While the gameshooting season ends for many with much cherished beaters? days, the foreshore fowler still has 20 days of February in which to squeeze a few more chances out of his sport. As one of this hardy breed once said, we have been granted these extra days, we should make use of them.
With this in mind, I persuaded Wentloog Wildfowlers Paul Cawley and club secretary Mat Holloway to take me out on their marshes on the Welsh side of the mighty Severn Bridge for a morning flight at the tail end of the season.
Like the start of many fowling forays this one began with a meeting in a lay-by in darkness. Paul?s formidable but amiable Chesapeake Bay retriever Kiri ? so named because Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was on television when Paul first walked into his home with her as a puppy ? materialised out of the darkness.
Mat had also turned out of bed early and brought his rather more svelte Labrador, Daisy, with him.
Estuaries have drawn fowlers and fishermen for centuries, for the sport and resources they offer but also for their unique landscapes and seascapes. Depending on perspectives, they can be lonely, forlorn places or they can be places of great adventure and stunning views and sights of nature. There?s something attractive about their untameable quality, with developments petering out where the estuary starts. As Mat said: ?I love the way that you can be so close to civilisation yet still be in a wild and inhospitable place.? Indeed, they can be harsh, and while many old barns or farm buildings have been developed inland, estuaries are sometimes still home to these relics of industry that have little to offer the developer. They?re fascinating places.
Lack of wind
We turned our backs on distant street lights that still shone searingly bright, and made our way across the gloomy marsh, pitted by horses? hooves, until we found a spot on the edge of a creek that provided some good cover. Paul had headed off to a favourite spot known as The Gout.
In the half-light, birds could be seen moving, but none came our way. The promised strong wind was sadly but a whisper ? and wind and good fowling go together like Blackpool and rock.
Every so often, some mallard would appear stitched in a line against the grey sky, above the waves, but frustratingly way out of range. In between possible chances, talk turned to the proposed Severn barrage. How do you balance the needs of humans and employment against the possible damage to wildlife? It is a difficult one, but the general feeling seems to be that the effects of the barrage, should it be built, will be adverse ones for the creatures of the estuary, which is home to varied wildlife, tens of thousands of migratory birds, as well as numerous fish species.
Rising ravens, rising tides
In keeping with many areas, some ravens side-slipped on the wind above us ? how long before they are as common as buzzards have become? While we watched them being buffeted by the elements overhead, the tide was building and waves lapped yards away. As it rose, Daisy stared intently at the mini ?bores? that funnelled their way up the creek littered with the shells of dead clams. I have dug for these edible clams in Morecambe Bay on many occasions but only ever found the odd one. Where exactly their estuarine strongholds are remains a mystery to me but every estuary creek throughout Britain seems to be lined with their shells.
Gone but not forgotten
We retreated to a huge tree that had been cast up on a high tide and watched as flights of curlew followed the shoreline. A distant ?pop? revealed that The Gout had come good and Paul had added a drake mallard to his bag.
The tide was spilling over on to the marsh and it was time to leave ? thoughts of a good fry-up were beckoning. Well, it hadn?t exactly been a case of red-hot barrels, but it was good to be out on the marsh and at least Paul didn?t go home empty-handed. The grey sky threatened sleet and the kit was packed away before Paul took me up to the section of the marshes that the club ad allocated for a reserve.
It was in this highly treasured location that conversation turned to the late Piers Frampton, the former club secretary. Piers was apparently the butt of many jokes and Paul told me of the time they had gone fowling in Scotland and were staying in a hotel. One of the group slipped a note under Piers? room door purportedly from the landlady, complaining about the smell of his socks. The unfortunate Piers subsequently made profuse apologies to the bemused landlady.
Behind the leg-pulling, Piers was highly respected, and was involved in many wildfowl conservation projects, including a pintail rearing scheme. A plaque dedicated to him now lies embedded in a large boulder on the sea wall next to the association?s reserve.
Paul told me that they had loaded some 4-bore cartridges with his ashes and took turns firing them over the marshes after his cremation. ?They didn?t kick as much as the ones he used to load for that 4-bore when he was alive ? he did like to stoke them up.?
Like many country characters who have come and gone, the phrase ?Gone but not forgotten? will always apply.