Early in his work Cooper explains chalk streams, which are an internationally rare habitat most commonly found in the rolling chalk lands of Southern England, though there are a few in Northern France. These are an internationally rare habitats renowned for their crystal clarity and for the trout that thrive in the alkaline waters that flow upwards from the chalk that underlies Southern England. These waters fell months, sometimes years before they surfaced, as they first sank down into the porous chalk to remain until the saturated rock gave up its excess load.
Yet Cooper tells us that the chalk stream is not a habitat that was discovered by the earliest Britons, but is the product of centuries of history dating back through Mediaeval times. In ancient times the stream would have been a muddy meander sloshing shallowly through a valley, but as humans began to use the valleys they established water mills, which necessitated containing the channel. The result was not only a narrower stream, but lands suitable for farming along the banks. This sort of land gave rise to water meadows, lands whose flooding was managed for the rich mud and water that was added to the soil. so economically valuable were the meadows that a now extinct profession arose to manage them, the drowner. Drowners were men employed to manage the water levels that flowed through the network of channels that took the flooding over the land and moved it off before it overstayed and ruined the soil.
All this human attention meant that the streams became clear of mud and weeds and began to become the ideal home for trout. Soon the Victorians got to know of them, and the chalk streams of the south were a magnet for wealthy anglers, stimulating the development of angling as a business. The use of water meadows has now faded because of artificial fertilizers, but there are moves to preserve them, and Prince Charles is an enthusiastic supporter of the redevelopment of ancient meadows. So there is hope.
Cooper's stream is the Evitt, which flows southwards to the English Channel, for part of its stretch through Gavel's Wood. The term gavel means a payment of dues, and why the wood is so named no one knows, but that is its ancient name. The wood seems to have been allowed to be itself for several hundred years, with no intrusions from agriculture, so it is a piece of Mediaval woodland in a modern landscape.