24th February

Wren Swift cabinet Oystercatchers

A bit of a bird day in that I have changed the wallpaper on my screens to the Wren, which I photographed through the front window out in the garden. I spent several hours before the rugby getting the Swift cabinet underway in an effort to cope with our expanding flock. Finally the Oystercatchers are back in the valley in preparation for nesting over at the lakes in the coming months.

23rd February

I am often told by syndicate members, as they head for the river at Harbridge, how much they enjoy seeing Robert Sampson out with his wonderful working Percherons. Today in the sunshine, as I passed on my rounds, Robert was working beside the drive with eight of his magnificent horses in hand. The wonderful scene almost took the breath away it was such a rural idyll it was beyond my ability to describe. As many of you know Anne is “horsey” and it was just too fine a sight for her to miss, requiring me to head home to collect her.

The sun continued to shine, Robert and his team remained hard at work and he kindly invited us to join him on the drivers seat. I have watched Robert, his wife Barbara and their family go about their work with the horses for many years yet today's experience served to reinforce just how close they work with the land they farm. The friable seed bed that enveloped the grain, as it began the journey to this years harvest, was perfection. What brought home the connection with the land was the flock of Wagtails that had found the freshly turned soil to provide rich pickings to keep them through the chilling cold of the coming nights. The well publicised decline of our farmland birds across the country isn't difficult to understand when you compared the sterile monoculture of an autumn sown barley field up on the plain with the natural balance this scene captured today.

Robert Sampson 8 in hand

The wonderful scene at Harbridge today, Robert with eight in hand with discs and harrows.

Wagtails Eight in hand Anne in her element

The flock of Wagtails that followed the harrows. The view from the drivers seat and Anne in her element as she marvelled at Robert's control.

Readers may wish to keep up todate with events on the farm.

Sampson Percherons

Sampson Percherons Facebook

That scene also captures the dilemma that our countryside faces today, especially as we approach the dreaded “Brexit” If we force the farming community into self sufficiency, through reducing or removing subsidies, economy of scale will win the day. Farm units will become bigger and maximising return will be seen by the farming lobby as the way ahead. The token gestures of today's buffer strips and beetle banks will in the furture be made to look like significant environmental measures if the modern farming community isn't kept in close check. Future farm payments must reward farmers who can clearly demonstrate their benefit to the environment, our wildlife has to fit into the working world, not kept in artificial reserves in token gestures at green wash. Our hill and upland farmers who struggle to make ends meet and those that minimise the application of agricultural pesticides must be valued and rewarded. If we continue to pander to the super markets and reward the barley barons to destroy our downland we walk a very dangerous path.

21st February

40+ Mirror

The wonderful photo above is of Andy Muir with a new Meadow Lake record carp in the form of the "Three-quarter Linear" at 42.8. Andy achieved this feat several weeks ago when he was fishing as a guest of Dan Wrigley. Andy went on the land a further 30+ and I believe six 20+ fish, a fantastic piece of angling. Congratulations Andy and thanks for the wonderful photo, a great looking fish and session. The reason I've put this eye catching photo up is to catch the attention of our "Stillwater" and joint "Coarse River and Stillwater" Members. ONLY THESE TWO CATEGORIES. This is necessary as we are currently sending out the renewal notices, which by now you should have received. If you have not received an email with the review and renewal slip please firstly check your spam file and if its not there, contact Jane in the office and we will sort things out.

40+ Common

......and then there are some photos that aren't quite so wonderful!

20th February

Harbridge Bend Five pound chub 14+ barbel

The first shot will cheer up Harry! It shows a clean Harbridge Bend with all the dead nettles and docks cleared away. The river looks in perfect trim at the moment and with a Spring tide just past I imagine there are one or two salmon in the river. It just remains for someone to have Lady Luck on their side and bump into one. Whilst the salmon are keeping a low profile the chub and barbel have continued to provide some great sport. The middle shot shows Mark with a pristene five pound plus chub safely in the landing net. One of ten fish, including three six plus specimens, all taken on teh float. Lovely bag of fish, great result Mark. On the right Darrel with a 14.7 barbel, that responded to the slight lift in water temperature at the weekend. Thanks for the photo Darrel, much appreciated.

17th February

Cleaning outthe nestboxes Burning off the parasites Cleaned and re-roofed

Refurbishing four of the fifteen Starling and House Sparrow nestboxes than adorn our house. Better late than never, the birds have been trying to occupy them after I had taken them down a fortnight ago and they stood on the drive in front of the garage door. Our local birds stay with us right through the winter, the resident birds roosting in the boxes through the cold weather. I don't clean them out every year but when I do I go over them with the blow torch to rid them of parasites such as lice that can build up over time. This year I will be repositioning several of the boxes to make room for a Swift cabinet I am currently constructing. I am having to add the extra nests the cabinet will bring as my four Swift boxes are occupied and the off spring from previous years are seeking sites to establish their nests. At one point last summer there were more than twenty Swifts screaming around the house and upsetting all the Starlings as they examined every box on the building.

16th February

After reaching the highest levels of the winter the river is dropping back quickly and will be off the fields within days. It rose sufficiently to reach the trigger level for early season spinning and I was pleased to see one or two members tried their hand with the Devon Minnow, in traditional early Avon fashion. Whilst the minnow fished well no rod was lucky enough to grass a fish, it was however good to see the minnow being fished in such heavy water once more. The river has dropped back below the trigger level and I will be surprised if we see such heights again this Spring. If ever a statement tempted fate that one has!

Habitat work First Peacock of the year Cutting alder regrowth

The habitat work continues apace as Spring rapidly approaches. The entire thrust of the habitat work is to bring a holistic approach to the lakes wildlife. We are keeping the reed beds and bramble beds from being shaded out by the aggressive willow and alder growth to provide food and cover for our warblers, rails and herons. A maze of vole runs keeping the Barn owl and the Kestrel busy and the remaining aphid covered willow providing vital winter food for the Long tailed tits and the alder seed for the Siskins. Nest sites for the Dunnocks, Blackbirds and thrushes and of course food and cover for the countless invertebrates. Particularly my butterflies, as today's first Peacock and Brimstone of the year brightened the day.

Multi-stemmed Douglas Douglas Fir Frosty morning in the park

A further look at one or two of our amazing trees in the form of this multi-stemmed Douglas fir that stands in an avenue of about twenty such specimens. They are not the tallest in the country but they must be very close to being soem of the first to be imported from the States and planted across the UK. When I say they are not the tallest they do give a good account of themselves soaring to well over a hundred feet and they have that dramatic majesty huge trees possess. The shot of the very frosty Lower Park was taken by Phil on his early morning round of the ewes, which also shows some of the fine specimen trees to be found down there. On the right of the shot a Common Lime with the enormous clump of epicormic growth that provides homes for owls, stock doves, Eygptian geese and Kestrels to name just of a few of its inhabitants. A huge Cedar of Lebenon and two spreading London Planes, simply stunning. Nice pic Phil, not a bad office!

15th February

The lakes are high The rivers even higher

Whilst the lakes are brim full the Shoveler, Gadwall and Goldeneye and geese are enjoying the extra water the river is even higher. We are seeing the river at the highest mark this winter, the meadows are well under but the water remains relatively clear due to the earlier flush we have received a month or two ago. Not ideal conditions for fishing but this is exactly the conditions we anticipated when we requested the consideration by the EA of high water spinning. With the priciple of high water spinning now excepted it was pleasing to see rods out today looking for a fish in far from perfect conditions yet feeling their devons were covering the water with a chance.

Awaking to a high river Across to Blashford Island A picture in white

The overnight rain had pushed the river well out into the valley. Blashford Island Run was only for the brave whilst Park Pool was a vision in white with the resident swans and Little egrets joined by a Great White. I believe the white van in the back ground of the first shot is Mark's, braving 'Cabbage Garden' in search of a barbel or chub. I hope he caught as anyone braving that flow deserves every success.

What's he thinking about? Noisey tree

The feeders are still proving very popular with the birds whilst I also feel confident in saying I have the noisiest tree in Britain in my front garden. Having had their fill of white millet from the feeding station the House Sparrows retreat to the front garden shrubs where they shout and chirp to their hearts content. Even through the double glazed front window, through which these photos where taken, the din is all too apparent.

12th February

A completely blocked hatch One of the problems Another snag Cleared hatch

Catch 22 - the three foot head of water makes unblocking the hatch too dangerous, so we will have to wait for the water to drop. Unfortunately the water can't drop because the hatch is blocked!
With the slight drop of water in recent days the day couldn't be put off any longer. Armed with rakes, poles saws, pruning saws, crowbars and spades the start of hours of cutting pulling and getting extremely wet ensues. Mostly willow limbs that had been too long to get through the hatch, thank you who ever sent them down. One or two points of extra interest, one being a complete picnic table, that had to be cut up under water. Also a bird table, that has developed quite a patina through being submerged for a few weeks. Once it has dried out I may even patch it up and take this home for my flocks in the front garden. Finally and thankfully the cleaned hatch.

11th February

It may have been on the chilly side but the sun did put in an appearance and with Anne just finishing her nights a walk seemed like a good idea. It also gave me the opportunity to look at one or two of the magnificent trees that can be found dotted about the estate parks and woods. Many of the great trees are getting a little long in the tooth, which gives rise not only to concerns over safety but also just how we preserve these massive specimens. In their winter state, without their leaves, we can get a better idea of just what is required or involved in keeping them in best order.

Poplar Robinia Beech Common Oak

A massive poplar down beside the river, dwarfing Anne and the ancient tangled robinia out in the park. One hundred feet of elephant grey beech and the noble oak beside the Salmon Lodge. A small sample of the wonderful, aging specimens that can be found about the estate.

10th February

Having today emptied the footwell of my truck of its week's collection of bottles, coffee cups and general crap that arrives where ever the Great British public come into contact with the river - the plastic dog poo bags ride in the back of the truck with the otter deterent! Today's anthem is sung by 'Swamp Dog' which I think he wrote it in about 1967 - we don't seem to have taken the message onboard!

....and the anthem for today is

9th February

Blashford Island Above the Break Through Below the Break Through

Between Penmeade and Ashley Old Weir is now looking a little tidier after another good morning with the strimmer. One pool that looks well worth a little more attention is the right bank of Blashford Island. With the division of water around the island becoming more equal in recent years the bottom end looks extremely fishy, well worth a chuck. The Island leads almost directly onto the top of Blashford. Whilst Blashford is traditionally fished from the left bank I've always felt it should be possible to take fish at the top of the pool just above the gravel shelf. It would probably best be fished with waders on, down to where the pool restricts 50m below the old seat on the far bank. Certainly worth an hour or two of any rods time. On downstream to Above the Break Through which is a great pool and should be high on the visit list of all Somerley rods, today it looked absolutely spot on. Access is a great deal easier after the wind blown willow beside the King's inception is now cleared away.
I mentioned the seat at Blashford, fear not I haven't forgotten that I need to replace and add a further dozen seats. With the fields remaining water logged getting materials out to the river is difficult. Its not the actual materials but the chainsaw and slammer that are required to cut and drive the posts that risk becoming my death knell. The wretched thing weighs a couple of stone and by the time you've sploshed, gasped, cursed and wheezed out across the meadows for the third or forth time the appeal of angling and the wellbeing of the rods is starting to take a back seat against my own survival!

8th February

Ground work Salmon pools Woodland clearings Cleaning the reedbeds

With the water gradually draining off the land we are able to get on with the backlog of groundwork that has built up over the last couple of months. The timber work is almost finished for the year and after several thousand tons of timber have been extracted we are tidying up one or two sections of woodland that have to be made ready for summer events. With the drying land the river has also fallen back and we can once more get on with cleaning the salmon pools. The shot of Dog Kennel shows its looking a great deal more angler friendly after half an hour with the strimmer. Whilst the salmon pools take on the top priority the work on the lakes still has to be completed before nesting starts in another month. As well as keeping the fishing areas clear we also need to ensure the surrounding meadows remain in good order. Its all a balance as we attempt to keep the brambles and scrub thickets healthy, despite the attention of the forty odd fallow deer we have about the place. Left to their own devices the deer will completely destroy the understory, along with the vital nesting sites for many of the birds and feeding sources for our invertebrates. Many of the plantations that were left at the time these gravel pits were restored, contain trees that are not indigenous to the valley. These foreign oaks and pines are felled and left as tangled as possible to keep out the deer. The woodland clearings also allow light to penetrate the canopy, stimulating new understory, providing vital food sources. Along with the coppicing, pollarding, layering and clearing alder and willow regrowth from the reedbeds, so important to Brenda's warblers, there remains lots to complete in the coming weeks.

6th February

A further heavy frost last night and this morning the valley has taken on the proper feel of winter. The frost and ice remained in the shade until lunchtime in many sheltered spots yet the sun came through early on quickly raising both temperature and spirits. A pair of Red Kite were displaying over their nest site and the Buzzards soared across the entire Estate. A Kestrel from one of at least five pairs that nest on the Estate was enjoying a vole out on his feeding perch in the water meadows as a Goshawk circled up into the air to join the Buzzards. The sun was out and valley residents were keen to enjoy it.

Feeding Kestrel Violets

Despite the frost nature seems to be of the opinion that the worst of the winter is behind us. Fingers crossed they haven't got their signals crossed.

5th February

Just a note to who ever left their seat in the Ellingham car park early last week, I have it. I can't for the life of me remember whose car was in the car park. If the owner reads this give me a call or drop me a text and I'll arrange to get it back to you.

On the fishery front we have yet to see any sign of a fresh salmon. A couple of beautifully silvered kelt gave rise to a skipped heart beat or two but nothing with true Avon Springer credentials.
The lakes are difficult yet continue to throw up one or two great fish with a 35 plus common by Woody being the pick of the bunch. The bream appear to be back on the feed in Meadow, which calls for a further blitz if we are to continue with the fishery stock plan. Once we get this latest cold spell behind us a session of two with the feeder would seem time weel spent. I'll let you all know how I fared if I manage to get either salmon or feeder rod out in the next week or two.

35+ common
Woody with his 35+ common. A lovely looking fish and thanks for the photo Woody.

1st February

We're off, first pool of the day Lunchtime at the Lodge

We're off! The salmon season is underway and a river in great condition and a sunny day provided us with one of the busiest days on the fishery. With a dozen rods out on the banks it was good to see such enthusiasm, fingers crossed we see a fish before too long to keep spirits high.

Goldeneye Wildfowl out on the lakes The geese pairing off

Wildfowl out on the lakes looking more relaxed. I have mentioned on here before and it still remains a mystery how the geese know the shoot season is now over. Overnight at least four pairs of Canada's took up position close to their usual nesting sites. I'm afraid we haven't reduced their numbers sufficiently this winter, which probably means we will be over run with goslings overgrazing the meadows in the summer.

27th January

Bird feeder
The only splash of colour about during today's grey drizzle came from the feeders in the front garden that continue to support a multitude of our feathered neighbours.

24th January

Ibsley Spillway Ibsley River height gauge North Hucklesbrook Marsh

The river is slowly dropping back but remains coloured and high. The spillway is running at its maximum but the water is not overflowing the bank between the hatches and the bridge today whereas yesterday a couple of inches was finding its way over. The rather poor photo taken with the mobile, in the rain, shows that we have dropped back about 80mm. The final pic shows the northern marsh at Hucklesbrook still covered in water, to the delight of the gull and wildfowl population. I should stress this high water is exactly what we need and the river and valley are looking magnificent at the moment. It may make our outside work difficult but this is a small price to pay for a river in good heart having flushed the accumulated grot of society and the summer out of its system. I have also added the East Mills Flume website page to the headers to make access easier.

23rd January

As I mentioned in the salmon review a few weeks ago and in light of the estate agreeing to take part in the early season high water spinning trial, I am bringing readers up to date with matters as they now stand. To which end the EA have agreed that the level above which spinning can take place before 15th May will be 1.24m at East mills Flume.

Water height at the East Mills Flume

I must emphasise that its the East mills Flume and not the East Mills Weir, the link above will take you directly to the correct site.

One or two members have asked me recently for a Somerley water height at the flume when Somerley would offer the best chance of a fish. The only problem with this is that I am not familiar with water levels at Somerley in relation to the East Mills gauges. I have always used the flow at Knappmill as a guide, along with the spring tides they are probably the most reliable indicators of success. In an effort to resolve this in recent weeks I have been looking at the levels at Ibsley Bridge and comparing them to the flume and now feel I have a reasonable understanding of the relationship between the two.

Firstly let me give you an idea of just what Somerley will look like when the levels at the flume reach the critical height to allow spinning. As an example, Today's level on the flume at 16:00 was, as in the photo below, 1.23m that is just below the permitted level. The two bordering photos show the levels out on the bank. Judging by the height at Island run and Blashford pool I'm sure not many will take advantage of the opportunity to spin. In the event you do make sure you are properly equipped and I would strongly suggest you do not venture onto the banks without a stout wading stick.

Downstream towards Blashford Pool Today's East Mills Flume reading Upstream to Island run

Downstream towards the corner at Blashford Pool. Toady's reading at the East Mills flume and upstream across the meadows to island run.

From the responses to the review that we received from syndicate members there would appear to be only a minimal interest from members in taking advantage of the facility. It is however an opportunity we shouldn't ignore if we see high flows through until May as we did just a few season back. It will provide the opportunity to visit the water with a chance of a fish, even if actual fishing time is perhaps secondary to just being there! I would request that spinning effort is guided by the existing etiquette that we adopt at Somerley for the fly. We would not wish to see any water fished repeatedly, by which keeping on the move and covering different water at every cast must be the way forward.

17th January

Rainbow at Harbridge

With the river continuing to run high and coloured, with further rain forecast, it looks as if we will have a river in good order when the salmon season gets underway in a fortnights time. Today's showers and sunshine, perfectly captured in this shot of the Old School House at Harbridge.

15th January

Twenty plus pike

We have seen some good pike this season, I certainly know of fish to 29.02 pounds. The photo above shows Adam Martin with a 22 pounder to go with a 19 pounder he had on the traditional start of the pike season back on 1st October. Adam has also managed an absolute beauty of 28+ a month or so back, which points to a pretty good season to date. Well done on the fish Adam and many thanks for the reports and the pix.

11th January

Sunrise at Ellingham
Yesterday's sunrise at Ellingham, taken by Jane on her way into the office; nice one Jane. The start of a good day beside the river.

The Reeds Pile Pool Ellingham Bridge Pool

Every day beside the river is a good day and clipping up the salmon pools is a great way to spend it. Looking upstream from Gypsy to The Reeds, Pile Pool down to Park and upstream to the Bridge Pool.

Evening mist
The weird light at the close of day as the mist rolled back into the valley.

Dumped fridge

.........and there I was worried about micro-plastics! Just where we are heading with individuals such as the one-watt that dumped this in the river I have no idea. Especially when fly tipping in the New Forest District Council area incurs the wrath of the council with a FPN (Fixed Penalty Notice) and an £80 fine!

9th January

The Seat

This might prove interesting. We know there is a lie just off the seat as fish have been lost there in the past. I've extended the fishable length of bank by 20m and will take the top off the brambles so that fish running downstream can be followed down to Pile Pool if the rod is held high.

2017 Review

One of the odd things about my role is that I do not have an obvious end to my year. The river coarse season retains a beginning and a separate ending, as does the salmon, the trout, the wildfowl, the pheasant and the deer to name but a few. Most run in harmony with the natural cycle of events in the valley. Migrants come and go, be they summer or winter visitors, there is however no clear point of change. If my year were to have a beginning and an end it would probably be the winter solstice. Not because I am some sort of practising Pagan but because it simply is the shortest day, with all the photo-period implications for the Natural World. The regeneration of the Avon salmon gets under way, foxes begin their barking and screaming, to accompany my night rounds and our swans along with other of the valley early birds begin to establish their territories.

Perhaps, on consideration, with Stonehenge in the catchment with its millennia of influence and filtered essence percolating down through our chalk the Avon is tainted? I have been immersed in the waters of this river for over fifty years it has probably seeped deep into my bones. Does this mean I should stick to my personal preference of the solstice? In light of my dilemma adopting that which the vast majority, along with Pope Gregory, feel to be the first choice would seem most logical.

Classic Avon roach
Darrel with his wonderful roach.

First Somerley salmon of 2017
Paul with the first salmon of the season.

A frosty start to January saw the lakes cowering in the face of the freezing north wind and the exposed sections of the valley proved a trial for all but the bravest souls. An improvement in conditions made the river more attractive with the fish coming back on the feed between the frosty night time temperatures. To prove a point Darrel Hughes landed what for me was the fish of the month with a stunning roach of 2.09. The chub and the pike continued to provide some wonderful fishing and great specimens. By the end of the month the north wind had given way to rain bearing south westerlies. The river levels rose and the water coloured making the February start of the salmon season a challenge with such heavy flows. Hopefully the early salmon made the most of the perfect running conditions to reach the higher river. It wasn't until the 9th that the first Avon Springer graced our banks when Paul Greenacre landed a magnificent twenty plus fish.

Right up to the end of the coarse season on the rivers the Avon continued to produce chub fishing that is hard to believe has ever been bettered. Its almost impossible to chose the best example but I think Ollie Johnson's float caught bag that included two seven plus, three sixes and a big five has to be the pick of the bunch. As the water temperatures continued to rise our barbel also joined the fray with doubles showing throughout the fishery rounding off a perfect river coarse season.

Wonderful chub
One of Ollie's amazing chub bag.

Somerley Springer
Ray with his classic Springer.

A warm ending to March provided a spring boost for the valley wildlife and the butterflies in particular enjoyed a far better start than the spring of 2016. The arrival of Spring is good for the soul and it was a particularly pleasant time to be in the valley and around the lakes. The appearance of the sun and a light southerly or westerly wind soon put the memory of the long grey winter behind us. With the close of the coarse river the salmon and stillwater syndicates came into prominence. The early flows of february collapsed by the middle of May. By the end of May the water temperature had also reached the critical 19 degrees centigrade cut off point for salmon fishing. The flow never recovered, continuing to bump along at low summer flows for the remainder of the season. Whilst the water temperature did drop below the conservation limit in reality the salmon season ended for us in the middle river by the beginning of June. One other fish I should mention was a great looking twenty pound cock fish landed by Ray Finch from Cabbage Garden. When the phone rang and Ray told me he was into a fish I was on the far side of the world out in the jungle somewhere north of Chiang Mai, in Thailand. A little distant for me to rush to Ray's aid so a quick phone call to Kevin on the estate produced the necessary assistance and honours with the camera. The wonders of modern communications. In total we did see seven fish over the magical 20 pounds mark banked in the early season, which wasn't too bad on consideration. Unfortunately it wasn't to be maintained and numbers and size dropped off dramatically making the salmon season a difficult one best put behind us.

The capture of some stunning carp from Mockbeggar with multiple catches of 30+ fish gracing the bank on several occasions went some way to lift the spirits. The Somerley Lakes complex continued as it has for decades providing some wonderful fishing. Our efforts in removing the bream are starting to show positive results with the tench getting the chance to reach the bait and as for the carp even the resident old girls are putting on weight in leaps and bounds. The tench in Meadow are getting very long in the tooth but with new blood safely installed in the complex the future looks well. We still have some way to go in removing excess carp and bream, hopefully this summer will see the carp numbers in King-Vincent sorted out at least. If all goes to plan the biomass in Kings-Vincent will be sufficiently back under control to see the crucians introduced in the not too distant future.

With the arrival of 16th of June the coarse river season just couldn't have had a better start. Paul Allen's incredible 8.02 chub gave a flavour of the chub that inhabit this amazing river. Once spawning was out of the way they put their condition back on quicker this year than I have ever seen. As autumn arrived the number of six and seven pound fish throughout the length of the fishery has been staggering. It often requires a second take to ensure I had heard the correct details of some of these catches. There seem to be shoals of younger year classes in the carriers, which would seem to bode well for the future. I would suggest that if you have access to the Avon you should make the most of these astonishing fish as I find it hard to believe we will enjoy them indefinitely.

8.02 chub

Paul Allen's staggering chub.

The summer turned into a vintage one with warm weather providing perfect growing conditions for the valley flora and fauna. Mockbeggar continues to delight with the winter grazing regime producing a blizzard of wild flowers for the pollinators to feast upon. Butterflies drifted and danced in every meadow with three new species being recorded on the Mockbeggar transect. The valley not to be outdone produced massive hatches of both Small Tortoiseshell, feeding on the creeping meadow thistles and Green-veined Whites on the mint of the floated meadows. Its a further therapy for the soul to walk through a meadow surrounded by literally hundreds of butterflies.

Wild flowers

Wild flower meadows at Mockbeggar.

The resident bird populations seemed to enjoy an equally successful breeding season with several species appearing in good numbers as they fledged. Not perhaps the stuff to excite the twitching fraternity but our Blackbirds, Bullfinches and Goldfinches appeared in numbers I haven't witnessed for years. Brenda Cook, of recent warbler ring recovery success, produced further evidence of the successful summer with her Mockbeggar warbler study. If only such information could be attained for all our species, not just the birds but the insects, fish and valley mammals as well. The sooner we understand and are educated in the needs of our valley wildlife the sooner we will be able to ensure their sustainable future.

Mega barbel
Darrel with yet another superb specimen at 16.08 a mega barbel.

Forty plus common
Even I have managed to land a fish or two this year!

As with the chub the barbel soon recovered their condition after spawning and we witnessed some superb fish even in the height of the summer. The low summer flows and clear water visibility meant fishing became harder as the summer turned into autumn and we failed to get the expected rains. Eventually we did see one or two decent spates and the barbel responded as we hoped with some magnificent specimens. If we include the fish north of Ibsley we could be looking at five fish in excess of sixteen pounds on the estate. One of the Ibsley fish certainly in excess of seventeen and one south of Ellingham possibly equally impressive. Simply wonderful, long may it last, just ensure you make the most of it. If we add a healthy pike population that has seen some superb specimens landed things are definitely looking okay on the fishery front.

Keeping the infrastructure of the place up together is always a balance between Estate events and the weather. We continue to clear fallen and dangerous trees, pollard willows, reinforce roads, renew hatches and replace bridges and styles that fall into disrepair. Conservation projects such as the Ellingham oxbow, Harbridge wader splashes and the Mockbeggar meadows add a further element. It all takes time and along with trimming the paths and pools keeps me extremely busy. Hard work and time consuming it might be but I for one can think of nowhere I would rather be.

I look forward to seeing you all on the banks in 2018, whatever your chosen pursuit lets hope for a good one.

8th January

Mute swan cygnets Bridge

Only the other day I was wishing for more swans to help with the weed clearing and today over a hundred were present in just a couple of fields. There were sixteen cygnets in one small area, which would seem to point to the swans having had a good summer. Add two Great white Egrets, hundreds of geese, plus numerous wildfowl and the wet meadows were looking more as they should at this time of year. The river is still high but if you have wellies it is now possible to cross the oxbow again at Ellingham, making it possible to walk around the Ellingham Island copse. The old scaffolding bridge has been dismantled and is laying close by on the mud. Once the soft ground, after all the recent rain, has hardened up we will get a tractor down to remove it.

Dog otter

Mid-day today and I was clearing hatches when this chap insisted on passing.

4th January

Cleared oaks Timber stacks Starlings

Our troublesome oaks looked a great deal easier the morning after than they did at midnight in the rain and gales. A couple of hours with the chainsaw and the 4CX soon had them cleared and awaiting preparation of the trunks for the timber mill. Our planned efforts with the timber thinning is progressing well as about half of the forwarded material safely roadside awaiting hauling away. Finally, as I walked back from the hatches this evening on my last weed clearing round of the day, the Starlings put on a great dislay as a Sparrow hawk kept them on the move. Numbers have dropped to roughly half that at the time of the peak counts before Christmas but they still looked very dramatic. As grandaughter Katie said a week ago when she visited, the sound of their wings as they wheeled overhead sounded just like waves on the beach.

2nd January

As regular readers will be aware in recent weeks I have been doing my rain dance at every opportunity in a bid to encourage Mother Nature to replenish our aquifer up on the plain and provide us with a good flush through to clean out the summers detritus. Well, things are most definitely looking up. First Dylan and now Eleanor have been doing their very best to meet my requests. As I said yesterday the river is well up and flushing through beautifully, lovely height, water temperature and colour. It really is looking spot on.

Whilst we are delighted with the conditions there are also less desirable consequences that we have to put up with for the overall good of the river and its inhabitants. It is certainly the end of sight fishing after the prolonged low clear water of the summer and autumn we are now under real Avon conditions. If the flow remains high the fish will also have moved from their summer haunts dropping into the deeper slacks and glides. I have to admit to never being a fan of sight fishing, I always feel I'm cheating or gaining unfair advantage over my intended quarry. My idea of the Avon is when its running bank high and what I refer to as winter green. If the rain eases off in the next day or two and the flood water clears the river will then take on the wonderful grey-green slate colour of winter. In the early sixties when I first fished the river, on what was then the White Horse water at Charford, if we could we would trot bread for the roach by the old boathouse. Or ledgering lumps of cheese for the chub just above the weir. That was in the days when a good chub was four pounds and most were in the three to three and a half stamp. Enough reminiscing, back to our current river and the problems associated with our floods.

All summer long the weed in the carriers and the side growth in the main channel has been growing thicker and denser with no pace of colour to curb it. Now the rising water, following one or two decent frosts, has loosened this growth and sent it swirling on its way downstream. Rafts and islands of Fools Cress and Sweet Grass are heading line astern for every hatch on the place. Add a few wind blown willow branches and an uprooted tree or two and we have a recipe for the perfect storm. No sooner is one hatch cleared than another blocks. As the rubbish is dragged out and cut up, the flow increases and sucks another half ton of trash straight back in. My day is spent patrolling the gates and hatches sending one lot after another on their way downstream. Why bother? You may well ask. To enable the flow to do its work and clear out the mud and weed from the river bed. If left water upstream of blocked gates quickly rises and spills over the banks dissipating its flow in the process. Once we have scoured the gravels its fine to allow it to carry its silt burden out onto the flood plain but first it must collect the mud and rubbish to do its work. Once again a potential downside is that it risks taking the salmon redds that were so recently laid down with it. As we stand at present the flow hasn't reached that critical point and the eggs remain safely within the gravel mounds. Fingers crossed it remains in that happy state of balance.

Wind blown oak Windblown oak

Yet another downside to storms Dylan and Eleanor as the ancient oaks give up their grip on life. Fortunately the roads were empty at the time, although Andrew probably needed removing from his lounge ceiling having that mighty oak crash down just yards from his front door.

Rafts of weed Blocked culverts Strange allies

Rafts of weed heading downstream to block every hatch and culvert. Its a time when we could actually do with more swans to break up the masses of weed and enble it to pass through the hatches. Unfortunately the twenty or so resisent pairs will not tolerate the flocks of non-breeders anywhere near the river or carriers in the heart of the estate.

1st January

Ellingham Oxbow

As its the first of the new year I feel that an entry should be added if only as an update on river conditions for any members heading this way. As can be seen the oxbow has an extra couple of feet in it but in the background the river is well within its banks. It is carrying plenty of colour and today the water temperature was in the region of eight degrees celsius, which means everything should be on the feed if you can just find them. It also gives me the opportunity to test the new HTML page!

30th December

Great looking pike

Roger Priddle looking justifiably pleased with himself, smiling over the top of a fabulous looking hen pike. Roger is a member of both the stillwater and the river syndicates yet finds little time to enjoy the river, which makes this super fish even more special as its his first fish from the river. Thanks for the report and the photo Roger, congrats on a great result.
I'm currently putting together a review of 2017 that I'll share in a day or two. Looking back as I write it makes for some super memories and good reading, despite the low summer river its been yet another great year for the syndicates.