Avon Diary 2007

Stonehenge

What tales of the catchment might this place tell

(All photographs on this site will enlarge if left clicked)



30th December

My chub fishing failed to materialise into anything other than a fruitless couple of hours looking at a rising river under a cold clear sky; very disappointing. The heavy rain of the previous evening had run through the system which at least allowed a visit today in search of a pike.

An extremely misty start in the middle river didnít clear until mid morning and the anglers who had travelled from outside the valley assured me of a very hard frost where the mist didnít hold it at bay. Three hours before lunch without as much as a twitch so a change of venue was considered necessary.

Judging by the number of cars parked at Ibsley some one must be catching! It didnít take long to discover that most of the cars belonged to "Twitchers" rushing around the area in an attempt to get five herons in a day. I should add five different species of heron not five old "Jacks" It would seem we have a Cattle egret that has arrived at Harbridge, along with the Great White Egret that lives over the lakes, the Little Egrets, Grey Herons and finally a Bittern has turned up during the cold weather. It all points to the changing climatic conditions we are currently enjoying with these warmer winters. With spoonbills establishing down the road at Poole Harbour and Glossy Ibis being sighted more frequently, our avian visitors become more exotic by the day. That certainly applies to the Goosander population, mid winter roost counts are now in the 60ís on the Blashford Lakes.

As for my pike fishing, it followed the pattern of the morning trip with the exception of a fourteen pounder that should have weighed twenty. That poor old pike was not long for this world and it left little enthusiasm for more fishing so I walked the middle reaches to see how others had fared.

Martin Pollock landing a chub

Martin landing a chub; hooked mid stream in the main flow, four landed and four lost a good result under such conditions. Traditional Avon trotting, donít be shy with the shot you need it to get down to the fish.

28th December

A mild, overcast and squally day, ideal conditions for the valley to fish well and for those I spoke to it certainly did. The strong winds and under-tow woke up the larger carp around the lakes and the regulars made the best of it with several 20's being landed. The chub and dace have continued to feed and I would imagine the barbel will be active if you can locate them. If my luck holds I will have a go for the chub in the morning.

Common carp A thirty pound mirror

Sam did well! 24 and 28 pound commons plus a 31.12 mirror.

27th December

I trust everyone made the most of and thoroughly enjoyed their Christmas and are ready for the New Year! Judging by the number of anglers out today and yesterday everybody must have gone to the sales. Those that have ventured out have been met with very different conditions from cold, clear and dropping, through to coloured and rising.

Once the lakes had thawed out on Christmas Day anglers have drifted back to meet with varied success, most struggling but here have been one or two low double carp and a few bream. Perhaps the best sport was with the roach and rudd, no real size up to about half a pound but plenty of bites to single and double maggot fished off the bottom close to cover.

Chub

The rivers have been a little more productive on the chub front with fish over seven pounds gracing the bank and we continue to see numbers of five and six pound fish. There have been one or two anglers who have continued to catch the barbel with doubles coming out with frost still on the grass, and water temperature just over 40ļ turning accepted practice on its head. Perhaps the most successful rod of recent days has captured barbel from two different areas of the estate with fish of 13.8 and on another day two doubles. He has also managed one or two other fish, all falling to huge lumps of luncheon meat big enough to choke a donkey, so much for perceived wisdom.

Salmon kelts continue to drop down stream accompanied by the seatrout kelts that which are feeding freely particularly for the anglers trotting maggot. Please take care as these fish have recently undergone the stresses of spawning and are not in peak condition. Plenty of dace are making trotting a pleasure once the shoals have been located and if luck smiles the odd roach ad grayling are showing up. All in all despite the changeable conditions well worth getting out, keep your fingers crossed you may enjoy some great Avon sport.

23rd December

Looks as if the lads who fished last night on the lakes looked at the same local weather forecast as I did; I bet that came as a bit of a shock this morning.

Iced over

Iced in

21st December

The search goes on, alas with a similar result as the previous week, still no cutting fish. Perhaps a little surprisingly in such a high flow season we have good numbers of fish down with us in the lower catchment. The good flows of the summer brought the fish into the river and we have good reports of fish moving into the higher catchment in the past month so perhaps we have a good spread of fish throughout the river. Its a pity we do not understand the significance of the chosen spawning sites and just what determines which fish spawns where; lots of hypothesis but very little hard fact I fear.

Despite the cold today's walk beside the river was very enjoyable, several anglers braving the elements to stop and natter with most of whom seem to be finding a chub or two and getting the odd knock to keep up the interest. The chub is very often taken for granted but when unfavourable conditions set in we are extremely glad of them and the chub population is at an all time high so make the most of them.

Salmon redd Salmon kelt Avon meander stranded ewe

Redds, kelts and anglers to chat with made for an interesting walk. One other sight that you may see if you are out and about in the next month or two and that is the mothers to be getting stuck on their backs and unable to right themselves. Stop and give them a hand and give them a minute or two to find their balance as they invariably have mega "pins and needles".

20th December

Frosty sunrise Cold sunset

A cold start and finish to the day

I am getting reports of cutting salmon up and down the river but I am still unable to find a pair in the actual process to get some pics. I keep finding cock fish on guard over the completed redds but no hens; should any readers have a pair in action I would appreciate a call on the mobile 07836688908 if its possible for me to get some photos.

19th December

Folds Farm Carriers Dace fishing

The carriers at Folds Farm where the salmon have been cutting and Colin Gilson landing a dace which with the odd roach are still feeding well in the Middle Avon. I will give more background to these pics when time permits.

17th December

High water New hatch gate

First we had the floods and then the cold arrived but the new hatches now installed for the water level management regime have made flooding the meadows a far easier task.

Frosty mornings Early daffodil Ice throughout the day

Frosty days didn't stop the daffs in my garden from flowering, the lakes even froze briefly all adding up to a very strange set of conditions over the last ten days.

9th December

Storm damage

A result of the recent stormy weather

7th December

The continued high water required a morning visit to check the hatch gates and also provided an opportunity to take the water temperature. Since the trust part funded the "Anthropogenic Temperature Study" on the Avon I have kept a very close eye on the water temperature. One of the findings of the study which was carried out by Dr David Solomon, was the gradual rise in water temperature as the water made its way down the catchment. From my daily dabblings this effect is more apparent during the summer but we are still almost a degree Celsius cooler than the Knapp Mill temperature which is always available on the counter website as a baseline to work from. I always use two thermometers tied at opposite ends of the same piece of string which allows me to suspend them side by side mid water column out of direct sun; spirit and mercury always ensures an independent check on the themometers. The most noticeable thing about the present water temperature is that we are above 10 degrees C at nine in the morning probably peaking at 12 or so mid afternoon on a mild day such as today. To be recording such temperatures at this time of year is totally confusing as the summer species are feeding as freely as the winter species we normally target; trotting for roach or dace with lighter tackle becomes quite a gamble as barbel and carp seem to be taking as freely as ever.

What this high water also means is that our salmon and seatrout have had plenty of opportunity this season to reach the spawning grounds and the photo below, of a salmon ascending a weir in the Salisbury area, was sent to me by John Slader. It is always an exciting spectacle to watch as these fish jump the obstacles on their way but the real joy of this photo is that it shows a lovely condition hen fish nearing the end of her journey. To see no signs of damage or disease on a fish so high in the river is a very real pleasure and we hope the last week or two before she cuts her redd is similarly kind to her.

High water temperature Jumping salmon

6th December

I think this must be one of the longest periods without a diary entry, at least due to lack of time. Where to start, there seems to be a never ending list of jobs and a river in lovely condition that I am unable to get to fish. Low flows and abstraction meetings, invasive weed seminars, bird counts, planning appeals and storm damage making for excessive calls on my time. Good flow clearing the weed and rubbish, good colour sending down plenty of food and providing cover with a water temperature now over 10 degrees Centigrade. Given the conditions we hoped the valley would produce some super fish and sure enough massive carp and chub and the few hardy barbel anglers who have persevered have managed one or two fish. After several good fish into the low 20ís during the recent cold spell the coloured water seems to have put pay to piking. Hopefully we will see a few more clear spells this winter to give the pike anglers a reasonable chance again. The change of conditions have brought out the roach anglers and rumours of some reasonable bags with one or two very large fish being caught gives real encouragement.

Pike on Gathering storm

Pike fishing has been brought to an abrupt end by the coloured water. More rain on the way by the look of the gathering clouds.

27th November

Busy times as the river drops back and allows us the opportunity to sort out one or two of the problems the recent flood water created. Pleasingly the anglers trotting maggot for the dace and chub are reporting good numbers of seatrout caught by accident. I have yet to see any of these fish myself but I would imagine they are fish that have finished spawning and are feeding greedily in an effort to get back into condition as quickly as possible.

Blocked hatch gates Using a pulley system Bridge watching Playing a good fish

The hatches still blocked but the water has dropped sufficiently to allow us to have a go at clearing them. The first photo shows the problem with the bulk of the obstruction just visible under water. Darren can be seen using a five pulley system giving us the necessary force to move the obstruction. Once we had cleared the gates and reset the hatches we had a half hour wait for the water levels to settle down; a good opportunity for a little bridge watching. I don't know what Chris thought he was going to do with that net but from up on the bridge we could see the size of the barbel Colin was playing and it wasn't going to fit in there!! Plenty of dace and the chub are showing well in some areas and just to cheer Colin up; that barbel, which came off, was a good double; I could hazzard a guess as to how close to fourteen I think it was but that would be unfair!!

19th November

The river remains in a very changable mood, the rapidly rising water of the Forest streams continued throughout yesterday with the main river reacting today. The Forest streams peaked at midnight and as can be seen from the first photograph have dropped back two or three feet, the people in the Renault must have had quite a shock when the water hit the windscreen. It is a serious point not to under-estimate the power of quick rising flood water, if in doubt stay out! What was noticeable today was the lack of seatrout on the move, they may have gone last night or they may know something we don't and are yet to join us, lets hope its one or the other and they are out there somewhere. The only pair we saw today were actually using the Renault as cover and when you think about it what more perfect design could you come up with. Large covered area supported on four corners with spoilers in the front to provide a smooth laminar flow; I should quickly add that I am not advocating driving all your old cars into the river throughout the length and breadth of the land.

The main channel has coloured up and brought down the accummulated debris of the summer leaving two sets of hatches blocked. One set cleared quite easily as it was a single large pollard that was easily levered on its way. The other set have a tree with multiple trunks and the complete root system swept through three seperate gates preventing them being closed to relieve the pressure; I think we will have this tree until the flood subsides.

Swept away Blocked hatch

Large metal debris and a seriously blocked hatch

18th November

New Forest stream in spate

We didn't have long to wait for the Autumn rain! The New Forest streams came up rapidly Sunday morning which should be just perfect for the seatrout to reach their redds

17th November

The sudden arrival of the frosts of the past couple of nights has certainly brought some equally rapid changes to the face of some sections of river. One particular area of water-meadow carrier has gone from a choked mass of Fool's Water-cress (Apium nodiflorum) to a stream of considerable overall benefit to the fishery. The summer marginal growth in some areas of the rich lowland valley of the Avon is bordering on rampant, in that unless it is given continuous attention it soon takes over. In this case Fool's cress but Nature has designed several other plants to achieve a similar outcome, bur-reed (Sparganium erectum) or Common reed (Phragmites australis) any one of these plants seems set on closing down and choking cannels with the objective of raising summer water levels and trapping silt. Almost Nature's answer to the EA's Flood Defence section who spend their entire being striving to lower water levels and speed the water to the sea.

What this weed cover clearly illustrates is the diversity that can be found not only between rivers but within the same catchment. Headwaters cry out for weed cover and higher flows through tended weed beds where we hear of conflicts arising from grazing swans and heavy footed cattle. Oh how we could do with a few more swans and an aquatic herd of cattle to keep on top of the summer's weed growth. Due to the way we manage our swan population, by allowing a dominant pair to establish a territory and thus keep out the herds of non-breeders and juveniles, fails to provide sufficient birds to crop the margins leaving us to deal with tons of floating weed when the frosts knock back the seasons growth.

This sudden movement of weed also raised the issue of fish movement within the system as several species were caught up in and being transported downstream with the floating mass of roots stems and stalks. 0+ and 1+ dace and chub plus dozens of minnows and gudgeon, there were also two or three bream roach hybrids which is slightly depressing to think we may lose the purity of the Avon roach. I don't think these fish are lost to the system they just travel downstream to a point where they decide to abandon ship and take up residence in a new home. The issue here is once more the problem of upstream migration for the spawning adults to get back upstream to compensate for this downstream movement. The sooner someone sets an example and builds a cyprinid friendly fish pass the better, saying that I believe areas of Europe are littered with them.

Weed choked carrier Blocked hatches weed on the move Swans eating Fool's cress

Fool's Cress blocking the channel slowing the flow, raising the water-level and settling out tons of silt. The weed that has been loosened by the recent hard frosts moving downstream, blocking hatches and translocating fish. Half a dozen of our 150 swans doing a fine job of eating the marginal stands of choking weed.

15th November

Ready for the floods

Interesting photo; new hatch gates, pollard trimmed back and our neighbour Mark has been up and cleaned out the laterals on the watermeadows. Everything is looking as it should except the water is as low and clear as I have every seen it at this time of year. If this lack of autumn rain continues much longer we will have the worries of a low recharge winter rearing its ugly head. We are now entering a period when the low flows are beginning to change the normal pattern of events and one such seasonal event that I always look forward to at this time of year is the seatrout running into the New Forest streams to spawn. When we do get the rain in sufficient volume to raise the rivers anyone in the vacinity of the streams should make the effort to try and spot these fabulous seatrout with numerous double figure fish desperate to complete their reproductive cycle.

Events usually transpire to go from drought to raging flood, too coloured and high to even get a glimpse of the running fish but its always worth a visit.

7th November

Little change, the river remains low and clear with fishing being a matter of concentrating on the last knockings. There are still reasonable numbers of fish coming out throughout the day but the last hour is the best bet for barbel and roach.

Above the hatches The Trout Stream A good common carp

Above the hatches is providing great dace fishing with the roach showing under ovecast conditions and last knockings. The Trout Stream looking lovely but far too low and clear to be producing a great deal. The photo of a 20+ common caught by Ian Merriott doesn't do this lovely chocolate coloured fish justice. The lake that produced this fish is clear and shallow which gives rise to these secretive dark carp; real stalking with bubblers being the order of the day.

2nd November

Sorry for the downtime, this file has become a little unwealdy which has required me having a sort out. You will see that this section of the diary now only contains the previous two months, there is a link at the bottom of the page to the earlier part of the year January to September or the file can be found in the "news" page.

Sunset over the lakes

Who needs fish?

We are now experiencing the lowest flows of the year just at a time when we would normally be expecting the green waters of the Avon to be pushing through clearing the summers weed. With a flow in the region of 9 cumecs and the water remaining gin clear conditions are difficult, unless of course you are a dace angler when you will be having a field day. Huge bags of dace with a scattering of roach with the odd barbel or chub coming to those who adopt a stealthy approach or await the cover of darkness. I have heard of several good perch coming out which is always nice to see as Avon perch with their bold colours are beautiful fish that fit well with the autumn colours.

The stillwaters hae also slowed considerably but that has to be viewed in relation to what has become the norm on the lakes these days. It is still possible to catch roach and rudd all day and you would be unlucky not to get one or two decent sized fish amongst them. The larger carp are still coming out but as with the rivers a little more thought and a stealthy approach pays dividends.

Pollards Juvenile Barn Owl A good mirror

(L)The continued dry weather has at least allowed us to get on and clear the pollards. (M) "How many of these do you need for a pie?" - fear not we're both schedule one licenced. What is interesting about the young owl is that it is the second brood at that site. If you look back to June 17th you will see us ringing the first brood.(R) Luke Hirst showing a little thought can still produce a "whacker"

24th October

Award poster

I hope regular readers have noticed the addition of the "Tesco Award" page now added to the news index, it can also be accessed from the "Home" page. We must thank committee member Trevor Harrop for the lovely art work, extremely handy having a professional illustrator on board! Spread the word re the award as it is a great initiative to bring the wonders of the riverine world into a higher profile especially with the younger generation.

Misty dawn Pollarding willows

with a cold frosty start to the day it is an ideal time to get the tree work of the coming winter underway, there's nothing like a good bonfire to keep the chill away. It may appear a little early to be pollarding willows but if the ground is prone to flooding the earlier it can be achieved the better. With the last decade of warmer winters here in the valley it is important to get as much of the tree and brash clearance done before the turn of the year. Once we are in the New Year mallard and one or two of the resident songbirds will be starting to nest, I have found mallard eggs in December but January now sees them on a regular basis along with the robins and occasional blackbird.

19th October

I mentioned yesterday chub in excess of eight pounds and the photo below is that of an extremely happy angler having just landed one. What can I say? the photo says it all, well done Budgie.

Huge chub

"Budgie" looking justifiably pleased with himself.

Thursday 18th October

Just to let readers know I am still here. The autumn change over is now complete and we are enjoying some wonderful weather and conditions that are providing Avon fishing at its very best. Large barbel, huge chub to over 8 pounds but perhaps the most reminiscent of days gone by are the large catches of dace that are once more being enjoyed throughout the river. Catches, to anglers trotting with the pin, of over 50 pounds of "Avon herrings" are a sight for sore eyes and equally as pleasing there are one or two roach starting to show in these fabulous bags. Unfortunately none of these wonderful catches have been as a result of my efforts but I am definately going to get out and have a go in the next week or two so watch this space.

Park Oxbow naturalising well

A shot of my favourite tree down in Park Oxbow showing how well the recently cleared channels are greening-up. We had another otter run over on the road at Ibsley this week, bringing to four killed this year on a two mile stretch of road, lets hope it wasn't the occupant of our holt that is constructed just below the tree in the photo.

8th October

I have added an update to the egg-box scheme that project leader Jon Bass gave at the recent Avon Salmon Group meeting at Blandford. I have deliberately added it as a diary entry and also on the eggbox page to ensure readers do not miss such an exemplary piece of work headed by Jon.

Eggbox update


Release site Release site inSeptember

(Left)View downstream covering about half the release site for 2,198 swim-up salmon fry (March-April 2007). (Right)September - same release reach (closer view) later in the year

Eggbox update Eggbox update Eggbox update

(Left)Monthly mapping of river habitats (displayed as % areas present), used to assess changes in suitability for developing salmon parr.
(Middle) The release site was divided into reaches (identified by numbering the fence posts).In each of 8 reaches (not all are shown) the % cover of in-river habitats were assessed by eye and recorded each month. For clarity - the main habitats and their locations are shown on the slide. Water Crowfoot (dark green) increased slightly in area between April and May, but is less prolific than would be expected in this type of stream. As stream discharge fell the marginal vegetation wss expected to spread into the stream, tending to maintain water depth and speed whilst increasing cover, helping young fish to avoid predation.
(Right)Numbered fence posts indicated (c. 3.5m apart on the right) Downstream section (of 8 sections mapped)

Eggbox update Eggbox update

(Left) Bournemouth University staff: Rob Britton (left) and Rodolphe Gozlan recording HABSCORE data (habitat suitability score for salmonids). The release site was assessed at 12 points along the 200m length of stream.
(Right)Bold text - the only frequent habitat types available - Note HABSCORE set up for salmonids >10cm - not parr, habitat suitability assessment will take account of this

Eggbox update Eggbox update Eggbox update

ASG discussion points.
The high survival rate of emerging swim-up fry demonstrated the eggs were fertile, egg-box management and water quality were appropriate at the selected site.
Moving forward - a modest increase of the project to use three egg boxes was proposed and agreed. Details - discussed between Jon Bass, Andy Martin, Graham Lightfoot (in early August). The subsequent monitoring of released parr is a costly but most critical requirement of the project. The purpose of the project was again emphasised: its purpose is to see whether suitable river reaches are capable of yielding a higher density of salmon parr than is generally found (i.e., compared with the average - c.3 per 100 square metres - recorded at the EA long-term monitoring sites). Previous studies have predicted that salmon egg survival in Avon redds is relatively low (15-35%) and constrained by fine sediment infill to natural redds. What is not clear is whether this alone is responsible for the low densities of salmon parr recorded. Robust evidence is required before more effective interception/prevention of fine sediment run-off is managed/imposed.

7th October

WeBs.

I failed to mention last week that the WeBs counts were underway again, designed to collect invaluable information related to the state of the wetland bird populations nationally. WeBS actually is the acronym for Wetland Bird Survey which is a survey supported by the BTO, WWT, RSPB and the Joint Nature Council. What it involves is on one day a month, for the seven months of the winter, counters walking, observing and recording the species present. The annual count provides figures that allow management and planning, so vital, to ensure the conservation of the birds involved and the protection of their essential habitats.

Heron

Whilst out last weekend juggling pencil, pad, glasses and binoculars it became very apparent just how little information related to the fish populations we, that profess to protect the riverine environment, actually have at our disposal. We would do well to take a leaf from the bird worldís book and develop monitoring techniques to give us the information on which to base our management decisions.

Whilst the lot of counting birds is a great deal easier than counting fish the knowledge does exist that if properly collated, would provide a wealth of valuable information about in river fish populations. The bird world for instance has the nesting sites known and where ever possible fully protected, migration routes are known and vital sanctuaries established along the way and the over wintering sites are similarly protected and conserved.

Fry shoals in the shallows Spawning sites

Fry in the shallows and spawning sites

What do we know about our fish, we know where the salmon and seatrout spawn but of the cyprinid populations virtually nothing. One of the problems of fish counting is that under the current strategy it is labour intensive and involves electrocuting the very species you are trying to protect. Whilst I hear all the arguments from the scientific community that electrocuting fish in the "correct way", following laid down best practice procedures does no harm. There is however something bordering on a paradox about rendering ones wards unconscious for their own good. The number of chub that I have seen killed and barbel deformed tells me all is not well. It is an often referred to quote that the scientist is the most destructive of all species that impact upon the species.

How do we monitor our populations if we are not going to electrocute them? Hugh Miles, Trust Vice President, film maker extraordinaire and all round good egg put together a video of some of his amazing underwater footage shot whilst engaged in the production of his latest masterpiece. Hugh kindly allowed me to send the footage to the EA as a suggested form of monitoring our clear chalkstreams; I have yet to hear any feedback. To give an idea of the potential have a look at Jeff Coultasís great website - http://jeffish.co.uk/ - and you will see the definition that is possible. Whilst walking beside the river counting birds last week I came to the conclusion that I could just as well be counting and recording fish. We are fortunate in the chalkstreams that we have prolonged periods of gin clear water that allows us to view the fish in their natural environment. My walk beside five miles of river would have produced counts of thousands of dace, with pleasing numbers of 8 to 10 ounce roach, dozens of large chub and thousand of second, third and fourth year class fish with large numbers of barbel for good measure. Add to this several carp, three salmon, two seatrout, a good shoal of perch and two pike reasonable pike and for a walk when my main area of concentration was above my head I had a pretty good idea of fish numbers and particularly year classes. If you combine experienced observers with rod catches though out the year what is actually lacking is the mechanism to collate this information. In the bird world the data collected by the 3000 WeBS observers is collected together and published every year in a superb book. From this information population trends can be determined and plans formulated to safeguard the species involved.

3+ chub Mature chub Mature dace Stillwater carp

Juvenile and mature chub, Avon dace and stillwater carp.

What we need is a catchment recorder or archivist, just as they have on a county basis for the birds, who can do just such a job for the river. I am fed up with asking the EA for this information, whilst they are forthcoming with what limited data they have it has to be brought down of the shelves where it sits gathering dust and is then qualified with so many caveats as to be worthless. Why isnít there a map of the spawning sites of the cyprinids and the requirements of those sites? depth, flow, weed cover all the variables should be available and when the flood defence department wish to put another scheme through the most productive roach spawning site on the Avon it will be available and have to be heeded or mitigated. At the click of a switch, or should I say mouse, an electronic record should be available for each and every river in the country showing spawning, juvenile and adult locations and habitats for every species from sticklebacks to salmon. Well, not quite sticklebacks but you know what I mean. This can only be achieved on a catchment basis and the mechanism to implement such a scheme does not exist within the EA so if such a scheme is deemed desirable it will have to be a ngo initiative.

The most important element of any monitoring system which I have yet to mention is to ensure there is a complimentary strategy formulated to react to the findings. If there is not to be an agreed strategy of support or further research monitoring for monitoringís sake is worse than useless it merely absorbs valuable resources.

2nd October

Thanks to Martin de Retuerto of the Living River Project for today's entry. I have put a page on the "News" section containing this piece and will add to it when we have further news related to the problem of non-native introductions.

Living River Logo

The Living River Project - The River Avon System Non-native Invasive Plant Strategy

Introduction

The Living River Project is an exciting £1 m project focusing on the River Avon and its catchment in Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset and will involve people throughout the catchment with the conservation of its natural heritage. The project will tell the story of the river system and how its exceptional natural heritage has developed alongside the world famous cultural heritage of the area. It will invest resources from a range of partners in long-lasting improvements to biodiversity and access and will use innovative methods to engage audiences across the catchment and secure their support for its conservation. Its goal is to improve the river and wetland environment through both practical work and by increasing local understanding of the river system.

Non-native Invasive Plant Species on the River Avon System

The presence of non-native invasive plants is identified as a significant threat to the characteristic species and habitats of the River Avon. Their impact and management is a major concern due to the dominant behaviour and difficulty to control once established. Three of the most infamous bankside species are now established within the river valley, largely down to the favourable conditions that river corridors provide for their arrival and spread. These include Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) and Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) respectively. They may not impact directly on the composition of in-channel macrophyte communities, but influence conditions in the following ways:

This alteration in habitat structure and biological communities is known to impact directly on salmonid fisheries for which the Avon is a prestigious & lucrative river for its brown trout and salmon fisheries. As well as hindering conservation efforts & the viability for angling the presence of these plant species pose great management and access concerns if left uncontrolled.

Aquatic species of non-native plants are locally present within still and slow-flowing habitats, particularly in the Blashford and Ringwood areas, although they are not known to have impacted the main river habitat yet. Nevertheless, the extensive ditch network and expanse of New Forest streams, largely confined to the Hampshire extent of the floodplain, provides a significant risk for transfer and colonisation. Key species include Australian swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii), floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) and parrotís feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum). These species pose the following effects:

Himalayan balsam Himalayan balsam flower Japanese knot weed Discussing aliens

(Left to Right)Himalayan balsam at Quidhampton on the Nadder, close-up of a balsam flower, Japanese Knotweed and Martin de Retuerto, Pete Reading and Darren Smith discussing the problem at Blashford.

A Strategy for the River Avon Catchment

Stark lessons are to be learned from the River Frome in neighbouring Dorset where ten years ago Himalayan balsam was present in small patches. Left uncontrolled it has established itself into vast swathes of bankside monocultures and is now prohibitively costly to eradicate.

Learning from the experiences of other projects in the UK the project will develop and demonstrate a strategic approach to dealing with invasive plants across the catchment, that engages stakeholders in planning, action and monitoring, and will be sustainable after the project has finished. The experiences gained will be transferable to watercourses throughout the UK and Europe. The programme will produce:

Progress in 2007

This year has focussed on two elements; raising awareness and ground-truthing. The latter has involved a systematic survey of much of the river to update records held by the respective county biological record centres. This will enable the prioritisation of control efforts from next year onwards. All anglers and visitors to the river are encouraged to submit their sightings of non-native plants using the following link. [INSERT LINK]

The project is currently working with fisheries across the entire catchment to establish a coordinated programme of control activities for summer 2008.

For further details contact

Martin de Retuerto - Wessex Chalk Streams Project

Tel: 01380 737008
Email: martin.deretuerto@naturalengland.org.uk

Other links:

Info on Living River Project, target invasive plants, how to spot them and what to do www.livingriver.org.uk/what_can_do/go_for_walk

NOTE: Link to online reporting form to follow (currently under construction)

Target Description

GIS databases of invasive non-native plants, based at a single county biological records centres and kept up to date

Database shall collate all three respective county records (Wiltshire, Hampshire & Dorset) in compatible formats. Data will be used to manage existing affected sites & identify new sites. Current information is inconsistent and not available in one accessible format. As part of a comprehensive awareness raising programme people will be encouraged to submit records of target species.

Creation of a self-sustaining Stakeholder Forum, tackling issues independently & using demonstration projects for reference

Forum will assist in developing a 20-year catchment wide action plan and be self-sustaining after completion of the Living River Project. Membership will consist of all key stakeholders and will drive the implementation and prioritisation for tackling control and raising awareness.

A 20-year catchment wide plan for the eradication of Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam.

Overseen by the stakeholder forum the plan will take a strategic approach and be the driver for dissemination of control activities. It will be realistic and practical.

Two demonstration projects (Salisbury District & Blashford, Ringwood) Based locally demonstration projects will be focus areas for targeting control activities during the life of the Living River project and act as pilots for implementing work throughout the wider catchment. Working closely with stakeholders (e.g. fishing clubs, landowners, local authorities, NGOs etc) awareness raising will be comprehensively delivered using a variety of formats with a programme for physical control undertaken using volunteers.

Contacts

Martin de Retuerto (Invasive plants lead)
Wessex Chalk Streams Project (Wiltshire Wildlife trust)
Tel: 01380 737008
Email: martin.deretuerto@naturalengland.org.uk

Sarah Yarrow (Project Manager)
Living River Project
Tel: 01722 334856
Email: sarah.yarrow@naturalengland.org.uk

Martin Gilchrist (Project Officer)
Living River Project
Tel: 01722 334856
Email martin.gilchrist@naturalengland.org.uk

23rd September

First flight Wildfowling

All is not as simple at it first appears

Misty mornings with the goose population heading out for the stubble fields to finish the last of the autumn bounty. Whilst it makes an atmospheric photo the subject of the valley goose population is an extremely problematic one. Only two or three decades ago, in the part of the Lower Avon Valley with which I am familiar, geese were far from frequent visitors. The late 70's and early 80's saw their numbers increase dramatically and they have continued to expand their population to the present day when we have over 600 in this section of the valley. Over grazing not only creating changes in the available food source for traditional grazers, cattle and sheep but the historic winter visiting Whitefronts and Bewicks, also the problem of foul grassland when the breeding flocks concentrate in one area they end up smelling like a chicken shed. They do at least provide some good wildfowling even if the resultant meat is best mixed with plenty of belly pork and seasoning and turned into sausages. Unfortunately at the rate we are shooting them they are more than keeping pace. We will have to resort to removing, oiling and pricking eggs if we are ever going to achieve a reduction in the population.

We have the Wessex Water Company contractors surveying river profiles to provide information for runs of the Ground Water Model to interpret and assess the impact of local abstraction points on the river height and the flow regime. This is all part of the Ground Water Model that has been produced by the Water Companies in partnership with the environmental regulators the Environment Agency and Natural England to evaluate abstraction throughout the catchment. There is currently a rising unease at the closeness of the association between the regulators and those to be regulated with regard to the critical parameters that will decide what is deemed acceptable with regard to abstraction. Whilst it is extremely difficult to find the funding from an independent source and the water companies have to meet the demands of legislation that require thorough investigations the regulators must not only ensure their independence but be seen to remain independent of commercial pressures. The parameters that are set to safeguard our riverine environment must be clearly backed by sound scientific research and peer reviewed, guesswork and historic practice will definately not suffice.

River survey Fly fishing for bass

Unravelling the complexities of abstraction and always an option if they get it wrong

20th September

Thanks to Pete Reading who has sent me this lovely photo of this 14 pound plus fish from the Middle Avon. Fourteen pounds or four this is a fin perfect specimen, I would imagine this fish would be every barbel anglers dream it certainly inspires me to try and catch one or two this season. You can find out more of Pete's exploits on his diary on the Barbel Society webpage.

Peter Reading 14 pound barbel

18th September

A cold north west wind and a clear night made for a very cold, bright start to the day. Despite the cold it didn't stop a hardy trout rod from visiting one of the stillwaters in the hope of a rainbow. I didn't have the time to stop to see if he met with any success but a look in the shed at the returns book confirmed the trout are still providing some excellent sport.

Do you recognise the subject in the second photo and if you recognise it can you see what's missing? I wont keep you in suspense, it's a cowpat and a subject that has provided me with much thought in recent weeks. What's missing are the huge swarms of dung flies that used to keep a constant buzz in the cow fields, orange winged blue bottles and dung beetles that I always associated with the cowpats "when I were a lad". We all bemoan the missing upwing ephemerals and the threatened salmon and roach stocks but who will campaign for the missing cowpat population? Its so elementary, there has to be a simple answer which may be the key to understanding the more complex interactions that are giving rise to the problems in our rivers. The previous generation of cattle wormers gave rise to similar concerns related to the residue of the chemical passing through the animal and entering the delicate food chains that were reliant on the by-products of the dairy industry. Is there a similar problem with the current generation or is there a more complex explanation? Whatever the cause of the lack of flies and their associated grubs and maggots, they are absent, as such are not available for the juvenile waders in the watermeadows and perhaps contributing to their crash in numbers.

Trout fishing A cowpat

A cold morning and there are no flies on that one - and there should be!

16th September

Time continues to be at a premium and with the dry weather continuing we are making the best of the good ground conditions to get some of the heavy work completed before the rains arrive. The set of photographs below typify the work that keeps me away from the river.

Sart the winch Chaining down Safely on-board Time for a breather

The winching and chaining of our fallen oak was always going to be an interesting exercise and I was glad to see that particular stick safely on its way.

14th September

A mixed bag of goings-on, the first photo shows a colony of Sand Martins that decided to excavate their nest holes in the soft sand of the gravel company stock heaps. Tarmac and their contractors Hydrex deserve congratulations for permitting the birds to occupy the site and allowing them the time to rear their broods. For the three months involved the stock heaps stood idle and the huge earth moving equipment has avoided the area to reduce the risk of sand slips that as can be seen in the photograph have swept down either side of the colony. How the birds knew that particular section was going to remain sound is a mystery we will never understand, luck or natural engineers?

The second illustrates how clear the river is at present and just how many chub of varying sizes are to be found in every run and stream. The chub population of the Avon is enormous with good year class recruitment visible everwhere.

The last two show the Environment Agency contractors starting work on the water level control structures that will ensure the fields will retain sufficient water height to attract the waders back into the valley to breed.

Sandmartin colony Juvenile chub Starting on the hatches Working on the hatches

10th September

Buff Tip caterpillars stripping every leaf from one of the young lime trees planted in the park. Why do they chose the vunerable young trees when the park has a couple of dozen mature specimens that wouldn't notice the loss of a few leaves? A shrew that had a lucky escape when we disturbed a tree that had fallen in the river, luckily Darren spotted him and placed him safely on a nearby stump.

The last photo is the result of my first barbel expedition of the season. With the autumnal feel of September I usually get the urge to fish the rivers as the barbel and chub are now back in prime condition and the ease of catching double figure carp in the stillwater is losing its appeal. What did I catch? A carp - they must follow me around.

Buff tip caterpillars Shrew Unexpected carp

2nd September

Iím playing catch-up once again, the end of the salmon season, the beginning of the wildfowl season and the river taking on its autumn garb, all in need of recording. Added to these we have the unscheduled events that make the Avon valley unique which are the true indicators of Natureís calendar.

The salmon season ended on a slightly subdued note in that the Avon grilse run failed to show in any numbers. I have heard that the Itchen rods are enjoying good numbers of fresh grilse entering the river. We will now have to wait until the counter results are published before we know if the Avon is enjoying a similar number of fish entering the system. Overall results for the season have shown a moderately good run of MSW fish able to enter the river and run upstream in the sustained summer flows. Rod caught fish numbers fail to accurately represent the run as rod effort has been so variable. Certainly effort more akin to that of the traditional rod list of past years would have produced considerably higher figures for Somerley. From my own experience this season I would imagine 50% higher results would have been easily witnessed. What does this mean for the recovery of the Avon salmon run? Very little I fear as we have enjoyed almost perfect conditions for the rods with good flows, overcast skies and reduced weed growth. My personal estimation would put the MSW run at that of last year with the grilse the unknown element yet to be determined. Of course we have seen a high average weight of fish and the ideal conditions have made being on the bank a real pleasure. Letís hope next season continues in a like vein and I look forward to seeing all the Somerley salmon rods in 2008.

Those of you that know the lakes and enjoy driving through the close cropped paddocks to reach the car parks will be sad to hear my lawn mowers once more are suffering the annual re-occurrence of that dreadful plague myxomatosis. Hopefully their resistance will continue to increase and we will see an end to this deliberately introduced disease. The suffering infected rabbits endure is not an unusual occurrence in Nature which is frequently referred to as being red in tooth and claw. The highly visual impact of "myxie" does however act as an annual reminder of mans exploitation of his environment. I had the equally distressing situation of a swan suffering the effect of "strike" to deal with yesterday when Ken from the swan rescue rang to tell me he had a report of an injured bird on the estate. With such a high swan population injuries through territorial disputes and power line collisions are frequent but it makes it no easier to understand Natures means of dealing with the situation. Strike is the result of blowflies laying their eggs on injured animals and the resulting maggots eating the creature alive. Death usually resulting when exhausted systems fail after several days of infestation. I have not included shots of the results of either distressing situation as they cannot convey the suffering involved, suffice to say we are becoming increasingly isolated and removed from the reality of Nature in our cosseted and sanitised society.

On a more pleasant note the swallows and martins are gathering in increasing numbers in readiness for their migration to the warmer climes of Africa. I always wish them well on their incredible journey and like salmon rods hope to see them all the following year.

Lawn mowers Swans Gathring martins

Rabbits mowing the paddocks in happier times. Swans facing natural perils and beyond Reg, playin a carp, can be seen the splashes of gathering martins as they dip onto the surface of the lake for a drink.

Avondiary2007jan-sept