The meadows are for the most part dry, cut and cleared of their bales and we can at last get about the valley more comfortably. It means we can get onto the riverbank to get some of the outstanding jobs sorted out. I am in the process of submitting two or three consent applications to NE and having spent a very hot and bothered morning cutting grass, I took a break this afternoon to walk the areas involved. After over half a century of walking the banks of the Hampshire Avon I still sometimes find it hard to believe just how wonderful this river is. With the water now clearing, affording excellent visibility into several feet of water, it was perfect conditions to have a good look around some of the the carriers. We are extremely fortunate at Somerley in having almost ten miles of carrier or braided channel, were most have been lost to the river much of ours remains. It is this carrier system that use to run the complete length and breadth of the valley that providied the nursery grounds for the fish that made the Hampshire Avon the most productive coarse river in the country. It also provided many hundreds of square metres of juvenile salmonid friendly riffle habitat, which in the current state of the salmon run we can do with every square centimetre. Today's walk reinforced the importance of these channels in that there were literally thousand of chub to a pound, dace of all year classes and roach to 8 ounces to be seen in every section I peered into.
Despite most meadows now having dried out the North marsh at Hucklesbrook remains flooded and is attracting birds from far and wide. Still present yesterday were; 85 Heron, 175 Lapwing, 5 Green sandpiper, a dozen + Snipe, 7 Teal, along with countless Mallard and Gadwall. The carriers provide the perfect juvenile habitat and flood sanctuary zones. Whilst we have some ten miles which is open we also have many further miles that could be opened up and designed to support our fish stocks and wader population. To that end I am currently drawing up a management strategy to put before NE to open up many miles of silted channel. The bottom two shots just show the recovery of the ancient Crack Willows that we pollarded under the GWCT project last autumn. They are already thickening up and looking well, particularly in light of the current heat wave that is proving very difficuly for many young trees.
Karl with a brace of big male tench, in the seven pounds class, having already spawned. Somerley would seem to belie the old belief that the females can be at least twice the weight of the males present in the lake. I doubt we will ever see the massive spawned filled fish that hit the angling mag headlines as we are closed leading up to spawning and our fish spawn early in the shallow Back Lagoon. Fabulous fish all the same, well done Karl and thanks for the pix.
It looks as if our Kites are about to fledge and join their parents out in the Park.
Thats better, one appeared right on cue this morning.
I just had to put this up despite it hardly being the shot of the year! It is a record shot of a Purple Hairstreak, which is an extremely difficult butterfly to locate, due to its habit of living in the top of tall oak trees. I have to thank river syndicate member Gary Somers for the location of this particular colony that he spotted whilst heading for the river at Penmeade. Super spot Gary, I'm sure barbel location will be a peace of cake compared to finding these little beauties.
High summer and the grass is scorching off at an incredible rate, so its just as well we have black bagged tons of the the stuff.
The Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust came down for a couple of days this week to monitor the juvenile fish species that were making use of the oxbows. They started with our most recent effort at Ellingham and today sampled the Coomber oxbow put in by the trust ten years ago. The new clear channel at Ellingham produced juveniles of nine different species, plus of course the carp and bream that can be seen floating about but were of no interest to the survey. The older establish channel at Coomber, as you might expect, produced a greater year class range and pleasingly numbers of 1+ roach. The fact they have survived through some of the highest most prolonged flooding in recent years certainly points to the oxbows acting as designed as sanctuaries for the juveniles during high flows.
A sample from Coomber oxbow producing pike and roach.
Three more species in the form of a perch, pike and minnow, of which there were tens of thousands visible in the shallows. All in all I have to say I am delighted with the number of fish present and look forward to the next visit and the final report
When one considers that it is less than twelve month since the work was completed both fish and fauna seem to be re-establishing themselves nicely.
This is the second of a brace of fourteen plus fish landed by John Mcgough within a matter of minutes of each other. Add chub over seven pounds and a further 14+ barbel landed nearby and you would have to say the river is fishing well at the moment. Brilliant catch John, many congratulations and thanks for the report.
A couple of shots of the wonders of the butterfly world. The White Admiral is the first I have seen on the estate for many years and I have to thank Darren for texting that they were flying around his garden. When I arived there were at least three different individuals including a couple of males on station just 50m down the road from his house.
Water Temperature Update - SALMON FISHING ONLY.
I'm assured by the EA the Knappmill website is now working correctly and as such we may rely on its accuracy re water temperature. As you will see we reached the Somerley cut-off point of 18 degrees today, however in light of the confusion we will fish today. If, as it would appear, we continue with today's heat and sunshine I would imagine tomorrow will NOT be fishable. Please ensure you check the website before travelling any distance.
I'm sure many of you will realise by now the Knappmill temperature information on the EA website is false. Despite this the EA continue to display this duff information leading to all sorts of confusion. I will purchase a digital thermometer and put a 'YES' or 'NO' fishing post up on here from tomorrow. At the current time I have little option but to continue to fish.
The marsh remains flooded and full of birdlife, pleasingly including several juvenile Lapwing enjoying the rich feeding in the shallow mud.
The high water in the river has flooded large areas of shallow margins, making a perfect habitat for the hatching coarse fish fry.
Butterflies are enjoying the sunshine with counts in excess of 400 on the Mockbeggar transect. It also included my first Dark Green Fritillary, two White Letter Hairstreaks and several Ringlets hatching in recent days.
Brenda took a break from counting Reed Warblers today when she came over to ring a brood of Spotted Flycatchers. This is the same nest site as last year just how successful, or otherwise, they might be remains to be seen. Certainly there seems to be a reasonable number of warblers this year, fingers crossed they all go on to fledge. The righthand shot is syndicate member Dominic Longley showing off a grayling to Simon as he passed by in search of a salmon. Talking of which there were two salmon taken today one by Richard Murawski to open his account. The second by Peter Littleworth to add to his brace of last week, well done both excellent news and Pete informs me his fish was bright and fresh so they are still getting to us. Keep an eye on the Knappmill temperature if we keep these warm thundery nights it will soon reach the 18 degree cut off point. Thanks to Dom for the lovely grayling shot and Nick from the Bothy for the photos of Brenda and the flycatcher. Nick also provides the home for the Flycatchers as they are nesting in a box on the rear of his cottage, where they have nested for at least three years, which is good news for such a precariously balance bird population.
A great start to the season for Kenny who managed to find the big chub feeding, including these two at 6.15 and 6.08 both being completely spawned out. Thanks for the report and the photos Kenny, very much appreciated.
I have heard of several barbel being landed up to a fine looking fish of 12.14. adding to the good start on the rivers. I always fear an anticlimax at the start of the season as the fish are very often preoccupied with spawning. This year it would seem they have their distractions out of the way and are looking to get back on the feed earlier than usual.
The silage cut is underway creating patterns across the land.
I appreciate its difficult policing the countryside when funding has been cut to the bone. That's unfortunately is not my problem. Its the problem of the higher management of the police who must remain apolitical and hopefully not role over for the sake of their pensions. The police risk being viewed as no better than the many agencies we now see putting institutional protection above that of the society they are suppose to represent and serve. I think we deserve to see some real progress in sorting out the criminal plague we face on a daily basis in the countryside.
I can accept the GB public ignorance, the lack of respect for the rights of the individual and the stance that English common law doesn't apply to them. Self interest and hedonism seems to be the order of the day for many areas of our society. Add litter, fly tipping, poaching, theft,rustling all are of epidemic proportions nowadays. We are actually having to create a gated community.
The total disregard for the rural community by the National Parks and Local authorities, as they encourage the urban playground mentality. If not acceptable, is to be expected. The abandonment of the Forest environment as the bureaucrats roll over for the dog walkers who see the NF as the ultimate dog toilet to take Fido out far a dump and let him charge about in the undergrowth to get rid of his energy. The Latchmore drain fiasco and the ever increasing number of cycle races we see in the forest on an almost weekly basis being a prime example of that. Fine if you wish to go to work at the speed of a MAMIL.
What I do find hard to accept is the police call handler telling the trespasser to carry on and contact the EA when they get home, because they had looked on the internet!! Completely unaware of SSSI/ESA legislation and the complexity of the case of Avon navigation and the Defra statements of clarification. If I were to lean over the bridge and shoot one of those swans I would be in court immediately and quite rightly so. The clown in the canoe can drive the new born cygnets from one territory to the next killing dozens without consequence. Completely unaware of the law related to inland navigation. Totally ignorant of the potential for a breech of the peace. The police triage at its best, after all its only some old 'scrot' trying to keep himself employed.
The last time I got thumped it was some police C.I. acting as judge and jury on our well being. Choosing to take the word of the known 'scumbag' in question as opposed to the word of three authorised agents of the riparian owner. It would appear to act against us to be involved with caring for the rural environment, we are seen to be acting in our self interest. I suppose even if it had gone beyond our police Inspector's determination of the law, the CPS would have thrown it out as it wasn't in the public interest to proceed. I say that as a result of catching two such known 'scumbags' in possession of stolen motorbikes, with catapults and dead pheasants on the handlebars, with the police present and looking to prosecute – CPS “Not in the public interest to proceed”! “Just some old 'scrot' justifying his existence or fretting about some bugs and birds” I admit it, the second statement was mine. The inactivity and fence sitting of the regulators and the ignorance and total lack of action by the police, is becoming increasingly hard to swallow.
Totally abandoned rural community crime is ignored unless it can be captured on the web cam of the X5, or the evidence is in in a neat plastic bag with an associated video for presentation to their totally ignorant CI before he becomes judge and jury on our case. Before he presents it to the totally ignorant CPS. It seems to make nonsense of the old saying that ignorance of the law is no defence!
Up the creek without a paddle, an analogy that doesn't sit very easily for obvious reasons, 'Up rural S"*t Street' seems more telling.
I could go on about our untenable situation for pages unfortunately it won't make a jot of difference so I'll give you all a break.
It may have been the first day of the coarse season on the rivers but it didn't stop Pete Littleworth extracting a fine brace of salmon in the shape of the 14 and 16 pound fish above. They are certainly few and far between this year but it shows that perseverance pays off with such a great brace of fish. Congratulations Peter and many thanks for the photos.
Over on the stillwaters the Somerley complex opened its gates today. It was fairly slow for the carp on the main body of water although William Coulson did manage five to 24 pounds from the Nightropes in the day session. Whilst the carp may have been slow in the main body of water the tench and silver fish did seem to be on the feed. Richard Wykes had landed three tench including a 6.12 male by lunchtime, John Slader at the other end of the lake had tench, bream, roach and perch. That's a real old warrior of a male tench but quite a mixed bag and good fun on light gear.
No report from the river and not the start to the coarse season we wished to see with the sad news that Hampshire Avon devotee Graham Hamblem passed away suddenly last Monday evening. Graham was in his element when trotting maggot for those winter chub the Avon has been producing in recent years. He had mastered the difficult techniques the Avon requires and enjoyed the fruits of his undoubted skills. Graham will be sadly missed by his many friends in the angling world and his presence on the banks of the Avon will be a great loss. I'm sure I speak for the many members who had met Graham during his time on the river with us in offering our condolences to his wife Jill, family and friends who will miss him enormously. Graham's funeral is 3pm on Wednesday 27th June at West Berkshire Crematorium, Thatcham.
Plenty of fish enjoying the recent sunshine but strimming the banks in readiness for tomorrows start had problems all of its own.
The cause of the strimming problem. The banks were simply alive with literally thousands of these micro-toads heading for dry land. Instead of the usual short back and sides the grass on the paths and swims was left at ten or fifteen centimetres to avoid a massacre.
The puzzled lambs look on as their mothers have their fleece removed by Sam as Phil wraps the fleece. It was pleasing to see this years lambs looking so well and the ewes in such good conditions after such an appalling introduction they had to the world during the torrential rain of early April.
We are extremely busy at the moment and the shots above capture bits and pieces of what is going on in the valley. Most are self explanatory, a pheasant brood, Godwits, Green Sandpipers and Great crested grebe. The central shot of the Speckled Wood is perhaps the most important because it is taken by the future. This is a shot of a Speckled Wood taken by nine year old Isobel, whom Grandad Michael informs me is a regular reader of the diary. If my ramblings account for anything if they inspire the next generation that will have to deal with the dubious legacy we have left them to sort out it will all have been worthwhile. Thank you Isobel thats a lovely photograph and I'm sure on your walks with Grandad you will discover many more of the miracles of nature that surround us every day. The wonder of this recently fledged Kestrel as it sat on the stump to survey its future world. The marsh that remains flooded and attracting a wonderful collection of waders and wildfowl. The fly past includes fifteen of the twenty two Godwits that were there today, seven Redshank and three of the fifty plus Lapwing. I believe we have two drumming Snipe present and a stunning male Spotted Redshank, in all his magnificent summer charcoal plumage, dropped in for a while whilst I watched or an hour at lunchtime.
Second and final BBS this morning requiring yet another early start. Good conditions and a reasonable count yet very little out of the ordinary. Perhaps the exception being the Bar-headed Goose that has joined up with out local Greylag and Egyptian geese. The second shot is a large gars snake that swam past as I walked Mockbeggar this afternoon. The grass snakes seem to be enjoying a good year with more than usual all around the lake. Oddly the adders seem to have disappeared and I have yet to see one this year. Just why one species should seem to thrive and another struggle I have no idea.
I know some of you will be keen to see Paul's video of his wonderful salmon, which can be found at the link below.
I apologise in advance to those of a delicate constitution, in that the sight of my lily white legs emerging from the river may be too much for some to cope with.
Having got over the excitement of Paul's wonderful salmon it was back to the everyday work of the estate yesterday. As it happened one of my tasks was to join a couple of natural England staff during their assessment of the SSSI land parcels. Task is the wrong description of such a duty as I always enjoy walking the meadows and particularly when Hucklesbrook is involved. As you will have seen from earlier posts the meadows up at Hucklesbrook remain flooded attracting an impressive array of species. If I had arranged the day it could not have gone better as far as the birds that are designated under the SSSI are concerned. We found over fifty Lapwing with proably eight or ten pairs protecting territories. Piping Redshank that refused to show and star of the show a drumming Snipe. I personally haven't heard drumming at Somerley for almost two decades and I have not heard of Snipe being present anywhere else in the valley during that period. To hear the distinctive sound produced by the stiff tail feathers is a sound that was synonyms with the valley for years, fingers firmly crossed we get to hear that magical sound again in years to come. We also spotted over fifty Gadwall, Oystercatchers, Wigeon, Common Terns and a magnificent Marsh Harrier, I couldn't have ordered for a better display.
Its not only the water meadows that are looking well, which they undoubtedly do as in the first shot but the entire estate is looking good in the summer sunshine. The Common Spotted Orchid was photgraphed over the lakes and the foxgloves in the recently coppiced woodland.
Two lots of waterfowl in the shape of the our swans with their ugly duckling, or more correctly ugly gosling. Not that he's particularly ugly but he is starting to look a little out of place among his fast growing brothers and sisters! Second photo is one of our Mandarin broods, the beautiful duck and her seven ducklings. The point of this shot is to warn members that they have developed a new trick in that they can dive on bait and make Tufties look like beginners. If they are about do your best to bait up without them spotting you as they'll clean you out in a most efficient fashion. Something for you all to look forward to no doubt!
The pathways through the meadows are a true delight to walk, a picture of colour and perfume. It is worth a further reminder that we do share them with the local wildlife in the shape of badgers, foxes and large numbers of deer, all of which have the potential to leave ticks for you to collect. Make sure you check yourself over after walking through the meadows. Thankfully, butterfly numbers are starting to build and not before time I might add as it cheers me up no end to see them adding to the colour of the meadows.
I also had occasion to walk the restoration which whilst at first glance may appear barren of life is in fact very productive. The weeds beside the flooded scrapes were swarming with Darter and Skimmer dragonflies. Certainly hundreds of Darters with Skimmers giving a good account of themselves. The Little Ringed Plover was peeping a warning to his mate and juveniles to stay hidden as he tried to decoy me away from their hiding place. He needn't have worried as I had already spotted them and made sure I gave them a wide berth. Not that the Sand Martin colony seems to be faring as well. It seems to have been discovered by out local foxes or badgers that have learnt that a tasty mouthful can be extracted with a little digging. It will be interesting to see how many of the forty odd nests survive now they have been discovered. If you look closely at the photo you can see the claw markes where other nests have been tested for vulnerability. Unfortunately I don't hold out too much hope for their future. Final shot shows a Little Grebe at her nest on the flooded field. There are six pairs on this particular flood with three pairs having hatched and feeding juveniles whilst three remain on their nests.
This is what you call a classic Hampshire Avon salmon in the shape of a 30+ taken this afternoon by none other than Paul G on his birthday. Wonderful birthday present to say the least. I was fortunate enough to be on hand to assist in recovering and releasing this super fish. Certainly the largest salmon I have seen banked by a rod at Somerley. I would estimate the cock fish to be in the 33 to 35 pound range, it was just an immense and solid fish. I've put the two photos up as the first shows the detail, although a great deal of the fish remains submerged and the fish is laying in a curve. The release shot gives a better impression of its length, which along with its depth and width was staggering. Congratulations Paul, the fish of a lifetime and a perfect example of what this river is capable.
The meadows remain flooded and the wildfowl and waders are making the most of it. There must have been five or six broods of Mallard enjoying the rich pickings. There are twenty Lapwing and eleven Black-tailed Godwits visible in teh second shot. The third showing the rich vegetation encouraged by the silt and water.
The Black-tailed Godwits feeding amongst the kingcups and a drake Wigeon that shouldn't be here at this time of year.
The oxbow is beginning to green-up and hide the scars of last autumns clearing. The millions of minnows and the big chub are still in residence but they have been joined by thousands of dace and chub.
Over a week later than last year but they have at least arrived with half a dozen in one small area I searched today.
Could I just remind syndicate members that there is no coarse access to the river for either spotting or pre-baiting before the 16th June. Salmon fishing is difficult enough at present without pools being disturbed by silhouttes on the bank and piles of boilies and pellets raing down on the lies.
I should start by congratulating Paul on another fish this morning in the shape of a 12 pounder taken on the Devon Minnow and that's a far safer way to return them! Good result Paul, that one was well thought out and fully deserved. I just have to mention an odd scenerio that came to mind as a result of yesterday's shot of Paul up to his neck in the river. The still was from a Pro Cam, or some such device, which Paul sticks in the bank when he hooks a fish to record all the action. In conjunction with the camera strapped to the side of his head he edits the resulting footage to produce his videos. Such a set up has the potential to produce the best documented drowning in history!! So just be careful when the excitement of the battle and the rush to return the fish is happening thats not a video one wishes to see on You Tube!
Interesting shot of a few of the geese. Its interesting in so much as they play a role in the management of the meadows that would have been the result of the rabbit population in years gone by. With the dramatic reduction of rabbit nukbers the meadows run the risk of becoming overgrown with coarse grass and dense vegetation. The trick is to ensure the grazing geese do not over do their role and strip too much of the grass and leave too dense a covering of droppings. The trick seems to be to catch the broods out on the bank and pick up one or two of the goslings causing mayhem with the honking adults. Once dropped back the goslings quickly rejoin the group and things soon settle down as they all gather out on the lake. The benefit of adopting such a tactic is that the adults are then reluctant to graze too far from the water and safety. The lakeside becomes cropped short but the grasses further out remain undamaged for the benfit of the Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites.
The middle shot captures a female Reed Bunting with a beak full of damsel flies destined to be fed to her nearby brood. Just to make you aware you may see Brenda over at Meadow looking for the Reed Buntings as she does the Reed Warblers at Mockbeggar.
The righthand shot clearly illustrates the effect of the layering that was undertaken last winter. At the time of cutting the trees it looked like a case of vandalism as we left them where they fell, still attached at the bottom and the heads left untrimmed. The photo clearly shows the effect of light and keeping the deer off as dense swathes of plants quickly take advantage of the conditions.
The start of spinning notched up a couple of those inaccessible fish that manage to avoid the fly. Stephen(Mr Consistent)Hutchinson managed his second of the year with a fresh 12 pounder but today's honours went once more to Paul with his fourth in the shape of a cock fish of 25 pounds. The stills from Paul's video show the width of the fish whilst being played and returned. I do not recommend going to such length to ensure a safe return but pleased to report both angler and fish survived unscathed. Well done to both rods and thanks for the photos Paul.
Worth recording as the first Meadow Brown of the year showed up today despite the showers and overcast conditions. The rain of recent days has been the saving grace of our acres of newly planted grass seed. Fingers crossed if we see a further dry spell this summer it will be sufficiently well rooted to survive it.
I had hoped for a pic of a real salmon to put up, unfortunately as they remain as rare as hens teeth 'Tizards Salmon' will have to do, so called as it is carved from a piece of spalted hawthorn removed from Tizards Pool at Ibsley. I just need to catch the attention of the salmon rods with a couple of reminders. Firstly please keep an eye on the Knappmill temperature guide if we have a return to these record high temperatures. We have already passed the critical 18 degrees mark but the return to more seasonally normal temperatures have seen the water cool to make fishing safe once more. Second point is simply that we start spinning tomorrow, so beware flying ironmongery!
I did actually attempt to get a salmon pic myself in that I took my floating line out of storage to fish through a couple of pools. Despite the river looking spot on and actually seeing a fish come clear of the water I failed to make contact but thoroughly enjoyed getting the kinks out of the line and my casting.
One of the pools I visited the other evening was up at Hucklesbrook. This combined two subjects in that it also allowed me to have a look at the floods after they were topped up by the recent rain. The Madarin brood was still up there chasing the huge hatch of buzzers that can be seen rising from the surface in the photo. The presence of the dozen Mandarin drakes prompted a little thought as to why they and so many fallow deer should invade us at the weekend. I think it is probably something to do with the fact I have never seen the forest as busy as last weekend. Wherever you looked there were people and dogs going in all directions. That very fact alone was probablby sufficient for the local deer and duck population to up sticks and head for our place to avoid the disturbance. Their presence is very much a mixed blessing. The drakes have little impact but fifty or sixty fallow certainly do. Apart from the number of ticks they probably left for me to pick-up they also trashed the reed beds where our warblers and wildfowl are doing their best to raise the next generation.
The second shot captures the courtship display of the Grebe and the pitch battle of the Coots as they dispute their territories. Shortly after I took that shot a hundred head of cattle and horses came galloping through the knee deep water like some misplaced scene from the Carmargue.
The electric fence is down at Blashford and is part of the onging breeding wader research the GWCT are undertaking, don't try and climb over it! Access to the pool is unaltered around the fenceline other than a slight detour to reach the upstream bridge over the ditch.
At first glance just one of our Mute Swan pairs with a brood of eight cygnets but I see trouble ahead! If you look closely at the second cygnet from the left it is in fact a Canada goose gosling. The family seem to have adopted it dispite the occasional close examination by the cob. Just how long that situation exists will be interesting to see.
Is it any wonder I pick up so many ticks! This is just the lads, there are a further thirty plus does with their fawns about somewhere. On a serious note the presence of so may deer inevitably means ticks so check yourself over thoroughly after fishing. If you are bitten and it developes the classic 'Bulls-eye/Polo' ringed inflamations of Lymes Disease, off to the docs immediately. Its far from a given being bitten means Lymes, which is just as well as I've been bitten hundreds of times but there have been an increased number of incidents locally. Catch it early and its not a problem, a course of antibiotics will sort it out - the key is catching it early.
Bit of a bug fest, with the Cardinal Beetle to follow the Stag Beetles of the other evening. There were a dozen Mandarin drakes beside the lake when I walked around at lunchtime, enjoying some lads time I guess. Finally just a nice shot of a dragonfly and a damsel in attendance.
The Blue tits in the front garden and the answer to why we had no resident Blue tit around at the back door. Not perhaps the most user friendly occupant but if we remember they're in there hopefully we can co-exist.
I don't have to go far to find these incredible creatures. A quarter of a mile walk down the road outside our house and at least a dozen flew by.
Woodcock count, Text to follow.
The ox-bow we cleaned out last autumn seems to have provided the sanctuary for the fry it was designed to protect. The entire channel is bursting with millions of fry, unfortunately most are minnows but it does prove it works. Not surprisingly several large chub can be seen swimming lazily through the fry shoals. As could a large carp, just what its intentions toward the fry were I couldn't decide.
The right bank of Park Pool clipped up and looking tidy. For some reason Park seems to slip off my radar when it comes to strimming it out. Despite being being a central pool I suppose its because we cut the track through to Comber with the swipe and most of the fish come from the left bank. Not that's any excuse and I was reminded of my failings in a conversation with one of the members. If I remember the conversation correctly it went along the lines of if I strimmed it, a fish would come, 'Pool of Dreams' over to you Julian!
The ox-eye daisies over at Mockbeggar were worth a shot and I have to say I was pleased to see them in flower for I was beginning to think they would be scorched off before getting to this stage. The flowers in the paddocks could almost be heard to sigh as the recent rain settled the dust. Lets hope we see showers at regular intervals through the coming months to keep our green and pleasant land.
More of our wonders in teh form of a maturing Scarce chaser, a mayfly that has avoided the Black-headed Gulls that fill the valley these days and an Osprey that has been with us for a day or two. It spends a great deal of its time sat up on the dead branches on the willows that stand beside Park pool. I haven't got close enough to see whether its ringed. If its still with us next week I'll sneak up on it and try to get a closer look at its legs.
More of the flooded meadows up on the marsh and a pair of Great-crested grebe. Whether they are connected but we have four pairs of grebe in the mile or so of river that bounds the marsh. Recent years have seen the number of pairs nesting on the river in that beat drop down to one pair. Fingers crossed the return is sustained and they become regular breeders once more on that section of river.
The flooded meadows up at Hucklesbrook are such a rare occurance I think they deserve a second look. To the list of birds I mentioned in yesterday's post can also be added two pairs of Common Tern attempting to nest on an exposed mud bar. The first brood of Mandarin I've spotted this season were also enjoying the rich feeding the floods are providing.
Little news on the salmon front other than I did failed to mention the Bob Stone landed a bright sixteen pound fish from Blashford the other day. With fish being so precious this season every one is a triumph, well done Bob, well fished.
Whilst on the topic of salmon I have been considering just why we don't see more fish landed from the bottom end of the fishery in pools such as the 'Humps' and 'Below the Cut-through'. Its simple, they just don't get sufficient attention. Given the fact this season isn't a good year to look for fish in unfamiliar places I don't expect great things in the remaining month or so but please bear the bottome end in mind, I'm sure it holds fish.
To finish, a selection of pix taken in recent days showing just some of the wonders that surround us every day on the lakes.
Just where this weather intends to lead us is anyones guess. We still have flooded meadows yet the recent sun and wind has dried the ground in other areas to the point of being scorched. Pollen rich plants that have yet to flower are turning brown and shrivelling amidst the brittle grass.
The North Marsh remains flooded where we would normally expect grazing livestock at this time of year. The number of bird species present, enjoying the floods is quite spectacular. When I took the photos there were present; Greenshank, a pair of Shoveler, five Shelduck, four Ringed Plover and over fifty Gadwall. Also present were Redshank, displaying Garganey, Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Mallard, Teal and our ever present swans and geese. Add a couple of pairs of Skylark, Kingfisher, Hobby and a dozen Lapwing all in all adding up to quite a rare habitat.
Bringing me very appropriately on the just where we are heading with the future demands on the Avon Valley after the dreaded Brexit. I did, just in the nick of time, get a submission into Michael Gove's the future of Agriculture after Brexit consultation. I believe I sent it off with 24 hours remaining. On reflection and re-reading it after the event I probably wasn't hard enough in my recommendations with regard to the way forward. From the river and the valley's perspective the consultation was difficult in that it attempted to look at agriculture in isolation. Other land use and the demands of society on our valley seemed to be considered seperately as opposed to a holistic whole. Aquaculture, abstraction, sewage disposal all add to the agricultural pesticides and fertilizers that we ask our river to deal with. The government has effectively emasculated our regulators in the form of the EA and NE through funding cuts and with Brexit looming the cry from the farming community that it needs to feed the people has a chilling ring to it. I say that in light of the now recognised fact, well established over the preceeding fifty years, farming and industry cannot be trusted to act responsibly when it comes to protecting the environment. Call it financial expediency, self interest or pure greed, the well being of our environment receives scant consideration when the financial chips are down. That oft heard sound bite of 'the polluter pays' again rearing its ugly head in the consultation document, should contain the caveat unless in the name of societies needs. Politically dressed up as the needs of agriculture and the water industry. It'll be a brave politician that says we should put a ring fenced environmental levy on water abstraction, pesticides and artificial fertilizers even if it puts the price of your shower and your loaf of bread up by a couple of pence. The really sad thing is that I'm sure the public would support such a measure if they could only believe the politicians would leave the raised funds alone to safeguard our environmental future.
What you may well ask has this to do with our enseasonally boggy field full of birds, bugs and bees? Its simple in that I can control the water level on that field through the operations of hatches and gates, in dry years replicating our current floods. This is the dilemma facing all of farming, be it chalk downland or valley mire, in that to do so would lower the agricultural viability, hence asset value, hence financial return on the land. The stewardship schemes that have been introduced go some way to follow this course but in reality barely scratch the surface. The gist of my submission was that we need a new way to assess the importance of land and the measure by which compensation is paid. This new way should have the environment as its priority and be independent of government and industrial influence. Independent NGO's exist that are more than capable of eveluating land use and various agencies and NGO's capable of determining fair farm payments. It just remains to see where our Minister will take us, you never know he may surprise us.
I've been down bashing the pools into shape at the southern end of the fishery today. I have to say the 'Humps' looked absolutely spot on. Why this pool doesn't produce more salmon is a source of mystery to me, it looks perfect. If you are down that end don't forget to have a cast of the concrete croy below the weir. its belwo the 100m exclusion so well worth a visit. The middle shot looking down stream shows the power lines in the distance. If you do fish the lie opposite the sub station, down to the pipe, beware of the overheads. We have repeatedly requested clarification from SSE of the extent of the risk involved with those cables. One engineer telling us they were all insulated conductors and posed no risk, another saying thats not so and not to go near them. Trying to get a straight answer from anyone in SSE is a pretty hopeless cause but as long as they are happy with us being there we must assume they are safe. That said I personally would not feel happy sticking 18 foot of carbon rod up alongside that 11000 volt cable so be careful.
Whilst down the bottom end I also strimmed out the weir, where I could that is! The EA in all their magnificence have dragged a load of debris out of the weir and dumped it up on the bank. I have strimmed a path around it and you can still fish the run above the hatches, unfortunately the last ten meters or so, down to the lie, is blocked by their rubbish. I would complain but Ringwood weir is different, as the young lady told me last time I called "We must be doing fine as no one complains" good means of assessment, must remember it. I'll take a saw down and chop it out tomorrow hopefully. I see the gates are also on their kayak setting, with a large air gap to encourage paddlers to run the gates. Might prove interesting in an open canoe! Power companies, water companies, EA, Land registry, Highways, all simply look on fishery and our water environment as an unfortunate inconvenience and appear to do their best to ignore us where ever possible.
And finally......here's an unusal pic, showing Brenda of warbler fame clutching a fine looking carp. How you may ask could such a photograph be obtained?. Not as though you can get a ring on any of its apendages! The answer lies in the nature of the member behind the camera. Who else would ask a passing ornithologist if she wouldn't mind holding this for a minute! Brenda went on to return the service a couple of hundred meters along the bank when she photographed a 34.15 for a member.
That explains it, Chris holding a fine looking 22+ one of four or five he had yesterday morning. Great pix Chris and well fished, thanks for sending them through.
Paul still catching even when his visits have been curtailed of late through gardening duties taking priority. Good fish, congratulations Paul and thanks for the photo, which fortunately Colin Goh was on hand to do the honours with the camera.
The perfect summer salmon, a bright cock fish, sunny summer day, in a river in tip top condition, what more could you ask. Congratulations Julian, delighted to be onhand to witness your success. The second photo illustrates the problems of returning fish on the soft, crumbly banks of the Avon straight into deep water. Always make sure you are safe before dealing with the fish. Just in front of Julian's hand you can see the circular wound where a lamprey has been attached. The second instance this season we have seen lamprey on the fish.
From the footfall on the bank it doesn't look as if Lake Run has been receiving a great deal of attention this season. It has always been a productive run and is worth a vist in is own right but should you be down at Cabbage Garden don't forget to check it out..
I've been up before five for the past three mornings attempting to locate a Bittern that had been booming out in the valley reed beds. Unfortunately the bird had different ideas and I haven't heard so much as a peep, let alone a boom. It wasn't a total lost cause, sunrise at this time of year is a wonderful time to be in the valley as the bird world goes about the business of proclaiming territories and nest building. Add in time spent sorting out my bees, digging the allotment and a couple of hours this evening fruitlessly fishing Above and Below the Breakthrough, today has been fully occupied.
At least the stillwaters continue to produce the goods as this cracking shot of Dave Watkins with a 25 plus common illustrates. I may not have managed to add to the salmon return but Richard Murawski fared better with a bright 16 pounder. Salmon are so few and far between this season I have attached Richard's 'fish in a net' shot to provide a little encouragement.
I'd almost forgotten what the banks actually looked like they have been submerged for so long. Today was the first time in months the water has dropped back sufficiently and the mud has dried enough to support me, enabling me to get on to the banks and begin the process of clearing up after the floods. There are still areas where access remains difficult for other than the brave at heart but with wellies and care the majority is now fishable. The left bank at Island Run and Blashford are probably the most awkward but even these are worth a visit and I stress again, with care. If I manage to get the majority of the pools clipped up next week that should leave us with a month of good flows, good visibility, no weed and fingers crossed a few fish in the system. It can't get much worse so fingers crossed they show up and we may yet see a decent end to the season.
Given the fishing wasn't up to much this weekend the shot above perhaps better captures the mood in that it shows the rams looking smart with their winter coats removed. I imagine Phil shearing them came as a great relief after such record temperatures over the last day or two.
The scorching sun of the last couple of days has at least allowed the Grannom to hatch on mass instead of the dribs and drabs of the previous three weeks. The carp have also taken advantage of the heatwave with a second burst of spawning activity in the shallow bays. The last shot is the pair of Lesser Black-backs I featured a week or two ago, waiting for the water level to drop and expose their nesting island. Well its seems they couldn't wait and have built a nest on the smallest hump of clay that breaks the surface in the north lagoon. I will be amazed if they are successful on such an exposed site. They may of course just be having a dry run in readiness for their delayed start!
Just a couple of pix from today in the shape of a small Sand martin colony up in one of the quarries. The second shows a couple of Hawthorn flies always a favourite with the fish and the fishermen.
Many of you will know this doe, which is quite relaxed about our travels around the fishery. If you look closely you will see, even in this poor shot taken with the mobile, she has her new fawn at foot. She will hide the tiny creature in the long grass and scrub to avoid attracting attention to it.Should you come across any fawns in the coming weeks please give them as wide a berth as possible and definitely don't touch or interfere with them.
That's more like it, we saw three salmon landed on the fishery today making it seem a little more as it should be at this time of year. Congratulations to Colin Morgan on a brace, which go a long way toward making up for the brace he dropped earlier in the year. He also lost a third today, which is probably just as well as the shock to my system of a triple after the dearth of fish in recent weeks would have been all too much. Having said that Rob Smyth also caught today adding a well deserved third to the tally. Well done both, congratulations on a good day and cheering up a depressed river keeper!
So it starts! Kevin and Phil begin the first cut of the Lower Park as the ground eventually dries out sufficiently to support the tractors. Job done and looking a great deal tidier for the effort, as the river catches the light in the middle distance complimenting the scene.
With all these fish in the river I made up the rod and headed for the river this evening in the hope of opening my account. As I arrived in the car park, at about seven oclock, the temperature had taken a decided dip and the wind was strengthening, things didn't look quite as appealing as they had earlier in the day!
This is the herd of youngsters just north of the car park at Ellingham, I can assure any nervous rods that they are completely friendly. Unfortunately that doesn't stop them being a complete pain in the arse as they tried to eat my net, covering me in snot and slime in the process, bless-um! As for a stealthy approach to the river in an effort to avoid spooking the fish, forget it. Hopefully they are used to the cattle and don't notice the alien angler. I would advise that any members with dog permits do not take dogs into any of the fields with cattle. This lot will just be curious but the suckler herd that will be out in the meadows south of the drive in the next week or two have to be treated with considerably greater respect.
The Swifts are back and have checked out the nestboxes. Hopefully the newly built cabinet will soon be inspected by the next generation in search of sites to call their own for the next decade or more.
The water height at the East Mills Flume is below the spinning trigger level. Please keep an eye on the flume website if you intend to bring a spinning rod.
It was a BBS (Breeding Bird Survey) day today. An early start as I walk the fixed route for the first time this year. It would seem many of the summer migrants have yet to arrive as I failed to record any Sedge or Reed Warblers or any Swifts, Martins or Swallows. I did hear two Cuckoos calling and later in the morning there were plenty of Swifts, Martins and Swallows but the fixed early start makes life difficult. Some of the nests are easier to find than others, the swan doesn't take much spotting but the sitting Robin in the second shot is a great deal more difficult. Its within a foot of the branch I have marked the nest site with yet remains almost invisible. If you look at the vegetation in the third shot you may be able to locate the nest.
Rummaging about in the garage I came across these pots of floats on a top shelf. Almost the entire history of my coarse angling can be traced through those pots. Fine antenna floats for the stillwater roach on the inside shelf in choppy conditions, which accounted for my first three pounder. Quills and thick bodied balsa trotting floats that helped find those wonderful Avon roach of the 70's and 80's.
I suppose today was best described as classic April showers but I'm not sure the deluge I was caught out in comes as a classic shower! I had occasion to visit the woodland, which is cloaking itself rapidly in vibrant green. The scars left by our timber extraction just weeks ago are already fading as light floods down onto the woodland floor stimulating new growth. A Red Kite kept me under close scrutiny as I passed by as the Goshawks slipped silently away from their nest and disappeared into the shadows. Beside the track, both on my outward and home bound travels, a pair of Hawfinch were distracted collecting scraps to their liking. Despite close examination I couldn't find either food or nesting material that would cause them to drop their guard as I approached within feet of them. It would be nice to think we may soon have a brood in one of the stands of Hornbeam close by, which I believe to be one of their preferred trees.
An all too rare a sight this season to date. Michael Long opening his Somerley account with a fine, bright cock fish. As well as capturing the delight of this evenings success the photo also shows that the fields where Michael is standing and out beyond him are still well under water in places. Waders are the choice of the day but the rewards for braving the floods are worth it. Congratulations Michael and thanks for sending through the photo Guy, great result.
The lambs are looking well despite the less than kind weather that greeted their arrival in to the world. Phil helping Frida and Anne feed the orphans and the two rams totally unaware of the upheaval they have created in Phil and Millie's life. Orphans are an inevitability of lambing with quads and triplets being too much for some of the ewes to cope with. They may be a constant call on time and energy but as long as its not me having to get up to feed them I do enjoy seeing them scooting about the stables.
With almost as many geese as Kingcups enjoying the unseasonal water I was considering arranging to oil some eggs to reduce numbers but it looks as if I may be too late. I can't say I'm sorry, I have never enjoyed controlling species deemed undesirable at this time of year, its seems alien to my long rural upbringing. They provide good wildfowling sport in the winter, in keeping with the rural calendar, it just remains for the guns to shoot more. You know who you are, mentioning no names! The meadows remain flooded but at least one or two spots are struggling to put on the wonderful seasonal show of Kingcups.
Nice shot of a peacock butterfly on one of the many Bird Cherries that have been planted at Mockbeggar.
Just one or two shots to capture today in teh form of a cock Chaffinch collecting food for nestlings. Cuckoo pint or Lords and Ladies, what ever you choose to call them there are thousands now coming into bloom all around the lakes. the final shot captures a male Blackcap singing his heart out in an effort to impress the ladies. Blackcap numbers seem buoyant at the moment, lets hope it continues in a similar fashion.
New arrivals on one of the woodland ponds in the form of the first Goosander brood of the year. I was aware she had a nest close by as we had seen her out for her early morning constitutional flights around the park when we were out with the ewes. Interestingly Pete Littleworth text me that he had seen a brood down on the river at Ellingham this evening, which may well have been the same brood. He also reported the first cuckoo of the year, calling down at Ashley, which hopefully is the final proof we need that summer is at last arriving. Thanks Pete, pity no fish to add to the report!
Andy Jackson was enjoying today's sunshine when this 27 common joined in, making a fine addition to a perfect day.
It wasn't only Andy out enjoying the sunshine, his intended quarry seemed to appreciate the sudden lift in temperature. There is something similar in the last two shots in that they both show that we have some way to go before we have the stock levels at a point where we will be happy. The middle shot is a shoal of bream in Meadow, where several similar shoals could be seen dotted about the lake. The final shot shows about a dozen commons, which were part of a couple of hundred I spotted enjoying the sun today. Of those fish I would estimate 75% still need to be removed, so we still have quite a way to go.
What a great shot, Lewis's smile perfectly capturing the magic of such a bright Avon cock fish. At this point the bank high water, the mud and goo in the fields were just minor inconveniences. Well fished Lewis, braving the river with the fly under such conditions deserves every hard earned reward. Thanks for the photo, very much appreciated.
An entry just to keep readers updated with the state of the river. The East Mills Flume measurement is still way over the spinning height and the river is still way over the Harbridge road and the bund between the bridge and the weir at Ibsley. At 21.82 on the water height gauge beside the bridge buttress the Bridge Pool looks like possibly the most likely fish holding water on the estate, definitely one for the carefully presented Devon.. The snails in the water meadows have taken to the higher ground and every stalk that remains above water. Finally, I recognise the tree that is caught on the Ringwood Weir I just can't remember where it was previously hung up. Was it the one in Sydney Pool or from Penmeade, it may have been the one from Blashford Island. Where ever its from its a pointer to the possibility of changes in some of the pools that we may find when this water eventually drops back. One other change is that the old canoe that has moved from "Harbridge Corner" to "Park Pool" to "Blashford Island" over the past ten years, was last seen grounded just "Above the Break Through" I'll be interested to see just where it finishes up after the flood.
Up on higher ground, the lambs are looking well and growing by the day and the primroses are also putting on a brave show in the previously thinned woodlands.
I don't want to even think about the height of the river, to say its running at unseasonal levels just doesn't go near to describing events in the valley. We will have to wait and see just what the impact of such a flood will be but one immediate blip is that the Kingcups that should be creating a mass of yellow in the meadows are under a foot of water! Just what is to become of our salmon season remains the question on many lips.
Whilst the valley is flooded the lakes are high but remain fishable. They are also endeavouring to bring a little normality to the season with the wildlife of the surrounding meadows getting on with business as normal where ever possible. The photos above are related in that they both show the next generation. Firstly young rabbits grazing the new growth under the canopy of trees felled to keep the deer from over grazing the scrub and some of that new growth in the form of a mass of cowslips. Pleasingly the cowslip population is expanding across several of the paddocks at a satisfying rate, lets hope the rabbits don't have them on the menu. One of the important roles of those rabbits is to be part of the menu for our many raptors and carnivores. The rabbit population has long been the staple diet of creatures such as the fox and Buzzard. If that population is under pressure from diseases such as myxomatosis or hemorrhagic disease the balance is thrown out of kilter as other species become predated at a higher rate. Just going to add further proof that Nature's never as simple as it may at first glance appear.
The link below connects to one of Paul Greenacre's video. As I'm sure most of you know Paul goes festooned with multiple recording device to film the salmon he catches. The video below isn't of one of his many successes with the rod but of a chance encounter with the family of otters down at Ringwood weir. Regulars down at Lifelands and the weir will be familiar with this family but I for one have never seen them put on such a prolonged show. Great video Paul, well filmed.
Spot the salmon rod; to say he deserves a fish is an understatement! The North Marsh at Hucklesbrook currently has more in common with the North Sea. The river is slowly dropping back but it will take several more days if not weeks to clear the flood plain. The Lapwing and Redshank would normally be well underway with their nesting just what the impact of this flood will be is anyones guess. Will the birds wait for the flood to recede or will they move out of the valley onto drier ground? The Curlew have been moving north and having to make their usual stop with us at the shallower northern extreme of the marsh, twenty one were up on the top meadow last week. This weeks oddity has been the appearance of several Garganey. We often get the odd one drop in as they move through to their breeding grounds, this year we have at least seven moving up and down the valley.
What a wonderful day. Its quite amazing how much better I feel with a little sunshine on my back and judging by the response of the wildlife I have bumped into on my travels today so do a great many other creatures. The river has actually continued to rise and spread further out across the valley, which without the sunshine would have been a pretty depressing turn of events. As it turned out in the sunshine we were able to move the ewes and lambs back into the paddocks. Soon looking more like the lambing paddocks we had envisaged, contented ewes and lambs resting with bellies full of grass and milk. All seemed well with the world.
Despite the sunshine the river still remains out in the valley making access very tricky. At least the woods took on a carpet of colour as the celandines caught the sun and the ewes even sought shade in the early afternoon.
To add to my feeling of goodwill to all men and those of you that know me will realise how rare an event that is, Peter Littleworth rang to tell me Paul Greenacre was into a fish on the far bank, upstream of Ellingham. Keen to get a shot or two I set off for the pool in question, the realisation that my Wellington boots were not going to be man enough for the job dawned as I worked out the quickest route to reach him. I did have a pair of chest waders in the back but I had managed to poke a hole in them when I was chainsawing up some semi-submerged timber a couple of days ago. If I wanted a photo it was going to mean I was in for a soaking! Luck was on my side as I pulled up and was dragging the soggy waders out of the truck the phone rang and Peter told me the fish had already been released. I have to admit feeling relieved at not having to wade across several hundred meters of flooded valley to record the capture. I'm sure Paul will have more than adequately recorded every possible angle for another video where I can catch up on events. As it turns out Paul took the fish on the same pattern fly as his earlier Dog Kennel fish, yellow remains the key to success it seems. Also the stamina to wade about in that flood helps considerably well done Paul, if you did well with that first fish this one takes on a totally new dimension under present conditions.
Paul with his second salmon of the season taken under the most difficult conditions. Congratulations paul and thanks for the photos Peter.
The first week of the butterfly transects and the lunchtime sun was just what the doctor order, absolutely spot on.
Finally one of Nature's anomolies in the form of a Wood pigeon squab that was walking about in the garden today. If you take the 18 days incubation and about 30 days to fledge that makes it a nest in the rain and snow of February proving it takes more than a little inclement weather to stop Wood pigeons.
Phil keeping an eye on events in the lambing shed. We had intended to lamb outside but this unseasonal weather has rather forced our hand. The thought of trying to sort out the ewes and keep the lambs warm in the pouring rain, in flooded paddocks, doesn't bear thinking about.
Despite the high water I did see three or four salmon rods out to experience the Avon floodwaters at the weekend. Interestingly, despite being well above the spinning threshold, the majority were still using the fly. Credit to all you brave souls, if it were up to me you would each land a Springer of at least thirty pounds! No matter how much rain we get one thing is for certain and that is the lambs will be arriving this week. They are due and there is no stopping them. The photo is the first arrival this morning, being meticulously cleaned up by the ewe in the relative warmth and safety of the lambing shed. Finally Jack proving that he has the touch when it comes to Mockbeggar, here holding one of a couple of twenty plus fish he landed last week. Well done Jack and thanks for the photos.
Whilst many of the resident birds are now well underway with their nesting this pair of Lesser Black-backs are having to wait for the water to drop to expose the island where they nested last year. It could be some time! The bumblebees are also having a rough time of it as the large queen bees seek this years nest sites the cold and wet are making life pretty unbearable.
The river continues to rise so keep an eye on the East Mills flume website for the latest info, especially as we have more rain forecast in the week ahead. With the Somerley Lakes complex closing for a rest period Mark Browning finished in style with this 38+ mirror. Nice way to finish Mark, congratulations on a cracking fish and thanks for the photo. If the ground ever dries out we will be rebuilding several of the roads and swims so fingers crossed for a few weeks without rain in the next month or two.
I'm beginning to feel this weather is my fault as I spent most of last autumn praying for the seasonal floods to clean up the gravels that never came. When the rain did arrive, at a time when we might expect the coldest time of year in late January we were definitely pleased to see it, as it held out the hope of a good flow for the new salmon season. I now think we have received quite enough and could do with some seasonally warm spring weather instead. Woodside is bank high and by the time we get down to Blashford the water is out in the flood plain. Not only does it make access to the river difficult it also prevents us getting on with all the ground work and reseeding required to get the parks in good order for the coming summer events. Patch up and grade the roads to get rid of the potholes and perhaps most pressing at the moment is the lambing that is due to get underway within the next few days. We deliberately chose to run a flock of sheep that are best left to lamb outside as they are a particularly hardy breed. Hardy they might be but asking any creature to lamb in conditions such as we have endured in recent days is expecting a little much. Most of the paddocks and the majority of the parland is now saturated if not flooded and the forecast for the coming week to ten days tells of more rain to come. Plan "B" involved Kevin and Phil preparing the Dutch barn as an emergency maternity wing just to give the new arrivals a day or two without the rain on their backs.
Creating new lakes that may never become fisheries. Yesterdays otters supper at Mockbeggar in the shape of this socking great eel. I'm not speculating on its size but that's my size 9 next to it. The carp also came from Mockbeggar and was taken out in open water, at ten in the morning in a swim one of our anglers was actually fishing at the time. It was a fish of about 14 pounds so its not as if we can't afford to lose one or two at that size but there is no guarantee the next won't be 40 plus and worth three thousand pounds.
The photos above show new lakes taking shape out in the old quarry workings. Just what the future holds for such waters is the topic of much internal debate at present. One of the pressures that has to be taken into consideration is the ever increasing impact of our otter population. Is it worth the estate investing tens of thousands of pounds in stocks just to feed the otters. Numbers of otters on the estate are reaching numbers that must be nearing saturation point as we have dozens of them. Just what determines the size of an otters territory is not a fully understood equation. If we keep filling lakes with food I imagine they will just continue to expand their numbers making fisheries unrealistic. With our many trail cameras that are dotted about the estate for various reasons otters sightings are probably as frequent if not more so than foxes these days. Whilst we enjoy the presence of otters that have been with us for several decades, a population that continues to grow at an unlimited rate has serious connotations for the fishery. When the river is in flood or the water too cold for their favoured crayfish diet to be available, our fish stocks become a natural food source. We use the stock pond as a distraction that works to a certain extent but not a reliable means to safeguard stock that in many cases has an individual value in excess of two or even three thousand pounds for the larger specimens. I spend hours collecting buckets fulls of dog crap from a local kennel and covering the otter sprainting points and slides with as thick a layer as possible in an effort to keep them away from selected areas. It works for a while but again not reliable enough to guarantee protection of a multi-thousand pound investment. Fences I hear you all cry! Apart from the fact I hate the things as they divide the lakes from their natural surroundings not only keeping out otters but every other mammal the sightings of which make a days fishing a complete experience. I have seen so many miles of head waters totally destroyed by being fenced, instead of Defra getting farmers to control their stock levels, it beggars belief. The farming lobby won't wear that when it can have its subsidised cake and eat it too, some fluff chucker or maggot drowner can be left pick up the bill. There is also the little snag in that we would require sixteen and a half miles of fence to keep them out of our fisheries. Fence the lakes and forget the river? They're full of pesticides, phosphates, micro-plastics, rainbow trout and societies detritus anyway. Defra gave up any pretence of maintaining, improving and developing them, in line with their statutory duty, years ago. Excluding the otters from the lakes and forcing them onto the rivers will soon sort out our wonderful chub and barbel fishing and just about sound the death knell for our struggling salmon population. Thats what I mean, the dull bugger who came up with the idea of fencing fisheries needs to experience the real world beyond their myopic view out of the window of their ivory tower. All that policy does is let Defra and the EA conveniently off the hook. If we stocked with cows and a government policy gave rise to losses of stock and peoples livelihoods, such as the case with TB, Defra would compensate for the full value of the cow. If a fish that is worth twice as much as some over bred, inbred, milking machine gets taken they don't give a fig. They along with the EA, have washed their hands of the problem, hiding behind that conveniently erected otter fence.
That reminds me, thrice joy, I have to fork out £80 odd quid this week, to renew my government rod licence to pay for the protection my fisheries of choice receive!
Sights that will become a thing of the past if we fence the fishery.
Mike Stead with a fine looking cockfish, which amazingly had an unwanted passenger when it was landed. Responsible for the hole just behind the fishes pectoral fin a lamprey had held on throughout being landed and only came adrift in the net. That is a pretty disgusting looking set of teeth, they wouldn't look out of place in "Alien". The fish also had what appeared to be a large jaw impression on its flank with a single tooth mark, hopefully suggesting this fish is destined to reach the redds whatever befalls it. Thanks for the call Mike, most appreciated.
This is a photo I wasn't expecting to be able to show this year. It shows Dutch Elm Disease resistant 'Ademuz' and 'Lutece' elm cultivars, planted in the hope of providing a sustainable food source for our fragil White Letter Hairstreak butterfly population. I hadn't expected to be able to source them when I started to look this side of New Year, fortunately help was at hand from Andrew Brookes over at Portsmouth Uni who had all the necessary contacts and passports for the trees. The Estate were willing to purchase them, Natural England provided the necessary consents and hey presto, we have them in the ground a year earlier than I expected.
Top and bottom of the estate today and whilst down the bottom I dropped in at the heronry to see how they were getting on. Its not a problem spotting the nests in the leafless trees but deciding which are occupied and which are empty is a little trickier. Unless of course there's a thumping great heron sat on it!
.......and up at the top. The Southern Marsh remains flooded proving attractive to the newly arrived Redshank, visiting Curlew and remaining Teal and Snipe. With Teal and Snipe in mind the Marsh Harrier is a regular visitor in search of food as it quarters the marsh in front of the Old Man and watching Wigeon and geese. Hovering for a closer look at something that catches its attention before moving of to search more of the rough ground and ditches.
"Hooray" Congratulations to Paul who stayed on for a last cast by the Lodge and was rewarded with this super 18 pound cock fish. The first Springer of the year for the estate. A very fresh, bright fish, no lice but recently off the tide. Interestingly it had a deformed gill plate exposing the gill rakes but this didn't seem to detract from its fight or its enthusiasm to return to the river. Well done again Paul, perserverance justly rewarded.
Paul kindly sent through a pic of the fly that did the damage. I believe it's called a RS Allisters Gold. Thats as may be but I'm sure it looks very similar to that old time Avon favourite the "Avon Eagle" There's the clue, big, bold and fluffy yellow. If you look back to the diary entry for the 3rd April 2005 you will find Mike Twitchen's traditional dressing for the Avon Eagle. I'm sure there are tiers amongst you that could tie the modern equivalent.
The first colours of Spring are struggling to get going with the Coltsfoot and primroses putting on a brave show.
A roe buck watches from the shelter of the firs as I go by on my rounds.
The wretched stuff is back! I disliked it last time and I dislike it even more this time around. My morning round found just one stillwater member on the lakes. Sharing the desolate scene with a hundred and twenty Shoveler, which appeared to have left for their breeding grounds last week, reappeared today as if they had never left. On the river not a sign of a salmon rod, given the bank high water, brass monkey air temperature and biting downstream north wind, I'm not really surprised. Having said that the vis was remarkably good, with two or three feet clarity and I have a new line that needed a field test. I have to admit to being a real dinosaur when it comes to my fly lines, still preferring to use a double taper to aid my lazy approach to salmon fishing. Unfortunately the tackle trade seems to have decided that DT salmon lines are no longer available and I had invested in a state of the art Spey line. I have worked out that as the need for long casting isn't necessary on the Avon the forward taper on this particular line will allow me to continue with my minimal retrieve casting technique.
I headed home for a warming cup of coffee and to collect the net and rod before heading back up to have a look at Ibsley. Unfortunately the wind had failed to ease, if anything adding an extra edge. I walked downstream along the valley path, punching black foot prints through the virgin snow into the flooded meadow beneath. As I rounded the corner under the willows I was greeted by the sight of over forty swans on the tail of Tizard's. Not the most inspiring sight as they trashed the pool trying to avoid the resident cob who appeared intent on drowning any he could get hold of. Not to be daunted I made up the rod leaning on the willow and threaded my shiny new line before attaching an old Willie Gunn I had in the box. The gold tinsel in the body had come undone and had combined with the multicoloured wing, adding a bonus sparkle. Bound to catch in such water! Double Spey, single Spey, over head the new line didn't make a jot of difference, all I could do was a flat upstream loop under the wind and keep it low on the cast to try and avoid being blown out onto the field beside me. Passing flotillas of swans every five minutes added to the casting interest, the prospect of lassoing the angry cob certainly concentrated the mind. Despite the difficulties the river looked spot on and every cast down the tail of Ibsley and into the head of Tizards felt as if it should have found a fish. The height, pace and colour just couldn't have been any better, every cast deserved a solid pull. As it turned out it wasn't to be, I blame that mob of swans as I'm sure the river just had to be full of bright Springers.
More wretched snow, northerly wind and swans made for a tricky but strangely enjoyable hour.
My new line had performed as well as I could have expected but I didn't feel I had mastered its finely designed properties so perhaps a further pool was called for. I drove around to Ellingham and walked out across the field towards the run into the head of Gypsy. By the time I had crossed the field my right eye had brain freeze and my right hand carrying the rod was beginning to feel numb. Once around the corner at the tail of the pool I was in the shelter of the trees on the far bank and things were a little more comfortable. On under the power line and down towards Dog Kennel, the line was responding well and I was enjoying every cast. The run into Dog Kennel corner must have held a fish? For some reason it didn't take my fly, nor did the ones that must have been under that far bank as I fished through the pool and out of the tail. Oh well, that's fishing and I wouldn't change it for the world.
For some reason that Springer failed to take! Time, me thinks, for a reviving lunch of freshly made borscht and warm, buttery sourdough to clean up the bowl.
Andy Jackson with a fine looking Mockbeggar opening day common.
The toads spawning is in full swing with pockets of enthusiastic couples dotted around the lakes. The frogs finished several weeks ago yet the cold weather seems to have put hatching on hold as the spawn remains undeveloped in masses all around the lakes.
At least we enjoyed a river in good order and decent weather for the last day of the river coarse season as this morning the river is out in the fields again. Last night's rain brought the forest streams up over the fords within hours. The high colour of the forest soon reached the main river and today's salmon rods found a totally different river to that we enjoyed yesterday.
The migrants are moving north, I only hope its not too early in light of the forecast return of cold weather at the weekend. The majority of the wildfowl have left us and the garden birds are changing daily. Along with our resident Blackbirds, Redpolls, Brambling and Blackcaps are moving through with different birds arriving every day. Not the best shot through the window, which unfortunately makes the ring on the Blackcap illegible, so no recover this time around.
The douglas stands are starting to green up after the devastation of the recent thinning and as if to welcome spring the Goshawk were chanting in the depths of the wood and the Crossbills were calling from the top of the firs, it cut a fine picture in today's weak sunshine. A couple of days ago four Brimstones emerged from their overwinter hibernation to enjoy the sheltered warmth this suntrap beneath these mighty trees provides. We have a return to cold and snow forecast for the weekend lets hope after that Spring can get on with warming the rest of us.
I don't usually put up "Fish on a Net" shots but I am prepared to make an exception in the case of this fish. Its the 7.08 chub that Mike Skittrall landed on the last but one day of the season, which my earlier photos failed to do justice. The shot above was taken on Mike's camera and he sent it through today and I feel its deserves showing off as it captures the stature of this incredible fish.
Well thats the river coarse season behind us and it certainly went out in style. The chub catches have been simply staggering, with some fine barbel putting in a late appearance. I couldn't have wished for a better season, which is a rare thing to be able to say in this day and age in the angling world. Once I get the full feedback I'll try and put together a review of the year.
As the river coarse season finishes, the salmon season continues with nothing as yet to show for all the effort. I do have reports of lost fish that do nothing for my equilibrium but it least it shows there are one or two fish in the system! On the stillwater front Mockbeggar is opening, requiring the removal of the winter grazing stock and a general tidy up of the wind blown willow. Its at this point I have the anxious wait to see if we have got the level of grazing correct.
The paddocks have been subject to their winter haircut where we now have a month or so to wait to see if plants we wish to thrive have survived. The fauna we seek to promote is aimed chiefly at the invertebrates, which require a very diverse menu. The grassland for the Meadow Browns, Marbled Whites and Gatekeepers, the vetches, ox eye daisies, sorrel, nettles and dog violets for the Blues, Small copper, Comma, Peacock, Tortoiseshell and Fritillaries. Add in the requirements of the bumblebees and moths and we have a pretty long wish list so fingers crossed for a flower rich summer.
The penultimate day of the river coarse season.
I had a call this evening from Mike Skittrall hoping I was about the estate, close enough to take some pix of his new PB chub of 7.08. Fortunately I was only five minutes away and I was only too delighted to hop in the truck and head over to find him. What a fish, seven and a half pounds of gleaming perfection, I'm afraid the pix I took do not do that fish justice, it was simply stunning. Well done Mike, congratulations on your PB, it was a delight to see such a fish. The second is another cracking example of our Avon chub, caught by Steve Kenchington when he and fellow syndicate member Mark Sherborne came down last week. They spent their time with a single rod each roving the estate dropping traditional baits into chubby looking spots. Steve tells me they had over thirty chub between them, each managing a brace of sixes, with a 6.12 to Steve being the pick of the bunch. Simply amazing, is there any other river in the land that can produce such fishing. Be it trotted maggot or lumps of cheese paste on a size six what ever takes your fancy. One further point worthy of note is that certainly Mike's fish and if I'm not mistaken also Steve's fish were caught from swims that haven't had a bait cast into them all year. In today's pressured angling world that is a very rare event indeed.
Another shot of young Elian, this time with a skinny Jack that took his home made jelly lure. I'm reliably inform mum's none too pleased with the new found use for the micro-wave, with the associated smell of melting rubber. I suppose thats the modern day equivilent of us trying to hide our maggots in the fridge!
A couple of other recent shots. The first showing Mark Woodage's super looking 14.7 barbel from last week. Landed on double maggot, four pound line, to an eighteen hook required some delicate handling. Finally nostalgia day for me when I headed down to one of my favourite pools to enable me to say I did get to fish the river this season. In actual fact I fished it twice, once this morning for a couple of hours when I landed the same 8 to 10 pound Jack twice! Later I came back to catch the hen I had seen roll whilst landing the Jack for the second time! All in all, despite some low water temperatures and high water levels its been a good last few days. You've still got tomorrow if you wish to add your name to the role of honour so make the most of it.
It only takes about thirty seconds
Its all happening in the world of fishery politics. As well as the T&I abstraction challenge once again we have the EA using the fisheries as an easy option to excuse its total failure to maintain, improve and develop our fisheries. If you are one of the readers who bothered to buy a rod licence last year you presumably will have been sent a copy of the proposed salmon and sea trout byelaws. If you look back to the 10th October last year you will see my disillusionment with the EA as a fishery protective body. I also commented on the byelaw consultation venting my frustration on the underfunded and effectively emasculated Fisheries Division.
Whilst you may agree with the coastal net restrictions further byelaw restrictions on the rods is simply box ticking. Totally incapable of evaluation, any perceived or statistically arranged improvement will be blindly attributed to their actions, as they desperately clutch at straws. A national approach is not the way forward for the rod fisheries. I have repeatedly said on here that the multidimensional, voluntary approach across the fisheries of the country will more likely find answers to the problems we face. The Rivers Avon & Stour were way ahead of the field in the introduction of catch and release. On a voluntary basis supported by rods and riparian owners. Salmon haven't been killed on these rivers by either rod or net for well over two decades, yet we see further national restrictions being seen as the way forward and the answer to our problems.
What is even more depressing is the latest publication on the micro plastics front, that surely points to a more likely culprit, or at least a clue to the problems with the water quality we expect our fish to spawn in. Ask any commercial hatchery manager, whose livelihood is dependent on his output, to hatch his fry using Avon water. I doubt he would bother to reply, yet our fish are totally dependent on the water that the river carries and society use to dispose of their chemical waste. I mentioned that back in the October entry and it would seem the curses of society are most definitely coming home to roost. What is so depressing about the plastics issue, apart from the fact our larval stage fry eat the bloody stuff, is that compared to some of the chemical pollutants its hardly difficult to spot. I'll put up the link to the paper so I'm not alone in being fed-up with the level of protection our rivers receive from Defra.
Plastics, antibiotics, endocrine disruptors, phosphates, what levels impact on the invertebrates?
There are two or three further issues that will raise their ugly heads in the not too distant future but for the time being that should sufficiently depress everyone. I do my best to hide away in the estate and run the finest and most diverse fishery in the land but attached to that role comes the politics. I spent thirty years running around in circles as the government did its best ignore our problems along with its statutory obligations. Just how priorities can be assigned when lobbiests with self interest and political expediency drive our political masters is a problem beyond my resolve. Calling on those that wish to over abstract and pollute our rivers, to supply societies needs, to pay for the damage they inflict will take a different breed of politician than those we have today.
Despite the rain the lads felling the tall douglas fir beside the power line are making good progress. These trees threaten the power supply and have to go, to be replaced with native hardwoods. To give an idea of the scale thats a fifteen ton machine and the tree centre shot, just to the right of the machine, is over one hundred and twenty feet. Trees to be taken very seriously when felling them.
All sorts going on but little time to add much this evening, except a note to the pike lads who are running low on dead baits "Yon troots r oot" The river has plenty of suitable size rainbows if you have a pint of maggots and a couple of hours to spare next years supply of deads is assured! Just in time for the smolt run so just have a second look before you clout it on the head. The EA are aware :-(
Yesterday despite a rising, coloured river, full of melt water and salt from the roads, Mark found a steady paced bend and managed a fine brace of chub on the float. The best of which at 6.05 can be seen in the photo above. Well fished Mark and many thanks for the super pic and the report.
Interesting shot taken by Mike Short of the GWCT whilst he was engaged in one of his surveys at the weekend. It shows a Water Rail eating a chublet, as to whether it caught it or found it the jury is still out. This begs all sorts of comments about fish eating birds but I shall resist the temptation! Thanks for the photo Mike, certainly a first for me.
I've just heard the sad news that Vic Beyer has passed away after his brave struggle against his long illness.
Vic enjoying the margin feeding carp.
Vic epitomised the very best in traditional angling both on the lakes, with a float just inches from the margins as he sought out tench and carp, or on the rivers trotting for his beloved roach. Always supportive of any initiatives that protected the lakes and rivers he so loved, giving freely of his time and experience. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this sad time.
Vic Beyer, he will be missed by his many close friends in the angling world.
WeBS day started early as I counted the Cormorants and Herons as they arrived for their breakfast. Although not the patch that I count I did call at Mockbeggar at lunchtime to check the livestock and whilst there couldn't break the habit of counting the waterfowl. The Shoveler were busily engaged in their strange feeding groups, the particular group in the photo made up a total of over 250 on Mockbeggar today.
I have a WeBS count tomorrow and it looks as if I may be in luck and this wretched snow will have gone. I didn't fancy finding our one hundred plus swans if I had to pick them in out in the snow drifts!
The top and bottom lines are the birds seeking a drink from the pond at home; armchair birdwatching but little satisfaction from seeing the struggle they face. Some of the thrushes, in particular the Redwings and Fieldfares, are looking as if this hard weather is causing some difficulty. The middle line illustrates that snow has absolutely no redeeming qualities or saving graces. The view across to the Forest only acts to remind that the Lapwing and Stonechat are struggling to find food and the Snipe are being forced onto the lake and ditch margins in the more sheltered spots.
Spot the bivvie, only the strong wind kept the lake from freezing over, the sheltered bays went yesterday. It was Frank's bivvie as he did last night in that minus God knows what temperature and driven snow and just to prove the point that Meadow has always been a good winter water he caught. A thirty plus at 32 or 33, I've forgotten which, a 29 and a mirror of around 17, possibly one of the new generation. I will be interested to see the photos when I next see Frank. The other shot is a reminder to keep the bird feed going little and often so they can keep the snow scratched away. At lunchtime today well over 200 birds were grateful for the helping hand.
Just what you like to find bobbing about in the hatches! "Poisson" poison, this stuff is only sold to professionals who have to sign for it and its only for use indoors. If it were empty it should have been washed out and sent to landfill. Its states; "unlikely to be hazardous to aquatic life." That's a cracker of a statement! I feel totally reassured having heard its "unlikely" to kill any aquatic life that ingest the grain. It goes on to say; "Prevent access to bait by children, birds and non-target animals, particularly dogs, cats, pigs and poultry." That's okay then, its unlikely to kill any barbel or roach that eat it, taking it for some of their favourite cereal food, so the professional involved just lobbed it in the river! Its probably serial number traceable but I haven't got the time or patience to hear the crock that the guilty party involved would come up with.
A bit of a bird day in that I have changed the wallpaper on my screens to the Wren, which I photographed through the front window out in the garden. I spent several hours before the rugby getting the Swift cabinet underway in an effort to cope with our expanding flock. Finally the Oystercatchers are back in the valley in preparation for nesting over at the lakes in the coming months.
I am often told by syndicate members, as they head for the river at Harbridge, how much they enjoy seeing Robert Sampson out with his wonderful working Percherons. Today in the sunshine, as I passed on my rounds, Robert was working beside the drive with eight of his magnificent horses in hand. The wonderful scene almost took the breath away it was such a rural idyll it was beyond my ability to describe. As many of you know Anne is “horsey” and it was just too fine a sight for her to miss, requiring me to head home to collect her.
The sun continued to shine, Robert and his team remained hard at work and he kindly invited us to join him on the drivers seat. I have watched Robert, his wife Barbara and their family go about their work with the horses for many years yet today's experience served to reinforce just how close they work with the land they farm. The friable seed bed that enveloped the grain, as it began the journey to this years harvest, was perfection. What brought home the connection with the land was the flock of Wagtails that had found the freshly turned soil to provide rich pickings to keep them through the chilling cold of the coming nights. The well publicised decline of our farmland birds across the country isn't difficult to understand when you compared the sterile monoculture of an autumn sown barley field up on the plain with the natural balance this scene captured today.
The wonderful scene at Harbridge today, Robert with eight in hand with discs and harrows.
The flock of Wagtails that followed the harrows. The view from the drivers seat and Anne in her element as she marvelled at Robert's control.
Readers may wish to keep up todate with events on the farm.
That scene also captures the dilemma that our countryside faces today, especially as we approach the dreaded “Brexit” If we force the farming community into self sufficiency, through reducing or removing subsidies, economy of scale will win the day. Farm units will become bigger and maximising return will be seen by the farming lobby as the way ahead. The token gestures of today's buffer strips and beetle banks will in the furture be made to look like significant environmental measures if the modern farming community isn't kept in close check. Future farm payments must reward farmers who can clearly demonstrate their benefit to the environment, our wildlife has to fit into the working world, not kept in artificial reserves in token gestures at green wash. Our hill and upland farmers who struggle to make ends meet and those that minimise the application of agricultural pesticides must be valued and rewarded. If we continue to pander to the super markets and reward the barley barons to destroy our downland we walk a very dangerous path.
The wonderful photo above is of Andy Muir with a new Meadow Lake record carp in the form of the "Three-quarter Linear" at 42.8. Andy achieved this feat several weeks ago when he was fishing as a guest of Dan Wrigley. Andy went on the land a further 30+ and I believe six 20+ fish, a fantastic piece of angling. Congratulations Andy and thanks for the wonderful photo, a great looking fish and session. The reason I've put this eye catching photo up is to catch the attention of our "Stillwater" and joint "Coarse River and Stillwater" Members. ONLY THESE TWO CATEGORIES. This is necessary as we are currently sending out the renewal notices, which by now you should have received. If you have not received an email with the review and renewal slip please firstly check your spam file and if its not there, contact Jane in the office and we will sort things out.
......and then there are some photos that aren't quite so wonderful!
The first shot will cheer up Harry! It shows a clean Harbridge Bend with all the dead nettles and docks cleared away. The river looks in perfect trim at the moment and with a Spring tide just past I imagine there are one or two salmon in the river. It just remains for someone to have Lady Luck on their side and bump into one. Whilst the salmon are keeping a low profile the chub and barbel have continued to provide some great sport. The middle shot shows Mark with a pristene five pound plus chub safely in the landing net. One of ten fish, including three six plus specimens, all taken on teh float. Lovely bag of fish, great result Mark. On the right Darrel with a 14.7 barbel, that responded to the slight lift in water temperature at the weekend. Thanks for the photo Darrel, much appreciated.
Refurbishing four of the fifteen Starling and House Sparrow nestboxes than adorn our house. Better late than never, the birds have been trying to occupy them after I had taken them down a fortnight ago and they stood on the drive in front of the garage door. Our local birds stay with us right through the winter, the resident birds roosting in the boxes through the cold weather. I don't clean them out every year but when I do I go over them with the blow torch to rid them of parasites such as lice that can build up over time. This year I will be repositioning several of the boxes to make room for a Swift cabinet I am currently constructing. I am having to add the extra nests the cabinet will bring as my four Swift boxes are occupied and the off spring from previous years are seeking sites to establish their nests. At one point last summer there were more than twenty Swifts screaming around the house and upsetting all the Starlings as they examined every box on the building.
After reaching the highest levels of the winter the river is dropping back quickly and will be off the fields within days. It rose sufficiently to reach the trigger level for early season spinning and I was pleased to see one or two members tried their hand with the Devon Minnow, in traditional early Avon fashion. Whilst the minnow fished well no rod was lucky enough to grass a fish, it was however good to see the minnow being fished in such heavy water once more. The river has dropped back below the trigger level and I will be surprised if we see such heights again this Spring. If ever a statement tempted fate that one has!
The habitat work continues apace as Spring rapidly approaches. The entire thrust of the habitat work is to bring a holistic approach to the lakes wildlife. We are keeping the reed beds and bramble beds from being shaded out by the aggressive willow and alder growth to provide food and cover for our warblers, rails and herons. A maze of vole runs keeping the Barn owl and the Kestrel busy and the remaining aphid covered willow providing vital winter food for the Long tailed tits and the alder seed for the Siskins. Nest sites for the Dunnocks, Blackbirds and thrushes and of course food and cover for the countless invertebrates. Particularly my butterflies, as today's first Peacock and Brimstone of the year brightened the day.
A further look at one or two of our amazing trees in the form of this multi-stemmed Douglas fir that stands in an avenue of about twenty such specimens. They are not the tallest in the country but they must be very close to being soem of the first to be imported from the States and planted across the UK. When I say they are not the tallest they do give a good account of themselves soaring to well over a hundred feet and they have that dramatic majesty huge trees possess. The shot of the very frosty Lower Park was taken by Phil on his early morning round of the ewes, which also shows some of the fine specimen trees to be found down there. On the right of the shot a Common Lime with the enormous clump of epicormic growth that provides homes for owls, stock doves, Eygptian geese and Kestrels to name just of a few of its inhabitants. A huge Cedar of Lebenon and two spreading London Planes, simply stunning. Nice pic Phil, not a bad office!
Whilst the lakes are brim full the Shoveler, Gadwall and Goldeneye and geese are enjoying the extra water the river is even higher. We are seeing the river at the highest mark this winter, the meadows are well under but the water remains relatively clear due to the earlier flush we have received a month or two ago. Not ideal conditions for fishing but this is exactly the conditions we anticipated when we requested the consideration by the EA of high water spinning. With the priciple of high water spinning now excepted it was pleasing to see rods out today looking for a fish in far from perfect conditions yet feeling their devons were covering the water with a chance.
The overnight rain had pushed the river well out into the valley. Blashford Island Run was only for the brave whilst Park Pool was a vision in white with the resident swans and Little egrets joined by a Great White. I believe the white van in the back ground of the first shot is Mark's, braving 'Cabbage Garden' in search of a barbel or chub. I hope he caught as anyone braving that flow deserves every success.
The feeders are still proving very popular with the birds whilst I also feel confident in saying I have the noisiest tree in Britain in my front garden. Having had their fill of white millet from the feeding station the House Sparrows retreat to the front garden shrubs where they shout and chirp to their hearts content. Even through the double glazed front window, through which these photos where taken, the din is all too apparent.
Catch 22 - the three foot head of water makes unblocking the hatch too dangerous, so we will have to wait for the water to drop. Unfortunately the water can't drop because the hatch is blocked!
With the slight drop of water in recent days the day couldn't be put off any longer. Armed with rakes, poles saws, pruning saws, crowbars and spades the start of hours of cutting pulling and getting extremely wet ensues. Mostly willow limbs that had been too long to get through the hatch, thank you who ever sent them down. One or two points of extra interest, one being a complete picnic table, that had to be cut up under water. Also a bird table, that has developed quite a patina through being submerged for a few weeks. Once it has dried out I may even patch it up and take this home for my flocks in the front garden. Finally and thankfully the cleaned hatch.
It may have been on the chilly side but the sun did put in an appearance and with Anne just finishing her nights a walk seemed like a good idea. It also gave me the opportunity to look at one or two of the magnificent trees that can be found dotted about the estate parks and woods. Many of the great trees are getting a little long in the tooth, which gives rise not only to concerns over safety but also just how we preserve these massive specimens. In their winter state, without their leaves, we can get a better idea of just what is required or involved in keeping them in best order.
A massive poplar down beside the river, dwarfing Anne and the ancient tangled robinia out in the park. One hundred feet of elephant grey beech and the noble oak beside the Salmon Lodge. A small sample of the wonderful, aging specimens that can be found about the estate.
Having today emptied the footwell of my truck of its week's collection of bottles, coffee cups and general crap that arrives where ever the Great British public come into contact with the river - the plastic dog poo bags ride in the back of the truck with the otter deterent! Today's anthem is sung by 'Swamp Dog' which I think he wrote it in about 1967 - we don't seem to have taken the message onboard!
Between Penmeade and Ashley Old Weir is now looking a little tidier after another good morning with the strimmer. One pool that looks well worth a little more attention is the right bank of Blashford Island. With the division of water around the island becoming more equal in recent years the bottom end looks extremely fishy, well worth a chuck. The Island leads almost directly onto the top of Blashford. Whilst Blashford is traditionally fished from the left bank I've always felt it should be possible to take fish at the top of the pool just above the gravel shelf. It would probably best be fished with waders on, down to where the pool restricts 50m below the old seat on the far bank. Certainly worth an hour or two of any rods time. On downstream to Above the Break Through which is a great pool and should be high on the visit list of all Somerley rods, today it looked absolutely spot on. Access is a great deal easier after the wind blown willow beside the King's inception is now cleared away.
I mentioned the seat at Blashford, fear not I haven't forgotten that I need to replace and add a further dozen seats. With the fields remaining water logged getting materials out to the river is difficult. Its not the actual materials but the chainsaw and slammer that are required to cut and drive the posts that risk becoming my death knell. The wretched thing weighs a couple of stone and by the time you've sploshed, gasped, cursed and wheezed out across the meadows for the third or forth time the appeal of angling and the wellbeing of the rods is starting to take a back seat against my own survival!
With the water gradually draining off the land we are able to get on with the backlog of groundwork that has built up over the last couple of months. The timber work is almost finished for the year and after several thousand tons of timber have been extracted we are tidying up one or two sections of woodland that have to be made ready for summer events. With the drying land the river has also fallen back and we can once more get on with cleaning the salmon pools. The shot of Dog Kennel shows its looking a great deal more angler friendly after half an hour with the strimmer. Whilst the salmon pools take on the top priority the work on the lakes still has to be completed before nesting starts in another month. As well as keeping the fishing areas clear we also need to ensure the surrounding meadows remain in good order. Its all a balance as we attempt to keep the brambles and scrub thickets healthy, despite the attention of the forty odd fallow deer we have about the place. Left to their own devices the deer will completely destroy the understory, along with the vital nesting sites for many of the birds and feeding sources for our invertebrates. Many of the plantations that were left at the time these gravel pits were restored, contain trees that are not indigenous to the valley. These foreign oaks and pines are felled and left as tangled as possible to keep out the deer. The woodland clearings also allow light to penetrate the canopy, stimulating new understory, providing vital food sources. Along with the coppicing, pollarding, layering and clearing alder and willow regrowth from the reedbeds, so important to Brenda's warblers, there remains lots to complete in the coming weeks.
A further heavy frost last night and this morning the valley has taken on the proper feel of winter. The frost and ice remained in the shade until lunchtime in many sheltered spots yet the sun came through early on quickly raising both temperature and spirits. A pair of Red Kite were displaying over their nest site and the Buzzards soared across the entire Estate. A Kestrel from one of at least five pairs that nest on the Estate was enjoying a vole out on his feeding perch in the water meadows as a Goshawk circled up into the air to join the Buzzards. The sun was out and valley residents were keen to enjoy it.
Despite the frost nature seems to be of the opinion that the worst of the winter is behind us. Fingers crossed they haven't got their signals crossed.
Just a note to who ever left their seat in the Ellingham car park early last week, I have it. I can't for the life of me remember whose car was in the car park. If the owner reads this give me a call or drop me a text and I'll arrange to get it back to you.
On the fishery front we have yet to see any sign of a fresh salmon. A couple of beautifully silvered kelt gave rise to a skipped heart beat or two but nothing with true Avon Springer credentials.
The lakes are difficult yet continue to throw up one or two great fish with a 35 plus common by Woody being the pick of the bunch. The bream appear to be back on the feed in Meadow, which calls for a further blitz if we are to continue with the fishery stock plan. Once we get this latest cold spell behind us a session of two with the feeder would seem time weel spent. I'll let you all know how I fared if I manage to get either salmon or feeder rod out in the next week or two.
Woody with his 35+ common. A lovely looking fish and thanks for the photo Woody.
We're off! The salmon season is underway and a river in great condition and a sunny day provided us with one of the busiest days on the fishery. With a dozen rods out on the banks it was good to see such enthusiasm, fingers crossed we see a fish before too long to keep spirits high.
Wildfowl out on the lakes looking more relaxed. I have mentioned on here before and it still remains a mystery how the geese know the shoot season is now over. Overnight at least four pairs of Canada's took up position close to their usual nesting sites. I'm afraid we haven't reduced their numbers sufficiently this winter, which probably means we will be over run with goslings overgrazing the meadows in the summer.
The only splash of colour about during today's grey drizzle came from the feeders in the front garden that continue to support a multitude of our feathered neighbours.
The river is slowly dropping back but remains coloured and high. The spillway is running at its maximum but the water is not overflowing the bank between the hatches and the bridge today whereas yesterday a couple of inches was finding its way over. The rather poor photo taken with the mobile, in the rain, shows that we have dropped back about 80mm. The final pic shows the northern marsh at Hucklesbrook still covered in water, to the delight of the gull and wildfowl population. I should stress this high water is exactly what we need and the river and valley are looking magnificent at the moment. It may make our outside work difficult but this is a small price to pay for a river in good heart having flushed the accumulated grot of society and the summer out of its system. I have also added the East Mills Flume website page to the headers to make access easier.
The only splash of colour about during today's grey drizzle came from the feeders in the front garden that continue to support a multitude of our feathered neighbours.
The river is slowly dropping back but remains coloured and high. The spillway is running at its maximum but the water is not overflowing the bank between the hatches and the bridge today whereas yesterday a couple of inches was finding its way over. The rather poor photo taken with the mobile, in the rain, shows that we have dropped back about 80mm. The final pic shows the northern marsh at Hucklesbrook still covered in water, to the delight of the gull and wildfowl population. I should stress this high water is exactly what we need and the river and valley are looking magnificent at the moment. It may make our outside work difficult but this is a small price to pay for a river in good heart having flushed the accumulated grot of society and the summer out of its system. I have also added the East Mills Flume website page to the headers to make access easier.
As I mentioned in the salmon review a few weeks ago and in light of the estate agreeing to take part in the early season high water spinning trial, I am bringing readers up to date with matters as they now stand. To which end the EA have agreed that the level above which spinning can take place before 15th May will be 1.24m at East mills Flume.
I must emphasise that its the East mills Flume and not the East Mills Weir, the link above will take you directly to the correct site.
One or two members have asked me recently for a Somerley water height at the flume when Somerley would offer the best chance of a fish. The only problem with this is that I am not familiar with water levels at Somerley in relation to the East Mills gauges. I have always used the flow at Knappmill as a guide, along with the spring tides they are probably the most reliable indicators of success. In an effort to resolve this in recent weeks I have been looking at the levels at Ibsley Bridge and comparing them to the flume and now feel I have a reasonable understanding of the relationship between the two.
Firstly let me give you an idea of just what Somerley will look like when the levels at the flume reach the critical height to allow spinning. As an example, Today's level on the flume at 16:00 was, as in the photo below, 1.23m that is just below the permitted level. The two bordering photos show the levels out on the bank. Judging by the height at Island run and Blashford pool I'm sure not many will take advantage of the opportunity to spin. In the event you do make sure you are properly equipped and I would strongly suggest you do not venture onto the banks without a stout wading stick.
Downstream towards the corner at Blashford Pool. Toady's reading at the East Mills flume and upstream across the meadows to island run.
From the responses to the review that we received from syndicate members there would appear to be only a minimal interest from members in taking advantage of the facility. It is however an opportunity we shouldn't ignore if we see high flows through until May as we did just a few season back. It will provide the opportunity to visit the water with a chance of a fish, even if actual fishing time is perhaps secondary to just being there! I would request that spinning effort is guided by the existing etiquette that we adopt at Somerley for the fly. We would not wish to see any water fished repeatedly, by which keeping on the move and covering different water at every cast must be the way forward.
With the river continuing to run high and coloured, with further rain forecast, it looks as if we will have a river in good order when the salmon season gets underway in a fortnights time. Today's showers and sunshine, perfectly captured in this shot of the Old School House at Harbridge.
We have seen some good pike this season, I certainly know of fish to 29.02 pounds. The photo above shows Adam Martin with a 22 pounder to go with a 19 pounder he had on the traditional start of the pike season back on 1st October. Adam has also managed an absolute beauty of 28+ a month or so back, which points to a pretty good season to date. Well done on the fish Adam and many thanks for the reports and the pix.
Yesterday's sunrise at Ellingham, taken by Jane on her way into the office; nice one Jane. The start of a good day beside the river.
Every day beside the river is a good day and clipping up the salmon pools is a great way to spend it. Looking upstream from Gypsy to The Reeds, Pile Pool down to Park and upstream to the Bridge Pool.
.........and there I was worried about micro-plastics! Just where we are heading with individuals such as the one-watt that dumped this in the river I have no idea. Especially when fly tipping in the New Forest District Council area incurs the wrath of the council with a FPN (Fixed Penalty Notice) and an £80 fine!
This might prove interesting. We know there is a lie just off the seat as fish have been lost there in the past. I've extended the fishable length of bank by 20m and will take the top off the brambles so that fish running downstream can be followed down to Pile Pool if the rod is held high.
One of the odd things about my role is that I do not have an obvious end to my year. The river coarse season retains a beginning and a separate ending, as does the salmon, the trout, the wildfowl, the pheasant and the deer to name but a few. Most run in harmony with the natural cycle of events in the valley. Migrants come and go, be they summer or winter visitors, there is however no clear point of change. If my year were to have a beginning and an end it would probably be the winter solstice. Not because I am some sort of practising Pagan but because it simply is the shortest day, with all the photo-period implications for the Natural World. The regeneration of the Avon salmon gets under way, foxes begin their barking and screaming, to accompany my night rounds and our swans along with other of the valley early birds begin to establish their territories.
Perhaps, on consideration, with Stonehenge in the catchment with its millennia of influence and filtered essence percolating down through our chalk the Avon is tainted? I have been immersed in the waters of this river for over fifty years it has probably seeped deep into my bones. Does this mean I should stick to my personal preference of the solstice? In light of my dilemma adopting that which the vast majority, along with Pope Gregory, feel to be the first choice would seem most logical.
A frosty start to January saw the lakes cowering in the face of the freezing north wind and the exposed sections of the valley proved a trial for all but the bravest souls. An improvement in conditions made the river more attractive with the fish coming back on the feed between the frosty night time temperatures. To prove a point Darrel Hughes landed what for me was the fish of the month with a stunning roach of 2.09. The chub and the pike continued to provide some wonderful fishing and great specimens. By the end of the month the north wind had given way to rain bearing south westerlies. The river levels rose and the water coloured making the February start of the salmon season a challenge with such heavy flows. Hopefully the early salmon made the most of the perfect running conditions to reach the higher river. It wasn't until the 9th that the first Avon Springer graced our banks when Paul Greenacre landed a magnificent twenty plus fish.
Right up to the end of the coarse season on the rivers the Avon continued to produce chub fishing that is hard to believe has ever been bettered. Its almost impossible to chose the best example but I think Ollie Johnson's float caught bag that included two seven plus, three sixes and a big five has to be the pick of the bunch. As the water temperatures continued to rise our barbel also joined the fray with doubles showing throughout the fishery rounding off a perfect river coarse season.
A warm ending to March provided a spring boost for the valley wildlife and the butterflies in particular enjoyed a far better start than the spring of 2016. The arrival of Spring is good for the soul and it was a particularly pleasant time to be in the valley and around the lakes. The appearance of the sun and a light southerly or westerly wind soon put the memory of the long grey winter behind us. With the close of the coarse river the salmon and stillwater syndicates came into prominence. The early flows of february collapsed by the middle of May. By the end of May the water temperature had also reached the critical 19 degrees centigrade cut off point for salmon fishing. The flow never recovered, continuing to bump along at low summer flows for the remainder of the season. Whilst the water temperature did drop below the conservation limit in reality the salmon season ended for us in the middle river by the beginning of June. One other fish I should mention was a great looking twenty pound cock fish landed by Ray Finch from Cabbage Garden. When the phone rang and Ray told me he was into a fish I was on the far side of the world out in the jungle somewhere north of Chiang Mai, in Thailand. A little distant for me to rush to Ray's aid so a quick phone call to Kevin on the estate produced the necessary assistance and honours with the camera. The wonders of modern communications. In total we did see seven fish over the magical 20 pounds mark banked in the early season, which wasn't too bad on consideration. Unfortunately it wasn't to be maintained and numbers and size dropped off dramatically making the salmon season a difficult one best put behind us.
The capture of some stunning carp from Mockbeggar with multiple catches of 30+ fish gracing the bank on several occasions went some way to lift the spirits. The Somerley Lakes complex continued as it has for decades providing some wonderful fishing. Our efforts in removing the bream are starting to show positive results with the tench getting the chance to reach the bait and as for the carp even the resident old girls are putting on weight in leaps and bounds. The tench in Meadow are getting very long in the tooth but with new blood safely installed in the complex the future looks well. We still have some way to go in removing excess carp and bream, hopefully this summer will see the carp numbers in King-Vincent sorted out at least. If all goes to plan the biomass in Kings-Vincent will be sufficiently back under control to see the crucians introduced in the not too distant future.
With the arrival of 16th of June the coarse river season just couldn't have had a better start. Paul Allen's incredible 8.02 chub gave a flavour of the chub that inhabit this amazing river. Once spawning was out of the way they put their condition back on quicker this year than I have ever seen. As autumn arrived the number of six and seven pound fish throughout the length of the fishery has been staggering. It often requires a second take to ensure I had heard the correct details of some of these catches. There seem to be shoals of younger year classes in the carriers, which would seem to bode well for the future. I would suggest that if you have access to the Avon you should make the most of these astonishing fish as I find it hard to believe we will enjoy them indefinitely.
Paul Allen's staggering chub.
The summer turned into a vintage one with warm weather providing perfect growing conditions for the valley flora and fauna. Mockbeggar continues to delight with the winter grazing regime producing a blizzard of wild flowers for the pollinators to feast upon. Butterflies drifted and danced in every meadow with three new species being recorded on the Mockbeggar transect. The valley not to be outdone produced massive hatches of both Small Tortoiseshell, feeding on the creeping meadow thistles and Green-veined Whites on the mint of the floated meadows. Its a further therapy for the soul to walk through a meadow surrounded by literally hundreds of butterflies.
Wild flower meadows at Mockbeggar.
The resident bird populations seemed to enjoy an equally successful breeding season with several species appearing in good numbers as they fledged. Not perhaps the stuff to excite the twitching fraternity but our Blackbirds, Bullfinches and Goldfinches appeared in numbers I haven't witnessed for years. Brenda Cook, of recent warbler ring recovery success, produced further evidence of the successful summer with her Mockbeggar warbler study. If only such information could be attained for all our species, not just the birds but the insects, fish and valley mammals as well. The sooner we understand and are educated in the needs of our valley wildlife the sooner we will be able to ensure their sustainable future.
As with the chub the barbel soon recovered their condition after spawning and we witnessed some superb fish even in the height of the summer. The low summer flows and clear water visibility meant fishing became harder as the summer turned into autumn and we failed to get the expected rains. Eventually we did see one or two decent spates and the barbel responded as we hoped with some magnificent specimens. If we include the fish north of Ibsley we could be looking at five fish in excess of sixteen pounds on the estate. One of the Ibsley fish certainly in excess of seventeen and one south of Ellingham possibly equally impressive. Simply wonderful, long may it last, just ensure you make the most of it. If we add a healthy pike population that has seen some superb specimens landed things are definitely looking okay on the fishery front.
Keeping the infrastructure of the place up together is always a balance between Estate events and the weather. We continue to clear fallen and dangerous trees, pollard willows, reinforce roads, renew hatches and replace bridges and styles that fall into disrepair. Conservation projects such as the Ellingham oxbow, Harbridge wader splashes and the Mockbeggar meadows add a further element. It all takes time and along with trimming the paths and pools keeps me extremely busy. Hard work and time consuming it might be but I for one can think of nowhere I would rather be.
I look forward to seeing you all on the banks in 2018, whatever your chosen pursuit lets hope for a good one.
Only the other day I was wishing for more swans to help with the weed clearing and today over a hundred were present in just a couple of fields. There were sixteen cygnets in one small area, which would seem to point to the swans having had a good summer. Add two Great white Egrets, hundreds of geese, plus numerous wildfowl and the wet meadows were looking more as they should at this time of year. The river is still high but if you have wellies it is now possible to cross the oxbow again at Ellingham, making it possible to walk around the Ellingham Island copse. The old scaffolding bridge has been dismantled and is laying close by on the mud. Once the soft ground, after all the recent rain, has hardened up we will get a tractor down to remove it.
Mid-day today and I was clearing hatches when this chap insisted on passing.
Our troublesome oaks looked a great deal easier the morning after than they did at midnight in the rain and gales. A couple of hours with the chainsaw and the 4CX soon had them cleared and awaiting preparation of the trunks for the timber mill. Our planned efforts with the timber thinning is progressing well as about half of the forwarded material safely roadside awaiting hauling away. Finally, as I walked back from the hatches this evening on my last weed clearing round of the day, the Starlings put on a great dislay as a Sparrow hawk kept them on the move. Numbers have dropped to roughly half that at the time of the peak counts before Christmas but they still looked very dramatic. As grandaughter Katie said a week ago when she visited, the sound of their wings as they wheeled overhead sounded just like waves on the beach.
As regular readers will be aware in recent weeks I have been doing my rain dance at every opportunity in a bid to encourage Mother Nature to replenish our aquifer up on the plain and provide us with a good flush through to clean out the summers detritus. Well, things are most definitely looking up. First Dylan and now Eleanor have been doing their very best to meet my requests. As I said yesterday the river is well up and flushing through beautifully, lovely height, water temperature and colour. It really is looking spot on.
Whilst we are delighted with the conditions there are also less desirable consequences that we have to put up with for the overall good of the river and its inhabitants. It is certainly the end of sight fishing after the prolonged low clear water of the summer and autumn we are now under real Avon conditions. If the flow remains high the fish will also have moved from their summer haunts dropping into the deeper slacks and glides. I have to admit to never being a fan of sight fishing, I always feel I'm cheating or gaining unfair advantage over my intended quarry. My idea of the Avon is when its running bank high and what I refer to as winter green. If the rain eases off in the next day or two and the flood water clears the river will then take on the wonderful grey-green slate colour of winter. In the early sixties when I first fished the river, on what was then the White Horse water at Charford, if we could we would trot bread for the roach by the old boathouse. Or ledgering lumps of cheese for the chub just above the weir. That was in the days when a good chub was four pounds and most were in the three to three and a half stamp. Enough reminiscing, back to our current river and the problems associated with our floods.
All summer long the weed in the carriers and the side growth in the main channel has been growing thicker and denser with no pace of colour to curb it. Now the rising water, following one or two decent frosts, has loosened this growth and sent it swirling on its way downstream. Rafts and islands of Fools Cress and Sweet Grass are heading line astern for every hatch on the place. Add a few wind blown willow branches and an uprooted tree or two and we have a recipe for the perfect storm. No sooner is one hatch cleared than another blocks. As the rubbish is dragged out and cut up, the flow increases and sucks another half ton of trash straight back in. My day is spent patrolling the gates and hatches sending one lot after another on their way downstream. Why bother? You may well ask. To enable the flow to do its work and clear out the mud and weed from the river bed. If left water upstream of blocked gates quickly rises and spills over the banks dissipating its flow in the process. Once we have scoured the gravels its fine to allow it to carry its silt burden out onto the flood plain but first it must collect the mud and rubbish to do its work. Once again a potential downside is that it risks taking the salmon redds that were so recently laid down with it. As we stand at present the flow hasn't reached that critical point and the eggs remain safely within the gravel mounds. Fingers crossed it remains in that happy state of balance.
Yet another downside to storms Dylan and Eleanor as the ancient oaks give up their grip on life. Fortunately the roads were empty at the time, although Andrew probably needed removing from his lounge ceiling having that mighty oak crash down just yards from his front door.
Rafts of weed heading downstream to block every hatch and culvert. Its a time when we could actually do with more swans to break up the masses of weed and enble it to pass through the hatches. Unfortunately the twenty or so resisent pairs will not tolerate the flocks of non-breeders anywhere near the river or carriers in the heart of the estate.
As its the first of the new year I feel that an entry should be added if only as an update on river conditions for any members heading this way. As can be seen the oxbow has an extra couple of feet in it but in the background the river is well within its banks. It is carrying plenty of colour and today the water temperature was in the region of eight degrees celsius, which means everything should be on the feed if you can just find them. It also gives me the opportunity to test the new HTML page!