16th February 2020
Storm Dennis has done his worst and we currently have a river that is half a mile wide. Oaks have fallen as the waterlogged ground could no longer support their weight, whilst others have shattered under the pressure of the wind.
A cautionary tale. If you come across one of the fords that you are unable to confirm the depth, DO NOT take the risk. That also applies to the Harbridge Road from Ibsley Bridge, it may not drown you but it will certainly tip you upside down inthe ditch. It simply is not worth the risk. Fortunately the driver got out of the van with the assistance of passers-by, it could have ended a great deal more seriously. As for the parcels I hope he was on the way back to the depot empty. If you want to see the ford under normal conditions look at the entry for the 15th January. Thanks to Phil for the pix.
They have been open for a day or two but they still hopefully lift the spirits during the wind and rain we are currently experiencing.
14th February 2020
Mike, stoking the Lodge fire, which is now back in situ. I did see both Mike and Bob out on the bank later in the day so they managed to overcome the attraction of the warm Lodge. If you feel in need of a couple of hours warmth, there are fire lighters in the alcove on the left hand, kitchen side of the chimney breast, at about head height. Kindling in the basket with a few logs. More logs stacked in the dry outside the door if the river fails to lure you back to the bank. Thanks for the photo Mike, I can almost feel the warmth!
A couple of reminders to the syndicate members if I may. Please ensure when you unlock the padlocks on Meadow Lake and Mockbeggar, when it opens, you leave the numbers on the combination facing "OUT" and "UP". This will save the person following you from, finding reading glasses and a torch, kneeling in the wet and casting aspersions about the parentage of the person who previously locked it. A second reminder in that rule No. 8 on the stillwater R&Rs states sacks "BRIEFLY" thats five or ten minutes tops. I don't wish to have fish recovering completely and damaging themselves bouncing about when attempts to photograph them hours after capture. I've spent part of the day photographing fly tipping rubbish and that includes garden waste, nuff said!
11th February 2020
A traditional Devon Minnow set-up for traditional Devon Minnow water. The river is back to where it was ten days ago and we start the slow run-off once more. I fished through Dog Kennel this evening in the hope of an early visitor. Nothing to show for my hours effort but highly enjoyable to see the minnow working the heavy water so well. If you look closely you can see the wooden yellow belly minnow hanging behind an ounce of lead in exactly the fashion fished throughout the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's through the height of the Avon's salmon fishing fame. There are one or two differences with my set-up if you look closely you would see a barbless triangle, as much for my benefit in removing it from my trousers, coat, net and car seats as for the benefit of the fish. The line between the three way swivel and the minnow is flourocarbon for invisibility and to minimise damage if the fish rolls on the line. Whilst the rod is twelve feet of carbon and the multiplier, a modern bait caster, it makes little difference to the action of the minnow, just ease of fishing it.
10th February 2020
A couple of Storm Ciara's casualties in the shape of seventy feet of London Plane, laying about as awkwardly as it possibly could when it comes to getting the stick out. The two willows on the far bank of the weirpool don't look all that healthy either. I believe a limb from one of them was videoed as it sailed downstream around Harbridge Bend. The last is a hung-up willow that had to be partially cleared in the dark and high winds last night as it had blocked the road, stranding people the wrong side of it; never a dull moment!
9th February 2020
Darrel with one of a brace of cracking perch he managed today. Its good to know the fish are still out there despite the weeks of flooding. There have been several astonishing chub bags in recent days and even the odd barbel to those who have braved the elements. Thanks for the photo Darrel and well done on the brace.
The calm before the storm and the opportunity to get the WeBS count done. Reasonable count with more wildfowl able to enjoy the floods yet nothing of particular note. Last week I read a report on the winter temperatures in Eastern Europe, whicch have set an all time record high. This would account for the lack of wildfowl in the valley as they had not been force to flee the beast from the east. Whilst today's count probably had in the region of just over a thousand various wildfowl there were no waders to be seen. By which I mean the Lapwing, Snipe, BTG or Sandpipers, which one might expect at this time of year. Plenty of Cormorants moving up and down the valley, plus the ever present one hundred plus Mute Swans. As well as over thirty Little Egrets leaving their roost, I did simultaneously see four Great White Egrets up on the marsh feeding first thing this morning. Throughout the day I probably spotted them ten or eleven times as they moved about the Estate but I am more than content to be able to confirm the four seen first thing, which must be today's highlight.
7th February 2020
The river is steadily dropping off the meadows just in time for the forecast rain over the weekend and next week. As of this afternoon the weeks of algal growth and silt are creating a pretty good impression of the “Bog of Eternal Stench”. A week of dry weather would see it absorbed into the new growth of the meadows. Unfortunately we are not going to get that few days. Lets hope the rain we are forecast will not be too long lasting and we can see our banks safely and comfortably accessible by the end of the month.
Whilst discussing water height I should mention that the EA East Mills Flume website has been playing up for the previous 24 hours. It is now working but in the event it plays up again, rods are to take the last displayed height as that which determines whether spinning is permitted. Hopefully the water levels will soon be down to allow a productive end to the river coarse season and we can enjoy a couple of months of perfect fly water. The downside to all this desire for normal water levels is that it is about to expose eleven miles of salmon pools that will require a trim, busy times ahead by the look of things.
I did notice the EA have one of those automated call answering systems installed. You know the type, its a machine with a human voice. One of those that defies you to tell the difference between the machine and a human. When you ask to be put through it simply asks you for one or two pieces of information. When you say all you would ask is to be put through to whatever department and don't wish to have my details recorded, it repeats the exact same question. Good system, certainly stops those annoying members of the public who pay their bloody wages from ever getting through! The only saving grace are the staff on the ground who have kindly passed on their personal phone numbers. I wonder when the higher management levels of the EA will recognise the only saving grace of the entire ineffectual department are the committed field staff?
Whilst I was out reconnoitring the state of the banks on the southern end of the Estate I did get the opportunity to watch the local inhabitants welcome back the dry land. The roe deer and the hares, picking the freshly exposed grass not covered by the stranded algae. The Kestrels watching the margins in the hope of the field voles trying to recolonise the fields. Lets hope they do not make the mistake of setting up their new homes too early, at least until the threatened rains have passed. The Herons, along with hundreds of gulls, were out on the fields harvesting a meal I couldn't identify but certainly keeping them fully occupied. Perhaps the most surprising an early pair of Goshawks displaying over the park. Just a taste of events about the estate that perhaps signals the early return of spring?
Lots of mud and banks waiting to be cleared, as the Herons look on from their nearby lofty heronry.
6th February 2020
Having worked out how many there were yesterday, tonight Anne and I decided that such a fine sunset deserved a visit just to enjoy their murmurations. We hadn't managed to find time to enjoy them this winter and hoped for a good show to make up for our lack of visits. As it turned out they were on form and a Peregrine duly arrived to add the final touches. Without doubt one of Nature's greatest shows.
The above link is to a video of the entire flock as it finally drops in to roost. Anne can be heard warning me of the arrival of the Peregrine that can be seen crossing the shot in its final unsuccessful attempt at catching its supper.
5th February 2020
The roosts having apparently joined forces I thought I would try and get an idea of the numbers that have been about the valley this winter. I've heard estimates varying from five to five hundred thousand, so a little science was called for! First task, get a photo that gave a good spread of the birds after they had all arrived. Thats not as simple as it may sound, it took somewhere in the region of two hundred shots. Having achieved a shot that I could work from it was then a matter of trying a couple of methods to see if we had anything akin to similarity in the answers. The pix attached are considerably reduced to accommodate file size, I work on enlarged format photos to provide a more detailed view. What was my final figure? 38195 give or take a few that adds up to an awful lot of Starlings, which ever way you look at it. I imagine they will soon be leaving us for their European nesting grounds so if you want to see them this year better sooner than later. The view point at Blashford Lakes gives as good a view as any, especially if its a reasonable sunset and there is a Peregrine or two about.
3rd February 2020
It was taking in excess of an ounce of lead to bump bottom in some of the faster runs. Beneath our feet amazing deposits of freshwater mollusc shells, giving an indication of the richness of the Hampshire Avon's biodiversity.
More signs of spring as the dogs mercury straightens up to face the light. The first signs of the bluebells pushing up through the leaf litter, perhaps more importantly the nettles are underway, as are the dog violets both extremely important butterfly larval food plants.
1st February 2020
The salmon season at Somerley is underway and that's official, confirmed by no less than Ronnie's Hunter. Looking good Ron but I'm not sure about that pigeon roosting on your hat, considering it was "Cock Day" I hope you kept your head down!
Peter, having found the river, was one of about a dozen rods who welcomed the start of the season. It was good to see everyone out on the banks again, both fly and spinner were given a good work out, alas the fish refused to join in. Fingers crossed the fish arrive in the near future and we see a better return than last season.
I believe Sir Winston Churchill also probably spent the day spinning, with about the same amount of success!
30th January 2020
With the salmon season about to start, in less than 48hours, the water is still way out into the fields. This means of course the water level is above 1.18 at East Mills Flume, the height above which early season spinning is permitted. Those of you that wish to indulge will never get a better chance to fish the Devon minnow in the fashion it was designed for, so don't be shy give it a go. The link to East Mills in the headers will take you to the site, so please keep an eye on it to ensure we stay legal.
Should you be out there after the first of the season there are one or two points I should add by way of keeping safe whilst on the bank. In many pools the bank where you stand will have up to a foot of water covering. The water is clear so you will be able to see where you are putting your feet as long as you are not following some one down the pool that may have disturbed the silt, so don't assume anything if you can't see or feel firm ground. After weeks of high water the banks will have been softened and in many places dangerously loose. Sections of bank will have been washed away creating dangerous holes and gaps, so I would advise a wading staff at all times.
Remember you are out there to enjoy yourself and If you do hook that elusive springer don't let the excitement lead you astray, watch where you're putting your feet! Good luck and tightlines.
Just to catch your eye and your attention, Paul's 28 from last season. I believe the first photo won the fish of the month in one of the fishing mags and so it should, superb looking fish in the perfect Hampshire Avon setting, well done again Paul.
On a similar salmon tack we are facing a very difficult season. Five years ago we were seeing record catches, last year the Avon suffered its lowest rod return ever. The EA tell us last years run was similar to previous years, which is of little consolation as we didn't see them on the bank. The measure of fishery success is for the main part what the rods put in the book, most definitely not what the EA count through the fish counter in the weir at the tidal limit. I appreciate the EA have a different view on this looking on the species as their priority. If nothing else the last three decades that I have been involved with this river has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that the EA have not made one jot of improvement, development or maintenance to the Avon fishery. Any attempts to improve the run have been made by and at the expense of the fisheries, as in my interpretation. Season restriction, bait restrictions, method restrictions yada, yada, yada. Assuming we are to continue with this ineffective regulation of our fisheries, all I would ask of the EA and its not rocket science, is that they put the raw counter information, live on the net. We need rods on the bank if we are to see a return in the coming season, knowing fish are entering the river is a guaranteed means to get those rods on the bank.
We are all big grown up people and realise all counts are not salmon. We also have rods travelling the length and breadth of the country to fish the Avon, any encouragement that those rods can receive when planning their trips is priceless. You have a power supply at the weir, if you need an internet provider and modem, we will have a whip round and sort it out. After all the hundreds of thousands of pounds of public monies that have been ploughed into that bloody counter, to ensure the EA meet their WFD targets, surely the rods deserve a jot of consideration and benefit? For god sake if you want to be taken seriously as acting in the interests of the fisheries, get off your arses and provide us with the service we require.
28th January 2020
Odd behaviour from the Starlings this evening. There are currently two roosts on the estate of about equal size, in the region of 20,000 in each. They are almost exactly one mile apart and go to roost at the same time. The shots above are from the southern roost in reed beds in an old oxbow, as flocks arrive and dive down into the reeds. This evening flocks of Starlings were coming from the south and flying over the southern most roost to go to the northern roost. To make matters more complicated there were birds coming from the north, flying over the northern roost, passing the birds heading north as they headed south. Clear as mud and that's about the effect it had as they passed. I have never witnessed that behaviour before and trying to make sense of it is beyond me!
Thanks to Dave for a photo of his latest capture in the shape of this 20+ ghost. Not sure where these came from but at this size they have to be considered an asset, especially with such an amazing colour.
28th January 2020
Lesser Blacked-backed Gulls resting throughout the day on the flood before flighting back to Ibsley Water with the Black-headed Gulls to roost for the night. Historically all the gulls, swans and wildfowl would have stayed on the flooded meadows to roost. Nowadays they flight back to the permanant, large body of water at Ibsley, dramatically changing the natural regime of the valley. Daytime counts particularly of Wigeon and Teal used to be enormous, in the words of keepers at the time, "the air turned black with the number of birds lifting off". The second shot is looking south west over the southern marsh at Hucklesbrook. The water remains too deep for waders and for the grazing ducks to reach the grass. Oddly our meadows are deeper than those further south in the valley and drain off at a slower rate. The waders and wildfowl numbers usually build up at Avon Tyrell and as the water recedes make their way up the valley to us
The link below is Brenda's Mockbeggar Ringing Report that I know many readers enjoy reading.
Another super report from Brenda showing the difficulties our birds face in their natural environment. Only today I received another amazing report from Brenda that one of her juvenile Reed Warblers rung at Mockbeggar, in July 2018, has been recorded in Spain on its migration south in August 2019.
26th January 2020
Wet weekend activities. So, just what are we being asked to contribute if we respond to the, Water Challenges and Choices Consultation, currently being run by the EA? Looks as if it may well be a rainbow horizon, aspirational wish list to answer all the ails of our rivers. That's a great idea, all our problems should be solved within the next few year! There was I thinking it was already an accepted truth that it is too many people, using too much water, creating too much waste and none of them wanting to pay for it!
Before I consider responding I always knock together my thoughts and ideas based on my three or four decades of fishery and conservation involvement. I have attached that thinking below to give an idea of just what I believe to be the distillation of my thoughts if we are to have any hope of saving our rivers.
Whether or not I decide to actually put in a response will depend on believing if it will have genuine relevance. Or is it just a further exercise in producing hot air and rubber stamping the existing practices, thereby letting the real culprits off the hook yet again.
Only “16% of England's groundwater, rivers, lakes, estuaries and seas are close to their natural state”
“90% of the UK's wetland habitats have been lost in the last 100 years”
“56% of sampled sites exceeded two or more biota Environmental Quality Standards in freshwater fish between 2014 and 2018”
“18% of chalk river water bodies are impacted by abstraction” I think that might be dependent on how you define impacted and on whose assessment!
“Over 10% of our freshwater and wetland species are threatened with extinction and two thirds are in decline”
“40% of water bodies impacted by pollution from rural areas”
The above list, be it depressing or encouraging reading, depending on your perspective I suppose, was taken from the consultation document and is by no means exhaustive. If nothing else this document goes a long way in letting us know that the protection we have afforded our rivers over the last one hundred years, under the guise of; Catchment Boards, River Boards, River Authorities and Regional Water Authorities, is failing dramatically. To continue as we are will ensure the continued ratcheting of the downward spiral eventually totally destroying the water environment. We may slow it a little but the decline will remain as abstraction, discharge, agri, industrial and household chemicals plus the myriad of other factors associated with increasing population will undoubtedly add to the pressure on water.. Generations that follow us will have forgotten, or never have know pristine water ways. The diminished ecology will be accepted as the norm and used as the baseline measure on which success or failure will be measured. Repeated over successive generations the self congratulatory back patting becomes the norm and our rivers and wetlands die.
A further question this begs is what percentage of the improvements claimed are attributable to the WFD, Water Framework Directive, European law that we are shortly to abandon? Recent years under the WFD have seen considerable improvements in many issues that adversely impact water quality. We are about to lose the umbrella of the WFD and the necessity for the UK government to comply with EU directives, as we leave Europe. UK legislation to replace the WFD needs to be given more statutory powers to ensure the environment receives the priority status it requires if we are to avoid further decline. We do have the current UK governments guarantees of no reduction in the environmental standards. Unfortunately, as that is currently written I believe it contains the caveat, to be at the discretion of the minister concerned; so effectively worthless.
We need immediate and ambitious action to introduce dynamic change in the way society values and treats its water. If we do nothing the consequences for ourselves, future generations and for wildlife will be catastrophic. Far reaching and innovative change is required if we are not to suffer a further period of the inefficient regulators hamstrung by fiscal restraint. Since the formation of the NRA in 1989 (EA forerunner) with the privatisation and separating off the water companies, thus funding source, the environment (Agency) has been at the mercy of commercial interests and cynical political agendas. Going cap in hand to Water Companies asking they investigate their own activities seems a little naive to say the least.
Irrespective of the current state of our water bodies to make progress and bring a greater percentage of these habitats back into favourable and good condition will require serious commitment and most importantly serious and sustainable funding. To plan requires certainty as to the funding that will be available. If the funding of our regulators is at the whim of political colour and expediency the future will remain bleak.
Having briefly looked at the background to our current plight, or more properly our current situation, one or two questions related to the consultation itself arise. Who is the consultation aimed at? General public or bodies directly involved managing the water framework? Are we to believe all responses will be treated equally? If the latter is the case, how and by whom will the submissions be assessed? Do we assume the layman (Mr J Bloggs and Mrs Tiggywinkle) will be afforded the same consideration as the river owners and managers? Will private commercial exploiters such as water companies and agriculture be provided with an enhanced platform to sway the arguments in their favour? Similarly those recognised as acting in the best interest of the environment, with hands on experience, such as Wildlife trusts, be given an enhanced hearing? Is there a written procedure with regard to assessing merit and weighting allocated to each response and by whom will that operation be implemented?
Independent, unbiased assessment of responses in essential to ensure established EA agendas or preferred outcomes are not promoted. Such as with the case at the time of the establishing of the RBDs, required under the WFD in 2009 and to be established along geologically similar catchment areas. Not to suit EA regional area borders, that has given rise to half the chalk streams being lumped in with the rock and gravel rivers of the south west. The other half, the clay and alluvial rivers of the south east.
Do away with OFWAT with its protection of the consumer as its primary objective. Alternatively provide the existing committee with clear priority guidelines highlighting water use and the environment. Where this clashes with consumer interests, the precautionary principle and the polluter/user pays are the natural options. If the consumer has to pay more for water so be it, water must be considered at its true value not a commercial commodity to be haggled and bartered to suit share holders and users at the expense of the environment.
Restructure EA board to include Independent, members elected from user group nominees to provide executive over sight of regulator activities to prevent repeats of policies such as; Defra/MAFF Land Drainage responsible for loss of wetlands, Defra/EA weed cut destruction of EU designated habitat and associated ecology and Defra/RB Canalisation policies that wreaked untold damage on the environment and exacerbated downstream flooding.
Discharge to be upstream of abstraction to provide incentive for water companies to ensure implementation of water quality objectives re chemical limits. Similarly encourage Water Companies to build infrastructure capable of dealing with flood water increased flow thereby preventing raw sewage discharge. To provide increased river flow above abstraction points, to slow impact of climate change and alleviate low flows created at the tidal limit at times of high abstraction. Draconian penalties imposed on discharge pollution incidents be they STW, agricultural or highways.
Restrict, or do away with, out of catchment supply. A simple measure to protect and maintain catchment flow and avoid transfer of chemically dissimilar volumes of water, with its associated adverse impact on sensitive biota and habitats.
Tidal limit, nocturnal or salmon run evaluated abstraction. To allow natural flows of both ground and surface water to complete its cycle within the river before the adverse impact of abstraction.
Tidal limit extraction points to be redesigned to remove barriers to passage, minimising disruption of migrating salmonid and CYPRINID fish species. This isn't rocket science, the designs already exist. It requires the commitment of the water companies to the environment as opposed to the easy option.
Funding: catchment based, on level of extraction levy per litre ring fenced for environmental protection. To be waived/dispensed with, through independent review/consent/agreement, to assist with development such as specific abstraction and discharge infrastructure undertaken to achieve compliance with the above recommendations by water companies..
Education re personal water use impact, backed by regulatory cut off; hosepipe bans etc, overseen by independent panel/committee. (EA, Wtr Co, Wildlife Trusts, landowners, LA, Ofwat)
SW RBD is not fit for purpose having been established to suit EA regional policy against the establishment guidelines provided. Under those guidelines river basins were to be established with geologically similar catchments. The R Frome, R Piddle, R Stour and Hampshire Avon chalk, green sand, clay and Bracklesham gravel bed catchments are atypical of the gravel and rock catchments of the majority of rivers in the South West. A new River Basin District including the rivers above plus the; R Test, R Itchen and R Meon should be established dedicated to the Internationally important chalk stream catchments.
The agriculture similarity of the majority of the SWRBD and sediment sources on the HA are not reflected in the data.
This consultation should be considered in the light of the Agricultural Act currently going before parliament, Natura 2000 (SAC & SPA) and the Governments 25 year environmental plan. To add a purely theoretical wish list to the equation at this time might be construed as shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted
Climate and Biodiversity.
As greater population demand is put on green field sites EA planning advice requires statutory teeth. To avoid Local Authorities and particularly the National Parks planning committees over ruling flood plain advice. This similarly applies to the advice coming from NE with regard to the riverine and wetland designated areas, their advice needs to be legally binding and have the environment as its top priority.
Increased water temperature will impact on ecological triggers such as; salmonid spawning, cyprinid spawning, invertebrate hatches with the associated link to seasonality hence food chains. Much closer monitoring of the riverine environment is required. We don't need to count fish we need to investigate the lowest biota building blocks within the system. The majority of this work should be undertaken at university level. All data arising from this work should be made available at no cost online.
If serious action is to be undertaken to protect wetland wader species such as the Curlew, used as the example of threatened wetland species, it must be done in conjunction with other regulatory bodies. The use of the Curlew as a measure of success or failure brings in a greater number of factors than covered by the scope of this consultation. Disturbance, predation, climate change, habitat destruction, all factors that need to be considered alongside wetland concerns. National Parks have been an ecological disaster through prioritisation of public recreation, poor planning decisions and bowing to unscientific public pressure groups. Wetland habitat restoration alone will not save the Curlew if it is to remain subject to the assault of; runners, riders, dogs and publicly subsidised destruction of the grasslands.
Wetland creation is not a problem if correct funding is made available through the Agricultural Act. The multi-agency involvement in river valleys, such as the delineation between main river and secondary water courses, wastes valuable funding and duplicates resources. Under the Catchment Management Plans all wetland and water courses throughout an entire catchment should come under the regulation of a single body. This would mean the movement of various agency and local authority staff into NGO bodies with the complication of new contracts and pension funding. An administratively daunting task but not insurmountable.
The statement contained in Para 9 under “Climate and biodiversity crisis” the sweeping statement; “We can do this by restoring rivers, wetlands and coasts to a more natural state, creating more wetland habitat, protecting and supporting wildlife recovery and changing the way we use some land.” This is a blatant simplification of an extremely complex area of potential benefit. It does not take into consideration existing ecology that has developed and adapted to the current regime. Many of the habitats that would be altered under such a policy are notified under conservation status designation and would require consenting as a change of regime. As an example changing the heavily modified Hampshire Avon Valley back into the braided channel, willow and alder car of pre-history, would change the ecological value of the valley dramatically. From being one, if not the most diverse river valley habitats in the country, it would return to a niche ecology existing in a completely different and more restrictive wet woodland habitat. Sweeping statements such as highlighted would appear to suggest a predetermined requirement of this consultation.
Changes to water levels and flows.
The determination of the criteria that indicates abstraction impacts needs to be reconsidered. If the precautionary principle is to be the principle factor determining the permission granted private companies to exploit a public asset for commercial gain, all possible detrimental impact require consideration. River life does not start at the top and work down, it is constructed from the base up. Its all very well protecting the iconic salmon as it is recognised by the general public as a wonderful creature with an astonishing life cycle. That salmon would not exist, which under the current regime we are doing our best to achieve, without the very basic forms of river life, diatoms, algal growth etc, that support the juvenile invertebrates that form the food for the first feed salmon fry as they emerge from their gravel incubation redds. If low flows created by abstraction, which involves rises in water temperature and increased nutrient concentrations, potentially give rise to adverse impacts, the precautionary principle should be invoked. If the habitat requirements of the Iron Blue Dun, which include the food its juvenile forms are dependent on, are potentially at risk ALL abstraction should cease in the aquifers and higher reaches of the catchment and moved to the tidal limit as recommended.
Clean gravel the signature of our rivers if they are in good health. Our Mayflies and other up-wings are in serious decline and need considerable research to understand their problems. A section of a heavily modified river that shows two water channels flowing in opposite directions.
The use of compensatory pumping, stream support, should cease immediately as a misuse of the aquifers involved. Robbing Peter to pay Paul and keeping ones fingers crossed we get the winter rain to refill the aquifers is the water equivalent of Russian roulette. At some point in the future with our changing climate we will suffer three consecutive low flow winters. Do we wait until we have destroyed the internationally important chalk stream habitat or take action now to guarantee its future existence.?
Chemicals in the water environment,
Environmental levy on all household and industrial chemicals found in water system, similar to the recommended agricultural chemicals and pesticides and abstraction levy. With the normal waiver to support infrastructure improvements.
The question arises just who sets the WFD EQSs (Environmental Quality Standards)? Similarly who sets the 0.1 ug/l threshold value for pesticides? Based on what research? Does that research include the impact on the food and life cycles of the lowest forms of naturally occurring life, upon which all life is based within the catchment? Fish, crayfish and blue mussels seem to be a little high in the food chain to be deriving biota risk. I suppose its better than humans being the baseline! Drinking water quality objectives are not designed, or suitable, to protect the more delicate elements of riverine ecology.
UK water quality standards are set in accordance with EU technical guidance. The precise values for standards have been set with advice from the UK Technical Advisory Group (UKTAG). I imagine it must be the same group that set the EQS
A significant increase in research work to establish the impact of not only the chemicals that are regularly monitored and sampled but also those many hundreds of chemicals and medicines that are currently entering our rivers under the radar. Research into the symbiotic relationship of these chemicals is also urgently required to fully understand the potential for harm. Much of this research should be undertaken by PhD thesis conditional on all future research being available FREE online. I just hate "pay to view" journals!
“Achieving further reductions will be neither easy nor straightforward.” Whilst the truth of that statement is undeniable if a genuine desire to achieve clean water and rivers exists within our regulators the funding must be found by central government or through the environmental levies as recommended above.
Lots of disjoined thinking that may form the basis of a response yet without a central government change of priority and commitment, plus adequate funding, the protection of the environment is impossible.
At risk, Avon Valley conservation designated water meadows.
25th January 2020
The close of the wildfowl season is fast approaching and the floods have made for perhaps the most difficult season for many years. The flight ponds have for the most part become just a small part of the water world that makes up the valley. Not only were the ponds impossible to feed, actually getting out to them risked life and limb. Wildfowl numbers have remained relatively low with just a few thousand about the valley. The only exception being the feral goose population that has got away very lightly this year. This will add to the problems of the meadows later in the summer when the increased number of broods risks destroying the grassland and wild flower meadows that we so carefully manage for the benefit of the insect world.
Despite the flow that washed many feathers away, numbers still remain on the emergent weed after the wildfowl have been grazing overnight. This used to be the way duck numbers were assessed when working out the amount of barley to put in the flight ponds. Nowadays the thermal imager takes all the guess work out of the process as a quick glance through the lens lets you see every bird in the valley. Numbers remained relatively low this year due to the mild weather. Our European visitors for the most part never had the need to travel to our warmer shores. It will be interesting to see which other elements of the valley wildlife will change as the mild winters we are promised with climate change impact our southern counties. I haven't seen a Bittern this year and the Heron down at the heronry are busy with their nests, a further sign of the times perhaps.
23rd January 2020
News that I only became aware of last week and I'm sure many salmon syndicate members will be equally sadden to hear that Julian Mahoney passed away several months ago. Julian epitomised all that was good to be found in our sport through his patient approach, his enjoyment when Lady luck smiled and his appreciation of his suroundings. I always looked forward to bumping into Julian on his visits to Somerley and I will miss our good natured conversations putting to right the woes of the fishery world. A great loss to the banks of Somerley.
20th January 2020
Today's update is of the reflected sky, looking north from Ibsley Bridge first thing this morning, over North-end towards North Hucklesbrook Marsh. Water remains in the fields, slowly dropping back at an inch or so a day. The second shot is of Ellingham oxbow, which hopefully is doing the job it was designed to do in high flows. It looks superb, with five feet of water steadily flowing as it drains the fields back into the main channel just upstream of the bridge. It looks absolutely perfect for roach but it would take a brave soul to spend the last hours of daylight searching the 400m of newly created channel for the elusive shoals. Lets hope they are there safely sheltering from the last five or six weeks of high flows. The only thing of note I spotted today, as I called in and parked in the flooded car park, was a Woodcock sat on the far bank enjoying the soft mud and dense cover.
19th January 2020
At last it looks as if we may have a break in the weather and we will see the river retreat to within its banks. If we are to believe the forecast there is no serious rain due for a week or so and with overnight frosts some of this excess water may get the chance to clear. I can't see it doing a great deal for the coarse angling as the water remains gin clear and the temperatures are going to tumble. Given a few days the chub, perch and pike will hopefully get acclimatised and come back on the feed, the barbel may take a little longer but you just never know.
Another of those silver linings as there are over thirty Little Egret and three or four Great Egrets about the valley at the moment enoying the flood.
17th January 2020
Water, water everywhere, just about sums it up today. The first shot is the road between Ibsley and Harbridge, up to the bottom strand of wire and pushing through. Definitely not the place to breakdown so best avoided if possible. Middle shot out to Blashford, don't even think about it! On a brighter note, a couple of the fifty odd Crossbill feeding on top of the larch today.
15th January 2020
Last night did nothing to ease our waterlogged situation with a further helping of rain and wind. Several trees succumbed to the blow but considering the strength of the wind yesterday evening we got away with just a few twigs. The height of the river is another issue as it's come back out into the fields with vengence. Nature will eventually allow the levels to drop but it will still be very high at the start of the salmon season next month, whatever the weather does now. On a positive note as I write this the Avon is sending its freshwater homing signal way out into the channel, it should at least mean any fish in the system will not be stuck down below the Great Weir in the harbour and come rattling up river to us.
Whilst on the subject of the salmon season could I request any syndicate members who have not renewed their membership, or let us know if they are not to rejoin, please email or phone the office. We have a list of rods on the waiting list who would appreciate knowing their fate in time for the new season.
In an effort to avoid further phone calls the fallen lime in the photo, by the ford at Moylescourt, is not one of the estate's. For the most part our problems begin the other side of the Dockens Water, as discussed in the entry just the other day. I believe the Parish council are responsible for the lime in question and they already know its down. The tree in question is the ivy covered specimen in the second photo, before it fell down of course!
12th January 2020
Its been an odd sort of weekend with very few anglers about and the high water remaining out in the fields. Despite the floods it hasn't put off the trespassers with canoes and even magnet fishermen out doing their thing, the latter of which I have to thank Jason from down at the Royalty for pointing out the error of their ways. On a more pleasant note it was also a WeBS weekend, which usually provides a few points of interest to look forward to. As it turned out the main point of note about the count was the almost total lack of ducks. With such floods one would normally expect the wildfowl to be making the most of it and appearing in their thousands. in reality I would be surprised if there were more than a couple of thousand in the entire valley. You have to have a theory and mine is that the mild weather has not forced the normal flocks of Wigeon, Pintail and Teal across Europe from the east. If that's not the reason I have no idea where they might be. Hopefully as the water levels drop and more of the meadow grass comes within reach numbers will increase. One surprise I had, as the daylight arrived and I could see across the valley, was that the trout farm have finally got around to netting all the stews, including the two main central ones that attracted all the Cormorants and Herons for their breakfast every morning. The difference to the Cormorant and Heron counts was astonishing with just twenty Cormorant and twelve Heron arriving and even those were unsuccessful in attempting to feed. That compares with counts over the previous decade of over two hundred Cormorants and one hundred plus Heron. My concern is that the displaced birds will spread out along the valley and increase the impact they have on the wild fish populations. This was partly born out by today's count with higher than normal numbers through out the rest of theh estate.
It was a bird day in more ways than one with the Starlings north of Ibsley providing their regular evening murmuration display. I haven't given much information about the Starlings as the parking at Ibsley Bridge was threatening to become a problem. My lack of entries doesn't seem to have dulled the interest in the birds and this evening there were over thirty cars parked at the bridge, or along the drove to Harbridge, as people arrived to enjoy the birds. There was an obliging Peregrine on station to provide the Starlings with incentive to put on a fine show that I imagine can't have failed to have pleased their human audience.
9th January 2020
Yesterday's arrival at Ibsley looks very similar to our single Bewick of recent years returning yet again.
8th January 2020
This afternoon I donned the waders and splashed my way out across the meadows from Fool's Corner to discover what the weeks of flooding has done to the right bank downstream of Ibsley Bridge. I was also hoping to see if the salmon had been cutting on the shallows at the tail of Harbridge Bend, visibility permitting. I'd only put the thigh waders on that in one or two spots only just kept the water at bay, certainly confirmation only the brave, or foolhardy, should attempt to fish at the moment. In reality the river looked absolutely wonderful, classic Avon scenes under grey, leaden skies, the river at its most raw and natural. In fact there is not a lot to see as the water is too deep for most of the bird world, lots of white blobs everwhere as the hundred plus swans between Ellingham and Hucklesbrook are joined by two or three Great Egret. Add geese, herons and gulls managing to master the elements a day to enjoy the scenery not the inhabitants. The first shot is the change of direction the river takes at Harbridge Bend and the over flow into the meadows. Its the area I discussed in the diary entry last month. As for the redds, impossible to say, lots of clean and disturbed gravel yet in five or six feet of water I was unable to be certain of salmon activity.
On a different subject I see the angling papers and even some of the daily papers have picked up on a story that the current Sea Trout record is being questioned. Well surprise, surprise, since that ugly brute was awarded the record it has made a mockery of the Record Rod Committee. At the time of its consideration several people, other than myself, simply dismissed the thing as a red old cock salmon. However the thing was given any credence as a sea trout just beggared belief. Any person who has handled these red old fish in either natural or hatchery conditions wouldn't give the beast a second glance as anything other than a cock salmon.
Perhaps of even greater concern is that the supposed experts of the record committee still do not have the experience to simply dismiss this creature for what it is. It seems they need the evidence of a DNA test to support their ditherings. Not the most inspiring advert for bothering to get a fish recognised on the list!
7th January 2020
The new year is well under way. Apart from the clump of daffodils that are in full flower in my front garden, the woods are starting into life with the Cuckoo Pint leaves beginning to push through the leaf layer and unfurl.
Despite the high water levels the work must go on and at this time of year tree management takes a high priority. Many readers will know the ancient lime in the first shot and several of you may have seen the large bough that came down in the road recently. Due to the proximity of the road and the popularity of the shallow section of the Dockens Water with local children, immediate action is required to minimise the risk of injury to the public.
A similar scene is developing with the massive Moylescourt Oak that stands a short distance away beside the road junction. As well as being one of the largest in the New Forest it may well be one of the oldest. Unfortunately its venerable old age, combined with the recent decades of hot weather, this tree is also struggling suffering considerable die back and fungal rot. The sandy soil has not done this tree any favours and its popularity with walkers and picnickers has seen the surrounding ground severely compacted. Any attempt at lifting and injecting the surrounding ground with a slow release fertilizer is complicated by the fact more than half the tree's root mass is under the tarmac of the Linwood Road. The massive weight of the boughs that hang threateningly over the road has to be reduced and after the necessary planning applications have run their course we will endeavour to remove as much of the dead wood as possible in an effort to permit a few more years existence for this magnificent tree.
A further complication in deciding the fate of the lime mentioned earlier is that it would appear to have quite a religious significance in the life of many people. If this tree did not have this unexpected role it would be a simple and clearly justified decision to remove the tree completely as it is so dangerous. In this case we will try and reduce the risk of further falling limbs by pollarding and reducing the height. One further complication that can be seen in the third shot is that the tree is completely hollow and rotted out, actually threatening to split asunder and fall in opposing directions. Oh the simple rural life!
Still in the fields and now running gin clear, with the river bed visible is six feet of water. With high flows over the period of the salmon cutting the fish will hopefully have found safe gravel runs, high in the river system. Spawning in such high flows will require the hens to select redds in the optimum position to supply safe, oxygenated water over the eggs. It would be exceptional for the flow in these areas to further increase, hopefully meaning good survival of the redds avoiding rising water scouring them off the bed.
3rd January 2020
2020 beginning as 2019 finished, Ringwood and Harbridge churches across the floods. I've been away for a week or so but will now get back to normal service as the New Year diary gets underway.
My morning commute, it may hide many problems but not a bad office!
The water level in the new lakes is also at its highest level, there are over 300 Lapwing enjoying the sanctuary of the newly created islands