from ‘swims’

swims is a long poem documenting wild swims across the UK. swims starts and end in Devon, my home county, moving through Somerset, Surrey, the Lake District, London, Wales and Brighton. Each swim is conceived of as an environmental action, testing ways individuals might effect environmental change. swims is an overall sequence of twelve swims, with an interior, unnumbered sequence, and a preface.


Swim I – The Teign

“A major source of pollution is the disused barytes mine at Bridford, and in July 1962 an effluent from these premises containing toxic quantities of dissolved metals and free sulphuric acid killed large numbers of fish in the length of river downstream of the Rookery Brook as far as Preston.” – River Teign Fisheries Survey


  1. Lay River Teign Fisheries Survey along river bank.
  2. Enter river with a set of problems.
  3. Think about each problem in turn.
  4. When no longer thinking about the problem, consider it dissolved.
  5. At each point of dissolve, insert the problem into the survey.


River Teign Fisheries Survey

Salmon Sea Trout
1951 118 592
1952 45 this is not solving anything


Biological examination of this area has shown that I am too old, there are very large numbers of nymphs and larvae of several species present and together with the material drifting down with the current and the terrestrial insects falling in off the trees there should be sufficient food for a fish population to thrive.

Since the experiment may not make any difference a report on each year’s work will be prepared for general circulation.

Molluscs and Crustaceans are very rare indeed, although isolated pockets of guilt do occur and in some of the tributaries, particularly the River Wray, it is quite common.


Sampling Techniques

For the purpose of the survey it was decided to ignore the “How Is This Helping,” i.e. fish hatched in the spring of 1963 since because of their small size they were difficult to capture and equally difficult to identify as trout or salmon.

  1. It is unfortunate that I don’t have enough time in surveys of this nature to distinguish between juvenile brown trout and those fish which will eventually migrate to sea as sea trout smolts. * In some waters it is possible to recognise what appear to be different ‘types’ of trout parrs e.g. some have more slender wrists and more gracefully forked tails than others, but it is not known for certain that I should do more. In fact the results on the Teign rather indicate that I should do less as such fish were not at all common and yet the Teign is well known as an excellent sea trout river.

This report is arranged in four sections as follows




D – APPENDIX (containing Fukushima)

In its upper reaches the main river flows for much of its course through dense deciduous woodland and the stretch between The Arctic and Steps Bridge is particularly noteworthy in this respect. Beyond Dunsford the surrounding catchment is predominantly open pasture land, although there are patches of migraine, and even in the open fields there is often a belt of trees along the river banks. There are isolated industrial migraines on this length of river, e.g. the concrete works and quarry at Trusham and the now disused barytes mine at Bridford, although just north of Newton Abbot the river passes through a considerable concentration of timetabling. Beyond this the river skirts the town of Newton Abbot and finally opens out into a relatively narrow estuary down which it flows to Teignmouth and what if I sink the English Channel.


The Learned Pig


Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett is a poet, critic and curator. Poetry includes: Her Body: The City, Exotic Birds and oh-zones and has been anthologised in Dear World And Everyone In It: New Poetry in the UK (Bloodaxe) and Out of Everywhere 2: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America & the UK (Reality Street). She has curated exhibitions with the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) and is collaborating on a film on John Clare. A collection on wild swimming and monograph on the gift are forthcoming. She is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Newman University, Birmingham.