Tall grass as a natural habitat is becoming a rare sight these days and that was before the current drought brought any new growth to a sudden stop. Whilst in the past day or two we have cut a hundred odd acres of grass for silage we still endeavour to keep several acres in its natural state to encourage the wildlife that is dependent on this habitat, from the roe doe with her fawn to the myriad of insects that inhabit this strange vertical world. Unfortunately even these unspoilt stands of grass are succumbing to the drought. With our shallow gravel topsoil very little moisture is retained and it doesn't take many weeks for the plants to wilt and die off. It certainly will be a further test for Nature's resilience to recover from this latest assault.
Even when the rest of the world seems to be baked to a frazzle the Back Lagoon always seems the coolest place in the world.
Here's a nice postscript to Kevin's Guinea Fowl photo I put up a couple of days ago. Ronnie Moore contacted me and sent a photo of a use he made of Guinea Fowl feathers. Many on the syndicate will know Ronnie and his lovely wife Val who occasionally accompanies him when he's out on the river. You may not be aware that both Ronnie and Val were stalwarts of the falconry world for many years and it was during that time that Ronnie made use of Guinea Fowl feathers.
Quite amazingly for twenty eight years Ronnie flew and hunted a Golden Eagle named Ailsa. When Ailsa required a new hood Ronnie always chose to have the top-knot made with guinea fowl feathers bound in purple. From the photos below you can see how well they topped the hood and if you look closely in the shot with Ronnie and Ailsa you can see the hood on its lanyard by Ronnie's breast pocket.
Ailsa's hood adorned with a Guinea Fowl top-knot and Ronnie with Ailsa taken a few years ago. Thanks for the photo's Ron, they're superb.
Hi De Hi campers! Our campers have gone and left us, I feel quite lost without them. Never mind I'm sure a further lot will not be far behind! They had an enjoyable stop over, fished from teatime until at least 01:30am on the neighbouring beat. Once it got dark they packed away the spinners and set up the eel gear, barbecued on skewers over the open fire, lovely, quite a show on the thermal imager. I've yet to hear how many charges are pending, I'll chase it up tomorrow to see if I can let you all know.
The mowers are busy and the grass is being black bagged in an effort to save what we can from the looming drought. Fingers crossed where the hay meadows have been cut early a wet late summer may see a second cut to fill the barns. Our efforts to sort out the devastation of the winter floods on the water meadows by repairing the washed out fences was once again thwarted by a second clutch of Lapwing eggs, too close for comfort to where we were wishing to work. I didn't examine them closely but I think I could see one was pipped so hopefully they will be hatched and move off to the slpashes further south, clearing the way for us to get on.
Keep an eye on the Knappmill temperature reading, we are fast approaching the 18 degree cut off point. If you are travelling you will not be expected to wait for the 09:00 o'clock reading before setting off, or not, what ever the case may be. The day after the nine o'clock 18 degree reading is when the cut off commences, by which time I will try and get the message out on here.
The Stag Beetles have been flying for the past week, with ones and twos droning about the garden most evenings. Tonight things took on a different scale with a count of fourteen, not including several squished on the road, all in the witching hour just before dark. The three in the first shot I picked up off the road to avoid them suffering further lamination! The middle shot is my Stag Beetle larvae heap, cherry logs buried in a pile of oak and beech chip. The third shot is a pair mating on the chip pile, which hopefully bodes well for a few years down the line. I just have to remember to top up the chip pile with a bag of chips a couple of times a year.
Kevin's been busy lately with all the hatching chicks, pheasant, partridge and these little beauts. Of all the lot Guinea Fowl certainly are an attractive chick. I have to say I'm a great fan of them and I like seeing them about the place, even if they do shout at me as I pass. I'm not sure what their fate is? I don't think Kevin expected that lot as he already has earlier chicks in the rearing sheds, which means in a month or two, if they avoid old Reynard, the yard runs the risk of being over run. One of their finest qualities is that they eat ticks, which adds considerably to their attraction in my view. They will keep an area completely tick free if allowed to free range. They are great guard dogs, no one being able to get past them without them kicking up a right old racket. They also make excellent eating, if you can catch them!
Interesting day as a bunch of travellers pitched up in our neighbours field. Unfortunately they didn't stay on our neighbours land and we had to move them on as they spent the afternoon spinning the river. No sooner had we turned our backs and they continued where they left off. The police and the EA were made aware so I will be interested in the follow up reports of how many prosecutions are pending for fishing for coarse fish out of season or trespass in pursuit of game or fishing without a rod licence. Without the criminal offence of disturbing an SSSI. Many of you will recognise the field just north of the Ibsley Bridge to Harbridge road. Slap bang in the middle of the SSSI, right on top of the Ibsley Splash were the lowland waders nest and congregate. Not a good day for the Lapwings.
The middle photo, dumb and dumber, paddling downstream on a non-navigable riverine SSSI, pushing the swans before them as they go. Three sets of cygnets have hatched in the last day or two, I just hope they were out on the banks and not on the river where they would have been pushed downstream into the neighbouring cobs territory. Still who's worried about a few dead cygnets, Natural England certainly aren't and we have a couple of hundred left.
Dave with a great looking mid-twenty common and another shot of that brood of Goosander.
Shearing got under way today, wisely in the shade of a yew tree to avoid sunstroke. The middle shot showing the grassland surrounding the lakes beginning to burn off with the recent heat. Its only the end of May and the ground is like concrete and the meadows almost devoid of pollinators, hardly a bee, hover-fly or butterfly in sight. The third shot as the mowing begins in an effort to get the grass off before it is burnt to a crisp in the forecast dry weeks ahead.
A photo or two capturing the flavour of the weekend. Left the cattle cooling their hooves in the carrier under the shade of a surviving Ash tree. Before anyone starts on about keeping cattle out of the stream we have eleven miles of main channel bank and considerably more carrier. In that lot we have no more than half a dozen cattle drinks totalling about sixty meters. I don't begrudge the cattle those few meters to cool their hooves and the fish also seem to agree as the gravel loosened by the cattle coming and going is often one of the favoured spawning sites.
The middle shot shows the broken window of a vehicle that was broken into at Ibsley Bridge Sunday afternoon. As it transpires it was a car probably belonging to one of our trespassers, karma or what! If you need to park there to fish the Bridge Pool park in front of the gate to enable you to keep an eye on your vehicle at all times. It does mean you cannot park there to fish around the corner at Ibsley Pool where you will be out of sight of your vehicle.
On the right the view down Pile Pool this evening, illustrating the amount of freeboard and the extent of the weed growth as the Crowsfoot flowers begin to fill the channel.
After our resumption of fishing it looks as if we are settling down sufficiently to resume normal service related to guests and family members. Guests need to contact the office and would members please text me if you intend to have any family members on site to accompany you. Thanks in anticipation.
A shot or two from this evening as I visited the river. The first is another brood of Goosander, this time with nine ducklings, hopefully minnows are their favourite food as we can spare a few of them. The centre shot tries, not very well, to capture the hatch that was taking place this evening. The Mayfly continue in dribs and drabs but tonight belonged to the sedge flies as there were hundreds of several different species on the wing. The third cotains a pair of Little Ringed Plovers that trustingly allowed me to walk past them, the width of the river seperated us but normally they would have flown as I came into view.
What of the Bank Holiday weekend? It just beggared belief, somewhere in the region of fifty, 50 trespassers of one sort or another. The Great British public are getting more ignorant and less respectful of the rights of others and boy I met some pretty ignorant people this weekend. I now genuinely fear for the future of the UK as we are certainly a country and a society in rapid decline when compared to the up and coming economies of Asia and with a government you wouldn't buy a second hand car from. The next few years will certainly be interesting.
As I'm sure regular readers will be aware I detest bank holidays. To add insult to injury this one is sunny, which draws out the Great British public in their droves. Not including the “travellers” that parked their caravans by Ringwood weir, this weekend to date has seen over twenty people trespassing on the estate, poachers fishing the weir pool, dog walkers on the SSSI at perhaps its most critical period, canoes on the river driving all life before them, swimmers, picnickers and even a little old lady picking flowers on the SSSI. You couldn't write it, all within sight of god knows how many signs stating; Private, No Entry, SSSI, No Swimming, No Picnicking, Wader Study Area and more, they just couldn't give a damn. Along with the rubbish left by the travellers in their brief stop over, the countryside is being totally destroyed by the ignorant and disrespectful..........and there's still a day to go.
Another reminder to the syndicate if I may;
Please ensure the chain on the Ringwood weir gate is lock well below the top rail to avoid being able to lift it over the gate post.
In reality the current legislation that is supposed to protect the rural environment and those that work in it, is not fit for purpose. If those in the NGOs that purport to represent the rural community, CLBA, NFU etc. don't get their act together and get us some protection the working countryside will become ecologically diminished and economically unworkable, just another urban playground like National Parks have become.
Today at times at home, things seemed almost as confusing as in work. The established Swifts are all in residence in their boxes with further pairs arriving seeking nest sites causing havoc. The appearance of the new birds trying all the available boxes gives rise to territorial fights. On several occasions I have had to seperate pairs as they seem to be unable to release their talons, todays pair had been locked together for over an hour before I intervened. I say talons as they have a grip that is vice like and claws like razors. Having endured them attached to my fingers on more than one occasion I speak from bitter experience.
A further confusion in the shape of bats that have also taken up residence in our nestboxes. Just what species and how many I have yet to discover, whatever they are they are welcome and I shall watch their development with a great deal of interest. Finally the Stag Beetles are emerging from the ivy and dead wood at the top of the garden. This was fine until I wanted a photograph. Sat poised, camera set, ready to spring into action the second I spotted one rising from the ivy. Twice the rattling wings signalled one flying yet on each occasion I was too slow. By the time I reached the point of lift off they were too high and clearing the house heading for the front garden. Attempts to wait for them arriving in the front also failed so I have yet to get a shot for the diarybut never fear, if they keep hatching I'll keep trying.
Finally to end on a happy note I must pass on my congratulations to Stephen Hutchinson, Mr Consistent, who has yet again, once more, landed a fresh cockfish of 15 pounds in the fourth week of May. Great result Stephen well done and thanks for the report, quite amazing.
In light of this seemingly endless drying wind turning the gravel roads on the estate into dust tracks might I make a request to the syndicate members currently driving about the estate roads.
I appreciate your enthusiasm to get to the river but might I ask that speed is kept right down to avoid a dust trail.
Many thanks in anticipation.
The Moylescourt Oak, with a girth of over 7 meters this ancient oak is one of the largest and oldest in the New Forest. Some estimate its age at over 600 years, just how they work that out I can't really say as I don't think anyone has every put a needle into it to get a reading. Not that they would find that an easy task these days as much of the heart wood is probably very weak, if not rotten. It was a special day in the long life of the ancient old tree in that Andrew and his TreeMenders team where with us to dead wood and make safe the over extended branches.
Bit of a WHOOPSIE, I said, "just cut the bloody deadwood off"
It was also a busy day for the twenty or so windblown and dead oaks we have dotted about the park as we have Mike Soffe over to remove any salvageable sticks and make safe the fallen giants in readiness to chip what remains. Mike, Ian and Jason busy winching, cutting and loading the fallen oak from beside Park Pool. Next job the standing dead oak in the middle of the park. Behind the standing oak, a Turkey oak that has literally blown apart even the massive trunk shattered into splinters. Loading the sticks that resulted from a hard days work clearing about a quarter of our dangerous and fallen parkland trees.
I think I have muddled up the photos I took today! The one which I thought was the felled Moylescourt Oak was in fact one of the fallen trees Mike and his team were tidying up. The three photos above capture the fate of the Moylescourt Oak. The first shows the Tree Menders removing dead wood and dangerously over extended limbs. The second and third the finished product, back in balance. The massive weight of dead timber hanging over the road has been removed and the area beneath the tree, so popular with visitors to the Forest, a great deal safer.
A nice photo to round off the day, a roe doe with her twins out in the water meadows.
One way and another the last couple of days have been a little wearing on both nerves and muscles. The hottest day of the year so far didn't help matters, the lack of sufficient cups of tea also seemed to add to the thick head. As an antidote as I set out on this evening's round of the river I tossed the net and rod into the back of the truck hoping to find an hour to go through a pool.
A call at the weirs to ensure all was well, a stop to look over the bridge and twenty minutes later I was passing Jude and Kevin's place, heading for the Lodge. Simon's second fish was recorded in the book and all being well with the world the river beckoned.
Where didn't make a great deal of difference, I tend to fish where no one has taken a fish to date, which made Ellingham Bridge Pool ideal, being close at hand with the setting sun behind me also added to its attraction.
Five minutes to tie on a black and yellow, inch tube and I was armed and ready for business. The first few minutes were remembering how to cast but once back in my lazy rhythm I was able to soak up the magic evening trappings of the Hampshire Avon valley with the setting sun warm between my aching shoulder blades. The river looked well, if low, several chub and trout were taking the few drifting Mayfly. A Grey Wagtail dipped flies from the surface, keen to share what must be considered a great delicacy in the bug eating world.
My progress down the pool was a slow procession, led by my shadow, a cock pheasant and his two wives, with me bringing up the rear. The sound track featured a moaning cow calling for its calf in the distance, Phil's ewes kept up their convivial bleating, always sounding confused, which seams to be the lot off most sheep. A Blackbird atop the stag headed Alder by the bridge did his best to lead a Song thrush and a Wood pigeon in their evening song. All the time to the ratcheting of the Sedge and Reed warblers rising from the phragmites beds opposite. Punctuated by the splash of the Terns taking fry mid river and the increasingly desperate Cuckoo seeking a mate over in Ellingham Island.
The sun began to disappear below the horizon behind me, now warming just my neck whilst casting a golden glow onto the oaks over in Broadclose Copse opposite. The Roe doe had brought her fawn from the cover of the Park Pool willows for its first experience of the long grass of the meadows. The Mallard and Gadwall circled on their evening flight as the Herons headed home to the heronry.
The sun continued its decent with just the distant tower of St Peter and St Paul's standing bright on the distant horizon, catching the last rays of the evening. That'll do nicely, an hour of perfection to round off the day and recharge the battery.
A perfect hour.
Congratulations are due to Ray Finch for this classic 20+ Avon salmon. The photo doesn't capture the depth of its flanks or thickness across the shoulder, it was a beautiful looking fish. Its capture and release were text book, the fly fell out in the net, rested well and swam strongly away. Well done Ray great result. I must similarly congratulate David Lambert who also landed a 14 pound, sea-liced fish today. No tails so between 24 and 48 hours in from the tide. David's third of the campaign so the river is certainly smiling on his efforts. Well done David good result.
The view across one of the new lakes at Nea, now about halfway through its restoration. Not the usual restored gravel pit in that we have specifically designed elements of this lake to suit the bird life. Having only been in existence a month or two the numerous small islands already seems to be attracting a number of different waders, Lapwing, Oyster catcher, Little Ringed Plover, Common Terns and regrettably lots of Black-headed and Lesser Black backed gulls. It has been quite an interesting bird day elsewhere on the estate with two broods of Crossbills flying about the pine woods and the Gos must have young out of the nest judging by the racket they kicked up when I walked past. Its unusual to hear the Goshawks unless they are concerned for the juveniles safety so oddly reassuring to know at least one pair have been successful again this year.
I can't make head nor tail of our weather of the last few months. We endured six months of floods that have immediately turned into a Spring of north east wind that has dried the ground to a crisp. Add to this the frosts of last week, which dealt the new growth a severe blow, swathes of bracken were blackened, the docks and water dropwort on the water meadows twisted and blackened, orchids, yellow flags and fleabane all wilted some beyond recovery. All told, we have about the most challenginging growing conditions imaginable and sadly what little nectar flow there was seems to have ceased and plants are simply failing to grow. Fingers crossed the promise of warm rain on Thursday materialises, it can't come a minute too soon.
Almost there! Saturday night and we are up and running again. Life has started to take on a mask of normality despite the ongoing crisis that surrounds us all. The shot is looking out across Mockbeggar this evening as the members settle down to experience the magic of the night beside the carp lake. Friday night was as busy as I have known with a dozen anglers enjoying the isolation of their fishery. Tonight not quite so busy but the sense of expectancy and releif at being out once more is almost tangible. The salmon fishing is underway with the understated efficiency I appreciate from our rods. We have had sevreal fish landed and to a man every rod I have spoken to has spoken of the relief and pleasure of being back in the valley. Today I only spotted two rods on the entire eleven miles of bank and they were there to enjoy the valley as much as in serious search of a salmon. We have seen salmon banked this week and carp to over thirty pounds, I must congratulate those that have enjoyed the added success of a fish. I must also congratulate those that didn't catch, both salmon and stillwater members who have made the fishery complete once more. Its certainly good to have everyone back on the banks again.
Here's something to look forward to, Dr Manual Hinge, natural history film maker extraordinaire, is making a new film about the evolution of the Avon Valley. Manny is currently working on the species that have evolved over millennia in harmony with our unique valley. You may see him tucked away in the undergrowth as he painstakingly records the creatures that we share our fisheries with. The two Reed Warbler shots are stills from nest building footage captured on a recent visit to the estate. Manny has a deep understanding of the habits and ways of the creatures that we see as we quietly walk the banks or sit motionless behind our rods. I can't wait to see the film that will allow those not as fortunate as the angling community to share the wonders of our river valley.
Thanks for the stills Manny they certainly wet the appetite for things to come and open our eyes to what is happening just a few feet from our rod tips. .
Many members may not even recognise the shots above as they didn't exist last season. The floods had washed out the mass of willow that was clogging the bank upstream of the old Jonesey's bridge foundations. I cleaned up the aftermath and we now have a further pool and 120m of good looking fishing that probably hasn't been fished for over fifty years. If Gregor Mackenzie, my predecessor, whom the pool is named after was correct it was the most productive pool on the estate in the 30's and 40's so please give it a try when you're next down that way. The first shot is looking down toward the head of Mackenzie's from the tail of coomber. Middle shot the body of the pool and the tail out to the top of Sydney. There remains quite a lot of willow root and cut material scattered about over the wet areas of the bank, so please take care when you fish it. As well as the salmon rods this has also opened up some wonderful looking far bank, sheltered, chub trotting swims. I'm sure the barbel will be there somewhere, which provides an added mystery to the new section.
The first Four-spotted Chaser of the summer around the lakes today.
The juvenile Heron are growing rapidly with many having fledged and out and about in the valley whilst those remaining were kicking up a right old racket demanding more food.
Hoodies cleaned up, looking good and ready for action, remember you can now fish above the marker stake as the weirpools are fishable again this season.
One of the rarest birds I have come across on the estate in the shape of this extraordinary Lesser Polepecker. You may be able to spot the nest hole in the middle shot. It may go some way in explaining why the pole down at Ashley cracked off and burst into flames. Final shot, I'm pleased to announce is the refurbished loo seat, clean enough to eat your dinner off. I'm not sure I'd recommend that but the moral of this tale is not to clean your loo with oven cleaner!
Well, we're ironing out the wrinkles and getting our routine established for the coming weeks of the social isolation. The sprayer by the gate, in the photo above, contains "Virkon S" which is a widely used virucidal disinfectant in the agricultural world. As I go about my rounds throughout the day I give all surfaces that potentially might harbour the Covid virus, gates, padlocks, toilet doors and seats etc. a good spraying and where appropriate, I wipe down with disposable paper. I should perhaps point out I have not taken on board the advice of a certain well known American in that I do not spray or inject anglers.
My initial deep clean of the Lodge loo has given rise to a slight snag in that the cleaner I used on the seat has eaten it and the composite material it was constructed from has disintegrated. I have removed all traces of the cleaner to avoid unsightly bum burn but the seat currently doesn't look its old attractive self. We are on the case and a new one will be fitted asap.
As half a dozen members are poised to go on Mockbeggar tonight may I ask any members fishing tonight or over the next few days to sack any fish under twenty pounds. I am seeking to manage the stock and require several male fish, it would also be a handy exercise to assess potential rod catch as a means or removing fish. Give me a text if you are successful and I'll call to have a look at the results. I would appreciate no texts at five past midnight please, after 6 am will be fine.
I have also been strimming out the banks around Ibsley, which has given rise to a request to the salmon rods please. I would ask that in order to minimise public interaction no members park at the bridge on the public highway. As I was strimming today the number of members of the public on the Avon Valley Path, cyclists breaking their trips leaning on the bridge and eating lunch on the grass in front of the gate was quite remarkable. It also has to be born in mind that the likelihood of having your car broken into at the bridge is extremely high. Please park at the Fools Corner car park, inside the locked gates of the Estate and walk back across the field to the Bridge Pool, from there working downstream.
One other matter I will raise on here is that we are intending to delay the date of spinning until the 1st of June. This will allow rods to fish the fly on water that is as perfect as we are likely to see, lovely height and flow with a minimum of weed. We will email a note out to members with any such changes to the rules and regulations, hopefully tomorrow.
As a large working fisheries we are open, with all the attendant comings and goings of security patrols, feeding stock, tractors cutting grass, strimming paths, servicing and cleaning of toilets and the machines repairing and making good the roads. I should add clearing trees resulting from the current blow! The codes are as normal and where members feel they are able to travel safely and meet the conditions under the covid19 guidelines, to and from work etc. they are similarly able to access the fisheries. The important issue from our perspective is to avoid a rush to the banks at the sound of the starters pistol.
Members who belong to the Angling Trust or any other angling body purporting to represent angling, may wish to look to their interpretation. That is a matter for individual members.
......and finally a photograph that rounds off the week in style. It records half a dozen witless clowns trying to extract one of their canoes from the hatches where it had been swept as they enjoyed their paddle down the river. Having extracted their craft and intimidated a member of the estate staff, they went on their happy way. Along with our five individuals with their running dogs and at least half a dozen poachers over on the neighbouring lakes, just about sums up the last month. I know its controversial but until trespass is made a criminal offence the protection afforded the rural community amounts to little more than lip service by posturing fools.
In light of the announcement from the PM we are permitted to travel for exercise without limit on duration, conditional on social distancing being maintained.
As such the salmon fishery and Mockbeggar will be open from 08:00am tomorrow, Monday 11th May 2020.
That will allow me time to reset the padlocks to the correct codes.
The change in guidelines regarding accessing the countryside and thus our fisheries has the potential to give rise to one or two problems. It has to be the foremost thought in everyone's mind that SOCIAL DISTANCING remains the most important aspect of our daily routines. The fisheries will only remain open if this is accepted and practised.
Allowing members back on the fisheries midway through the season, at a set date, has the potential to give rise to a rush of members eager to enjoy our new freedom. Without booking people in and out, which is impractical and hopefully unnecessary, common sense must prevail.
Angling is by its very nature a solitary, relaxing pastime. It is for our physical and mental well-being that most of us indulge, providing the perfect foil to this dreadful pandemic. If on arrival other members are present ensure you do not park, walk or fish in their close proximity. We are not talking of a couple of meters, we are looking to ensure ten meters at least with no social interaction, other than the normal pleasantries of passing anglers of course. Dependent on take up we may have to introduce a restriction on the length of time it is permissible to remain on the fishery. We will know this within the first twenty four to forty eight hours. Please don't be selfish and overstay your visit. Remember the fishery is open to fish and relax in isolation, full stop.
The Salmon Lodge will only be open for the use of the toilet, in emergencies and completing the returns book. The kitchen is not in use and social use of the furniture is not permitted.
Obviously the Estate retain the right to change any rules and regulations as they see fit. That said, hopefully a slow and steady resumption will see a successful completion of the salmon and stillwater seasons, picking up where we left off six weeks ago.
Now we have a time frame, will sort out the river renewals and salmon and stillwater financial implications as soon as we possibly can, many thanks for your cooperation over this difficult period.
I'll look forward to seeing you all back on the banks in the near future. Take care, stay healthy and tightlines.
Having collided with the wall next to the nestbox this is a semi concussed Swift trying its best to re-orientate itself clinging to the jasmine over the pergola. Its not surprising Swifts are in decline in the few years we have had them on the house we've had two in the pond and two wall collisions requiring intervention on our part to save the day. Add the war zone that surrounds our house as the disputes over nest boxes escalates with the sparrows giving the Blue tits a hard time, the Starlings bugging the Sparrows and now the Swifts and Starlings in full scale war. I think our house has reached saturation level, five pairs of Swifts, seven pairs of Starlings and eleven pairs of Sparrows and the Blue tits all at bloody war. All the normal tree nesting birds, Wood pigeons, Collared doves, Black birds, Song thrushes etc seem to get by without any apparent disputes? There does seem to be some light on the horizon as the first broods of Starlings and Sparrows fledge and leave the boxes hopefully the Swifts can take over residence.
Its all a balls up. If its not incompetence its dishonesty from our politicians, today I stand and watch as the carp get on with their spawning, losing us a further year in breeding our own stock. It may only be a few tens of thousands of pounds but it is totally unnecessary. To add insult to injury, I drive home in the evenings passing half a dozen vehicles belonging to poachers helping themselves to unpoliced waters. If I had anglers I could have retained the broodstock I required and ensured these low lives didn't help themselves to other peoples fisheries. All our anglers sit at home, going nuts, whilst the forest is teeming with all forms of humanity right outside the gates. Its not the fisheries that are shut, its the journey to and fro that is deemed non-essential by the police who have been put in the invidious position of having to interpret the legislation as well as enforce it. Our fishery representatives have been a complete waste of space towing the government mantra trotted out at every opportunity to cover their total abandonment of the NHS and failure to heed the advice of the WHO re pandemic readiness.
Breathe, breathe, deep breath and a Common Blue that have put in an appearance this week to calm the nerves. A little like the arrival of the Cuckoo, or the first tick bite of the year, summer has definitely arrived.
Our ash trees are in the news at the moment with the continued devastation caused by the fungal infection producing increased dieback. Pleasingly research coming out of France points to survival being better than previously thought. It seems isolated and solitary trees growing in mixed deciduous woodland do not succumb so easily, allowing considerable numbers to survive. Our ash woods seem destined to be destroyed but it would be good to think the ash may not disappear from our countryside along with our majestic elms. In the first shot, ash in varying stages of die-back with two in the latter stages whilst one in between appears uneffected. The middle shot shows a bonsai ash that I removed from the brickwork beside a hatch over twenty years ago. Finally an ash stick that was milled for us by Kingsley now drying in the shed awaiting its next role destined to be serving and cheese boards.
A fallow buck, just beginning to grow his new antlers, heading my way in a hurry. The second shot shows some of the does that live about the lakes. One of the side effects of the Corvid19 lockdown has been the fishermen not being at the lakes. It means the fallow herd is making most of the quiet and grazing many areas to the bone. To make matters worse, the forest outside the gates is far busier than normal and our resident herd has been joined by one that usually lives up on the common looking for peace and quiet. When they are both on site this has raised our numbers to over forty does plus the attendent twenty or so bucks of various ages.
Just peeping over the top of the bluebells the ears of a Brown hare that made off as I walked by.
The Yellow Flags are in bloom about the lakes making a delightful backdrop to the Mallard brood. A distinctly grumpy looking Tawny Owl, none too impressed with my arrival waking him from his daytime slumbers. The Great-crested Grebe that has built in the large back-water beside Park Pool.
A magnificent queen hornet recently emerged from her hibernation out collecting dried material for her embryonic nest tucked away in some hollow or dry shed. Perhaps an opportune moment to impress on readers that this is our European hornet and a beneficial insect to live in harmony with, not the Asian hornet that is giving rise to so much concern as it appears to be moving across Europe and now colonising Southern England.
Sorry about the interruption, too many distractions I fear. As we were, the first shot captures the Hawthorn flies about their business, the hatch has been prolific making up for disappointing numbers in the previous year or two. The chub in the Harbridge Stream have been rising freely as the hatch has provided rich feeding. The Harbridge Stream is looking well after the prolonged flood with the bed looking well scoured and rid of its accumulated silt. From the shoals of fry moving in the margins it looks as if the juveniles may have found somewhere to remain safe during the flood. The third shot records a small brood of Goosander that looks as if it hatched a few days ago. There have been four or five ducks circling the Park in the mornings, which would point to several more broods to follow.
I'm not sure if any one told the deity that controls the weather that its now May, April showers are a thing of the past, especially hail squalls! Twenty minutes after the hail the sun was shining from a blue sky in the Walled Garden.
Whilst in the Walled Garden I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to spot a Wall Brown, doing what I presume it was named after, sunbathing on the south facing wall. Wall Browns are not common visitors to this part of the world and to find one in the walled Garden does make one think about its name. If any one has any knowledge regarding the actual history of the name I would appreciate hearing from you. The third shot is a Downy Emerald Dragonfly that was on the wing just before the hails storm over the lakes.
These are simply beautiful pippy, brown oak slabs, milled by Kingsley in his sawmill on the estate. Its such a pleasure to see what one of our fallen giants has produced and this is the first stage in going on to make wonderful wild wood furniture. The pleasure in seeing that the ancient oaks that we have been losing in recent years have a new lease of life is enormous and casts their sad demise in a completely new light. If you want to see more of what Kingsley gets up to in his furniture workshop click on the link below and it will take you to his website. Thanks for sending through the photo's Kingsley, they made my day.
A good year for blossom with the Chinese Crab, malus hupehensis, and the Judas Tree, Cercis siliquastrum, putting on a grand show. The third is the first brood of Canada's of the year and I imagine we have a further forty of fifty broods to join them in the near future. Whilst they may have an appeal they have a far more detrimental impact on the ground they subsequently graze. They will sour and foul acres of grass long before any of the natural migrants reach us in the autumn. I had intended to oil or prick eggs this year but with NE not being able to make a decision and the C19 shutdown they have had somewhat of a reprieve.
They're back! In fact one returned yesterday but this morning there are three whizzing around the house.
Fingers crossed our other five residents are on their way and hopefully one or two news faces for the cabinet.
Probably one of Brenda's ringed Reed Warblers arriving home.
Worth remembering this little ball of feathers has probably been to Africa and back to its home reedbed.
Not that different from the epic journey of our salmon.
The lakes are buzzing a few examples seen recently in the shape of an Alder Fly laying on a soft rush. In the second rather grainy shot you can see the fly laying beside the lake as an Alder Beetle balances on a stem below and a Hairy Dragonfly passes on its patrol route. Hairy dragonfly were not to many years ago considered quite rare, today they have expanded their range in the UK and relatively common around the lakes with at least half a dozen patrolling the lakes today. The third shot is a Hawthorn Fly, unlike the Grannom, much loved by the fish population when the drift onto the water.
Willow catkins drifting across the lakes.
I'm sure most carp anglers have witnessed this feeding habit as the fish become preoccupied on looking for pollen. Usually the appearance of the catkins coincides with the carp feeding up in readiness for the exertions of the spawning to come. Large numbers of fish can be seen sucking down dozens of catkins as they presumably seek the remnants of pollen still attached to them. I'm amazed one of the numerous bait companies that sell their products to the carp world haven't brought out a pollen based boilie. Having said that one may well have as I'm somewhat out of date when it comes to the multitude of flavours available to the modern carp angler.
Having said the carp become pre-occupied that is not always the case. If you find a group of fish that are traditionally loath to take bait off the surface this feeding pattern offers an opportunity. As the layers of catkins drift up along the shoreline they become trapped in the scum and algae that often accompanies this spring drift as the water temperature rises. As the drift lines build up the carp graze along the edges scooping down the catkins. The trick is to introduce free samples of a floating bait into those drift lines that is initially taken almost by accident by the fish. If they find such bait to their taste they continue their feeding, happily taking these floating baits along with the catkins they originally sought. A morning sat without the rods, just providing free offerings, will produce dividends at a future date when catkins aren't available and your previously accepted bait can be introduced, hopefully with the desired outcome. This is a practice I have employed in the past that has proven successful on several occasions, all you need to do now is for this lock down to ease and get to the lakes before the willow all stops flowering! If that's not possible there's always next year.
Just a footnote for those that take an interest in the goings on around the lakes. All the cars parked outside the lake gates and along Ellingham Drove do not belong to anyone associated with the lakes. For the most part they are horse riders or birdwatchers, with the odd cyclist. Fishing is deemed none essential so no syndicate anglers are currently driving to, or parking within the private lake complexes.
Lapwing female and juvenile crossing the road at Harbridge, a Lapwing egg that will never become a juvenile and also a Moorhens egg both predated by Crows. There needs to be a little more joined up thinking from the regulators if we are ever to see the wader population increase. We along with several environmental charities have long been working to provide the ideal habitat for lowland breeding waders. Enormous amounts of public and private money have been ploughed into this exercise and yet those millions have been wasted or more accurately produced the ideal habitat to breed Crows! If the NE, hence the government of the day, are happy breeding Crows so be it. If however they wish the beneficiary of those millions of pounds of public money to be the waders they had originally intended it for, they need to get their arses in gear and sort out the licences to control the Crows.
There has been enormous volumes of silt flushed from the channel and out on to the surrounding flood plain. The channel is clearer now than I have ever seen it in the previous three decades, hopefully boding well for the future, if it hasn't flushed all the fish out of the channel along with the silt. The old pollard shows the height the flood attained across the meadows. It was not only the height but the duration of the flood that made this winters high water so different from previous flood events.
I've put loads of these snail shots up before but I find them incredibly interesting. There are hundreds of square meters of these shells along the bank of the main channel that equates to millions and millions of snails. What part these molluscs play in the life of our river we don't know, what they eat, what impact their eating has and what eats them. If ever there was an interesting subject for a PhD thesis it must be these guys!
Hopefully fry like these roach fry are not flushed from the system. The buck is just a photo that appeals to me of a good buck going through the moult that I bumped into today whilst out and about.
We've had a visit from the cowboys from SSE, or who ever the electricity company that deals with high voltage lines is. The burnt out pole and downed wires at Ashley have been shoved back up with all the care and consideration we have come to expect from that particular utility company. They don't have to comply with any of the legislation that effects the common man as he goes about his daily business, they simply come and go as they wish hiding behind the supply of power to keep the kettles boiling and the TV's on. They can drive about on the water meadows without any environmental impact assessment, just turn up and squish their way out over the SSSI over any designated species that may be in its way. Apart from the cock-eyed poles they left the real thing that bothers me it they have never replaced the pole that got washed into the river leaving the cable about fifteen feet above our heads for fifty odd meters of bank. The bloody thing is still dangling there, rattling about in the tops of the bushes. All 33000 volts of it and they couldn't give a toss, despite there being a safer route for the line away from the floods that we will experience on a more regular basis in the future.
Something else that pissed me off the other day was after six months of floods to see the farmer on the south of the estate has once more ploughed up the flood plain, all zone 3 flood risk, to plant bloody maize. No doubt shutting down the statutory main river of the Kings Stream, as they put their bloody land drains in too deep and can't drain their field if the river is left to its natural flow. I suppose I should be grateful the loss of juvenile habitat mainly impacts the fisheries to the south of us as the adults migrate upstream and the juveniles repopulate downstream. All no doubt done in accordance with Defra's best practice, duly rewarded by the RPA. Don't even get me on the subject of the scrawny BPS subsidised cattle currently raking about in the forest pushing every fence and hedge, desperate for something to eat. Their bony hides look like something that would not look out of place in a Don Quixote sketch. The Verderers seem to have that all in hand; its not their responsibility to stop them, the onus is on the adjoining land owners. That's the spirit, keep taking the public money whilst some sucker is prepared to stump it up. I said don't get me started on that!
Out of the nest.
Looking up and downstream along the course of the breach that will eventually form the oxbow at Harbridge Bend. The third shot is an example of the exposed roots of Hemlock water Dropwort as I mentioned in an entry a day or two ago.
The rain last Friday has seen the marsh fill with water once more just as the Kingcups are beginning to flower. At least the Wildfowl have an extension of their stay, with Gadwall numbers particularly high. I'm afraid it hasn't done a geat deal for the prospect of getting the livestock back out there in the near future.
The ancient oaks and the lime avenues are well into leaf and looking glorious in the morning sunshine. The ash are a little slower, which if we believe the old adage means we are in for a dry summer.
An update from today's visit to the weir, they're growing well and will be out of the nest in the next few days. Yesterday's rise in water had delivered a new layer of rubbish that required clearing, fortunately there were no overnight casualties caught up in it. The extra colour that accompanied the rise in water levels made for perfect running conditions for the salmon, it would be nice to think the river will be full of fish when the syndicate eventually get back to see us. A little more bird news in that a male Red-backed Shrike was spotted locally today, unfortunately not by me. I'm not sure if they still breed locally or not, I'll have to have a dig around in the records and see what I can find out.
The forest was heaving today with over forty cyclists in the mile or so from my place to the entrance to the lakes. Most were families with a sprinkling of GOGIL's making up the numbers, many still arriving by car at Moylescourt. I had cars parking in the gates to the lakes, their occupants having gone out on the forest on their horses. Add a dozen or so joggers and the place was busier than a normal weekend. I don't mind in the least, they were all responsibly keeping their distance and enjoying the sunshine. The downside was that the only occupants on the lakes were poachers, typical knuckle draggers who don't give a damn knowing they are never going to get caught by the local police. As it was closed to anglers they thought we wouldn't be visiting the lakes. My third lot in recent weeks, having hidden their tackle their excuse this time, they were out getting their exercise! Give me strength! I guess I'm unfortunate living in the forest and seeing such goings on, its certainly frustrating not having the members on the banks.
On a brighter note the lambing is almost over with just four or five ewes to finish. The stock are managing to get back on to one or two more of the drier areas of the meadows and the warmer nights will hopefully see the much needed grass get on with some serious growing.
A follow up to the millions of grannom recently hatching and flying upstream along miles of the river. We now see the results of their egg laying with millions of egg sacs attached to submerged vegetation where they had crawled down to lay. There is still a late adult visible in the second shot and if you look closely the individual eggs can just be seen.
Phil preparing the ground for the cover crops.
This is the 19.11 Avon record barbel that Pete landed at the back end of the 2019 season. I'm sure many of you will have seen this fish in the papers at the time, which was sufficient to announce the capture of the stunning looking fish at this amazing weight. Other than Pete this capture brought a great deal of pleasure to many anglers who were delighted that Pete was the angler who landed it. If ever an angler deserved such a fish its Pete for all his work for his beloved barbel. Pete also tends to fish fairly short sessions and never after dark, there's obviously more to this fishing lark than attrition!
The increase in size of Avon barbel and chub has been put down to many factors, personally I believe it is down to the warmer winters, hence longer feeding period. Others put the gain down to the volume of pellets and boilies that go into some areas where anglers occupy swims day in, day out for months. Whilst this may be a contributary factor in some rivers and even one or two areas on the Avon that is certainly not the case on the estate, where we have at least four barbel over sixteen pounds and numerous fifteen plusses that are in reaches that get fished very rarely. What ever the reason just enjoy the sight of Pete's fish as it has to be one of the best looking barbel I've ever seen.
Thanks for the photo Pete, congratulations once again on such a brilliant achievement. Dare we talk of a twenty?
Saying the dropping water level would make for less rubbish blocking the gates was just tempting fate and today's visit proved the point. As soon as I stuck my nose under the top deck I knew what the bit of wood sticking out of the gates was, a wretched pallet. They are absolute devils to get out as they are able to allow debris to pass through the slots and adding to the area subject to water pressure. Its almost impossible to lever them out and they have to be broken up in situ that's why I hate to see them used as fishing platforms along the river bank as sooner or later I will collect them in the gates. Fortunately it was in the lower gates as they are slightly larger and provide better access. In the smaller top gates they can block a hatch completely taking hours to clear. The second shot records my success as half the thing circles the weirpool.
An update on the Wagtails, showing the juveniles all looking well.
An odd photo to finish, in that like splitting kindling from a straight grained piece of Scots Pine, I find the rare occasions I get to clean my boots a most therapeutic way to spend a half an hour.
That nearest pair must be almost old enough to vote!
The flow has continued to drop, now down to below forty cumecs, with the associated drop in water level things are drying out on the meadows. Had we been out on the banks the level is now below the agreed spinning height and is beginning to clear the spillway. Its odd to think of thirty plus cumecs as manageable flow, its all relative I suppose, after the past six months it almost seems a trickle. There's still a thumping great willow, roots and all caught up on the spillway but I'm in no hurry to move it as its not causing any problems at the moment. One other benefit of the dropping levels is that the lower stages below the gates are no longer straining water and as such do not require quite such regular checking to ensure they haven't blocked with rubbish and are also straining smolt. When we rebuild the gates in the summer we'll have to make one or two design changes to make life easier in that direction. As it works out I think most of the smolt have now run, with very little activity above the hatches in recent days. The salmon smolt usually finish by mid April, the seatrout having started earlier in March, have also hopefully finished, making my daily routine a little easier.
As the growth gets back into gear one plant that seems to be thriving this year is Hemlock Water Dropwort. The tall, dark, celery like vegetation growing right on the waters edge in the first shot. In such wooded sections, where stock do not have the access to graze, it is welcome as a native plant. The worry arrives when it grows out in the meadows, as in the second photo, where stock can reach it. The reason for the concern is that Hemlock Water Dropwort is just what it sounds, extremely poisonous. Some would have us believe it to be the most poisonous plant in the UK and it certainly has killed several cattle in recent years on the estate. It is a strange plant in that the leaves do not seem to harm stock and they will rush to eat them in preference to almost anything else in the meadows. The thick stems and certainly the roots are where the poison is concentrated and if eaten kill animals very quickly indeed. With stock starting to be put back into one or two of the drier meadows this weekend we will have to check the floods have not exposed the roots where they can be reached.
I must begin by thanking all readers who have contacted me via email, text and calls, with so many positive comments about the future of the diary during this nightmare. I very much appreciate the feedback as without our daily meetings on the bank I miss the comments that keep me on my toes. I'll do my utmost to bring you the best of our valley, to enjoy and keep you in touch with Nature's calendar. I should also mention that several of you also found the Pintail, just south east of centre heading in the opposite direction to that of the Godwits.
Its good to see the butterflies out enjoying the bird cherries in today's sunshine.
One reason fencing in the flood plain is not a good idea, especially if we are to see more frequent flooding as a result as a climate change. What was good to see, whilst out checking fencing, were the number of Reed Buntings along side the ditches and drains. Cock birds sat up on station whilst the hens are more discreet, tucked away in the reeds and sedge.
Trying to do justice to the millions and millions of Grannom hatching over the last few days with just a snapshot is impossible. For several hours the entire surface of the river is covered with a moving mass of these beautiful small sedge flies as they migrate upstream. Oddly not a fish can be seen feeding on them. Whether they are feeding subsurface is impossible to say, not even the chublets and dace have been taking them as they drift by on teh surface.
Also in numbers beyond calulation is the number of fry taking sanctuary in the oxbows. Unfortunately the vast majority would appear to be minnows. Hopefully the more desirable species are tucked away in the reeds and a little deeper in the water.
Finally, last but definitely not least, something for the carp lads. Many thanks to Chris Ball for sending through the photos of a brilliant brace of thirties taken off the top during the last week of what transpired was the season. The first is 33.4 the second fish was the larger at 36.8 stunning brace Chris, congratulations and thanks again for the pix.
7th April 2020
I recognise that I am a great deal luckier than many during this wretched virus lock-down in that I can get out onto the estate to deal with many of the essential elements that make up my job. I was unsure if I should continue with the diary in light of the awful realities of the impact on family and friends right across the country. My occupation means I have distractions from the feeling of dread and helplessness that surrounds us at the present time. I've decided to continue to put up entries that include my day to day snapshots and some of past events, all in the hope that they may help, if only briefly, to distract readers at this dreadful time.
I have been thinking a great deal about dear Terry and times past when we had met on the banks of the lakes. Our friendship goes back over thirty years and in that time we often talked of the environment that we shared and treasured so dearly. Terry was a member of our transect group and his love of butterflies travelled with him on his distant fishing trips to the continent. I always looked forward to his return and news of his latest sightings and his mega catches. None of it makes any sense and if we are spared it will be many months if not years before any sort of normality returns to our lives. What I will say to readers is that whether I have known you for over thirty years or only in recent days please take care, stay healthy and look after yourselves and your loved ones.
Phil and Millie are about halfway through the lambing with a few of the ewes enjoying the sunshine on the ley I was rolling in readiness for them last week. The Park is now too hard for rolling and the water meadows remain too wet and now full of nesting waders, it looks as if rolling is over until the ground softens again and the birds finish their nesting.
Not as many as last week but still several hundred Black-tailed Godwits remain on the marsh. They are continually being 'harried' by at least two and possibly three Marsh Harriers causing the tight flocks as a defence tactic in the hope of confusing the attackers. In the first shot a distant Harrier can be seen in the top right corner of the frame, the second bird was lost somewhere behind the flock. No Harriers visible in the second shot but a Lapwing trying to get out of the way as the flock tightens. In the third shot see if you can spot the Pintail, not the two Black-headed gulls, they don't count!
At least two Harriers and a Blackcap in full voice.
A freshly emerged Large Red damsel fly, the first I have seen this year. The Mining bee city in the meadows, hundreds of their fine sandy cones with regular comings and goings with pollen. Finally Alder Beetles proving they're not that fussy when it comes to food as they devour poplar leaves.
3rd April 2020
I have just received the dreadful news that Terry Cheesman has died as a result of Covid19.
Terry will be known to many readers not only through his angling exploits but his talents in the musical world. Such awful news will take time to sink in.
At this time I'm sure like me all thoughts will be with his family and close friends.
Bird watching from home, always something to see even in the few square meters of our semi-detached plot. Anne fills the baths up continuously throughout the day, no sooner filled than they arrive and empty them. Its the same with the horse hair she brings home after feeding her pony. Handfuls thrown on the garden are swooped on instantly and carried away to line their nests. The shots above are taken through the double glazing so have a slightly milky appearance.
The side of our house has a Swift cabinet that is very quickly being taken over by the sparrow population. I had hoped trying to enter the boxes vertically might put them off. No such luck the bottom row has at least four now occupied by the little blighters. I have to take comfort from the fact I'm doing my bit for the recovery of the House Sparrow population. I'll probably have to leave them the bottom row from now on but I will block the higher tiers as I currently block the Swift boxes along the back of the house until May when the Swifts return. Two of our cock Starlings having their usual evening singing competition. I'm not sure there's much competition involved as some evenings there are four or five of them side by side just quietly chattering, more akin to a lads night out! If I include the Jackdaw that has occupied the chimney I think I have about twenty nests currently dotted about the house and gardens and it will be another month before the Swifts return.
2nd April 2020
Whilst a great deal of what we are currently attending to on the estate is our everyday work, the needs of our livestock, whether lambing, laying or feeding, with the closure of the fishery my day to day tasks have changed. The requirements of the fishery for the main part are on the back burner, the stock pond still has too be fed and the hatches inspected and if no problems arise only taking an hour or two. To help out with the more pressing tasks I have been prepping the parkland and meadows in readiness for the expected new grass growth. Hours sat in the tractor, rolling what were swamps just a week or two ago. Whilst Kevin and Phil seem to think my tractor driving skills lacks a little finesse after four or five days trundling about in second gear I was getting back in the swing of things. That was until I managed to snap a pin in the three point linkage! Thankfully Phil, who is a great deal more mechanically adept than I am, offered to put it back together providing me with the opportunity to get out of his way and look around the valley and lakes.
Amazingly my visit to the lakes produced two lots of trespassers who believed they could take their exercise just where they wished, add in recent days, one poacher and a fly-tipper not all that different from normal times! Thankfully my visit to the valley was less troublesome, despite not finding any new growth on the grass. This recent northerly has been an added pain in the butt after the prolonged floods.
The marsh was still devoid of any grazing however the waders and waterfowl are in their element. Still hundreds of ducks that headed off south to Ibsley Water to sit out the day as I arrived, a dozen pairs of Lapwing and three pairs of Redshank. Perhaps the pick of the bunch were over 1300 BTG's enjoying the exposed soft mud. Two Marsh Harriers and even a male Hen Harrier, still a Great Egret and an Osprey drifting up and down the valley. The pendulum has certainly swung in favour of the environment with the current state of things
The Osprey that was about the valley today.
An Olive Dun and the start of the Grannom hatch, not that many will survive the stuttering start with the Gulls taking everything on the water. At least the Grannom numbers should build up and ensure millions will avoid the wretched birds from the nearby colony. I'm not sure Olives will have the luxury of such numbers to save their skins.
31st March 2020
With our wonderful NHS staff at the forefront of our thoughts at this dreadful time I feel I should record on here my NHS heroine, Anne, my long suffering better half.
Forty years ago this very week Anne began her work with the NHS and has served almost the entire period on full time nights in a closed ward at a local hospital. I cannot even begin to put into words my respect and admiration for her commitment to her patients. Also her bravery in continuing to care despite, black eyes, broken ribs, broken fingers, with bruises and dents too numerous to mention. The knocks and shocks Anne and her colleagues, in their close knit night team, have endured and dealt with over those years leave me totally in awe.
And still, at this most frightening of times, they on a ward that is unable to use agency or temporary staff, volunteer to fill any gaps that appear in the ward rota.
Anne, on the left of the photo taking Eric's pulse, during an 80's fund raising fete for the ward. I hasten to add that neither Anne nor Alison, on the right of the pic, are wearing official uniform. Total respect, admiration and love.
30th March 2020
The lambing is progressing slowly but at least it is progressing. The cold northerly wind of recent days, with overnight temperatures dropping down to almost freezing, has put the brakes on the growth of the new grass. This is frustrating as the floated meadows have continued to drain leaving further vast expanses of slimy mud that need warmer nights to jump start the grass back into growth. Even if the weather changes in our favour I think it could be a month before we will be able to get stock back onto the meadows. Some areas of the water meadows do have a bite of grass but the carriers are still too full to permit stock access for fear of poaching the ground. As for this years silage cut I fear it could be some pretty tough old stuff, full of docks and meadow sweet.
The smolt run is safe for the time being having removed as much of the rubbish from the southern gates and lifted the face of the rear walkway to allow any that should get stranded to drop back safely into the flow. Unfortunately it appears if we have lost a gate making further control of the flows virtually impossible. At least one of the frame stanchions has snapped below the water line, which is pointing to some tricky repair work when the water drops. Luckily the main hatches, into the northern weir pool, still have sufficient flow over the lower grid to prevent them creating a smolt migration problem.
I heard from one of the sawmills that has a chip contract with the power stations and they are keen to up the supply of chip to ensure that the lights stay on at this worrying time. The supply of chip is classed as an essential occupation that just adds to the continued working of the rural scene. Once more much of the work involves lone working and where teams are required staying several meters apart is the norm when dealing with large trees and heavy timber. I have been out looking at all the wind blow and stockpiled fuel wood to see if we can help out with a few hundred tons in the coming weeks. Even the sad loss of the mature parkland oaks may see them have a valued end life.
Whilst out assessing the state of the meadows I walked the Penmeade Carrier, where the Wessex Rivers Trust did their channel enhancement work last autumn. Certainly looking well having survived the floods as the water drops back showing the now more meandering course, fry slacks behind the woody structures and the ideal, wader friendly shallow margins.
There were literally millions of midges dancing in every sheltered spot along the entire length of the valley. In one or two spots it was almost impossible to see through them. I assume these are the midges from the larvea that Jon said the beetles in the earlier entry had been feeding on. If you read this Jon perhaps you can identify the species involved from the slightly dented specimen in the third shot.
As the water drains from the floated meadows we are left with an expanse of slime and mud. Given warmer weather it is reamarkable just how quickly this scene of desolation will recover. The water meadows themselves do have a little more in the way of fresh grass and it is now a battle to get the water off them and dry enough to allow the stock to leave their winter quarters.
The smolt can now run without fear of becoming stranded, unfortunately the hatches will require some serious repair. One gate seems to have disappeared and the nearest stanchion has snapped below the weter level. The nearest section of the front walkway is also missing with the handrail torn from its fixings. Certainly a great deal of repair will be required and a more substantial structure will also be required if we are to see these one hundred year probability floods every five years!
28th March 2020
An odd sort of situation has arisen in that as the water levels drop back and the flow returns to manageable volumes within the channel, a set of circumstances have arisen that require immediate attention. Up until now the flow through and around the hatches and controls has permitted the movement of fish by the multiple routes the flooded fields have afforded them. The flow is now back within the channel and the only route open to the fish that wish to move up and down the river is for the main part through the controls and hatches.
The problem is that this situation has arisen just as the sea trout and salmon smolt are making their way downstream to begin the high seas period of their lives. After six months of high water that has made the operation of the hatches impossible through volume of flow, the hatches are jammed with debris from trees and branches to picnic tables and assorted foot bridges.
The flow through the gates is disrupted by the multiple obstruction deflecting flumes in random directions, unfortunately risking taking the migrating smolt with it up on to the work staging. We have cut quarter of the staging away and lifted the walk-way at the back of the stage, unfortunately the amount of debris has still left areas capable of trapping smolt. Daily clearance is required to meet the desirable and legally required free passage of these designated smolt.
Clambering about under the hatch bridge structure, in a foot of extremely fast flowing water, with the risk of being caught up in the tangle of branches and rubbish is part of the task. Remembering not to walk on the hidden sections of staging that have been removed also aids the concentration of the mind. After today's soaking and aching muscles the way was clear overnight but a repeat performance is likely tomorrow. To avoid daily repeat performances I have decided that the screens that are stored on the stage will have to be removed and the walk-way at the rear of the stage needs to be cut away. It looks as if a further soaking is on the cards for tomorrow.
The rubbish that is blocking the hatch makes for an uncomfortable work space. The noise of the flow is perhaps the most distracting, sounding like a Norton with the baffles removed. Despite the continual roar and turmoil of the water if you look closely in the top left of the first photo you can see the edge of a Grey Wagtails nest. Almost every set of hatches has its own Wagtail in residence, requiring any work that I undertake does not keep the sitting bird from her nest for an undue length of time.
During this enforced break due to this wretched virus I will put up the occasional photo of fish that I didn't publish at the time of their capture. The first is a 33.07 pike caught by Adam Martin from the end of the 2019 season. I decided not to publish at the time to avoid attracting too much attention on the fish. There were two fish of this quality in the area at the time and I didn't want an unseemly gold rush to the pools in question. Adam called me to witness the fish and do the pix for which I am eternally grateful, just to add to the occasion Adam landed a 23 pound pike whilst he waited for me to arrive on the scene. I may be over a year late in publicly congratulating Adam but the time has not deminished the achievement. Superb result well done Adam. Unfortunately this winter has not allowed many opportunities to look for our big pike, fingers crossed we see a little more angler friendly winter next year and there are fish of such quality to be found.
27th March 2020
Just a shot to lift the mood during these scary times.
Didn't she do well, lambs also lift the spirits, although many of the ewes seem content to continue their grazing in the new grass rather than getting on with the job in hand. The third shot is of the water meadows as they drain down. It will be some time before we get them dry enough and the grass established sufficiently to get the cattle back on them.
25th March 2020
The farming community has little option but to carry on regardless. I say regardless as to my knowledge there has been little recognition for the ongoing work that won't stop because of this cursed virus. Lambing is in full swing, the grass is not yet grown in, meaning animals have to be fed with food collected and delivered. That equally applies to the thousands of ponies and horse that require their daily feed. Crops have to be planted and meadows prepared for the shortly to arrive grass if the animals are to have food through the summer and next winter. Laying birds require their grub and fencing has to be stock proofed. Hopefully we will get a break from the falling trees and floods of the previous six months that will at least provide some respite. Vets and farriers go about their business and stock ponds and stews have to be fed. In reality little will change on the farms as a great deal of this work is undertaken by lone workers who can go for days without seeing anyone but their close family.
Hopefully all syndicate members will have received an email from the office explaining we are unfortunately shutting the fishery. Whilst we had hoped to remain open, as there can be no more isolated, or more beneficial for physical or mental well being in the south, than the banks of the fishery. The decision was taken out of our hands by representative bodies making unilateral decisions. I can see that travel to and from the fishery may involve contact with other people so must accept the thinking. I only hope its not the result of the same muppet that came up with the idea of 'herd immunity' behind the decision! It seems odd when I drive home through the forest to see the place heaving with dog walkers, cyclists and joggers. It seems its okay to stick your bike on a carrier, drive to the forest park up on the verge and go jogging or dog walking, where you mix with all and sundry but not to drive to a secure and closed fishery where you would be unlikely to see a fellow angler for days! I suppose its a result of the government announcements making general mention of exercise and cycling and not fishing. Also the forest being looked upon as an urban playground, a mindset encouraged by the NPA. Now the shit has hit the proverbial fan the bodies that have been encouraging this mindset are now washing their hands of the situation by simply shutting the car parks and buggering off.
Lets hope this virus follows the same curve of that in China and we see ourselves back to normality in the coming weeks. In the meantime stay safe, keep well and look after yourself and your loved ones, if spared I look forward to seeing you all back on the banks in the not too distant future.
Unfortunately this will be the only fishing that will be seen on the banks in the coming weeks.
24th March 2020
I believe there were eleven Little Egrets feeding on the exposed mudflats. There were also a pair of Mandarin and two Great Egrets a little further up the valley. It would be nice to think they may be breeding with the Little Egret and Grey Heron in the nearby heronry. Hidden within the brambles a pair of coupled brimstone almost invisible if they keep perfectly still.
23rd March 2020
Rolling the restoration something we will not be able to do on the water meadows this year. The flood will prevent getting on the meadows for weeks, far beyond the end of March deadline. Evening if we could gain access and fit the work in over the next few days the Lapwing are already sitting making it impossible.
Spot the birdie. Its an Eygptian Goose that we now find occupying many of the holes previously occupied by Owl, Kestrel and may other indigenous species. The third shot is the flock of Black-tailed Godwits that were about the valley today. As the water on the marsh retreats the rich feeding is exposed attracting the waders that had previously been unable to reach the invertebrates that make up their diet.
22nd March 2020
Lots of life about the valley today with; snakes, bees and hoverflies being just a glimpse.
20th March 2020
Danny with his second of the season in the shape of bright nine pounder. Well done Danny, great start and thanks for the photo.
The first pool duly clipped up and ready for use. The Humps are looking perfect and I have cleared the wind blown willow making access a great deal easier. The first shot is looking north with large stepping stone in the foreground. The view looking south towards Ringwood with the cleared path on the left.
19th March 2020
I've been desperately trying to cut up the masses of wind blown trees dotted about the valley before the birds get into full swing with their nesting. The problem in most instances is that you have to carry all the necessary equipment through flooded fields to get to them. Many will just have to wait until the autumn to sort them out but hopefully over the next week most of the paths and pools will be accessible.
18th March 2020
Delighted to be onhand to help land the second of the season at Somerley. Congratulations to David Lambert on opening his Somerley account with a bright nine pounder.
16th March 2020
A few images of today as I began clearing up some of the flood debris. The first shows the path has been washed out at the tail of Coomer, hopefully I will clear a higher way through over the next week or two. The Coomer oxbow looks perfect with a good flow and plenty of cover. Its the cover that's the problem when it comes to trying to assess the effectiveness of the work. In the third if you look closely there is a good sized pike lazing in today's sunshine and if the number of pike is any indication of the availability of food there's hopefully a lot of fry hiding out in those reeds.
The sunshine and warmth brought out the pollinators, dozens of Buff-tailed queens, lots of hoverflies such as the Dark-edged Bee-fly above. Cracking little bug, looks like trouble but is in fact a nectar feeder and completely harmless. The butterflies also put in an appearance with the first Brimstone, three Comma and a five Peacock a lovely start to the butterfly season.
Shots from the water meadows as they begin to drain. Hundreds of Black-headed Gulls feeding on the freshly exposed mud, rich in invertebrates and flies.
14th March 2020
Terry netting a pike, one of very few coarse rods out on the river today. The conditions certainly made for a very difficult end to the season but there were still one or two good bags and specimen fish that all considered made for a reasonable end to what was overall a wonderful season. Well done to all who added to the success and those that like myself, just enjoyed being there.
Spot the difference? The first shot was taken this afternoon the second the other day when Mark was catching his chub and he doesn't count as a difference!
Just today left if you want one of these before the close of play for the river coarse season. This is a 7.06 that was long over due for Kenny. Cracking fish, certainly a brilliant way to open your sevens account and thanks for the report and photo Kenny, very much appreciated. The second shot is a sea trout kelt that took Paul's fly a couple of days ago. As this goes to prove there are still a few sea trout kelts about, making their way slowly back down to the tide. Take great care with them please and unhook them in the water where ever possible. Lovely photo Paul, it would be nice to think we will see that fish a pound or two heavier when next in the river.
12th March 2020
I'm not sure if this Lapwing is looking confused or simply fed-up. There are about half a dozen pairs just sat beside the flooded meadows where at this time last year they had established their nests. Just how long they will wait for the water to clear from their previous nest sites before forsaking the meadows and looking for drier ground I don't know. The Curlew and Oystercatchers have arrived and are looking equally bemused, if this water lasts for much longer it risks severely setting back our recent summer breeding wader success.
I got to Kevin just as he was about to put this low double back and allowed me to take a photo. It was not the size of the fish that I wanted to record but the bait, which in this case was luncheon meat, not the usual pike bait. Not that it was the first instance of such a pike capture, the point of note was Kevin's previous fish was an eel of about a pound and a half, making for quite an unusual brace. The river is certainly in a strange mood producing such a brace at this time of year. Just to add to the strange events a significantly larger pike followed this fish almost into the landing net.
Today I spent several hours engaged in the noble and ancient art of lateral layering, perhaps more colloquially known as thick hedging, I'm not actually sure if that applies to the process or the practitioner! Before I describe the finer points of the art perhaps an understanding that Mother Nature does not suffer from any form of O.C.D. in fact nature at times has a distinct preference for informality. My involvement in this technique has arisen through many years of neglect related to one of the lakes boundary hedges that border a road. The overgrown hazel, holly and thorns have been overhanging and falling in the road and tearing the black bags of passing silage trailers for the past decade. Elsewhere where we have a wood immediately behind the hedge we have lowered it in the more traditionally known form of layering. The problem with this hedge is that it is on the forest where the massed BPS herds have access and do their very best to destroy every vestage of low growth and vegetation to ward of starvation. Where the ponies, cattle and donkeys of the BPS have eaten their way into the hedge from the outside, the uncontrolled herds of fallow have done their best to eat their way out to meet them. The result a hedge completely bare at the base with most of the hedging trees overgrown and dying back, hardly any nesting or roosting habitat or winter food source. What we are hoping to achieve by this thick hedging is a low, stock proof hedge between four or five meters wide. The laterally layered hedge regenerating providing a wide, food rich, dense wildlife friendly environment. The outside will be flailed back annually by Clifford to keep the low, stock proof, safe road frontage, the inside allowed to provide taller mature cover rich in blackthorn, hazel, holly, hawthorn and brambles. Spaced along this new hedge will be native standards allowed to reach the light and replace the ancient oaks that we are loosing at an increasing rate.
The overhanging hazel and thorn layered at right angles to the road, in contrast to the traditionally layered, meter wide hedge opposite. The width of hedge we are attempting to create can be seen in last years efforts
11th March 2020
With the end of the river coarse season fast approaching members are desperate to get out for a last session before the enforced three month lay-off. If conditions are favourable the last fortnight is often the finest of the entire season. Whilst the fish are still out there, getting out to them and actually finding them is proving testing. The first shot captures Mark Tutton capturing the lovely chub in the middle shot. Mark had several more chub, all on the float, topped off with a magnificent specimen of 7.06, which makes for a pretty good close to his season. Other members have fared not quite so well but that's fishing. I did meet one member who had landed two, twenty pound pike. The only problem being it was the same fish, taken on consecutive casts!
Spring struggles on with the Butterbur flower spikes pushing through and the first Dog Violet of the year brightening the mossy banks. The only problem are the mob in the third shot that spend the day either grazing off the new Spring growth or snoring in the meadows beside the lakes, leaving their wretched ticks to attach themselves to me when I next pass.
7th March 2020
Congratulations Danny Taylor, absolute belter in the shape of a 20 pound class fish. As far as I'm aware the first off the river and it could not have come to a more deserving rod. Fishing the fly on a pool that is not that popular and some 400m of flooded field to reach, very justly rewarded for effort. It doesn't really need saying but perhaps I should just add, Danny is in the flooded field for the pix, whatever you do, don't try and wade in any part of the river!
A couple of views of the valley that signal a very difficult end to the river coarse season next week. Those that are braving the elements are getting some remarkable chub bags and wonderful specimens but its definitely not easy.
A doe and buck in velvet amongst the conifers in the morning mist.
"Wilson, Wilson", my mistake just the corner of the weirpool where all the soccer balls collect!
6th March 2020
Phil rounding the sheep up?
3rd March 2020
It only takes a couple of dry days and the world appears a much brighter place. Despite the cold wind it was good to see double figure numbers of Buff-tailed Queen bumble bees about the meadows when the sun shone.
2nd March 2020
.........if not I know a man who can!
Many thanks to Jon Bass for identifying the larva for me, see Jon's feedback below.
“The long period with shallow pools of water and the warm winter has supported big populations on non-biting midge larvae. Their predators include waterbeetle larvae.
The pic you show this morning is a beetle larva that has left the water and is seeking soft soil in which to pupate.
Based on size it's probably a species of Agabus (several very similar Agabus spp, within Dytiscidae). The strong curved mandibles can be seen.”
All makes sense judging by the huge clouds of midges that flight along Ellingham Drive on calm days. They can obviously cope with pools that aren't so shallow if our meadows are any indication.
Thanks again Jon very much appreciated.
1st March 2020
Happy St David's Day to all the Welsh readers. Wild dafs running down to the river, or more correctly at present, down to the flood.
A few more shots of the dafs along the "Fishing Road" the last is of the lichen that seems to have enjoyed a good winter, I'll see if I can get a better record of those I come across in the next few days.
A better shot of our transient bugs for those trying to identify them.
Shots taken through the windscreen showing one of our Kestrels that was running up and down the track like an old shite hawk. Running about with her wings spread grabbing our larva one after the other, the gulls would have been proud of her. I expect she was grateful for the plentiful supply of good feeding after almost five months of floods.
29th February 2020
Just a few shots as updates on the state of the river for those desperate to get out. Ellingham car park, Dog Kennel and Ibsley from Fools Corner all well flooded and very difficult to access and fish. If you are intending to fish before the end of the coarse season, or try for a salmon, I strongly suggest you fish with a fellow angler and ensure you take great care. Conditions are extremely difficult and potentially dangerous, so please don't take foolish risks.
There have been up to fourteen Little Egrets preoccupied, feeding in the meadows at Ibsley in recent days. Despite watching them closely we have been unable to determine what the attraction has been. As I arrived at Ibsley today there were twenty or thirty Black-headed Gulls, having left the hundreds feeding in the flooded meadows, busily feeding on the road. From there it was easy to indentify the food source as the hundreds of beetle larva actually crossing the road heading upstream. Once identified I could find them in the flooded meadows on either side of the road. It would appear the upstream migration of these larvae has been going on for weeks, if the hundreds of gulls feeding in the flooded fields are any indication. I couldn't actually get close enough to the Little Egrets to confirm they were also feeding on the larvae but from their constant dipping and swallowing of similarly small food items I'm pretty sure they are exploiting the same source.
Looks like a beetle larva creating the feeding frenzy. There were thousands apparently moving upstream against the flow, crossing the road to achieve their objective, what ever that might be? Any reader that can confirm the identity of that larva or the apparant cause of the movement I would appreciate hearing from.
The inimitable and multi-talented Beth Hart and her band, Jon Nichols (guitar), Tom Lilly (bass), Bill Ransom (drums), brilliant evening, I simply can't do her justice and praise her song writing, voice, piano and guitar playing highly enough. Thanks to Richard for the photo and your and Jade's company on the evening.
26th February 2020
Delighted to see the wild strawberries are spreading, although February is remarkably early for them to be in flower.
25th February 2020
The old weir at Ashley flowing well with a foot of clear water over the spillway. The third shot clearly illustrates the perched nature of the main channel with water spilling from the river at Ashley Bends and flowing across the field to the Kings Stream. The Kings Stream is the original course of the river and the lowest route down the valley. The Ashley Stream, on the opposite side from the main channel, is also perched overflowing into the Kings Stream. To add to the confusion the water draining from the park beneath the house a KM to the north flows under the Ashley Stream to join the Kings stream downstream of the hatches. Unfortunately once the water levels in the Ashley Stream rise and meet the Park Drain it prevents the water flowing away causing the flooding we are now seeing in the park.
23rd February 2020
A word of caution if you are intending to fish Ashley in the coming days. The electricity pole carrying the 33000v overhead line, over the river 100m north of the old weir, has collapsed leaving the lines trailing across the flooded meadow and path. The lines are also underwater across the river and have lost tension making them hang much lower across the opposite meadow and the long span downstream. So all in all its a pretty mess best avoided until further notice.
Thanks to David Noble for letting us know, enabling us to get the engineers out to make the situation safe. The engineers seemed as puzzled as us how they were going to replace the poles and get the line back in action. Especially when I told them I thought it could be six weeks before the meadows are firm enough to support heavy machinery!
20th February 2020
Several members have asked for updates in order they can plan their end of river coarse season campaigns and whether its worth coming down to have a crack at the salmon. Well, the first shot is from the corner of Meadow Lake looking out to Blashford Island, which is the clump of trees in the middle distance. Taken this afternoon and yes that is another bloody great storm up over the House. As you can see access to the first carrier bridge requires waders, just what's involved in safely reaching the river I can't say as I didn't try to get there! Considering several of the ditches that require crossing are probably in the four to five feet mark its definitely not worth the risk. That picture is repeated throughout the five miles of the fishery, from the Bickton Boundary to Ringwood. I've just measured the width of the flood, east to west across the valley as seen in the first photo and its a few meters short of 750m. That's an awful lot of water to try and wade through.
The lakes are not a great deal easier with most swims unfishable. The photo of No Carp Corner gives a false impression as it is one of the few with a hard gravel base. Even that is not without its problems when you consider the normal edge of the lake is where the small clump of vegetation is sticking up just off the ends of the rods. The lake is continuing to rise and I'm not sure whether its the volume of water flowing in through the gravel, the outlet is blocked or simply because the height of the water in the valley is preventing it draining. When the water finally goes down we will try and gravel more of the swims in readiness for the more frequent high water events we are likely to experience if the climate change predictions are correct.
Other odds and ends as I have been out and about over the last day or two. I've had a couple of really productive days finishing off the strimming and clearing the willow re-growth from the reedbeds at Mockbeggar. The few remaining ponies and donkeys that have been winter grazing will soon be leaving and the pent up energy of Spring will be released, always assuming it can avoid the thirty plus fallow that watched me for most of the day. The cowslips, cuckoo pint and honeysuckle are all unfurling bringing a welcome flush of green to the woodland margins, a few days warmth and they will be away and it can't come a day too soon as far as I'm concerned.
16th February 2020
Looking at events elsewhere in the country we seem to have got away very lightly, our greatest loss being several of our magnificent ancient oaks. In my time on the estate I have seen the water over a foot deeper so lets hope we are over the worst. Having said that the river remains a no go area but thankfully that doesn't apply to the lakes, where there is plenty awaiting my attention. It may seem a bit of a paradox but the dead hedges needed cutting to prevent them becoming overgrown. The margins await a clean up, before the Mallard and Moorhens get their early nesting underway. This is one apsect of the high water that works in our favour, giving us an few extra days to catch up with the work. Spring creeps on with the blackthorn blossom appearing, lets hope it doesn't foretell of a blackthorn winter, I think we have suffered sufficiently at the hands of the weather for a month or two.
Jules with a thirty five plus common on his last visit to the lakes. Jules is moving on to pastures new, a little nearer home, signing off in fine fashion with this cracking fish. Well done Jules and good luck for your future exploits wherever your travels may take you.
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