I've been giving the mystery of the whelk shell discovery on the banks at Ibsley further thought. Taking into account the fact the river is not where it was pre the mid 18th century it is unlikely to be human habitation brought the whelks to the current position before that date. To move the river channel from one side of the valley to the other, also to create the miles of perched channels that can be found at both Ibsley and Ringwood, the number of labourers would have been enormous. The many hundreds of men would presumably have been in temporary camps near to the main construction sites. The logistics of feeding these navigators would have been enormous and I imagine whelks brought up from the coast would have been a part of that fare. Its a theory anyway but I don't suppose its one we will ever prove one way or the other.
Phil has almost finished lambing with less than half a dozen ewes left to go. With a couple of hundred new mouths to feed a spot of warmer weather would be appreciated. Well done Phil, they made a fine sight today out in the sunshine beside the new lake.
Not a sight I have witnessed before, there are two lambs and a cock pheasant in the middle shot. I'm not sure whose idea it was but they seemed quite relaxed about the arrangement. As the sun began to warm the field the cock bird got up, gave himself a shake and began his usual scratching about the field looking for food. Interesingly there are seven pairs of Lapwing establishing territories and constructing nest cups around the lake. I wonder if they are the birds that have disappeared from the water meadows. Hopefully these will fair a little better than the meadow birds. There are also two pairs of Little ringed Plover out on the gravel decks looking to nest. The Sand Martins are digging tunnels in a low cliff that is easily accessible to the local fox population so I don't hold out much hope for their success this year. There have been a pair of Red Kites and a pair of Raven cleaning up after the ewes, touch wood they continue to behaved themselves and don't become a threat to the lambs.
The middle shot shows the approach to Ibsley Bridge with the damaged and missing canon post railings having been replaced. I have to say I didn't think I would live long enough to ever see that happen. I presume it was HCC bridges and structures department organised the work for which they deserve a pat on the back for a job well done.
To close, a shot of the tail of Blashford this evening. It always looks the perfect salmon pool and tonight was no exception, except there were no salmon present!
Having listened to the farming forecast at the weekend I am beginning to worry that the early run of salmon we enjoyed may well have known something we didn't about the flows we might expect this summer. The photo shows the freeboard now to be found on Ellingham Bridge Pool, six weeks ago the water was at the top of the bank, a drop of some three feet. If the forecast proves correct and we don't see any substantial rain for a month the river will be down to its bones by the end of May. This seems to be becoming the norm in that a high flow winter is immediately followed by an extended period of north easterly winds that suck the moisture from the ground. The cold winds also give rise to low temperatures that have seen the expected and much needed grazing fail. The forest still looks like a clay court tennis court with the livestock pulling the hedges to pieces in search of food. Grass seed, planted three weeks ago, sits on top of the parched ground awaiting moisture and warmer nights before it even attempts to germinate. Along with the cold nights and lack of plant growth the invertebrate population is late hatching, with the knock on effect on the juvenile bird populations, so dependent on the caterpillars and grubs, risk starvation. This is one occasion when I hope the forecasters have got it very wrong and we soon have to endure three or four days of gentle rain.
I believe this to be the last Great Egret that remains with us, from the four or five that over wintered on the Estate. Just how long this bird will remain before it moves off to a more favourable location for the Summer might well prove interesting. The second photo is a good comparison shot of the Great White and the Little Egret alongside each other.
It didn't take long after the lifting of lockdown for the forest to disappear under the weight of visitors. We have been subjected to two days cycle road racing, with groups flying down the lanes seemingly oblivious to other traffic and road users. Paddlers on the river, magnet fishing from the bridge, walkers heading off in all directions and hedges used as latrines, same old, same old! I think it's time to admit defeat and just give in to the free for all that the National Park encourage, with absolutely no regulation we are simply wasting our time trying to educate the GBP.
On a happier note I must further congratulate Jerry Lloyd on grassing his second salmon of the season from Hucklesbrook this morning. At this time of year the shallows at Hucklesbrook are always worth a visit as fish regularly hold in this water as the river fines down.
I spotted this chap right out in the middle of the meadow where we have two remaining Lapwing nests mid morning yesterday. He was being mobbed by the remaining Lapwing as he moved about the field. I don't wish to jump to conclusions but this behaviour in the middle of a bright sunny day puts this chap high on the list of culprits for the disappearing Lapwing in the field adjoining this meadow. Where does this leave us? If we are to re-establish Lapwing in the valley they will need protection. We are not in a position to remove every fox, crow and magpie, time and labour simply does not exist as they did in the heyday of the shoot and the peak of the valley wader population. With Hampshire County Council doing its best to speed the decline I now believe we face an uphill battle that I am afraid will have only one outcome.
I have to admit to being fed-up to the back teeth with this cold east wind and judging by the goings on in the valley much of our wildlife feels the same. The plant growth has ground to a halt, the plug has been pulled on our moths and butterfly emergence, the river is dropping due to lack of rain and worst of all the nesting Lapwing in the meadows have mostly disappeared. Just what has happened to the Lapwing is a mystery to me. Of eleven pairs nesting in one meadow not a single bird remains on station. If they had hatched the adults would still be mobbing the passing Crows but not a sign. Empty nest cups but not a sign of an eggshell. Whilst we do have Crows in the area that may have predated one or two nests, in previous years the Lapwing have managed to drive off the invaders and a high percentage of the nests have hatched. Four successive hard frosts may have caused them to desert the exposed eggs subsequently predated or possibly they were disturbed and eggs were chilled. I'm afraid we will never know but it is extremely frustrating. The right hand shot shows some of the visitors currently in the valley, whether desirable remains open for debate.
If you look back at the entry for 22nd April 2020 you will see that I was intrigued by the masses of snails deposited in the silt of the river bank. As it happened this week I had occasion to be out with some researchers looking at the possibility of undertaking some research on the river in that area. The mollusc population was under discussion and a visit to the deposited silt banks was involved. The mollusc debris was still evident and what was odd were the presence of numbers of whelk shells. Just how whelk shells came to be in the sediment layer ten miles or more from the sea is somewhat of a mystery. certainly not ancient coastlines as the deposit layer is quite high, well above the pleistocene river gravel base level. Unless there is a whelk processing plant somewhere upstream of us that I don't know about my bet is they are a result of human habitation in the valley in times past. I'll be interested to hear any other explanations that might be out there, if you have a theory drop me an email.
This years deposit layer of shells settling in the drying silt. I think they are the family of the wandering Pond Snail but I stand to be corrected should anyone know the exact species. A closer view of one of the many whelk shells exposed by the winter floods.
I was tidying up Lake Run this evening and I could see a rod fishing down the tail of Harbridge Bend on the opposite bank. With the sun directly behind them I couldn't make out who it was but I do know Michael Robson was on that bank somewhere. He had earlier called me to let me know he'd landed a fresh eleven pounder from Ibsley Pool. Congratulations Michael, that's a great result, especially with such bright conditions making the fish a little shy in recent days.
A shot of the primroses in Riverbank Covert that will shortly be replaced by the bluebells and the comfrey starting into growth that will provide the food source for the Scarlet Tigers that abound along the river.
Rob fishing Park Pool.
The meadows at Ibsley looking wonderful, a blaze of Kingcups and Cuckoo flowers, also known as Marsh Marigolds and Lady's Smock. All it needs now is a return to warmer weather to make it feel like Spring and everything would be in place. There are in the region of fourteen pairs of Lapwing dotted about the meadows, plus several pairs of Redshank adding to this perfect picture. If the weather does warm up a little we will see the Grannom hatch and swarm upstream in their millions to lay their eggs. Always a spectacle to enjoy so lets keep our fingers firmly crossed for that improvement in the weather
Our dopey Mallard is still sitting firmly on her nest slap-bang in the path. I did flush her from the nest today just to check and all looks well. I have to say well done to the salmon rods for managing to avoid her and not upsetting her into abandoning her clutch. Her location is even easier to spot now as she is in the only clump of reeds upstream of the fence on the righbank of the bend that I didn't clip up this evening. I have also added to the sticks and moved them a little closer to her to ensure her location remains obvious.
We have enjoyed the company of a couple of the, Isle of Wight, White-Tailed Eagles about the valley in the last week or so and I have to thank Steve Egerton-Read, of the Eagle Group, for pointing out the attached clip. It shows an eagle giving a Cormorant a seriously bad time. I'll leave you to decide for yourself if its trying to panic it into regurgitating its last meal, or had more sinister thoughts in mind. Whatever the reason I have to admit to being firmly on the side of the Eagle.
The accumulated silt and branches beside the island at the tail of the Ibsley weirpool have beeen removed. This has opened up the tail and I have also cleared about fifty meters of the rightbank to make a visit more interesting. The tail and run through Hoodies is very shallow making it a floating line water. It would benefit from an extra foot of water but I fear we are unlikely to see that this summer.
A good result this evening as Jerry Lloyd opened his Somerley salmon account. A fresh fish, on the favourite Posh Tosh, which in reality is the Black and yellow so long a favourite on the Avon. Congratulations Jerry, great result.
A cold and blustery day seemed like a good excuse to take a walk around Mockbeggar to see how it had fished over the weekend. I think generally it had been hard work yet there had been several good fish out, one of which was the shot of Woody with a great looking twenty eight. These fish are quite amazing in that they are entirely wild, having grown to their incredible size on a diet of bloodworm and buzzers. They look like commercials and whilst they are carrying spawn at the moment, it doesn't detract from the fact they are wonderful fish. The middle shot is a collection of tennis balls I scooped out from a corner of the hatch pool for Richard's Betsy to destroy. How do that many tennis balls end up in one corner of a hatch pool. If every slack along the entire length of the Avon contains twenty odd tennis balls, just how many does that equate to? Take those twenty and raise it to the power of twenty and we start to see the simplest of pollutants in the shape of plastics flushing down our river. Final shot, a big dog mink that Kevin removed from the corner of Meadow Lake. He dealt with the bitch last week, which should make our Mallard, Moorhen and Coot population a great deal more relaxed.
One or two more shots from my walk, firstly capturing the dog violets that have struggled into bloom despite the frosts. Even more pleasingly they are increasing in numbers that will hopefully see an increase in the Fritillaries that feed on them. The blackthorn have increased to a similar extent, where we have widened the hedgerows that surround the complex. Where we have layered trees across the line of the hedge they have gone from a meters width up to five or six meters. They may not look the tidiest hedges in the world but the extra thickness keeps marauding ponies and our deer herds from destroying the vital habitat they provide for our nesting birds. We have left single oaks every fifty or so meters to replace the ancient trees that are now failing, they are beginning to really look the part and the Blackbirds, Song thrushes and Dunnock seem to agree. Finally a Treecreeper carrying nesting material on one of those ancient oaks. Look closely and you will see this bird is ringed, unfortunately my camera isn't quite up to capturing the number. I may take the scope over one day and see if I can get that number as she comes and goes from the nest.
The other evening when I walked the left bank of Lifelands I became aware of the possibility of once more opening up Lifelands pool to provide a further one hundred meters of classic Avon fishing. It was very late in the day when I was there, too dark to go messing about in the area of willow car, stamped out by the cattle. Historical photographs of this area in the 1940's and 50's show it considerably clearer than it is currently, the areas of willow car did not exist. Lack of maintenance since those photographs has seen the encroachment of willow along much of the river. The flow in the photo above, as the river crosses the shallows, is under the right bank. As it continues below the shallows it swings back across the river and is increasingly eroding the left bank, through this area of willow car. The two prolonged floods we have endured in the last couple of winters have significantly alter the flow regime through the top of the pool. Willows are being uprooted and falling into the river as it scours out the left bank at an increasing rate. The bank is quite boggy in one small area but the cattle have crossed it with ease, so I imagine its not beyond the realms of possibility to sort out the willow. The only drawback is the remoteness of this area that will require me getting the truck out across the meadows. I have to get out there at some point with timber to replace the bridge and stiles so perhaps an hour or two investigating what is possible might be time well spent.
The second photo shows the top of a horse chestnut that came down across the path to the weir. Fortunately no one was under it at the time. This does highlight another of the problems that the one dimensional actions of the local authority present us with. The triangle of land that contains those massive, poplars, chestnuts and London planes is a conservation area, deemed worthy of conservation due to their massive size, which is due to them growing in rich alluvial soil with inexhaustible water supply. Several years ago we had eight of those poplars blow down, with a clear-up cost running into multiple thousands of pounds. Since then several more poplars, a large chestnut and the London plane that was included in earlier entries on here as we winched the huge trunk across the weirpool. We have on three occasions had to bring in tree surgeons to remove dangerously hanging limbs and unbalanced limbs at a considerable cost. The preservation of these dangerous trees, at the end of their allotted span, has prevented us repairing the bank of the perched channel between the hatches. An area of eroded bank that should it breach will inundate the meadows downstream, drain the upstream perched channel and undercut the foundations on Ibsley Bridge. Once it breaches we will be able to undertake the work on grounds of health and safety, until such time we just sit twiddling our thumbs awaiting more huge limbs to crash down on whatever is unlucky enough to be below. Those trees exist because of the construction of the hatches and weirpools in the 18th century. It is young newly planted successors that require protection not these lethal old giants that now dictate and threaten the future of the very structures that brought about their existence. Only the myopic empires within the local authority could devise such an arse about face situation.
The odd couple.
This evening I parked at the lakes and walked down the left bank of the river to Dockens Pool. As with most of the pools at the moment it looked perfect and fished well, unfortunately with no response. From the look of the exposed sand and gravel only two sets of boot prints would point to this pool being very lightly fished. I can understand the reluctance to make the long walk necessary to reach the pool but for an hour in the evening a great way to end the day. At the bottom of Dockens Pool the Lifelands boundary bridge has been destroyed by the winter floods. Now the fields have dried as soon as I can get the JCB and some help we will rebuild it. I will also try and make some sense of the assault course the barbed wire fences create between the pools. Downstream of the bridge are the lifelands top shallows that are now becoming more exposed as the water level drops. The section below the shallows runs into Lifelands pool but has become over grown and unfishable. If I can find the time I will see if its possible to clear the left bank making the long run of potential holding water fishable once more.
Rarer than hens teeth, John Slader with a two pound roach from Mockbeggar. They have to be about the most frustrating fish we have on the Estate, we know they exist yet they refuse to be caught. As with the carp in Mockbeggar they have grown up on a natural diet, mostly involving blood worm and buzzers. The carp can be difficult enough but these roach are a totally different scale. There have been carp to over thirty out of Mockbeggar this season and Paul Arrowsmith, who was onhand to weigh John's roach, had four in his visit this weekend. If only the roach were that easy! Well done John, reward for your effort, thanks for the photos and the report.
Another master class from John a photo taken recently during the last few days over on Meadow. The shot is the take from a 28 pound common on the fly, the ultimate action shot. This fish upped John's fly caught PB from the 25 pounder the photo of which was included in an earlier entry.
I've been busy with some of the more distant salmon pools today, in the case above, "Dockens". This is a fabulous piece of fly water, some of the best on the Estate, unfortunately it is a bit of a hike from the car park. Having said that there is a lot of fishing to be had on the way down to it. In the first shot, looking downstream, the water upstream of the bush is shallow and streamy and is at its best now before the weed appears. Below the bush the deep water is on the inside with the fish under your feet. As you get down to where the Dockens Water enters on the far bank the water moves back into mid river for the fifty or so remaining meters to the tail of the pool. Make the most of it this time of year as the water begins to drop the fish will slow as they feel the shallows at the head of the pool.
Some of the pools you can fish on the way down to Dockens. The head of the "Middle Bend at Ashley" is deep and fishy. Its a great holding pool but difficuly to get the fly down to the fish at the head of the pool. As you pass the electricity poles the tail comes into view, which is easier to fish and does produce to the fly. There is a willow laying partly submerged on the far bank so be careful with your casting. There is almost a double tail to this pool as it kicks righthanded it narrows and runs up over a short fish holding section before breaking into the "Bottom Bend". The third shot is the "Bottom Bend" that runs down to almost a lin that breaks righthanded once more. The fish lay in the second half of the pool under the near bank, just before the lin, so a careful approach and presentation is required. It is a good big fish Pool, producing one or two surprises over the years. Once it clears the corner it runs into the shallows at the head of "Dockens", from where the first shot in the two above was taken.
I've changed banks with the two shots above. The first shows the tail of "Lifelands Pool" that now is fishable straight into "Above the Cut Through" I've clipped out the brambles that used to block the way and it makes a super piece of water. The snag that used to be at the end of the fence by the brambles seems to have been flushed away, if so it looks spot on as holding water. As with Dockens as the water drops running fish will pause in the pool as they feel the long run of shallows that come down from Dockens quarter of a mile upstream. The second shot shows the "Humps" cleaned out and just begging to be fished deep and slow.
I will endeavour to get the remainder of the pools sorted out as soon as possible and the second cut is also now required on some of the pools cleared earlier. I remain on flexible furlough, which is the reason the roads around the lakes remain rough and potholed and much of the tree work has been missed for the second year in succession. Despite the frustrations of the current working conditions we will get there eventually, please bear with us and it will all be fine in the end! I'm sure.
Congratulations to new rod Wayne Little, a great way to open your Somerley account. That second shot is such a great feeling, with a flick of his tail he disappeared upstream.
Thankfully the Lapwing sat through the hard frost we suffered last night. The birds on the nests actually look happier than the mate, hunched up beside the nearby splash. There were dozens of Snipe in the valley this morning along with a Great White Egret. I believe there were also seven Little Ringed Plover just south of where I took the Lapwing shots, along with the Snipe I imagine they are migrating north to their nesting grounds. Our project to enlarge the field south of the Harbridge road to benefit breeding waders, by removing the fences and changing the grazing agreements, looks as if its heading in the right direction.
If I get the opportunity over the next day or two I will try and visit the north marsh as that is a further area that will hopefully provide similar benefits for our breeding waders.
Its good to hear that fish are now coming out on fisheries throughout the Middle Avon. The pick of the bunch must be this superb looking cock fish in the thirty pound class by Martin Moyers, grassed on the Severals Fishery, just south of Ringwood. Stunning looking cock fish, classic Avon depth and width. The finest fish in the land, although I have to admit to being bias. Congratulations Martin, a classic fish from the famous Severals fishery, the fish of a lifetime. Many thanks for the photo and report, I'm sure all the diary readers will enjoy sharing your success and the sight of such a special fish.
Betsy meeting the Canada's for the first time proved pleasingly steady.
Congratulations Mike Hornsby, a great looking fourteen pound cockfish. Another with sealice, in this case at the root of the tail, so they are definitely rattling into the system. Thanks for the lovely photo and report, much appreciated.
A cold old welcome into the world for these Easter lambs. Cold isn't too bad for them, as long as they have an attentive ewe to feed and shelter them, its the wet that knocks them for six. Phil is currently flat out seeing to the rush of new arrivals and he could be that way for the next month or more. Romney's are a tough breed of sheep, thriving on the poor grazing arising from unimproved grassland that is a requirement of our Defra management agreements. They are also extremely good mothers and if left to their own devices lamb well outside. The hospital pens are all set up ready in the barn in the event one or two require a helping hand, hopefully they will not see too much use this Spring.
The odd looking tube in the background is the latest thinking in duck nest boxes that Kevin is trialling about the lakes and ponds. The single pole support prevents predation from below and the length of the tube reduces the risk of corvid losses. It will be interesting to see what our Mallard make of them.
He's back! GB35, who stopped over with us for a moth last autumn reappeared this evening. He looks well after his winter break in the sun, I assume he's heading back to his release site on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. Pity we couldn't find him a mate as he looks well strutting about the Park.
An early entry today to spread the news that in between the four sticks a Mallard has built her nest. If you are fishing Harbridge Bend and particularly if you have a dog permit, please be aware of her position and give her as wide a berth as possible. I imagine she is fairly unflappable, having been stupid enough to build in the middle of the path but please do your best to remember where she is. Thanks to David Lambert for the photo and letting me know, lets hope she is soon to hatch her clutch of eggs and be on her way.
A second shot from David showing sealice still attached to a salmon of about eight pounds he landed this morning. Interesting in that the lice drop off after forty eight hours in fresh water and lose their tails after twenty four hours in. On that basis this fish has reached us on the second day in the river. Its the first I have seen this season but all the fish so far landed have been very fresh most if not all less than a week in the system. The other interesting point about this fish is the weight. At about eight pounds that is small for this time of year. Is it our first grilse or a small 2SW fish. My money would be on a small 2SW fish, had it been a grilse this early I would not have expected it to weigh more than four or five pounds, having left the high seas feeding grounds so early. Well done on the fish David and thanks again for the photo.
Many thanks to Sue Loader for the photograph and letting me know of this recent sighting of a Cattle Egret at Ibsley. As far as I am aware and certainly for me, this is the first record we have of Cattle Egret at Somerley. They are now becoming increasingly common down on the coast yet seem slow to move inland. Hopefully, as with the Little Egret and increasingly the Great White, they will soon be a regular sight in the valley.
The second shot shows the first brood of Egyptian Geese up on the restoration lakes. I fear this will be the first of many as these attractive birds seem to be about in every increasing numbers this year. They are extremely attentive parents and their success rate is extremely high.
I'm delighted to say the official start of the butterfly counting season began today. If nought else it'll give readers a break from all those humungus fish. I only hope we have a decent summer with no prolonged north winds or blistering droughts. Warm, sunny days and rainy nights, to keep the river topped up, would seem about right!
Thats what a 25 pound Avon Springer looks like. Congratulations Alex, simply magnificent.
That makes it seven fish landed at the end of March, four of them twenties. We haven't enjoyed a start like that since 2016, fingers crossed the flow remains decent and we continue to have fish running into the river throughout the Summer.
The first trip of the year.
The rule in red is contained in the coarse river syndicate rules and regulations. For reasons I don't fully understand I have failed to included this rule in the salmon Rules and Regulations, which I will remedy next season. In the meantime could I request members DO NOT fish from the unclipped side of pools as it is nesting season and the birds are now brooding in the reedbeds and uncut margins. 3. During the bird nesting season (March – August) no excessive clearing of bankside vegetation, with reed beds out of bounds. Please consider areas such as the left bank of Harbridge Bend, left bank of Ellingham Bridge Pool and similar over grown margins out of bounds during the nesting season. I appreciate I am a little late in getting all the pools clipped out due to the floods and work elsewhere on the Estate, if in doubt please give me a call.
Tony Myatt playing a good fish at the tail of Blashford. I happened to be on hand to do the honours by an odd set of circumstances. It was such a lovely evening I had stuck the rod in the car and headed for the river to spend an hour having a look for a salmon in the reduced light of the evening. I wanted to call at Meadow to see how the carp guys were faring and after having a chat with one or two to catch-up on events I drove around to the river car park intending to walk across to Island Run. I could see a rod was already down at the tail of Blashford so I decided not to bother with fishing the run I would just walk over for a chat to see how he had got on today. I suppose its about two hundred meters across to the tail of Blashford from the footbridge and I was about three quarters of the way across when over arched the rod and whoever it was had a fish on. In a further stride or two I could see it was Tony Myatt, down for his first visit on the easing of travel restrictions. Tony had hooked the fish vitually on the last cast in the pool and walked it back into the steadier deeper water slightly higher up the bank. A spirited fight and we soon had his prize safely engulfed up in the net.
The result of his effort showing Tony with a 38" twenty plus, sparkling cock fish, classic Avon Springer. Congratulations Tony, an absolute beauty. It did show a little fin damage and one or two marks on its flanks. Very difficult to decide what may have caused them, nets or lice but it certainly didn't detract from the beauty of that stunning fish. Whilst the fight was spirited it was well dealt with and a very lively fish was soon returned to hopefully reach the redds in nine months time.
Tony wasn't the only member making his first visit of the year, Andy Jackson managed to fit in a night to open his seasons campaign. His reward, a lovely brace of commons to welcome him back. Well fished Andy great result, it was good to see you back on the bank. The lake also produced for another Andy with Andy Hemmings getting amongst the fish landing seven during last night and today, two of those being thirty plus. He's also got just onother night and tomorrow to add to that impressive total before we shut up shop for the close season.
The Butterbur flowers are well above ground, to seek the pollinators before the large leaves appear to hide them and blot out the sun. I believe the plant aquired its name through the large leaves being used to wrap butter in an effort to keep it cool in warm weather.
Very few rods out today and I haven't heard of any further fish. Its an odd experience to still be in March with a real chance of a fish or two being in the river, lets hope the season continues in a similar fashion. I could have put up further photos of Hampshire County Council bird scarers marching about out with the Lapwing but I am fed-up of posting them on here. I think I might send them direct to Hampshire CC and Natural England in future and copy in one or two other interested parties.
One or two other nice birds dotted about the estate today perhaps the pick of which was our first Osprey of the Spring. I would have said he was migrating back to the nest sites in Scotland and the north of England but I can't say that as he was heading south! Possibly one of the Poole Harbour released birds returning or a northern bird looking to stop over for a day or two during his travels. Other bits and bobs in the shape of a Great White Egret, a couple of Green Sandpiper, several Snipe and a superb male Marsh Harrier.
A record shot taken across the river by Mike Hornsby showing that Bob Stone can still find them with a bright twelve pounder on his first visit of the season. Congratulation Bob, great start. Missed you this time hope to catch-up when you're next down. Thanks for the photo Mike, that's twice, perhaps third time lucky it will be your turn. It certainly looks as if the 2SW fish are now running, which will hopefully see numbers increase a little.
Just an update on yesterday's entry with a shot of James with a 26 that was the result of a double hook-up yesterday coming at the same time as the 37 pounder. The "fish in a net" is an eleven or twelve pounder caught by new rod this season, Sean English, on his first visit, hopefully a good omen for the rest of his season and making up a little for yesterday's losses. Congratulations Sean, good to meet you today. Its been an interesting Spring with about sixteen fish being hooked and four actually grassed. That would point to a very good early run and losses a little above what I would have hoped for but at least providing plenty of encouragement.
A further frustration I failed to mention yesterday were a couple of clowns with drones launching from the middle of the highway at Ibsley Bridge and over flying the SSSI/SPA, where the Lapwing are currently nesting. Not the fault of Hampshire County Council on this occasion but about the same consideration of the environment, un-bloody-believable!
Lovely fish James, a great looking 37 plus. The middle shot is a new design for a Loop, ten piece, travel rod. I'm not sure our syndicate member has quite got the idea how they are meant to pack away! I would have put a photo of a salmon up next but as there were three hooked and lost today, I didn't have one, so you got a shot of Brian apply sidestrain to a large carp he hooked fishing the float in the margins. It also came off! I think Brian believes I knocked it off with the net. "Honest Guv' I never touched it!
It looks as if the travel restrictions are lifted from the 29th and night fishing is also once more allowed. It will be good to see our out of town salmon and stillwater members on the bank once more. It would also be nice if the local members, who have enjoyed access throughout the lockdown, took the weekend off to let our travellers a relaxed first visit of the season.
A few of our local birds in the shape of a Black-tailed Godwit and one of our white cock birds looking particularly picturesque out in the dafs. I have left the duck splashes to drain naturally as the Godwit and several Snipe are enjoying the slowly exposing fresh mud. On the meadows I did a quick count of our waders on the newly created large meadow at Ibsley. There were also a dozen of our thirty or so Egyptian Geese out on the meadows making for an odd looking flock. In a very quick count I found eleven pairs of Lapwing and two pairs of Redshank in established territories. During the five minutes I did my count the Lapwing were noisily mobbing a Crow, the Redshank were piping in the wet grassland and to add a few top notes two Skylark were singing overhead, the perfect water meadows backing track.
A couple more shots of misuse of the footpath from the last couple of days, two of four events if I include the witless couple in the canoe. Not deliberate in both cases in the photos, just totally ignorant! Just as the waders arrive, the path is slowly drying out and the Great British Public arrived on cue. Six months unuseable and a repeat of last summers disaster looks on the cards. Those claiming to protect the environment in Hampshire County Council and Natural England should hang their heads in shame.
No salmon to report today, although we did have a couple of paddlers! An unfortunate sign of things to come I fear. When I came across them they were bashing their way through the hedge dragging their canoe behind them, total disregard for the damage to private property. Same old same old, total ignorance of either common or environmental law, the alternative is that they are aware and just don't give a damn and lie through their teeth when challenged, totally depressing.
On a brighter note I see that Woody has changed swims, although a similar result, seen here with a 35+ common. Nice one Woody, congratulations and thanks for the photos.
The other photo is the early construction of a beautiful Long-tailed Tits nest. It is the lower cup of the nest, with the top and entrance still to be added with yet more lichen and moss to finish the job. This is one of probably a dozen such nests dotted around the lakes, fingers crossed the Jays and Magpies don't find them all.
Congratulations Peter, lovely fresh cock fish of fifteen or sixteen pounds. Reward for yours efforts, proving they do exist and its not some fishy conspiracy!
Apologies if you have been held up by the traffic lights at Ibsley. They are there to protect the "Treemenders" as they pollard the willows and remove the dead and dying elms that are threatening to fall in the busy road. Hopefully only a further couple of days and we should be clear.
I fear the sunny day brought out the usual members of the GBP and their disregard for the Common and Environmental law of the land. I would like to point out at this juncture that carrying a camera, pair of binoculars or a mobile phone doesn't negate your personal responsibility under the law of the land. Your respect for the Estate property and our wildlife would be enormously appreciated and not using the public footpath unless you are suitably clad to deal with the floods. Deviating from the designated route to by-pass flooding puts the fragile breeding Lapwing and Redshank population of the meadows at risk. Hampshire County Council would do well to look at the problem now the waders are attempting to establish territories. Whilst I appreciate HCC don't consider breeding waders worthy of protection I would point out the path they are so intent on protecting has been unusable due to flooding for twelve of the last eighteen months. During the entire period the path users have been using the road, involving a far greater extent than that the alternative route we proposed. The road HCC said was unsuitable! Or of course they simply trespass to get around the flood, forcing Lapwing from their territories as they wander about the valley. You couldn't write such a thing, it takes the likes of Hampshire County Council and Natural England to create such a balls-up in undoing the good the EU Life funding created!
One surprise I discovered today as that the Dace were yet to spawn, vast numbers were negotiating the hatches yesterday evening as they were heading upstream on their annual spawning migration. One or two huge dace, bulging with spawn, could be seen nosing into the flow. Within a day or two they will be dropping back downstream, from the gravel shallows where they spawned, their bodies now transformed from smooth, polished silver to rough to the touch scaley coats.
Almost the only piece of dry bank on the entire river I spent the best part of the day clearing "Below the Cut Through" and "The Pipe" above the weir at Ringwood. My task was made a great deal easier today as I have the use of a self propelled brush cutter, thanks to syndicate member Dennis Keith. I'm still getting to grips with the machine but it certainly made cutting the connecting paths a lot easier than with the strimmer. If you do get down to the weir and fish "The Pipe" don't forget that at the head of the pool, above the point from where I took the photo, there are the overhead power cables.
Harbridge Meadows still in flood.
The final day of the river coarse season has seen far fewer members out on the banks than we might have expected under more normal circumstances. The lucky few that live close at hand and are able to get to the river have enjoyed some great fishing despite the water remaining in the fields and several inches of silt covering the banks. I did even manage a couple of hours with the rods myself this afternoon, unfortunately I didn't find the perch I was hoping to round off the season. It was also a WeBS day that required me rising well before six o'clock this morning to be out and about as the day broke. It also meant that when I sat down beside the large eddy I was hoping to find my perch there was a greater chance of me falling asleep if sport was slow!
Tom rounding off his season in style with a bag of chub on the float. As well as the chub the bream have put in an end of season appearance with Steve and Martin both landing in the order of ten fish a piece to over seven pounds.
The river coarse season may have closed but the stillwater remain open as young George proved with one of our lovely fully scaled mirrors. Cracking fish George, really well done. When dad sent the photo through he forgot to say what he had landed! I'm sure I'll hear when we next meet on the bank.
One of several small groups of roe that were about early this morning, in this instance four bucks of varying ages and one doe. The bucks may still be in velvet and the rut several months away yet they were jousting, pushing and chasing, getting quite territorial with just the one doe in attendance.
A pic or two from today in the shape of Pintail out on the floods, juveniles now demanding feeding in the heronry and a red kite collecting some very smelly carrion from the silt out on the flooded meadows.
Some of the hundreds of Wigeon and Teal on the lakes today. There were also Pochard, Tufted and Mallard dotted about in the flock making for quite sight.
Well done Woody, result! Added to the 30+ Woody also had two or three twenties during his visits this week. I hope the photo doesn't give away the swim where you enjoyed such success, thanks for the photos greatly appreciated.
Gavin has been looking for our pike this week and managed to find some cracking fish to round off the river season. The fish captured have been out several pounds heavier in recent months so it looks as if the pike are well into their spawning. Good to see them looking so well after the rigors of spawning but it does mean we are unlikely to see a mega hen on the bank this season. Thanks for the pix and the report Gavin a magic end to the season.
We are forecast heavy rain and very strong wind over the next couple of days, making conditions difficult. With the wet we are forecast warmer conditions so we may just see the barbel join in with the chub over the last couple of days of the season. Those of you living locally enough to get to us for your exercise and brave enough to face the bank high river I wish you good luck and tightlines. All the many members stuck at home unable to get to us I can only sympathise and hope to see you in the new season when hopefully Covid will be just an unpleasant memory.
The salmon members have been out trying to add to Colin's efforts. Unfortunately no further fish on the bank, we have however had several lost that seem to be of a similar good size. The rain of the next couple of days, running into the Springs at the end of the week, will hopefully see a further run of fish into the system so fingers crossed we add to the returns book in the coming week.
A thirty for Dave. Great stuff Dave and many thanks for the photo's and report.
I wouldn't swear to it but I think Robert is in there somewhere!
I heard from Colin again today! Don't panic he's not landed another. Yet! What he did tell me was that in the last few days, as well as his two salmon, he has landed barbel over thirteen pounds, chub over six pounds and a pike, all taking the fly fair and square. What is quite amazing about that is the fact they were all on the same fly and the same hook, that is the exact same fly, not the same pattern. It also adds further evidence for the effectiveness of the swing tube circle hooks. Colin has fished circles at sea for several years and had fished the river with them last year. I think his results to date this season speak for themselves, with even the pike being hooked in the scissors. I'll sort out the various hook patterns that are proving successful and put them up on here. If you do give them a go don't forget to let me know how you got on.
An update for the stillwater members in that "Duck 2" is now back in action. The two dangerous willows have been removed and are now safely stacked on the bank.
Dom has been out for a couple of hours roving about with his flake set up enjoying further reward. On this occasion a seven pound chub in stunning condition, Avon chub are simply mid blowing at present. Salmon rods Danny and Alex were on the scene to enjoy the capture of this Avon prize. A river in tip-top form that never ceases to amaze. Many thanks Dom, another great fish and much appreciated report.
High Water Spinning
We have now received notification from the EA that the byelaw dispensation allowing high water spinning, at flows above 1.18m at the East Mills flume at 04:00am on the day in question, is now in position.
In light of this we have decided to permit spinning when these conditions are met on the stretches of main river, upstream of Ibsley Weir, including the Bridge Pool and downstream of the Old Weir at Ashley, including Ashley Straight. The remainder of the fishery between these two points will remain fly only until 15th May in accordance with the existing byelaw.
Just having posted the above I received one of those magical calls again from Colin. Almost a repeat performance with his second twenty of the new season. Almost identical fish, hooked in the perfect fashion and returned beautifully. Congratulations Colin, another perfect result.
28th February 2021
Everything is changing, the Curlew and the Redshank are arriving as the Wigeon, Shoveler and Gadwall get set for departure. Its a little disappointing that it is only now that the marsh has become shallow enough for the dabbling ducks to make use of it. They'll be here for a week or two and then gone. I suppose if we get the conditions correct the summer visitors will make up for those we miss. More and more Lapwing each day are becoming territorial, the first Redshank have arrived as the Snipe and Curlew are moving through on their way north to the breeding grounds. It would be good to see if we have any Snipe remain on the marsh this year, fingers crossed a pair take the plunge and remain with us to breed.
The most populous duck on the marsh today were the Gadwall, with over one hundred and thirty dabbling with the Wigeon or making their courtship flights in circles around the flood. Every year we have a pair or two that stop with us to breed it will be interesting to see how numbers vary as the impact of climate change impact our valley. Two or three Little Egret, dozens of Grey Heron and a couple of Great White Egret, one resident I don't look so favourably upon are our Crows, as soon as the Lapwing arrive there presence on the marsh seems to increase proportionly. The swans are arriving from the meadows outside of the valley where they have been feeding since first light, mid morning and they return to the safety of the marsh.
About the Estate on both river and lakes the Great Crested Grebe are staking their territories with all the deep grunting, diving and chasing. I think we have about fourteen pairs on the Estate and I find them a good measure of what type of Summer we have. If its a wet summer they risk being flooded out, if they suffer disturbance they abandon or have their nests predated, fingers crossed we get a more benign Spring and Summer than of recent years. There are five grebe in that photo, the one closest to the island is just surfacing. The last shot is a small sawbilled diving duck that should have left a week or two ago when the weather began to warm.
27th February 2021
A buff-tailed queen on the gorse.
Every thing was out enjoying the unseasonal warmth today. That is a proper deer in the shape of a roe doe enjoying the warmth of today's sunshine. Whilst I am not a fan of deer our roe population is at far lower levels than the marauding herds of fallow we have to suffer. They may spread ticks that will undoubtedly spend the summer looking for me but I would hate to walk the lakes without the roe deer as company. This doe was sat completely in the open and watched as I walked within twenty meters of her without stirring, a delightful moment on such a special February day. The Comma and Peacock butterflies appeared around the lakes today adding to the Spring like feel. Up on the marsh the Curlew have arrived as they do each year around this time. I always wonder if they are the birds from the Forest or are they heading further north? I notice that Forestry England are closing certain car parks and trying to establish low disturbance areas where waders have nested in previous years. Good idea but if the GBP are involved I fear for the outcome.
26th February 2021
The water is slowly falling back, allowing me to get to one or two of the salmon pools and start the belated clear up. The first thing to note in the photos above is the blue of the sky, its not photographically enhanced, that's exactly as it was mid morning today. A simply stunning day to be out in the valley. Before lunch I took the strimmer for a walk from Penmeade down to the bridge at the inception of the Kings Stream, at the tail of Below the Breakthrough. Penmeade used to produce its fair number of fish, these days it seems extremely boily and it hasn't produced a fish for many seasons. I fear it's a case of mans interference once more cocking it up. Penmeade, where I started, used to run the other side of the copse on the left bank. For reasons known only to himself one of my predecessors decided to dig it the other way around the copse with the result as we see it today being overly boily on the inside. It may be difficult but Nature will correct the meddling and one day fish will hold there again, so if you have the time give it a go, you just never know. The photos I have included look far more inviting, the first looking upstream from the top of Blashford Island along the length of the Swan Island Pool. A great looking pool that's crying out to be fished and I'm sure its a holding pool, it may be a bit of a hike but I'm sure it will produce before too long. It can only be fished from the right bank, the trees that used to stand on the old Swan Island block the left side of the channel and from the deep head of the pool, under the near bank, to the wide tail just above Blashford Island all look perfect. I did land a seatrout of five or six pounds just above the island ayear or two ago. I think it was early June, I was fishing a small Silver Stoat hoping for a grilse, the weed was late that season allowing reasonable fishing and out of the blue, on a bright sunny afternoon it joined in. I never have been able to understand Avon seatrout they are most definitely a law unto themselves. Third shot is below Blashford Island where the wide tail is looking more inviting each year as more flow takes the right channel. It has produced several fish in recent years and in the current high water looks an ideal resting place for a tired Springer. Third and forth need no comment other than to say they are Above and Below the Breakthrough, on their day in the right conditions, as good a salmon pools as you will find anywhere on the Avon.
A beautiful day that did its best to dispell the horror of this terrible pandemic, hopefully, as a taste of better times ahead there were a couple of these gems around the lakes today.
25th February 2021
To ensure a balance between the species, a great shot of Woody with a cracking looking 30+. A fabulous winter capture, well done Woody, just reward for your efforts.
A look at today's goings on in the shape of a view across the South Marsh from the edge of the gravel escarpment. The rotten ash in the foreground along with several other massive misshapen sticks are deliberately left to act as invertebrate habitat. Centre shot shows Kevin adding some of the latest thinking in Mallard nest tubes. Safe from ground predators it will be interesting to see how a couple of dozen of this design will help the duck population. On the right a shot of the shallows in one of the carriers showing a gathering of caddis. Just why they should have decided to get together there is a mystery but good to see the carriers coming back to life after the cold and floods of recent months.
24th February 2021
One pair of the two pairs of Lapwing that have already established their territories at Ibsley. His mate is settle low in the grass to the left of shot. They are already turning in tight circles to practice making their nest bowl. The cock birds chase and dive bomb any passing crows or perceived threats entering their realm. Hampshire County Council will do their best to bugger it up but nothing surprises me with our regulators and local authorities now a days. The second shot I took today whilst clearing brash around the lakes. We wouldn't seem to be making much headway in reducing fallow numbers, its proving extremely trying with an unrestricted population the other side of the fence out on the forest! The doe immediately to the left of the white doe has lost its rear lower left leg, probably a fence entanglement, which is the most common cause of injury. Its been like that for at least three years so it seems to be managing okay.
22nd February 2021
Just a quick shot to post the news that Colin Morgan has landed our first of the year. I was delighted to be on hand to do the honours with the net and enjoy the release. Danny also managed to join us to see the classic 20+ Avon Springer. Hopefully Danny will send through video of the release that is worth seeing and I'll give a little more background to Colin's wonderful capture. Congratulations Colin, I feel privileged to have witnessed such a fish.
A few more shots of Colin and his Springer. Sorry Colin, the shots aren't as clear as might have been, due to having the camera on the wrong setting and being too buggered to check having just run about a mile through the floods. Whilst they don't do justice to the fish they are a record of a superb fish. Taken on a Posh Tosh tube, fished in combination with a Partridge semi-circle on a swing tube. Perfectly hooked in the lower jaw unhooking was as simple as one could wish for. Landing in the high water with the small mesh conservation net was testing but managed without hitch after a fight of twenty minutes. Beautifully rested for probably half an hour, a couple of quick shots and Danny's video below shows the release.
Lovely release, after twenty or thirty minutes rest in cold, well oxygenated water, the perfect departure.
If you have an hour don't forget Ringwood weir, especially with the water at this height and the possibility of running fish. I was down there earlier today and it looked absolutely spot on just up from the sycamore tree.
As a matter of interest its now 10:30pm and I've just got in from there again as I popped out to shine the torch across the river at a swim that has obviously seen some attention of late. Hopefully its a syndicate member and I've just not been about when they have been fishing. Its the swim on the opposite bank from the electricity sub station, just upstream of the cables crossing the river. If you have been fishing that spot of late I would appreciate a call just to allay my suspicions about poachers.
Before all the excitement of this afternoon I was over at the lakes desperately trying to get the tidying up completed before the end of the month. Its the accepted BMP that all tree and scrub work should be completed by the end of March. I always feel that as climate change produces the warmer winters of recent decades thats leaving it too late and I always do my best to get finished by the end of February. Obviously the river renmains in flood and the salmon pools will be finished when I can get to them. The saving grace here is that very few birds will try and nest with the flooded conditions currently to be found out there. The first shot above shows the island where we try and preserve the lichen and moss lawn that is quite a scarce nutrient poor habitat in the area. Since we have cleared the self set birch and brambles the lichen has pleasingly gone from strength to strength. The middle shot show where we leave some of the meadow grass to stand over the winter and just remove self set scrub. This provides a further habitat that shelters many invertebrates that are becoming increasingly rare in our over populated valley. Third on the right can be seen a few meters of the several hundred meters of dead hedges that have become havens for our nesting resident song birds. Not that they are very dead, the hedges that is, they have now thickend up to the extent they require cutting back each winter. Between the hedges and the phragmites beds we clear the scrub from the reed and rush beds leaving between 250mm and 500mm standing. This creates an overstory beneath which our voles and water rails can live in peace hidden from the ever searching eyes of the Marsh Harrier and Barn Owl.
The margins and channels around Brenda's phragmites beds cleared of scrub and tidied up in readiness for the return of her warblers.
This is a fair example of the compensation scheme I believe should exist to protect our fisheries. How much is that fish worth? How many paying members will fail to rejoin if the pike are all predated. Those same paying members that pay for the maintenance and the upkeep of the heavily modified river. Heavily modified is the classification of the Avon due to its vast network of perched channels and water meadows. We hear all the hot air spouted by the conservation world about the value of nature, well there's a direct cost. Whilst its always sad to see the demise of such a beautiful specimen, in this case a known fish of just over 25 pounds, it can be absorbed by a fishery the size of Somerley. We have several other pike in excess of 25 about the river at present so its not a total disaster. Smaller fisheries and fisheries that are not fortunate enough to have an established and balanced otter population suffer catastrophic financial loss through the loss of such fish and the knock on effect of losing members. The carp world is impacted to an even greater extent, where otters become preoccupied on the easy meals available, yet not a bean is available to compensate for the loss. A loss that comes as a direct result of statutory protection of the species involved. This is not a plea to remove that protection, far from it, I firmly believe it remains essential to safeguard our river apex predators. My strongly held view is that the fisheries that suffer those losses should be compensated in exactly the same way as the farmers who suffer losses of stock brought about by badgers through bovine TB culls. Oddly it was the indiscriminate use of DDT and other poorly research pesticides in the farming world that brought about the otter population crash in the first place. As it stands not only do the fisheries lose their stock, lose the paying fishermen and fail to get any protection from the government, society and the farming world fill our rivers with poison and shit. It might be seen as just rubbing salt in the wounds. We can't blame Bozo and his motley crew, they simply don't have a clue what is happening in the countryside. It comes down to our representatives, the bodies that purport to represent angling, it is those august bodies that need to get their finger out and make the case to defra and the minister.
21st February 2021
Believe it or not the river is creeping back into the channel and with a week or two of dry weather forecast fingers crossed we get back to something resembling normality in the not too distant future. Looking at the North Marsh at Hucklesbrook its difficult to ever believe it will dry out again. Overall it remains too deep for the waders, with the exception of the very northern fields where large numbers of Lapwing await the river returning to normal. The first pair of Oyster catchers of the year can just be seen sitting it out on one of the exposed banks and the Great Crested Grebe can't believe its luck in finding such a perfect lake. I only hope the grebe doesn't do as those that attempted to nest out of the channel last year discovered, when the meadows drained they were left sitting high and dry and had to abandon their nest.
Lapwing at Ibsley being harried by a Peregrine forcing them high into the air. Whether these are migrants visiting due to cold weather in the east or local birds its impossible to say. Where ever they originated they are a more than welcome sight in the valley, the 300+ in the photo are just one of several flocks that are currently with us. If you are out and about in the valley we do have a pair of Marsh Harriers that seem to be with us most days. A dramatic looking pair as they drift in and out of the reedbeds well worth keeping an eye out in the hope of a fly-past.
Talking of fly-pasts, I had my first bumblebee queens on the wing today. I spotted two, unfortunately too far away to get a good ID but I think they were probably Buff-tailed. If the forecast warm weather arrives this week I hope they will be the first of many.
19th February 2021
I received the following information from a diary reader who also followed the mission for Mars.
Sadly the news from the joint Environment Agency, Natural England, English Nature and Hampshire Wildlife Trust mission to purchase a Mars bar from Tesco is less inspiring. It seems they did not deploy enough paper work to bring their electric car to a halt in the Tesco car park. A shopping trolley was dented and there will now be a full impact assessment.
Thankfully the crew survived, but they then found they had forgotten their money and mobile phones. Fortunately a shopper called NASA and they hope to launch a rescue mission led by the AA this afternoon.
A mission spokesman said that the whole team is very disappointed; it is the first time that they have failed to stop a project with paperwork. When asked about the condition of the crew he reported that they were in good spirits and relieved that the crash had prevented them from getting cold and wet doing field work.
18th February 2021
Congratulations NASA, simply stunning achievement. Best live TV of the decade.
17th February 2021
Many thanks to Dominic for sending through this fabulous photo of his latest capture. A big twenty, on a lure, amidst the Avon in full flood, it can't get much better than that. Dom had this fish some time ago and I wasn't going to show the photo as the risk of depresssing those that don't live locally may result. Having thought about it and seen the current state of the river that is still the width of the flood plain, I think the delight in seeing such wonder fish outweighs the risk of depressing you all. It certainly cheers me up to see such a specimen and hear of Dom's success. Great result Dom and thanks again for the super photo.
15th February 2021
I'm sure many of our chub regulars will be pleased to see this wonderful fish, weighing in at 7-12, captured by Gavin Barrett, to whom I am indebted for the photograph. The chub have remained active throughout the cold snap and now the temperatures are forecast to rise fingers crossed the water will drop a little and allow us a good finish of the coarse season. Congratulations Gavin, great capture and thanks again for the photo.
14th February 2021
WeBS day requiring an early start to get around the various lakes and the river. With ice cover remaining over several sheltered corners of the lakes and bits and pieces of the meadows add that much of the northern valley still too deep for waders it was a difficult day. Not a great deal to note with the highlight being a redhead Smew. During hard weather Smew do occasionally show up in the valley, once this cold snap is over in the coming days I imagine this bird will head back to its more northern haunts.
I did spot one hardy member out trotting for chub and I hope he caught a hat full as reward for his efforts in getting out to the river.
13th February 2021
A couple of shots from todays visit to the valley. Under the Sparrowhawk in the first there's a Redwing that wasn't quick enough to avoid becoming the main meal of the day. The second shot is a little vague in that it shows steadily rising smoke over the forest that for all the world looked like more heather burning.
12th February 2021
I was also going to add the link to the news that the government road building programme is being waved through by the minister, overriding official advice related to the environmental impact re the Paris agreement. I think to have done so might bring on bouts of environmental depression. I fear this is just the tip of the ice-berg the current regime is impervious to scientific advice, cynically side stepping or ignoring it if it doesn't suit their private agenda. The other question the link above raises is just why I have to discover this through a FOI request submitted by the Guardian?
10th February 2021
That was definitely a cold start to the day and Gary deserves a thirty pounder at least for getting out there covering the water in search of a Springer.
9th February 2021
The river is behaving well, in that its not doing much, the ground water from the aquifer is still holding the water height out in the meadows. The chippers are in clearing some of the stacks of prepared timber and the frost has hardened the ground sufficiently to move the chip without doing too much damage. Once everybody was set up and running smoothly I had the opportunity to get an hour or two cutting some stakes and strainers for the fencing about the lakes. I think of coppicing along the same lines as my strimming, turning ancient over grown hazel and sweet chestnut back into productive stools is enormously satisfying, with the same added advantage as the strimmer in that the chainsaw drowns out the mobile. I only wish I could find more time to work on these ancient woodlands, with a lively fire from the offcuts to keep the icy north east wind at bay.
That single oak has been selected, from a small clump I planted as whips in the early 90's, to form the new over-story hopefully to stand above the hazel coppice for the next two hundred years. Fence posts and strainers from the sweet chestnut that hasn't been coppiced for over a century.
If that's a shepherds hut on the move it looks as if lambing may be with us before too long.
5th February 2021
The river remains boringly high, still out in the meadows making life tedious. The hatch gate, fry sanctuary and carrier bridge can all be found within a few meters of the still flooded car park at Ellingham. One or two syndicate members have been braving the elements with one or two marvellous fish to show for their efforts, more of which later in the season. Unfortunately but hardly surprisingly, we have yet to see the first salmon on the bank. The visibility should improve in the coming days as we are forecast drier, colder weather if that is so the chances of a fish will hopefully look up.
I should have paired this shot with the one above on the left but I'm too idle to redo the html! The shots are from above and below the same gate showing the head of water that has to be retained by opening and closing the gates to achieve the flow desired down the water meadow laterals. Open an inch too much and the upper meadow will drain, closed too much and the lower meadow wont have sufficient water to flood, in this case if you look closely you can see we are working with about 300mm. Basically thats all that's involved with the control of water levels, be they hatches such as the main gates at Ibsley or the foot wide lateral ditches out on the meadows. In a long run of water meadows with multiple gates, the difficulty comes from finding sufficient flow through all the gates involved without inundating or draining a section. It also gets a little more complicated when the flow in the main channel inception rises or falls altering the initial head of water, or backing up the lower meadows, which requires all the dependent gates to be reset. Just when you get it as you wish along comes a request to drain a meadow for grazing in the Spring or flood a duck splash in the Autumn. All with the overriding consideration not to flush your sheltering juvenile fish or flood the hay meadows with the nesting waders.
There are seventy four Lapwing sat out in the meadows at Harbridge waiting for the floods to retreat to allow them to get on with selecting their territories for the coming nesting season. I associate the pee wit call of the Lapwing with the Avon valley meadows in the Springtime. The very best of the salmon season is accompanied by their calls and displays as they see off the local Crows and if you're really lucky the accompanying piping of the Redshank.
2nd February 2021
Sorry there has been no confirmation about early season high water spinning as we had not heard anything from the EA. I can now confirm there will be NO EARLY SEASON HIGH WATER SPINNING THIS YEAR. The disapplication of the byelaw has not been put in place.
Its a pity I didn't know before lunch when I showed these five itinerant poachers off the bank. They didn't know they were poaching, despite the signs, as they weren't from the area. I could have informed them they were not only poaching but spinning illegally! Not that it would have made a jot of difference, they didn't have a licence between them. Hopefully they didn't have a new variant either!
1st February 2021
I did spot half a dozen rods out to welcome the first day, which was good to see. You'll have to forgive me for not wading out to say hello, I'll wait until things are a little less dramatic and catch up in more comfort. Those of you that did venture out found a very big river waiting to greet you. With such water any fish that are about will have no trouble getting up to us, making the effort a little more enticing. Having said that I didn't get any desperate phone calls pleading for help as the first Springer of the year headed back to sea! I hadn't thought of it previously but it may be worth trying to meet up with a fellow rod to fish with to help in the event you do find a fish. Trying to land a big fish on your own in that water will be testing to say the least. Should you hook a fish on your own make sure you have my number handy as with this water I will probably get to you long before you land it.
30th January 2021
In light of the salmon season getting underway on Monday perhaps an update on the state of the river might be opportune. First and foremost the river is still rising and we have more rain forecast, which means this lot is only going to get worse. If you are intending to wet a line caution and safety first is the only approach, a couple of hours should more than scratch that itch. Remember the fields have numerous ditches hidden beneath the water that are currently too deep to wade even in chesties.
As far as Covid is concerned you are permitted to fish for your exercise and if you get out in that lot you will certainly get plenty of that. You are allowed to meet up with one other household outside ensuring you adhere to social distancing recommendations. Unfortunately, as with the first lockdown, the Salmon Lodge will not be available until further notice. Good luck and once it looks more user friendly I hope to meet up with many of you on the bank in the new season. At an acceptable social distance of course.
The latest Catch 22 Report.
You can tell its still bloody raining, I've been sat in front of my screens giving vent to some of my latest frustrations. Leading on from my ramblings the other day I have been thinking about the more immediate, local face of our enforcement agencies. My world is now confined to the Hampshire Avon Valley and it is, of course, this catchment that I feel is in dire need of further protection. This is probably the case across the country but I hide away in the Avon Valley and watch the rest of the world go by. In reality I'm from a generation that has created most of the problems our valley faces. One of the few certainties in this world is that I will not be here to bear the full consequences, or see the correction of our failure to safeguard our environment.
As we go about our daily routines alongside the river there are concerns and fears that appear on a regular basis. We see the changes that are occurring in the valley wildlife and the fluctuations in the fish populations of the river. The extended periods of flooding and the increasing disturbance by the Great British Public at play, concerns are wide and varied. In many instances just what the drivers are behind these fluctuations and cycles we don't even recognise. We have basic instincts, or gut feelings, that point to certain factors but isolating and proving those feelings is an immense task in most instances well beyond the individual. I have watched numerous studies and research projects run for decades and at the end of the day fail to arrive at any firm conclusion or unchallengeable findings. Are the findings subsequently viewed as time wasted or valuable in that they add a further link to our chain of knowledge. What most provide is the need for more research and funding. What they will not do without conclusive findings are persuade the commercial world, or government ministers, to act in the interests of the river. Certainly not if it risks loss to the share holders, exchequer or unpalatable political measures such as raised bills for the voters.
Back to those gut feelings and just what we do about them. The list of concerns is pretty daunting and ever increasing. Societies input alone is enough to make you despair; STW discharge, abstraction, micro-plastics, endocrine disruptors, phosphates, nitrates it goes on and on. Add in impacts such as climate change and species population dynamics and it becomes a complete maze.
A complete review of the current departments involved in catchment management is pretty much a sledge hammer approach. Flood defence, discharge consent, abstraction consent, Natural England. Where do we look for the change we need to make. Just how we get to the bottom of this lot is the very crux of all the heated debate that we see going on around the internet.
A good starting point might be to make ALL planners legally obliged to enforce the “precautionary principle” where the potential for adverse environmental impact may exist. Make planning advice provided by the EA and NE legally binding so we don't see the disregard for flood plains and flood risk until its too late and those involved are weeping about their flooded carpets. The onus of ensuring no adverse impact, to a standard approved by the regulators, to fall on those seeking planning permission. Not the wishy washy environmental impact statements we see so frequently today. That is dependent of course on the regulators having the knowledge, the funding and the balls to stand up for the environment not the institutions that support them. The catch here is our ever increasing knowledge in that what we learn at a future date may negate the best information at the time of consent. It might help to make planners, or their associated bodies, liable for the impact of their decisions. It would certainly focus their attention if there were to be personal accountability involved.
Those couple of simple measures would be a good place to reset the clock and hold our ground before we even start to look at existing problems.
There can be few directly involved in the riverine world today who would dispute the fact the Environment Agency and Natural England have been so starved of central government GIA funding, to the extent they are no longer fit for purpose. That they are now unfit for purpose remains contentious of course as the government remain of the opinion they are meeting their statutory requirements. With the government, via Defra, choosing the boards few in the upper echelons of the regulators will raise a voice to dispel this myth. Are the EA departmental cuts determined at funding source within Defra or are the internal interdepartmental budgets set in house? Who decides the priority, Flood Defence, Water Resources, Waste Management, are in relation to the protection of the Environment? In reality under the ever increasing pressure of society those that remain on the coal face, trying to meet these statutory obligations to water quality, waste disposal, fisheries and the environment, haven't got a snowballs of achieving their goals.Having established what measures we wish to see implemented and our dissatisfaction with the existing state of play, just how do we achieve our objectives. What sort of agency or NGO would we wish to see look after the catchment. An in house reshuffle, renaming a few departments and setting up a few more sycophantic partnerships and public consultations simply doesn't cut it. Anyone trying to get a feel of the problems faced by the Avon can find mountains of reports and scientific papers cataloguing and monitoring a vast array of potential problems. Just a dip into the A&EDA (Agriculture and Environmental Data Archive) will find the volume of information daunting. Added to this information there are countless further; reports, plans, papers and monitoring data that has yet to make it online.
Its all too easy to criticise the regulators, I include NE and the EA in that, all too often they don't help themselves, setting themselves up as easy targets. I admit to be very critical of the protection our rivers are afforded by the government. Whether that's the same as blaming the EA is not quite so clear cut. Are weak management failing to make the case for their agencies to blame? Do the management of the regulators represent the environment or the government? How do they see their role I wonder? Judging by statements coming out of the EA management of late very much a case of “yes minister”. Is it Whitehall mandarins purely interested in maintaining control of their empires, to justify their existence? Or cynical politicians riding rough shod over Defra in dictating the flawed policy that has seen the emasculation of the regulators? Purely as the easy option in balancing the treasury books?
God forbid its politicians looking to ease the way for their party financiers and farming lobbies, in side lining the environmental protection legislation that gets in the way of maximising financial gain. If the latter were the case they would not be simply cynical but criminal and hopefully would be eventually exposed for what they are. Don't hold your breath!
Personally I believe that the underfunding of the regulators is for the main part a treasury driven austerity measure. Unfortunately there are few voices with any sway raised against the perception of this easy gain. Some of the comments from the likes of Rees-Mogg make it very clear how they would wish to see the future protection of the environment. Unfortunately he is far from alone in his views in the world of the politically powerful. The majority just have more savvy than to stick their heads above the parapet. This is perhaps where the greatest fault lies. How can political pressure be brought to bear on the likes of the PM and the Chancellor? Marriage is not an option here. The cuts imposed on the EA have been severest where the political fallout is least or simply side stepped. Fisheries and the environment are seen in Whitehall as easy targets and have been pared down to the minimum. Whilst still allowing the government to claim they are meeting their statutory obligations. That might prove an interesting point of law if it were ever taken to a statutory review in front of an informed bench.
If the riverine world does not have a sufficiently powerful lobby to whom do we look to champion our cause? Perhaps the press and broadcast networks, if sufficient sensationalism and drama can be generated to interest them. Raw sewage being discharged into the Avon may on a slow news day get you thirty seconds on the local news. Celebrity sewage being discharged into the Avon may get you five minutes, which is a sad reflection of the viewing tastes of the Great British Public, the celebrity, not the sewage. Those same GBP would, if we believe the perception of OFWAT, scream blue murder about twenty quid a year on their water and sewage bills, ring fenced for the environment.
Water quality trying to keep tabs on the water companies, highways departments and chemical industry are stretched to the limit. Just how comprehensive a water quality analysis would we like to see? Of the 300 plus known chemicals that flow from STW's, roads, storm drains and agricultural land, how many should we look for. Do we know the cost, not only financial but environmentally, of the symbiotic gloop this chemical cocktail potentially creates. It's no good blaming the EA their remit is determined by UKTAG (UK Technical Advisory Group) or whatever they're called today, I'm probably a little out of date.
Just how do you make sense of a professional quango like the EA its governance and tier upon tier of management to hide behind, 1.3 billion expenditure, employing in the region of 10000 staff. Half the expenditure is paying itself, just how many directors and deputy directors does one quango require? Just who amongst that lot is earning their crust? Who wants to open up the can of worms that a full review of; priorities, responsibilities and restructuring would entail? That's before we look at the structure of UKTAG and Defra.
I can understand the feeling that its simpler just to let it grind on producing its bland, emasculated outcomes. It certainly suits government not to have to answer any real questions. Lip service with the necessary PR produced sound bites for the media allows uninterrupted peace and tranquillity on high.
Just how do we select boards and staff if its not to be a simple reflection of government? I'm sure like me you are amazed at the process that continually allows, like to promote like, within our ministries and agencies.
Just to add a little further confusion, enter NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) As it says on the tin, this further quango holds the key to unlocking many of the questions we wish to have answered. Funded by central government they determine who looks at what in our natural world. Once more of course they can only hand out what the government deem to give them.
Before we even get around to trying to implement change to protect the rivers that unholy mess has to be sorted out and made transparent.
Just what would I like to see from our regulators? It has to be a valid question, its no good bemoaning the inability of our regulators to protect our environment unless we can offer an alternative route to achieve the end we feel our countryside warrants.
I don't suppose things have changed a great deal in the last decade or so since I stood back from the politics of the environment. Back then the fact compensation to restrict or close abstraction and discharge consents was always a major hurdle to overcome when looking at the way ahead.
Before we can press for change we need to have an idea of exactly what we wish to see implemented to safeguard our rivers. Just to provide my aspirational wish list is a starting point for what would end up as a catalogue in its own right.
A combined approach to catchment environmental management with executive catchment committees driving policy. Would be a good starting point. Regulatory control exercised and paid for by central government with officers directly attached to elected NGO regional catchment or catchment committees.
An appeal system capable of holding the government to account. That's certainly aspirational. Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. Generally, the courts cannot overrule its legislation. Our recourse to the EU is no longer an option. A judicial review of any questionable decision making process under the existing legislation. Always running to catch up and who pays to establish the facts behind the grounds for a review?
An end to nationally devised policy, where we try and fit the chalkstreams into the same policy as the alluvial rivers of the east and the stone and gravel rivers of the north and west.
Increased research through working in partnership with universities. Potentially NERC (National Environment Research Council) funded option meeting the needs of the catchment and supporting the university research programmes. Another government determined agency but you have to start somewhere!
Population dynamics establishing the interaction between indigenous catchment species.
Water temperature on gender determination and viability on invertebrates/fish.
Weed and algal triggers in response to water temperature, turbidity and enrichment.
The extent and role micro plastics occupy within the system.
Review and determination of the role of monitoring within the catchment.
Input into the UKTAG parameters that guide our regulators attempting to monitor discharge consents. With emphasis on, STW's, agri and aquaculture and highways drainage.
My favourite old chestnuts in the form of an abstraction and agricultural chemical levy the raised monies ring fenced for environmental protection.
Compensation for predation loss, where wildlife legislation overrides fishery protection legislation. Run and funded exactly along the lines of the Bovine TB compensation scheme. NE coordinated, GWCT/wildlife trust operated, based on DNA profiles that are as cheap as chips these days. I've said on here somewhere in the past that the average large carp is a far more valuable creature than the average cow.
A central information online database to catalogue ALL research and monitoring, available free of charge and capable of being catchment specific. (More funding to the A&EDA)
Review of rod licence/executive input into rod licence income expenditure.
More rapid response time from regulators and catchment management bodies, more in line with private sector.
Criminal enforcement to be removed from agencies and incorporated into properly funded police wildlife and countryside units.
Remove the obligation on the public exchequer to compensate environmentally detrimental processes.
Where do we look to see why many of these questions have not been already answered, there is nothing new in the list. What has historically been responsible for the failure to protect our rivers to date? Who do we wish to represent our needs in the future? Prioritise environment and ensure the precautionary principle is steadfastly adhered to Separate fisheries from; Land drainage, Flood defence etc what a maze! ... andI haven't even attempted to discuss the role of our MP's in that lot.
Moving Agency staff into the NGO's gets very complicated due to pension rights and employment conditions. If the will were there overcoming such problems would not be an issue. Unfortunately it suits a disingenuous government to have a toothless guard dog protecting the environment, leaving its corporate a free hand when it comes to exploiting the environment for waste disposal, abstraction and intensive exploitation.
So what are our options? If we wish to change the means by which the regulators work to bring them into the 21st century we could perhaps do better to look to the past. Prior to the privatisation of the water companies the water boards and river authorities were directly funded by the income of the public water supply and LA rates.
In the end the regulator we end up with are a reflection on the state of our society. If society is happy with the cost of our lifestyle being borne by the environment, we will continue on the slippery slope we currently tolerate. If we are prepared to tell our representatives we are not happy things will change.
If nought else, for those that manage to make sense of my ramblings, it provides plenty of food for thought. Those of you that hope it will soon stop raining to get me away from these screens, I sympathise!
I haven't topped and tailed this lot so please forgive the flyers.
29th January 2021
In the post of 7th January I put up the conditions the Estate fishery was prepared to operate under to meet the conditions as agreed by the government re fishing being permitted to continue through out lock down. There appears to be a little confusion over what NO NIGHT FISHING means on the Estate. Just to clarify a return to historic fishing times that means OFF The Estate, one hour after sunset until further notice. Sunset times can be simply found on the net and as an example tonight was 16:54 simple enough, off the estate by 18:00 at the very latest.
Snowdrops above the floodline, which has risen again overnight to 21.70 on the Ibsley Bridge height gauge. Over spilling the bund that looks like it will need reinforcing again next Spring.
28th January 2021
Today I finally managed to get the willow tree that had been stuck in the weirpool cleared and cut up. I have sweated and cursed the wretched thing for the best part of two days. It was the top of one of the large willows that had been blown into the pool last winter. It had circled the pool and eventually managed to get itself jammed under the sheet piling alongside the hatches. It didn't look that troublesome and as I was pressed for time when we removed the large London Plane and the willow on the western side of the pool, I hadn't bothered to snatch a wire on to it and pull it out when we had tractors on site. With the salmon season about to kick off and the weirpool fishable this year, I wanted the tree cleared. With the meadows far too wet to get machinery on, it was a case of clearing the thing by hand. I started by clearing the overhanging vegetation that had tangled with it, hitched a rope to it and pulled, hauled and cursed, yet it failed to move so much as an inch. I tied it to the ash tree next to the hatches and tried tightening down on it with a sheeting knot, not so much as a twitch. I eventually resorted to walking a rope across the width of the pool, dropping a grapnel behind the tree and tightening down on it from the far side of the pool. By now it had rained on me and I was soaked through from pulling on wet ropes, fed-up, cold and suffering various cuts, scratches, grazes, bruises and rope burns, I was about ready to give it best. Just one more last desperate heave, amazingly something gave and it wasn't another hernia, begrudgingly, slowly but surely it began to swing out into the current. What I thought was a twenty foot limb now in finest ice-berg fashion surfaced as a forty foot, weed and root festooned, stag-headed monstrousity. As it cleared the hatches and began to circulate in the pool I gathered as much of the rope as I could as it came around to my side. I had it on a tight line when it came alongside me, where I thought I would pull it into the side and drag it clear enough to get at it with the chainsaw. Wrong, it had no intention of stopping or changing course due to my pathetic efforts and set off for a further circuit of the pool. Around and around it went, each time I tried to steer it into a reachable berth. Ten, twenty, it took for ever but I eventually coaxed it into the big eddy in the corner of the weirpool closest the bridge. Once there, bit by bit, I managed to cut the bloody thing up and chuck and drag it out on the bank. Should you be fishing the pool before I eventually clear the thing completely, watch your step and don't go pitching butt over head off the bank, 'cause I've done with dragging things out of that pool for a while!
Finally my Avon Valley Path update shot, the other day the return of the Lapwing. Today, to celebrate the fourth month of the path being flooded, the return of the Hampshire County Council bird scareres!
25th January 2021
The Lapwing started appearing out on the meadows today, its all to do with the depth of the flood as the river slowly drops back. I'm always pleased to see the Cuckoo Pint start into growth, a sure sign we are heading in the right direction. A shot of the Starlings up over the river as I came over Ibsley Bridge this evening.
23rd January 2021
The view from my desk, despite the ice only having melted an hour earlier this lot couldn't wait for their daily dip.
Woody and Dave still catching dispite the hard frosts of the last couple of days. They look like a pair of old fish, odd that Woody's fish has no pelvic fins, a fish I have not seen seen previously. Whilst I was talking to Dave and Woody we were joined by the Great White Egret in the middle shot. Not an unusual sight these days but this bird was ringed on the right tibia. I'll be interested to hear from anyone locally who may have managed to read the ring and discovered an origin for this bird. I'll see if I can get a little closer to it next time I spot it and try and get a closer photo or read the ring myself.
The main spillway dealing with a great deal of water.
22nd January 2021
Definitely a case of what a difference a day makes as the torrential rain of yesterday gave way to blue skies and cold sunshine. Ibsley Pool, bank high and pushing through that should make it beautifully polished for the start of the season. Always providing we can get to the river banks as the valley floods once more, keeping the Avon Valley path closed for approaching four months.
21st January 2021
Today's view looking south, west and north from Blashford, once more well out in the meadows.
A further good day on the fishery on Tuesday as I got to grips with the preparation for the off of the salmon season. Park and Coomber are clipped up and almost complete, providing an uninterrupted run of 700m of fishing if you start at the seat in Pile Pool. I'm not sure what that equates to in fishing time but if like me you take a pace between casts that's quite a while. Also to be found down that bank are Mackenzie's and Sydney Pool, to keep you going with a further 350m. I must time myself down a couple of pools to see just what speed I do cover the water. It might help when I pop out for an hour in the evening to avoid having to pack up halfway down my chosen pool!
A really odd experience the other evening on the way home from work, I took a walk out to the river during the wind and torrential rain of storm Christoph's trailing front. The meadows at the spot I chose to visit remain flooded probably to an average depth of about six inches to a foot. There was one fifty or sixty meter section that was closer to the top of my thigh waders but nothing ventured! I was out there in the dark, wind and rain as Kevin had previously told me the water meadows in front of his place were alive with wildfowl during the night. Kevin has the advantage of a night vision scope that showed the meadows to be covered in wildfowl of every shape and size. He also mentions a very vocal, talkative group that continuously chattered away as they fed. It was this last group that particularly interested me as there are in the region of 1500 to 2000 BTG in the valley and it sounded as if it may have been them. Godwits have quite particular feeding requirements regarding water depth and the usual meadows I expect to see them remain too deep to let them feed. If the talkative birds that Kevin could hear from his home were these birds it would be the first time I have witnessed them feed during the hours of darkness on the Estate. Whilst the wildfowl were not in the valley during my daytime counts many hundreds, even thousands are day roosting on the pits.
Waders and waterproofs tested to the limit, I splashed my way on out to the far side of our newly created large area of open meadows. To a phragmites bed that I thought may afford a little cover from Christoph's excesses, to perch on a convenient willow stump to await the hoped for arrivals. The wind and rain were coming horizontally up the valley, meaning I could only face away from it to avoid the glasses immediately becoming covered and useless.
Half an hour and the first to arrive were the Canada's, I could hear them coming up the valley behind me in family groups of between twenty and thirty. They passed low overhead, turned in a wide circle in front of me and came back to land facing the wind. Next a few pairs of Mallard and Gadwall that seem to have paired off in readiness for the breeding season ahead. Their arrival overhead, keeping low and facing the gale, they seemed almost close enough to touch. Coil after coil of Wigeon arrived, whistling and splashing noisily into the shallow water, immediately starting to graze. Pipping Teal dropped in with a splash, now too dark to see them arrive. When almost too dark to see a rush of wing beats as a tight cloud of pointed, black and white contrasting wings, created an almost psychedelic pattern as they rushed over and settled onto the meadow less than fifty meters from where I stood. An hour earlier not a bird in site now I had no idea how many birds were out there, suffice to say probably well into the thousands. An amazing unseen world of our incredible valley.
Time to leave and half a mile back to the truck, into the face of the storm, across the flooded meadows. The glassy surface speckled with contrasting silhouettes of the clumps of rush and grass doing their best to trip me made progress difficult. My exit was noisy and very splashy. I stumbled along the flocks barely bothering to break from their grazing, those that did lifting only to splash down fifty meters behind me. Certainly nothing like any of the dozens of duck flights I have previously experienced.
18th January 2021
A fine way to start my day and a familiar sight to many of the early arrivals on the Estate as the sun begins to chase the frost from the meadows.
.......and the day continued in that good vein with nothing drowned, blocked or busted. This afternoon I even managed a couple of hours exercise behind the strimmer after weeks of not finding the time or being flooded off the banks. Personally I think it just has to be the best work out ever, no one to bother you and after a couple of hours you get the satisfaction of the visible return for your efforts. The salmon season will be getting underway in less than a fortnight with miles of pools still awaiting my attention. It will be a very strange start to the season with the limit on travel restricting access for many out of town members. Hopefully within a month or two, as the best of the Avon salmon fishing arrives, we will be out of the strictest lockdown rules and travel will be permitted. If you are fortunate enough to be local and able to get out for your exercise don't forget the lower end of the Estate, especially if its running water as fish always pause before running the gates at Ringwood.
I was thinking about the exercise attached to fishing and to that end I considered the weight of the tackle we carry miles out across flooded fields. Salmon fishing is probably the lightest tackle requirements, rod, reels, end tackle flies, disgorger plus an eco net. Modern rods and reels weigh just a few ounces, most if not all the remainder of the tackle can be stowed in pockets, net across the back and we are off. When chasing the elusive salmon it involves being continuously on the move so by the end of your visit you may have several miles under your belt.
Compare that to my river coarse gear and it doesn't get close, especially when I am undecided on just what I intend to fish for. The rod holdall may contain, two tip and a couple of float rods, landing net handle, bank sticks and a brolly. depending on the brolly that alone can amount to far more than the salmon gear. Add the carry-all that contains the seat, net head, rod rest heads, unhooking mat and most of your bait if it involves a couple of loaves. Then comes the rucksack or tackle box, reels, weights and feeders, float box, scales, terminal tackle beyond description and probably a load more fancy bait. I weighed the lot I take on a normal impromptu visit and it came to over sixty pounds! I have said for years I will slim that lot down and each time I try I end up with even more that I seem to need - just in case. Try carrying that lot out across half a mile of flooded meadow. That's probably why I don't fish a great deal these days! Or if I do I decide exactly what I intend to target before setting out.
As for the stillwater, carp lads don't even go there, that's why if you can't drive to the swim the motorised tackle cart has become a more common sight on the banks of some lakes.
17th January 2021
We seem to be experiencing the lull before the storm, if the weather forecast for the coming week is anything to go by anyway. Not surprisingly there are very few people about at the moment giving the valley an unnaturally quiet feel. Its actually more than the lack of anglers, it also seems to apply to the bird world as the numbers remain well below what we might expect under such ideal circumstances. As usual the swans and geese are about yet wildfowl numbers barely reach into four figures. As we see the water levels drop perhaps birds that are currently elsewhere in the valley will appear to take advantage of the newly exposed feeding. It also applies to the birds using my garden feeders with the resident populations ever present yet we have failed to see any influx of migrants. Siskin, Chaffinch, Brambling and Goldfinch have been noticeable by their absence. Hopefully this is down to warmer conditions in their home countries making their risky, long distance flights unnecessary.
During the current drier day or two the river is slowly dropping back and the carriers continue to play a vital role as juvenile fish habitat. The rising flow and water levels had created impounded sections at the confluence of hatch controlled carriers with the main channel. These slack, impounded sections that may have extended for many hundreds of meters upstream into the carriers from the main river confluence, along with our oxbows, created vital sanctuaries to shelter juvenile fish from the scouring velocity of the rising floods. As main channel water levels fall the velocity in the carriers slowly increases, requiring many of the fish that had taken advantage of the previously created slack water to move. Main channel velocities remain high continuing to make the controlled carriers a better option for juveniles to avoid being flushed through the system. As Spring progresses and we begin thinking of draining the water meadows, to allow livestock out for the early bite the valley provides, our manipulation of the water levels is critical if we are not to undo all the good our sanctuaries have provided for the previous winter months. Key to ensuring a controlled lowering of the water height across the meadows is the graduated manipulation of the gates and hatches. Avoid single visits where gates are opened and levels dropped by several inches or even feet, three or four visits with small incremental changes allow fish to adapt and find new areas of safety. Its noticeable that where flow and cover remain unchanged fish will always be found in areas that suit their needs. Their preferred area may be just a few square meters yet year after year fish will be found in those spots. In carriers that are subject to change shoals appear one day and are gone the next.
A shot or two from about the valley as I checked hatches and gates this morning. The oxbow providing wonderful cover for both fish and birds, a couple of Great White Egret rising from amongst the bullmace as I passed on my way to the top hatches. More pollarding where ever I look, if I can carry the saw and fuel across the meadows. These wizen old crack willows epitomise the lowland rivers, their ancient faces have witnessed centuries of slow and gradual change. Many are now coming to the end of their allotted span and where ever possible we do our best to pollard these grey giants to remove the stress of supporting such extended canopies. To finish just another lost soul wandering about the valley in search of a the Avon Valley Path, or his way home! I say that as a tongue in cheek reference to the basic shelters in Japanese parks that bear the motto "For those that can't find their way home" It always gave food for thought and cause to count our blessings each time we came across such shelters.
13th January 2021
Anyone lost a foot bridge? If so I know where it is, or more correctly I should say I know where it was, well and truly jammed under the Eel Pool hatches. I did in fact smash the thing up and its gone on its way, leaving a well beaten up set of hatches that look as if we will have to replace them come the Spring.
12th January 2021
Now we are once more allowed out on the river banks for our exercise don't forget the EA are seeking dead kelts to help with a research project that is attempting to identify certain attributes of different salmon populations. Should you come across any on the estate give me a call. Other fisheries should give the EA a call and hopefully someone will come out for their daily exercise and collect it. If you are local to the estate and the owners of the fishery are happy, give me a call and I'll come out for a walk.
I have been speaking to syndicate member, Peter Littleworth, about the potential for the use of circle hooks for salmon fishing. Peter is also interested in giving them a try and with his catch record we are perhaps more likely to have a measure of success for our efforts. I'm keen to discover if the shallow hooking ability, associated with circles, can be brought into our daily use to make catch and release an easier, less risky process. I have used circles for everything from sharks to black bream at sea and carp, pike, chub and perch on the river and have been delighted with the results. I've received lots of advice and information from diary readers for which I thank you all very much indeed. The accepted key to success seems to be keeping the hook articulated from the bait or lure and Peter introduced me to "swing tubes" These seem to be designed for use with circles and they look spot on and definitely the way I will be going when we eventually get underway this season.
The red swing tube can be seen in the top fly, the lower being fixed in the conventional tubing. Don't read anything into the choice of fly, or the line gripper. I simply used them as they are lightly dressed and the gripper keeps the line from slipping through the fly.
10th January 2021
Just some ramblings to pass the time and a question that has been occupying a great many of my thoughts in recent days is just what our environmental protection will morph into now we have finally left the EU? Obviously the commitment by our government not to allow the current protection afforded our watery environment by the WFD to be diluted is well documented. Just how much faith you have in our current regime to honour their word is perhaps a little worrying. Especially in light of the latest neonicotinoid news.
We have seen the appearance of the Environment Bill, the 25 year plan and the Agriculture Bill, all will no doubt have considerable impact on the future of our valley. The Environment Bill will see the establishment of the Office of Environmental Protection that will advise the government and have powers to investigate complaints against our environmental regulators. As long as there is not an in house complaints procedure. That's handy, they'll only investigate if those that are being complained about haven't already investigated themselves! The fact the Environment Bill is a little tardy in its appearance has seen a provisional, interim environmental protection secretariat established to clear the way. Not withstanding that the overriding problem as I see it at the moment is whatever you call it, the new group, office or agency, will answer to the secretary of State for the Environment. That about buggers it!
Whatever the extent of the perceived transgression by the government, or the integrity of the board that will be chaired by the vastly experienced Dame Glenys Stacey, the final say will be in the hands of the Secretary of State. Chocolate fire-guard springs to mind! I just hope its not just a further tier of underfunded environmental bureaucracy. I guess the courts will have to be the arbitrators if satisfaction cannot be found through the proposed channels. That has all the hallmarks of a dodgy old route with the current views from government on our judiciary. It all seems a long way from the protection afforded our environment through the WFD via the EU Environment Commission that could hold our government to account. I can almost guarantee that as the mist lifts and the way ahead becomes clearly defined this is a subject that will crop up on here again in the future.
9th January 2021
The river continues to clear and drop back to almost within its banks. Most of the ice has disappeared, so the water looks a little more fishy, chub and pike anyway! The dead hen fish was laying in six inches of water being attended by a Great Black-back Gull that gave away her position. As can be seen in the photos, she had not spawned so a total loss to the system. There appears to be heavy saprolegnia infection around the vent and anal fin possibly damaging the oviduct preventing completion of her vital task. I would dearly like to know the pathogen load the Avon carries from all the STW's and aquaculture discharge load the river collects. A clue might be that the aquaculture industry claim it is impossible to use main channel river water to hatch eggs, yet we expect out wild fish to manage! All that pathogen load is being constantly washed over the incubating eggs deep in the gravel redd.
Good to see the wildfowl numbers increasing today. The old duck in the photo thought she would just take a wonder about the SSSI as the Avon Valley Footpath was flooded. Bless her!
7th January 2021
I'm sure many of you will now be aware that there has been a further change of directions related to fishing during lockdown. The latest advice coming from government, via the Angling Trust, states that fishing is permissible providing it is local and of limited duration. To that end the Somerley Fishery is once more accessible to members provided they adhere to the advice that can be found in the link below. It does mean night fishing is NOT allowed until further notice.
Don't get carried away with the fact we are allowed out on the banks again to take our exercise, ice and freezing mist remained on several of the lakes throughout the day. The rivers don't appear much more attractive with many areas still flooded with cat ice in the margins. The Godwit was a single bird that I think may have been trying to avoid a Peregrine that was circling above. If you discount gulls,swans and geese the valley remains disappointingly devoid of wildfowl and waders during the day. The Wigeon and Teal can be heard overhead as they fly out to feed at dusk but very few remain during the day. Highlights today were probably a couple of Great White Egret and a fine male Marsh Harrier. The tracks on the bridge give an indication of the use our access bridges are put to in reaching areas of the meadows. Good to see he was using the non-slip central section. We were considering making our bridges and culverts fox proof during the wader breeding season, I somehow don't think that will be happening in the near furture.
5th January 2021
Unfortunately as of midnight tonight the Somerley fishery will be closed until further notice.
With the fishery now shut it no longer applies to keep your eyes open for gulls and crows scavenging any salmon corpses that may have been washed up. At least it saves me trudging out across the flood for a no return! Just another powerline strike!
4th January 2021
The river is taking on its true colour as the cold water clears a tinge of "Avon Green" is creeping into it.
In readiness for the start of the new salmon season a selection of early season flies to suit the Avon. You guessed it, black and yellow are my favourite early season colours. Most are between half and one and a half inches, the majority dressed on heavy tubes to get down in the water. If the water remains as cold as it is at present the depth may be crucial, if however we see it warm a little and continue to clear hopefully they will be keener to chase. The water currently has a vis of about five feet that is looking perfect for the off.
The second shot shows a fly with a single, barbless, circle hook, which is the fashion I will be fishing for as much time as I am able. The results I have experienced trying circles in other aspects and disciplines of our sport I believe they should be perfect for salmon fishing. Fly fishing with the rod pointing at the fly is the norm, on a take just lifting into the resistance is exactly what circles require, no striking or jerky retrieves. The tubing at the tail of the fly should be thin enough to allow the hook to separate from the body and articulate on setting the hook. Sounds perfect, I'm sure you'll hear about it on here if I'm successful!
If you do brave the elements just a reminder that we are looking for dead salmon. As the water drops back and slows the passage of kelts through the system will also hopefully slow. Currently, dying and floating fish are being swept through the system in a very short period of time. If they are stranded on gravel bars and slower eddies they are very quickly spotted by scavengers, which is one of the best ways to spot them. Should you see Gulls, Crows, Ravens etc feeding beside the river send me a text and I will check it out but please be quick as they will have completely destroyed the carcass within a few hours. You never know you may spot an IoW eagle recognising a free meal!
2nd January 2021
Combined with the radar tracks coming out of Belgium, showing the scale of avian disturbance caused by New Year's celebrations, pointers to why I have an intense dislike of fireworks.
1st January 2021
Looking as if it may be desperately hard going.
With a year that for many must go down as the most apalling they have endured lets hope that 2021 is a vast improvement. To that end may I take this opportunity to wish all readers a happy and most importantly a healthy New Year. Lets all try and keep our guards up and not fall with the end in sight. I look forward to seeing many of you out on the bank, when conditions and Covid allow, to catch up on news and simply enjoy the magic of the Avon Valley.
An almost ethereal feel to the valley this morning as the freezing mist froze on the cobweb festooned trees. The floods and lakes were like mill ponds, reflecting every scene and there were even a couple of anglers out and about. Not I fear they had done any good but enjoying the wintery scene.
Look on the bright side this will be the last shot of a flooded valley I will show you this year!
I will do my best to shed some light on the situation related to the fishery in light of New Forest now being upgraded to tier 4. Under the current guidelines we are able to continue fishing that is not contested, due in large part to the solitary nature and therapeutic value of our pastime. This has to be viewed in relation to the advice coming from government that states to avoid unnecessary journeys and stay at home. Equally as important, do not to cross tier boundaries. As we are now in tier 4 members living in lower tiers should not travel to the fishery. Similarly travelling the length and breadth of the land to fish is hard to justify as "necessary" and we would ask members not to do so. I can't put a distance on your travels but please be sensible and fish locally where ever possible.
Remains confusing and for many disappointing but with the vaccine on the horizon this will hopefully not be an overly prolonged period before we can resume normal play once more. There is a plus to this in that the weather is freezing, the waters are in flood and the fish aren't feeding, as good a time as any to stay safely at home.