Avon Diary 2005

In an effort to collect news and information that fails to fit neatly under any other heading this page will endeavour to keep abreast of matters of interest.

Hampshire Avon Weirpool

All photos will enlarge if left clicked.

30th December

The snow of yesterday evening has quickly turned to rain and a return to mild conditions, hopefully bringing a gentle recharge of the river and a tinge of colour to aid with the roach fishing. The five day forecast predicts mild conditions with little rain which should at least allow the recently cut redds the opportunity to establish and case harden before having to withstand scouring floods. We are in a very difficult position, requiring heavy rainfall before March to recharge the aquifers and reduce the risk of next summer low flows but not wishing to see a repeat of the spring floods of 2000/01 with the associated risk to cyprinid juveniles and the erosion of the salmonid redds.

Mute swan flock Bewick swans

Flocks of Mute Swans can give rise to problems when they move up out of the valley to graze on the surrounding pasture and arable land, a valley population in excess of 600 can eat a considerable amount of grass. The Bewicks have continued to arrive after their flight from Siberia, the number are up to nine today.

29th December 2005

The severe cold has gripped the valley for the past day or two with the frost staying on the ground all day. The diehard anglers who are still out there braving the elements are being rewarded with some magnificent chub and some reasonable pike but they are having to work hard for their catches. I tend to look out of the dining room window at my pond and if my fish are laying doggo I seldom face the river as the roach will be few and far between. That said having a day off I managed to borrow the receiver that picks up the tag signals that have been implanted into the salmon that are being studied this year (see research) and spent the day walking miles in an effort to find one or two before they drift back down stream as kelts. I did find one and it was reassuring to know that a fish tagged back in June or July has safely reached the redds and hopefully completed its task, ID 87 AtoD 72, I'll include the details of that fish when I get them. I must say I enjoyed finding that fish almost as much as getting a take from a fresh run springer, it was strangely satisfying to know that fish had made it up river.

My travels today have confimed my musing of the 24th,that an increased number of fish have cut low in the river this year, certainly more than I have seen in the past fifteen years. Hopefully they will have an equally successful hatch and juvenile survival. I also counted four Bewick swans with the eighty plus mutes today; their fluting calls as they fly in immediately let you know of their arrival. We don't see anything like the numbers that used to over winter in the valley. probably staying where they get free hand outs of food over in Norfolk and down on the Severn estuary.

Fish finding in the frost Garden pond

Bracken looking none too impressed by the prospect of a day working with that box of tricks, looking for tagged salmon. My garden pond with snow, ice and the fish fast asleep on the bottom, prospects on the river don't look very favourable.

27th December 2005

The low, clear river conditions have meant spotting the salmon redds is an easy task this year and certainly the area of the Middle Avon I watch has more fish than normal. We are now seeing the kelts appearing and starting their downstream drift of which, we are told, only six percent of the hens are likely to survive to spawn again.

Head of dead cock salmon

This dead kelt illustrates the business end of a cock salmon designed for the specific purpose of defending his dominance on the redd, chasing and slashing at his challengers.

24th December 2005

Perhaps the most critical time in the salmon calendar is now upon us, the fish have matured and are looking for sites to cut their redds and get on with spawning. Early fish may have reached the upper catchment with the rain in the first few days of December but since then the river has cleared and dropped, that of course means there has been little subsequent upstream movement. This gives rise to some interesting questions about the fish currently cutting in the Middle Avon; are they fish that have returned to their natal gravel and would not have run higher even if conditions allowed or are they making the best of it and getting on with it in the best available sites. That leads on to questions related to the use of redds in the same site year after year, to my knowledge the redd in the photograph below has been used at least for the last fifteen years with only one or two missed years. The pair of fish this year were 2SW fish which is the norm but the accuracy of the cutting is extraordinary in the decade and a half I have observed this site a dining table would comfortably cover the total area used. One other redd in use this year I first observed in 1979, a slightly greater area has been used but that is a main channel site. Five hundred meters upstream of the redd in the photograph three years ago another historic site was the focus of a well intentioned habitat improvement exercise; that redd has not been used since! So are these fish a distinct Middle Avon population or are salmon extremely sensitive to choice of redd site picking up indicators we are no as yet able to discern?

salmon redd salmon hiding under ranunculas

A good redd in a historic site beside a holly bush and just downstream of a deeper glide. The cock fish still on guard took refuge under a clump of ranunculas when I disturbed him, emphasising the importance of cover.

20th December 2005.

Hard overnight frosts have brought temperatures down to a low of minus 5 degrees centigrade which is as low as we have recorded to-date this winter. The cress has succumbed to the frosts and the channels are looking as clear as I've seen them for several years. We are getting to the stage where we need to see several weeks of steady rain if we are to recharge the aquifers. There's still plenty of time but if we are to have a fishable river it needs to arrive on a little and often basis not in one torrent wiping out fishing for weeks to come.

Icicles on the eel stage Fallow deer

Icicles hanging from the back of the eel stage after the coldest night so far this winter. Fallow deer puzzled by my activities in the stream looking for seatrout redds.

Saturday 17th December 2005

The rain and high water now seems a distant memory as the river falls back and clears. The clear water at this time of year is unusal and gives an opportunity to get a glimpse of winter underwater. It allows a chance to see if the preferred fry sanctuaries can be discovered and just what makes them to the liking of the juveniles, flow, cover, depth we need to know. During daylight the carriers and sidestreams appear devoid of life, very little aquatic weed and hardly a fish to be seen, odd chub and pike, perhaps the odd shoal of dace and even rarer a few roach, all grown sufficiently to at least brave the open stream. As for the juveniles, not a sign, miles of stream without trace of small fish; until darkness falls.

Minnows and fry after dark

Streams apparently empty during daylight suddenly have minnows and fry everywhere, just point a flash camera at the water and shoot. Alternatively get a big torch and go for a recce, you'll be surprised whats out there.

15th December 2005

The rain of the past week or two has seen the seatrout reach the redds and the the salmon move higher in the catchment in preparation for their own spawning; hopefully the salmon tagged and released at the Mudeford Run and those translocated into the river will also be embarking on this journey. In an effort to establish just where the tagged fish are Neil Crooks of Portsmouth Uni is out with a hydrophone looking for them. This will be the final stage of the first year of the study establishing firstly if the fish have survived the low flow summer and now attempting to establish which are the preferred spawning areas.

Searching for tagged salmon

Neil on the Middle Avon listening for the signal from tagged salmon.

Monday 12th December 2005

All very quiet on the river for the last day or two cold, grey and continuing to fine down. The seatrout have been cutting as the redds are now visible in the clearing streams which bodes well for the future.

I have shown a photograph of the otter run below before but the one I took this week end begs the question, when is the shortest distance between two points not a straight line?

Otter run Seatrout redd

What makes the otters chose to take such a wandering path across a perfectly flat even field? The seatrout redd which is about 150mm deep was cut by a two pound hen fish. The volume of silt visible makes this an unusual site but obviously to the liking of the fish.

Wednesday 7th November 2005

The river is fining down well after the recent rains and the coarse anglers should have the opportunity of some excellent conditions over the next few days. The barometer is falling that will hopefully bring a rise in the water temperature to aid in the pursuit of those legendary Avon roach and chub.

Frosty water meadows Misty day

Frosty mornings, misty days and the river fining down.

Friday 2nd December 2005

December has brought with it the rain that was so necessary to allow the seatrout to run onto the redds and flush the rubbish from the rivers. Seatrout with their ability to foresee the arrival of the floods will have moved into the streams yesterday in order to take full advantage of the rise in water. Fortunately for the trout but spoiling the spectacle for us watching from the bank, the rivers were sufficiently high to afford them complete cover to get on with their spawning; very few fish were visible today.

Main hatches Coloured flood water New Forest stream in flood

The main hatch gates wide open with the spillway taking the excess. One aspect of the floodwater that is impossible to portray on the web is the pungent aroma of mud and decaying leaves, the entire valley smells wonderful as nature cleans out the streams. The New Forest streams are well up and hopefully the seatrout are all actively engaged in spawning.

Monday 28th November 2005

We are now into the third week of consecutive nighttime frosts and the puddles are remaining frozen all day in the shade of the hedges. We have seen the aquatic weed knocked back by the cold spell, more akin to winters past, the next rain will flush the remaining rubbish and hopefully provide sparkling gravel for the salmon to spawn and perfect conditions for the roach fishermen. The salmon that ran into the higher catchment three weeks ago, at the time of the last rain, now find themselves in low clear streams susceptible to poaching and predation. The Environment Agency have been out on all night patrols in an effort to reduce poaching and lifting salmon over weirs that have insufficient water to allow further migration. Time for further rain dancing if any one out there has the talent, the seatrout should be cutting soon and without a spate to get them into the tributaries they will be cutting in the main channel.

Playing a pike Unhooking a big pike Releasing a pike

In an effort to stop a large pike taking hooked dace it was necessary to persuade her to "clear off". Pete would do well to keep his fingers clear of those teeth whilst unhooking, confidence and a firm grip are called for. Returning her, hopefully to sulk for an hour or two, thus enabling a return to the dace fishing. The clear low water in this Avon sidestream is well illustrated in the last photograph, good to see the clean gravel but it would be better under an extra foot of green blue Avon water.

Thursday 24th November 2005

The cold dry spell continues with the river dropping and clearing by the day, certainly as low and clear as I've seen at this time of year for at least thirty years. Fishing is difficult to say the least, small bags of dace and the odd chub at last knockings, even the pike are reluctant to feed.

The dry firm ground has allowed the winter forestry operations within the valley to proceed with the minimum of mud being churned up and being washed into the streams with the risk of clogging the redds. Whether the huge modern processors and forwarding tractors or smaller estate operations forestry can create a quagmire if the rains soften the ground during extraction. Where operations occurred prior to the hard weather the mud is drying rapidly hopefully we will not see silt and mud entering the rivers this season.

Mud created by modern timber processors Smaller estate extraction Large felled oak

Poor photos but they do illustrate the mud churned up by modern timber extraction that if allowed to enter the streams risks concreting gravel and choking the redds. Smaller estate operations still require heavy tractors to remove odd lengths for inhouse use or large dangerous trees and dry, cold weather simplifies the work.

Saturday 19th November 2005

A glorious winters day, white with frost to start followed by bright sunshine the perfect day for a walk around the valley. The river is clearing despite the leaves and rubbish being swept along with it. The cold has chased all but the bravest of pike anglers off the bank but even they were struggling in the bright sunshine.

One other problem the cold has brought with it is that the carp have become moribund under the weed cover in the lakes and the otters have found them. The pictures below show some of the victims that have been on the menu over the past year or two to which you can add barbel, salmon, chub, small rudd and particularly eels which form a large part of the diet.

Common carp killed by otter Pike otter kill Tench otter kill Mirror carp otter kill

In order from the left, a nice common carp, a double figure pike, whats left of a tench and a mirror carp of over 25 pounds that a dog otter dragged out onto the bank without the slightest difficulty. Notice that the ovaries are the favoured area first eaten, the remainder left for the crows and foxes.

Friday 18th November 2005

We have the desired cold spell which is forecast to last for at least a further week. We have recorded temperatures down to -4 degrees C in the valley which should remind everything that we are well into the winter. A prolonged cold spell may well create problems for many of the fish populations that have become accustomed to the mild winters of the past decade. Tench and carp in the lakes and barbel and bream in the rivers have continued to feed right through the last few winters, it should not be forgotten these species are not naturally suited to our colder waters and fishing for them used to be a summer and autumn activity.

Frost on the bull mace

Wednesday 16th November 2005

The arrival of the frosts brings with it the need to keep the water levels up on the water meadows to protect the roots of the grass that will provide the early bite next spring. If we have the hard winter the seers of the meterological world predict the flooded meadows provide a vital haven for the wildfowl and migrant waders of the valley. In particular the snipe numbers build up dramatically with counts often in excess of three or four hundred on very confined water meadow systems. It is cause for concern that the migrant snipe find the Avon Valley so much to their liking when our resident breeding population has all but disappeared in the last decade; certainly an area for future study.

Old hatch system Flooded water meadow

Floated water meadows in the Middle Avon provide a working link with the past.

Monday 14th November 2005

Whilst not the first frost of the year last nights was certainly the hardest, it should help speed the weed on its way. Over the weekend the river has cleared and the flow has dropped back almost to summer levels, we will need considerably more rain if we are to see a successful recharge of the chalk aquifers at the head of the river. The balance between flood and drought that is required to maintain a healthy riverine ecology is a precarious business, especially when the demands of man in the form of water supply and sewage disposal are added to the equation. Our temperate climate has developed an ecostructure that we assume to be robust and suited to our environment, its not until the cracks start to appear and we look a little closer do we see just how delicate that balance is. Too much or too little rain, light, heat, flow, all have consequences for the multitude of species from the diatoms and rotifers at the bottom through to the salmon and the otter at the top of the food chains. When we consider the period of written history related to river ecology it is not of a sufficient span to record changes that have occurred due to climatic change. Permanent changes or weather cycles over prolonged periods will inevitably impact on many species, changes in the North Atlantic alter temperatures and rainfall patterns that impact not only on the feeding grounds and migration routes of our salmon but the natal streams such as the Avon. It would be a brave or extremely foolish man or woman who claims to have a definitive understanding and the answers to the needs of our river environment, this is why the precautionary principle as written into the Habitats Directive is so important.

Just climb down off my soap box to mention a further impact of the weather and from the photograph below you can see the wind has a say in matters. Just how we remove that twig will prove interesting, the left bank is a thirty foot drop and the right bank consists of flooded water meadows that will not support heavy machinery; looks like we may have a new chub swim this winter.

Fallen oak

The mighty fallen, sixty feet of oak tree across the river.

Saturday 12th November 2005

A trip out early this morning with the wildfowlers gave me the opportunity to watch the arrival of some of the winter migrants to the local flooded gravel pits. I have watched with interest in recent years as we have seen a steady increase in the number of birds that use these large expanses of water to the extent that populations within the valley are changing. A good example of this change has been the Goosander which twenty years ago was a rarity with odd birds appearing during the winter months, now we see over fifty birds each winter and in recent years we have breeding recorded on the Avon, the first ever in Hampshire. Its difficult to object to these beautiful birds increasing their range and they deserve their protected status but they inevitably pose a threat to several of the EU designated species on the Avon, bullhead, brook lamprey, salmon parr etc. This avian threat is in addition to the considerable increase in the cormorant population that come up river, finding sanctuary on these flooded pits. Feeding early in the day on the rivers and sitting out on the pits until their return to the coastal cliffs in the evening.

Goosander on the nest

A picture of the first recorded breeding goosander in Hampshire, the saw bill is clearly seen from where, with the merganser, they get the name.

Friday 11th November 2005

The river has retained a good colour, a reasonable flow after the rain earlier in the week, the temperature has held up and is fishing well if you can find the fish. The succesful anglers are those trying different swims from the ones the fish have been inhabiting for the previous couple of months during the low flows and clear water. The colour in the water has given most species the confidence to spent more time away from cover provided by dense weed beds or trees.

The recent increased flows have made a good start on clearing much of the silt and debri that has accumulated over the low flow summer and has allowed reasonable trotting conditions in one or two areas. A combination of continued steady rainfall and a spell of frost will see the river in fine trim for the winter fishing to come.

Seven pound barbel

Ken, a regular Middle Avon float fisherman, having trouble finding the dace this seven pounder was preceded by a nine pound barbel.

Sunday 6th November 2005

As I sit writing this it is raining nicely outside which is extremely good news for the river as it continues to clear out the accumulated silt and rubbish of the summer. The coarse angling remains on a high with good catches of chub, barbel, dace and I have even heard of a good bag of roach between half a pound and a pound and a half from the Middle Avon. One swallow and all that but it is reassuring to hear they still exist even if it is only in the odd pockets.

The mass migration of pigeons continues down the valley with 35000 being counted heading south over Christchurch Harbour on Friday, bringing the weekly counted total for the Dorset coast over 150000, where on earth are they all going? Apart from their destination the reason for the mass exodus is also an area of debate with many suggesting that this season has seen a very low crop of acorns, beech masts and haws, the autumn diet of these birds, causing them to move on. What ever the cause somewhere there are an awful lot of pigeons about to desend on the available food source.

Landing a chub haws

Friday 4th November 2005

The river still retains some colour but has dropped back on the high of last week. The dace and barbel fishermen are doing well and there are some surprise catches of grayling, nothing dramatically large but good numbers of fish to a pound and a quarter.

Perhaps the most note worthy occurrence of the last couple of days has been provided by the flocks of migrating woodpigeons and redwings. Pigeon numbers heading south in the first couple of hours of light run into the thousands with a high of 72000 birds in one day heading south over an area of the coast twenty miles to the west. Daily counts of over 10000 have been recorded over the Christchurch Harbour heading south, out to sea. Where these birds are heading appears to be the subject of great debate as they do not appear to be counted over the French coast and the numbers are not reflected in return flights in the spring. The redwings with numbers also well into the thousands are arriving from the east to spend time with us in the warmer south of England. It will be interesting to look back in the new year to see if these exceptional numbers were indicators of a hard winter, as I believe has been predicted by the Met Office.

The osprey is still with us in the middle reaches of the river which is late for their migration, he obviously finds the fishing to his liking. It would be nice to think he could stay with us not having to run the gauntlet of continental guns that so frustratingly shot the satilite traced bird last year. Unfortunately the risk of a cold winter will put pay to any such notions; let's all wish him well and hope to see him in the spring on his way back north.

2nd November 2005

The autumn recharge is underway and what a relief it's been to see the river colour and the flow begin to flush the rubbish from the channel. Hopefully the salmon and seatrout have now run well into the system and await their time on the redds in well oxygenated pools. The eel stages up and down the rivers have been working and the harvest of silver eels is now almost complete. Numbers of eels vary enormously between catchments the reasons for this are little understood, upstream migration, barriers to passage, over exploitation, predation who knows, it's certainly an area deserving of more investigation.

Eel catch

The results of an evenings eeling

Not every one is getting over excited about the shooting season

Temptation

Temptation

26th October 2005

Today, whilst in Salisbury, I had the opportunity to walk the town path that cuts through the Harnham water meadows and what a thought provoking stroll that was. So famously encapsulated by John Constable being the site of his magnificent landscape with its rainbow and threatening sky over the wonder that is Salisbury Cathedral.

Leaning on the footbridge rail that crosses the River Nadder and leads to the meadows itís almost inevitable to wonder at the concerns of the local community when in 1831 Constable sat down in those meadows to paint that wonderful scene? A cholera epidemic was sweeping the land killing thousands and threatening all in society irrespective of position. This was twenty years before the first Public Health Act was even introduced to oversee water supply, sewage and waste disposal. The Environment Agency and the utilities of today provide our potable water and dispose of our sewage and waste without us having to give the process a second thought.

Darwin was just setting out on his five year journey aboard HMS Beagle that was to be so influential in changing our perception of our existence on this earth. Our current understanding and interaction with nature perhaps owing a great deal to the Victorian collectors and scientists. The canal and water ways system was at its peak shortly to be sent into rapid decline by the expansion of the railway and steam locomotion; the Rocket had just made its epic run up in Liverpool. Rural life was in turmoil with the southern counties of England embroiled in the desperation of the Swing riots seeking change in agricultural working conditions. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, just down the road, were shortly to be sentenced for attempting to form the first union as a means to escape the grinding poverty as so vividly described in Cobetts Rural Rides published in 1830. A time even before the introduction of the workhouse, later so frighteningly described by Dickens, the destitute fell on the charity of the parish.

One aspect of cheap rural labour that perhaps is not so readily recognised is that for hundreds of years the great estates and churches that characterise this valley were able to undertake engineering projects that even with todayís modern machinery, costs would prove prohibitive. Bridges, weirs, water meadows, woods and drainage systems that we see all around us today owe their existence to the availability of unlimited cheap labour. What we desperately seek to protect and conserve today owes its very presence to a society we would hardly recognise.

To look across the disused water meadows toward that great cathedral you see two constructions that rival each other as remarkable achievements of mankind. The cathedral needs no advocate to speak for it but those thousands of perfectly levelled channels and drains with their interacting inclined plains that at the time of Constable stretched the length and breadth of the valley are a feat of engineering second to none. To the north west of the path we have a remarkable set of working meadows restored by the Friends of the Harnham Watermeadows heartily deserving of our congratulations as it ensures their existence that we may all ponder the time and cost of their construction.

Salisbury Cathedral over the water meadows

22nd October 2005

One aspect that was considered in the Trust funded project re "The Anthropogenic Influences on the Temperature Regime of a Chalkstream" was the importance of shading. It was thought of potential importance when attempting to maintain low water temperatures that shade should be maximised.

An extremely interesting idea that would seem logical when one considers the natural forest streams with their marginal alder and sallow in places creating virtual tunnels with reduced light and similarly reduced weed growth. The environmental advantages resulting from this habitat would require thorough investigation before advocating vast planting regimes on the main channel. The valley today probably has more tree than at the peek of the Avonís productivity in the early to middle decades of the last century. What photographs exist of this period show a much more open aspect with the exception of the large grey and crack willow pollards that stand as sentinels throughout the water meadows.

These ancient pollards are nearing the end of their allotted span, probably planted when the meadows were constructed late 17th early 18th century, and without considerable thought and planning these wonderful willows risk being lost forever. I must admit to having a fascination with these gnarled specimens, the ecology co-existing under their span could fill a book, Otter holts, hornets nests, bat roosts, owls, kestrels, beetles and bugs by the bucket full. Next time you relax beneath one for lunch or a smoke, if thatís still PC, give a thought to ensuring they are maintained and venerated for generations to come.

Other news is that I did see our African traveller is still with us, being mobbed mercilessly by the local jackdaws.

Ancient willow pollard Willow pollard home to numerous creatures Willow pollard home to numerous creatures

Willow pollards part of the Avon Valley landscape since the 17th century.

An Ent

Who said Ents don't exist?

21st October 2005

Well I'm afraid Wednesday's rain didn't amount to much, managed to open one more hatch gate only to have to shut it down today. One effect of the slight rise in water was to set in motion the annual breakup of the aquatic weed. The coarse anglers will suffer for the next week or two as the cress is torn from the margins and the elodea is ripped from the bed of the channel. Until we either get some serious rain or hard frosts to kill it all off there will be a constant stream of broken weed moving past. This year due to the low flows the elodea is unusually dense coming away from the bed in great rolls like huge carpets. Hatches can become blocked in a matter of minutes with several tons of weed having to be dragged out or cut up by hand.

Masses of floating weed Clearing a hatch Blocked salmon pass

Rafts of floating weed lifted by the recent rain moving downstream. Clearing a blocked hatch and a salmon pass in urgent need of attention.

19th October 2005

Hopefully todays weather is an indication of things to come, over 30mm in the Ringwood area, heavy showers are forecast for the weekend so fingers crossed for the start of the autumnal recharge. The New Forest streams responded quickly and within twelve hours we had the first spate of the Autumn, a week or two early for the seatrout to run onto the redds but the silver eels took advantage of the coloured water and the downstream migration got underway.

An osprey has been fishing the shallows below Ibsley for a couple of days taking the odd chub and trout. We certainly don't begrudge this magnificent bird the odd fish or two if it helps lay in the energy required to continue the migration to Africa.

A New Forest stream Osprey

A Forest stream good flow with plenty of colour. A traveller on the way to Africa.

Sunday 16th October 2005

I did manage a visit to the chub and barbel yesterday's spotting had revealed and whilst the barbel or one of the monster chub failed to show it was a grand morning to be out on the river.

The swim The humble minnow A brace of chub

The swim full of fish, fabulous morning, no sight or sound of fellow man and a cetti's as the only disturbance. Minnows make maggot an impossibility but it's a real pointer to the health of the river that they are doing so well. The result, not monsters three or four pounds apiece but fin perfect and a delight on the centre pin.

Saturday 15th October 2005

I'm not sure if today's warm sunshine constitutes an Indian Summer as we don't seem to have had a break from sunny cloudless days all year, it has been however a beautiful day to be walking the valley indulging in a little fish spotting. From that you can take it that the rain that so seriously affected the west coast of Wales and the north west of England missed the local rivers almost completely, we remain desperately low and clear. If I can manage a trip tomorrow morning I will attempt to deceive one or two of those chub and you never know perhaps a barbel will join in. Whilst hanging out of the trees to get a better view of the fish I came very close to clambering over a hornets nest. On the Dorset/Hampshire border we have a very high density of these wonderful insects, if left undisturbed they are totally harmless, I don't recommend crossing them though as they can sting on the wing unlike other wasps and bees that need to land to sting. My encounter did remind me that despite the weather winter is on the way so my bees need to be shut down and the hives fitted with their mouse guards.

chub and barbel shoal Hornets nest Bees on honey comb

A shoal of large chub with fish over seven pounds and several double figure barbel. The site of a hornets nest, a poor photo but as close as I intended to get and my bees on a honey comb.

8th October 2005

I have just read the EA Hydrometric Report for September, whilst the report itself is an excellent means of distributing information the content remains gloomy as the rivers continue to suffer from below average rainfall. Flows on the Avon are at 66% LTA and the Stour is down at 47% we can only hope that the rains will come soon and when they do it is prolonged and even rainfall throughout the winter.

A hat full of mushrooms Head of cock pheasant

A bonus of an early morning grayling trip - can't you just smell that dry cured bacon. This bold chap would do well to keep his head down, the pheasant season is now open and shooting will soon be in full swing.

27th September 2005

It's been some time since I last added an entry, not through lack of subjects but through the complexity of them. Last week I attended the Wessex Water Low Flow Public consultation meetings at Wiltshire Wildlife's Langford Lakes. An extremely interesting meeting looking at the impact of abstraction on the rivers of Wessex particularly with increased future demand through population expansion and climate change in mind. The demands of the consumer weighed against the demands of the environment mean the agencies charged with protecting our rivers will need to employ some jugglers. Vying demands of Water Voice, Ofwat, the Treasury, water companies, environmentalists and angling representatives make for a complicated web. I will endeavour to get a more complete background to many of the arguments by the time of the next newsletter and attempt to add an article to that effect. It will at least allow time to add the CAMS process and the Water Framework Directive to the melting pot.

I must say that whilst we all sit with bated breath awaiting rain to recharge the rivers and aquifers should we enter a third and unprecidented low flow winter it will at least serve to focus minds with regard to future public water supply.

The developments with regard to the Irish drift net situation deserve a full page to update you with the rapidly changing picture. Catches below the TAC, the Irish government requesting a two month delay in their response to the EU Commissioners upholding the WSRT complaint, lobbying of the Fianna Fail party conference in Killarney and representation on the NWWRAC North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council in Ireland. Brian's update in the next newletter will make very interesting reading.

Back on the river itself and we see a continued decline in flows and now the weed is beginning to die back the freeboard is increasing. The river is still gin clear and the barbel appear to have gone into hiding during the last fortnight so conditionds for the coarse anglers are difficult. Its good to still see the large dace shoals in the middle river lets hope they are still present when conditions improve and the anglers are attempting to catch them.

Several weeks back I said I would attempt to get a photo of the young Great Crested Grebe piggy-backing about the river on the back of the adults. At last I can claim success, not the best pic in the world and I had to wait for a second brood to achieve even this result. Every cloud has a silver lining, the second brood came about when the weed cutting on the middle river dropped the waterlevel from under the first nest and the eggs were lost. I think this youngster will be lucky to mature sufficiently to survive the approaching winter but he is riding high at present.

Juvenile Great Crested Grebe hitching a lift Low flow stream support

Juvenile Great Crested Grebe (in striped pyjamas) hitching a ride on Mum's back. Discussing stream support at last weeks Wessex Water low flow meeting.

10th September 2005

We all await the autumn rains with rising anticipation as the river remains desperately low, the prospect of a third consecutive low rainfall winter doesn't bear thinking about. At least fish spotting is still a pleasant way to while away an hour or two, ideally late morning with plenty of sunshine for the best light conditions.

Another area that is giving rise to concern is the spread of non-indigenous species into the Avon Valley SAC. One that has spread from the local nature reserve to colonise the Dockens Water corridor SSSI and has now reached the Avon Valley is Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera). How to deal with such a vigorous alien is going to present considerable debate within the authorities charged with protecting the SAC, if it is not dealt with soon the problem will be too large to control with the result all to often seen in many of our western rivers. The other view is that balsam is preferable to stinging nettles and we accept the change as the preferred choice of nature, unless your a tortoiseshell caterpillar of course.

Himalayan Balsam on the Dockens Water

Himalayan Balsam invading the banks of the Dockens Water SSSI

Whilst on the subject of the Dockens Water the photo on the left below shows a well defined track, through the second cut silage, made by a family of otters on their way from the main river to feed in the Dockens. Once at the Dockens they splash and whistle noisely through the shallows as they travel from pool to pool searching for the dace and chub trapped as the water drops as a result of the recent hot weather. For such a secretive animal during the day they certainly kick up a racket at night when the youngsters think they're missing out on the meal.

Otter track across the hay field Otter spraint

An otter run through the grass clearly marked at each end with their territorial signposts.

7th September 2005

The salmon season on the rivers of Wessex ended a week ago and I have been delaying writing a diary entry in the hope of hearing some positive news. Iím afraid no news to lift spirits has come my way and my earlier expressed fears that the season would prove a non event due to the low water and high temperatures would seem confirmed.

I think the total for the Avon will be in the region of 150 fish, a great many being single figure fish taken on the bait. The numbers are in keeping with the returns for the past fifteen or sixteen years and whilst the low flows have prevented fish entering the system the numbers taken at the nets and those taken on the bait, whilst trapped in the lower river, would point to no increase in numbers.

It is desperately disappointing that after more than a decade of catch and release, gravel cleaning, method restrictions and shortened seasons we see no sign of recovery.

22nd August 2005

Dew covered cobweb Sea trout on the shallows New Forest heather

Autumn has arrived with its heavy dew in the chill of the mornings and the New Forest heather in bloom. When undisturbed the smaller seatrout, up to 4 or 5 pounds, are on the shallows but it hasn't made catching Avon seatrout any easier.

20th August2005

Well done to Christchurch Angling Club and their sponsors for the excellent "introduction to fishing day" run on the Somerley Estate today. Under ideal conditions the sun shone, the fish fed and the instructors had plenty of clients keen to learn.

Flyfishing demo Coarse angling instruction

A group being instructed in the art of flyfishing and every swim occupied on the coarse coaching section.

15th August 2005

Despite the recent rain the flow continues to drop and the water remains clear. I believe the Royalty rods have continued to catch grilse on the shrimp but I have not heard of anything being caught upstream. The low, clear water enables the summer fish to be seen in the favourite pools doing their best to find what little flow remains.

Salmon in the Bridge pool Dace shoal

The photo on the left has two salmon 15 pounds and 12 pounds and a seatrout of 7 or 8 pounds hiding in he depths. If you can't spot them look on the entry for the 29th of July and they are outlined there. The other picture is of a shoal of dace that are dropping back to deeper water for cover during the day.

7th August 2005

Being Sunday I took the opportunity to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes that of bridge watching. Time spent studying the depths of the main river inevitably leads to pondering where the roach have dissappeared to in recent years. Chublets and dace appear relatively plentiful up to 3+, the trout streams have plenty of small barbel but roach seem absent. Is their absence a result of mans intervention; flood defence, trout farms etc, or is there a natural cycle or disease responsible. What ever the cause the result is the same, very few roach and considerable difficulty in assessing the accurate state of the population. Trying to spot juvenile roach in the main river is hopeless and relying on anglers catches is even worse, roach anglers are like roach - as rare as hens teeth. The carriers probably offer the best chance of observing any recovery which would hopefully be recorded in surveys such as the previous entry but I'm afraid carriers are a pretty mixed lot these days.

Juvenile chub

The main channel and the carriers appear full of chublets these days

On the Avon the days of carriers maintained by keepers and drowners are long gone, labour costs make this unrealistic so we are left attempting to make do with dredging and clearing under various conservation schemes ESA heritage etc. Having been involved with numerous cleaning and clearing opporations I firmly believe that after care and maintenance are as important if not more so than the initial machine work. Maintaining light and flow are the critical factors and achieving that can be very labour intensive not only the physical cutting and clearing but getting through the bureaucracy involved in consents.

The alternative is to enlist the help of natural resources. We are continually told by the fishery consultants that streams and carriers should be fenced to avoid poaching by livestock but far from this being a disadvantage close observation of the streams has pointed to the preference of these areas by juveniles of both cyprinids and salmonids. Left to their own devices the vegetation of the Avon Valley, nettles, comfrey, phragmites etc. swamps a narrow sidestream within a matter of weeks once the warmth of spring gets the growth underway. We then have thousands on metres of carriers and sidestream devoid of light and flow, what fish there are migrate out to the main channels or remain in the isolated clearings that remain.

Overgown carrier Overgrown

Overgrown and overdredged, lack of flow and light mean only one or two isolated pools in thousands of meters of carrier.

We do not have the abundance of cheap labour on the estates and farms that existed in the hayday of the Avon's fame nor do the tenants have the resources to clear what in many instances are little more than drains. so we must resort to what we have available.

swans cow

Natures weed cutting machines.

Ideally the end result is an efficient drainage channel, potential trout fishery to assist with financial input and excellent juvenile habitat. Its not quite as simple as it sounds but several of the carriers where cattle have access are proving far more beneficial to the fish population than the heavily overgrown stretches. The loss of the diary herds that at one time grazed all the valley meadows bringing enrichment and added fly life may be proving a more serious loss to the environment than first believed.

Riffle Good habitat

Good flow and light with ample marginal cover, riffle supporting juvenile salmon, seatrout, and barbel with countless bullheads. The slower sections full of chub and dace with a good head of brook lamprey, all we need now is to add perch and roach.

Cleared carrier Stocked tripolid trout Ideal habitat

If limited keepering is available the addition of triploid browns provides the opportunity to recoup some of the outlay in the form of a trout fishery.

4th August 2005

The EA were out surveying juvenile fish stocks in the carriers and sidestreams of the Middle Avon today. The understanding of juvenile requirements is fundamental if we are ever to unravel the life-cycles of the varies species found in the Wessex rivers. Not only discovering the needs of the fish the work also act as an indicator pointing to the importance of the carriers and sidestreams.

EA survey team Recording information Juvenile barbel

The EA survey team about to get underway, recording the catch and a fin perfect juvenile barbel.

The Avon valley had miles of side-channels and carriers that have been allowed to silt up and are now lost to the fish population. Work such as todays will go to prove how vital the habitat they provided was to the great catches the Hampshire Avon was justly famed for. I wont try and pre-empt the findings of the survey but I saw plenty of brook lamprey (Lampetra planeri) and bullheads (Cottus gobia) which are both EU designated species under the SAC (Special Area of Conservation) designation. I would also risk suggesting that any members of the Chub Study Group will have a good future as chublets were very well represented.

29th July 2005

This mornings tide was the last of this seasons salmon netting at the Mudeford Run and also the last opportunity to tag salmon for the temperature tracking study. As it turned out the final total of tagged fish was 36 which is a good sample to continue the cefas harbour work and the translocation evaluation funded by the trust.

I should record the trust's thanks to Mudeford netsmen Martin and Steve who continued to fish despite the low flows and lack of fish when everbody else had thrown in the towel. If it were not for their efforts the tracking work would have foundered before getting underway.

Steve & Martin

A good time to remember that No salmon have been killed by the commercial netsmen at Mudeford for more than a decade.

outlined salmon photo

The answer to the photo on 15th August, difficult to spot but good to see a few fish remaining in the pools.

27th July 2005

The recent rains have brought a much needed respite from the scorching sun of recent weeks. There has been over 30mm of rain that has seen a slight rise in the river levels and a vital drop in water temperature which has allowed the grilse run to at least get into the river, how far upstream they manage to travel remains to be seen.

The rain has worked its magic and all the varied plants and creatures in the valley appear relieved and refreshed. All the fledged broods of kingfishers are noisily chasing their parents up and down the river and the drifting duckweed, lifted by the rise in water level, is giving the young coots, moorhens, ducks and swans lots to investigate in the never ending green slicks.

Kingfisher with a minnow

The kingfisher and minnow, one of natures balancing acts - no minnows, no young kingfishers. Inter-action and inter-dependency are little understood in the river.

25th July 2005

A second dead salmon was found on the bed of the river today, freshly killed apparently by the wounds across her back. A fish of 8 or 9 pounds that showed no other signs of stress or damage ie; hook or net marks.

WHAT KILLED SALAR?

Left side dead salmon Right side dead salmon Injury

Personally I think a large pike but as Pete Reading pointed out the cuts resemble the claw marks of an otter and we have a very active otter population in the area at present.

22nd July 2005

The ongoing temperature tracking study had an interesting development today. With the tags now introduced into 25 salmon a dead fish just downstream of Ibsley Bridge gave rise to concern that it may be one of the study fish. Neil Crooks of Portsmouth Uni who is doing the majority of the tagging work donned his dry suit to recover the carcass and discover if a study fish had been lost.

Recovering a salmon Recovering a salmon close-up

Neil Crooks off to recover the dead salmon. It certainly proved to be dead and VERY SMELLY but all in a days work for Neil.

Thankfully it was not a study fish, the EA came out to investigate in a hope of discovering the cause of death which all adds to our understanding of Avon salmon.

14th July 2005

Whilst the salmon rods are refraining from fishing due to the high water temperature there is plenty of activity elsewhere in the valley. The hay and silage cut is now in full swing and the EA are out weed cutting in an effort to ensure they are able to remove the crop without sinking into the watermeadows.

The grilse have started to run down at the nets so we are at least getting the fish for the temperature tracking study. A temperature/low flow tracking study could not have chosen a better year to study the implications of these more frequently experienced conditions.

Hay mowing Weed cutting Releasing salmon at Mudeford

Mowing in full swing, weed cutting boom and boat ready for action. EA and Cefas/Portsmouth Uni staff releasing a grilse during the temperature tagging scheme.

10th July 2005

The last posting I mentioned the barbel had started to behave in a more angler friendly fashion, I should have also mentioned the large carp in the valley are feeding more confidently with several multiple catches including fish of 30+

Mirror carp

Big carp in the valley stillwaters are feeding well

7th July 2005

The events related to Europe and the Irish drftnets have kept me busy for a day or two so the diary has been somewhat neglected. Whilst talking of Europe and the decision by the Commission that our complaint has been upheld the Irish Nets page is worth a visit to catch up on the latest news. The cruelest trick of fate has been to put Brian Marshall our chairman in hospital at a time he should be personally accepting the congratulations and plaudits his single minded dedication in driving this campaign for the past three years deserves. I'm sure you join with me in wishing Brian a speedy recovery.

On valley matters it is the heavy weed growth the early season low clear water has stimulated that is creating all the news. The 1st of July is the date at which the ESA hay meadows are allowed to be cut so all the farmers are keen to get on with the silage and hay. Unfortunately the heavy weed growth has coffered the water levels well out on to the meadows in places making mowing and access difficult. This will bring a rush of demands from the farming community for the EA weed cutting boats to be out and about cutting the ranunculas and draining the side channels.

A further positive development would appear to be that the barbel have got their spawning out of the way and are starting to get their heads down. The picture below shows Trust committee member Pete Reading with a Middle Avon double, one of a five fish catch which included a couple of doubles. Pete has an advantage over most of us when it comes to catching barbel as he is undoudtedly one of the top nationally acknowledged experts and is a committee member of the Barbel Society; but it does at least prove they are out there.

Heavy Avon weed growth Pete Reading with a double figure barbel

Heavy weed growth creating concerns for the farming community and Pete Reading with a double figure barbel.

2nd July 2005

I had occasion to travel through the Yorkshire Dales last week and as is the way with all anglers, I inevitably looked over any bridges I passed and the picture below made me feel quite at home.

A Yorkshire beck

Despite the recent thunder storms the Yorkshire Dales look as short of water as the Avon Valley.

28th June 2005

The river remains low and clear; catches remain in the most part limited to the odd fish. One or two good barbel are now coming out, mostly early and late, the middle of the day is hard work. Whilst these conditions persist please indulge me with my insect pictures that the advent of the digital camera have made so simple.

Scarlet Tiger Elephant Hawkmoth Elephant Hawkmoth from above

Yesterday evening Scarlet Tigers emerged in vast numbers, sufficient to be described as a hatch in angling terms, the comfrey of the Avon Valley must be providing excellent feeding for the caterpillars. The Elephant Hawkmoth with its wonderful colour and fur suit.

25th June 2005

A walk beside the river today re-affirmed the view held by many for the need to take a holistic view of the changing biodiversity within the Avon valley. Fish, birds, trees all populations are undergoing changes, some dramatic, others more discreet yet we do not have scientifically acceptable evidence as to the causes of many of these changes. If they are climate related, global warming or short term cycle, we are faced with the prospect of having to adapt, to take a stance that attempts to freeze frame the ecology at a time deemed most desirable by a chosen few smacks of Canute. A Mediterranean climate may be the future for the rivers of Wessex and as such we cannot expect to retain the artic species that have evolved since the last Ice Age it will make for an interesting future.

If the changes are anthropogenic we need to have a good hard look at the future demands that will be placed on the river and ask are they inevitable or can we influence the impact of society. An expanding population will demand the standard of living we all take as our indisputable right, dishwashers, multiple car ownership, ensuite facilities the list goes on - but will the river? Very political and does the will to introduce effective measures to safeguard the environment exist within the majority of the population? The utility companies have statutory obligations to provide this expanding population with the services they expect. The agencies tasked with protecting our environment also have statutory obligations to ensure the impact of providing the utility services do not damage our environment; it will be very interesting to see the result of a trial of strength should such a scenario arise. Let a low winter rainfall and recharge year such as the present follow next year and such an examination may not be that far away.

Dead elms Dead alder Dead ash

Dutch elm disease, alder phytophthora and now the ash are dying

24th June 2005

The continued low flows and warm weather have meant that salmon anglers have not been on the river and it rather looks as if salmon fishing on the Avon is over for the season.

The coarse anglers are catching chub with the odd barbel but barbel catches have yet to see any consistancy. The still waters are much more consistant with good catches of carp, tench, bream and roach; despite the scorching hot days.

Carp at sunset Weighing-in Whipping-in

Playing a carp at sunset and the matchmans dilemma whether to go for lumps or bits

21st June 2005

A visit to Mudeford to see the Cefas team at work proved fruitless, no salmon on this afternoons tide unfortunately. The lack of salmon was offset by the appearance of some wonderful seatrout. It makes it even more frustrating to see these great fish at the nets and fail miserably in attempts to catch them on the fly once they enter the river.

Large seatrout from the nets

A reminder of what a fifteen pound seatrout looks like

20th June 2005

Any WSRT members who fish Christchurch Anglers Club waters please note. The last couple of scorching days have seen the river water temperatures soar and now they have passed 70 degrees fahrenheit the Christchurch Angling Club have called a halt to all salmon fishing on their waters. That will include the Royalty and Somerley plus several other beats that the club control; a very responsible attitude fully supported by the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust.

If water temperatures drop and fishing is allowed to start again I will post it here on the site.

Combined with the high temperatures we have flow rates below 7 cumecs which is the limit at which the Dr David Solomon Tracking Report indicated migration into the river ceased. All that can be said on the positive side of these conditions is that the temperature tracking and translocation work that is currently on-going will have a real low flow summer to study.

18th June 2005

Situated with the New Forest to the east, the hills of Cranborne Chase to the west and the chalk downland of Salisbury Plain to the north the Avon valley contains one of the most diverse ecologies of any area in the country. The hot, humid weather of the last day or two has certainly brought out some of the more dramatic insect inhabitants.

Stag beetlePrivet Hawkmoth

Stag beetles emerge on hot, humid June evenings and a privet hawkmoth with a wing span in the order of 75mm

16th June 2005

Midnight and the carp anglers throughout the valley opened their campaigns on many of the local lakes. The results have been a little slow with the largest fish I have heard of todate being one of 28 pounds, the bream, tench and roach have been a little more cooperative. I think most of the rods I have spoken to have had an enjoyable start to the season.

The rivers have seen some good chub catches, one angler landing seventeen at Somerley, to trotted baits with one or two grayling and dace as a bonus. Barbel have been few and far between but they are often a little slower to respond to the arrival of the anglers bait at the onset of the season, a week or two usually sees them feeding more freely.

A roach from a local still waterearly season tench

8 to 12 ounce roach "one a cast" from a local lake and a traditonal tench to start

15th June 2005

On the eve of the coarse fishing season opening on the rivers the reason for the historic salmon season ending in mid June is all too apparent. The weed growth in the main channel now makes salmon fishing almost impossible other than with bait and perhaps upstream Mepp. Combined with the lack of flow and rising water temperature the coarse fishermen certainly have the advantage, hopefully I will get out to see if the barbel and chub have obliged and be able to report back tomorrow.

Heavy weed growth in the Avon

Heavy weed growth and low flows makes salmon fishing very difficult.

13th June 2005

The recent spell of bright weather has meant long hours strimming and clearing in preparation for the start of the coarse season this coming Thursday, hence several days without addition to the diary. The warmer weather has seen the carp, barbel and chub getting on with their spawning which should at least mean the start of the season wont be spoilt by their attention being elsewhere.

Carp spawning in the shallows

Carp spawning in the shallows of a valley lake.

Mike Twitchen, Brian Marshall and I represented the Trust at a meeting of interested parties to discuss the Avon Salmon Action Plan. The meeting called by the EA at Blandford, took place in a positive and constructive atmosphere which in itself bodes well for the future.

This evening I visited the netsmen at Mudeford to see how their season was progressing. Having now fished through last weeks spring tide catches have picked-up a little but far from the numbers we would like to see returning. We are particularly keen that the nets continue to catch over the next week or two as the joint Cefas/EA project part funded by the Trust will hope to tag and release forty fish. (See research temperature/tracking)

Shooting the net Drawing the net

L - R Shooting the net passed the Black House on the Mudeford Run and hauling the net from the spit with the Needles lighthouse on the Isle of Wight in the distance.

4th June 2005

The flow on the Avon has dropped below 9 cumecs which is the level at which Dr David Solomon's tracking study in the early 90's pointed to a reluctance on the part of the fish to enter the river. If the river continues to drop and we reach a flow rate below 7 cumecs all upstream movement ceases making the remainder of the season look pretty bleak.

The Mudeford nets started on the first of the month but the first two tides proved very slow with only one salmon and one seatrout. This may have been a result of being on the neap tides at present next week builds to the springs so the fish may yet arrive. The joint tracking/temperature project between the Trust, EA and Cefas is depending on the nets to provide 40 fish so lets hope things improve before too long.

The otters are currently very active on the Avon with the remains of the kills regularly found on the banks. One hay field has an otter run linking the main channel and a carrier that judging by the trodden state must be used every night. The lack of fish means time is available to help with the BTO bird ringing locally, the owls in the photograph below are from a box placed in a mature oak and deemed "des res" by mother tawny.

I did spend a pleasant, if perhaps not quite balmy evening with Jim Foster having a look at a Middle Avon beat with the mepp rods. No salmon to show for our efforts but a pike did provide Jim with some entertainment and a photo opportunity for me.

Remains of a pike killed by an otter Tawny owl juvenilesJim Foster playing a pike

From the left; remains of a pike killed by an otter, Tawny owl juveniles ready for ringing and Jim Foster playing a pike intent on biting off his mepp.

29th May 2005

Back to normality after Steve's fish last week I have not heard of a fish off the middle Avon, I believe they are catching down the bottom of the river which would indicate the fish are reluctant to enter the river. The river is extremely clear which in itself is unusual, in recent years the algal blooms have prevented the river from clearing until late June or July, this will undoubtedly encourage further weed growth. Last week we also experienced the hottest May day since records began making the water temperature rise and the flow rate continue to drop. I think the best this season had to offer has now passed, without considerable rain we will still see the odd 2SW fish and the grilse hopefully will appear in June but conditions in the middle river will be difficult.

Low water river Valley hay meadow

Low water conditions prevail and the changing colour of the hay meadows.

23rd May 2005

Strange game this angling, at a time when the salmon numbers are at extremely low levels we have Steve Hutchinson producing the catch of a lifetime. His achievement was to catch three salmon of 16 pounds, 11 pounds and 16 pounds today at Somerley, not satisfied with that as a claim to fame they came on consecutive casts, witnessed by an amazed Ron Davey.

I've just been checking the catch returns for Somerley and the last time Steve's name was on the list was on 23rd May 2003 certainly the wait has been rewarded!!

18th May 2005

My prediction regarding the imminent hatch of the cygnets came about yesterday, at least three broods now hatched and abroad. The great crested grebe are also hatching and piggy-backing their offspring up and down the river, they would make a good photograph if I can get along side we will see.

Cygnets Learning to eat ranunculas

Some ugly ducklings for all downstream of Downton to coo and aaaahh about and some ranunculas eaters for all upstream to go AAaaaaaaaaaaggghhhhhh about.

16th May 2005

Ranunculas is on the list of the EU designated flora and fauna that makes the Wessex chalkstreams of environmental importance and in need of special protection in the form of conservation designations such as SSSI and cSACís. In a year such as this we have a below average flow rate which in turn may lead to a reduction in the volume of ranunculas in the river; ranunculas thrives in strong flowing, clear water. The photograph below clearly illustrates the volume of growth that can occur when the flow can be maintained. Unlike higher in the catchment I look forward to the cygnets hatching any day now and adding to the herd attempting to clear it.

Ranunculas in the trout stream

Whilst talking of swans, Dave Stone "The swan man" was down last week doing his annual nest census. Dave has been counting the swans on the Avon for more years than I care to mention and has an enormous knowledge of their habits and population swings. The four miles of Avon valley that I am familiar with has 23 established pairs, with 16 pairs sitting on eggs at the present time. Add to these a further 50 or 60 non-breeders and our resident population is fairly stable around 100 birds.

Hirundinidae and Apodidae - swallows, martins and swifts to you and I and Iím glad to say the valley is full of them. Over the last week between Ibsley and Ellingham on the A338 above the lime avenue estimates of the number of swifts vary between 300 and 1000. These birds are feeding on the large hatches of midge and hawthorn flies, whether they are local birds nesting in the nearby towns and villages or birds migrating through their presence is a welcome sight. The sand martin population is a little easier to account for, the local sand and gravel quarries have provided much needed nesting sites and sanctuaries free from disturbance. One particular colony has over fifty pairs of birds in residence in a site that didnít exist two years ago. Perhaps not such a welcome visitor from the martins view point are the hobbies, 15 were counted at one time in the same area just south of Ibsley. They may well have also been feeding on the flies but the martins didnít put the theory to the test and stayed well clear of them.

15th May 2005

I now know I was at least one fish short on my estimate of the Avon catch yesterday, Ian Ashby landed a fish on the Severals yesterday morning so the total was certainly forty five on the fly.

The Mayfly struggled with the strong south-westerly breeze this afternoon in the first hatch of any consequence I have seen on the Avon this year. I am told the Test has seen a reasonable hatch on one or two evenings this week, hopefully if we have a warm still afternoon the Avon hatch will get thicker.

Recently hatched Mayfly

What all the fuss is about, two minutes off the water.

14th May 2005

The fly only period on the Wessex rivers finishes tomorrow, spinning will then be allowed. The salmon catch to date for the Hampshire Avon on the fly is approximately forty four; Royalty 15, Somerley 13 and a further five fisheries accounting for the remaining 16.

12th May 2005

A good day for the future of the rivers of Wessex, pupils from Ringwood School released the fry that they have bred in the school science laboratories as part of the Trust's "Trout In Schools" project. With WSRT executive committee member Pete Reading who has nurtured the project through the difficult initial years the pupils enjoyed a fine evening to release their fry into the carrier at Ibsley. Seeing the fry released into their natural habitat will hopefully inspire future generations to study and understand the riverine environment and the importance it plays in all our lives.

The development of the "TIS" project is almost open ended when considering the extent of the area that could be covered by the scheme. Ideally every child in the country should have the opportunity to understand the vital role water plays in his or her life. Taking for granted the pure water that flows so freely from our taps and the disposal of our waste water allows a complacency that threatens every aspect of our environment. Water is essential to all life and understanding this through education is the objective. The ability of Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust to expand "TIS" is dependent on our sponsor Tesco stores who have backed the initiative and it is only through the backing of successful business working within the community that we can hope to achieve a fuller understanding of the importance of our rivers, Tesco certainly get my vote of thanks for this one.

Pupils releasing fry from the Trout in Schools project

Pete Reading head of science and pupils from Ringwood School releasing the trout fry reared in the "Trout In Schools" project

The river flow is now at 9.5 cumecs entering the harbour so the point at which salmon are reluctant to enter the river is with us, This has not prevented Ron Davey from grassing his fourth of the season from Somerley a fine looking 13 pounder which I was fortunate enough to be on hand to take a photo or two.

Ron in action Returning number four

Ron Davey in action with number four and illustrating the problem of catch and release on the high banks of Wessex rivers.

6th May 2005

After the saving grace of the heavy showers during the past few weeks the river has once more fallen dramatically. Without continued summer rain the flows will become critical for fish running the Avon within the month.

WSRT are working closely with Cefas and the EA in getting a study of salmon movement, under these low flow conditions, up and running. When I have the final details I will get the information written up on the "research" page.

On a brighter note I am reliably informed that a rod on one of the lower beats has grassed a salmon of historical proportions; I am told it was estimated at 38 pounds and has been written in the beat returns book at 35+. Certainly a fish of a life time, falling to a rod new to the beat who certainly deserves heartiest congratulations.

Trust member Ron Davey continues to enjoy his season grassing his third 2SW fish of this years campaign at Somerley. All have been on the floating line with a sink-tip ; well done Ron.

2nd May 2005

Trust chairman Brian Marshall leading by example as he releases a sixteen pound classic Avon salmon. The fish still had sea lice attached indicating less than 48 hours off the tide.

River Avon Catch and Release Brian Marshall demonstrating Catch and Release.

1st May 2005

May Day brought sunshine and warm winds but not much in the way of fish, several rods out but as far as I know nothing to report for their efforts. The water meadows are beginning to change colour as the kingcups start the parade of flowers to make the valley a wonderful place to be, even if the fish fail to oblige. The hobby put in its first appearance of the year chasing the sand martins as they in turn fed on the evening hatch of midges. With an osprey stopping for an hour or two on its way north there's plenty to see if you're lucky.

I hope the old adage related to the oak and the ash fails to prove correct, the photo below shows the current state of affairs in the valley.

Kingcups in the water meadows Oak before the ash

KingCups and the Oak before the Ash.

26th April 2005

An interesting time on the Middle Avon with the Environment Agency involved in the main river coarse fish survey. The team have been on the middle river today endeavouring to establish the year class structure of the coarse population. As many of the anglers who fish the beats in question could have quessed the survey found a good head of large chub and barbel with a sad dearth of dace and roach. Grayling were present which points to good water quality, as were large carp and bream perhaps not the setting we might wish to see them.

As we might have expected after the recent rain there were several salmon disturbed in the process, the team were well rehearsed in switching off the power as soon as any indication of salmon was seen to minimise any potential damage.

Environment Agency survey boat Avon coarse fish surveyRecording the information

Unfortunately the derived information will unlikely be available for some time as we still await the findings of last years survey. This is a definate black mark against the EA in the time taken to make information available. Blame lack of staff or funding, one and the same thing, it's still a ridiculas time lapse to access information in this age of I.T.advances. Raw information related to methodology and findings would be sufficient in most instances. Whilst the eventual CPU related statistics will structure the written report local feedback need not be restricted to this form.

I did find the hour I spent observing very interesting, if unfortunately not very enlightening. The state of the Avon's stock does not come as any surprise to those of us who spend hours on the bank. What will be of considerable interest is what the EA propose to do in establishing the causes of the population imbalances be they natural or as a result of mans activities. The danger of any such survey is the period required to establish scientifically acceptable data only tells of events in the dim and distant past. I do not wish in ten years time to have the undisputable evidence of a missing roach population today.

23rd April 2005

Ringwood Town Bridge Gateway to the Middle Avon - Ringwood Town Bridge

The recent rain has brought a run of 2SW fish up river and the Somerley beats immediately upstream of Ringwood, fished by the Christchurch Angling Club members, have seen six fish landed in the past day of two. Pleasingly four of these fish have been taken by rods new to the Avon.

Notoriously difficult to spot on the Avon it was pleasing to see a shoal of several dozen smolt making their way downstream this evening. Their departure for the high seas coincided with the arrival of the cuckoo in the valley, one calling upstream of Ellingham this evening.

22nd April 2005

The valley grapevine tells me that Trust member Ted Maxted has also grassed his second fish of the season from the middle Avon; I've lost Ted's number so will have to wait for confirmation; watch this space.

21st April 2005

Rods discussing tactics Rods discussing tactics on the middle Avon.

Rods are still keen to find the salmon on the middle beats of the Hampshire Avon. The freshets of recent weeks have kept the river in reasonable condition, with the finest weeks of Avon fishing now with us, prospects for the next week or two are not all gloom and doom.

Wessex Salmon & Rivers Trust member Ron Davey certainly backs that view today grassing his second fish of the season from Somerley, both 2sw fish in the 12 pound bracket; congratulations Ron.

19th April 2005

Once more we receive a freshet of rain just as the river starts to look grim, In the region of 20mm in the middle Avon has saved the day, the New Forest streams have coloured up and covered the fords giving a four or five inch rise in the main river. This last weekend has seen three 2SW fish taken on one middle Avon beat, encouraging returns, lets hope we continue to see these occasional flash floods throughout the summer.

The first Graylag goose hatches have appeared in the valley; unknown fifteen years ago now winter counts are exceeding four hundred. They will soon out number the Canada's, due to the difficulty in shooting and the graylags make far better parents, seldom losing goslings to predators.

The swans have settled their territorial disputes and now are sitting. They appear to establish a maximum density at approximately four or five hundred metre intervals through the Middle Avon. It is little wonder that swan numbers have risen so dramatically over the past few decades with counts in excess of 450 in the Avon Valley.

Graylag Geese in the Avon Valley Swan on the nest

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10th March 2005

It would have been difficult to choose a better point to start than with the third fish of the season from the Avon in the form of a 20+ pounder grassed by Tony Phillips from North-end. I was pleased to be at home when Tony called around with the news and share in his obvious excitment. Two coarse anglers fishing the opposite bank that witnessed the capture and were most impressed at the sight of such a fine fish twice clearing the water during the struggle. Congratulations go to Tony for such a feat under what can only be described as less than favourable river conditions, low, cold and clear.

The current conditions are giving rise to serious concerns both on the bank and at the EA related to the lack of rainfall. The ground water indicators up on the chalk aquifers are well below long term average height and the flow in the river is below 50% of lta. Without serious rainfall in the immediate future the prospects for the summer flows are, in the words of the EA hydrology report "bleak" the preceding four months November to February have been the driest recorded for this period for at least 26 years.

I don't wish to be a kill-joy for the spring but I have my fingers, plus anything else capable, firmly crossed praying for rain.

14th March 2005

A difficult and disappointing end to the coarse season with the rivers running low, clear and cold, chub proved the saving grace with some excellent bags and some huge fish from the Avon and the Stour. Roach and dace were almost non existant with the odd barbel and bream braving the elements to compliment the chub. What ever the fate of the salmon the chub population is at an all time high the opportunity to land a seven pounder has never been better and the Stour offers the realistic chance of an eight pound fish. Whether the lack of roach and dace was attributable to the weather conditions or there is a problem in the year classes is a topic that will be returned to in the future.

Colin Gilson with his Avon roach brace

Colin Gilson with his 2003 catch of a lifetime, what must be the finest brace of roach ever landed at 3.15 and 3.8

18th March 2005

The day after the close of the coarse season the weather warmed considerably bringing a rise in the water temperature and the appearance of algal blooms coating the gravel and the weed. From low and clear we now have the Avon low and dirty, not an attractive sight this early in the season.

29th March 2005

Rain all day yesterday has freshened the river, 19mm in the Ringwood area but I fear too late in the year for the ground water recharge up on the aquifers. Today the Avon is a foot up and running coloured so any fish lower in the river should feel confident to move up. Those of you hoping to get down in the next day or two should find the river fined down and in good condition, so well worth making the effort. Intermediate or sink tip should still be all that's required and it's probably the best opportunity your likely to get to try the traditional Avon flies. So dig out the "Garry Dogs" and I'll try and get Mike Twitchen's dressing for the "Avon Eagle" and put it on the site.

3rd April 2005

The rivers are still carrying a little colour and there have been a respectable number of rods on the bank but very few fish for their efforts. All I have heard of in the past week is one from the Royalty, so despite the favourable conditions the fish have been reluctant to run.

At least the fish not showing affords rods the opportunity to tie an "Avon Eagle" or two in readiness for the run to come, I have Mike Twitchen's tried and tested pattern as tied by John Veniard:-

The Avon Eagle The Avon Eagle salmon fly

Tag.Round silver tinsel.
Tail.A topping and the tip of a golden pheasant breast feather.
Body.Lemon, bright orange, scarlet and fiery brownseal's fur in equal sections (dressed spare but picked out).
Ribs.Broad silver tinsel and twist.
Hackle.Dyed yellow marabou feather, an eagle's hackle substitute, stripped on one side.
Throat.Widgeon.
Wings.A pair of golden pheasant sword feathers.
Sides.Jungle cock, three toppings over.
Head.Black varnish.

The fine weather of the past day or two has seen the Grannom trickling into life. The chilly breeze has held back a full hatch but the sheltered corners have seen a few hardy individuals hopefully acting as the vanguard of things to come.

4th April 2005

Yesterday's trickle of Grannom turned into a flood and at mid-day tens of thousands were drifting upstream on the middle Avon.

The Grannom sedge fly

11th April 2005

A week later and the grannom hatch has attained wonderful proportions, millions of sedge flies creating one of the surviving miracles of nature in the Avon Valley. A continuous stream making the most of a bright, windless day moving upstream for ten hours.

The Grannom hatch at its peak

The river has fined down after the rain of the previous week and fish are still few and far between. As far as I can discover the total salmon catch todate for the Avon stands at ten, I have yet to hear of a fish from the Frome.

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