Transparent, threadlike, tiny flecks - the baby eel or 'elver' has annually wriggled its way to the shores of Britain ever since the retreating ice ages shaped these Islands we know today. For centuries past, the little elver gushed upwards into the Bristol Channel and onwards along the Severn and its tributaries; the springtime arrival eagerly awaited by the Severnside populations anticipating a harvest, that gave both nourishment and a little ale money from sales. Then unexpectedly; in the last quarter of the nineteenth century a law was passed prohibiting fishing for the 'elver' on the lower Severn. This law came out of the blue - nobody had ever interfered with the ordinary person's right to fish the elver before. Looking back over three centuries, the imposition of such a law in those far off times seems a very unlikely scenario, (elver abundance is naturally assumed). But to the 19th century perspectives of the newly formed 'Severn Fisheries Board' and its membership 'The Board of Conservators' things were viewed altogether differently. These 'conservators' took their responsibilities very seriously, and the attention of the Worcester conservators in particular, were drawn to a perceived problem, that seemingly prevented the elvers en masse arrival further upriver, and in wider terms, threatened the very survival of the animal itself. The villain of the piece was the City of Gloucester no less. By the 1870's, Gloucester was no longer an old market town but had metamorphosed into an industrial City. Many of the urban population lived within the old city boundaries close to the Severn - they were for the most part poor, with large families to feed. The little elver did not go unnoticed, and in the spring was eagerly sought by the burgeoning west end populous. In response to these developments, and in the year 1874, 'The Severn Fisheries Board' imposed a ban on elvering along the lower Severn. The prohibition brought unexpected resistance - and in its wake sucked the Gloucester judiciary, and politicians into a politically damaging 'vote losing issue' - in the process driving a wedge between Worcester and Gloucester conservators. By June 1876, a three day inquiry was held at Gloucester and then Worcester to look into the 'elver question'. A subsequent report recommending lifting the ban, but the Gloucester and Worcester MP's now split into opposing camps, began to argue as to what form the new law should take. Horse trading dragged on in Parliament until late July, 1876 before agreement was finally reached, and conditional elvering was once more permitted. I started out writing "Time of Trial" with a distinct bias against 'The Severn Fisheries Board ' - and I intended to base this story around 'ordinary people' standing up against the power of these who would arbitrarily impose such laws. However; upon reading the evidence given in the Gloucester and Worcester Inquiries of 1876, I found myself becoming less sure of my original position - and rather reluctantly, I became somewhat more sympathetic to the 'Worcester Board of Conservators', than I had originally intended to be. I have fully documented the main points and referenced my sources. The reader is invited to judge for themselves, as to the validity of this remarkable early attempt to conserve a species of fish, and the uproar that followed. This story is all the more pertinent, as today; the year-on-year quantity of elvers caught in the Severn diminishes steadily, whilst 'officialdom' remains complacent as to the fate of this extraordinary animal.
Publisher: Reardon Publishing
Dimensions: 210 x 197 mm
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