The solstice, with its shortest day, behind us we can now at least claim to have survived the first half of the winter. The remainder may well be three months of misery in the form of floods and ice but we no longer have the prospect of five months to endure. That is always assuming the weather returns to a normal seasonal cycle!
Just what is a normal seasonal cycle? How long does an atypical pattern have to endure before it becomes the norm? The idea of seasons following the pattern we expect seems to be long gone. If our wettest summer, following on the heals of last Spring's drought and record rainfalls of recent weeks were to now return to what I think of as January and February chill we would still have six or eight weeks of high water at the very least; it would just be frozen, making the land no use for man nor beast. At least the winter wildfowl are having a ball out on the flooded meadows. East winds, freezing the rutted tracks, turning water meadows into skating rinks, perhaps necessary to kill off the over wintering bugs and diseases but in reality if you have to work out in it about as welcome as a turd in the bath; if you'll excuse the naval terminology. Even with the latest thermal gear that allows me to venture out in the harshest of weather its doesn't help if you have to work in the stuff. I have no desire to go from frying pan into fire and so lets all cross our fingers and hope for a gentle unseasonally warm end to the winter. Lets hope we see the river return to its channel and the fish begin a frenzied feeding session that lasts until March 14th just as we so often have dreamt - don't hold your breath!
What of the seasonal delights we might expect at the beginning of the new year? I have been out two or three times recently trying to see if we have any salmon on the shallows. Two snags with that idea in that I hope the salmon have made the most of all this water and are now cutting high up in the Upper Avon, Wylye and Nadder. Secondly I can't find any shallows! As the water clears once more, after the colour introduced by the recent heavy rain, and we return to the clear ground water flow I can see down into four or five feet of water but have yet to see any sign of cutting fish. No flashing flanks of the hens or the bow waves of the fighting cocks, not a sign so lets be positive and wish them luck in their efforts upstream.
The flooded track down to Edwards Pool with the new hut in the background. The hut appears to be the chosen home of one of the local owls judging by the number of pellets below the central beam. The apex of the roof, with a six inch entrance just above the clock, would make an ideal place for an owl box. The Barn owls will need all the help they can get in the next few months now their preferred diet of field voles has been eaten by the gulls. The righthand photo shows the fate of one of the large oaks that grew beside the concrete platform upstream of Ellingham Bridge - it'll be a while before I get around to clearing that one.
The walks themselves are always interesting with so many dispossessed creatures seeking new homes and others busy trying to eat them. The gulls must very nearly have exhausted the supply of drowned-out worms and field voles as the numbers have dwindled in recent days. The herons are still enjoying the bounty of food in places usually reserved for grazing geese and swans at this time of year. Along with the herons, Bittern, Little egret, Great white egret and even a Glossy ibis has taken up residence in recent weeks in the valley just to the south of Ringwood. Ten Mandarins and in hushed tones so as not to bring the Defra gunboats down on us, four Ruddy duck turned up for a day or two. Perhaps the most interesting of all on the bird front, from a county perspective at least, was a sighting of Dipper up at Bickton today. These delightful little birds so numerous in the west are very seldom seen down here on the Avon and any sightings would be appreciated. The last time I saw the Great white egret he was huddled up behind the stunted willow on the corner of Blashford pool. I can't be certain but from his hunched shoulders and sullen indifference to my presence as I splashed by I'd swear he was as fed up with this flood as I am. From what I hear the otters are so bored with the whole thing they have taken to sitting in the trees watching the anglers - if you're reading this Rob a pic for the diary would be good.
The driest place for some very damp beaters during Saturday's very wet shoot was the Lodge at lunchtime and the driest place to watch the local birdlife is out of my sitting room window where fifty or sixty Siskin and Goldfinch are making the most of the free niger seed. Add my twenty five local sparrows and twenty Starlings and our front garden is getting very busy at times.
With the valley once more underwater from one side to the other the Christmas period looks as if it will be a trial for any anglers hoping to get a day on the river. It may be frustrating for us but hopefully Nature will take this in her stride and within a week or two we will be wondering what all the fuss was about. Until such times I might just enjoy the Christmas period with my family around and about and do my best, with the help of a little malt, to forget about the wretched weather we have endured this year.
If you intend to fish this weekend this is what awaits you. The river, on the right of the frame, is spilling out across the cattle path into the water meadows. The path taken by anglers is normally two or three metres closer to the river edge which will now be unstable due to the prolonged nature of the flood - so please take care.
Before I settle back in my chair with a book and a scotch I will just give a round up of last weekends events that were worthy of recording. WeBS day proved kinder than expected, no rain and temperatures above freezing. A new pair of waders, the rubber type not the birds, made the floods bearable so all in all not a bad start. As for the count, we still have over 120 Mute swans bobbing about on the floods, hundreds of geese and thousand of ducks. The valley to the south of Ringwood has even greater numbers of wildfowl and the Godwits also remain downstream of us as we are still too deep for them to make use of the marsh. Heron and Egret numbers are considerably down this year as the Bickton heronry has obviously suffered poor breeding season. Cormorant numbers are also down but this may in part be down to the sprat shoals being out in the bay attracting large congregations of Great Crested Grebe and other fish eaters. Perhaps of greater interest for the Ibsley area is what was not recorded in that the Bewicks have yet to arrive. A single bird did turn up with us a fortnight ago but seems to have moved on, whether they return to face the floods we are experiencing remains to be seen.
During my early morning ramble I did meet two anglers on the river one of whom had managed a chub of four and a half pounds. They were the only two I met and I didn't go back to see how they had fared through the day but it was at least encouraging to see people out trying. The lakes continue to produce, thank goodness, mainly carp but that's probably because that's all anybody seems to fish for these days! In truth there are a few pike lads out but I've yet to find out how they're getting on and the carp anglers are still catching the bream. Rob Channing had a nice brace of twenties during the daytime with the best going 28 plus. Location is ninety percent of the game so don't expect miracles if you turn up blind without any homework or keeping the fish on the move with a little bait trickled in now and then. Winter fishing is difficult at the best of times and these are definitely not the best of times to be out on the banks so good luck to those who brave the elements.
The other event that is always a pleasure for me to be part of occurred Monday with the arrival of the SW and Wales Spaniels. Field trials are perhaps the pinnacle of dog work as far as I'm concerned. To have control of a coiled spring, so excited and keen to run it seems impossible that anything can have a say in how it behaves. To see those dogs work with their handler in a true partnership of understanding is the objective and when it goes as planned it is a pleasure to watch. As it was a novice day there were one or two hiccups but in general the dogs were of a very high standard. We couldn't have ordered a better day as far as the weather was concerned, sunshine and light breeze; spot on. The judges were experienced, leaving little doubt as to what was expected, we played our part in despatching the game and the dogs were a delight. One day I will try and capture the magic of the day with the camera but as my full concentration is required with the gun its always difficult. To miss a flush is dreadful as it may be at the end of a long run allowing little time for a second retrieve. If you and your dog have driven a couple of hundred miles from Wales of the SW to have your day spoilt by a numpty failing to concentrate it might justifiably lead to a little frustration. Thankfully that wasn't the case on the day but it does mean the camera will have to wait.
I suppose it was inevitable, along with the floods and ice, Sunday afternoon produced the most violent hailstorm I have ever witnessed. Accompanying the hail came thunder and lightening, within the space of five minutes an inch of ice that was still laying on the roads 24 hours later.
That appears to have been short and sharp. One day we are getting soaked and blown to bits the next frozen solid. Now we are back to normal with water coming at us from all directions. I hate to think when we are going to get back on the riverbank after today's top-up. I've got a WeBS count Sunday and a spaniel trial Monday which at the current rate of precipitation may both prove extremely interesting! Due to this unprecedented rubbish weather we are enduring normal service is cancelled and I'm going on a rambling wider look at goings on in the fishery world.
The sheltered lakes froze overnight.
I'm sure you noticed on the TV the recent Chalk Stream conference held over at Stockbridge where the problems confronting our chalk streams were highlighted. I didn't manage to make the meeting as more immediate matters required my attention. From what I have gleaned it would appear the local MPs are now firmly on board and recognising the extent of the problems arrayed against us. You never know perhaps we may now see a little more political weight behind our efforts; I'm sure every little helps.
In reality we are little closer to understanding the delicate balances of our riverine habitats than we were fifty years ago when I first visited the hallowed banks of the Avon. This seems to be becoming my mantra!! With the passage of time we may have developed different means to exploit and enjoy our rivers but the basic building blocks are little more advanced than when William James Lunn was studying the mayflies and invertebrates on the Test in the late 1800's and Frank Sawyer on the Upper Avon in the early part of the twentieth century. I note with interest the current UKTAG stakeholder review of phosphorous and biological standards. This is the body that determines the parameters that our regulators impose of the phosphorous dischargers into our rivers. Phosphates are a recognised pollutant of our rivers getting to grips with them is vitally important and long overdue. My concern is that the levels at which the revised standards will be set will still be financial and politically expedient rather than the precautionary principle that is enshrined in the WFD which is the driving force behind UKTAG, being adopted.
We have also seen the sad news from our Gallic cousins that there has been a scientifically recorded reduction in their virility. That's not what the paper records but it writes up better in that form!! It actually recorded a reduced fertility of one third since 1990, a similar reduction in sperm quality was also recorded. I'm sure we all suffer a similar fate but no one has tested me lately. What this possibly may mean is that some of the issues related to pheromone disrupters that many in the riverine world have been shouting about for decades may now be taken a little more seriously. Now that the human population has been scientifically shown to be suffering such a malaise the EU will undoubtedly become involved. Perhaps out of this a wider spectrum of chemical analysis might be undertaken as routine care of our most valuable asset. I don't think this need even prove financially prohibitive, I'm not suggesting starting from scratch and establishing a new monitoring structure. If a little imagination were used and those that already do water quality analysis could be funded or even persuaded to increase the field of their analysis perhaps it would be achievable?
One such area that has long been concerning me with regard to the Hampshire Avon is that of fish passage. Not just salmonid migration, which enjoys the full protection of the legislators in that under the S&FF Act it is an offence to interfere with their passage. I have been considering the Avon in relation to cyprinid passage, particularly at spawning time when it is the natural instinct of the spawning adults to move upstream to compensate for the downstream drift of larval and juvenile stages. I would dearly like to see a river where our humble minnow could by-pass every structure they might encounter on their epic upstream migrations. Currently, on regular occasions throughout the summer we see myriads of minnows moving upstream along the margins in unbroken ribbons coming to an abrupt stop at many of the hatches and control structures. Also the dace and chub attempting upstream migrations in late May and June at a time when the free board is at it greatest. It would be a step in the right direction if they could achieve their instinctive objective. I certainly do not support the lunacy of the restoration strategy promoting a Hampshire Avon with out impounded sections and control structures, purporting that the Avon should have a "natural channel profile" The Hampshire Avon, held by many to be the most ecologically diverse and equally important magical river in the country, is dependent on the impoundments, perched channels and gradients to give it that very diversity and unique character. As for the magic of the Avon its winter roach fame was almost entirely based on those impounded section as the fish sought out the deeper water as shelter from the winter floods. Sopley, Lifelands, Ibsley, Bickton, Burgate, Charford, just a few of the names that conjure pictures of classic Avon roach swims now almost devoid of fish. It is those very impoundments, that are so atypical of a natural chalk stream, that in many parts are the Avon's most important feature. I know the WCSRT is keen to establish best practice related to the management of the upstream migration of all our species so fingers crossed we may see developments in this area before too long. I mentioned in a previous entry that whilst recently in Japan I took the opportunity to visit one or two barriers to passage with a similar head loss as we enjoy on the Avon. I was impressed to see that all the structures had long established means of by-pass. I would dearly like to see every Avon structure by-passed in such efficient ways. All in all there is a great deal going on in the fishery world, hopefully not after the horse has bolted. Lets all cross our fingers that by one means or another our rivers may at last get the protection they deserve and have sadly been denied.
Shallow gradient by-pass on the Katsura and a shot of one of the small channels with the associate shoal of fish. In this case the red carp was between 15 and 20 pounds.
Whilst on the subject of roach we are looking at a nice little project involving an introduction scheme of fish into the estate rivers; subject of course to the necessary consents. Ideally these fish will be between four ounces and a pound, avoiding the risks of the egg, larval drift and juvenile stages. One of the problems of Avon roach is that of unexplained gaps in the population up and down the river. The Avon still has pockets of roach but they are widely spread up and down the valley. There is a population at Britford, possibly resulting from downstream drift from the five rivers, particularly the Nadder which is a good source of juveniles both salmonid and cyprinid. They may be as a result of Mike Trowbridge's work releasing thousands into the river at Stanlynch. There is a population at the bottom end of the river where Stour and Avon populations freely mix and possibly once more benefiting from downstream drift. What of the middle reaches? Remnant populations at Burgate, Fordingbridge perhaps as a result of the Burgate impoundment or the East Mills flood sanctuary. One or two around Ringwood possibly benefiting from good habitat upstream on the estate. We are also told that a reasonable bag can be made at Winkton that may be a result of the long impoundments above the Great Weir and Sopley. These populations are a faint shadow of the historic Avon shoals and we don't know for certain why they exist in the areas they do. What we do know is that there are well known gaps stretching from below Downton down to Burgate and now with us below Bickton right down to the lower river. I continually hear all the usual allegations as to the cause; Cormorants, otters, trout farms, STWs but not a shred of evidence exists to tie the culprits to the effect. What I know for certain is that our still waters are packed with roach that are not fished for. Their numbers are so vast they are restricting the development of the larger more desirable specimen fish. They are from Avon stock so the obvious short term response, whilst the cause of the demise can be established, is to transfer a significant number to the river. Time is the constraint on my part but hopefully we will get a scheme under-way in the not too distant future. The work I would wish to see accompany such a scheme would be more chemical trails following the multitude of products that eventually end up discharged into our rivers. The previously mentioned reduction of migration barriers and a closer look at population dynamics within our fish communities. Such work is beyond the abilities of any single body and this is where collaborations, hopefully led by the WCSRT who have the confidence of the riparian owners, will step up to the plate. There have recently been one or two positive moves that may help in this direction firstly with the appointment of a full time project officer for the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust in the form of Dr Nick Giles. You couldn't have a more experienced, enthusiastic or dedicated person in that role, so fingers crossed we are on our way.
Finally please indulge me if I give a little background to my earlier mentioned Japan visit that just might be of interest to one or two readers. Apart from my koi and bonsai interests, in a glass cabinet at home sits a little milk jug with a Japanese story attached to it. That delicate jug stands little more than an inch high and was given to Anne by my father many years ago. Until that time I didn't know of that jugs existence and certainly hadn't appreciated the story of how my father came by it as he never gave freely of his wartime experiences. As it transpired he was aboard one of the early allied ships that reached Japan just months after the end of world war two. During his time ashore he reached Hiroshima where he rescued that small treasure from the dust of the city. Before our visit to Hiroshima I read, for the first time, my fathers diaries including his visit to the site of the first atomic bomb. Recorded in an old exercise book that would probably have got him into trouble had it been discovered. Suffice to say it was only shortly before his death we realised the impact that time had had on him. I do not profess to understand or comment on the actions that brought about that fateful day at Hiroshima. I do believe however it has allowed me to raise my family in an unparalleled period of peace for which I will be forever grateful.
That little jug and Hiroshima today with the Peace Dome in the middle distance. A location that has influenced all our lives. .
Not really grounds for celebration but the river has dropped a further centimetre and a half over the weekend which is at least encouraging. In reality I think most of the reduction is due to the cold weather locking the surface water up in its icy grip slowing the drainage into the valley. Freezing cold nights, gin clear, cold water and bright days makes any fishing trip a very serious undertaking. Despite this the lakes continue to produce carp into the twenties proving the main attraction. Surprisingly there were one or two moans about being pestered by the bream that still appear to be feeding under the cover of darkness. As I drove by over the weekend I did see one or two pike floats but I didn't stop to ask if they had enjoyed any success, Hopefully the still-water pike will remain active, even if the length of the feeding spells is reduced, should the water temperature continue to drop.
As for the river it remains very lightly fished for obvious reasons. The one or two anglers I have met are for the most part looking for the pike and perch. Chub will hopefully be active if they can be located with the last hour of daylight being the most likely time with such clear water. I haven't heard of much in the way of large pike but one or two good perch have rewarded the dedicated few.
The meadows have drained just sufficiently for the wildfowl to begin visiting with over one hundred of the Shoveler and a couple of hundred Teal, usually on Ibsley water, out on the flood at Blashford. Plenty of Snipe and a party of a dozen Egyptian geese have taken up station at Ashley, barking their disapproval if disturbed. One visitor that always sends a panic wave through the gathered flocks is a Marsh harrier that has been regularly dropping in on the marsh for the last week or two. This is a stunning bird, I think its a hen bird but as juveniles are similar I wouldn't swear to it. The one pic I would like one of the well armed photographers who visit Ibsley to capture is a head-on shot of the bird harrying the teal and Snipe. The yellow crown bisected by the yellow edge of the lesser coverts with the trailing yellow legs makes a most unusual symmetrical sight as it approaches over the reeds. I'm afraid my point and shoot is not up to the job and my mobile certainly isn't, lots of blurred silhouettes. You never know perhaps I'll win the lottery and get a EOS1D; note to self - must do the lottery.
The waxwing count is now down to just one bird that has been with us for the last three days. The earlier flock seems to have moved on. At least this bird is a confiding individual allowing us to carry on our daily comings and going just feet below him without so much as breaking from his meal. I like to think it is the same individual that spent six weeks with us two years ago. I also believe it's no coincidence that we have been visited by these birds when so few are currently in the county. Just as certain mammals, fish and other birds have set migration routes and return unerringly to exactly the same area for breeding and feeding I think our visitors had been with us before. If you look back to March 2011 we enjoyed the company of a single bird long after the flocks had departed. I would almost bet its her!
Is this our bird of 2011?
I had a message relayed to me today from Nick, who lives up in the Forest at Linwood, letting me know that the seatrout had arrived in the streams this weekend. As regular readers will be aware the arrival of the seatrout in the forest is a time I always try and walk some of these forest streams; just to get an idea of how the fish have fared. With gin clear, falling water, I needed no further prompting and lunchtime saw me up in the middle reaches of the Dockens, soaking up the winter sunshine, looking for the redds. I always prefer the forest in the winter particularly mid week as the hoards have vacated the place and creeping about in the scrub doesn't run the risk of being labelled a suspicious character and pounced upon by Sgt Hubble and her Countryside Watch. Within minutes of starting I discovered two well cut redds, confirming Nick's sightings, with numbers soon building indicating in the middle reaches at least the fish had done well. Seatrout are strange creatures, seemingly able to forecast future weather patterns that may impact on their efforts, timing their spawning to fit conditions most beneficial to them. Why in some years do they run into the forest early in November, at the first rise in water, yet in other years with ample water in the streams delay their efforts to December? They could have reached the very headwaters of the streams weeks ago yet delayed until this weekend. Did they know that too early a start would have exposed their eggs to the risk of scouring from subsequent floods? Why have they cut in the middle reaches instead running right up into the headwaters? Does temperature play a part? We simply don't know. To add to the mix, having found good numbers in the middle reaches I thought I would drop in at the lakes on the way back to work to see if by chance our lower reaches had been used and sure enough just below our top boundary a good sized redd. It was probably three feet across which would indicate a good sized hen had been busy down with us. Had it been later in the month I would have been suspicious a salmon might have been responsible. What ever the thinking behind their timing and selection of sites it's certainly good to see they continue to thrive in the Dockens.
A good size redd with a house brick exposed in the bottom giving a key to scale. A diagrammatic view of the redd showing the rising plain its set on with its acceleratingly laminar flow to supply a constant supply of oxygenated water even if the stream drops back.
As an aside to my redd counting I was pleasantly surprised to see an unexpected benefit of my efforts to annihilate the Himalayan balsam. The extent of the infestation had been beyond hand pulling and in earlier entries I had recorded our efforts with the glyphosate. We have been partly successful in getting control of the HB and with the help of the local WT volunteers we continue our assault but what was so pleasing was the collateral damage inflicted on the scrub and brambles that had previously restricted the light from the stream. With the scrub reduced by seventy five percent the growth of ranunculus and other macrophytes in the stream has increased dramatically providing a much healthier habitat.
Dockens Water habitat looking well.
One other little tale that occurred during my forest foray was that I bumped into a couple of the local porkers doing their bit to keep the traditions of the forest alive. I'm sure all readers are aware of the practice of pannage in the forest where-by the commoners turn their pigs out onto the forest in the autumn to eat the acorn crop to avoid the accumulative poison that acorns contain "doing" for the ponies. Well these two were obviously a very astute pair as they must have discovered a well concealed cache of acorns in a most unexpected place - alas I can see storm clouds gathering on the horizon for our clever duo!!!
I live the right side of the cattle grids, I only have to worry about the neighbours moggy and the odd fox looking through my rubbish if I put it out too early! Brilliant, just like our finest travel writer Dicken's repeatedly described in his American Notes, they bring a real interest and vitality to the scene. You guessed it, I like pigs - if it comes to that I like bacon as well!!
When I first started putting apples out in an effort to attract the Waxwings, apart from a pair of Blackcaps, nothing else ate them. This year; Starlings. Blackbirds, Sparrows, Blue tits, Jackdaws and even a Rook, what's that all about? Its costing me a fortune in Gala.
One of today's Waxwings and one of today's other visitors.
Well, any readers of the last entry will know what's been occupying my time of late. The trees that blocked the path to the main weir have been cleared which is the extent of the work on those particular trees for the moment. They will have to wait until the water drops before I look to see if further work is possible without climbers and heavy machinery. As for waiting for the water to drop that might take some time. The river has cleared, which has signalled the arrival of the groundwater, the height gauge on Ibsley Bridge not having moved for a week. With the aquifers up under the plain now full any further rain will simply add to the levels we currently enjoy. In reality the present height or the water has little about it to enjoy. I suppose it does have a certain picturesque appeal but as for the practicalities of living and working with in the valley it brings nothing but problems. At the current levels anglers simply can't get to the riverbank. Not only the rivers are currently difficult to reach, rising water around the lakes has seen the swims disappear under water making setting up bivvies or just simply keeping tackle clear of the flood increasingly awkward. Life's full of contradictions, having said that everything is flooded and no one is out fishing I bumped into Marcus Howarth who had just finished a 48 hours session on Meadow where he had managed eight doubles with three twenty plus fish. It just further proves that those who brave the elements and put in the time reap their just rewards.
Amidst the chaos of the fallen poplars can be seen a new young chestnut ready to fill the void. I'm not sure Lucas had this in mind when he came on his fishery work experience with us. That's the trouble with fisheries, they involve a lot of water, mud, weed and trees and not a lot of fish! Even the floods have one or two highlights that go some way to offset the problems they bring.
I appreciate the benefits of the flood over the drought we had feared this summer but extremes in whatever aspect of life have little to recommend them. The normal advantage of the floods is that we see the wildfowl and waders arrive en masse which is something I do look forward to and enjoy. Alas I don't even get to enjoy their presence as we are too deep for the waders to feed in the softened soil and the wildfowl to reach the grass on which they graze. Oddly as you drop further down the valley toward the harbour the number of waders increases. This is due to the valley flood plain getting wider and the flood water becoming shallower as it covers the greater area. The wider valley also offers a reduced level of disturbance which naturally appeals to the birds. Bisterne and Avon Tyrell downstream are currently host to the avian hordes. Hopefully if this river ever drops and the meadows below dry out we will become sufficiently shallow for the birds to spend more time with us.
They're back! Eighteen of them just before lunch.
I'm beginning to think some one is taking the proverbial!! It continues to rain, the river continues to rise and the trees continue to fall down. Between the weirs at Ibsley has taken on the appearance of a disaster zone as a further four massive grey poplars have given up the ghost, blocking the path for good measure. The site now looks like as if the giants have been playing pick-up-sticks. We have ten or a dozen massive trunks, weighing in at about ten tons apiece, all laying in different directions, all under pressure and balanced precariously on top of one another. Just to add a little spice to the mix - stood in water up to six feet deep. Tomorrow I will begin the delicate job of removing the sticks one by one, definitely a case of softly, softly.
Poplar sticks laying in all directions. The second is the leaning willow of the entry a couple of days ago - its now a flat willow! I'm starting to get fed-up with cutting up trees.
What do I do on my days off when the family visit? Go for a walk in the forest after Sunday lunch to look at the tall trees!
There have been moments of calm between the storms as the view across Meadow Lake mid morning proved.
An early morning shot of the road between Ibsley Bridge and Harbridge. I was out on a bird count but called it a day when the dawn exposed deep water the full width of the flood plain making valley access almost impossible.
I am indeed back, its just staying awake long enough to write up my day that's proving the problem! I'll put the length of time its taken to reset my body clock down to my age as it has been at least three days before I feel able to keep my eyes open after 8 pm. Having now achieved that milestone I had better record some of the valley's goings on.
A couple of weeks away and the most obvious change has been the almost total disappearance of the leaves from the trees. Stark silhouettes where before the high colours of autumn. Skeletal trees that no longer block the view allowing a new, crazed horizon to open where previously a wall of greens and yellows was the limit of vision.
Despite the leaves no longer showing a solid front to the wind several trees have succumbed to storms that have visited the valley in our absence. Several large willows have found the water logged ground unable to support their weight and are taking on precarious angles. Two massive oaks and a further pair of poplars all waiting to be cleared when the ground dries sufficiently to allows us to get near. Those storms must have been accompanied by a considerable amount of rain as the valley is awash for the full width of the flood plain. The river is pushing through making fishing all but the slacks almost impossible. Despite the high flow and extra colour those brave enough to sit it out in the sheltered slacks and eddies the barbel have continued to provide a chance.
Who needs Mahseer?? Kevin, having landed a nine and a half pound fish proceded to loose a much larger fish when it made full use of the force of the spillway.
The other effect of the high flows and a prolonged absence has been many of the hatches being well and truly blocked; to the extent I have yet to get to the end of clearing them. The Fools Cress that takes over the carriers, if left unmanaged, has now torn loose stacking up in great heaps, so solid they are capable of supporting my weight as I have to resort to walking on them to cut them free. Apart the high risk factor of being mown down by a ten ton floating compost heap its a task that has become one I no longer relish purely on the physical effort front. I think those who have the responsibility for keeping those carriers clipped might have to do a better job in future. Its a pity that a job that takes half an hour a week if its kept on top of becomes a full day with the machine if ignored. The snag now is that the ground is too soft for the machine to travel on without turning it into a quagmire and will probably remain so until he end of March . That leaves me with the current problem of it being necessary to clear the hatch in the interim to allow wildfowlers access to the Snipe Marsh.
Blocked hatches and leaning willows to greet my return.
Whether its due to the frosts that have removed the leaves or the floods that have covered the meadows the winter visitors have arrived with us. Whilst checking the outlets from the lakes at Ibsley I stumbled on an otter lazing on the bank that disappeared down into the newly established reed beds. Apart from two very disgruntled Water Rails screaming their disapproval at his sudden appearance in their reed bed haven, a Bittern grunted up through the stems to glide fifty yards to a less disturbed spot. Not only Bittern but the Black-tailed Godwits have appeared on the floods. Its particularly good to see them turn-up each winter as affirmation that the management of the valley continues on at least a Godwit friendly basis. Today's count was at least 1725 which this early in the season is high; what ever that might portend. On the subject of omens the Waxwings have also appeared just around the corner on Brian and Pat Marshall's crab apple tree. My Starlings having now eaten all our crab apples I must get the apples back up in the trees in the front garden in the hope of repeating the visits of a couple of years ago. An interesting fact about Waxwings!! Jade and Richard are home for the weekend from London where jade tells me an article in the Metro records and I quote the BTO source; "Waxwings eat a lot of fruit - their metabolism can handle the equivalent of an average size man drinking two and half pints of five per cent beer every hour of the day." The moral of that, don't challenge a Waxwing to a drinking contest!
Whilst on the bird front, other birds that are giving me a problem at present are three Cormorants that appear immune to the efforts of the manikins set around the lakes as never sleeping deterrents. I am fast loosing patience and have almost reached the point where a Chris Yates, Passion For Angling scarecrow ploy might be called for. I'm sure the manikin wont mind if I borrow his hat and coat for half an hour!
Manikins hard at work.
As I'm sure you will have guessed, I have been away for a week or two. As a reward for me becoming old and infirm my family despatched us to the other side of the globe to visit a part of the world I had long given up on ever experiencing. As a bonsai and koi devotee Japan has long held a fascination and quite amazingly out of the blue came our opportunity. I wont bore you all to tears with our holiday snaps, suffice to say we have experienced chaos, tranquillity, beauty, kindness and moving emotion beyond our imagination.
Not so strangely, when we are overseas I always endeavour to spend time near rivers to see how other societies deal with common problems. Anne is not so keen on examining fish ladders and control structures but having stopped berating me for dragging her up Mount Misen, the holy mountain on Miyajima, I did press my luck on several occasions when in the proximity of several interesting structures. The far side of the globe yet water transcends such geographical displacement; the differing ways in which problems have been dealt I will get around to writing up at some point in the future.
Tranquility beside the Katsura. An elderly gentleman feeding Tree Sparrows in the Peace Park at Hiroshima where emotions catch you unaware. Almost at the bottom of Mount Misen, scene enough for Anne to forgive me for dragging her the long way around to the summit.
We visited the largest fish market in the world at Tsukiji where every variety of sea creature that swims, crawls or burrows is bought and sold. We have eaten many of those self same swimming, crawling and burrowing creatures in varying degrees of preparation. The miles and miles of street markets are unparalleled and not only the day to day, brush, pots, pans and food we found working craftsmen hidden away in the sprawling cities quite astonishing. As an indication just visit this link
and view the fishing tackle we stumbled on in a Tokyo suburb. (If you don't read Japanese just click on the blue writing and then click on the pic) We met the man making the rods, creels and floats purely by accident whilst dodging the rain. The quality is quite astonishing and no photo can do it justice, floats an inch long so beautifully and intricately built it takes your breath away. These are for the real cane aficionados where the pleasure derived from using the ultimate tackle is the objective. Don't get overly excited about finding a deal, the yen converts at about 120 to the pound so in common with much in Japan you need a seriously healthy bank balance to enjoy this tackle.
Fully painted and laquered floats, some no larger than the second hand on my wrist-watch in a shop with rods in all shapes and sizes.
It gives an idea of the magic we stumbled on, add bow and arrow, furniture, lacquer ware, ceramics, kitchen knife and comb makers of articles of the most staggering beauty and you get the gist. Whether by design or accident what they have are energetic thriving towns and cities, buzzing with unique shops and true craftsmen, totally detached from the best described as energetic tourist economy and not an out of town development in sight!! Its not all roses by a long shot, like so many the Japanese economy is over stretched and grave concerns face many of the businesses and people. All I hope is that the true face of Japan is not lost in any resulting economic turbulence.
Ueno street market where you can buy anything from a garfish to a golf club. The fish arrive fresh from the main Tokyo fish market at Tsukiji that operates on a mind boggling scale. The baskets, buckets, pots and pans arrive from every corner of Japan.
I write this at four thirty in the morning, my time clock unsurprisingly being completely screwed-up and as I have work tomorrow - that is actually today, in a couple of hours - I will leave with a taste of our travels and update news of the valley as soon as possible.
Down in the Green Wood, far beyond the reach of the gale, fruits of the night mysteriously appear. In the still, damp air where sound is swallowed by the mossy floor soft sculptures from a pastel palette light the way as far as the eye can see.
I should start with the WeBS count that took place at the weekend. With so much water still in the meadows the most memorable aspect of the count was walking three or four miles through deep water and mud in thigh waders. By the time I finished the count my legs felt as if they had been pulled from my hip sockets. As for the birds there was nothing of particular note some of the highlights being the number of Snipe enjoying all the water and mud and the Mute swans numbers that have now risen to a hundred and forty seven. All the expected geese and ducks were present in slightly lower numbers than I had expected but with over eight hundred Teal down at Avon Tyrell they can't be in two places at once.
One of two swans that had collided with the powerlines at Hucklesbrook. Powerlines are like cats they kill enormous numbers of birds but no one wants to deal with the issue. With a hundred and forty seven on the Estate I suppose the odd couple don't make that much difference. Similarly I believe there are estimates that household moggies kill forty million birds a year which presumeably doesn't make that much difference!!! That particular bird is, or was, the cob from the pair from the bottom end of the Bickton trout stream that had nested there since 2003. Information recieved from Dave Stone (Mr Swan) when I sent him the ring number despite me sending him the number backwards?? What are the odds on finding this particular ring and looking at it upside down X6896 or was it 9689X, its a good job Dave knows which way up his swans are!!
Also on the fishy front I bumped into Matt Day whilst out counting - Matt of the loads of double figure barbel at the start of the season. I hadn't seen him for seveal weeks as his newly found work is messing up his fishing time, despite that he seems to have managed one or two further doubles with a great brace of barbel last Monday weighing in at fifteen plus and thirteen plus. That's a good couple of fish to land in a three hour session. Matt also told me that further downstream, in the middle of the estate, Grant Flory had also had a good brace in a short couple of hour session with a twelve and a thirteen from Ellingham. Really does make me want to dig out the rods, well done both, great fishing.
Today the sunny weather combined with events at work added up to it being a good day. I've managed to rid myself of a particularly awkward tree that had been giving rise to concerns about the wretched thing's intentions regarding the buildings it overhung. We seem to have been rushing from one dangerous tree to another for what seems months. Its been a matter of deciding which one was going to fall down next and dealing with it before gravity took over. With today's tree I wasn't sure we were going to win the race so I was very pleased to finally see it laying on the ground in trailer sized lumps. Add finding a new supply of gravel close to where we need it thereby saving us carting the stuff several miles across the estate matters seem all very positive on the work front.
To add a little icing to the cake I had occasion to call in on one of the lakes where I heard from the night fishermen things were very slow. It seems the recent couple of cold nights had sent the fish off in a sulk. I sympathised and headed off around the lake where I came across young Dan Hickey landing a good mirror of over twenty six pounds. Dan was fishing with his dad and they had been struggling along with the others around the lake so it was particularly pleasing to see a young angler showing the way to some of the more experienced.
The photo shows young Dan about to sack up his carp, which I agreed was OK, in order to show his dad when he got back from the shops. That's a cracking fish and I expect dad was mightily impressed when he got back; well done Dan.
I've been keeping a close eye on the Crab Apple, Malus hupehensis, that sits in front of our sitting room window as it becomes the centre of attention for the bird population. I've mentioned this beautiful tree on the diary in past entries and once again it has produced a wonderful crop. Every morning sees our local starlings joined by visiting thrushes and blackbirds, all tucking in with unbridled enthusiasm to the ripe fruit. I must admit I have been keeping an eye out half in the hope of seeing if a Ring ouzel might call as there are currently many moving through the forest just a mile or two east of us. Alas no ouzel but I can't complain as the starlings alone make watching a pleasure. The advantage of our Starlings is that once they have enjoyed their morning feed, if the weather remains fine, they take up station on the entrance perches of the various nestboxes or on nearby aerials and ridges and commence whistling, clicking and chattering; reaffirming their territory and undying love of their mates.
One of our local Blackbirds and a couple of our Starlings enjoying the crab apples.
One evening earlier this week I attended a meeting at Wessex waters HQ over at Bath to hear the latest developments related to the changes in the abstraction regime re the Salisbury Plain chalk aquifer and the intended strategic pipeline network. I have to admit tangible relief to attend a meeting to hear of changes that have been implemented or are due to be implemented in the near future as opposed to much rending of cloth and gnashing of teeth with no positive input or outcome so often resulting from gatherings of the riverine concerned. Make no mistake, I do not see the very positive developments of the water companies as altruistic measures for the benefit of the fisheries. They result in main from the EA driven AMP process and the ever higher demands of the WFD. The means by which these positive changes have been achieved has been a lesson in a financially strapped regulator being in a position to "persuade" the water industry to take on the role of poacher gamekeeper. It is the water companies that have looked at the impact of their abstractions by funding considerable monitoring and modelling programmes resulting in a real reduction of water taken from the aquifer and potentially less out of catchment supply. Both of which just have to be steps in the right direction. Just how effective the measures taken will be will not be discovered until the water companies have further results from their research to assess the impact of the change. What makes the water companies undertake this self restricting operation? The regulator in the shape of the EA. Who determines the parameters with which the regulators oversee the water companies? UKTAG. And who are UKTAG? The regulators EA, NE SEPA with the assistance of a plethora of task teams to cover the areas of concern related to chemistry, groundwater, freshwater, wetlands etc. What always surprises me is that at all the meetings I have attended related to the multiple maladies that impact on our chalk streams. I don't think I have ever seen a member of TAG, at least not that I am aware of and certainly not one who has shed any light on how they arrived at their parameters! How do they determine that it is acceptable to abstract ten percent of the aquifer if the only data to support such evidence is that produced by the water companies? Perhaps the one further meeting I need to attend is the one where TAG illuminate us all with the due processes involved in setting parameters.
One other aspect of the meeting was the apparent changing perception within the water companies of the importance of water temperature with regard to the biodiversity of our rivers. With our fish and many invertebrates we have recognised for many years that temperature triggers play a significant part in the timing of spawning and hatching. It determines the time it will take fish and invertebrate eggs to hatch, requiring a pre determined temperature exposure before they mature. The stressing of the importance of temperature, where flow had previously thought to be the key, seemed to be a very audible message. Well perhaps my involvement with the river for so many years gives me a slightly different perspective. Or possibly its the cynic in me looking at the advantages such a change of emphasis has for a water company dependent on aquifer abstraction for significant volumes of its water. I think at this point I will just be pleased for the fact that temperature is being increasingly recognised as a significant factor and remain to be swayed that flow does not have the greatest impact on the well-being of our rivers. Unfortunately that swaying process is dependent largely on the efforts of the water companies as they are the only people doing any real monitoring or research likely to expand or confirm our existing knowledge. Concerns related to the cocktail of chemicals and pheromones that leach into our rivers are most likely to be identified by the water companies concerned about failing their water quality standards. Nitrates, fungicides, phosphates and insecticides are but the tip of an iceberg that runs to pages that have the potential to find their way into our water courses. Harmful in isolation what may the result be on the larval stages of invertebrates and fish from the symbiotic brew of such substances as metaldehyde and pyrethrin is anyones guess.
Last weekend the early mist settled leaving the flooded valley veiled in a layer of fleece like cobwebs.
As for other goings on, the river has dropped back a little but remains in the fields in many areas still making access tricky. North-end has produced several lovely barbel with most of the well known lumps being landed. If my info is correct 15.10 is the current best, it will be interesting to see what a winter of high flows does for the weights at the end of the season.
Around the lakes the guttural roaring and grunting of the fallow bucks as they call their does into line makes for the strangest backing track. One late evening walk brought me slap bang into the middle of the herd with the bucks to my left, roaring away absorbed in their strutting, totally unaware of my presence and the does within yards the other side of me. Chaos ensued when the does realised I was in their midst as they bolted for the cover of the tall conifers. The bucks still unaware of my position passed at full pelt either side of me as they set off in pursuit of their women folk. The large white hart that is part of the herd made for quite an eerie sight looming out of the darkness heading directly for me, at a speed that made avoiding him impossible; luckily he became aware of my presence before I became an unpleasant stain on his fine hide. Certainly an experience to make the adrenalin flow, heightening senses, the towering silhouettes of the douglas and silver fir closing in and deadening all sound. Time for home me thinks.
With further torrential overnight rain the river was rising dramatically once again this morning. The Dockens Water had flooded Ibsley Drove to a depth of a foot or more slowing those using the road to walking pace. The gulls seemed to be the main beneficiaries of the flood as vast flocks on every field made short work of the drowned worms and small, frantic creatures struggling to reach higher ground.
The first is a caution for anyone thinking of walking the Avon Valley Footpath, "Bring waders" you'll need them! The second shows the predicament of one of the local farmers. How they are ever going to be removed remains a mystery to me.
Further floods means further weed as hundreds of tons of ranunculas continues to be torn up by the roots and swept away downstream. Under these conditions if I'm not carerful I spend all my time clearing blocked hatches and channels. The problem with old hatches, such as the seven that control the main flow at Ibsley, is that they are small and have numerous stanchions to collect weed and block, often within minutes of the floods rising. Not only is unblocking hatches, under flood conditions, desperately hard work it is uncomfortably dangerous. Weed and broken branches under immense pressure holding back hundreds of tons of water and debris requiring clearing stood on a shuddering platform of freezing, slipper ironwork. You've guessed it, not my favourite task.
In an effort to cut down on the time I spend grubbing about behaind hatch gates I set the gates to divert as much of the weed as possible through one gate without stanchions to catch rubbish. If I get it right it can cut the clearing down by over ninety percent, saving as much as eight or ten hours a week and my back appreciates minutes saved let alone hours. The main hatches and spillway immediately downstream of Ibsley Bridge are set with the four gates at ninety plus percent of their capacity and an unrestricted spillway. The ten percent closed is to allow me a element of adjustent. The trick is to allow sufficient draw on the water from downstream to hold the weed out of the pull from these hatches and stay on the left bank and under the influenmce of the Eel Pool and Trout stream hatches a further one hundred meters down stream. The next setting requires the pull of the Eel Pool to attract the weed to prevent it reaching the Trout stream, Crowe pool and By-pass hatches. If it goes as planned the weed steams through the one open Eel Pool hatch and is sent on its way hopefully to miss the next set of gates at the inception of the Woodside and Ellingham carriers.
The main control downstream of Ibsley Bridge, the arrows show the desired passage of the weed. The next shows the result of getting it wrong. Then comes the Eel Pool gate set to attract the weed and stop it reaching the htaches further downstream and the result in the By-pass channel of getting it wrong.
Just a couple of shots to catch the flavour of the day which started with the first hard frost of the year. As I had to closed down several hives, I had over the lakes, it was a good excuse to enjoy the sunshine that had driven off the frost and mist and stop for a chat with the anglers.
The mist saved the marsh from the frost, much to the relief of the Wigeon and Teal with numbers now building well into the hundreds. The second pic shows Bill Neil doing what Bill does best; catch fish. Whether seven pound chub or seven ounce roach Bill will fish for almost anything, today he was quite happy sitting in the sun catching roach on the drop.
Nigel Bennett playing a flood water bream, an angler on the far bank having landed three barbel the day AFTER the match.That's what known as Sods Law
The previous entry, written last Friday bemoaning the lack of an Indian Summer, immediately preceded twelve unbroken hours of rain. The overnight storm turned the river into a brown turgid soup, swollen with mud and spinning weed, just in time for the Roach Club and Barbel Society fund raising match. I felt a great deal of sympathy for those hardy soles that annually anticipate the event only to have suffered drought and low flows in previous years to be greeted by this frothing flume. In a normal year the colour and rising water might have been considered reasonable conditions to find a barbel. This year unfortunately has been far from normal. The low flows of the earlier part of the year inhibited a great deal of the ranunculus growth through lack of flow, one of the determinants for good ranunculus. Once the summer rains arrived and the flow picked up the ranunculus decided to make up for lost time. Shallows that had been almost devoid of weed became covered in deep, lush green beds of soft new growth much later in the season than might have been expected. The new growth, born out of high summer flows, withstood the first minor floods we experienced its young roots able to cling to the gravels. That all came to an abrupt end on Friday night. Saturday saw a continuous procession of ranunculus streaming through the hatches making fishing all but impossible other than under your feet or in the slack water of the deeper bends. I believe the total catch on the day amounted to one barbel and a couple of chub. Surprisingly considering the conditions I'm told dace provided some light relief along with the appearance of several signal crays. Just why the crays should have turned up I'm not quite sure, perhaps making the most of the trash and detritus being swept past their lairs? We have no idea of population or impact of Signals in the Avon, lets hope the more alkaline water we enjoy is not to their liking and they don't become a pest as elsewhere in the country.
Starlings gathering prior to roost.Not perhaps the vast smoke screens of larger roosts to be found about the country but good to watch nontheless
Easier than counting them as they fly past. All the widely spread birds in the foreground, above the colour blocks, are Pied wagtails, hundreds equally intent on reaching the cover of the willow car and reed beds to roost.
Events of the intervening week have been clouded by my having a filthy head cold and a throat that felt I'd been gargling battery acid. Not, as some who had seen Anne and I enjoying a glass with the pack from the Esher Rugby Club had intimated, through over indulgence. In my delicate state "urgent matters only" became the order of the day, all other jobs would have to await my recovery. Thankfully two days and a liberal volume of warm whiskey and honey seemed to see my malaise sent on its way. Its quite amazing just how quickly the backdrop you see and take for granted every day changes when you suffer an enforced absence. Bare trees, where only a day or two ago was a thick hedge, leaves have gone to begin their earthy decay, reeds losing their colour, rasping and rattling as you push through them and hillsides have taken on the rusty cloak of autumn bracken. The season of mellow mists and fruitfulness, to which can be added blocked hatches and bogged down tractors; all to the pungent backdrop of wet dog and black clinging mud. To lift my spirits I made time to take a walk with no particular route or plan in mind, just let events determine my path. Such time is a rare luxury but I can wholeheartedly recommend finding an hour or two for such drifting. My path took me up onto the forest plateau and home through the lakes at dusk where I paused to watch the thousands of Lesser black-backed gulls drifting into their roost on Ibsley Water. The feathery gathering was further expanded by a couple of thousand Starlings going through their murmurations prior to diving down into the phragmites to squabble and squawk for half an hour before settling down for the night. Into this mix add three hundred geese and four hundred and fifty Pied wagtails and you have one of Natures every day miracles designed to lift jaded spirits.
Egrets resting on the recently cleared island. Resting on the gravel bar just in front of the island can be seen a white Cormorant. If you remember entries related to breeding Cormorants on these lakes two or three years ago the one successfully fledged offspring was a pale individual. After fledging the pale bird was seen about the valley for a month or two before disappearing without positive trace. I wonder if this is our local bird come back to haunt us??
I'm not sure that normal service would be the correct description of my current activities but at least I managed a look at the river and a walk around the lakes in the last day or two. We have been topping the wild flower meadows around the lakes that have set their seed and require tidying up before the onset of winter. With the job ninety percent complete the river has taken the opportunity provided by the recent deluge to head back out into the meadows and seems to have driven the anglers back into hiding. I had hoped for an extended Indian Summer to make up for the miserable summer but it looks as if that's now a forlorn hope.
Swirling leaves heralding the onset of Autumn.
Its not all gloom and doom, I see from the club website John McGough has managed to winkle out a fine brace of barbel, both in excess of thirteen pounds certainly making for a day to remember; well done John. I also bumped into regular Jim Haskell who informed me he had landed a fourteen seven barbel, which is a good barbel under any conditions. Whilst the water levels in the lakes are high and odd as it may sound after the previous news, they are still manageable and continue to provide the mainstay of the fishing at the moment. During my walk around Meadow Lake I stopped for a chat with Kevin Clubb who had managed a couple of nights after the carp and had enjoyed success in the shape of a thirty plus common and a couple of twenty plus mirrors to back it up. With the unpredictable weather we have suffered in recent months its difficult to make any predictions about what the autumn and winter will bring this season, fingers crossed its a little more angler friendly in whatever form it takes.
A doe and kid that don't mind getting wet having swum across to one of the recently cleared islands on Mockbeggar to eat the regrowth
A pair of this years twins looking scruffy as they moult their summer coats in readiness for the coming winter.
I have just logged onto the forecast and see we have four days rain ahead which makes for a grim week where further tractor or machine work is concerned. One result of the wettest summer on record and super high flows is a river with a new weed regime. In my time at Somerley it's certainly the lowest weed growth I have ever seen through the summer. The shallows have good ranunculas cover, as is to be expected with such flows, but the deeper areas are in many instances almost devoid of weed. At this time of year I would expect to see the slower stretches almost solid from bed to surface yet in many pools the bottom can be seen in ten or twelve feet of water. The bed is also scrubbed clean of silt and algae with gravel showing in places never seen before. The draw back is that the fish have gone into hiding making local knowledge of their retreats the key to success.
An odd pic of a weasel found dead on the path where the otter run crosses as they enter one of the lakes. Judging by the width of the bite mark I would hazard a guess one of the otters might have been responsible. I know they will not tolerate mink in their territory but I have never heard of them dealing with weasels in a similar fashion.
By far and away the most unusual bird related sight currently in valley is the gull roost on Ibsley Water. I haven't managed a count in recent weeks but I imagine that in excess of ten thousand Lesser black-backed gulls are roosting on the lake. I recently watched a Farming programme, on the Beeb I believe, that featured an oyster farming operation that was dependent on a gull roost of four thousand birds to provide the nutrient in the water to enable the breeding cycle to be successful. If you ever get to see Ibsley water roost you will be amazed at its density over such a large water body. It also points to the reason there is such a massive algal bloom on that lake that turns the water pea green at this time of year. One further birdie highlight in that I enjoyed a couple of evenings under the flight line of the Greylags as they came into roost on Mockbeggar. I was not shooting, more beating the bounds but two hundred and fifty Greylags whiffling out of a western, backlit sky makes for a very special sight and sound. We still cannot claim to have seriously reduced the expanding goose population in the valley despite one early morning flight to see if we could get amongst them. We may have bagged half a dozen but in the great scheme of things we are some way from having any lasting impact. I suppose I could have taken the opportunity to add to our tally but the prospect of shattering that evening spell held little attraction so they all survived to flight another day. The bird life in the valley is best described as atypical, with knee high standing grass and many sites still flooded, with the exception of Snipe, the increasing wader and wildfowl numbers we might expect are failing to materialise. If we get a cold spell or the river heads out into the fields for a prolonged spell we can expect them to arrive. It may mean not having the valley full of wildfowl but I think we deserve a mild, low rainfall winter after this summer we have just endured.
Its a strange world when the Goosander begin to act like farmyard ducks. I had to drive around this individual as it sat on the bank preening out its loose feathers, showing total disregard, bordering on distain, for my presence.
I have an interesting dilemma in that this last week or two has seen several of the clubs, associations and societies that I support requiring subscriptions or perhaps more difficult for me, my time. If hard pressed for an answer I am not sure which species or discipline of our pastime I would profess to put top of my favourites list. Just to compound the problem my interests and support also extends to the ornithological and wildlife groups, having long held the belief that my surroundings are equally as important as my quarry. The added complication of deciding which is my preferred environment; rich lowland valleys, tumbling boulder strewn streams, misty estate lakes, dramatic salmon river, highland lochs or sandy surf beaches. Into this equation I have to add season and time of day making a favourites list almost mind bogglingly impossible. Pike clubs, barbel societies, carp, roach, perch, tench and chub groups, add in trout, eels, salmon, grayling, bass and mullet how do I decide which is more deserving of my support and vitally my cash? I have enjoyed seeking out each and every one of the above species at various times and several less august ones to boot. Given time and a benevolent deity I will continue to enjoy their charms long into the future. I don't want to see any species or discipline benefiting at the expense of another. I don't want to see single discipline groups acting in isolation without considering the impact on other species. As the expense is now more than I feel I can justify how should I choose? Put all the names in a hat, or stick a pin in the list of standing orders? Over recent years due to cost and increasing demands on my time I have been slowly reducing the number of clubs and associations I belonged to, particularly those allowing me access to water. I was paying subscriptions to clubs I had not visited in years which was blatantly ludicrous. How then to refine and define the areas I feel I should support? In so much as I have always believed in E F Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" philosophy and that one size definitely doesn't fit all under national policies in light of which I am looking to support local groups but which? The answer to my problem is simple, I concentrate my support on the river trust that provides the professional overview of our river and its valley. Many of you are aware of my long held belief that the only way for our rivers to receive the priority they deserve is through the river trust network. Its plain to see that without a healthy river we do not have all the barbel, chub, roach, otters, waders and wildfowl giving rise to the multitude of groups that have sprung into existence in recent years. The rivers trusts, in our case the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust, clearly are the way forward. They offer the chance to get involved with like minded people from all the varied strands of the valley ecology. If my time is not available its certainly where my limited funds will be directed in the future.
I had to include this shot. Dave Taylor sent it as a footnote to his recent account of his Somerley adventures. He had put the brolly up to afford him a little shade from the rare sight of the sun this summer but had the unexplained and uncomfortable feeling he was being watched!
Heading for the top of Elidir Fawr with Anne, Richard and Jade. I've been out and about for a couple of weekends; hopefully normal service will be resumed in the near future.
How good is this, I spend the day doing nothing more exciting than clearing brash and scrub on Mockbeggar yet I still get a good entry for the diary thanks to Dave Taylor who kindly sent me an account of his recent adventures at Somerley. I can do no better than include Dave's account and some pix of the results.
"A reccy of the river at Ellingham on the Sunday revealed a sizeable otter in the margins immediately downstream of the bridge, not at all bothered by our gawping faces peering down at him! After chatting to another angler fishing near the upstream boundary, it appears that it had been working it's way downstream from Ibsley during the morning.
As the meadows were soggy underfoot, we elected to start the next days fishing on Lifelands.
Despite the loss of a few favourite swims due to the extra flows the fishing was pretty good over the 5days for me after banking 12 barbel [ 4 of which were doubles] and some marvellous chub which hung themselves on my barbel gear [ After shortening the hooklink].
After having a successful week with old whiskers I targeted the group of chub on the Friday that had been snaffling my casters for the past 2 days, ending up with 6 fish ranging from 5.15oz to 6.14oz plus a double figure barbel. My fishing buddy [ Who is no stranger to decent barbel ] struggled, ending up with just one barbel over the 5 days. Although we live 100 miles away in Reigate we know the river fairly well and have usually found the specimen fish in the same areas year after year. I think the flows had moved some of the fish out of their old haunts [ certainly not angling pressure on Lifelands as we hardly saw another angler, and one of our favourite swims upstream had obviously not been fished at all! ] I think he made the mistake of persisting in those swims and not looking for pastures new."
Dave Taylor with a couple of doubles from his recent visit.
I need say no more, great to hear from you Dave and thanks again for the newsy update; very much appreciated.
A busy weekend has seen me away from the valley so I have little to report on the fishery front. I am grateful to Richie Martin for sending me a couple of shots of his latest success in the shape of a brace of thirty plus carp from Meadow Lake. Richie had both fish on the bank at the same time, in his words "Different rods, different spots". Its good to see the lakes are still producing the goods and I also received news of specimen chub and barbel coming from the river at Ellingham and Lifelands. River conditions are still difficult as the water remains gin clear, it has however started to retreat from the fields so things are definitely looking up.
A great brace of mirrors for Richie, which explains why I haven't seen him chasing those dace recently!.
On the work front the first phase of the fencing has been completed providing us with an unambiguous boundary and clear delineation of the footpath; not that it will stop those intent on trespassing wandering away from the path. We've had to incorporate railed low spots to permit the deer to come and go without getting caught in the top wires. Twenty, even ten years ago, allowance for the deer would not have been an issue yet we have at least twenty fallow and half a dozen roe regularly using the site requiring consideration. No doubt they will continue to get caught-up as they are not the brightest animals, they actually make sheep look intelligent; fingers crossed the rails will reduce the number of occasions we have to unhook them!
A black fallow doe about to use the drop rail put in for their use.
I've been clearing out the willow and alder from the reed beds on Mockbeggar which has its own dangers attached as I found out to my cost yesterday. I was cutting willow along a thin promontory half an hour before dark, keen to finish the section. I was felling the willow behind me intending to cut my way out along the other side of the spit. As I reached the very last willow, right on the end of the spit, I felt a sting on the back of the neck. It was pretty obvious I had hit a wasps nest and they took a distinct dislike to me shoving a chain saw into their humble abode. My problem was I had the lake on one side and a blocked path behind me. I either had to drop the saw and head out into the lake or crash back through the felled willow, past the now very active wasps. I decided on the latter and it was soon clear that might have been the wrong choice. I had half a dozen pitch into the back of my neck just below the rim of my cutting helmet. My attempts to get rid of them sent several down my shirt and up under my hat into my hair. By the time I reached the truck and shut myself in, I had fifteen or twenty direct hits and collected a couple further ejecting the bloody things that had got caught up in my clothes. I sit writing this twenty four hours later covered in very itchy lumps and bumps still undecided if I made the right choice of retreat!
Clearing the willow from the reed-beds.
As some of you may know I spend quite a considerable amount of time on the local beaches chasing various species that appeal to my nocturnal life style. I don't usually include my activities on the diary as they have little to do with the Avon. I am now however going to break that habit as last nights catch might just be a pointer to Mother Nature, down at the coast, being as confused as we are up river when it comes to this years seasons.
One for the sea anglers, a September codling from the south coast???? I don't want to be a harbinger of an early winter but I would not expect to see them until November. The startled look on my part is due to it being a selfshot and three in the morning!!
I suppose I should be thankful I reached Sunday morning in a far more acceptable state than after last years beer festival. My resolve to stay on the lighter beers such as Somerley Somersault and Summer Lightening definitely saved the day. It helped in that after a very lively end to the night by the Zucchinis, who were in fine form, Anne and I crashed out a hundred metres away in the Fishing Lodge. An intake of protein, early Sunday, in the form of a communal breakfast with Jonathan and some of his friends with the later addition of a visit to Al Trullo's to enjoy the best tagliatelle polpete in the south and recovery was complete.
Looking over a very still camping field Sunday morning.
Attempting to catch up with events on the river which has been sadly neglected in recent weeks with various shows and festivals demanding far too much of my attention, is now the order of the day. I have visited Mockbeggar a couple of times to see how the fencing is progressing but no fishing I fear. I also enjoyed an evening walk around Meadow and Kings-Vincents which judging by the number of rods I could see bent into fish is still fishing well in the evenings at least. The river is proving very difficult as it continues to run high but has now cleared making barbel in particular very spooky. Its not surprising I suppose as the start of the season had been particularly productive on the barbel front making an eventual downturn almost inevitable. The salmon season ended with less than a whimper, poorest on record yet I'm sure we will be told the population is booming. I hark back to my long held belief the EA would do well to look after the fisheries, as is their statutory obligation under the S&FF Act, rather than hide behind the protection of the species which is the job of the conservation teams not the fishery department that we fund to the tune of many millions a year. I don't suppose anything will change we will continue to pay to be driven out of business whilst they sit on their hands, maintaining the status quo holding further talking shops and manipulating stats attempting to justify their existence.
Just to add insult to injury, the exit of a dismal salmon season coincides with the start of the wildfowl season and our need to reduce the number of geese in the valley. Where we would normally be out on the first to open the season, this year record numbers of geese were flying north to feed on the stubble none of which were flighting anywhere on the estate where they could be safely shot. Geese one, wildfowlers nil! Not the start to that season we were hoping for.
I have several hatches that are in urgent need of attention to clear debris that has accumulated in recent days so just prior to lunch I headed for Ibsley to start work on the main gates. I arrived at the main bridge and poked my head over the parapet to read the water level gauge and it was immediately clear we had had visitors as the bank side vegetation was flattened where someone or something had either entered of exited the river. I was peering over at the damage when a gent who was enjoying a lunchtime sandwich and a spot of bridge watching told me I'd just missed them! I jumped to the conclusion he was referring to canoeists and asked whether they were open Canadian type canoes or kayaks.
"Oh no, they were divers"
It seems there had been three, with all the gear, diving in the salmon pool below the bridge. He didn't notice what sort of vehicles they had so no way of finding out whether they were salmon poachers of just some dick-heads of the "we're doing no harm mate" variety. Hopefully the latter as attention of that nature could be a serious threat to an already struggling population. I definitely had a couple of the latter variety after lunch when I returned to my efforts to clear the "Hippo" bag from the hatch. There on the hatches were a couple of likely lads claiming not to have see the signs stating "private fishing" and "no unauthorised access" which they had walked within four feet of. Seems they'd been down the Royalty and struggled so thought they'd just stop for a go at Ibsley to have an hour or two in the weirpool on the way home. Words to describe such individuals fail me. As for that Hippo bag, they have taken over from the pallet as the most awkward, wretched piece of detritus that regularly arrives in the hatches. I will continue to believe they end up in the river through accident and not deliberately dumped by builders once the sand or aggregate has been used but their appearance is becoming almost too regular for chance! Unfortunately add poachers, trespassers, fencing, dangerous trees, hatches, weed, new roads and leaky mains it looks as if no one sorted out those parts of the job list whilst I was otherwise engaged.
New fencing beside the newly aligned path. "TreeMenders" removing the top weight, pollarding an ageing oak rather than felling such a superb tree. Add a salmon pass in need of urgent attention and there's plenty going on!
With the beer festival next Saturday and several hundred acres of gravel pit restoration requiring my attention, today was a day away from the lakes. Well almost, I did drop in to see how the fencing was progressing over at Mockbeggar and found half an hour to enjoy the surroundings without rushing for the next task on the list. Set under the New Forest scarp they really are an idyllic setting and with the young Buzzards mewing for their parents attention and a brood of Mandarins managing their first flights I felt privileged to be there. One little target I have set myself is to create a starling roost in the recently cleared phragmites beds as I noticed a few dozen birds using them in recent nights. They are currently too small to provide cover for a major roost but in the next phase of the clearing, envisaged for next year, I think I can find several acres of shallows that might provide room for expansion. It would save me hours of travelling down to the Somerset levels and freezing my proverbials off each winter to watch the murmurations; fingers crossed for the future.
The photo above I took last autumn which is a scene that has been enacted every autumn and winter for the last ten or fifteen years. I don't know exactly how many birds are in the shot if I remember correctly, fifteen or sixteen Little egrets, eleven Heron and thirty three Cormorants. However many doesn't really matter as it's the same lake that has wall to wall roach, rudd, perch and carp in it; can anyone out there explain that to me please? Come to that does anyone want to buy any carp or roach?
I did find a couple of hours to have a go at a patch of balsam that has been on my to do list for several weeks. The plants were very close to maturing seed so action was urgently required if we are to keep the stuff at bay on the Avon. What is particularly interesting is that where I had previously cleared this area of Himalayan balsam it is now showing a marked increase in the amount of Orange balsam. I don't think Orange balsam is on the alien invasive hit list but perhaps it's one we must keep an eye on. As for the river itself, it remains unseasonably high but has now cleared sufficiently to permit a little fish spotting should it take your fancy. I would make one suggestion to those of you that feel you may like to have an hour or two looking for your next quarry, stalk the fry and you stand a far better chance of locating the larger fish. If as you progress along the bank you send a shock wave of fry ahead of you the alarm bells will be ringing for your intended quarry long before you get in sight of it. This is particularly relevant at this time of year as the river is full of juvenile dace and chub making approach very difficult on occasions. Perhaps I should add that a high sun just off your shoulder makes for the best conditions so beware your shadow.
Just a one off photo worth recording as Phil treats the woodants with due respect.
Looking across Mockbeggar and up onto the forest.
A pleasant way to go to work over the Bank Holiday weekend. I have been working on one of the islands in Mockbeggar and it seemed a perfect place to avoid the bedlam associated with the Great British public at play. We did have canoeists, and poachers, and anglers, and birdwatchers, and travellers, all in the wrong place who think "They are doing no harm" Unfortunately the prospect of chasing them about in second gear, as I follow the lycra clad legions who now populate every narrow road in the forest between home and work, seems increasingly unattractive. Alas we now have reached a position where a significant part of those that visit the countryside are totally ignorant of the way of life onto which they stray. They see no need to stay on footpaths or not enjoy an hours fishing, they have no respect or consideration of others, they take offence at being told of their transgressions or feign surprise and innocence only to carry on regardless when around the next corner - you can see why I dislike Bank Holidays and the island seemed attractive!
The sight of all those roach was all too much and I just had to have an hour or two. I managed to clear Saturday afternoon, cleared a swim, tossed in a mix of chocolate groundbait, a few pellets, half a tin of red corn and popped home for a cup of tea. Back on the bank by six thirty looking forward to an evening with a swim full of topping roach. Almost right, dozens of topping roach but the size left a lot to be desired. If I fished on the drop or off the bottom I had a roach every cast unfortunately very few would have made four ounces. By fishing two number eight shot down the line I could get the bait down to the bottom where the only difference was that the average weight rose to half a pound. At one a cast every sixty seconds it doesn't take long for the evening to go from a relaxing evening watching a gently dipping float into hard work, repetitive casting, unhooking, baiting up and casting yet again! It was a pleasant change to catch so many roach but I believe a rethink on the approach might be required.
One a chuck.
Back to work and the bank clearance is now in the final stages of the first phase. We have managed to remove the willow and alder scrub from all we hoped to do this time around, hopefully this time next year phase two will swing into being and we will see the real work get under-way bringing the light and the open aspect we are seeking become a reality.
The solid bank of scrub facing us at the beginning.
The first shows the machine moving in resulting in the scrub, roots and all, being removed. The last shot is the cleared margin with light once more reaching the reeds and rushes.
This photo is of the same section of bank as the first one in the block. As well as allowing more light on the margins one other reason we are clearing the scrub is to connect the grass meadows with the lake to enable wildfowl to graze. Without any prompting from me right in the middle of this shot are three Greylag geese. They arrived five minutes after the machine left and were happily grazing when I left for dinner this evening.
We have continued with our scrub clearance and with user friendly weather and no breakdowns have made extremely good progress. We have also lowered and realigned the permissive path that runs between the lakes, which is open between April and September. Walkers now have clear views across the lake without increasing their scary skyline silhouette. I should perhaps add it does also provide me with clear views of those using the path for motives other than passing from A to B to enjoy the countryside. As for the margins they appear to come back into life almost as soon as the willow roots are ripped out, we had carp boiling within feet of the bucket with the machine sending vibrations way out into the lake. This evening the entire surface of the lake came alive with topping roach and rudd, strangely the carp seem to almost disappear when the roach become active. Why this should be I have no idea; I similarly have no idea why a fifty acre lake within a mile of the Avon has millions of roach and rudd from fry to three pounds plus, yet in the Avon roach are like hens teeth?
We have the go ahead from Natural England so today the machine arrived to begin the lengthy process of clearing sixty five percent of the marginal scrub cover on the Mockbeggar Lakes. This year will see only a fraction of the work completed but to get under-way to correct ten years of neglect is extremely pleasing.
The first is a very damp birds-eye view of the Mockbeggar Lake taken from up on the New Forest plateau on Ibsley Common. The large body of water in the background is Ibsley water yet hidden in the trees infront lies over fifty acres of water. The trees are completely shading out the margins preventing the growth of marginal fenland plants and access to the surrounding grazing for the ducks and geese. Waterfowl numbers have plummeted in recent years and this work is designed to ensure numbers recover. The third pic shows the North West Bay on Mockbeggar which can just be glimpsed in the first photo above the central tree belt on the righthand side of the photo. In the third photo the machine can be seen as a yellow dot almost dead centre as it gets on with clearing the scrub.
Considering we have sprayed and hand pulled balsam in the area of the first photo for four years the sight of the stuff still in existence is pretty depressing. On a brighter note, in areas where we have had greater success the Dockens is looking in good condition with luxuriant weed growth hopefully providing cover for increased numbers of juvenile seatrout.
Equally encouraging is that the first photo was taken in August 2008 and the second today and that's me peering out of the middle of the first. Both are the same view with the large oak at the centre.
Just the briefest of entries in an effort to keep the flow of news current. With the preparations for the Ellingham Show thankfully behind us hopefully life will settle back into a more comfortable regime. It has been frustrating to be unable to give the river the attention it deserves but hopefully I can now rectify the situation in the coming weeks. The river itself remains well out in the meadows and if my inability to get out in the valley may have been frustrating the farmers must be at their wits end. The hay and silage in the water meadows has for the most part been written off, just how the stock will manage this winter remains to be deteremined.
With the water meadows remaining flooded the birds are taking full advantage, wader and wildfowl numbers for August are exceptional. Unfortunately this doesn't help Mark in getting the winter feed for his suckler herd.
Other news starting with the large chestnut beside the weir at Ibsley that recently had a climber reducing some of the top weight in an effort to make it safer to fish beneath. I would just mention that in high winds beneath such huge trees is not the most sensible place to fish, what ever advice and actions we take it is impossible to totally remove the risk from falling limbs. Alan posing with his common was a chance shot as I walked past on my way around the lake, he had a larger one on the unhooking mat when I walked back forty minutes later so he was doing well. The final shot is of a carp being played in the rich evening light as I was out on poacher patrol on one of our other fisheries.
I have also been busy arranging consents from Natural England to take the neglected lakes on our eastern boundary, abutting the New Forest, back into an active management regime. Whilst the solid bank of trees that line the margins of this eighty acre complex may have their attractions the adverse impact of such a light restricting monoculture on the marginal flora and fauna is severely restricting. Over the coming years we hope to remove much of the self-set willow and alder to allow the light back onto the margins to increase the habitat diversity and improve the complex for the designated wintering wildfowl. It is also envisaged that many of the overgrown islands will be cleared to benefit the nesting waders that continue to struggle in the valley. As well as removing the willow and alder it looks as if we will have to remove many more carp as the lakes remain over run with them. How we achieve the stock densities we desire will take some time to determine. If my three hours roach fishing that produced six carp between eight and ten pounds is any indicator we have some way to go. All in all a very busy time on the fishery front in the coming year or two.
I may sound hard done by with all the preparations for various events, violins please, I did however manage an hour on the river the other evening. As it turned out it was exactly one hour before I was called away but I did have a most enjoyable time with the dace. As can be seen there were some good fish present with half pound fish not uncommon.
Bit of an old bruiser!
The horse trials went off without major mishap which is always a relief with so many large animals and frail humans in close quarters. I did have to remove a swarm of bees that decided to join the cross country course at fence five. As it turned out removing them was the easy part, it is housing them that is still giving rise to a problem. To collect them I scooped them off their branch into a skep without incident collecting all but a dozen stragglers. I then stuck them on the passenger seat of the truck and drove to the apiary where I had an empty hive for such eventualities. With the skep under my right arm and carrying hive tool, smoker etc I could have done with an extra arm. I didn't have a running board to get them into the hive so I kicked off the lid of the empty hive intending to invert the skep on top of the frames and let them settle for the night. That's when the problems started, the empty hive was no longer empty!! A swarm had obviously moved in in recent days and they were less than impressed with my method of removing the roof of their new home. As they poured out and the smoker went out I popped the skep on top of an adjoining hive roof and with the bare minimum of ceremony I lifted the lid back on the hive, relit the smoker and persuaded the unannounced guests to go back about their business. That still left the swarm in the skep which I just inverted on a board propped up the front and hoped they would move off and find a new home in the morning. They didn't, so I now have a colony of bees in a skep that I'm not sure what to do with - free to a good home!!
We're now in full mowing and cutting mode for the up and coming Ellingham Show on the 11th. One section that will not be mown will be the meadow beside the river at Ellingham Bridge which is still under water. I did try and walk out to the river at Blashford today and whilst I just about got there with the water within millimetres of coming over the top of my wellies, once there up or down stream was impossible without waders. The meadows beside the island looked like something out of a Natural World programme with hundreds of gulls, geese, herons, egret and godwits. As for anyone fishing, not a chance, if you were to struggle out there, there's nowhere to put down any tackle or bags. The one high note was that whilst crossing the carrier I spotted a heron totally absorbed in his fishing. What was proving so fascinating to keep him rooted to the spot, as if solidified in mid strike? I stepped up onto the bridge and he became aware of my presence and beat a hasty retreat. As I reached the far side where he was fishing the water was black with dace of all sizes. The sight of all those fish had proved almost too much for that heron, had I been the local Reynard or had ill intent toward him he would now be history.
With the river remaining hard work and anglers in short supply and with all those dace in mind I headed for one of the nearby stillwaters to try and assess the success, or failure, of this years spawning. This particular pit had recently had hundreds of carp removed from it in an effort to get a more balanced ecosystem so I was keen to see if the remaining carp were intending to fill the void. It didn't take long to answer that question. One scoop of the net and the result was evidence of their intent. Considering how cold and miserable our Spring and Summer has been I was surprised to see just how many and how well they had grown. Apart from carp the margins were also full of rudd and roach fry that in turn have attracted a family of Kingfishers making quite a aquatic spectacle. Fortunately along with the Kingfishers there are vast shoals of perch in these waters so perhaps its early days to think in terms of a population explosion.
A bemused young Heron finding no shortage of food in the continuing high water. Carp and rudd fry from the margins of the stillwaters.
An update on the swiftlets in that they have flown. The parents stopped feeding them Saturday and spent the day high over the house with a dozen other birds calling and shrieking. The two were still in the box Saturday evening and gone Sunday morning, when they actually flew the nest I don't know but the thought they will not touch the ground again for two years I find one of the most staggering events in the bird world. In that time they will have flown to South Africa and back; twice. Sleeping high on the wing as they travel that just has to be one of the most amazing feats in the entire animal world.
The mirror in the foreground is about eighteen pounds, the big common twenty five plus, What does that make the tench? One in front of the big common one almost hidden by it.
Wonderful, the ground has dried out and at last we are able to get on with the various projects that have been on what seems like endless hold. What a week ago was waterlogged clay is now a friable seed bed. Its just as well with four or five hundred event horses galloping about the place over the weekend and Ellingham Show on the same ground in a fortnight, it could have proved awkward. Along with the fish that seem equally pleased with the change in weather, with large shoals appearing on the surface to soak up some rays, perhaps we should just make the most of it and where ever possible sit back and enjoy it.
The only thing more pleasing than finding one Swiftlet in our nestbox was finding two!!
Its nearly eleven and I've just got in from an interesting evening on several fronts. It started with a very frustrating hour doing an Elmer Fudd impersonation as I tried to evict Bugs from Anne's allotment. Amazing the lengths a rabbit will go to in order to get its buck teeth into a few Savoys. Frustrating it may have been but all being well I won the day and my superior intellect has seen the last of Anne's rabbit problem!!
The oily boils of rolling carp at the onset of night.
As I was out and about I decided a walk around one of the lakes that is in need of a little extra attention to deter some undesirable attention it has been receiving. Its never a chore to walk around this particular complex as it's fifty acres of neglected water always throws up a surprise or two and tonight was no exception. The first I believe I can claim as the equivalent of the river keepers hat-trick as for the third night in succession I bumped into one of our local poachers. The poor chap was almost in despair having taken great pains to take differing approach routes only to walk straight into me in the dark. On this occasion he wasn't actually fishing one of our waters and with a sincerity that would see ball bearings dissolve in his mouth as opposed to butter, promised faithfully not to do so and we went our separate ways.
I walked slowly, picking my way as quietly as possible through dense willow and alder cover, listening to the rising nocturnal tide of creatures shrieking, hooting, whistling and clicking into life. I reached the edge of the scrub and across the clearing the ghostly shape of a white fallow doe was looking agitated but not apparently due to my presence. She would graze briefly before lifting her head to look nervously back into the wood behind her as if aware of approaching danger. Perhaps I was to meet another of our poaching fraternity So decided to remain still and watch developments. Ten minutes and the light had almost gone yet her behaviour remained the same. Five further minutes and I had lost her in the gloom and decided to walk back to the truck across the meadow toward her. She didn't see me until I was within thirty metres when she hopped the fence and disappeared into the dense pine wood beyond. It wasn't until I had almost reached the spot she disappeared that I spotted the reason for her odd behaviour, there hanging by a hind leg from the fence was her fawn. All dog and livestock owners know the dangers of stock fencing, or any multiple strand fencing come to that. The risk of a leg between strands is ever present and awareness of this danger is a good habit to develop for those that visit the countryside. As for this particular fawn apart from a frightening experience hopefully he will be none the worse for his adventure. I managed to unwind his leg with little more than broken skin and no apparent broken bones. Lets hope he is large enough for his mother to accept the sent of a human on him and she will continue to feed him.
Lets hope that once free from the fence it all had a happy ending. My way home took me past the efforts of the local graffiti artist. I'm afraid its no Banksy but it does have some strange appeal. I think his school report might well have read that what he lacks in talent he makes up for in enthusiasm. Finally should the three lads "Just looking" be looking in on the diary, you'd do well to just look from the road in future.
This morning chatting with a well respected member of the bird-world I informed him I was disappointed that our swifts had failed to nest this year. I got home from my walk and Anne called me out to the back garden to see the baby swift that was peaking out of the box!! Sure enough, there was the pale face of a juvenile Swift peeping at me from the box, exactly as promised and I have to admit Anne thought she had heard activity in the box several days ago. I could not be more delighted, the lack of insect life resulting from such a cold, wet summer seems to have been surmounted by these amazing birds.
The frequency of feeding visits, which can be up to a couple of hours, makes confirming juveniles very difficult and I didn't have any inkling they had been successful.
The feel of a summer evening at last and we have the doors and windows open and the house echoes to the screams of the adults as they fly within inches of the box showing junior what awaits him. Oddly the pair have always had a third bird in attendance which acts as a member of the family unit, similar to the aunties that share the workload of many of our wildfowl. Whatever the reason the added screaming marks the end of a perfect summer day.
The sun came out again yesterday, that's the second day this month so things are definitely looking up. The river remains out in the fields and all but the most hardy are biding their time and awaiting the long promised summer to return. Matt Day has added to his tally of double figure barbel with a least one other ten plus fish further proving that braving the elements does have its reward. The larger lakes remain patchy with one or two notable catches but many are struggling with the conditions. Don't give up hope; I have just seen the weather forecast that has predicted the jet stream, the villain of the piece, is about to clear off back up north giving us back our summer.
I'm not sure what the thinking is in the butterfly world when it comes to colour. A Marbled white flying low across a field stands out like a sore thumb, silhouetted against the sky a beautifully disrupted outline. Meadow browns and Fritillarys are hardly invisible yet they do not appear to be predated by the bird world. Perhaps a vile taste or low nutritional value, there must be some reason they are able to flaunt their presence without repercussions?
I'm afraid I have a moan and a message. My moan is about the individual, obviously a club member due to the location, who feels he has some right to dump his garden rubbish behind the burnt trunks at the disabled car parking on the southern end of Crowe Pool. He also did this last year requiring someone else to clear away the mess, which would indicate he is probably a regular on site. Bay, potentilla, hebes and periwinkle clippings, it looks like Kew. The only possible excuse or defence, is that the individual involved is pig s**t ignorant; I usually manage to allow such people a second chance but he is stretching my patience somewhat. Should the individual be aware of the possible consequences of their actions and knowingly continue to use Somerley as a tip I have this message for him or her; being totally PC. I would like to see you criminally prosecuted for fly-tipping and deliberate introduction of foreign species to an SSSI, which would hopefully see a fine £50000 or six months in prison. I hope they crush your vehicle as it was used in the pursuance of a criminal offence and by the way you wont be surprised to find you are banned for life from Somerley. I don't suppose my ranting on here will have the slightest effect, other than to get it off my chest. You never know and I always live in hope, one of the readers may have seen something to expose our phantom muck slinger.
The water actually fell this morning, hopefully this afternoon's rain will not have reversed the trend.
I also have a cautionary tale for those that claim to derive pleasure from the simple antics of our humble House Sparrow. As I have mentioned in previous entries I have several bird boxes attached to the side of my house and even tolerate the occupation of the soffit cavity, where they gain access through the obsolete overflow hole drilled through the facia. You may remember that last winter I relented on my intention to block this access hole and force them to use one of the many boxes. That decision to relent on my intention to evict them came home to roost today, with vengeance. We are on our eighth brood of sparrows in the various boxes and the soffit pair, for want of a better description, are on their second brood. As this latest offspring readied themselves for the big day when they were to launch themselves into the back garden, where they can feast on the sweetpeas, we met with a mishap. The first I knew of the fate that had befallen one of the latest mob was when filling the kettle at the sink for my lunchtime cuppa; I could hear a faint fluttering. I listened at the kitchen window, to no avail, I couldn't see it. I went outside and the noise stopped yet I searched the wisteria and the jasmine that cover the pergola at the back of the house, still a mystery. I went back to the sink to carry on with my tea making only to hear, once more, the definite fluttering. Perhaps the builders next door are using some strange sander or float on the new concrete patio that is echoing on the back of the house? Seemed unlikely but you never know. Then the penny dropped, the noise was coming from under the window sill - there was definitely a bird under the sill, in the wall cavity. Each time the fluttering stopped it could be restarted by turning on the tap or tapping the wooden sill. It had obviously managed to get out of its nest in the soffit space and fall down the wall cavity to end up under the sill in the kitchen. Marvellous, there goes lunch. There was nothing for it but to remove the sill, which in turn required removing a couple of square feet of tiles, that also brought with them several lumps of plaster - bloody wonderful!! Finally having cleared the tiles and got the wrecking bar under the sill and levered it off, there sat on a screwed up newspaper that had been placed to hold electric cables clear of the sill when fitting, was the culprit. The yellow gape flanges clearly visible as he sat examining me six inches below the level of the sill. My problem was that if I were to make a grab for him he would undoubtedly fall further down the cavity probably involving me in knocking holes through the brickwork all around the house until I could capture him. It wasn't the thought of my wrecked and collapsed house that held my hand. Or the stony silence I could imagine Anne would adopt in listening to my pathetic attempt at justification. No, it was the prospect of rebuilding the bloody thing in the wet, as it was sure to keep on raining and I'm fed up to the teeth with the stuff. There was only one thing for it and that was to outwit him. I must admit to beginning to side with those that consider anyone who would knock their house about to reach a sparrow might well be on a looser in this battle of wits. My ploy, opening the kitchen window as wide as possible and allowing the racket of his parents and siblings, currently destroying the cabbage seedlings in the back garden, to draw him out was the total depth of my strategy. Seems a little weak but any port in a storm! Time to cross my fingers, pour my cuppa and grab a sandwich to await developments.
The wreckage of our kitchen after our sparrow rescue. Finally an atmospheric shot of the floods at Ibsley but not actually the reason for the pic. If you look closely you will spot a Kingfisher, the trunks give a pointer to where he is?
One effect of the heavy rain and high water that I should make any anglers intending to fish the chestnut swim on the point below Ibsley Weir aware of is the unsafe nature of the trees in that area. The saturated ground has lost its ability to support some of the huge trees and four immense poplars have given up the ghost and fallen over. Two fell south bringing dozens of branches down on the south weirpool path but its passable with care. The two that fell north have hung-up in the chestnut above the point swim, making it decidedly unsafe to fish. With a foot of water still remaining on the low lying site and the impossibility of getting vehicles on site it may be some time before we manage to clear the area, so please be patient - and careful.
The saturated ground no longer able to support massive trees has seen four, eighty foot grey poplars fall.
I mentioned the plight of the hay fields in the last entry and after the last thirty six hours of rain the situation has only got worse. The meadows are no longer damp, they are under water, I have seen summer floods before but nothing on this scale. It is not only the damage to the silage crop but the livestock are now having to be moved off the valley up on to higher ground. I have been chasing water from one side of the valley to the other in an effort to ease conditions whilst animals are moved. Unfortunately water cannot be denied for long and within hours it finds other ways to by-pass the hatches. My visits to the valley in the last day or two have usually ended with me getting soaked. Waterproofs are fine but if you have to clear and wind hatches they either tend to get in the way or you work up such a sweat its as wet inside as out and I prefer rain water to that of my own making. The back alleyway is now home to dripping coats and over trousers as I've managed to get through all my reserve gear. During my travels I've seen one or two anglers looking for a slack to see them through the flood but I've not stopped to discover if they've found the fish. I'm sure the barbel will be loving the extra colour, with all this extra water finding them is the key to success.
Not usually seen in the valley during the Summer, Black-tailed Godwits out on the flooded meadows. Several Redshank and the Lapwing were also making the most of the flood. The juvenile Lapwing were managing to cope well with the conditions seemingly thriving on the extra water.
Out came the sun and up came the fish. Not that their appearance on the surface did much for the fishing, other than for the lads who were looking for the carp on the top. I walked around the lakes at Ibsely this afternoon and the northern side of the lakes, which were enjoying the full sun, were covered in millions of roach. As well as the roach, from this years fry fish up to fish of six or eight ounces, the carp, tench and bream were all making the most of the rare appearance of the sunshine. Interestingly the tench seem to have moved lakes, in taking advantage of the high water levels and swimming through the small channel between the lakes that has had sufficient water to allow them passage. This would fit with what the carp lads have been telling me in that they are catching far more tench this season in Thomkins than in years past. Why they should decide to move is difficult to say but judging by the shoal laying in the margins this afternoon a good many have. As for those that think the silver fish are missing from the lakes might I suggest they take a walk around next time the sun shines.
What at first appears to be a strange photo of some muddy water if you look closely shows thousands of fry enjoying the sunshine this afternoon. Below the fry were hundreds of larger fish which would seem to be contrary to the claims that I have heard recently that the silver fish are missing from these lakes having been eaten by the dreaded Cormorants. As I have said previously predation has in fact fallen on these lakes and the silver fish are still present in their thousands. The spawning that took place a couple of months ago on the first Island in Crowe and the newly placed willow root masses would appear to have been extremely succesful and judging by the huge shoals of S1's so was last years spawning. The high water and the higher flows through these lakes have cleared the water and the temperature triggered blooms that used to colour the water making catching easier have been greatly reduced this spring due to the lower water temperatures. If the sun continues to shine and the water drops to a more seasonal level we will see the blooms return and the fishing become easier.
The other visually obvious effect of the lack of sun and the wettest June on record is that the hay fields remain standing. The mowers are unable to get onto the land due to the high water table. When will conditions return to normal levels to allow the mowers to get to work and the crop of black bags to appear in the meadows? If it were to stop raining today, which doesn't seem likely just having seen the forecast on the tele, it will be two or three weeks before the meadows will support the tractors making life very dificult for the valley farmers.
As I arrived for my walk around the lakes I bumped into Peter Dexter who had been out looking for another salmon to add to his tally. Pleasingly he'd managed to find a fresh summer fish of about fourteen pounds which is I believe his fourth so what ever Peter is doing he's doing it right!!
I see weed cutting has started somewhere upstream of us; signalled by the blocked hatches this morning.
It continues to pour down and the river continues to rise, the only change in the weather being that between drizzle and downpour. I cleared the newly arrived rubbish and weed from the gates and my back complained bitterly about the need for such exertions. I was beginning to loose faith in Natures ability to correct the swing of the pendulum that has seen the dramatic change from drought to flood. I am now firmly of the belief its time for a return to a period of summer sunshine and warm evenings. There were several cars in the car park and despite the rain soaking through my ripped and worn waterproofs I decided to take a walk along the bank to see if I could find any of the owners. It didn't take long to find one of our regulars, Matt Day, tucked under his brolly, in a swim he was visiting for the first time this season. Matt has been struggling to get in the time on the bank this season due to work and was taking advantage of being rained off to get in a few hours. I was surprised to hear he'd already managed six double figure barbel this season from the estate, the best going twelve seven. Almost all had fallen to short sessions in areas not normally associated with the barbel at this time of year. Matt did show me his successful rigs which will remain his to disclose and whilst I have photos to put them up on here I feel would be a little unfair. Not on Matt but those who spend hours studying such photos to identify the swims thereby missing out on much of anglings pleasure in discovering such fish as a result of your own efforts. In true barbel enthusiast fashion Matt also told me of his chub caught unintentionally, several of which were comfortable sixes but he'd not bothered to weigh them. Suffice to say he's having a good season to date and enjoying the high water; undoubtedly that silver lining I was referring to yesterday!!
I can say without fear of contradiction that the calls on my time are becoming ever greater as I get older, amazingly it seems to be at an almost exponential rate. After the excitement of recent major events on the estate I hadn't reckoned on the council finally answering Anne's request for an allotment. Moons ago when this had been discussed I had offered plots in various areas I have available but no, an independent plot was the requirement and so Anne was duly placed on the waiting list. As the waiting list was several years long I thought that may well be the end of the matter and continued with my riverside existence. The other strange phenomenon, as we age, is that time passes faster. A couple of years have flown by and the allotment has been duly offered which means I have the task of getting it into a state where Anne can indulge her gardening talents. Add the wretched weather making even the smallest job outside and any fishing expeditions a major, time consuming, logistical nightmare, I never seem to have sufficient time these days. I have yet to get anywhere near achieving my angling objectives for the year and until I manage that I will refrain from commenting any further on my efforts. If the weather continues to disrupt my plans it may be a further year before you hear from me on that subject again.
High water as a result of our interminable rain.
The fishery front on the estate is a little more positive. Peter Dexter has been in touch to let me know he has landed salmon of 14 and 25 pounds plus. Well done Peter it proves they're out there if you are prepared to put in the hours. On the subject of salmon I have just seen Paul Greenacre's film making efforts on "Youtube" Paul has a head cam and with it he has proven successful in capturing the excitement of his recent fish from Ashley and the first salmon of Jared, Paul's son. The videos do provide an excellent record of the reality of catch and release on the difficult steep banks of the Avon. Paul and Jared's efforts in landing the fish and getting them back in the water as soon as possible are exemplary and can be found at the links below;Jared's first salmon
Paul's Ashley fish
The barbel and chub have been showing to the one or two anglers I have managed to speak to with probably more doubles this year than for several years past. One particular double I know of was because Peter Dexter weighed it for the lucky angler and let me know when he reported his salmon. The high water certainly suits the barbel and as it has remained so high the colour soon drops out making the chub fishing very special if you can locate the fish. It may on occasions be making life in general on the Estate awkward but as the saying tells us, there's always a silver lining.
I had to put this rather poor pic, taken on the mobile, of this beauty as she arrived when we were hanging a large double door on a garage. The doors had been built from inch spruce boards which had involved power screwdrivers and drills to fix the ledges and braces etc. She landed and proceeded to drive that ovipositor, seen as a thin black line between her rear legs, 15mm into solid wood. A miracle of Nature's design and entirely harmless should you come across a Wood Wasp Urocerus gigas at an inch and a half long she's a real gem.
More of the same, seems to be the description of the last day or two. More large carp and chub and more rain and wind. We have reached the longest day and about to enjoy midsummers eve without a great deal of summer to celebrate; if you rule out March which we all secretly knew we would have to pay for at some time in the future. The weather and along with it the seasons, is in complete disarray. As regular readers will know I believe the Avon salmon season ends with the arrival of the weed in mid June. This year we have yet to see the season get underway and we are currently enjoying the best looking water conditions of the year, good flow, height and colour and the weed is only just putting in a serious appearance. The only problem is that the salmon have also failed to show up. I haven't looked at the counter figures to see how many have entered the river but it doesn't feel like enough out here on the riverbank. If we were to hope for a rod catch in the region of one hundred fish, neighbouring fisheries would probably push the figure for the river up to four or five hundred for the river and assuming a rod exploitation figure of ten percent we need to have seen in the region of four thousand fish enter the system. I'll be interested to see at the end of the year if the EA's Bayesian statistics tell us that we have enjoyed a recovery in the stocks and a good rod season this year!
Still on the fishing front I have had reported a remarkable catch of dace for this time of year. I'm told of a bag in excess of sixty pounds of large Avon herring sized fish came from the main channel to a dedicated float angler who brought sufficient maggot to feed off the minnows and get through to the bigger fish. Such a catch might be expected in the autumn but summer dace catches of that size are rare indeed these days. With the extra flow and colour the river is behaving more like an autumn river so possibly the dace decided winter's on its way and began their feed-up for winter. I have chatted with one or two anglers trotting maggot who have been catching a few roach and large numbers of dace but the majority have been lower year classes and not the large mature fish. Its good to see such a healthy dace population, lets hope it bodes well for the future.
I was out strimming paths at Ibsley a couple of days ago when Richie Martin arrive ostensibly to catch a pound plus dace. As I mentioned above some very large ones had been landed the day before and he'd never landed a pounder. Nor have the majority of UK anglers but he who dares and all that and Richie is a big fish magnet, if anyone would find a pound dace he would. I had a final section of path to finish and said I would be along in half an hour to see how he was getting on as I was very interested in seeing how the river was fishing on the float. I finished the section between the weirs and decided to walk down to where I knew he was intending to fish to check on his progress. I didn't get to the river as I found Richie beside one of the pools unhooking a mid double common which he'd spotted as he was walking by on his way to the river and been unable to resist. Nice fish as it was I was hoping he would be dace fishing and persauded him to ignore the other fish bubbling in the margins and get on with some real fishing on the river. I left him promising to get on down to the river as I had a further few hundred metres of path I could clear whilst he set up and got underway. Forty five minutes later I finished my strimming and joined Richie who was now trotting as promised and landing a mixture of small dace and minnows. I could see his heart wasn't into minnow bashing, especiallly when he knew the carp were bubbling a hundred metres away. Strangely that's one of todays angling dilemmas, its very difficult to spend several hours building swims and feeding minnows in an effort to land a pound fish when just over the fence a twenty pound carp is a cinch. I know Richie will be back for that dace when those carp have pushed off so I will have to wait and look forward to his next visit.
As for the bird world I have a problem in that the Marsh warbler of a week or two back has been reported within the private confines of the Estate, Obviously many birdwatchers or perhaps more accurately the "twitchers" who want this species tick for their year list are keen to locate this bird. Its whereabouts was notified to the birding community through the web and pager service operated by "Birdguides" after it had been reported to them by the observer. All I would ask if it is an angler that has reported this bird and it should only be anglers on that part of the Estate, they in future refrain from giving specific locations. Please do not misinterpret my gripe, we certainly do not object, in fact actively encourage anglers to enjoy and record the wonderful environment that surrounds them on the estate. Unfortunately I have better things to do with my time than traipse about identifying the owners of oddly parked cars and ejecting trespassers. If you wish to have the bird verified contact the county recorder through the HOS Hampshire Ornithological Society website and he will, through me, arrange for this to be done and record the sighting. Or failing that give me a ring on my mobile as per contacts on here and if I'm available I'll come and have a look; always assuming its not some ultra rare LBJ that needs its eyebrows counted for definitive identification.
Just to prove me wrong about the lack of salmon I have just heard from Paul Greenacre that his son Jared, in true chip off the old block fashion, landed his first Atlantic salmon today. Congratulations Jared, very well done indeed, to have landed your first salmon is a great achievement, to have managed a twelve pound salmon in such a difficult year deserves even greater praise. It sounds as if Paul may have to look to his laurels as we may soon have a challenger for the accolade of top rod. Keep up the good work Jared, I'll look forward to hearing of your next exploit. Let's all hope this is the belated start of the salmon season and we will see numbers rocket in the next week or two...........watch this space.
As many of you will realise my failure to record the start of the coarse season is in main down to the distractions of a major event on the estate. Despite commitments elsewhere I did manage to drop in at the lakes on opening morning to chat with one or two anglers who had braved the elements, determined to get out and wet a line. The storm force wind made conditions about as awkward as possible. Rain, fog, cold almost anything other than wind can be met with reasonable chance of a pleasant or at least bearable day. Wind I find totally disruptive and I hate trying to fish during such storms, thankfully others have more staying power than me and several good carp to just under thirty along with some fine tench saved the day for several I spoke to.
The only photo I took on opening day was of Rob Channing playing a tench, at least I think it was a tench I didn't go around and disturb him to find out. I'm told he'd already landed a double figure carp so despite the wind scything through the trees he at least had been rewarded for turning out in such conditions.
I only managed to speak with one angler on the river when I dropped in at Ibsley to check the gates. Suffering the ravages of the wind had made conditions difficult but he was delighted to have landed a chub of five and three quarter pounds; an excellent start to his season. Today I was again at Ibsley checking the hatches and noticed a vehicle that was parked in the same spot as yesterday, when I had recorded its reg as a precaution when I had occasion to remove some of our travelling community that decided to spend some time on the river. Same vehicle means either the angler was a glutton for punishment, had fallen in and the car had been there all night or possibly had enjoyed yesterday sufficiently to pay a further visit. Curiosity raised I took a walk downstream to see if I could locate the owner of said vehicle and spotted him almost immediately just a couple of hundred metres from the road. I must say in today's late sunshine and tucked away in the lee of the trees on the opposite bank he had the perfect spot, added to that I could see a broad grin from twenty yards away so he was obviously a contented angler; quite a rarity these days. The reason for that grin and the reason for back to back visits were the chub that had obliged on both days with fish over seven pounds yesterday and to six and a half today. Whichever way you look at it that's not a bad way to start a season.
After drought, flood and storm we did see the sun for an hour or two this evening. Add to this Paul Greenacre landing a fifteen pound fish from Ashley on Monday, nice one Paul, plus the newly planted woodland looking maginficent in its cloak of foxgloves there are one or two bright spots in the daily routine.
As we get ready the new coarse season many thanks to Damian who has been hard at work again, this time he's sorted out the access ramp to the Lodge making it a great deal more user friendly.
With the findings of the minister's review of Cormorant control due out any day now we have just witnessed Defra doing a "U" turn over the Pheasant poult predation by Buzzards research. This may have ominous over tones for the Cormorant review or signal a serious rethink as far as Cormorants are concerned. I wont enter into the Buzzard debate; we have between eleven and fifteen pair currently with us and six release pens so I see both sides. Time will tell with the Cormorant review, all I would ask is a level playing field and the correct implementation of the current legislation by Natural England would go a long way to easing our pain.
As for matters closer at hand I found some of our dace in an outlet channel enjoying the oxygenated flow that is created by the overspill and the constant supply of algae and invertebrates washed from the lake. Several thousand one plus fry accompanied by hundreds of two and three year class dace plus a considerable number of two and three plus chub. As to their ultimate fate? That's the sixty four thousand dollar question. Hopefully a large proportion will survive to adulthood the percentages and losses along the way are what gives rise to the debate. Many blame Cormorants, trout farms, phosphates, nitrates and various pathogens, one issue that has reared it ugly head again this week has been the impact of endocrine disruptors, one in particular, Ethinyl estradiol (EE2). I was interested to see the pharmaceutical and water industries are denying any responsibility, I almost said washing their hands of the issue, perhaps its the thirty billion pound clean up cost they are not overly keen on! Again its one time will tell as the EU have to decide if they are to introduce powers under the WFD (Water Framework Directive) to remedy the situation. Perhaps the vast population of roach fry that are currently dimpling the surface of the still-waters and the healthy adult populations would point to a problem with the neighbouring streams that certainly is deserving of closer attention of our regulators. So much for matters closer at hand!
Juvenile dace and chub in the outlet channel.
The marginal plants at Ibsley remain a treat to the eye. It also seems they are well received by the bird world with even a Marsh warbler being recorded today. For those not of the LBJ (Little Brown Jobby) or in this case Brownie/green persuasion it is worthy of note as I'm told its the first record in the valley for almost twenty years. Just over the bridge in the brambles and reeds directly opposite where the anglers park, for anyone interested in hearing or perhaps glimpsing the little chap. Or perhaps more simply, follow the crowd, he was still there at seven thirty this evening so I don't suppose he'll go far tonight.
Green canyons surrounded by forests of water dropwort and comfrey, attracting clouds of insects.
The plant cover has also attracted Banded Demoiselle that get up in clouds as I progress slowly through the head high water dropwort, comfrey, phragmites, thistles, yellow rocket and campions. Scarce chasers by the dozen, making them far from scarce locally, "chasing" the hover flies and bees that are busy collecting the nectar from the flower rich, green canyons that now define the sides of the mown anglers paths.
Back to the wider picture of riverine conservation with ranunculus choking the streams, clearly illustrating the difficulty of national policy when it comes to rivers. The upper river would be glad of some of the weed and we could absorb their troublesome swans without noticing. We already have over two hundred with us so what difference would a few dozen more make. Unfortunately its not quite that simple in that as displaced birds will return to their chosen areas and our population is actually at a natural limit where additions would probably lead to birds suffering through competition for food and habitat. Whatever the situation re Mute swans the streams definitely need a trim if they are to provide any further use as fisheries.
Streams choked with ranunculus and the only method currently trying to keep abreast of the situation..
What sad news I received yesterday, in that the face of Somerley Lakes for over a decade, John Turner has sadly passed away. John, usually with son Clifford, has been the friendly face that has checked the permits and dealt with all the problems that arise on such a popular fishery. He did this purely for the pleasure he received from meeting and helping other people. Organising junior matches or work parties, where ever John could help is where he was always found, no fuss or fanfare but working tirelessly in the background to ensure the success of the day for others. He will be missed enormously and our thoughts and condolences are with Clifford and his family.
John Turner who sadly passed away yesterday, shown recording the weights at one of his junior matches.
Its gone 11:30pm and I've just got in from a day of counting various species of fish and fowl. It started this morning with a visit to the lakes out on the old Ibsley aerodrome to discover the current state of the fish stocks. I have visited the site on each of the last three days as the carp have been spawning providing an opportunity to work out the fish populations. As the carp careered about the margins in groups of up to a dozen fish shoals of roach between six and eight ounces could be seen adding to the procession as they mopped up any of the carp eggs that did not stick to the scant vegetation or get lost beneath the gravel. Counting whilst the fish are actually spawning is quite difficult as the chaotic scene created by them chasing about the margins at a considerable rate of knots and the disturbed and muddied water is often too confusing to allow accurate recording. Once they have got their nuptials out of the way they usually spend a day just laying up, having a cigarette and recovering from their exertions, it was this period I wished to catch up with them. As luck would have it on arrival today the scene was one of peace and tranquillity, not a thrashing carp to be heard anywhere. I pushed through the margins on the first bay I came to and was confronted by twenty five fish just hanging in the water doing a good impersonation of sleeping. Dorsal fins and rubbery lips could be seen over the entire area of the lake making an assessment of numbers relatively simple. Whilst its interesting to see the carp its the population of silver fish that were still busy mopping up the spawn from the previous two days efforts that I was particularly keen to assess. I had an idea of the roach numbers but no other species had been seen on the previous visits.
Carp in all direction on Mockbeggar lake and a close-up of a spawning group. On the right a shot of a couple of lumps, the righthand fish and the one just visible in the ripples top centre were both very large commons.
In lakes that have little or no vegetation such as these particular pits the favoured spawning sites are the submerged fibrous root masses of the grey and crack willow that stand at intervals along the margins. They stand within a continuous bank side belt of light starving willow and alder, mainly consisting of sallow yet it is the greys and crack that attract the fish. At the first clump of roots I found it was obvious by the disturbed appearance of the mass and the clouds of small rudd that he carp had been busy. The rudd were shoaled on the outer edge of the roots rushing in on raiding forays before the perch that lay below them had chance to line them up for attack. Fast direction changes and sudden explosions of fish as frustrated perch did their best to feed on the assemble shoal. Within this turmoil the occasional two pound plus rudd would drift in to lazily pick off a mouthful of eggs before continuing their patrol of the margins. To add to the feeding frenzy several eels in the two pound range were threading their way deep into the roots to reach eggs beyond the outer edge. Finally the carp, probably the same fish that yesterday had been laying the eggs were pushing the heads deep into the fibrous mass to now eat the results of their efforts. This scene was repeated at intervals around the couple of miles of bank making what at first glimpse seemed a still and tranquil lake a hive of intense activity as the inhabitants made the most of this annual bounty. The success of the carps efforts will be determined by the water temperature and the efficiency of the silver fish and eels in eating the deposited eggs. The water temperature is definitely on the side of the carp as the sun continues to beat down for the third day in succession. The silver fish are doing their best to reduce numbers as a counter balance. We will just have to wait and see just who wins the day and how many young carp will emerge to supplement the current population.
Carp resting after their efforts of the previous days and a pic of the spawning root masses where an eel and a carp ar ejust visble clearing up the eggs.
The survey that has kept me out until eleven o’clock in the evening is one of the more bizarre bird counts that I have managed to get myself involved with. Two of the most secretive and mysterious members of our bird population are the Woodcock and the Nightjar. Trying to count them involves many midge bitten hours standing deep in the woods as the light fades and they begin their strange rituals. It would seem I was surrounded by hooting, hissing, beak clapping owls in every direction as I waited for the sounds and if lucky a brief glimpse of our intended targets. Finally just as I was thinking of a move over the low pine plantation to the west of me silhouetted against a deep amber sunset skimmed a determined flier that as it approached could be heard to make guttural grunts accompanied by two sharp notes as if produced by polystyrene on wet glass; once heard never forgotten. In this case quickly lost in the gathering gloom as our Woodcock went "roding" on his way; flying the boundaries of his territory declaring his presence to any possible rivals. Some way down the track a second bird clearly heard circling a clearing in the forestry but not visible through the gloom. As he approaches on his second circuit his calling is joined by a continuous, wavering, chirring sound as the first Nightjar of the night announces his presence in the heathland beside the track that bisects the clearing. An unearthly sound and one difficult to believe produced by a bird in the heart of the English countryside. A waved white hanky brings the bird across the heath to flop down on the gravel track twenty metres ahead of me, just a dark blob on the pale gravel. A second or two as it inspects the poor attempt at reproducing the white signal patches of his wings and a glimpse of a hawk like silhouette as he returns to the heath and his chirring. If there's ever a time I'm going to meet one of our resident spirits it will be when out alone counting nightjar; a more spectral atmosphere is hard to imagine. The prospect of a fellow counter calling my name from amongst the trees doesn't bear thinking about, perhaps a spare change of underwear in the car might be a good idea!!
A pic from the archive showing what I still believe to be three Woodcock chicks yet I can still only find two??
Its hard to believe what a little sunshine can achieve. Not only in the physical benefits of warmth and vitamin "D" but the psychological lift it provides. I know we were desperate for the rain and it has undoubtedly saved the day as far as the river is concerned. Even with that in mind I have to admit I was beginning to flag when the prospect of yet another wet day confronted me. I was not alone in that thinking as much of the natural time clock, already in disarray after the dry winter was further put on hold to wait the end of the deluge. The Swifts, Swallows, Hobbies and the myriad of other summer arrivals appeared on time only to have to endure a month of wet and cold; I bet Africa never seemed so attractive to many. We have seen scant feeding for the insectivorous species as the urge to reproduce was replaced by the urge to survive as they desperately sought food. My Swifts on the house arrived, inspected the boxes in readiness for building and then promptly disappeared for three weeks whilst they joined the flocks over the nearby river and lakes. The sun came out two days ago and if by magic the Swifts reappeared in the boxes. The river and lakes became a haze of dancing midges, sedge and olives, food for both fish and birds was back on song in unlimited supply. The thousands of migrants that had remained penned on the south coast disappeared overnight as they rushed north to catch-up on lost time.
What of our river and the migrants we so eagerly await in the form of our Spring salmon? Alas I have to confess I have been disappointed to the point of dismay by the total lack of fish at what should have been the prime time for the Avon, under what can only be described as perfect conditions. The end of the fly only, perhaps better described as the start of the spinning, usually provides a boost for numbers but they didn't show. Where do we look for answers or explanations? I have no idea. They have not arrived, the few fish that have dribbled through the counter wouldn't make half a days rod catch on a decent salmon river; how that fits with maintaining, improving and developing is hard to see. I suppose I shouldn't complain as I haven't even put the rods together this season but I know many competent anglers have. They have fished carefully and thoroughly, if any number of fish had been present one or two would have been grassed yet not so much as a scale. Can I take any comfort or solace from the fact the grilse will soon be arriving and numbers will rise as the shrimp comes into play? The answers NO, the Avon salmon fishery is based on it being a spring river, before the weed chokes the runs and temperatures soar, June sees the end of the historic Avon season. One other bright spot, at least I haven't had to outlay the fifty plus quid for a salmon licence and I don't see it happening now either.
The margins and fen areas are looking magnificent.
What of our other watery residents, those that stay put and have to deal with whatever Nature decrees. In actual fact due to the high water very little of their goings-on have been visible. I came across a glorious shoal of perch in the outlet stream from one of the lakes. They had followed the minnows up the channel and as the minnows came to a halt below the hatch the perch were making whoopee, bow waving, surging runs through the packed shoals. A dozen fish to a pound and a half, fins erect in best stripy fashion, chasing the distracted minnows up onto the hatch apron in six inches of water. It seems the lot of the minnow is to be eaten, as well as the perch in full cry the minnow shoals that had gathered in the main weir pool were suffering aerial bombardment from a flock of "shite-awks". A couple of dozen Black-headed gulls were picking them from the surface as the dense ropes of minnow circled the pool.
Gulls feeding on minnows in the weirpool.
On a brighter note the sunshine has galvanised the plant world into action. The grass is keeping pace with the livestock and the margins are a work of art in shades of green. Bugs and beetles abound adding the the aquatic invertebrate diet of the fishy world. The suddenness of the transformation is breathtaking, Chelsea might have its flower show but we have a gold medal winner second to none in the Avon Valley. On arrival in the valley perhaps the sense that first signals the return of the warmth and plentiful food supply is that of ones hearing. The reed beds and bramble clumps are almost vibrating to the veritable cacophony of Cettis, Blackcap, Blackbird, Song thrush, Robin, Garden and Reed warblers but perhaps most abundant of them all is the harsh ratcheting of the Sedge warblers. They would all seem to be trying to out sing one another and each has raised their song by several decibels. All in all we may not be enjoying the most enthralling of salmon seasons but the surroundings in which we are failing so miserably remain very special.
The Lodge in Spring and Ibsley Bridge cut and clipped but for no returns. Hoodies Pool, named after my predecessor Colonel Crow, work it out.
A brief round-up of the events of the last day or two must be headlined by the blocked and jammed gates being cleared and a rather disappointing lack of salmon in what must be considered excellent conditions. The multi-trunked goat willow, my least favourite tree, stuck through the hatch meant I could neither open or close the gate reducing the flow or pressure of water. The only option was to cut and winch the offending timber forcibly through the gate requiring a great deal of wet, slippery, cold and frightening effort. Whilst back and forth to the truck to collect various saws and bars I took the odd ten minutes to catch my breath by watching the bream and roach starting their spawning rituals in the willow and reed roots. It was at least a reassuring sign that the seasons are actually progressing and the recent autumnal storms and floods are just a blip; I hope!
As for the salmon, or lack of them, lets be positive and put the lack of fish down to them being totally single-minded in their haste to run upstream before the water disappears! I would have liked to have seen a resurgence akin to that being enjoyed on the Wye but our fish must be due to arrive next week. I believe Tuesday is the height of the Spring tide by which time the river will have fined down to an almost perfect level so I have even higher hopes for the coming week.
A pleasingly cleared hatch and Brian Marshall out looking for one of these illusive salmon in Ibsley Pool..
The talking point in the valley over the weekend was undoubtedly the number of hirundines and Swifts feeding over the river. The numbers were simply incalculable. Every bend in the river or clump of trees providing a little shelter, times flocks in excess of a hundred birds makes for thousands and thousands. Why they should be gathered in such numbers must presumably be down to the weather preventing them moving further north at the speed they would normally achieve. Thankfully the hatch of flies must have been sufficient to allow them to refuel and gather themselves for the final push to their nest sites as most had gone by today. One other summer visitor that turned up as regular as clockwork was the bank holiday weekend canoeists of the opinion they have a right to go where ever they so wish. Along with the seasonal visits of the cagmag travelling community they are a less than a welcome sight in the valley.
On a much brighter note I must thank Damian and Steve for their efforts in building bridges. Not the philosophical smoothing of group differences but the physical spanning of the muddy ditch at Blashford beside the Island. Despite numerous obstacles and logistical difficulties placed in their way we are now the proud possessors of a fine crossing of that most awkward of ditches. Had conditions been kinder the second ditch would be similarly tamed but the standing water in the meadows prevented tractor and trailer from reaching the spot without churning up the field. I will arrange to deliver the remaining material once the ground firms up a little saving the need for Damian and Steve to repeat the Shackleton sledge re-enactment in dragging the telegraph poles into position.
Thousands of Swallows, Martins and Swifts feeding over the riverand the new ditch crossing at Blashford.
With a river that I am reliably informed has changed from Americano to drinking chocolate on the colour chart we still have some way to go before we have our fly water back. We did see a drop in level of almost a foot overnight yet the pace has been retained and the colour appears determined to hang on. There were several rods out on the banks today and I'm sure any fish entering the river will continue to run which means if you are not out there you most definitely will not be catching. With such high flows I am still endeavouring to keep one or two meadows with livestock in them as dry as possible. With that in mind yesterday afternoon I discovered I had one gate blocked with an assortment of woody debris and the one alongside jammed making any further manipulation of flows a non-starter through that set of gates. The saving grace is that with summer floods I will see a reduction of levels within a day or two. Had we seen a similar situation in the autumn we could be facing three or four months of high flows requiring major engineering to remove the blockage. I did notice that we have one or two rainbow trout being stranded below the blocked gate. It seems only fair that we have a rainbow escape to make up for the stocking of browns the club had delivered to the carriers the day the river rose; goodness only knows where they ended up!
As I peered out of he window at five thirty this morning I realised it wasn't raining, it wasn't blowing and the visibility wasn't half bad; in fact it was looking good enough to get a long delayed breeding bird tetrad out of the way. I didn't even stop for a cup of tea, I dug out the paperwork from my flawless filing system arranged across my desk and headed out the door for the KM in question. This survey had been held up by about a fortnight, add the drought and the recent flood I don't think this years record will be seen as typical. Having said that all the regulars were well represented with the Rooks and Jackdaws perhaps the most obvious but the Goldfinches and Greenfinches seem to be more numerous as were the Cettis. The bird world does seem in a state of shock as a result of the floods but hopefully a settled spell will allow for the balance to be restored. Oddities such as the Godwits currently being chased about the meadows by the Lapwing will move back to the coast or their own breeding grounds and the Lapwing and Redshank will get on with a second brood. Many of the dozen or so pairs of Mutes that had their nests destroyed have already started new sites. Such a speedy rebuild will lead to problems in itself as the new sites will be left high and dry as the water levels drop away in the next week or two, one or two will undoubtedly end up on Reynard's menu. I'm sure we can spare those of our belligerent avian sheep that go to feed the cubs; we currently have over one hundred and seventy five on the estate.
One blocked and one jammed, it looks almost time for a rebuild. A surviving Mute swans nest benefiting from being on an area of meadows kept drier for the livestock. Finally a further shot of the Egyptian goose brood that are still all doing well.
News of the garden nest-box population in that the first House sparrows took to the wing and the Starlings have taken over one of the Swift boxes. The Swifts actually arrived back this evening with the first bird circling the house before disappearing through the two inch by one inch entrance at a speed that had to be seen to be believed. Considering that bird had not touched the ground in the last eight months that was some fine piece of flying and an even more remarkable landing. I will have to add further Swift boxes in the next day or two to make up for the losses to the Starlings. I will have to ensure I have Starling proof entrances on the new boxes. Not that I mind the Starlings, the latest singing male will allow you to walk within two or three feet of him as he announces his presence from the top of our pergola and he's a fine looking bird that all too often we fail to appreciate.
I believe we have just endured the wettest April for over one hundred years which would seem to point to Mother Nature putting right some of the problems created by two of the driest winters. In earlier entries I was musing over what would be required to correct the imbalance in our flows and the sacrifices that such rain would require with a washed out three day event and flooded craft fayre. In reality we enjoyed perfect weather for the horse event and whilst the fayre suffered with poor weather it was far from a wash out. If this April's rain had been ordered it would have been hard to have chosen better. If we were now to see a return to more seasonal conditions we would probably have a perfect river for May; the finest month for salmon on the Avon. We have spring tides on the 8th and the 22nd fingers crossed they bring us the salmon we hope for.
Trees of every description succumbed to the high winds, uprooted, shattered and naturally pollarded. Anyone on the bench would have had a close encounter.
Along with our rain we suffered some extremely strong winds that brought with them a trail of damage. Oaks, beech, birch, larch and particularly the willows with the additional weight of the new seasons growth fell victim. I wrote of the loss of nests to the floods to which we also have to add the Mistle thrush, jackdaw and Blue tits that found their nest sites unceremoniously up ended.
Despite the river being in full flood one or two rods braved the river today.
A river runs through it; now applies equally to our valley as to the delightful story by Norman Maclean so beautifully captured on film by Robert Redford. Still our river slowly drops back but today the Nadder water arrived and the water took on that dead-pan white coffee Americana colour. Not the most attractive shade but usually short lived and hopefully through us by lunchtime. The overspill from the lakes is backed up and brim full. The reed lined channel was proving ideal for a large hen pike, well in excess of twenty pounds and her ambitious escorts to indulge a further round of spawning. Her surging runs through the reeds and the antics of her entourage sending bow waves the length of the channel.
The arrival of the Nadder water.
This evening, as if to prove the colour wasn't creating a problem, I had a call from Colin Morgan letting me know he'd landed our second salmon of the season, an eighteen pound cock fish from Ibsley. Great stuff, well done Colin and I really must get the returns book in the Lodge this weekend!!
Young rabbits everywhere and the first Egyptian goose brood of the year.
As the gaps between the showers grew longer and the gusting wind grew calmer the sun even managed to find time and raise the temperature a degree or two. Making the most of the spring like weather, that is threatening to disappear once more over the weekend, Nature got on with introducing the new generation of residents. Every bank and clearing is littered with young rabbits and the first fledglings are on the wing with Blue tits, Robins, Sparrows and Starlings all out of the nest today. One of those contentious aliens brought her day olds down from the oak in the park when the Egyptian Goose brood hatched. Its an odd introduction to the world when within hours of breaking out of your egg you are dropping twenty feet to the ground. None seemed worse for the experience and mother goose soon shepherded her new arivals on to one of the nearby ponds. At home where we have three House sparrow broods and our first brood of Starlings making louder and louder demands of their parents as launch day draws nearer. The hirundines and Swifts were out over the river today probably enjoying the hatch of Hawthorns flies that were blowing from the bankside cover. In anticipation of the return of my Swifts at home I have removed the covers from their nest-boxes. Covers are made necessary due to the possessive nature of our Sparrows and Starlings who are hopefully too preoccupied with their ever hungry broods to think of squatting in the now open boxes.
A further day of squalls and showers has ensured our rejuvenated river is only slowly dropping and losing its colour. I did spot a couple of salmon rods out braving the conditions this morning on my way to work but it wasn't until four this afternoon I had a call from Peter Dexter to say he was into a fish at Cabbage Garden. I was only just up the road and within minutes I arrived at the pool to see Peter's fish safely in the net, resting before release. A fine cock fish of fifteen pounds taken on a two inch, yellow and orange cascade; well done Peter a super way to kick-off the season. It goes to show that whilst the river was difficult for the fly there is always a chance of a fish; it just has to have your name written on it and don't listen to me when I say it looks tricky.
The mobile camera to the rescue again, Peter Dexter returning his salmon, our first of the year and very welcome. With the water out over the banks it did make returning the fish considerably easier and it went off strongly after five minutes. It does mean I will have to get a returns book in the lodge tomorrow in anticipation of more to come. As I arrived at the pool this pair were eating the new seasons bramble shoots on the far bank of the Trout Stream. I usually see them on the lawn of a nearby property where they are eyeing up the rose garden; its good to know they do actually eat something else!!
I had to find time to jot a few lines after the arrival of the so desperately needed rain. Today as I reset the hatches the water was a surging soup of mud, muck and much of the newly established vegetation that had been scoured from the unnaturally narrowed channel of just a week ago. It was a mega detox in full flow with the detritus and accumulated filth being sent on its way in no uncertain fashion. The feeling of relief was tangible as a fresh and lively river once more occupied the valley. Despite the rain and the gusting wind the majority of the valley occupants were obviously in full support, Blackbirds, warblers and even a lark were in full voice with the Swallows, Martins and newly arrived Swifts enjoying a huge hatch of olives that were emerging from the surface of the main river channel in defiance of the flood. Unfortunately our unseasonal rise in water will not be without its casualties as this years dace fry and newly emerged salmon juveniles will do well to survive such flows. The nests of the Lapwing, Redshank, Coot, Moorhen and Mallard will be suffering as the rising flood swallows them up. Hopefully the many fry sanctuary areas that have been created throughout the estate will come into play and afford them the safe haven they require. Being early in the nesting calendar most of the birds will lay again and with the added cover from crows and magpies afforded by the new seasons growth perhaps may even benefit from the later start. The river had risen over seven deci's, two feet of water had arrived overnight from the forest with the water from the plain arriving to sustain the flow throughout the day. I visited one of the ox-bow sanctuaries that looked the part with the extra water and stands of reeds providing what appeared perfect cover I only hope the fish found them.
The weirpool in fine form with all hatches wide open. The Trout Stream looking as if this weekends tuition might be difficult and the rising water threatening to make moving the livestock necessary.
One event a fortnight ago that I have failed to mention was the annual departure from the river of the salmon smolt as they begin their epic journey downstream to the sea and out across the Atlantic to the rich feeding grounds within the Arctic circle. As they gather above the hatches awaiting the low light levels that signals the start of the next leg of their journey they are joined by tens of thousands of minnows and hundreds of dace. What makes them all shoal in such a fashion I can't decide but judging by the amount of surface activity there is a great deal of excitement in the gathered mass; lets wish them a safe return in two or three years. I have often written on here about the care required when cutting and clearing access paths and margins to minimise the impact on the natural progress of events that is so vital to dependent creatures in Natures scheme of things. The chronological order of natural events has not been arrived at by chance. Very simply; photo-period and temperature provide the triggers for plants to grow and invertebrates time their development to coincide with the food source. Fish and birds time their hatching to coincide with the bounty of the invertebrates. All evolved over millennia and tens of thousands of generations of flora and fauna. Cutting large areas of vegetation thus encouraging unseasonal regrowth has long been my concern and continues to be so. As I travel about the fishery world I see clearing and cutting taking place with scant or absolutely no regard or consideration of the natural processes that anglers and fishery managers so vocally claim to be the guardians. Angling is its own worse enemy with such a selfish and parochial approach, if that simple lesson is beyond so many I hold little hope for the future of our sport. Our activities might seem small beer when considered in the light of natures own efforts to disrupt the natural progression with unseasonal droughts and floods; that is not so. Our efforts are vitally important when creature that share the valley are in many instances failing miserably, our smallest consideration may just be that vital difference between survival and extinction. Just what creatures we attempt to assist is a different matter. Acting as God we decide what deserves to be here and what should go. At what point in time are species deemed to be indigenous and desirable? Today the site of a Ruddy duck on the same body of water as three drake Mandarins served well to illustrate the complexity of that particular question.
Good cover for the warblers, Reed bunting and soft spawning habitat for the carp and tench. An ancient common lime that has had the dead and dangerous limbs removed in an effort to avoid felling the home of the Stock doves, Little owl and bats. On the right the gathering shoals above the hatches awaiting the signal to move off.
It is essential to develop a long term management regime on all fisheries with particular species and their requirements in mind. That will involve the extent and type of tree cover and margin species requiring comprehensive planting and maintenance policies. The long-term nature of such planning is essential in that individuals responsible for the work on many fisheries come and go on a regular basis. All too often we see a complete change of approach or emphasis every time a new face or team arrives on the scene. Nature might be adaptable but not at the speed many fisheries and there management teams appear to change hands these days. If there is a well considered conservation strategy and stocking policy laid down in writing and regularly updated new owners or management teams will be aware of previous efforts and continue them where they have proven sound and gradually adapt them where failings can be witnessed. I choose to promote the species that have been resident in the valley since the development of the water meadow system. Many of those species would have pre-dated the construction of the meadows by millennia their ability to adapt to the artificial regime to my thinking makes them vital to the special atmosphere and ambiance of the Avon Valley.
The flooded meadows will drown many lapwing and Redshank nests. The last photo shows a Swans nest about to go under. As I pressed the shutter on my mobile to take that shot the Cob on the right took a dislike to an otter that was sat on the bank just behind him. He reared up hissing and flapping causing a startled and digruntled otter to do a complete back somersault over the swan into the water; not a show I'm likely to witness too often!!
I must begin by thanking those that have emailed during my sabbatical, fear not, its mostly down to weight of work that I have been unable to keep the diary flowing. Added to the apparently endless workload the onset of Spring always seems to produce, I believe I must have spent too much time in this valley. In common with the river that I have watched disappear as I cross it every day, I have been feeling somewhat under the weather. My case of the vapours has been easily rectified with a change of location a couple of weekends away provided and the distractions of Ruby Turner at Ronnie Scott's. The blues facing our river are not so simply dealt with I fear. The current media scrum concerning the hosepipe ban has now seen the desperate need of rain even become a concern of the Great British public. The development of this desperate situation has been discussed in concerned circles for in excess of a decade yet it takes the threat to a few rose bushes to elevate the debate to the public arena. We are expected to be grateful having seen the review of consents undertaken by the EA that gave rise to a twenty plus mega-litre a day reduction in the abstraction from the chalk aquifers in the headwaters. Whilst grateful for the recognition of the potential risk posed by abstraction the reduction and subsequent low flow cut-offs have done little to sustain the natural flow of the Avon. I stress natural flow, or regime, as this is the mantra currently being trumpeted by the river restoration projects designed to meet WFD requirements. Before we get to restoring the channel and river as perceived by the plethora of consultants that have their noses in the current funding trough I would suggest the natural flow from the chalk should be the starting point. Unlike the dramatically low reservoirs with their exposed shore line that we now see on the daily TV news reports, we do not have such a dramatic sight to focus attention on the reduced level of the groundwater in our aquifers. If any good is to arise from this situation it is perhaps the recognition that it is not an acceptable means of potable water supply to take it from the aquifers before the natural processes of the rivers have made use of it. For those involved in the protection of our riverine environment it would be a sensible primary objective to see ZERO headwater abstraction to restore the natural regime. That would not be well received by the water companies as they look to maximise the use of free filtered headwater and increase out of catchment supply justified under the strategic water networks. As a second objective I think we should have ZERO out-of-catchment supply. That will require a considerable rethink of supply strategy and a considerable decrease in share dividends to the city and overseas owners of our water companies - snowball in hell springs to mind!!
As for day to day life in the valley, the horse trials with all its six hundred plus riders is thankfully behind us and preparations for the thousands of expected visitors this weekend completed a walk by the river was in order mid week. The reappearance of the dace, back from spawning, gladdened the heart There were half a dozen tightly packed shoals in the favoured spots just as if they had never been away, even if they did look a little leaner than when I last looked in on them. Under normal Spring flows I would probably not have been aware of their presence. Sighting them in the low clear water has the benefit of confirming their annual disappearance around the turn of the year, has been reversed without apparent serious loss. With the arrival of Spring as well as the workload we see the arrival of our Summer visitors. I could list a long series of first sightings, Orange tip, Swallow, Cuckoo, yada, yada but whilst its always pleasing to see them arrive each year such annually repeated diary entries don't quite hit the mark with the intended message of my scribbling. Our weather and observation time are the main criteria for variations in such records and if that is taken as read the changes due to man's intervention make for the most interesting aspect. Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying here, I'm certainly not against the collection and recording of events and data in the natural world. Monitoring plays a vital role in understanding and unravelling the complexities of our environment. What I object to is monitoring for monitoring's sake. We have asked the EA to cease their monitoring of adult cyprinids through the estate as the data produced and the use to which it is put to by the EA is outweighed by the risk electro fishing poses to our gravid chub and barbel. Chub are probably the most susceptible fish to electro fishing damage and they are currently the saving grace of the Avon fishery. We also know pretty accurately how many and the year classes of cyprinids throughout the estate, it is the reason behind the gaps in species and year classes we wish to see looked into. My recent request to the EA as to the extent of pathogen or parasite information related to our fish produced a complete zero. The location and protection of spawning sites, ZERO, the head difference at barriers to passage for migrating cyprinid and salmonid species, ZERO. Distribution and migration of larval stage cyprinids......... I don't see the value of half a million spent counting salmon entering the river when we know numbers are insufficient to support the fisheries. Better that money was spent knocking down or efficiently by-passing the barrier to passage of all species the structure containing the fish counter represents!!
What of our salmon season to-date? Unsurprisingly there have been half a dozen fish taken at the bottom of the river and we have seen a trickle of fish moving upstream. Just how inclined to take a fly those running fish will be under the current clear water and low flow regime I wouldn't like to say. There is a good sized salmon laying in front of the gates at Ibsley. On my daily visits to the hatches I try and approach that fish without spooking it and have failed miserably on at least half a dozen occasions. The appearance of so much as my forehead over the bank or hatches brings an immediate disappearance into the pool above. If that is an example of the nervous state of the fish; long lines, fine leaders and small flies are the order of the day. I'm told there's also a salmon laying where we removed the tree below Dog Kennel Pool, I've not even managed to see that fish emphasising the need for stealth in the approach to the pools. I suppose the knowledge that fish are with us is of some comfort. Perhaps early and late starts might also increase the odds a little in favour of the angler?
At the end of the coarse season I was discussing with Pete Reading the amount of spraint our ever present otter population was leaving on the banks. With all the hot debate about the implications for our fish populations I would dearly like to see a thorough and ongoing MONITORING of spraint to determine just what our mob are eating. I must have a word with the wildlife trusts or the Game Conservancy to see if anyone would like to find the funding and carry out such an exercise on a chalk stream SSSI with designated species involved!! There is always the risk it may confirm the worst fears of the doom and gloom element of the debate but at least we would have some hard facts to go on. To add to the debate cormorant pellets might be similarly analysed if collected from the roosts which would be extremely interesting. On the subject of Pete Reading I must say well done to Pete and Hugh Miles on the excellent barbel handling video they have produced for the Barbel Society. As we have become accustomed to where Hugh is involved the filming is superb and if you wish to see just what a classic Avon swim looks like have a peek at the link below.Barbel Society Handling Code
And on the subject of Hugh!! Several years ago Hugh very kindly put together for me a video of under water shots which I sent to the EA asking they evaluate the method as a means of monitoring fish stocks on the Avon without the need to fry our gravid fish. I was hoping the video kit would replace the need to stick a charged anode up the nether regions of our fish. Unfortunately I never did hear the reason behind the reluctance to adopt the potentially fish friendly method? I appreciate the problems of turbidity but as our chalk-streams tend to have at least a couple of months of the year when they are running clear I would have thought the technique was at least worth fully evaluating.
The dace shoals have thankfully returned without apparent loss of numbers. Piles of otter spraint to the extent it has killed the grass, at least finding samples for any analysis will not be difficult. No need to search the spraint to know what the otter that enjoyed this huge eel had been feeding on.
I must admit to having been beside the water for the odd hour during the period of my absence in that I have been desperately trying to finish the margin clearing that should have been completed six weeks ago. The importance of the margins to both rivers and still water is sadly overlooked on many fisheries I visit. If flow is perhaps the major player on rivers light must come a very close second and on still water must be the primary ecological determinant. If we are to have rich bank-side vegetation with dense foliage for invertebrates, hence food source, we have to have light. Left to their own devices wind and water borne seed of willow and alder quickly establish and dominate the flora. Whilst willow car and alder both have important roles in providing; nectar, pollen, seed for food, spawning habitat amongst the root masses and cover, the extent has to be strictly managed to avoid total dominance of a single culture. Many fisheries would perhaps do well to consider the area between the swims and access points as equally important as the swims themselves.
I will just finish by mentioning one or two of those events I claim are not the main thrust of this blog in that I spent a very cold Wednesday morning, as the sun rose to chase away the frost, listening to the Bramblings calling from the tops of the oak and beech trees on the Upper Park. Each Spring the flocks gather in one particular area of woodland on the estate and the sound of dozens and often hundreds of male Brambling "chirrring" as they move through the deciduous woodland, as they head back north to their breeding grounds, is one of the dawn chorus's more dramatic productions. Whatever the state of the river and the state of fishing an appreciation of the backdrop will always guarantee a worthwhile day. The Hobbies are here and the Grannom are hatching excuse enough to get out and enjoy the river.
With the coarse season having escaped me I certainly will not be letting the salmon have such an easy ride, I'm adamant I will get out with the rod in the near future. With the low, low river the next five or six weeks will offer the best chance of a fish, whilst we retain reasonably low water temperatures. You never know we may get a wet summer and the river will get regular top ups but I do not intend to take that risk and will be out and about as soon as possible.
With the low river this winter I have had to hold water on the Hucklesbrook Marsh by holding back the springs that come from the gravel scarp to the east of the valley. The low volume of this source means flooding is a very gradual process if I am to avoid drying sections of the ditches and drains below the hatch. It was not until mid January that I eventually flooded the fields. The intervening couple of months have seen the waders and wildfowl making the most of the scant feeding the marsh provides with many hundreds present on most days. Unfortunately for the birds I have graziers to consider and by mid March we have historically attempted to get the meadows drained and the grass growing in readiness for the arrival of the stock. With the need to get the meadows dry the process of draining is a reversal of the gradual flooding process whereby water is slowly spilled to avoid downstream scouring or silt disturbance. This involves numerous visits to remove and adjust boards to ensure only an inch or two a day is dropped and the area flooded doesn't disappear overnight. This morning as I had an hour before Mother's Day arrangements swung into being I headed for the marsh armed with the scope to see what was still making use of the area. I suppose with the lack of water in the valley I shouldn't have been surprised at the number of birds present. The Curlew spotted me as I arrived, moving a couple of hundred metres further up the marsh announcing my presence to the gathered flock with their beautiful call as they did so. As I set up the scope the Teal and Wigeon abandoned the open marsh and moved into the stands of soft rush where they disappeared without trace other than the continued piping of the Teal. Luckily many of the waders did not consider me a serious threat and continued to feed in the shallow water and silty channels. Thirty or forty Lapwing, a round dozen Redshank, two Ruff, three Green sandpiper, glimpses of the Snipe as they fed on the edge of the soft rush and a first for me in the valley, a Spotted redshank. Add in assorted geese and a pair of Shelduck and it was immediately apparent the summer migrants were equally as pleased to find a little wetland as were our diminishing number of winter visitors. Luckily under the current HLS agreements where the meadows are managed with the avian habitat in mind I have more flexibility in draining down as livestock numbers are restricted during the breeding season of the waders. Today I let the boards remain as they were and left the marsh leaving the the birds to enjoy their breakfast.
Hidden depths of the marsh.
Whilst my tale of birds a plenty might be of interest there is a further message in that story. What the marsh clearly illustrates is that with a little care we are able to manipulate the valley environment for the benefit of its wildlife. This artificial control of habitat applies equally to the river and with care and consideration we can ensure the habitat provided for our fish is similarly beneficial. The crucial element of the equation is care and consideration. Nothing major is embarked upon without enormous consideration, observation and understanding. If we are to undo the damage inflicted on this valley through decades of neglect and dilapidation change is inevitable but rest assured we do not enter into these projects lightly.
Remiss of me to disappear without warning or explanation, I have however been occupied with matters of a fishy nature that have filled the time in the wee small hours that I usually dedicate to scribbling this diary. Before I let you in on what has been distracting me I really should give an account of the end of my coarse season. If I restrict my entry to the fish that I managed to catch I need write no further. I failed to get out for a final visit to either river or still water through my inability to get my priorities in the correct order. As I drive into work each morning, passing the anglers in the car parks getting ready for their day beside the water, I always envy them the day yet manage to put off my own visit a further twenty four hours. Most definitely a case of the ease of availability being my downfall. I did manage the odd stop and chat to those I spotted on my travels about the estate. I always enjoy those chats, it saves the time of me having to set up my rods if I can watch someone else’s rod tip or float for quarter of an hour. I'm like the junky having received my fix I can then get on with the task that is requiring my attention.
As for the fishing others were enjoying for me, I must say we did okay. Despite the changeable weather the river continued to produce good fishing to those prepared to invest a little effort. Before the recent rise in water barbel were showing well with a fish of fifteen plus in a bag of four fish at Ibsley. I also know of an eleven ten and a thirteen plus so we were expecting a perfect end to the season after our rise in water and the addition of a little colour. In reality the week after the rain was a little disappointing in that bright days and cold clear nights soon saw off the benefits of the flush of water and we were back to a low clear river. It was the chub that undoubtedly continued to prove the star attraction with a string of sixes and one or two sevens showing up. There were odd large bream and barbel from the river, plus one or two perch and pike but not the finish I had hoped to see. The season can best be described as going out with a whimper and if the river remains in its current state I fear the salmon season will fare little better. For those wishing to see some pix of Avon fish I thoroughly recommend Phil Smith's blog "Travellingman" In my case it just confirms what I already know in that I really should have been out fishing.
As for the subject that has been occupying my time it all stems from why chub should be in such a dominant position whilst other species such as roach and salmon remain suppressed to the point of non-existent. Lots of half baked theories, that simply do not add up, yet few hard facts. Until some one gets to grips with population dynamics we will be none the wiser. In an effort to expand my understanding of the situation I have been looking at a mixed band of pathogens, infectious agents, that might be having an impact on our fish populations. Bacteria, viruses, fungal infections and parasites, the one immediate effect of all my reading is that I am scratching like a mangy dog. To say there are some ugly little buggers that seem ever present in our river is the understatement of the century. We all know of the big ugly ones such as pomphorryhnchus laevis, that effected our chub through the 60's and 70's. Ligula intestinalis, that is ever present in our still water roach where we have Grebe and Cormorants visiting on a regular basis and the dread of gyrodactylus reaching our shores. There are however many other unpleasant parasites that are a great deal smaller and may have been with us wreaking untold damage for decades. One such group are the myxozoans, a large group of pathogens that impact on their host in a multitude of unpleasant ways. Unfortunately they infect many of our cyprinid fish with roach, chub and dace being on the list of unfortunates that suffer from their attention. The problem is that we can't see them without specialised equipment and they can be transmitted in the water column so it is virtually impossible for a potential host to avoid them. There is discussion that O+ year classes could be fatally impacted by as much as ninety nine percent. Those not killed may suffer muscle mass invasion and restricted growth or reduced fecundity; we simply do not know. If that is the case it doesn't leave a lot for the other agents that act to deplete numbers of our fish. Alas our knowledge of what is occurring on our river is extremely limited. Staff at Cefas down at Weymouth have been incredibly helpful in supplying information related to the action of these parasites nationally. I emailed the local EA to inquire if they had any parasitology data related to our fish on the Hampshire Avon but have yet to received an acknowledgement or any information.
Where is this leading? I'm not sure. We have to look into these potential problems but as yet I don't know by which means. I would like to see Cefas looking specifically at the Avon but that will take a lot of funding and lobbying so no early outcome likely. There are other pathogens and other questions such as transmission between species, impact of aquaculture on pathogen loads, STW chemical, enzyme and pheromone impacts. Huge questions currently without answers and without any one actively seeking the answers on the Avon. I shall continue to wade through this unsavoury primordial soup in an effort to get a fuller understanding for myself. I will be pestering staff at Weymouth who have foolishly made the mistake of offering me assistance and I will be looking for allies in seeking the answers to the expanding list of questions I am compiling. It is becoming a consuming interest that will undoubtedly eat into diary time but I will do my utmost to keep things ticking along and make readers aware of any outcome from my search.
I do not have a photograph to accompany this entry, which is probably just as well as they're the stuff of nightmares. I will finish on a seasonal high note in that those fishing Hucklesbrook in the last week or two will have enjoyed the annual arrival of the Curlews that visit the flooded meadows each Spring on their migration back to their nesting grounds further north. The call of the Curlew must be one of the most haunting , evocative sounds in the bird world and the dozen birds currently on the marsh make a wonderful sound track on these misty mornings; long may they continue to call.
As I have been away enjoying the blues for three days, if that's not an oxymoron, I am a little out of touch. I must just add a very quick update in that I have been informed that congratulations are due to Mr Eric Lipscombe who has landed the first salmon of the season from the Avon down on the Severals. A fish of between twelve and fourteen pounds, from the tail of Firs pool, on a tube and witnessed by owner Mr Derek Goulding. Well done Eric, encouragement if any were needed to get the rods out, particularly after today's rain that may have added an inch or two to the river.
Not a great deal more news on the angling front today I'm afraid. I did drop in at Ibsley and only found two pike anglers, they were the only two I spoke to so I am a day or two behind the times. They had managed two double figure fish and as we spoke a good double lunged at the fry in the swim scattering fish in all directions. There were half a dozen cars in the car park at Ellingham so others must have been out enjoying the sunshine but I didn't get an opportunity to find out how they had fared.
I did call in at the weir down at Ringwood to see how the de-silting of the balancing pond was progressing. It would appear to be going well, which hopefully means the work will be finished within a month. Its unfortunate that the work coincided with the end of the coarse season on the river but unfortunately that is down to the lack of consideration afforded angling within local authority and government circles. I'm not sure where the blame for that lies? The work is certainly preferable to the bloody hippies but a further addition to the already disastrous loss of fishery revenue could have been done without. On balance I think it is with us in the angling fraternity as we are abysmal at representing our own interests despite considerable legislation on our side to aid our case. The very existence of the balancing pond is down to legislation designed to keep our rivers free of pollution. The pond was built to intercept pollution that may arise from incidents on the roundabout and dual carriageway. It may even pick up the drains from the further side of the carriageway no one seemed too sure at our last meeting. What it does highlight is that whilst designed to intercept a major pollution and maintain a balanced head of water in the drain it does not prevent the day to day; tar, rubber, petrol and oil solution that accumulates on our miles and miles of roads from eventually getting into out river systems. If that complaint has a familiar ring to it perhaps, like me, you are an ardent fan of Harry Plunket Greene who in his most beautiful book "Where The Bright Waters Meet" expressed his dismay at the tarring of the roads beside his beloved River Bourne. Our relaxed attitude toward fighting our corner with regard to local authority and government agencies has perhaps also given rise to this accepted practice of waste disposal. I wonder just what the impact of a diesel film on the surface has on our invertebrate population. I appreciate the requirement for sump drains and regular cleaning etcetera but I believe the balancing pond was meant to be on a regular maintenance programme; this is its first attention in forty years!!!!
Clearing out the Ringwood balancing Pond.
Whilst wandering about today I spent some time mulling over the season ahead. Whatever happens now with regard to rainfall and recharge of our desperately low system I think we are to see an early weed season. The current low water is also clear and that means light is able to penetrate to the bed stimulating growth. Where sufficient flow exists in controlled channels the Ranunculus is already looking lush and green as the over wintering beds have sprung into life. There are two ways of looking at the likelihood of heavy weed growth. One is that in the event the rain doesn't arrive we will need every inch of its coffering effect to maintain a head of water and provide cover for the fish in the restricted water available. Alternatively I can already hear the cries of;
"We can't fish the river because its full of weed".
Whilst we may apply for a Waste Management Exemption, that's what you have to have from the EA if you wish to cut weed, what has to be remembered is that summer coarse fishing on the Avon is a comparatively recent innovation and whilst under ideal conditions it is an enjoyable part of our calendar it must never come before the welfare of our river and our fish. Many of the species targeted in the summer may have only spawned days before they become the quarry. In the Avon's historic past in most instances September was the earliest they were fished for and then barbel only down at the Royalty. When the trend of moving barbel about the fisheries with introductions at the Severals, higher in the catchment and over on the Stour the pressure for greater summer access increased. This year we may have to practice a little restraint and allow a potentially stressed system, with all its dependent life forms, a little space. Food for thought perhaps! Lets hope we never reach that situation and Mother Nature manages to balance the books.
Fresh ranunculas below the intake weir.
By way of encouragement, I received an email from Colin Morgan this evening with news of a lost salmon that pulled powerfully and looked deep bodied when it rolled off the hook. Fishing down at Ashley he had already landed a well mended kelt and the lost fish felt different. It may have been a kelt, we will never know but hopefully it was the first signs of a fresh fish in the system.
With the rally on the estate today I stayed well clear. As it was such fine weather I dropped in on the bees and found them making the most of the day.
I had time this afternoon to pay a visit to the meadows to look at the flood levels on which the swans, ducks and geese are spending much of their time. Pleasingly everything was in order so with no broken gates or blocked channels to use up my scarce time I decided to walk the Carrier down to the confluence with the main river. I skirted the flooded section of the meadow and joined the carrier just downstream of the old red brick hump-backed bridge. As I was walking the west side of the stream my view of the water was only patchy as the dry phragmites beds covered most of the bank with only short gaps to afford a glimpse of the fast flowing stream. As I pushed through the reeds I almost trod an a Bittern that grunted his disapproval and flopped of across the field to land in a reed filled oxbow a couple of hundred metres away. I had marked the exact spot it had landed and being too good a photo opportunity to miss I followed, taking a detour around the back of the pool to take best advantage of the light.
Old humped-backed bridge.
My route took me to the river bank some one hundred and fifty metres upstream from where I followed the water toward the landing spot. Half way along the tree covered bank I came upon Roy Williams enjoying a break from his fishing for a cup of tea. Roy had managed six nice chub, nothing massive, all in the four pound bracket but pleasingly deep and chunky young looking fish. Half a dozen good fish on the pin is what I consider to be a good way to spend an hour or two on the Avon; I really must get the rods out soon. Leaving Roy to enjoy his tea I headed, as quietly as possible, to the spot where I had seen the bird land a further fifty meters downstream. As I crept the last ten metres positive I would spot the bird any second, two Water rails were arguing over some unseen treasure, oblivious to my presence but I was determined to get a snap of the Bittern and left them to their dispute. I studied the spot I was sure the bird had landed but couldn't see so much as a feather. Three or four minutes and the rails wandered through followed by a Moorhen but no Bittern. Oh well it was worth a try. Straightening up I took a step onto the dry reeds that snapped and crackled sending the Bittern up into the air from the edge of a clear pool not ten feet to my left. Some you win some you lose.
The bird flew up and headed back upstream over the head of Roy who I hoped might have spotted it as many of the anglers enjoy seeing the birds of the valley. As I passed I asked if he had seen the bird fly by but alas he'd missed it and I left him to his fishing as I intended to fit in a visit to the oxbow on the opposite bank. Ten minutes and I was over the other side looking back as Roy struck into a good fish well down the trot. Perfect, if I couldn't get a Bittern shot for the diary I could get a pic or two of Roy in action.
As good as it gets and great deal easier than photographing Bittern, Roy Williams into a fish whilst trotting the Avon. The second pic records the landing of a two and three quarter pound barbel. Oddly, small barbel are a great deal rarer than double figure fish; it was good to see Roy land this fine little specimen.
As a post script I should just add a follow-up to the rainbow shot of the other day in that I received an email from Brian Marshall who informs me there was a salmon in Gypsy that day. It turned out to be a very well mended kelt that gave Brian raised hopes for a few minutes as it objected to being hooked on its journey back to the coast. Personally I think that kelt was under the faint rainbow on the left, the brighter rainbow surely marked the lie of a fresh Springer!!!!!
Just the briefest of notes as such a day should be recorded. The first brimstone butterfly of the year was drifting down the sunny side of Ellingham Drive and the Lapwing are staking their claims beside the flooded sections out on the water meadows. The sun shone and the fish fed, so lots of smiling faces down on the river today. Barbel into double figures and six pound chub are appearing throughout the fishery from Ashley to Ibsley. I'm surprised I have not seen more anglers out enjoying the conditions. I intend to spend an hour or two in the garage over the weekend and dig out my coarse gear in an effort to get one or two visits in before the end of the season that is fast approaching. It may be a little early to declare Spring to have arrived but today was definitely a step in the right direction.
It seems a long time since I put up the previous entry, not through being busier than normal but the lack of positive news to raise spirits at this dour time. A cold February such as we have just endured has to be my least favourite period of the year. Most months have something to say in their favour but I'm struggling to find anything good to say about the last week or two. With today's change in the weather fingers crossed for a few days warmth and rain to bring a positive end to the coarse season. Those brave soles I've come across in my travels about the river during the last week or two have had chub to thank for saving the duck. Good fish are still being caught on a regular basis but small baits and plenty of time are the prerequisites of success. My idea of a days chubbing, roving about the fishery throwing large lumps of flake and cheese into likely looking holes isn't producing the goods in these low clear conditions.
The salmon pools looking clipped and ready. With the unseasonably low water the summer lies must be worth a look. The traditional early lies such as Ibsley Pool are too shallow to hold fish yet water such as Island Run and Tizards that are normally associated with later fish look spot-on.
I have to admit to being somewhat preoccupied with one or two other distractions one of which was reading my personal diary that I kept prior to the current online version. Interestingly a completely different animal where I was a great deal more candid with my record of daily events. No effort to share or enlighten as is the raison_d’être of the "avondiary"; a far more caustic, venomous and undoubtedly libellous tome but highly amusing from a personal perspective. The online diary has to be overly PC and avoid contentious views that may be mistakenly seen as those of organisations with which I am associated. I endeavour to show the countryside as a working environment as opposed to the bolt on to our urban sprawl, Middle England's playground. I did think about reverting to the written account but on consideration my private ramblings are best kept just that' private; so the online version is to continue.
As for that working environment it has been a case of rushing to get the tree work finished before the sap begins to flow and the buds swell signalling the start of Spring. The section of willow car between the fishing Lodge and the river is being cleared to open up the valley sight lines. Hazel coppicing is in full swing and the marginal regrowth on the lakes has to be strimmed out if we are to retain the open, tended fishery we desire on the coaching and day ticket lakes. I am finally down to one day of strimming to clear the willow regrowth around the lakes at Ibsley, where at this time last year I was up to my knees in mud and shattered willows as we cleared the unmanaged rubbish. Certainly this years strimming and clearing is physically easier but at some future point I still have to get on with the next phase of the clearing. Thankfully the club have weighed in with some help to open up one of the strangled reed beds and I certainly appreciate any help to get on top of that thankless task.
Clearing the margins of lakes that are used as coaching and dayticket waters. The first three shots show the one years growth of alder already closing out the marginal plants such as yellow Flag. If left what is a relatively easy job becomes weeks of intensive cutting and clearing.
Yesterday morning with a day off and the opportunity to get the rods out the prospect of loosing the feeling in my toes, looking for chub or pike, held very little appeal. The fly rod in search of a February salmon and the risk of numb and painful fingers I viewed in a similar light. I must put this down to my age as a decade or two back I would have fished through such conditions without a seconds thought.
Icicles on the Eel Pool hatches.
As it worked out I had a further excuse to avoid the rods in that it was a WeBS day requiring an early start and plenty of walking to keep the blood circulating. If the path tool on Google Earth is to be believed the walk involved some seven miles much of it over frozen hoof marks and tractor ruts which explains my aching calves this morning. The count was interesting in that the icy conditions had moved many of the birds off the lakes and into the valley. In excess of five hundred geese and with the added three hundred and thirty one Mute swans and hundreds of duck the weight of birds is currently quite impressive. One or two rarities in the shape of the Whooper swan and the Bewicks, still with the main Mute herd, continue to attract the dedicated twitchers in an effort to get their year ticks. There were also five Barnacle geese with one of the Canada flocks, whether these are feral or wild birds is almost impossible to say but their presence added to the days interest. There were one or two notable dips on my part as I failed to find the fifteen Golden Plover that had been about all week and the three Smew reported at Ibsley also managed to avoid me. Pity about the Smew as one was a drake and a prettier little duck is hard to imagine. Purely by luck I did manage to stumble on one of the Bittern that are currently stalking about the valley but just how many are currently hiding in the reeds beds is impossible to say with such infrequent visits.
The latest club project progressing well as the new coaching classroom begins to take shape on the site of the old delapidated buildings. The facility is ideally situated to permit coaching on the Trout Stream, Edwards, Crowe and Thompkins pools and the main river. Well done to th eclub for investing in the future of angling.
Still on the bird front last nights slight rise in temperature has signaled the restart of the displaying and nest building. Apart from my sparrow adding to the nest again the sight and perhaps in their case more importantly the sound of three Lesser spotted woodpeckers drumming away in one of the woods brought the woods back into life. These delicate little birds are easily overlooked as they tend to stay high in the canopy this time of year is probably the easiest time to see them. With well in excess of one hundred and twenty Redwing scratching about in the leaf matter, Crossbills flying back and forth in the Scots canopy and the delicate Redpolls taking on the high colour of spring the woods were a nice place to be.
I believe this cold spell to have slowed the galloping onset of Spring that was so apparent a week or two ago. The rush of nest building has almost ceased and the early shoots are now blackened and shrivelled. The Siskin, Goldfinch and Red poll have arrived at the feeders in greater numbers than they have all winter. We have been busy with the tree work that now has a more wintry feel to the task as the cold north wind makes stacking the brash on the fire a welcome task. We are working beside the river where the soft ground does not allow the machine to work safely making the clearing up and burning a hand task reminiscent of bygone days. Being so close to the river I have kept an eye on the passing anglers and whilst only one or two hardy salmon rods arrived to try their luck, to no avail, the chub and pike men have continued to find good specimens tucked away in the pools.
As I write I have my nest-box cam picture of a hen House sparrow in the corner of my second screen. Last week they were carrying material as they started building their nest, this week happy to use as a roost away from the bitterly cold night.
The cold wind has broken up the ice over the larger water bodies but the smaller pools and the shallow water meadows remain locked in an icy grip. The only visitors to the smaller ponds and lakes are the otters who leave their frustrated tracks criss crossing the snow covered ice as they seek a means of finding their food. Strangely despite the larger lakes being free of ice many of the duck are spending their days on the meadows. I assume that grazing is hard at the moment and they extend their grazing into the daytime to find sufficient food to keep them going.
Frustrated otter and over four hundred Wigeon, a hundred plus Teal, dozens of Mallard and one or two Pintail out on the frozen meadows all day.
I must just add congratulations to Richie Martin on the capture of a three pound seven ounce Grayling from the club stretch of the River Frome; fabulous fish well done Richie. Whilst mentioning the club stretch on the Frome, Kevin Styles has asked me to remind members that there is currently no wading due to the exceptionally high number of salmon redds on the stretch; hopefully a good sign for the future.
Despite the snow and ice up country good numbers of anglers managed to get to the Salmon Open Day. Chaiman Ian may greeted everyone before many headed for the Lodge to enjoy the open fire, coffee and burgers served up by club stalwart John Turner. Brin Woodsford and Peter Wildash of The Ringwood & District Branch of the Fly Dressers Guild put on a fine demonstration ofthe art of tying; Brin hiding behind Peter in the photo. Once warmed and greeted everyone headed for the far bank where Kevin Styles can be seen explaining the mysteries of catching salmon on the Avon.
With the truck in dock one or two of those outstanding jobs were on the agenda.
The weather has changed this evening with the air temperature above zero and gentle rain taking the place of the promised snow. If as forecast it is going to blow through by the morning the Salmon Day looks as if it may be lucky. I believe there are some kelts about so I expect someone will get a heart stopping pull tomorrow, fingers crossed the change in weather has persuaded a fresh fish to join in.
With the truck in the garage getting various bits strapped back on I've been grounded when it comes to getting about off-road. If there is a time to be away from the valley with temperatures as low as they were today it would seem as good as any. I did borrow Anne's car to visit the water meadows this evening, to ensure the water was flowing as I had intended to keep an area ice free. The left over barley that had been intended for the flight ponds is now being spread in any free water as a bonus for the wildfowl which have been quick to take advantage. This evening at dusk the Widgeon and Teal just poured into the valley to graze. Impossible to count or even guess at the numbers it is whistling and the sound of wings announcing their mass arrival. In reality numbers on such occasions are irrelevant, suffice to know that the meadows are providing the feeding that the wildfowl are seeking in such severe conditions.
The water meadows proving popular.
My late arrival beside the river did mean I failed to meet any anglers today but I don't imagine many would have braved the cold. I must remember to put a returns book in the lodge to ensure we keep a record of any salmon that are caught. I would like to see the coarse anglers make more use of the lodge, as a meeting place and refuge on days such as today it's ideal. I should remind the salmon rods that Sunday is the club;
Salmon Open Day.
A chance for the salmon anglers to get together to swap information, enjoy a cast or two and enjoy the refinements of the Lodge where I believe the oven will be in use providing sausage sandwiches.
Whilst on the salmon subject, Nigel Bennett has just sent me the two photographs above, which he took further up river than Somerley when the salmon ran upstream on their final push to the redds. Hen on the left, cock fish on the right both in full spawning colour having been in the river for several weeks if not months.
A snippet of news to lift the spirits. Paul emailed to say he met a rod on the bank yesterday that had lost a fish in Hoodies, which looked like a fresh fish. I'm not sure the spirits of the rod involved will have been lifted very far but it at least shows there are one or two fish in the system.
The shooting season comes to an end and the salmon season gets under-way in a seamless progression that has occurred in the countryside for generations. The opening weeks of the salmon season used to be associated with wooden Devon minnows, fished with an ounce of lead on the dropper. High flows necessitated the lump of lead to get down to where the early Springers would be laying in the deep swift flowing pools. Today the rods have method restrictions that have seen the Devon consigned to the annals of history. The rods I met out on the bank who are restricted to fly only didn't need their fast sinking lines to get down to the bottom, a simple sink tip reached most of the holding water. The low, clear water we are experiencing mean any fish that are entering the river will have little difficulty in seeing the fly.
Paul Greenacre proving why he was so successful last season being prepared, with one or two other rods, to brave today's freezing weather to wet a line on opening day.
As I'm sure readers realise we are in desperate need of rain if we are to avoid a serious drought this summer. If we continue as we are the fact the fish will not enter the river is the least of our problems, we will be entering into uncharted territory with regard to how low this river can go. The recharge of the aquifers necessary to sustain our flows through the summer will require weeks of rain. That rain must fall before a rise in minimum temperatures set the new season growth into motion. Once the plants begin to grow they will intercept the water and much will be lost to the groundwater through transpiration. Under what might be considered normal conditions growth is likely to start in six to eight weeks so the rain needs to get a move on. It might mean the looming rally, craft fayre and horse trials become a mud bath but if we have a choice I'll take the mud. I suppose the alternative might be for it to rain throughout the summer up on Salisbury Plain and we enjoy the benefits down here in the lower river, I'm not sure the inhabitants of Salisbury will agree with that solution.
As is always the case with the close of the shooting season the geese re-appeared at the lakes this morning and completely ignored me as I discharged the shotgun over their heads to send the Cormorants on their way. Their disgruntled honking sending me off with a definite flea in the ear as I clambered back into the truck. The cold snap of the last couple of days has frozen the marsh seeing the arrival of two new species; the Blue-arsed swan and the Bent-billed Godwit. Both species looking decidedly less than impressed with the appearance of the ice. Unfortunately one of this years swans probably attempting his first landing on the frozen surface became a crumpled heap with a neatly broken neck; the local foxes will feed well tonight. Sadly two other regulars at Ibsley seem to be suffering from the sudden freeze. Known by various names "Pinky and Perky" "Laurel and Hardy" and one or two other less complimentary names as they scrounge bait from sympathetic anglers, the two inseparable feral mallard hybrids seem to have had a bad night. This morning I found one of the pair hauled out on the bank with an apparently damaged leg and wing and no sign of his long standing partner in crime. I scooped up the casualty and gave him the quick once over which confirmed a damaged leg but no obvious cause. On placing him back on the bank he managed to slip back over the frozen margin and onto the river where he looked a little more comfortable. I'm not sure how long they have been with us on the river at Ibsley, certainly in the region of ten years which would make them long lived in a wild environment. I will be surprised if I see them again for if I can pick him up a fox will soon find him, which was probably the fate of his friend. In an effort to cheer up the wildfowl I have started to flood twenty acres of water meadow that I will ensure continues to flow preventing ice from forming. If the cold spell continues into next week I expect the birds will make good use of ice free channels.
All but the deep central channel frozen over. Four Bewicks finishing the days grazing with a wash and brush up in the little free water they could find at Ibsley Splash. Pinkie? not looking so good!
The photo below shows the current state of the Ringwood weir parking area, without its traveller encampment. We met with the Highways Agency today to discuss the way ahead with regard to future access. These discussions will be ongoing but what will happen with immediate effect is that there will be two very large concrete blocks placed across the access to the south of the weir. They are being placed there to ensure the area we use as car-parking is kept clear for contractors who are to de-silt the balancing pond; the area behind the new rail fence. The contract is due to start in the next fortnight and run for about six weeks which will mean there will be no parking in the area until the work is finished. There will be pedestrian access to the swims during this time but please use common sense if heavy plant is working on site. The blocks will also ensure no repeat occupation and to prevent further fly tipping which has already taken place. Have patience and hopefully at the end of all this we will be able to arrange a sensible and secure car park once more.
Ringwood Weir free of travellers at last.
Three Men in a Boat
I imagine many of you that read the diary have a copy of BB's "The Fisherman's Bedside Book" safely tucked away on your bookshelves. BB captured the best of the best in this inspiring little book that played a major part in my personal angling history always being a guaranteed source of the magic I sought on the bank. The authors of some of the included tales wrote with an ease that transported you to the very bank that gave rise to their epic battles and red letter catches. One such story is titled "One Tail" and is an extract from the Badminton Library, penned by Cholmondeley Pennell recalling his Coarse Fishing adventures. I have mentioned this chapter on previous entries in the diary when looking at extracts from Tizards catches in the estate records back in the 1870's but today it was brought into being in a most graphic sense. The story itself relates how Pennell and his friend Mr Darvall were out on the river with my predecessor Samuel Tizard in one of the small Avon punts in search of pike. On happening upon a veritable monster asleep in the lilies they hatched a dastardly plot to extract the denizen by means of the cunning use of the gaff alone. Suffice to say their scheme came to no good and the destruction of the seat of Tizard's breeks seems but small penalty for such audacity.
The Tizard's Salmon, carved from a hawthorn snag removed from Tizard's Pool, leaping over BB's "The Fisherman's bedside Book"
Old estate maps and early photographs clearly show the boat house that was home to the punt in question but it fell into disrepair and disappeared long ago in the 1930's. Today I had need to visit the section of bank where the old weatherboard boathouse once stood and to my amazement there in a slight depression was the clear out line of an Avon punt. I can well believe this was the very same craft that supported the floating protagonists as they drifted into position to hatch their foul plot against the sleeping adversary. Now but a rusty iron lined gunwale topping the rotting, moss covered timbers standing six inches clear of the surrounding soil. The slight depression was the old boathouse bay, long since silted up and hidden beneath a gnarled crack willow, grown tall and dying back since that craft last took to the water.
First glimpsed on the snowdrop covered bank can clearly be seen as the gunwale of an Avon punt.
The date of the adventure I can't be sure of, a clue in that Tizard died in 1928 at the age of eighty four and is buried in a churchyard but a mile from the site of his punt. The pool that carries his name is but one hundred metres away providing a safe haven for his ghost who now fishes from the boulder revetment I secured the bank with a decade ago. Diaries and records have him as Lord Normanton's Fisherman in the 1870's which would suggest a time well before the First World War. It could be fifty years prior to that time but of no real relevance the magic of that tale is simply timeless.
Nothing to fear from the sight of a dead salmon drifting in the weir pool at Ibsley today; just a kelt, hopefully having successfully fertilized his hens eggs, being washed through the system. Nothing to fear perhaps but I find the sight a little sad. I can't explain why as its as natural a part of the cycle of life and death as could ever be seen in the river. Possibly the once magnificent fish now a pale and washed out ghost of his former self seems harsh? It may simply be the unnaturally inverted head and wall eye where once there was a silver bar of pent up energy driven with a single objective. What ever the reason the sight of him going round and round in the weir pool eddy did nothing to lift the spirits this morning.
The redd count locally was much as expected, struggling into double figures, with the fish hopefully having run through the lower and middle reaches on the well timed flood we enjoyed. The Dockens was too low to allow the fish to run into the forest so the main channel redds at the confluence were well occupied. The second low flow winter in succession to see the fish fail to reach the forest. How many such low flow winters before any distinct forest gene is lost? Three, four and we will not have seen a fish enter the forest for the full span of the generations. The once prolific Linford stream and Hucklesbrook no longer have a spawning salmon population it looks as if the Dockens might be next. A local farmer who has lived on the banks of these stream his entire life told me tales of standing and watching processions of huge fish rushing up the Hucklesbrook and into the forest every Boxing Day as regular as clockwork. Across the concrete fords that mark the forest roads and up to the Latchmoor. "Where your fish boy?" "What you done wiv um all?" Good questions, we're no nearer having an explanation today than we were twenty years ago.
That's why I feel sad at the sight of that salmon!
I've not a great deal of news from the river so I thought I'd just put up a photo of the recently flooded marsh. I dropped the boards into place a week ago and whilst a struggle we have managed to raise the water level sufficiently to give the impression of a marsh. It might not be the most wonderful looking example of a flooded valley but the ducks and geese seem happy to see it and have arrived in good numbers.
The marsh at Hucklesbrook with several hundred geese and even greater numbers of duck. Two Peregrines were worrying the Teal, until a Lapwing that obviously wasn't paying attention was killed by the female that settled in the open field to eat her meal. Snipe, Heron, Pied wagtails by the dozen, it was good to see one small area of the valley looking as it should.
A fragment of fishing news. I did bump into one of our regulars, Kevin Silcott, earlier in the week who had just landed a big five and a six pounds seven ounce chub. What he went on to land that session I don't know but he did tell me it was his seventh chub over six pounds in recent weeks from that particular area of the estate, which ever way you look at it, that is good chub fishing. He had also managed two perch of two and a half pounds but had a suspicion they may have been the same fish as they looked so alike, still, one of those would have pleased me.
Yesterday, on my return from Glastonbury, I had to immediately rush out and do a WeBS count. Not the usual early start before dawn but I hoped to count the evening flights to roost. I had a further complication in that some of the shallow margins which had not seen the sun were still frozen from the hard frost the night before. The count was reasonably good but at the back of my mind I had the nagging doubt that in some cases the birds I was seeing would have been counted elsewhere in the valley. This is why we add our times to the online data collection site to enable those who collate the final figures the opportunity to filter out any such duplications. The other factor that minimises any errors are the frequency of the counts, we soon get to know how many of any species we are likely to see and any peaks or troughs can be allowed for. One family of birds that currently has an extremely high peak does not need any error factors included. The swans in the valley have decided to join us big time with over two hundred and fifty Mute, six Bewicks, two Black swans and the Whooper. For anyone wishing to see them the Bewicks and the Whooper are usually with the Mutes at Harbridge and the Black swans up in the Bickton weir pool.
If you think you have a swan problem there are over two hundred in this field with a further fity seven birds in their territories spread throughout the estate. The Whooper can usually be seen just beyond the first gate along Churchfield Lane, turn right 100m past Harbridge Church, usually eating or preening. The Bewicks tend to be further out in the field, four adults, two juveniles and the pair of Black swans are up in the Bickton weir pool easily seen from the public footpath.
I've been away for a day or two chasing Starlings about on the Somerset levels again. A most enjoyable time, even if I'm getting a little too old to be under canvas at minus four degrees as we endured Friday night. We did see an incredible number of Starlings but the hawks and harriers necessary to encourage the murmurations that provide the amazing displays failed to materialise. Coincidently what I did notice were the number of anglers out on the banks of the River Brue and some of the large rhynes. The expectations are not perhaps those that fish the Avon, small roach, perch and bream by our class certainly but bites non the less and what appears to be a healthy head of fish, certainly in most of the old workings. Its been a long time since I have watched clouds of fry spraying into the air as they were chased by shoals of perch on such a scale as I watched Friday evening at Shapwick. The state of our river and the concerns of those that feel so passionately about it were to the forefront last week with the CAC general meeting held at Somerley.
The mysterious Tor at Glastonbury overlooking the nature reserves of the Somerset levels. An early start before the swans were up and if you look closely you can see a fraction of the countless numbers of Starlings that stream in over the Tor in the evenings and leave just after first light.
Answering the questions raised from the floor of the meeting is an unenviable task for the committee but it does provide a focus for further attention. As a bystander at the back I must say I, almost, enjoyed the meeting, its always interesting to hear the views of those that feel so passionately; even if it subsequently transpires, in my role of river manager, I am personally responsible for most of what ails the entire Avon. It added a little tension to the meeting to be accused of being responsible for this years marginal weed growth (Apium nodiflorum - I'll say no more) the number of Cormorants and the increase in otters. Oh if only I had such powers but alas I can't lay claim to such influence. To believe myself, the club or any one else for that matter, should be responsible for cutting the marginal growth under such a flow regime for a personally perceived fishery benefit shows a remarkable lack of understanding of natural safety mechanisms. The committee did kindly allow me the opportunity to speak and dispel one or two myths surrounding the state of the river. Whilst I agree with some of the raised issues, elements of the fish population within the Avon, Roach, Salmon, Dace strugggling but equally others are buoyant in some areas and missing in others. Chub as an example in number and weights certainly surpassing anything I have witnessed on the Avon since I first fished the White Horse waters back in 1964. It isn't a problem unique to The Avon, rivers across the land are suffering population imbalances. Certainly from the estate's point of view if individual angler wish to clear themselves a swim , feel free. I should caution that the club must be happy with such arrangements and any cutting is done sympathetically and in accordance with all land drainage and conservation statutory requirements. I would also point out that the cover provided by the marginal growth this summer has given sanctuary to a large proportion of the fish population when they have been exposed to such low, clear water.
As for Cormorants and Goosander the fish have been exposed to, you cannot encourage people to break the law; who's counting, who's going to know, I can't count, shoot em, shoot em all, shoot the buggers. I despair, its all been tried before and all it does is show the angling fraternity is incapable of providing factually based argument to support their justified claims. I would also respectfully suggest that some one just might be counting and some one just might know, especially when we have police officers who are equally supportive and passionate about the river and one just happened to be sat next to me during that meeting. With a local coastal population in the region of 800 birds, able to move inland to occupy any vacant habitat, that illegal route will be along haul. The limited number that are licensed for culling has no appreciable impact when confronted with the numbers we see on the Avon. Change will only occur when the habitat that encourages the inland colonisation of Cormorants and Goosander and gives rise to the detrimental impact on the EU designated species within the conservation areas is recognised and removed.
The other aspect that is in urgent need of rectifying is the removal of Cormorants from Schedule 2. Part II of the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the subsequent failure to include it on the General Licence for the control of pests. Chapter 69, Schedule 2. Part II. Listed birds which could be killed or taken by authorised persons, or ‘pest birds’. As far as I can discover Cormorants were removed from Part II in 1992. As it was seen by the EU that Britain had not correctly transposed the Birds Directive into domestic legislation by including them. Unfortunately unlike Crows, Woodpigeons etcetera, Cormorants were never transferred to the General Licence that currently permits the killing of such pest species. Its all a little convoluted but I am still trying to discover how they could have been removed and if my interpretation is in fact correct. If it was not just an arbitrary stroke of the pen that removed them then there must have been a consultation process. If that were the case who represented the interests of the fishery owners and users and what case did they make at the time. I certainly cannot remember being consulted and at that time I was a self employed fishery manager, running Somerley and several other waters, which would have raised my interest had the information come my way. That's my interpretation of how we now have protected species, alien to the valley, devastating SSSI/SAC hence EU designated species in the Avon. All we have to do now is to persuade the EU Environment Commission that the current practice within the valley of attracting species, alien to the local habitat, to a completely artificially created environment, that subsequently adversely impact on EU designated species, is illegal under the Habitats Directive.
Once the EU accepts the illegality of the mentioned goings-on it is for Natural England to implement the removal of the habitat that provides these pests with sanctuary. Unfortunately our Natural England officers feel the creation of a totally alien habitat within and abutting the SSSI can be justified because the Little Ringed Plover, Schedule I protected species, can be encouraged to nest there. No consideration of the fact that Little ringed plovers or the artificial shingle banks they require to nest on are similarly totally alien to the Avon Valley. As I've said before if you were to introduce a diploid brown trout, a naturally occurring species with us, into the river you would risk prosecution under the same legislation, as there is a theoretical belief that they may compete with the EU designated salmon parr. Nothing proven, just a hypothesis, yet the proof of Cormorant and Goosander predation of salmonids is extensive.
I went on to criticise the Angling Trust for the extremely bad science being adopted in their Cormorant survey. Their approach to Cormorants is fundamentally flawed and has the potential to actually work against the case for greater control if demands can been proven to be based on flawed evidence. It will take the professionals arrayed against the angling interests seconds to point out the risk of duplication and lack of coordination and ridicule the entire process. The numbers are known, there is sufficient carefully collected data to support the need for change to the approach currently adopted by Defra, all it needs is the correct levers to set the process in motion. To implement those levers such as examining the EU legislation related to the deliberate damage to an EU designated species and the actions the regulators have taken to minimise such risk. Also the case for compensation if legislation is adversely impacting on the livelihoods of people employed in the fishery world. Compensation is a little more difficult to establish in that the removal from the quarry list as outlined above must have involved consultation with fishery representatives. If those said representatives agreed the removal without raising the question of compensation raising it now will be difficult. This argument also applies to the case for compensation for loss of stock through the protection of otters that are now giving rise to similar concern as they cause such havoc on may fisheries.
Back to the problem of fishery management and the unusual weed growth in such low flows as we have endured this year. Unfortunately its not just this year we are seeing a change in the riverine natural regime that in the last couple of decades has undergone nine or ten of the warmest years since records began. How that can be managed from the fishery perspective to provide conditions more akin to what might be considered normal I have no idea. The management of club or any other river fishery for that matter is a complex process. The subject was raised by those allocating blame for the current state of the Avon and whilst I agree we have population crashes in certain species others seem to be thriving under the new conditions. I similarly agree it can be very frustrating especially for a roach and salmon angler but if you are frustrated as an angler how do you think it feels to have all the other aspects of the river valley in equal disarray. We have to balance the demands of farmers, conservationist, wildfowlers, mineral extraction and water abstraction along with the anglers. As they say it is impossible to please all the people all of the time; broad shoulders are a pre requisite of the job!! Its no good barrack room lawyers jumping up on their hind legs and blaming all and sundry without factual backing and perhaps of more importantly factually based alternatives. Even more frustrating are knee jerk policies adopted by management groups to appease, pacify and mollify such ill founded rants.
What does come as a constant source of amazement to me is that with all the young graduates being turned out from establishments such as Sparsholt into a sector with with a paucity of jobs we do not see groups getting together and forming their own companies to provide a service for the clubs. Not consultancy but hands on - consultants are all too readily found in all walks of life where they recycle your own information and sell it back to you at an exorbitant and grossly inflated price. The services would have to include business plans related to venue objectives. Short term plan - fishery targets, stock, maintenance, access, work program/Mid term stocking policy, conservation objectives. Long term, land management, conservation, stocking, rearing and sales programme. The list is endless and currently being asked of volunteers. There is a wealth of talent out there why aren't they offering the clubs these services? As for any young person thinking such a business would provide them with an unlimited source of fishing - you are in the wrong job! If you can provide the clubs with an attractive plan your time will be well catered for in achieving it. Perhaps the key to financing such a plan would be through the sale of surplus fish stocks on a shared percentage basis with the client. Food for thought for some of the up and coming stars in the fishery world. Unfortunately business plans and computers will play a far greater part in your future that your rods but it would be an interesting way to scratch a living. One word of caution, which shouldn't be necessary if you have the qualities for such a role. The future of angling has to be based on conservation, habitat and environment. Angling has to fit in with the wider requirements of our riverine environment the narrow blinkered approach is no longer acceptable.
The sunset at Ellingham is half a mile upstream of the sunrise I included yesterday. It was on the shallows in the photograph I bumped into Ron Davy who had caught six Grayling and three trout on the fly. The presence of Grayling would seem to belie any water quality problems. If that is the case what element of the missing species - salmon/roach - lifestyle is involved; food, temperature, flow. Roach don't suffer high seas predation?
11th January 2012.
A midday entry as I have an AGM to attend this evening being held at Old Somerley over the "rickety" bridge at Ellingham and I'll probably be late home. I cross the bridge most mornings on my way into work and today the scene looked particularly wonderful as a fiery sunrise back lit the mist rising from the river. Definitely good for the sole and a reminder, if ever I need one, of the reason I do my job. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to work in such a an environment and whilst the hidden problems of my job may not be immediately apparent to readers it is such surroundings and atmosphere that compensate.
Sunrise at Ellingham and the view of Harbridge Church across Edward's Pool on a still morning.
We seem to be in the midst of an alien invasion, not I hasten to add - to avoid a mass panic at Ibsley - the Orsen Wells, War of the Worlds type, more your every day feathered variety. We currently have a Dark-eyed Junco up in the Forest and a Ferruginous duck at Blashford. Add the Egyptian geese, mandarin wood ducks, the Spanish sparrow over the other side of the forest, Australian Black swans nesting and I'm not sure if the American Whistling swan Dave Stone slapped a ring on is still up on the Wylye but what we have, for want of a better term, is a right old mix. There's also a Ruddy duck about but I'm a little reluctant to mention that for fear of an further invasion of the Defra navy to cull it. I see Defra have extended the six and a half million pounds of public money funded cull in the belief of total eradication "we will exterminate" sounds familiar? Defra will have to watch their step if they are picking on the poor old Ruddy just because he's a Yank that might be interpreted as institutional racism and we all know where that ends. Thinking ahead I could save the public purse a fortune, I'll just pop the old twelve bore in the truck and go and blast that Yankee Junco and the Spanish sparrow that is giving rise to hybridisation concerns. I wonder how the gathered mass of twitchers would view my public spirited action? "JOKE" Back to the visitors and you will have seen I added the Whooper swan to the list along with the Siberian Bewicks which does make a dull year in the valley, due to lack of water, a little more interesting.
10th January 2012.
Having fallen across a very minor track we finally got to deal with the oak that I had included in a previous entry. Fairly straight forward, the only complications due to its size and the swampy nature of the ground either side of the track.. I put the photo up to illustrate one of my pet hates in that the blue streaks that can be seen on the cut section result from someone in the dim and distant past having driven cut nails into the tree to support a fence. The dastardly deed probably took place one hundred years ago, as can be seen from the depth within the tree, the tannic acid reacts with the ferrous metal leaving the blue trace in the timber. Why my dislike for the nailing fences and signs to trees, apart from the obvious disfigurement of a living plant, it costs us a great deal of money. The one hundred plus cubic feet of oak has been rendered virtually worthless as no sawmill is willing to purchase a baulk of timber with metal in it as it will take the edge off a valuable band saw blade. (Odd in that I'm metric in almost everything I do, having been trained by the Ordnance Survey that took the decision to go metric in 1966, yet I still think in terms of cubic feet for timber) The first thing any buyer looking at the tree will do is go over the baulk with a small metal detector and an indication of hidden metal will render it only fit for logwood. The moral of this story. Please do not fix your signs and fences to living trees.
The blue stains betray the secret of hidden metal.
9th January 2012.
I was quiet correct in anticipating a number of fallen trees awaiting my return, there seemed to be timber laying in all directions.. Access being the main priority it wasn't until quite late this afternoon I had the opportunity to head out across the water-meadows to clear branches from one of the hatches that was causing flooding. It was one of those trips that almost didn't happen as I was feeling desperately tired having cleared my way through several large casualties of the storm and the prospect of a soaking if things went awry didn't hold much appeal. As it was the afternoon had high cloud and good light, enough to persuaded me the walk would be a pleasant way to unwind. As the meadows are too wet to drive it did mean carrying the chainsaw over my shoulder for half a mile, having first ensured it was fuelled and oiled as there's nothing more exasperating than having to make a second trip for the sake of an egg cup full of two stroke.
As I crossed the first carrier I almost stumbled over the six Bewicks that are currently in the valley. I changed tack a few degrees to ensure they could see I was not heading in their directions and the stretched necks soon relaxed and resumed their grazing. They were with half a dozen Greylags and a small groups of Mutes all of which had been alarmed at my sudden appearance over the old hump backed bridge yet in a way I am unable to define they were able to decide I did not present a threat. Considering that the geese are still in season and likely to be shot at for a further three weeks allowing me to walk by within fifty metres is peculiar behaviour to say the least. Can they tell the difference between a chainsaw and a shotgun? Frightening thought, perhaps one of those questions best left unanswered.
For readers of a "swanny" nature there is a Whooper up at Harbridge with the main Mute flock. One amongst one hundred and fifty to two hundred Mutes, finding one Whooper may present somewhat of a problem. Just look for what appears to be a thumping great Bewick and that'll probably be him!
Trees down all over the place, unfortunately some are well down the priority list for removal.
Leaving them to their grazing I headed out across the open meadow towards the hatch in need of attention. The far side of the meadow becomes wetter with dense clumps of sedge poking through several shallow pools that lie beside the carrier that forms the border. As I cross the rough ground I usually flush good numbers of Snipe yet today not one. I was wondering where they had disappeared to when around the end of a phragmites bed, two hundred metres further down the carrier, appeared a fine male Hen harrier. The blue grey plumage of his back and wings contrasting with the black tips certainly gives a striking appearance as he quartered the rough ground and sedge pools ten feet above the ground, heading slowly in my direction. He had tacked twice and was still over a hundred metres away when he became aware of my presence and no repeat of the earlier trusting response. An immediate change of direction and a rapid increase in height as he made off eastward, towards the roosts in the Forest. I have frequently seen them quartering these meadows for what I can only believe to be in search of the Snipe. The Snipe's response to his presence is usually to sit tight and use their natural camouflage to outwit him, hence none being prepared to move when I walked the through earlier. Occasionally I find a few tell tale feathers showing the Harrier has his day. Whatever brings him to the valley his presence certainly lifts the day from my perspective of casual observer; I doubt the Snipe look so kindly on his visits.
7th January 2012.
I've been away from the valley for a day or two and as my year has started with a stubborn head cold I felt a walk in this mornings sunshine might improve my current perspective on life. As my return to work Monday will be to a catalogue of trees to be cleared according to priority and governed by the endurance levels of my back, leaving little time to deal with many riverine issues, I decided to take the lure rod with me. Not a serious pike expedition but a pleasant way to wile away a couple of hours; rod, slung net, plus a box of lures and the artery forceps in the coat pocket. As it was so bright I wasn't expecting action from the off, which proved just so, with little to put a bend in the rod apart from my unerring ability to hit a snag a twenty metres!
I slowly made my way downstream as the valley wildlife came to life, prepared to believe the storms have gone their way and today was a day to catch up on the call of Spring that had been on hold for a few days. Across the river, up on the Park, the harsh croaking of the Ravens whilst down at the heronry primitive, Jurassic screeching as the birds staked claim to this years nest site. The swans are paired off and spitefully defending their territories; woe betide any trespasser from the grazing flocks corralled at various spots throughout the estate. The Geese are noisily calling a they fly in pairs up and down the valley yet the wildfowl on the lakes look a little uncertain of the time of year. Small numbers of duck lazily preening; Pintail, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted, Teal and Wigeon, uncertain whether the winter is over and they should leave for the breeding grounds or to sit tight in the event there is a further freeze-up in the coming months. Water rail and Kingfisher seem a little more certain out enjoying the day as much as I was as an unusual count of eleven Green sandpiper would point to their migration already underway.
Two pike plus the sight of a roebuck swimming the river added to a very enjoyable walk. Roe swim the river as part of his everyday routine to reach the grazing. This is the three legged buck spotted last Spring when the stalkers were with us, benefitting from a mild winter.
3rd January 2012.
A somewhat belated happy, healthy and peaceful New Year to all who may happen upon these ramblings. The last week or two have been a little chaotic hence the lack of entries but with Christmas and new Year behind us and some decent rain swelling the river things seem to be getting back to normal. With today's pace of life the escape afforded by our rivers is becoming ever more important and the protection of their delicate environment ever more crucial so lets hope for a more seasonally recognisable year ahead than that just past.
I'm not sure if its my age or years are actually becoming more unsettled as I get older. We had a cold start to January which was the tail end of the early winter which had arrived in November 09. The six weeks of freezing conditions had locked the water up in the frozen land and the resulting low rivers levels, prior to the salmon spawning in the first week of the year, meant we had more fish than normal cutting in the lower river. With twenty five pairs with us it at least provided the opportunity to have a look at the stock at close quarters. It was extremely encouraging to discover that there were more large three winter fish than I had expected with at least half a dozen fish well in excess of twenty pounds with one particular monster providing a glimpse of by-gone times. A similar tale was told by those that had managed to find fish in the upper river with some exceptionally large fish in evidence.
The cold weather brought us one or two unexpected bonuses in the form of the Waxwing invasion and the flocks of finches that were happy to find our laden bird tables . It is just one of the endless conundrums that Nature presents us with when the cold weather brings us the delight of the birds but is perhaps not in their best interests. We must be content in the knowledge we helped when we could and hope not to see them again leaving the Waxwings safe in their northern latitudes and our more delicate species, Dartfords, Cettis Goldcrests, Kingfishers and the like, safe from the ravages of the snow and ice. We did get a brief respite from the cold through late January and February which produced scenes more recognisable as the Avon in winter. The water spilled into the fields and the wildfowl quickly followed to enjoy the vast new areas of grazing. The wader numbers slowly rose but came to a shuddering halt as the rain ceased and the water returned to the channels.
The salmon season got under way and it was with the memory of those spawning giants filed away within the old cranium the 2011 season seemed to hold the promise of one such fish seizing my fly. It was in mid February whilst we were engaged on the clearing of the derelict willow car at Ibsley that Jim Foster landed the first salmon of the season. From the tail of Ibsley Pool I had a grandstand seat on the opposite bank and time to drive over the bridge to record the event on film. Alas the dream of my denizen was short lived, the rains that did eventually arrive in mid January failed to replenish the groundwater springs under the aquifers of the Plain. The result was the river flow soon dropped to levels that signalled trouble ahead. By mid April the the writing was on the wall that fish were reluctant to run through the lower river. By mid May and the start of the spinning it was all over, a low listless river held very little attraction to the salmon or the salmon angler. Fish continued to creep through and those with the desire to pester them with the shrimp once June arrived still found the odd fish but they were reluctant to chase a fly under such dire conditions. The poor run once more brought up the subject of barriers to passage that have given rise to concerns since at least 1958 when rows about the water abstraction weirs raged in the publications of the time. I'm not sure the removal of the weirs that give rise to barriers would have improved the fishing a great deal. Salmon fishing in a low flow river is never a joyous practice; weed and temperature would remain, reason enough to leave the fish in peace. Should changes such as those introduced on the River Test be introduced on the Lower Avon it would probably be of financial benefit to the fisheries. I'm not sure however it would be the best policy we could introduce if we were serious about protecting Avon salmon; perhaps a subject for the future not a review of the past.
The low flows provided many challenges for all the anglers yet probably resulted in an improvement on the previous season for the large barbel. It was essential to locate the fish if success was to result, many of the swims so popular at normal river flows held few fish and the chuck and chance it approach proved unproductive. For those who took the time to locate the fish rewards were good. They were tightly shoaled in areas of heavy weed and cover, once found they were reluctant to abandon their hideouts offering prolonged periods of actions before they tired and became reluctant to feed. The chub fishing once more continued to be the main stay of the river fishery, amazing catches of fish to high sevens; make the most of them I can't believe they will be with us forever. The autumn has seen the Perch appear from their shadowy pools with the Avon three pounder being a realistic target throughout the fishery and one I hope to see this coming Spring.
The lakes have been as reliable as ever with a string of large carp, tench and bream from the waters throughout the valley. The continued production of these super sized fish has undergone a hiccup in that the impact of a burgeoning otter population is having its inevitable consequences. This will eventually lead to many changes in the way angling is enjoyed by participants and viewed by onlookers. There will be many extremely difficult debates before we all reach a satisfactory state of coexistence, this looks like a very interesting year ahead.
Whilst we see many of the indigenous species of the valley such as our salmon and roach continue to crash. The species associated with the more recently established agricultural regime of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, deemed in need of protection within the conservation designations, Lapwing, Redshank Snipe, etc. similarly decline. What can best be described as the new regime; Gulls, Geese, Goosander and numerous other introductions go from strength to strength. How this equates with the declared intentions of the plethora of conservation designations I have yet to establish; if it comes to that so do many of the people supposedly implementing the legislation.
What can be taken forward in a positive slant on all of this is very hard to say, apart from perhaps an increased biodiversity is deemed desirable in the view of the regulators. It is with very mixed views I watch the progress of the valley as my heart lies with the roach and the salmon but my common sense tells me a we are only part way through the process of change. It is being driven by artificial production of food and acceptance of the changes to our historic regime as the norm. We see our regulatory authority accepting and even promoting the change whilst the regime that was originally intended for protection is quietly forgotten. Do we accept the inevitable and let the changes to the historic regime role over us or do we point out the illogical nature of the process? If we accept this change I have even more difficulty in seeing why it is just anglers that are taxed to the tune of twenty eight million a year only to be considered amongst the also rans.
What will the valley bring us in the coming year to add to today's oak, a sadly elephantine feeling of loss as one of several trees that decided they had had enough of being buffeted in the gusting wind lies grey and crumpled. Or the strangely attractive seat that arrived in the hatches, as a buzzard tried to do a Peregrine impersonation overhead chasing the Starlings like some avian bait ball.
This chocolate box portrayal of our countryside is required to reach the viewing figures demanded by our broadcasters to feed-up the never ending slop we face on our televisions today . The novelty and the bizarre attracts the interest and support of Middle England hence the sponsorship and the air time. The mundane and the basic building blocks of the working environment hold little attraction, it has to be a rare breed or fit snugly on Kate Humbles lap and I don't mean Chris Packham. The development of our natural environment to satisfy voyeuristic urges to peek, poke and photograph seems at odds with a truly natural ecology but alas that seems the future deemed desirable by our regulators.
Not a great deal to write-up but it was good to see the traditional Boxing Day angling trip being upheld in fine fashion with many anglers out on the banks enjoying the mild weather. Results seem to have been variable, I know of two good bags of chub, several good carp with a river fish of over 23 pounds, perch over three and odds and ends of pike but nothing huge that I am aware of. Many of the anglers trotting maggot were plagued by minnows with just odds and ends of grayling, chub, with pleasingly several small roach.
A shot taken through the lens of my polaroids showing two pairs of salmon cutting at Ellingham. The second pair is imemdiately beyond the cutting hen, just below the trailing branches.