Severn & Wye to look after a bit of history

Major news for us several weeks ago was confirmation that the Environment Agency had chosen Severn and Wye as the preferred bidder for custodianship of Lydney Docks.

Of course our plans and ideas for bringing life and interest back to this historic site are still at their infant stage, but combined with our ownership of Pine End Works alongside the harbour we are very excited at the prospect of bringing some sustainable regeneration to this stunning location.

Construction of the harbour started in 1809 and it was officially opened in 1813. Used mainly for the transport of coal, stone, tin plate and timber, in its heyday exporting over 300,000 tons of coal a year in 2,000 vessels. The opening in 1879 of the Severn Railway Bridge and the new dock at Sharpness created some competition but coal continued to be exported until 1960. In 1985 the historical importance of the site was recognised and it was declared a ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument’.

From the 1940s instead of exporting the main commodity of trade for the harbour was the importing of wood for the manufacture of plywood at the Pine End Works factory. It was part of the government’s network of secret factories used for the production of products to supply the war effort. Panels for the de Havilland Mosquito and the Horsa Glider used in large numbers for the D-Dday landings were built here. After the war the site was taken over by Wm Mallinson & Sons and Gliksten Plywood who continued for the next 50 years to supply plywood products to The Admiralty, Ministry of Defence, British Rail, car manufacturers and boat builders.

The harbour has no history as a fishing harbour but long before the harbour’s construction this area was the natural meeting place for lave net fishermen. Today still, licensed salmon lave nets men meet here waiting for the tide to recede so they can fish the pools on the sand flats, a tradition going back centuries. Now with only less than a dozen and a half netters on the whole of the Severn estuary practising this ancient art, we are in serious danger of seeing this unique heritage fishery finally disappearing. We are keen to keep this tradition and history alive. Lydney could and would be a great place for meeting the fishermen, watch them making nets and fish baskets guided tours of the sand flats, watching and learning how they fish, a small gesture to preserve and save this heritage fishery.

The National Federation of Fishmongers fish craft skills competition will be holding its annual event at Cleethorpes over the August bank Holiday. This is the fishmongers Olympics and a chance for young and old in the trade to showcase to the public and the trade their speed and fish filleting skills. Sadly the withdrawal of long time sponsors Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Young’s Seafood means it will be the smaller businesses and wholesalers that will be left to shoulder the costs and management of the event. It’s more deep-seated than that though, its further evidence if any was needed about the larger players in the industry and their attitude to skills and training. With our move to larger premises next door, we are looking for extra staff to strengthen our counter team but where do we look for suitably trained and experienced staff? The honest truth is the skills pool is shrinking. Government and large businesses are ignoring the effort that needs to go into education and training.

Our restocking for the last 5 years of eels into Llangorse Lake has prompted us, together with UK Glass Eels, our partner in the scheme, to now collect some sample data on how the lakes eel population is thriving. We plan in the next few weeks to net measure and record this information so that we can demonstrate how successful the project has been, and act as a marker for future data assessments.

Salmon Prices
I can’t finish this newsletter without a little bit of an update on salmon prices. The first word that comes to mind is challenging and the second is nonsense. The escalation of salmon prices since the beginning of the year is now so well documented, but the recent spike two weeks ago to levels never seen before certainly brought some panic to the market place. Scarcity of product in the market, Norwegian salmon farms taking their summer break and currency volatility all added to the chaos. Salmon farmers, so excited by the high prices, have returned and hit harvest button just as the market goes into its quietest period of the year so naturally prices are starting to fall. We think however that prices will start to stabilise at levels that just about match our recent increases but we cannot ignore the facts. Production in Chile down 25%, Norway and Scotland down 3-5%, meaning a total loss of between 7-9% less salmon to harvest than last year. Combine this with production cost increases and a global increase in demand of over 10% and it’s not difficult to see that price pressure is sure to return later in the year and there is no doubt that the market will start to look for other fish alternatives.