enjoyed elver tractor restocking rides, ferret racing, face painting and numerous other activities the adults were able to watch some live demos from the likes of Brian Turner, Rose Prince and her son Jack, passing on some of their sour dough baking tips, Bill Knott (FT’s online food writer) demonstrated a goan fish curry and Tania and Graham, the smokery’s own chef team, showed six different eel dishes. Bill Knott hosted a panel discussion with Rose, Brian and Charles Campion on “Has TV made us better cooks”.
The fish ID parade had quite a few people baffled and even with a few industry heavy weights in the crowd nobody got the ID parade completely correct. There were some real specimens on show, 15kg cod and ling, a 29lb halibut but the star of the show had to be the 50kg+ skate. Reckon we would have needed at least 10kg of butter and a couple of large kilner jars of capers to cook that one off. The fishmonger skills area drew a crowd and members of the public were encouraged to have a go at filleting fish. It is after all the ultimate fast food but so many people seem scared of tackling it.
With plenty of food and refreshments and other attractions on offer we think it proved to be a great family day out that had something for everyone. With tanks of eels dotted around the festival area and eel experts on hand, I hope more people left the festival knowing more about eel and our ‘’eels in school’’ scheme, than when they arrived.
The evening entertainment came in the shape of The Wurzels and by the end of the evening they had the whole field dancing and singing Ouw arr Ouw arr. The evening closed with archer John Wakefield shooting a flaming arrow to light the specially commissioned Eel Beacon. That certainly lit up the night sky and took most of us by surprise.
As with all attempts at something new, we learnt some lessons on what does and doesn’t work. And we know that next year we can make things bigger and better. Shirley and Richard Cook both need congratulating on taking what was an idea just over 2 months ago and making it the event it turned out to be. A special thank you should also go to friends and staff of Severn and Wye who are always prepared to go that extra mile. Also a special mention to customers and suppliers who either donated prizes, product and in some cases staff and their time, we couldn’t have done it without you.
By the end of this week we will have sited tanks in over 50 schools, from as far as Devon in the south, to Yorkshire in the North. We already have a list of over 25 schools that want to be included in the scheme next year which is a further indication that this scheme has a great opportunity to grow. By forming a charity we will have the chance to hold hands with sponsors and partners and take this project to the next level.
In the early hours last Thursday EU member states finally agreed the outline to a tough European Fisheries Policy. For the first time there was a commitment to set quotas on scientific advice that will go beyond stabilising fish stocks but to achieving growth in species. Crucially discards of unwanted dead fish for certain species will be banned from 2015 and all species from 2020. Hardened campaigners such as Charles Clover and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall of Fish Fight which had signed up 860,000 supporters hailed the deal as “tremendous achievement”. Even Greenpeace had to admit ‘‘For all its loophole’s and sluggish time lines the policy has the potential to turn Europe’s destructive and oversized fishing industry into a sustainable low impact sector.’’ An interesting article by Will Hutton in The Observer this weekend highlighted how odd it was that no national newspaper covered the story and that the BBC instead decided that the more interesting European news was the EU’s decision to take Britain to court over the Governments alleged discriminatory withdrawal of welfare benefits. With Hugh’s Fish Fight having the backing of 860,000 supporters the effective ending of discards could hardly be described as marginal news. Call me cynical but good news from Brussels at the moment doesn’t make good copy.