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Meet the modern day water bailiff
Picture in your mind’s eye a water bailiff of old – a grumpy watchdog, policing the river-bank keeping a beady eye on any transgressions from the angling fraternity. Now meet Mark Whitehead. He’s as far away from that image as you could imagine.
Mark describes himself as river-keeper – a custodian of the river and its environment.
He still has his policing role, ensuring that those fishing the river Wharfe along the five-mile stretch between Barden Aqueduct and Kex Beck within the Bolton Abbey estate, are using fly and have a ticket.
“But my role has completely changed in the 13 years I’ve been doing the job,” says Mark, who retrained at agricultural college after 17 years as a soldier.
“At first it was about walking up and down policing the river. Now there is so much more to the job.
“It’s about educating people about the river, building up a relationship with anglers, being an adviser and working to ensure the health of the river and its environment,” he explains.
Those who visit Bolton Abbey regularly are likely to have spotted Mark in his more conspicuous presence riding the river-bank on his quad bike.
Less noticeable, unless you are particularly interested in river management, is his function in keeping the waterway as healthy and tidy as people expect it to be.
Yet it’s his unobtrusive work – coppicing the bankside willow, fencing the river- bank, testing the health of the river and its insect life and re-stocking with trout – that possibly has the biggest impact.
Keeping an eye on water-breeding invertebrates and checking their levels is a good indicator of river pollution.
Coppicing willow is also crucial in keeping the river banks healthy and ensuring erosion levels are kept under control.
“If willow is allowed to grow unchecked debris can collect at the base causing a vortex and ultimately erosion of the river bank.
“We repair the bank with willow bundles – waste from willow coppicing. Sediment is deposited on the bundles which then helps to regenerate the river- bank.”
Mark, whose work companions are his two Jack Russells, Todd and Mia, is also always on the look out for litter washed down the river in spate.
“There is nothing worse than seeing fertiliser bags or black bin liners flapping from trees and bushes,” he adds.
“What people see when they come to Bolton Abbey is the beautiful countryside, but it looks as it does because of the tremendous effort made to make it so by the estate.”
The trout season runs from March 25 to September 30 and a season ticket costs £320. Day tickets are £5. The river is open from 9am until one hour before sunset. Best times for fishing are the months of July and August in the early evening when the fly are hatching.
Anglers are allowed to take just two brace – four trout – between 12 and 14 inches in length.
The river also includes grayling, which must be returned. The grayling season runs from July 16 to December 31.
Mark is also available to give lessons on fly fishing, especially the art of casting. He can be contacted at the estate office on (01756) 718000.