2nd January 2011

I have returned from celebrating the arrival of the New Year in Wales which for me was a trip down memory lane; to the 70ís and internationals at Cardiff Arms Park. It wasnít the rugby or the now Millennium Stadium but the disproportionate volume of alcohol that Cardiff seems to have available! Once I have a moment or two I will set up the new 2011 Diary page but will just add the odd entry hear until then.

Once the head cleared a look at the river to see if the salmon had got on with their spawning was the first priority. It seems the higher river has yet to produce many fish for the hatchery scheme, plenty of time yet, I think we may well see the spawning continue for a week or two yet as the low water has presented all sorts of migration problems for the adults. I have been corrected on my last entry in that the scheme is permitted to strip five pairs of fish, once I am satisfied our shallows are sufficiently well stocked I will see if we can find a candidate or two for stripping.

Cutting salmon
Spawning salmon showing the gravel egg mound, thrown up by the hen, showing the created riffle. If you see such goings-on on the estate in the next couple of weeks give me a ring 07836688908 and please don't disturb them.

The Christmas to New Year break has given the opportunity for more anglers to get the rods out and look for the chub and pike that provide the best bet under these difficult conditions. I spoke to several who had managed the odd chub and at least two double figure pike but other than a Grayling I didnít see a lot landed before I left for home for a late lunch. I did hear that at least one twenty plus carp had been landed from one of the lakes the evening the ice cleared. Itís an odd thing when what are generally thought to be warm water species are now willing to take a bait at rock bottom water temperatures.

The bird-life seems to be enjoying the thaw with a more natural pattern to the flighting up and down the valley being quickly re-established. There have been some very odd birds about in the last day or so, a Great bustard was at Harbridge again and the Smew is still on the river. On a different note the Goosander record count was raised some way when 231 were seen to leave for the rivers from the main roost on Ibsley Water. I am pleased to say the sprats in the bay are now attracting many Cormorants to stay at sea with over 750 off Boscombe recently; not that itís stopped over 200 still coming inland each morning. On the bright side a White-tailed eagle was flying about the Forest a few miles east of the valley and Iím told they eat Cormorants. Iím not sure that can be taken as gospel, it may have been a birder friend just trying to cheer me up!

Tufted duck on the river
Tufted on the river, the Smew is often with them, smaller, grey with a red head, a smart little duck.


30th December

It would appear the small rise in water levels, due to the recent thaw, has spurred the salmon into action. I have heard from three readers today who have let me know that salmon are moving throughout the system from the Royalty to right up above Salisbury. There has also been a pair cutting on the estate today which would point to a resumption of normal service now the muck and grime the the river has sent down over the last couple of days appears to have cleared.

Salmon cutting a redd Brambling

The first shows a good pair of salmon cutting and the second some of the Brambling in the garden today.

There were actually three salmon using that redd at the time, a small spawned out hen of about five pounds, the cock fish of about twelve pounds and a good hen of sixteen pounds or so. The little hen was the fish I spotted cutting in this redd three days ago so it looks as if the larger fish has decided to over-cut her. Why nature should decide to concentrate the redds in such a fashion with so much unused shallows in the area beats me. I believe it is probably due to the flow requirements of redds in that pace and laminar flow would seem to be the order of the day and flow under the present low flows is in short supply. With the news of fish moving through the catchment it does look as if the three pairs required for the hatchery study may have an easier time finding their broodstock. I will try and keep readers up to date with the progress of the scheme if it manages to get off the ground this time around.

The pix of the Bramblings I couldn't resist, they are a few of the twenty or so that are feeding in my garden at present. Most readers probably think I live on the estate but that is not so, I choose to live on a small housing estate in Ringwood surrounded by the comings and goings of people and cars within feet of my feeders. Despite the continual disturbance we have twenty or so Bramblings, thirty plus Siskins, more than twenty Goldfinches, plus a further twenty two species that regularly visit. I can thoroughly recommend feeding the birds as a calming therapy to while away an hour or two, except when the neighbours moggy turns-up; that non PC bumper sticker of a few years ago "Conserve British Wildlife - Run-over a Cat" was obviously devised by a birder!

29th December

Conditions are certainly different from last week with dense mist settled in the valley throughout the day. I have spent the last two days looking for cutting salmon without a great deal of success despite four or five pairs of fish cutting on Monday. Why they should have stopped cutting is something of a mystery, always assuming there are more to spawn. It might well be that the slight rise in water levels and water temperature have not been to their liking which I can understand as the water looked like a grey drain on Tuesday. There have been several anglers out and about who have been catching chub fairly consistently, mostly maggot on the float. I always enjoy meeting the anglers to discover how the waters fishing. I must admit to having one or two who I use as measures of how the river is fishing. Good, consistent anglers will always catch if there are fish there to be caught. Its odd in that in all disciplines of angling there will be two or three percent of the participants who will catch ninety percent of the fish. Itís not all down to time, tackle and bait; there are other elements that come into play. I canít define them but they are certainly worth cultivating should you ever get an inkling of their essence.

Pollards in the mist
Pollards in the afternoon mist.

Itís not a hardship to spend a couple of days marching up and down the river, even if I canít find what it is that got me out there in the first place. The bird world has taken a deep breath of the milder air and the food revealed as the snow has melted is being greedily devoured lest more bad weather arrives soon. The wildfowl are on the water meadows in their thousands, the Great white egret has turned up again, Iíve no idea where its been for the last week or two.

26th December

I did pop out briefly this morning to have a look at the valley in the hope the ice had loosened its grip, unfortunately a forlorn hope, one of the coldest nights of the year had left a hoar frost sparkling in the early sunshine. No anglers out, only John and Clifford doingthe rounds, ensuring all was well.

Widgeon over the water meadows Tufties and Gadwall on the river

Two shots of the freezing valley with hundreds of duck concentrated on the water meadows.

We have been promised a break in the weather and it can't come soon enough for many of the valley resident birds as the cold takes a higher and higher toll. The free water and available feeding has almost dissappeared, desperation forcing the usually shy wildlife to seek food in the most unusual places with Lapwing seeking food in the gardens.

Starling
The boys are back in town! I do enjoy the sight of the garrulous Starlings in the garden. I have put up a couple of boxes in the hope they will breed this year.

24th December

MERRY CHRISTMAS.
Roe doe

Its not Rudolph but one of the twins from Broadclose, it still makes a good seasonal pix in the snow.

21st December

I had a WeBS count this morning that further proved, if more proof was needed, just how the valley birds are suffering after a month of this freezing weather. With the lakes for the most parts still frozen and the grass and weed under snow and ice populations are being forced to move further afield to survive. There's stillplenty going on with one or two highlights being the Golden eye, Smew, Hen harrier, Ravens, Bittern and even a pair of Black swans. On the downside the count confirmed the Cormorant population, which is over 250 birds, is still very much in residence on the upper river.

A pair of salmon Otter tracks in the snow

Two interesting scenes I happened on today, the first being two grilse, paired off in readiness for spawning so we are getting very close indeed. The second are the tracks from a herd of otters. I'm not sure what you call a lot of otters? I expect one or two readers might have some suggestions! In actual fact this is only a bitch with her two large cubs, there are also a couple of fox tracks in there to confuse the issue.

With a large dog otter seen less than a mile downstream we still have a few up here to send down to the Lower Stour if their numbers start to drop! Its worth considering that this family has been here for at least a year and the bitch, or her predecessors have been here for over a decade at least. This swim has an interesting history in that the Avon record barbel lives in this very section and it has also produced several two pound roach for me in the past. As well as the record barbel there is a shoal of carp, that I have photographed and placed on the diary before, that have lived here as long as the otters. It was also in this swim several years ago that I happened on Pete Reading, out barbel chasing, and the topic of otters cropped up. I mentioned that there were a family of otters living close by to which Pete replied he had yet to see one, with that one popped its head up in Pete's swim had a look at us and casually departed up stream. I bet Pete has seen a great many more otters in recent years but they do not appear to have had that great an impact on the local fish stocks; fingers crossed long may the harmonious existence continue.

The species that has disappeared from this section is the roach, I don't blame the otters, unfortunately I don't know what is responsible but as a frustrated roach angler I would dearly like to isolate the cause.

20th December

It was a day when we were trying to work out the number of Cormorants commuting up and down the Avon Valley. Keepers and counters were out from high in the catchment far upstream of Salisbury downstream to us here on the estate. I havenít spoken to those higher in the catchment yet but down here the weather was a white-out and it was impossible to see the river let alone the Cormorants. It is very difficult to calculate the exact number, hence the potential impact on the river, as there are several roosts throughout the valley; suffice to say their numbers have increased dramatically in recent years we will have to wait to see just by how many.

Snipe in the water meadows Widgeon grazing between the laterals

A couple of further photos whilst taken during this mornings snow do illustrate the benefit the water meadows provide for the birdworld under such severe conditions. The first shows the Snipe probing the soft ground, the second the Widgeon grazing the thawed grass between the laterals.

Todayís report is also a "catch-up" with yesterdayís events in that John McGough has very kindly sent me a couple of pix of his two largest chub of last Friday. As I said yesterday this was a magnificent brace and seeing the scale perfect condition of them certainly reinforces that view. I did credit the big six with a couple of extra ounces in that it was actually 6.13 not the 6.15 but I donít think that takes anything at all from that brace. John was out again today but with the water temperature down a further couple of degrees at 34.5 degrees Fahrenheit it was looking pretty bleak when I left him to it at lunchtime but look on the bright side, at least he didn't have an otter rolling about in his swim as he had yesterday.

John McGough 6.13 chub Biggest of the day 7.3

The first shows the 6.13 the second the 7.3, of John's well deserved catch of Friday last. I must add special thanks to John for sending the photos as fishy photos are in short supply with so few people braving the weather at the moment.

19th December

I did spend several hours today looking for cutting salmon without any joy what so ever. Despite the lack of success, salmon wise, it was a very enjoyable walk in such dramatic scenery. There were one or two anglers out but when I headed for home at lunchtime I hadnít met anyone with anything to show for their efforts. I bumped into John McGough who told the water temperature had dropped three degrees over the weekend with chub feeding well on Friday just giving the odd knock this morning. John has been putting in the hours recently and has been justly rewarded with a great bag of chub Friday the two best going 6.15 and 7.3 under any conditions that is a super brace but under such severe conditions as we are currently enduring is a magnificent brace of fish.

Swans in the snow
The negative of the black cat in the coal hole!

The bird world still continues to suffer with one lateral on the water meadows having over sixty Snipe making the most of the softened ground. Joining them were two Redshank, a most unusual winter sighting up here, plus a flock of Lapwing. The Bewicks have also moved from their usual haunt north of Ibsley Bridge this winter spending most of their time out on the flooded meadows. The beauty of the water meadows is that the laterals are flowing sufficiently to prevent them from freezing, overflowing onto the grassy inclined planes between the parallel channels keeping them frost free and providing soft ground for probing bills and grazing for the wildfowl.

18th December

Fingers crossed my eldest son has arrived and duly poked this computer that now appears to be working , tempting fate probably but at least Iím underway.

As forecast the cold has returned with vengeance and we are now faced with a white and frozen world once more. The fishing is dire and despite thousands of birds visiting the valley I donít think it would be their first choice of destination if the weather were more clement. One of the more visual casualties of the freeze has been the swans with at least five dying in the last ten days. Four have been this yearís cygnets that seem to suffer particularly badly when the grass freezes forcing them to search out river weed or the meagre pickings along the ditches. We had fifteen pairs of Mute swans nesting with us on the estate that managed to hatch thirty nine cygnets. Once the first week or two of life have been achieved the survival rate is usually fairly high until they begin to fly and we loose a few to the over head power lines. Unfortunately when feed get tight the dominant pairs defend their territories to the extent many cygnets are driven away from the family groups. The bird world, under these savage conditions, is a classic example of Natures "survival of the fittest" as even the finches on the garden feeders argue and fight over the prime feeding areas. The sight of dozens of Siskin, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Redpolls and Brambling, ten feet from the window, is wonderful spectacle where I waste hours and hours just watching their antics. It becomes almost an obligation; once youíve started to feed them you feel a duty to them in case no one is feeding elsewhere, you just have to keep the feeders topped up.

Dead cygnet
One of several dead cygnets that have succumbed to the weather; the Buzzards will make the most of the bounty until the ice becomes thick enough for the foxes to reach the corpse.

The search for the salmon broodstock for the WCSRT hatchery scheme is gathering pace as the consents from the EA and Natural England have now been obtained. With fish seen on the redds in the headwaters we are looking to get underway as soon as possible. To that end I will be walking miles of banks tomorrow to assess the state of play.

16th December

By the time I've managed to get the computer booted-up I'm in such a state I've forgotten what happened today; I have become overley dependent on these machines, I'm not sure its healthy!

I have spent considerable time over the last few days looking for the salmon getting underway with their spawning. I've found several coloured fish moving in the deeper water but have yet to see any sign of them up on the shallows. I'm informed that they have started cutting up on the Nadder and the Wylye which begs the question as to the where abouts of the bulk of the fish? In a low flow year such as this we might expect to see higher spawning lower in the catchment, or did the fish manage to reach the hedwaters on the last rise of water we had a few weeks back? The surprising numbers of parr we found in the lower river recently, following a high flow winter, would seem to belie this theory so we wait to seewhat nature decides in the coming weeks.

Winter flows
Low flow, clear water and lush green ranunculus - hardly looks like winter.

As I write this the temperature is dropping dramatically outside as we return to the frozen world we endured last week. The lakes had just begun to thaw, enabling the Cormorants and Goosander to return to stillwater feeding, now we face the hungry hoards returning to wreak further damage on those very parr mentioned above. Oddly yet another sawbill arrived on the river yesterday in the shape of a Smew. I say oddly in that the attention of the sawbilled Goosander is a major concern yet I welcome the arrival of such a delightful duck as the Smew which we only get to see when the weather turns cold. I haven't managed a photograph of our visitor yet so those hoping to see them will have to have a look in Google to see what to look for. There is currently at least one redhead possibly two and whilst your looking its worth keeping a watch for the Golden eyes that are also on the river with at least five bold drakes.

14th December

Please be warned my entries may become a little erratic as my computer is playing up, it packed up two days ago only to come back into being today. It now takes me twenty minutes to load and crashes when it feels inclined!! It will take me a week or two to arrange a replacement for my old faithful and I will have to add bits and pieces to the diary whenever possible.

The only news I have at present can be found on the bird front with the Bewicks now reached thirteen and the Widgeon numbering over a thousand which is quite remarkable for such a cold period.

11th December

A very busy valley today as our neighbouring shoots were out and the still conditions meant you could hear them miles away. Added to the shoots the river probably had a dozen anglers out at one stage this morning, more than I've seen for weeks. I didn't get back this afternoon to see how they had got on so unfortunately reports on that front have to remain a mystery.

I did take a couple of photos that seem to capture the current strained mood of the valley as they illustrate the cold and the ostrich, head in the sand, approach by the regulators to the problems of the river.

Frozen Snipe Cormorant flight

The first speaks for itself showing the impact of the recent cold on the weak of the bird world. The second is more worrying if the lakes remain frozen much longer. Do you recognise them? Its just part of the flight of Cormorants that were feeding on the northern boundary of the estate today. I took a series of photos over a period of five minutes as the birds passed south overhead enabling me to get an accurate digital count off the computer when I got home. The number? wait for it - 263 - an all time high as far as my records go for this part of the river. The worrying aspect of this is that I did not include birds that had flown north after being disturbed so anything upstream of Bickton is extra to this little lot.

10th December

The bird records for Somerley for the last three years are available in the "Categories" in the header.

They are currently available only as downloads as putting them into tables will take ages and I simply haven't got the time at the moment.

A good day as the frost and ice lifted its grip for a few hours, the entire valley appeared to sigh with relief. Even the flock of Siskins and Goldfinches on my garden feeders seemed in a more relaxed and cheerful mood as they chattered and argued over the prime feeding slots. I'm afraid if the forecasters are correct it is but a very brief interlude and we will be back in the cold next week so lets make the most of the weekend.

I was out looking for redds this morning and almost fell over a Bittern that has been living in a section of reeds at Ibsley in recent days. I had already passed within ten feet of the very spot as I parked and walked over to the Trout stream to check the gravel. As I came back to the car it got up right next to me and flew lazily across the river and flopped down in a phragmites bed on the other side. Too good an opportunity to miss and as I had intended to have a look for redds over there later I brought the visit forward drove round to Hayricks, stuck the camera in the pocket and out across the fields to see what could be found. Just upstream of the reedbed in question a lone angler was trotting towards the tail of the pool so I thought a chat to see how he was getting on and let him know the Bittern was about was called for. I was within ten yards when a firm strike resulted in a "fish-on" what perfect timing. I watched as Geoff Chase played a solid fish in the good flow of mid river soon getting the upper hand and slipping the net under a fine chub. Geoff told me it was the second of the morning plus a dropped fish, so it appears the chub were enjoying the break in the weather as much as I was. After the formalities of weighing and a quick pix for the diary Geoff slipped the fish back to swim strongly away.

Geoff Chase with a five and a half pound chub
Geoff Chase with his five and a half pound chub.

I mentioned to Geoff the presence of the Bittern and if it behaved as it had earlier he may well get to see it if he keeps an eye on the reed bed. Pleased with my bonus pix for the diary I headed for the shallows and a look at the reedbed to see if the Bittern would oblige and in true Bittern fashion it didn't. It had either moved off whilst I was walking across the fields or was sitting tight as they are prone to do.

A little later when I was again in the Troutstream car park the bird did a repeat performance, getting up and flying off across the river; at least Geoff got to see it this time as it passed just downstream of him. To add to the frustration of the day when a couple of miles downstream at Blashford this evening a Bittern got up from reedbed beside one of the carriers. I can't believe it was the same bird as the Ibsey bird is so faithful to its more northly patch but it does make you wonder how many might be on the estate at the moment when you consider ninety percent of our reedbeds are never looked at from one month to the next? We usually get Bittern with us if the weather is cold and as the local lakes are now mostly frozen I imagine we have collected one or two extra birds that can still find feeding beside the flowing river.

New rails to stop me falling in!
Kingcombe Aquacare fitting rails to stop me falling in.
Flooding the meadows
Flooding the water meadows.

Apart from Bitterns in the carriers I have also been resetting all the gates to flood the meadows to provide some easier feeding in the soft ground for the other wildfowl and waders. The Snipe are packed on to any section of drain or carrier that is protected from the full impact of the freezing weather so lets hope they can make use of another twenty or thirty acres of flooed water meadow. We still have at least five Bewicks with us and I imagine there must be in the region of a thousand Widgeon feeding on the meadows to the north so there continues to be plenty to see in the valley. It's very difficult to count exactly what is with us at any one moment without disturbing the birds, making their lives even more difficult that the weather is already conspiring to do. Many of the Tufted duck, Pochard, Golden eye and Pintail favour an area almost impossible to see without frightening many of the others so we will just have to be satisfied knowing they find the habitat to their liking without knowing the numbers. The Widgeon have been making the most of the tons of barley that go in the shoot flight ponds especially as the shot have cancelled the last couple of wildfowl flights due to the weather. The wildfowling cold weather ban in England doesn't officially begin until the 14th but the feeding has gone on during the recent restraint and if the ban does arrive I'm sure the shoot will continue to feed throughout the cold period.

Still with carriers, we have Kingcombe Aquacare currently adding the health and safety rails and guards to the hatches recently refurbished under the EA ater Level Management Plan. I must say the new hatches are delight when it comes to the fine adjustments to get the flooding balanced across the many inclined planes of the water meadows. I used to have to don the chest waders and get in the carrier to add and remove boards, usually manageing a wet back as I stretched just that inch too far. I can assure you the sensation of water at two degrees "C" shooting down the middle of my back towards my "builders bum" is one I don't miss; thank you very much to the EA Water Level Management Team.

9th December

Bear with me, I'm messing about with the "HTML" to see if I can display my bird sightings.

See Page Header Categories.
Testing, Testing.

8th December

A couple of shots of yet another very cold day.


New roof on the fishing lodge Brent goose
The first shows the progress on renovating the Fishing Lodge by Kevin Styles and his team as the new King post roof trusses, exact copies of the originals built by Steve Gibson, are fixed in place. The second photo is of a single Brent goose that appeared out on the meadows with the Bewicks today. Ten miles south down at the coast a Brent would hardly merit a second glance; inland only the second I have seen on the estate in twenty years.

I did spend several hours today resetting the gates on the water meadows to allow the water on to provide some flooding for the beleaguered wildfowl. The weather forecast would appear to provide little hope of rain making life extremely difficult for the wetland birds. My problem will be finding enough water in the river to establish heads sufficient to overflow in to the laterals.

7th December

I was out looking for cutting salmon this lunchtime when I spotted Ron Davy out looking for the Grayling on the shallows below Blashford Island. With the temperature struggling to reach zero and the north wind doing its best to blow straight through you I consider the efforts of the half dozen or so anglers I met out on the river today deserving of every success. Unfortunately apart from Ron who had managed a grayling and a lost pike at Ibsley very little was showing, hopefully those that stuck it out for the afternoon found a chub or two. I did at least get a quote of the day from Ron who told me he had intended to fish up on the Salisbury waters, where he is a member, but he thought he would catch too many fish and releasing them would have involved getting cold and wet, so he thought he would fish down here today!!


Grayling fishing in the cold Mistle thrush feeding on fruit Low water erosion
Ron Davy looking for the Grayling despite the bitter cold, a Mistle thrush feeding on Malus hupehensis fruit further fueling the debate re aliens and the erosion being created by the current unseasonable low flows.

The pix of the Mistle thrush, taken on Sunday, isnít the primary reason for the shot, itís the fruit the bird is feeding on. The tree is a Malus hupehensis, (Hubei crabapple, Chinese crab, Himalayan crab) Iím not sure exactly which is correct; I grew it from seed because I liked it. That brings up the entire problem of introduced invasive aliens. What ever itís called the tree comes from the far side of the world, grows true from seed and is prolific. Despite that it is a wonderful tree, being perhaps one of the finest blossom bearing trees of spring, a wonderful autumn colour and has a fruit enjoyed by our native birds. In many respects a perfect tree, it is however an undoubted alien in the Avon valley and raises the question should I be growing such a plant? We need to have clear guidelines on just what is acceptable to be introduced as garden varieties and what should be discouraged or even banned. It should be borne in mind that most of the invasive aliens we currently have problem with started life as garden plants. Oddly I associate the tree with the mountains of western Sichuan, probably quite wrongly and as I write this a Beeb programme about the Panda breeding programme at Chengdu is on the television, a facility I have had the pleasure of visiting - spooky.

Malus hupehensis
The white blossom.

Back to a more local problem in the extent of erosion and bank collapse the current low water level is giving rise to. I have never seen the river as low at this time of year when we would expect the river to be at the top of the banks we have three feet of freeboard in most places. The extensive freeboard being exposed to freezing and thawing has collapsed over large areas speeding the rivers continual attempts at rerouting itself. It will be interesting to see what changes will be seen at the end of this odd winter.

I have yet to find any salmon cutting early so perhaps the cold and low flows do not play a part in the triggers determining when it all begins?


2nd December

I knew it was too good to last, the snow arrived last night blanketing the valley and creating untold problems, I hate the stuff, the sooner it clears off the better. Fine if youíre indoors looking out at it, not so good if you have to travel or work outdoors. There you are done the miserable old git bit now to look for the positives associated with the stuff. You donít in actual fact have to look too far as the snowscapes are truly stunning, if I were a few years younger with thicker blood I would love to have got the rods out and suffered for an hour or two in such wonderful settings. I did manage to have a look along the river and discovered at least a couple of other anglers willing to brave the elements and water temperatures down at 2 degrees C. happily they were rewarded for their efforts.

Nice double figure pike Trotting the far bank on the pin
Two anglers who enjoyed their short sessions, David Reynolds with a nice double pike and Ashley who had been rewarded with three chub to 5.1 on the pin in the half hour before my arrival. Trotting the far bank tree line with a pin with a freezing downstream wind is about a difficult as pin fishing comes. The chub have been the saving grace of these recent weeks with temperatures down at 2.5C/37F half a dozen fish in a session with sixes relatively common place but no sevens that I have heard of in recent days, despite the cold plenty to aim at.

One of the reasons I was out and about on the river was that I was looking for the first signs of any of our salmon cutting in the event the cold weather has triggered an early spawning. With the river so low we are in unknown territory, not knowing what will trigger the fish into action. Is it the cold, the photo period, the flow; we do not know. The period between Christmas and New Year is the favourite time for our fish to cut but I have seen them in early December and late January so we are in the time slot where activity is possible. With the WCSRT attempting to establish a rearing programme to shed some light on one or two of the unknowns associated with our salmon we do not wish to miss the boat when it comes to securing broodfish. To that end, if anyone out and about on the estate should see any fish cutting please give me a ring, you could save me hours stamping up and down the banks. It is really odd that a fish that has attracted so much attention for hundreds of years is so little understood.

I mentioned in an earlier entry that we have seen unusually high numbers of parr on the estate this autumn; despite the high flows of last winter which we had assumed meant lower spawning down here in the lower catchment. I recently had a call from Ron Davy who spends a great deal of his angling time with fly rod in-hand fishing the main channel for the chance of a surprise or two. Ron is an efficient dryfly and nymph fisherman and is as happy chasing dace as he is trout. One of his favourites is the Grayling and as a fish that favours the riffles and faster flow is found in the same locations as the salmon parr. This year Ron tells me he has been driven off one or two shallows due to the attention of the parr; the reason for moving being to ensure they are not unnecessarily harmed. It is a good few years since parr have been at levels where they have become a nuisance to the fly fishermen, fingers crossed we see it continue.

Snowy scene Snowy scene Snowy scene
Today on the river, at least the snow gave us the opportunity to assess the number of otters about. With continuous new falls and drifting tracks were covered within a couple of hours but we appeared to have at least five different animals out and about early this morning.

28th November

WeBS day and I think the pix below speak volumes when it comes to the hard time this weather means for many of our birds.

Greylags over the maize stubble Black-tailed godwit Black-tailed godwits
Part of the Greylag flock coming in on the Maize stubble at first light. The second and third shot are of one of my favourie birds Black-tailed godwits as they probe the frozen ground for worms.

The other highlights of today's count were the Great white egret is still with us accompanying a flock of fifteen Little egrets and the single Bewick still looking lost out with the Mute swans. The cold weather has driven many Goosander south with one fishery having over seventy feeding with over fifty Cormorants.

27th November

With the water temperature down below 4 degrees C. I will not be out chasing the fish about so I will continue to report the movement of the bird population whilst such conditions remain with us. Alas according to the Met Office we face this cold spell for a further fortnight which whilst necessary to kill off many of the unpleasant pests and reset many natural time clocks is not weather I relish.

Teal over the frozen marsh Cormorants gathering by the river Heron waitingto feed

Despite the marsh freezing over the Teal have managed to keep channels open purely through weight of numbers, how long they will be able to maintain this open water remains to be seen but temperatures as low as we have endured in recent nights will inevitably win the day. With many of the lakes now freezing over the Cormorant population is being concentrated on the rivers that along with the Grey herons, Goosander and Egret under the current low flow conditions will have seriously increased impact on fish populations. The freezing over of the stillwaters highlights the potentially devasting impact of avian predation on EU directed species, whilst the birds are eating the vast shoals of perch, rudd and roach in the lakes the losses are at least bearable. With the lakes frozen and heightened numbers of predatory birds inland how NE side-step or ignore the issue amazes me. More worrying is the total silence coming from the bodies supposedly protecting our fisheries and rivers, not only in the shape of the EA but the Riverine Trusts and the Wildlife Trusts who all purport to protect the natural balance of our rivers?

The birds will undoubtedly begin to suffer if the cold spell drags on. We currently have our regular Great white egret and one Bewick swan whilst the Black-tailed godwits that arrived last week have already almost dissappeared with only a couple about yesterday. The frozen lakes and ground will force the birds to move to the coast or even further afield to the continent, the smaller birds warblers, wrens, goldcrests and the like will be in for a dire time. Those that attempt to stay will be forced into taking desperate measures staying on or close to the river even during the daytime. It does mean we will perhaps see some of the birds from further north moving south to keep ahead of the cold weather so keep your eyes peeled for the sight of Waxwings on the berries or perhaps Smew on the river, should they appear locally I will do my best to record them here on the diary. Personally I will forego the chance of the northern rarities for a return to more clement weather to ease the lot of our local wildlife.

I would like to make it quite clear at this point that I DO NOT advocate shooting these birds. I have given up my four Defra Cormorant licences as the dozen or so birds I was licenced to shoot was totally futile whilst across the A338 these birds are being deliberately provided with a sanctuary. It must also be remembered the first Goosander in Hampshire bred with us at Somerley and have continued to do so since 2000. I'm not even sure others have managed to establish elsewhere whilst we have two or three pairs now with us. The licenced control of Goosander is easy if required what is not so easy is the control of marine avian predators provided with sanctuaries such as Blashford and Steeple langford. If marine species are to be encouraged inland the consequences have to be evaluated. Black-headed gull colonies and the impact on deminishing up-wing flies when they spend all day dipping them from the surface as they hatch. I don't believe the Common terns have a measurable impact when predating river fry which they do throughout the breeding season but it should be assessed next to a SAC/SSSI.

I have the option to shoot to scare but I detest that measure as it not only scares the Cormorants it also scares the waders and wildfowl we are so keen to keep within the valley. It is a very real problem being conveniently ignored by the regulators which is a great pity as it reflects badly on the entire conservation world.


23rd November

Despite the cold grey conditions I do like this time of year as our winter migrants arrive, hopefully to take up residence in the valley for the next three of four months. The anglers who look in will have to forgive me if I prattle on about the birds a little too much but they are easier than fishing and certainly donít take so much time. I promise once the winter weather proper arrives I will get the rods out and get my angling head on.

Back to the birds and particularly the new arrivals in the valley - I looked in on the marsh this morning to see how the flooding was progressing and found the marsh looking wonderful. The water has now spread five hundred meters upstream from the hatch and covers an area of some fifteen acres. Small in comparison to the area that goes under water when the river floods naturally but as an artificial measure to facilitate the needs of the wintering wildfowl and waders under these low flow conditions its working beautifully. I say its working well purely based on the number of wildfowl that have now taken up residence. With a minimum of two hundred and fifty Teal, probably in excess of four hundred but as the only way to get an accurate count is to flush them the exact numbers will have to remain a mystery for a little longer. I have a WeBS count Friday that will involve putting them in the air, hopefully to settle back almost immediately if I get it right and manage a quick digital pix to do the count from. I did see one or two other bits and bobs with a single Bewick looking most dejected sat out in the middle wondering where all his mates had gone. The Black-tailed godwits are also making the most of the soft ground with one hundred and thirty six putting on a fine aerial display whilst avoiding the attentions of a Peregrine. Add in several hundred Lapwing and certainly a three figure count of Widgeon, dozens of Pied wagtails, Snipe, Meadow pipits and it was all looking very well.

Arriving Godwits
One of two flocks of Black-tailed godwits on the marsh this morning..
Artificial flood
The artificial flooding spreading into the meadows providing vital feeding at times of low flow.

On a different subject but still on the top end of the estate, visitors to Ibsley will notice the old willows beside the road are being felled or pollarded. It looks severe and undoubtedly is but unfortunately it harks back to the subject of change I recently wrote about. The trees beside the road are being felled or lowered as a health and safety measure, as Iím sure regulars will have noticed they have developed a very nasty habit of dropping large limbs on the road. The volume of traffic using the A338 these days doesnít afford us the luxury of long odds, they are an accident waiting to happen and we have to take measures to remove or at least minimise the risk. Under recent legislation landowners have a statutory obligation to survey and assess the risk posed by all trees where the public have access. To the estate that means several hundred acres of park and with huge mature trees, miles of footpaths and of course the roads that pass through the estate. Hundreds and hundreds of trees all having a consultants report and recommended action; sad in may respects and certainly horrendously expensive but in todayís litigious society inevitable.

Felling dangerous willows
The old willows having to be felled.

If to the trees that are being felled for health and safety reasons we add the round of tree removals instigated by Natural England for the improvement of the SSSI the valley is under going or about to under go major change. We have become used to the lack of management of the valley trees and the sudden reversion to a managed regime is hard to swallow in many instances. I have given the process much thought in recent years and I have come down firmly on the side of the new approach. It will mean familiar views will be lost and new perspectives opened up but in the best interests of the fish and creatures of the Hampshire Avon and its associated floodplain it has to be the way to go. I have a further area around the lakes at Ibsley to thin and pollard in an effort to re-establish the reed beds and clear flight lines up the valley, once I have the licences back from the forestry authority I will go over the plans to ensure everybody at least understands the thinking even if they disagree with the methodology involved.

20th November

With the recent rain we had hoped the river would take on its winter mode and stay bank high, unfortunately itís not read the same book and is rapidly dropping back. There is a tinge of colour that alas is also disappearing and with colder weather forecast for the end of the week we will probably have some time to wait before the rains set in properly.

Board hatch
The ducks and waders soon found the floods

In an effort to give the wildfowl an area of good feeding I dropped the boards in the hatch on the north marsh last week. The birds didnít take long to find their favoured habitat and we had several hundred Teal plus; Gadwall, Mallard and the first Shoveler and Pintail of the winter.

15th November

Tucked away in a dappled clearing amidst the tangled woods on the edge of the valley stands a cottage seldom chanced on by the unknowing. It occasionally befalls my lot to call on the resident of this ancient home to attend to repairs and problems that arise from time to time. The reason for my visit on this occasion being in the shape of a dark, towering tree threatening to further erase any sign of this hidden home.

Cottage

The occupant is as ancient and mysterious as the faded redbrick and clay peg-tiled house itself, the grizzled whiskers and the ivy covered north facing gable seem to have much in common. Never had anyone on the estate seen inside the cottage or seen any other person in the house or garden in living memory. Strange goings-on are associated with this area of the estate and as a fifth generation resident of this woodland scene the man in question had numerous tales to add to the rich woodland scene if he can be engaged in conversation. Our head keeper firmly believes him to be a warlock with the ability to appear and disappear at will; often within arms reach of him causing great unease. His sudden appearance deep in the woods has given rise to shivers, chills and goose bumps only heightened by the often associated changes of the natural scene, as wind seems stilled and woodland creatures silenced.

On my rare visit to the vicinity of the cottage, where I had been asked to deal with a huge, hollow beech, that was giving rise to safety concerns, our man appeared twenty feet behind me in the middle of the drive. Not being as sensitive as our keeper I put his unseen arrival down to the fact I was preoccupied with deciding the fate of the tree; discounting any other possibility. As in all our previous meetings we exchanged pleasantries and as usual discussed the wild creatures that were so abundant in this section of the woods. On this occasion the early arrival of the Crossbills and the bold habit of the stoats as they pursued the rabbits under the fallen trunks of even more ancient oaks. The recent arrivals in the shape of the Muntjac deer now regular visitors to this hidden woodland clearing were also discussed; particularly as they were not seen elsewhere on the estate.

The niceties out of the way I was asked the reason for my interest in the hollow beech which now seemed to be absorbing the grey light of the afternoon as a sponge takes in water, hastening the arrival of a damp clinging dusk. As casually as I could I mentioned the concern for those using the drive and the possibility the tree may even land on the cottage doing him serious harm. Equally as casually he informed me the tree was sound and would not fall for several seasons; my attentions would also not be appreciated by the hooty owl and the flittermice that lived within.

Here was a dilemma, I now had to explain the influence of the Health and Safety legislation as it impacts on our every day working life on the estate to a man who had retired from work before I joined the estate twenty plus years ago. From time to time in my working life there comes a time when an early finish to the day is deemed practical and this seemed just such an occasion.

To avoid further discussion of the tree I inquired if he ever managed to visit the river as in all my time on the estate I had not seen him on the banks.

"I do on occasions take that path and spend an hour or two beside the water"

"Really, Iíve never seen you down there; do you have a favourite spot?"

"I usually head for the seat downstream of Ellingham where I often chat to the old bent over gent with the two walking canes"

"Ah yes, well, perhaps Iíll leave this fine tree for the time being, Iím sure itís sound as a bell. If you get worried about it you just call at the office and theyíll get me to deal with it. See you soon, take care, bye now, nice to have seen you, enjoyed our chat, any problems give me a call, bye."

I was off, into the truck and heading for home. Why the haste? Well, that "favoured seat" is in memory of a gentleman who passed away over twenty years ago, a gentleman with a distinct stoop that walked with the aid of two canes!

Shady glade


11th November

Invasive Aliens

Graylag geese

Part of a flock in excess of four hundred Greylags disturbed from their early morning grazing on the meadows and heading for lakes to sit out the day. Twenty five years ago Greylag's first bred in the Avon Valley, today they out number the Canada's, also an alien that have been here for far longer. In the 60's and 70's the White-fronted geese, in numbers as high as one and a half thousand used to naturally migrate and over-winter in the very meadows now occupied by the feral geese.


11th November

The Avon's back.

At last the autumn rains have arrived and we have the first real flood of the winter. I imagine weíll all be cursing the wet and mud in a week or two but the change in the weather has almost come as a relief to the unnaturally dry river valley. The autumn colours of last weekís trees came swirling downstream as the vanguard of the spate to come. The previously so resplendent trees in their seasonal cloaks appear to have thrown them in the river, every shade of red and yellow imaginable turning the river into some multi-coloured crazy paving highway all being sucked through the hatch gates before reforming in the weirpool below and on downstream. The trembling trickle of the past four months that we had become used to as its inhabitants cringed and cowered under even the smallest piece of cover has now been replaced by the brown surging, almost visceral outpouring of frustration. The first big flood has a wonderful pungent smell of rotting weed and accumulated silt and filth of the summer. Itís not unpleasant, itís unique and when put in the context of Natureís plan exciting. The colour of eel skin brown, churning and grinding the suspended rubbish on its way out onto the water meadows or ultimately down to the estuary and eventually the mineral soup will be flushed out to the sea to be recycled. It does require considerably more effort to keep pace with the floods activities but I wouldnít have it any other way as we can now synchronise our lives once more with Natureís intentions.

Autumn colour

Autumn's cloak of many colours.

Chaotic probably best describes the estate as we rushed to finish the dry weather jobs before the ground became waterlogged and we can no longer get the plant onto the fields. Roads to rebuild and surface, timber compartments to be measured and whips ordered, infrastructure for next Februaryís rally to be completed and compacted before the weather changes. New electricity supplies to dig in, septic tanks to renew or renovate and gravel restoration plans to consider. Add in the start of the shoot season and the great raft of consent applications I now have to submit to the EA time is tight.

Last Wednesday evening I attended a meeting called by EA fisheries to discuss the problem Wels catfish might potentially create in the Avon Valley. Interesting, in that the authorities appear to be at a loss at what to do about the introduction of these fish. Whilst we all appreciate it is illegal to move these wretched creatures it doesnít warrant a great deal of consideration in the eyes of the knuckle dragging cretins that have moved Carp, Barbel, Zander, Catfish and goodness only knows what else, purely to suit their own selfish ignorant ends. Itís not their lake that may suffer with the introduced parasite, disease or change of ecological balance, so not their problem, duh! Once in a large lake they are almost impossible to remove and if they are to be controlled just how that is achieved has yet to be resolved. Personally I do not wish to see them at Somerley and should any clown feel inclined to illegally add them to any of the estate lakes they will be removed. I have more means at my disposal to remove them than the EA and believe me they will be removed. What will be done with them remains to be decided, if I have the option of a local lake that is licensed by Defra to receive them then they are welcome to collect them. If itís down to me to fill in the section 30ís and spend ages holding them in isolation tanks whilst the EA decide the outcome of the application Iím afraid they will be knocked on the head. How that fits with the latest EA byelaw will have to be decided when the occasion arises - I suppose we will have to apply for an exemption from this particular EA hoop. I know that I am not alone in that several riparian owners are of the same view as myself regarding these aliens. All I would say to anyone considering illegally moving them perhaps its worth considering long and hard before doing so in any other waters in the valley.

Leaves in the stream
Warning of things to come.
Arriving flood
The arrival of the flood.

This whole complex situation related to the alien species risk to our native flora and fauna has to be looked at in a hard, practical fashion if we are ever going to control these introductions. We have the EA happily permitting and supporting the acceptance of species whilst indigenous nationally are alien to many unique local ecosystems throughout the country. Just what distance constitutes alien? How long does a species have to be established within an ecosystem to be deemed indigenous? Whose responsibility is it to see that any invasive deemed undesirable is controlled or removed? Who is to organise the identification, location and control of such invasives that do not fall under the funding rich boundaries of a National Park or conservation designated area? Himalayan balsam has been in the country longer than barbel have been in the Avon yet we do not feel the need to rid ourselves of introduced barbel. Ruddy ducks can have four or five million of public money spent chasing them about the country whilst the grant in aid of the entire fishery department that comes to little more looks set to be cut again.

We have already seen tens of thousands of pounds spent in trying to publicise the risk of one or two species of plant yet this year I have seen more Himalayan balsam and Giant hogweed than I have ever seen. Whilst the National Park has a dedicated team to deal with aliens and those in designated areas have payments under the agri/environment schemes to fund control operations, problems remain on a seriously large scale. If you drive along the minor roads as they leave the park boundary and head toward the A338, in most instances less than a mile, balsam was visible at virtually every bridge or culvert. Who is going to deal with all these isolated stands of the stuff; local authority, local landowner, highways department someone has to take over responsibility and I have yet to see many volunteers holding up their hands now much of the Heritage Lottery and EU funding as dried up. It now appears to have fallen back on the voluntary efforts of stalwarts like Pete Reading and John Yetton to deal with the stuff, however admirable their efforts the task is far and away beyond the scope of voluntary effort. If the authorities in the shape of Defra are serious about the control of invasives a sustainable mechanism to stay on top of the problem has to be implemented. Alas this appears to be some way off at the moment.

I did take the opportunity to drop in at one of the pools to see how the juniors were getting on in the last match of the season. Not the most inspiring of events I fear for whilst those prepared to stay on the maggot a roach or rudd a cast seemed to be possible the larger tench and carp were sulking after the cold night. There were one or two tales of straightened hooks but nothing of any size had shown. I left them to it and with a couple of hours to go perhaps the better fish might have a crazy half hour.

Junior fishing match

The last junior match of the season.

I moved further north to look at the state of the meadows in readiness for the coming winter floods. I must say that the ditch work of last year, dry autumn and the heavier grazing regime has the sward looking as good as I have seen it at this time of year. If the water arrives Iím sure we will see our waders and wildfowl back in large numbers. As if a pointer toward this a hundred odd teal have arrived along with the Bewick swans, two of which arrived from Siberia yesterday. The regular ringed Great white egret has also arrived back after his summer hols and is back roosting in the heronry moving down the valley each morning. Whilst on the subject of birds I should mention the Woodpigeon movement that is currently underway. Each year between mid October and the end of November huge numbers of pigeons move east to west across our valley. The counts are incredible with over 150000 being recorded in four hours just north of Poole and 40000 in a few hours down at the coast at Hengistbury head. I havenít had the opportunity or time to do an accurate count on the estate but certainly well in excess of 5000 passed overhead in a couple of hours I was doing the hatches the other morning. Where are these pigeons coming from? Where are they going is still a subject of much debate. Odd when you consider we can follow the activities and movements of some of our much rarer species in minute detail but do not know what our common or garden woodpigeon is up to. I tend to believe the theory that they are continental and Scandinavian birds migrating by way of the UK to the cork oak forests of Portugal and Spain. Even if thatís not the case it should be and it adds one further reason to buy wine with corks and not screw tops or plastic corks, long may the cork oaks remain.

Having written that as a rambling rant you'll probably find I've edited it out of all recognition tomorrow!!

2nd November

Those Ruddy ducks again.

Elmer Fudd and his buddies turned up as forecast and gave the half dozen Ruddy duck a hard time. I must say they have some superb boats and equipment, no wonder its costings millions. I find it mind boggling that at a time when the ecology of our own rivers and wetlands has never been under such threat we waste millions messing about chasing a few ducks that hypothetically might shag a Spanish duck, giving rise to some environmental disaster that I for one am at a loss to understand. I would rather the five million used on culling the Ruddy duck was put to good use in protecting one or two of our own EU designated species that are on the point of total collapse in some of our own SSSI and SACís. As a gesture of international goodwill and co-operation I would suggest to the UK government that if one of the UKís randy Ruddyís turns up in Spain we will not object if the Spanish equivalent of Defra eradicates it. This does not apply to some of the other less desirable exports we send them each summer!! One other little side product of the Defra flotilla was that the 200 plus Cormorants spent the best part of the day on the river if the number feeding at Ibsley was any indication.

Ruddy duck cull in progress

The fleet out after the Ruddy duck.

Strangely, whilst I am not a fan of Cormorants decimating our parr, smolt and coarse fish stocks the reasons behind their appearance inland in recent years are perhaps more significant than the birds themselves. If you dredge harbours and continually fill them up with boats and disturbance, if you pour pollutants into your rivers and expect the fragile organisms that are the basic building blocks of all life to remain unaltered you do not understand the natural world. To add to the insidious pollution and disturbance with ill conceived and insufficiently researched legislation only compounds the problems. Unfortunately that is the current mindset of the majority of the population, how that is to be changed remains the problem facing the conservation world at the present time.

Some further news on the salmon front in that as a result of my comments yesterday, about parr numbers, I had an email from a Somerley angler who was after our chub and barbel with the maggot feeder and actually decided to change tactics when the feeder was proving overly irresistible to the parr. Its a long time since we have seen parr numbers on this scale hopefully we will see the benefits in two or three years.

It does of course beg the question why? Is it that the low water levels have seen the sidestream populations migrate into the main channel? Doubtful as the carriers are not dependent on natural rainfall and as such their flows have remained fairly constant. Was the gravel in better order after the long cold winter with temperatures and flow to rid it of many harmful organisms and pollutants? Your guess is as good as mine we simply don't know. The colder winter more inline with those historically recorded in the valley may have provided better feeding with invertebrate hatches coinciding with the greatest demands of the fry and parr? Again we don't know.

Redds were difficult to count last winter yet I would suggest with the good flows the majority of fish passed through us and spawned higher in the catchment unlike recent low flow winters when we have had very high redd counts this low in the river. If that is the case the parr numbers are doubly encouraging. It could be of course we have just managed to record two or three blips in the population and numbers are continuing at the low levels of recent years - I'd prefer not to think along those lines, my fingers are firmly crossed in the hope we are seeing the first signs of some positive news on the salmon front.

One thing I've forgotten to do is clarify the situation with regard to who carried out the weed cutting upstream of us on Friday and Saturday. I had been informed that the staff involved were Bournemouth and West Hants Water Company staff, which I said at the time I found surprising. I have checked with B&WHWCo and they have assured me they were absolutely nothing to do with any such activities. I do now know exactly who was involved but I don't think further mention on here is going to achieve much other than further remind me of the debacle.

1st November

Interesting day, I started by catching up with the weed situation to find I had more than the couple of hours I had anticipated. Actually it probably wasnít more than a couple of hours but it felt like it. The Penstock was blocked and the Trout Stream was drained, looking in a dire state with the shallows exposed and the weed marooned on the gravel bars. That is the second time in 48 hours I have found the stream in that state and clearing the Penstock is a proverbial sod as it is deep and very difficult to reach. Whatís worse, above the main bridge and hung in a tree half way between the bridge and the hatch two huge rafts are waiting to break free and block the hatch again. You can bet they moved ten minutes after I finished.

One other interesting point that came up today were the number of salmon parr isolated in the shallows and under the weed clumps in the Trout stream. When I arrived there was a Heron making the most of his new found bounty which raised my curiosity to see what he was finding. A quick look under the weed clumps and in the pools showed at least two dozen parr which considering the nearest redd was probably 300m away last winter is quite amazing. This backs up a catch of parr I made the other day when I was after the dace. In a pool I do not normally associate with salmon parr I had seven in almost as many casts. This was closer to main channel shallows where I know salmon to have spawned but the numbers were still higher than for several years; nothing statistically sound but very encouraging all the same.

Dry Trout Stream tranded salmon parr

The first shows a dry Trout Stream through the Penstock and the salmon pass being blocked with weed. The second a poor shot, taken on my mobile, of one of the many parr that were present.

A further piece of good news I forgot to mention last week was that whilst peering over Ibsley Bridge with Mick Morgan, watching a shoal of dace, we spotted good roach flashing deeper in the water below them. These were good fish in the two pound class; it will be very interesting to see if anyone connects with them once the weed has gone and the winter colour arrives.

I should perhaps mention the WeBS count in that as expected nothing very dramatic showed up. I did have a count of 130 Herons which is significant nationally but not unusual locally. Other points of interest were perhaps; 7 Kingfishers, 9 Cettiís warblers, 62 Moorhens, 28 Coot the ringed Great white egret and 85 Cormorants.

As for the Cormorants, my rant about Defraís attitude toward the rivers whilst being puggled about birds is further highlighted in the barmy Ruddy duck fiasco that is about to be re-enacted tomorrow and Wednesday on Ibsley water. If you remember Defra have decided in an effort to protect the Spanish, I say again Spanish White faced duck they are wiping out the UK population of Ruddy ducks. I believe its five million this has cost and the Spanish donít even bother culling their own Ruddyís, the conservation world has gone mad. Be warned donít stick your head over the bank at Blashford tomorrow with anything blue on your bobble hat, its likely to get blasted!!

30th October

Itís been one of those days!

A mist hung in the valley when I first went out to check the river this morning and as it drifted the trees and buildings appeared through it as if islands or sailing ships on a swirling sea. The sky was clear overhead and as the sun arrived to drive off the mist the autumn colours came through in glorious Technicolor, a fine start to the day.

The reason for my early visit arose from complaints I had received yesterday about floating weed, arising from the weed cutting on a neighbouring reach upstream of Ibsley. I hadnít been able to get out yesterday as I was tied up elsewhere so I thought I better stick my head in early today to see what was going on. I visited the hatches and it was clear there had been a considerable amount of weed down as the hatches were partially blocked and the weirpool was full of circling weed rafts caught in the back eddies. They act like Catherine wheels sending an unbroken line of weed that pealed off the edge as they slowly rotate. For me it wasnít the end of the world, just a couple of hours to reset the gates to chase the stuff through; for any anglers who have travelled any distance to fish the presence of a continuous stream of weed is hugely frustrating. If people wish to cut weed I have no objection, I donít even mind it being sent down to me to deal with, all I would ask is that they have the common decency to notify us that we may warn our anglers not to bother travelling and perhaps arrange our work to coincide. Iím informed that the neighbouring club involved had notified its members that a three day weed cut was scheduled over a week ago, thanks a bundle!!

Autumn beside the lake
The autumn colours in all their glory.
Golden common
Autumn gold for Sam King.

I cleared the gates and as there was obviously no one cutting upstream at the time I headed home via the lakes for some breakfast. The lakes looked super the flat calm and the high colour combined to give an almost magical feel to the place; I quite envied the lads who had spent last night out under the stars in pursuit of mystical denizens. As I drove along the back bank I spotted some movement beside a bivvy and stopped in the hope of a shot to capture the feeling of the morning. As luck would have it Sam King had spent a very enjoyable night beside the lake landing five fish to mid-twenty; better still he still had a mid twenty common awaiting release.

After breakfast I was due to sort out some long overdue jobs about the house but I had only just finished eating when the phone rang to let me know we had further weed problems. Nothing for it but back up to Ibsley to have a look and sure enough we had a continuous stream of weed snaking through the estate. Back to the truck and drive further up opposite our neighbours, the reason was obvious as there was a boat with two individuals in it charging up and down the far bank raking weed and muck up from the bed. There were two other guys, stood on the bank like Tweedledum and Tweedledee watching the weed drift past them on downstream. I was informed by a chap on the bank he recognised the guys in the boat as employees of the Bournemouth and West Hants Water Company and thought the other two were from Ringwood Anglers. I find hard to believe Bournemouth and West Hants would be involved in such an operation but will check with them to clarify the situation. Back to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, I shouted across and asked if they were EA staff to which I eventually got a response that they werenít! Thinking I best have a look at the boat in its full glory I went off upstream for a closer inspection and sure enough there was the boat running up and down the far bank dragging a channel half the width of the river clear of weed and loosening gravel the entire length of the fishery. No selective plan, the deepest pools and the inside of the bends all got the same attention irrespective of flow and shared water. Back down to Tweedledee and Tweedledum to ask if they intended to remove the floating weed as they do actually have a legal obligation to remove the stuff and they certainly werenít making any attempt to do so. The conversation was one of those that restore ones faith in the proud character of the neighbourly Englishman!!

"Excuse me, could I ask if you intend to remove all this floating weed as it is giving rise to considerable problems downstream?"

"No, we canít!"

"and whyís that?"

We canít reach it!

Oh, unfortunately thatís not my problem, well in actual fact it is my problem as itís ruining the fishing of our tenants but legally itís your problem. If you cut weed within an SSSI you are legally required to remove it from the river and from the flood plain. You must either get a boat or put a boom across.

"Who do you think you are, clear off"!!

Brilliant, you couldnít write it; whilst we thought it highly amusing there is a very serious side to this. The two gentlemen turned on their heal and marched off up the bank towards the boat, clutching their inadequate tools; little chance of further discussion with that particular sparkling intellect.

I should perhaps add I am the authorised agent of the riparian owner in that I manage the river and was very much within my rights and my jurisdiction in asking for clarification of their intention.

Those of you familiar with the stretch will also be aware of my war of words with the regulators that have allowed the destruction of this section of river. Only Thursday last we had a meeting with the EA Natural England and the neighbouring syndicate. This has arisen from the EAís latest initiative, the Avon Restoration Project and the desire to show they are active on the Lower Avon. They have declared the section above Ibsley degraded and in need of restoration. They havenít actually specified what caused this degradation but it was agreed at the meeting that the historic dredging of the right, west bank had impacted on the shallows and would not be a strategy followed today. I spent last week running low water hatch trials to ensure I fully understood the impact of the hatches; a week later, I find the inside of the bend being deliberately loosened and potentially exposed to winter scouring and bed shear. I admit defeat - I will have to join the fiasco and arrange to "gravel clean" and "weed cut" our side to encourage the water to return to its natural channel on the outside of the bends.

River maintenance

Differring views.

As for reporting the blatant flouting of legislative requirements to the regulators in the form of the EA and NE itís not worth the effort, they are totally ineffectual. Whether through lack of staff or lack of comprehension the end result is the same.

Unfortunately the inability of the regulatory authorities to take effective action doesnít end with floating weed. Iím not sure whether its inability to take effective action or double standards when it comes to protecting riverine interests against predation. In that I refer to the current situation related to Cormorants and other species not historically found in the valley. We currently have over two hundred and fifty Cormorants feeding throughout the Middle and Upper Avon. As everyone is aware their diet is fish and the small fish that include salmon parr, bullheads and lamprey all meet their needs if available. Iíve written before about the potential impact on EU designated species that the deliberate encouragement of these marauding flocks can have. If you do the sums again and times the 250 by the 500g of food each of them requires we arrive at 125kg a day. Ignore the financial loss to the fisheries of a £1000 per day itís the ecological damage that is so conveniently ignored by NE and the EA whilst they lavish funds and support on reserves that encourage these birds; reserves which are in fact little more than modern day zoos. The measure of success for these reserves/zoos is the number of different species that can be encouraged to use them. To that end we see islands and rafts created to encourage marine species to move inland to directly predate established delicately balanced inland ecosystems. Terns, Black-headed gulls, Cormorants and even Oyster-catchers what the hell is going on? If we so much as put a diploid brown trout in our rivers we face prosecution and believe it or not diploid brown trout are meant to be in our rivers, the reason their numbers are perhaps diminishing is that the bloody Cormorants have eaten them along with the salmon parr and smolt.

As you know I have long held the view that if protected species are adversely impacting on livelihoods compensation should be forthcoming from the protecting authority. The EA and other bodies purporting to represent angling still steadfastly refuse to recognise these simple facts so perhaps its time to ask Europe for a definitive response to our problems. Perhaps its time to put the facts before the EU Commission for the Environment or perhaps the human rights legislators and ask them to clarify if they want their designated species, new species or rural communities? Alternatively I suppose the wildlife franchise is worth considering? Perhaps we should all set up in the new zoo business and add a few new species and exotics to the lake and rivers to draw the crowds. I like the idea of Gharial or for the special occasion Goliath tiger fish but they'll only attract more anglers, perhaps a few Flamingoes and a Penguin or two would be more appropriate.

I must finish on a happier note in that I have a WeBS count tomorrow, it wont highlight anything dramatic, other than perhaps the number of Cormorants, as the valley is still bone dry, if anything exciting turns up I'll let you know tomorrow. We need the weather to break and the floods to arrive if we are to see the flocks of wildfowl and waders, I'm sure it will happen as nature tends to balance things out over the year. As if to add to my pleasure of the birdworld, as opposed to the conflicts, my copy of the birds of Christchurch Harbour 2009 dropped onto the doormat this morning. Fabulous report and I can thoroughly recommend the CHOG website if you are interested in the movement of birds on the estuary and harbour. Its also nice to see Cormorants where they should be down at the coast.

26th October

Just a further rapid visit to add a map to help with locating some of the places to which I refer in the diary.

Somerley salmo pools

Most of the names refer to the historic salmon pools and lies, several of the pools have other names given by the coarse anglers which I will get around to adding asap.


20th October

I'll try and fill in the background to the two shots below as soon as I can find time.

Dumped BMW New fish pass

The first shows our efforts to finally remove the chopped-up BMW from under Ibsley Bridge. Should you know who the last owner off a "Beamer" registration number K609 TDG was let me know and I'll bill him. The second photo shows the new fish pass fitted to the Ashley Weir. We have cleaned out the inception and the EA have done some fish friendly alterations to the gates which will hopefully see more water and more fish in the Ashley and Kings Streams.

18th October

Thanks to Richie Martin for the photo below, he was the captor of one of the thirty five plus commons I mentioned yesterday and what a wonderful looking fish. What is so pleasing is that the mouth on this fish was in perfect condition, not a sign of any damage which is always good to see from such a popular fishery.

Thirty five plus common

Richie Martin with his thirty five pounds, eight ounce common landed Saturday night.


17th October

I am beginning to enjoy that feeling of anticipation I get as we begin our run into winter and the best of the coarse fishing available in our valley. Whilst it may be pleasant to sit on a warm riverbank and see our intended quarry in the clear depths it never quite answers my particular take on coarse fishing. Summer is for trout, winter for the coarse inhabitants of our rivers; in their peak of condition in readiness for the colour and floods to come.

I have an added reason to look forward to the months ahead as I have, at long last, managed to get around to reading Kevin Grozierís record of his exploits on the Avon and Stour in his lovely book ; "Avon Days & Stour Ways". I have known Kevin for more years than I care to think about, certainly more than thirty and through much of that period we shared aspirations, concerns and the occasional triumph that our Wessex rivers have managed to provide. We sat on the Ringwood and District committee for the best part of decade, Kevin going on to do twenty five years which is a sentence well above and beyond the call of duty. When I think back to that period its not the time on the committee I recall but the fishing we enjoyed on the waters of the Association. Whilst Kevin targeted the Barbel I was chasing the carp, we both shared a passion for the huge roach of the rivers and though the late 70ís and 80ís spent most of our winter sessions in search of them. Through pressures and commitments of family and a renewed interest in salmon, work and the Wessex Trust brought about, my coarse fishing was very limited through the 90ís. Reading of Kevinís exploits and what I missed has certainly whetted the appetite again and the current year classes of large chub and huge barbel will hopefully receive some attention this winter; weather permitting. Iím afraid roach fishing will be fairly limited but perhaps the resurgence of the perch population will manage to fill that gap.

Kevin Grozier's book

Kevin Grozier's book, a very readable and enjoyable ramble through the Wessex rivers at their very best.

It is those perch that have provided the bulk of the recent catches from the river the low clear conditions making chub and barbel extremely shy. Perhaps one classic fish that deserves a mention and that is the new Avon record barbel landed by Ben Hutchinson at 16.11 wonderful fish, well done Ben. Benís dad, Pete, is another reminder of those days on the Ringwood Committee. Peter is still the leading light of the club and can boast more time on the board than Kevin and I combined which is quite amazing! Those of you that have not endured the problems and demands of committee work can have no idea what that means; the fact its voluntary only compounds that astonishing feat!! As for those perch I have seen some fine fish this week, nothing over three but several good twos and from the river they look quite magnificent.


Unseasonably low river
The river is well down on what we might expect at this time of year.
Vincent with a carp from Vincent's Lake
Young Vincent, out fishing with his granddad on Vincent's Lake, with a nice common.

Its been a week for the common carp to show up, I know of at least two over thirty five pounds with a dozen or more twenty plus's begging the question what is it they know we don't? Autumn is fast disappearing into winter, is the answer to that question I believe. Last night the second really hard frost of the year has shouted this loud and clear. It comes with an unseasonably low river giving a false sense of late summer, yet the fruits of autumn have ripened; the Coxí orange, King of the pippins and Conference pears picked and for the most part eaten. The Bramleyís and Reverend Wilkes picked and in the store cupboard, the quince pickled and the sloes soaking in the gin; we now await the change of weather to reset Mother Nature's clock.


Rubbish clearing

At least the low river enabled me to get a rope on a section of the car some delightful individual has seen fit to dump off Ibsley Bridge. I will need the JCB to lift it out as I also found another lump of the wretched thing just downstream of the bridge in one of the favourite roach swims - the mystery of the new snag has now been solved. I also found two sets of bowls whilst I was dabbling about out there, the local tea-leaf had obviously pitched them over the parapet when he didn't fancy taking up the game. Luckily there was a name and address in the bag so the original owner may yet be reunited with them.

12th October

The weekend had a real autumnal feel with the chilly early hours giving way to the crisp, clear air that gives the turning leaves such a rich brilliance. The carp in the lakes seem to have picked up the same vibrations as they appear to be feeding freely in readiness for the long winter haul ahead.

Playing a double figure carp Weighing a double Egyptian geese
Reg playing a double figure carp whilst Phil was weighing his second, the first having been over twenty pounds. The last photo is of the flock of Egyptian Geese that are increasing in the valley. One brood came from a hollow in a Lower park oak the other from down at Bisterne I believe. There are two other pairs that seem to have failed to raise a brood but jointhe others on odd occasions bringing the number locally up to sixteen on occasions.

The other fish I associate with autumn is the perch and one of the regulars on the river produced a bag of over a dozen of striped beauties. The rain and rising river of the previous weekend seems to have evaporated it has fallen back to its previous low level so quickly. What the rain did achieve was to stir the angling need in me; I had hoped to see a river flushed clear of weed and rubbish providing good fishing as we run into winter. Not to be I fear but once the urge to get the rods out has arisen I feel I will have to get my winters fishing underway as soon as possible.

6th October

Another seasonís end,

The season in question relates to the commercial fishing of eels that under the latest Byelaws closed on September 30th. In reality in a normal season with reasonable river flows the eel run, as the yellow eels silver up and head downstream for the Sargasso to spawn, is all but over by now anyway. This year the new byelaw probably did allow a larger escapement of eels to reach the sea as the high flows have only arrived this weekend. Whether reduced exploitation is going to solve the problems faced by the eels I am not so sure. I do support the measure on the grounds we have to try and do something to protect the species, as I believe any exploited species is deserving of a period of rest and recuperation.

As for our eels this summer has been unusual in so much as I have probably seen more eels this year than I have in the previous decade. Steadily moving in the margins of the main channel and appearing over any beds of pellet intended for barbel, also being caught by anglers at dusk, quite like old times. The EA fish monitoring survey in the carriers at Ellingham produced dozens. When I had to leave the team that day they were struggling to measure and record the slippery little blighters. Iíll have to contact Blandford and find out what the final numbers were on the day. A further sign of the presence of eels this year are the number of sections left on the bank after our otters have had their fill; I actually included a photo on a recent entry. We do take out eel licences each year and as for our commercial result thatís easy this year, we had a nil return; not because they werenít there but conditions werenít right for us to run the stage. In recent years we have not run on more than half a dozen nights and have not even covered the cost of the licence but I do feel it is a element of the fishery we should retain; if for no other reason we can claim an interest that has to be considered by the EA when they try and establish policy.

Eel stage

The end of the Eeling season.

Interestingly one of the primary reasons for wishing to understand the decline and take action to remedy it is to ensure the otters do have an abundant and readily available food source. I know our furry friends have had a devastating impact on some fisheries. This unfortunately is inevitable, when a primary predator looses a food source it will exploit the next one it discovers. Unfortunately those that look after the interest of our rivers in the form of the EA, Defra etc are of the opinion, if it happens to be your carp or barbel fishery, tough bloody luck. I suppose I could always heed the advice proffered and fence it, itís not the twelve miles of fencing up the A338, over Ibsley Bridge and down the Alderholt road thatís the problem, its how I stop the little chaps swimming up stream under the A31 at Ringwood?? That brings me back to my compensation arguments related to damage inflicted by protected species; an argument being stoically ignored by our supposed fishery representatives and policy makers. It suppose it has to be born in mind that many of those policy makers and scientists knowledge of rural affairs is based on the Archers. Anyway with any luck our resident otters swill soon be off on their winter hols down at the coast and tidal limit in the lower river, where Iím told otters like to go when the weather turns cold. Certainly Scottish otters spend a great deal of their time on the coast and in the past I have seen otters on the beach at Mudeford when I was down with the netsmen collecting the salmon for our hatchery. It may ease our problems a little over the winter but I doubt those on the Lower Stour will look forward to a further influx in numbers!!

Seeds

Don't be in too great a hurry to clear the margins.

Yesterday I was intending to write a piece about the importance of allowing the plants of summer to die back naturally. Alas my camera and my computer were refusing to talk to each other, some cyber spat I believe, hence I was unable to download my photos so Iíll tack yesterdayís thoughts on the bottom of here. The dry marginal plants play an important part in providing food and shelter for many of our smaller mammals and birds through the cold weather to come. As well as providing food seed banks obviously provide the next generation of plants so donít be overly anal in cutting and clearing away that untidy tangle. Repeated cutting of too large an area in an effort to make access easier risks upsetting the seasonality of plants and thousands of years of harmonised existence between species is lost.

Brac'

Brac's moulting, being hoovered is the highlight of the old girls day.

30th September

Time just to say thanks to the anglers who rang about the mare and foal that had, for reasons best known to themselves, ended up in trouble in the river today. We would much rather have two calls about stock in trouble, even if you're not sure they need help, rather than find out later they did and nothing was done about it. Today's couple were safely persuaded to swim back across the river and within ten minutes both were warming up and feeding normally. A lucky foal, another half an hour an he would have been too cold to have got moving again.

Mare and foal

The mare and foal safely ashore after their timely rescue.

The pic below is of Frank Lamb with a 39 pound mirror from one of the local pits, brilliant fish, well done Frank. I should add that this season Frank has already landed a 41 pound 10 ounce common; so if you see him about you need to rub him for luck, he's certainly seems to have trodden in something lucky!!

39 pound mirror
Frank with a cracking 39 pound mirror. Thanks to Paul Greenacre for the shot from his mobile.

21st September

A morning at the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust trustees meeting which was extremely positive and encouraging, an afternoon typing the minutes, ugh!

I did get one break when a call from the estate to tell me we had poachers provided the excuse for a quick wizz around the estate. Whilst we didn't catch our poachers, young idiots; it did however provide a real turn up for the books, to find out what see below.

Stork
I bet you haven't got one of these on your bird table Bob.

Amazing, spearing frogs and bugs beside the river at Ellingham. It appeared very hungry as my presence didn't stop it eating as quickly as it could gulp them down, hence the close pics. Great white egrets, Glossy ibis, Storks what ever next?


19th September

An odd time to give the round-up for the salmon season, I suppose it was the fact the season ended for us way back in June that I have yet to get around to giving a break down of events. The warm water temperatures meant we called an early halt to the season when the total stood at ten fish and that it where it remained until the close at the end of August. Extremely disappointing, a low point in the salmon numbers for the estate and from what I can gather probably a low point for the river. Two other fisheries continued to fish through the high water temperatures so the total may rise by a few but the likelihood of them surviving is practically nil if the number of corpses I find is any indication. If you take off the two I landed, on the grounds I have always maintained owners and keepers catches shouldnít be included, add the desperately low numbers from the nets, less than the rods, a season best forgotten.

I should add there was a high point, definitely the 33 pound fish caught by Stuart Allen up at North-end; brilliant fish, the fish of a lifetime but I fear one swallow doesnít make a summer.

As for yesterdayís Ibis Iím afraid heís gone on his hols to the seaside down at the harbour; a really good photo can be found in the sightings section at;
CHOG

18th September

Iíve been down beside the Dockens Water checking on the effectiveness of my Himalayan Balsam spraying efforts. Whilst the vast majority seem to have succumbed there are some resilient blighters that will definitely require a further spray regime next year. Initial impressions of balsam are of a soft stemmed plant that would seem designed to be susceptible to spraying. A second examination shows a plant that clings to life with an amazing tenacity, you leave so much as a leaf node and the thing will be four feet tall again in three weeks. In light of this grip on survival it has called for a reassessment of the control situation. Whilst we may be able to deal with the plant in small targeted areas to undertake catchment wide control is an enormous task just how that will be achieved has yet to be determined.

Himalayan balsam
Himalayan balsam showing amazing powers of recovery after spraying with Glyphosate.

Today we have had the roach and barbel fund raising match on the estate which I imagine would have been extremely hard work for those involved. I did have a walk around the Ibsley area at lunchtime and with the bright sunshine and low clear river it was living up to expectations with little in the way of results. Those involved were being very philosophical about matters enjoying the day as opposed to being overly desperate for a fish it was after all, all in a good cause. Whilst out and about I did take the opportunity to look in on one or two spots guaranteed to hold fish. The first order of fish holding area at present is cover, the thicker the better and whilst you can find plenty of fish if you show so much as a nose over the skyline they will simply disappear. Finding fish is one thing catching them, well; I will be interested to hear the outcome but I doubt any records will have been broken.

Roach and dace
The fish are tucked up under the cover of the trees.

On a less welcome note I discovered that our resident fly tipper had struck again as we have gained a garden shed and associated junk in the car park at Ibsley. This is a problem which the New Forest Partnership and Countryside Watch are targeting and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to add this individual to the captured list. The scumbag who regularly dumps rubbish in our car parks will make a mistake one day and hopefully they will throw the book at him, I believe the maximum fine is £50000 and five years in jail. I would also crush the cretinís truck to make a proper job of it; Iím sorry to say they donít crush the vehicles with the owners in them which is a definite loophole in the law where this individual is concerned. In the event you do come across this scumbag record his registration number and phone the police asap, with close on three thousand members surely one of us must spot the low life.

Fly tipping Flytipping Fly tipping
Do you recognise this garden shed? Did you or one of your neighbours pay someone to dispose of it? You haven't committed any crime but the scumbag you employed has, if you recognise the shed please phone the police Countryside Watch team and put an end to his antics.

As last nights forecast had been for calm weather before my hour or two on the estate I had risen at six and headed for the beach with the fly rod. One of my real angling pleasures these days is fly fishing for Gar fish from the beach. Those of you not familiar with the Gar could do worse than make his acquaintance once hooked the fight takes place for the most part in the air as the prehistoric looking bill fish cartwheels and leaps continuously as it heads for mid channel. For a fish of a pound or so their fighting ability is incredible if they ever reached double figures no one would ever land one. My morning resulted in two lost fish on the fly which threw the hook during their aerobatic display; I did manage one Gar and half a dozen Mackerel on the spinner so at least I caught my breakfast.

Eel killed by otter
Last nights dinner; an eel section left by an otter at the top of the Trout stream.

I suppose that having had the fly rod out in the morning I was curious to have a look at the Trout stream on my way back up from Harbridge bend at lunchtime. Not an angler in sight yet every gravel run and weed bed had a trout in residence, it all looked perfect, so perfect in fact I decided to see if we had an evening rise. Iím not sure what time I arrived back beside the stream, probably four oclock-ish, it still looked perfect with the occasional trout rising to a reasonable hatch of olives and sedge. All looked set for a good evening.

Fly fishing Fly fishing Fly fishing Fly fishing
A couple of fish for Mark Tunley to add to the three or four he'd already landed during a lovely early evening on the Trout stream.

For those of you that have an interest in the comings and goings of the valley bird population there is a Glossy Ibis visiting us at the moment. I have been fortunate enough to have seen Glossy ibis on a couple of occasions locally, one only last month down on the coast at Keyhaven, they are however far from frequent visitors so keep your eyes peeled for the next day or two, you may be lucky. I wouldnít be surprised if along with the Great white egret and Spoonbill, Glossy ibis will be established as has happen with the Little egret; given a decade there will be one in every pool and puddle.

15th September

In recent weeks Iíve been rushing around like the proverbial blue tailed fly without seemingly achieving a great deal. Iím sure everyone has periods when headway proves difficult; my problem is that the situation seems to be happening with increasing frequency at a time of life when the slope on the graph should be in the opposite direction. Iíve come to the conclusion that this situation has arisen through the speed of change that is occurring in the rural scene of which I am part. The world around us and my perspectives are changing at a faster rate now than at any time in my life. As I get older, greyer and with bits that seem increasingly determined to fall off, my desire to see the world has diminished accordingly; minimum stress is now the order of the day. My idea of a break consists of a day in my hammock in the back garden with a good book; perhaps an hour or two beside the water with a bright quill or even watching the trout and grayling sip their choice of fly from a glassy surface. I no longer need to sit on a sun soaked beach, tramp miles over distant mountain ranges or even land a fish to achieve my hedonistic fix.

As a self confessed bibliophile I have spent the weekend looking at my bookcases and trying to decide if I will ever open many of the reference books that adorn them again. Many are as relevant to day as when written but the simplicity of tapping my search for information into "Google" risks them becoming more decoration than relevant. My CD collection is looking equally dusty as my play lists give me instant access to a far greater collection at the touch of a key. Books, CDís, both have played a major role in my life at various times and it is perhaps this nostalgia for that time of learning and past pleasures that gives rise to my reluctance to dump the lot.


Books shelves
How relevant are my books today?
Section of bookshelf
Repositories of knowledge.

I appreciate these babblings would appear to have little to do with the Avon Valley and hence this diary but the same emotions come into play when I look at changes that have taken place on our rivers. By some measures of success our river valleys have been failed miserably by not only the regulatory authorities but by those who work, live and play there. We have taken our eye off the ball and developments and changes have not been sufficiently scrutinised and evaluated when it comes to the protection of these unique environments. It may not have been through lack of attention, as from lack of time or funding but for whatever reason we have allowed our river valleys and their ecology to become degraded.

I believe many changes to have been detrimental but inevitable; this of course is with the advantage of twenty-twenty hind sight. Changes in the agricultural world re the viability of dairy herds and the price of wheat are influenced from not only outside the valley but outside the country. Russia, China, Canada and the States control the wheat price which drives the push for higher yields, hence ever greater intensive production from our own farmers; more land under the plough, more artificial fertiliser and pesticide application. The bulk milk buyers control the milk price as they can now buy internationally but at the end of the day it is the consumer who dictates price and in a wealthy western economy such as ours we must ensure we do not short change the environment that produced the product.

The direction of government spending reflects the political choices of the day. Flood plains are sacrificed without a second thought once those that build in them, behaving like Canute, shriek and moan at their MP who immediately does back-flips to avoid upsetting the tabloids. Be it the water consumer legislation, or the flood defence legislation, or the multiple layers of legislation that impact on the valley, each acts as a further driver in the changing environment when the political chips are down.

Change
Controversial change as Natural England attempt to stem the tide of decline. Perhaps I should add, change I am firmly in support of in this instance.

There have also been examples of advice given and ignored that have been difficult to forgive; "I told you so" doesnít put right the wrong. So those in authority and making the decisions must ensure they weigh and evaluate all advice proffered. To ensure all who have an interest are consulted and allowed their say makes it even more important that a means of communicating all issues that may impact on the valley are made available. That brings us back to that hoary old favourite of mine which I am always banging on about and that is a website where the authorities, be they EA, NE or the local authorities publish every application for consent. The local authorities already do, the others most definitely donít. Those who raise concerns and questions must have answers provided to allay their fears. To ensure a sense of responsibility is attached to decisions in these critical areas accountability must go hand in hand with the regulators role. If decisions are imposed and subsequently proven to have been not in the best interest of the environment or have associated adverse social, or private consequences independent reviews have to be undertaken and those at fault held to account.

Having said all that I do not wish to appear Luddite in my attitude to change. Change is essential and natural as life evolves in all its varied forms. We face enormous change in the coming decade; climate change threatens the long established seasonal patterns of temperature and rainfall. How that will impact on the seasonality of insects, plants, fish, birds and mammals is beyond anyoneís guess at the current state of knowledge. Human population increase will make ever greater demands on water from our rivers and lakes, demands that government will wish to see met for political reasons alone. Those same governments, irrespective of political colour, will have to make severe cutbacks in spending and environmental funding looks like an easy target. It will be interesting to see how the rod licence money is spent in the next year or two as GIA and other core funding shrinks.

Naturally split oak
Natural change as an ancient oak submits to the elements

I believe we are entering a critical period in deciding the future of our rivers. We have wonderful environmental legislation emanating from Europe yet the means to fund its implementation is still undecided and looking more remote by the day. Where are we going to see the financial resources to protect and invest in our rivers? If we follow the current pattern the fate of our rivers looks set in that there are insufficient resources to unravel todayís problems let alone those that will arise in the future. So what are our options if we are to place the environment in its rightful place in the hierarchical pyramid?

The first thing we need to do is ensure a sustainable funding source to ensure the necessary research and safeguards can be put in place. We must look to those that benefit from the exploitation of the natural resource to foot the bill, under the principle of "the polluter pays". Under such a system water users, you and I should pay a conservation levy on water abstracted from the river as we should pay a conservation tax on our waste disposal if it has detrimental impact on the environment; enrichment or chemical intrusion etc. The array of chemicals and drugs for human, animal and agricultural use that eventually leach into the river would attract a similar tax as would the highways department and the tarmacadam companies if they are responsible for the black greasy sludge that comes in from the road drains the length and breadth of the land. Perhaps a couple of quid a year on the car tax might help in that direction? Would you be prepared to pay an extra ten or twenty pounds a year to fight for our rivers? Iím sure most informed individuals would willing pay, particularly if they had a say in the way the money was directed. Unfortunately the majority of the population are lamentably uninformed about their impact on the environment. If you read this diary I include you in the informed column, so I run the risk of preaching to the converted!!

I canít see many of the companies who find themselves in the spotlight looking very favourably on such a system either. I believe the water industry did poll its customers on a conservation tax, not surprisingly it wasnít implemented! This is where political will comes into play; currently the environment is the deuce in the hand of the politicians, it can be played when it best suites them providing good sound bites and green wash credentials. It can also be sacrificed without too great a risk politically; the environment isnít high on the agenda of the majority of voters in this country. The majority would appear to be in league with the BBC in placing the likes of Clarkson and Ozzyís wife, Sharon on celebrity pedestals. We already know where the axe will fall in the event of drought; the river will be drained, as can be seen in the drought plans of the water companies. Obviously society has to be protected and there have been some very encouraging plans, such as those of Wessex Water, put in place in an effort to minimise the impact of one hundred year probability droughts and future abstraction demands but there are issues too numerous to list that require investigation and resolution. As I said earlier the next decade will be an extremely interesting time on the rivers lets hope we have a structure in place that can effectively fight their corner.

Bonsai
Seasonal change, wiping dew from the car in the morning and my bonsai changing colour

10th September

Today I attended the funeral of good friend and fellow campaigner for the rivers of Wessex, Keith Elson.

I believe it would have been in 1991 when I first met Keith; he stood up at a public meeting in Ringwood, which had been called by concerned anglers over the problems faced by the River Avon salmon. Keith stood in the body of that meeting and offered the powers-that-be some vast number of salmon parr to stock into the river. I couldnít believe my ears, here was a man right on our doorstep with the knowledge and ability to help resolve many of the problems we faced. Unfortunately those same powers-that-be didnít believe there was a problem with the salmon run and refused permission to stock the parr.

From that fateful meeting the Wessex Salmon Association, as it was then, came into being. Not only was Keith the brains behind the hatchery which was housed beneath his wonderful home he and Janet his wife had built but he was our guide when it came to unravelling many of the complex issues that confronted us. Our committee meetings became educational evenings, as Keith was able to shed light on the complexities of electro fishing, pheromones, water temperature, and the many other issues he explained to us in minute detail. Keith was a scientist and as such after a long and distinguished career was trained to approach problems in a clear and analytical fashion. When through his own efforts he had established the facts he was not shy to fight his corner and that of the Wessex Salmon in our many meetings with the authorities. His knowledge was given freely and with the benefit of a dry sense of humour that brought relief and a sense of proportion to the many frustrations that we have faced over the years.

As our Wessex Salmon Association morphed into the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust which at this moment in time is once more expanding into the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust I look back and I donít believe any of this would have happened had not Keith given so freely of his time and knowledge. The rivers of Wessex and all that enjoy them have lost a great champion with his passing. Having said that with his final resting place overlooking the very springs that give rise to the Nadder and on onto the Avon Iím sure he will never be far from our thoughts as we continue with the work of defending the rivers that Keith so ably supported.

Keith Elson
Keith George Russell Elson
1927 - 2010

A poor photo scan of Keith grading salmon parr in the hatchery, before the days of digital cameras!. The hatchery ran for five or six years before the EA shut us down on grounds of genetic risk and other manufactured arguments.

30th August

A long week-end, marvellous, trouble is Iíve been rumbled, it seems the dining room is in desperate need of decoration to the point it will fall down if I donít attend to it immediately! Still you canít paint walls at five in the morning so a trip out at dawn seemed an appropriate way to put the woes of painting in the background.

I was surprised by just how cold the night had been and the valley was shrouded in the first real mist of the Autumn when I arrive at the lakes. I must admit I had a ulterior motive in that the wildfowl season starts in a day or two on September the first. We have a problem in that the Canada and Greylags goose population has exploded and it is having a detrimental impact on the wintering wildfowl we would normally expect to see in the valley in the next month or two. The White fronts and Bewicks no longer arrive as they have in the past and part of the blame is being laid at the door of our resident feral, for want of a better word, geese. It is probably a great deal more complicated than the six or seven hundred geese are eating all the grass and fouling whatís left before the visitors arrive in November. That is undoubtedly a fact but they are also feeding the migrating birds at several other locations in the Netherlands, Welney and Slimbridge. You donít have to have a degree in zoology and a research project to work out if you are a Goose or Bewick that has the option of a field full of shit or a field full of barley and potatoes where you are going to end up.


early morning Bright start Early flight

A misty start.

The valley was beautifully still and looking ghostly in the mist with Markís suckler herd drifting in an out of the mist like wraiths. The morning hush was soon shattered when the herd decided it was time to move off up the valley and began bellowing to call the calves to heel. The still air meant the geese were heading out from their overnight roosts at stratospheric heights and would have proven well out of gun shot. Numbers seem to have increased on last year with over four hundred just heading south to the stubble fields and grazing. It looks as if they have had a very successful breeding season; not surprising when I have recorded 84 goslings in the valley this spring. It looks as if it will cost a fortune in bismuth cartridges this year if we are to make in-roads into that lot.

After two days of painting I decided I had to get out for some fresh air. I had a quick look through the bees to see how they were looking as the autumn gets underway and headed for the river. A look at the river in the form of an hour or two fish spotting seemed to be a good idea. It was a lovely afternoon and the river had cleared after the recent rain providing ideal conditions for the purpose. As I headed out for some of my favourite viewing spots I looked over one of the lakes that has no public access which means it often provides a surprise on the bird front. Today was unexceptional other than the number of herons that seem to find this pit to their liking 71 in one flock, under as natural a situation as one is likely to find these days, is quite remarkable. It looks as if the herons along with the geese have had a good year. I did see one of the Great white egrets last week which was the ringed individual that has been wintering with us for several years. It wonít be long before we add them to the breeding birds in the valley, if we see a second return this winter I wouldnít be surprised to see them breed next spring. I returned to the river and very quickly found the fish I was expecting tucked up under the weed and snags, hidden from predators eyes and anglers baits. The anglers are struggling with chub once again being the saving grace of most outings. The barbel anglers can be quickly separated into those that will catch and those that wonít simply by watching the approach they adopt to catching fish under these difficult conditions. Barbel anglers arenít alone in being easily divided into the ones who will catch and those that wonít. It applies to all aspects of angling; game, coarse or sea, I always believe that about ten percent of the anglers catch ninety percent of the fish and this is purely down to approach and commitment. As for the magic formula; that comes with experience and patience.


Dace Spot the barbel Plenty of huge chub

The Avon herrings are back in their usual haunts for the autumn. Spot the baby barbs, there are three in the pic with a salmon parr. I think there are ten chub in the pic part of shoal of at least twenty three huge fish up to seven pounds. There were also several double figure barbel under that tree.

The next couple of hours were inspiring, sufficiently for me to begin to think about digging out the rods and having a go on the rivers. The autumn floods will soon be here, hopefully, with the floods and the colour the rivers take on the cloak of winter providing the best of the river season fishing. Iíve managed a couple of visits to the lakes and landed one or two fine tench but the crucian and the eel fishing didnít get off the drawing board, never mind always next year now the river begins to take centre stage. Todayís travels found some huge chub and herring like dace, one shoal of seven barbel, with at least four of those fish into double figures and huge great bristly perch; any one of those would make my season.

On the walk back to the car I was accompanied by a this-years Osprey which seemed quite taken by my progress. He has been with us for a day or two feeding on the shallows taking the odd stock trout and what looked like a small pike one morning. A glorious bird, huge wingspan and long legs with his white leggings making him look like the dandy of the bird world.


Riffle

Its not actually a riffle but it seems right for the pic.

A well spent couple of hours, almost recharged the batteries sufficiently to tackle the painting again; almost! One last matter that you may be able to assist with. Should, in your fishing trips to the estate, see anyone acting suspiciously around the swans please jot down a vehicle registration and let me know. It seems we may actually be gaining swans from other areas!! someone appears to be using the Ibsley area as a dumping ground for swans creating problems elsewhere. In the region of ten birds have appeared recently, when approached they don't fly off as wild swans in this part of the valley do, they actually come towards you. If offered a bucket of feed they will approach and stick their heads in the bucket; unheard of for a wild Somerley bird, which would about turn and head for the hills even if on deaths door through starvation. Don't immediately think anyone near a swan is dodgy as we have Ken Merriman from the local swan rescue and "Mr Swan" Dave Stone who most of you know but I would rather have their registration handed me than miss the opportunity of explaining to the well meaning person in question we have enough swans of our own thank you!

25th August

Good evening; just a brief entry to provide you with some good news on such a grey and rainy August, come late November, evening. Click on the Roach Project link below and have a look at the 2010/11 update. Brilliant work and deserving of every support.


Avon Roach Project

It may still be worth contacting Budgie to see if there are still vacancies on the fund raiser due to take place on the 18th September.

Barbel Society and Avon Roach Project fund raiser

If there are no spaces left I don't suppose Budgie would be too offended by a donation to support their efforts,


19th August

I should be providing a report on the Ellingham Show which took place at the weekend next to the river at Somerley; as I was away for a couple of days I had to miss out on what I believe was a very successful day. It was however satisfying to hear that all the work in preparing the park for the event had been worthwhile. Somerley is a wonderful setting for the show and overcast weather graced the day drawing large crowds away from the beaches to enjoy the occasion.

My absence wasnít that distant in that I was at a family gathering on the coast, a few miles down the road south of the forest. To clear my head after a rather liquid party the previous evening I was up at five the following morning to walk to the shore below the Pennington Marsh. To my delight as I neared the shore and passed the old salt pans a flock of forty Black tailed godwits were busy feeding on the muddy shallows. Whether these birds were non-breeders, that hadnít made the trip to Iceland to breed or were failed breeders returning early isnít clear. They are however the birds that get together with their neighbouring flocks and join us higher in the valley when the winter floods make the river valley wader friendly. The difference here was that they completely ignored my presence despite being within 50 meters being used to the comings and goings of the sea wall joggers, cyclists and dog walkers as they make their way from Keyhaven to Lymington. I must admit to having been largely ignorant of the beauty of this foreshore and salt marsh; my previous couple of visits having been very brief to collect "Bunny shrimps" for salmon fishing. With three hours before I had to return for breakfast, I had the opportunity to enjoy the dawn and the wonderful wildlife. Someone must have smiled on me that morning as the birding was superb, as well as the Godwit I enjoyed the presence of Ruff, Knot, Dunlin, Grey plover, Little plover, Gadwall, Garganey, Greenshank and numerous others. Two that made a particular impact were the beautiful Bearded tits working through the phragmites beds and the appearance of a Glossy ibis that landed on the shallows providing wonderful views of this exotic traveller. The entire walk was accompanied by the piping calls of Redshank, Oyster catchers and Curlew as they moved about the tideline. A superb way to clear the head and start the day.


Solent sunrise

Solent sunrise.

I must thank the only other soul out on the marsh that morning when I arrived, Dan Hoare, of the butterfly conservation group and a keen birder, who pointed out the Glossy ibis as it flew over my head as I was engrossed in watching the Godwits. At least thatís my excuse; it could have been that leaning on the scope tripod provided support in my delicate condition!

A lovely morning and whilst spinning for mackerel later that day Danís work with the butterflies provided me with plenty of food for thought in comparing the plight of the butterflies with that of the threatened species of mammals, fish and birds within the Avon valley. It is blatantly obvious that the decline of many species is directly linked to the actions of man. Be it through agriculture or the demands of society for potable water, waste disposal and recreation, our presence is in many areas condemning species that share our planet to the pages of the history books and film archives. We are able to provide isolated pockets of habitat in the form of reserves that provide a sanctuary on a very limited and localised scale. These reserves in many cases being the result of manís industrial efforts and financial expediency leaving the un-restored sites as being considered, "only suitable for wildlife" gravel pits, peat workings, clay pits and salt pans. Had the extraction of the material in those earlier times been conditional on restoration to agriculture or urban land the few refuges we have would have been dramatically reduced. Despite these reserves the presence of many species will continue to diminish without a change in our overall approach to the environment. How this will be achieved will only be through the interested parties working together. Those such as Dan, the people in the conservation world, working closely with the land owners and planners to ensure changes that will provide the maximum of benefit for the wildlife that share this planet with us. Demands for spraying, building, access, mowing, strimming, extraction and abstraction etc will have to change on a national level to have real impact. Planning will have to change its priorities if we are to see real improvements. Education in changing the mindset and illustrating the impact we are having will provide a start.

Before we can achieve that, we have to decide exactly what it is we are trying to conserve and protect and whether we have the correct conservation objectives built into our legislation. We face the prospect of losing salmon from our southern rivers through climate change impacting on the North Atlantic feeding grounds. Some consider the plight of the salmon beyond the capabilities of man to influence the recovery and funding should be directed elsewhere. If we follow that argument most species that are undergoing decline through changing demands on their environment are in the same boat. We can artificially manipulate the agricultural regimes but if they are not realistic we are simply delaying the inevitable. At some point in the future, food shortages, reduced subsidies or simply commercial pressures will require the return to intensive techniques.

In this day and age where land management falls to groups or individuals, looking at your own particular sphere of interest in isolation is no longer acceptable. If you are part of the working environment, whether through a sport or pastime, food production or the utilities, that involves management of the environment, we have a shared conservation responsibility.


Nectar source
Do your paths offer a food source or are they sterile lawns?
Feed line
Do your feedlines and forestry rides have sufficient light to provide conservation value?.

Rich margins

Sufficient light allowing nectar rich margins.

Take a look at your own sphere of interest and ask yourself if everything that could be done to improve the lot of the natural world is being achieved. In the world of fisheries, which I know well, very few have a conservation strategy let alone an implemented policy. All too often we see the banks cleared and woody debris removed to enable greater exploitation of the fish; yet the margins and woodland associated with the fishery just yards behind the fisherman are ignored. The woods on shoots are in many cases ignored unless to clear paths for beaters or rides for poults. The enrichment of our rivers continues as more agricultural and STW input adds to the stream who should deal with this when the government is doing its best to slash spending at every opportunity? Lots of questions and very few answers which I will look at when time permits in the future.



10th August

Loads going on with little time to catch up with the diary, sadly even less time for the rods. I have had the opportunity to grab an hour or two to watch the EA monitoring team surveying a couple of sites on the carriers at Ellingham and Ashley. Iím sure if you are a regular reader of this site you will be aware that I am a keen supporter of increasing our knowledge and understanding of our river. The difficulty arises when the attempts to fill in the gaps in our knowledge provide more questions than answers. The EA are hamstrung through lack of funding making comprehensive data sets difficult to achieve but the occasional dip into the depths never fails to grab my attention and throws up the inevitable conundrum. In the case of the Woodside Carrier where have the juvenile salmon found in the 100m section surveyed arrived from? Iím pretty sure we havenít had a redd within 1000m of the survey site so their migration to find suitable habitat must be a complex movement we have yet to understand. Similarly why were there so many eels present? We are told the eel is a threatened species, new byelaws etc, yet the section of river seems full of them every time we have a look? What makes the Woodside so attractive to eels, food supply, habitat we donít know? Reasonable numbers of chub but very few dace and I didnít see any roach. I didnít stay for the second and third depletion passes so perhaps one or two turned up but I doubt it. Was the absence of dace and roach due to the habitat not being to their liking or was there some other reason? Is the main channel more attractive at the moment with the reduced flow? Certainly if you look over the brdges at Ellingham and Ibsley dace and roach are visible in good numbers. Perhaps the continued success of the chub year classes has a detrimental impact on other species; chub being opportunist feeders fry of other species would not be ignored as a food source and they stay well away from the shoals of chublets. What about the juvenile barbel that turned up, like the salmon I donít think they spawn at that site which may point to a similar migration as that of the salmon. Just how many and how far do these larval stage and juvenile fish move in our rivers? As I say, lots of questions very few answers. We did find three EU designated species in the form of Bullhead, brook lamprey and salmon which along with the eels gives hope for the future.

The second site was completely different in that it is not managed or exposed to cattle which means the channel had almost completely disappeared under the marginal vegetation, with just a ribbon of water down the centre and the odd pool. When I left the team were struggling with the weed and finding the odd chub. I will be interested to see how the findings compare with the last time the site was surveyed some five years ago. Then the channel was much clearer and the fish population was extremely healthy. If the fish have disappeared have they just moved to a section elsewhere or a have they been lost to the system? Regular readers will also be aware I am not a fan of fencing streams and carriers, what this section needed was a herd of water loving cows to help clear it out. What ever the final data set produced by the team the day gave me plenty of food for thought.


EA monitoring team
The EA monitoring team in action.
Topping
Topping the Park in readiness for the show.

As I write this we have just had a break in the weather, the forecast tells me this isnít expected to be long lived. What ever the next few days bring the parched fields will certainly have benefit from the soaking they have received today. It does seem a topsy-turvy world with floods and droughts making headlines across the globe. We need rain for our fields yet we donít want bad weather for the Ellingham Show this coming Saturday. What ever arrives we will have to deal with and letís spare a thought for the desperate situation of the people in Pakistan and even closer to home with the drought and wild fires of Russia. Our problems of getting the park strimmed, trimmed, mowed and polished for the show pale into insignificance when we look at the lot of others.

I have failed to mention the Open Day the club put on over the lakes last weekend. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours enjoying the sunshine and watching the next generation of anglers get to grips with the noble art. It does give me considerable encouragement to see the excitement and wonder as these youngster experience the thrill of catching their first fish. Well done to the club for their efforts and Iím sure we will see some of those new faces on the banks in years to come.


Open Day

The next generation of anglers.

I must mention the efforts to control the Himalayan balsam are ongoing with Pete Reading organising his work parties and rushing to all points of the compass in an effort to pull the wretched stuff up and loosen its grip on the valley. I also had a call from John Yetton up in Fordingbridge to let me know of the presence of the plant on the Ashford Water. Thankfully John has taken on the task of trying to deal with the stuff in his area if we all do our bit we may just get this plant under control. I noticed the Test has large areas alongside the M27 which doesnít bode well for one of the finest rivers in the land. Iím told the Frome is a lost cause lets hope we can halt the advance along the Avon.

Before I sign off I must add a sentence or two about the fund raising event for the Barbel Society and the Roach Project soon to be fished at Somerley. A days fishing in a friendly match on the Somerley Estate will be followed by a three course evening meal, plus the opportunity to bid on some outstanding lots in our fundraising auction at the Tyrrells Ford Hotel.

Barbel Society and Avon Roach Project fund raiser
Has all the hall marks of a classic Avon weekend.

All proceeds are used for supporting the Avon Roach Project and Barbel Society habitat improvements on the Avon. Participants can fish the Estate for the day of the match, Saturday 18th September, and the following day also. If you would like to come along and support them, please email budgie@avonroachproject.co.uk for an invitation, menu and full event details. Sounds like a good craic to me so why not get in touch with Budgie and come along and visit the estate.


31st July

The Christchurch Angling Club has an open day at Somerley Lakes tomorrow, Sunday 1st.

Anyone wishing to experience the joys of angling needs to drop in and have a go. Just turn up on the day and the trained coaches will ensure you're pointed in the right direction.


23rd July

Iím playing catch-up again as I try to record one or two points of interest since the last entry. I should be typing the minutes for the last WCSRT meeting but I will get them out over the weekend so Iím sure a diary entry takes precedence at the moment.

I have had very few opportunities to visit the river or lakes so news of catches is a little patchy. I am reliably informed the chub are the mainstay of the river at the moment with odd barbel being banked but the clear low water is making sport difficult. The lakes continue to provide the best of the fishing at the moment with good bags of bream, tench and carp to anglers who manage to get the rate of feed right. Feeding is the key to the still-waters at the moment, little and often, appears to be the order of the day where the bream and tench are concerned; some excellent bags of fish to over 100 pounds when you get it right.


Good tench

Brian Reed looking justifiably pleased with a high shouldered, six pound tench.

Wind in the willows
The result of the recent high winds.
Wind damage
Concerns for health and safety will bring changes to the river bank.

The high winds we suffered last week have provided us with a problem or two as trees now deemed dangerous under the health and safety assessment have to be removed. Several old willows that have formed part of the backdrop around Ibsley for the better part of a century will soon be either felled or pollarded. Itís very sad to see these old trees disappear but unfortunately there is no alternative the prospect of passers-by having branches land on them is a risk that we cannot afford to take. Once the experts deem the trees to be potentially dangerous we have to act so be prepared for some changes to familiar views.

One visit I did manage to fit in was a visit to see Gordon Philpot up at Plumley Farm cutting the corn with his reaper binder to ensure high quality straw for the local thatchers. It brings back very fond memories of my childhood watching the steady progress around the field with the sheaves tumbling from the binder into perfect rows to await the men stook them up to dry. I must say I donít remember the harvest looking quite so perfect as that achieved by Gordon and the length of straw must be the envy of many more modern arable farmers who are seeing very short straw on the crop this dry summer.




Harvesst time Reaper binder Sheaves Stooks

A rare sight these days and a lesson in growing and cutting thatching straw, long straw, long lines of sheaves and clean ground to follow.


13th July

With the first of July came the green light for the silage cut to get underway on the HLS meadows within the valley. There had been one or two derogations that had allowed a head start for a few but the majority swung into action on the first. I had been hearing all sorts of contradictory tales from various sources about the state of the meadows, below us are flooded out! Away from the valley the grass has failed to grow! With the cut underway if ever I get a spare hour I try and take the opportunity to have a look over some of our meadows to assess the state of play for myself.

Ideal wader habitat
The result of last autumn's clearing looking well.
Mallard brood
One of seven Mallard broods recorded during my walk.

Where the grass has been sufficiently grazed down the previous autumn, preventing the encroaching sedge from getting a hold, yields appear down but not disastrously so. Whether the goodness has been retained during the dry spell is difficult to say but some areas had close to normal yields of grass. First cut, on ground that has not seen fertilizer, has produced four or five black bags per acres in many places some slightly less and one or two areas I would think possible as high as six or seven. If the cattle are now held off I would imagine we will see a moderate second cut if we get a spell of favourable wet weather. The risk of holding off the stock is in the sedge spreading out into the meadows from the ditches we normally associate with the plant.

Apart from noting the state of the cut I also took the opportunity to assess the ditching work that was undertaken last autumn in an effort to drain the meadows whilst still retaining their valuable habitat for the birds. The marsh had been a wonder for the wildfowl and waders during the winter but what of the breeding waders? The clovers, yellow flags and buttercups associated with hay meadows are long gone and their seed set. The mowers have done their work and the dry weather has allowed a finish that has not been seen for several seasons with the cut areas looking well. The ditches still hide one or two jewels to brighten the monoculture of shorn green with Purple loosestrife and Flowering rush putting on a brave show and the rafts of the bog bean spreading out into the ditches.

Flowering rush
The beautiful flowering rush.
Purple loosestrife
Purple loosestrife.

Cattle seeking shade

Cattle seeking out the willows to avoid the flies.


The high summer plants within the ditches still provide cover for numerous birds, at least a dozen Grey heron stalking frogs "cronk" their annoyance at being disturbed. The Mallard appear to have had considerable success with their second broods; I counted seven trips of ducklings being shepherded by attendant ducks. The soft mud of the shallow channels also provided a surprise in the form of a Common snipe; perhaps an unsuccessful breeder returning south early in an effort to find richer feeding. The bird may possibly have been from the forest finding our ditches preferable to the baked higher ground. Whatever the reason for its presence it is more than welcome, perhaps a recce for a breeding site next season which would be good news indeed. The presence of two Green sandpipers would further point to the success of our shallow ditches as good summer habitat. As I walk on into the marsh I am accompanied by a constant lazy background hum, broken by the occasional high pitch, high speed, buzz of the insect world. A chattering Yaffle is supported by a pair of rattling Magpies in their attempt to announce the presence of skulking Reynard as they spot him attempting to slip unnoticed out of the marsh and into the nearby wood. Blue brilliance of the Emperor patrolling the channels, only rivalled by the flash of the Kingfisher taking a shortcut across the meadow between the main river and the nest in the stream bank. Clouds of Demoiselles rise from the Sedge and Water dropwort in the margins as I push through the waist high growth. The stifling heat of a summer sun continuing to blaze down, reminiscent of summers of long ago, allís not gloom and doom in this section of the valley.

Out over the freshly mown grass at least fifty Lapwing, including several fully fledged juveniles, enjoy the easy feeding whilst a Skylark adds to the background music. Over the Lapwings heads swoop and dip twenty or so Sand martins, taking the disturbed insects, all adding to the fine detail of the apparent monotone green backdrop. The plaintive call of a male Lapwing as I walk too close to his mate sitting her late clutch, all accompanied by the regular "cronk" of nog marking my progress up the marsh. As I push on the pungent perfume of mint rises in drifting waves as itís crushed beneath my boots giving a heady feeling to the area.

As I reach the northern border The Cettis and Chiffchaff ring out from the brambles and willows over the fence. As I turn to follow the river downstream to where I left the car a pair of Little grebe skitter across the river to dive under the far margin, just a black head poking through the surface all that is now visible. Their larger relative, the Great crested, is busy engaged in feeding young as the demanding juveniles continually announce their need for attention. Up here under the willows I find the cattle and ponies that enjoy this luxuriant grazing, all hiding from the flies under the shade of the overhanging branches.

I discover few of the fishy inhabitants as I walk back along the river, the reflection is too great and I left the Polaroidís in the car. The river birds are more easily spotted particularly the swans as there are two broods of cygnets plus forty odd non-readers here-abouts. They donít create us any problems by stripping the weed as do their kin in the upper river we are far too deep for them to have any significant effect. The Tufted ducks and the Canada geese add to the numbers. All too soon I am back to the truck, just check on the "Old man" as I pass, looking grand with his new hair cut, heíll be fine for a further year or two; not a bad way to spend an hour.


Pollard willow Pollard regrowth

The first photo shows the Old Man at Gorley Corner after pollarding last autumn and the second shot shows his new hair do.



9th July

These days I donít get the opportunity to visit the nets down at the "Run" on many occasions but each opportunity I treasure. It gave Anne and me the opportunity to visit Mike Parker with whom, twenty years ago, I put together the conservation netting scheme that in its various forms has seen all the salmon released back into the river in the intervening years. Mike has become a good friend with whom I can speak openly and plainly about the efforts of various parties to safeguard our rivers. Alas our conversations these days would not make pleasant listening to many involved in the fishery world. Having spent dozens of tides, both day and night, waiting for salmon to purchase for the then hatchery or release back into the river I look on the netting with a great deal of warmth. Odd term to describe my feelings; not only in that I am a salmon angler who might be expected to perceive the nets as a threat but warmth or affection would seem perhaps inappropriate to describe such a physical contest with Nature.

Netting
Martin clearing the net of weed.
Netting
Nearly there, with not a lot visible for the effort.

It may be some form of nostalgia for those still inky night tides, gurgling and hissing along the beach, or those brilliant sunrises painting the tiles on the quay houses glowing ocres and rusts no artist pallet could ever capture. Its not that; itís the fact the nets continue to operate in a fashion little changed for generations as the comings and going of the beach huts and tourists boats change the surrounding world out of all recognition. Itís the fact the nets are inherently linked to the well-being or our salmon and our river. Should those nets finally admit defeat and throw in the towel it will be the final admission that we are powerless to protect a species we purport to manage.

During my visit today both nets that have worked the tides, as they have done all this short season, were out. The other punts have yet to show this season, at this late stage I doubt they will. I watched six shots of the net in the first half of the tide and it produced one five or six pound grilse, two small bass just about sizable and a two pound mullet. I was there three hours as were the four men hauling on those nets, the difference being I was not dependent on that as a means of living to feed my family!


Conserving the salmon

Steve about to place today's grilse in the tube for transfer to the holding net for release at the end of the tide.

As far as the catch this season it makes equally dire reading, twenty odd salmon all of which have been returned, with a sprinkling of seatrout that justify the effort. This last week has seen the start of the grilse run as the one sea winter fish head back to their natal gravel. The catch for the week, in the region of five fish; perhaps the big tides of next week hold the bulk of the run, lets keep our fingers crossed. What is interesting and of concern is that the grilse that have been landed have weighed between three and four pounds, a size we would not expect to see entering our southern lowland rivers. Whilst the west coast rivers of Ireland regularly produce salmon as little as a couple of pounds they are not associated with the Run at Christchurch. We can only speculate on the reason or cause, lack of food in the high sea feeding grounds, the fish have failed to travel sufficiently far north to find the shoal of capelin and krill, what ever the reason it does not bode well for the future of the species lets hope with the increased numbers we would like to see next week we see a return to the five, six and seven pound grilse we expect.



1st July

Thereís an awful lot going-on in the valley at present and much of it is extremely encouraging from the rivers perspective. We have been officially launching the new "Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust" with all the promise of a more cohesive management structure for the rivers of our area. The trust provides, for the first time, the opportunity for all groups and persons interested in the welfare of our rivers and catchments to sit around the table together and thrash out a joint policy for the protection and preservation of our rivers. Owners, tenants and conservation groups form the trustees group and from them will hopefully flow the policy to safeguard our rivers. It is our intention to have a full time staff to remove the unacceptable burden of work placed on volunteers to answer the reams of consultations and committees produced by the EU and our regulatory bodies. We very much look forward to the day when duplicated effort by the component groups is a thing of the past. The website for the group is currently under construction but an explanatory brochure can be found at;

Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust

Have a look and if you feel an irresistible urge to join us please get in touch.

Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust launch
Sir Max Hastings speaking at the official launch of the Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust at Somerley House yesterday.
WCSRT launch
Arlin Ricard, Director of the Association of Rivers Trusts speaking at the launch. In the foreground Brian Marshall chairman of the new trust, Sir Max, Tom Davis Director of the trust and the Earl of Normanton.

Other goings on include the ongoing efforts to control the invasive alien Himalayan balsam. With the necessary consents from Natural England and the EA in place I have been out attempting to control the increasing tide. The extent of the infestation beside the Dockens Water has long passed the hand pulling size. In conjunction with Natural England and the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust we have contracted out the spraying of this area in the previous two years. For what ever reasons the volume of plants has refused to diminish, be it a seed bank dormant in the sol springing up to replace the cleared areas or the spraying has been ineffective I canít say. Suffice to say we are spraying earlier and using a different product, in part due to the fact there is now only one chemical that is deemed safe by the EA for aquatic use. Only time will tell but I believe we will have to spay several times to get the upper hand. The frightening prospect is that should we fail to make an impact this year I believe it will be too late to prevent the Avon following so many of the rivers in the west and the north of Britain in becoming completely swamped by balsam.

Himalayan balsam
Dense beds of Himalayan balsam besides the Dockens Water SSSI. With up to two thousand plants per meter we have our work cut out to save the day!
Balsam and brambles
Himalayan balsam growing in the bramble clumps making pulling impossible. Unfortunately the bramble beds will have to be sacrificed in an effort to get on top of the situation.

Strangely I have probably seen more eels landed by anglers and swimming in the river in the past fortnight than I have seen over the previous three years. I was speaking to Pete Reading, who spends hours peering into the depths and he confirmed the apparent increase in wrigglers. Iím aware one swallow doesnít make a summer but it is encouraging to see so many anglers struggling with a writhing slime ball at last knockings!


A Hampshire Avon eel

Mike Windows landing an eel at last knockings. I was pleased to see it, I'm not sure Mike was quite so happy with the prospect of unhooking and returning the beastie. Mike's short evening session had provided four good chub and a barbel so an eel to round off the evening seems quite like old times.