23rd December

Brambling Goldfinch House Sparrow

A few shots from the garden to keep ticking over as I have failed to get out in the valley a great deal this week. The feeders have been attracting the usual residents and one or two more exotic travellers but the stars of the show remain our Sparrows. The photo shows about fifty, which amounts to about half the local flock, the remainder sit in our privet hedge shouting at the top of the voices at passers by just inches away on the pavement. All taken from my desk, through the two layers of glass in our front window hence the slightly out of focus appearance.

Mixed geese

An odd assortment of geese combined with the Egyptians and Canadas made for quite a wildfowl collection on the marsh at the weekend. The two on the left look like hybrids, possbly involving Emperor, Barnacle and Canada crosses.

19th December

Lesser Black-backed Gulls

Several thousands of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, even more Black Headed Gulls, one and a half thousand Jackdaws and Rooks plus Five hundred Black-tailed Godwits and you have a pretty busy marsh. Thats without several large flocks of geese and ducks, with the delightful appearance of a Merlin for good measure.

Black-tailed Godwits Black-tailed Godwits

A couple of shots of the Godwits as they arrived to feed on the marsh this morning.

Building a Da vince bridge Da vinci bridge structure

Darren and Kevin constructing a Leonardo da Vinci bridge in the Dutch Barn. Clever chap that Da Vinci character; the design is so simple once its pointed out its obvious!

Finally a note to the member who lost his Agility pouch on the fishery in that I have it in my care. Either an email or call to arrange a meeting to collect it or I can simply leave it in the Lodge.

For those of you that wonder just what part of Somerley fishing entails the use of such a pouch, fear not. This is not some orthopaedic appliance that enables the care free vaulting of barbed wire fences and rusty gates but a Shakespeare “Agility” maggot pouch/apron, a vital part of trotting the Avon!

15th December

Blashford Island Harbridge stream Wet willow woodland

I've been out and about on the river again today looking at the cutting salmon. In fact, according to Google Earth, I've managed to walk in excess of fifteen miles over some very rough river bank and meadows, which proved extremely enjoyable if somewhat wet. I would not normally expect to see salmon cutting in the numbers we currently have with us as I always associate the week between Christmas and New Year as the peak of the spawning season. As with all things weather dependent this season nothing seems to have been as expected. Today a further example of this odd season were shoals of carp drifting in the lakes, as if it were mid summer, with salmon cutting a couple of hundred metres away in the river, as I previously mentioned, as if mid winter. There were salmon cutting in the main river and in the carriers which hopefully bodes well for three or four years time. The shot of the willow is just because these permanently flooded trees make a unique habitat providing thick cover for fish at times of high water. This season to date they haven't been put to use but the dense clumps still have a dark and almost brooding appeal and I always find their hidden depths fascinating.

Docken Woodside confluence Cutting salmon Narrow channel redd

Three shots of interest which would not normally be visible. The first shows the acidic, stained water of the forest streams joining with the alkaline water of an Avon carrier. Redds can be found in both water types, physiology and flow seem to be the determining factor for suitability. The pair of cutting fish answered a question for me that had long been a puzzle. I had often wondered what created the small patches of clean gravel to be found on many of the historic redd sites. I had put them down to trout and cock fish awaiting the arrival of the hens taking up station on the gravel and their occupation of favoured spots polished these small areas of the bed. Certainly trout and salmon that take up a regular station will polish the gravel beneath them. The explanation never quite sat easily with me as other than at times of cutting very few fish are seen on the redd sites. Today it became clear as I watched the pair in the photo bow wave upstream and arrive on the gravels. The hen immediately began flashing as she began digging only to move to a new site after just one of two attempts. After three attempts, each of which created a clean patch of gravel she departed upstream with the attendant cock fish in tow. In the clear water of the carrier I watched as they moved to the next glide 100m upstream and began the process again. It was on the third attempt she seemed satisfied with the site and began to cut in earnest, at which point the cock fish began to pay a geat deal more attention and move into position alongside in readiness for his imminent role in the proceedings. Final shot is yet another redd without a fish on it. The point of interest is the position in the narrow part of the carrier. In the event of the arrival of heavy rain and high flows I imagine most of the egg mound, of recently loosened gravel, will be washed away, along with,the associated eggs. I didn't get to see the hen but a cock fish of about fourteen or fifteen pounds was still in attendence, I just hope he knows what the future weather will bring better than we do.

13th December

WeBS day and the weather was actually on our side, it didn't blow, it didn't rain and it didn't freeze, making it a really enjoyable day to be out in the valley.

I always start the day at the northern limit of my patch just as the day breaks and the birds leave their roosts looking for their first meal of the day. The Grey Heron and Egret from the heronry across the valley in Midgham Wood are the first to be on the go as they visit the trout farm before the staff arrive. Next the Cormorants arrive in the hope of a snatched meal before moving on to their next chosen snack bar. Here in lies the root of the problem when it comes to WeBS counts. If I count the Heron as they leave their roost, which gives the highest concentration, how do we avoid double counting them as they spread out north and south into the valley. Trying to sort out the double, triple and quadruple counts is the art of the process for regional coordinators. The same applies to today's geese and the Cormorants. Were they counted as they left the roost on the Blashford lakes by another counter? If so it makes the 598 geese and 57 Cormorants that I counted today as they appeared and disappeared from the river and meadows duplication.

I have to say I am not a fan of trout farms and to have this monster just upstream of our boundary, just as our salmon and sea trout arrive to spawn does little to ease the concern. If you ignore the often expressed concerns related to entrapment and pheromones the potential for salmonid disease and pathogens is blatantly enormous. At least on this visit I did not see any salmon cutting below the footpath, amongst the dead fish and the shit that streams under the footbridge. I'm sure the EA will have ensured the screens that are supposed to prevent salmon entering the discharge channel of the farm and becoming trapped are regularly checked for condition and effectiveness; especially in what is pointing toward being a low water spawning year. I say low flow or it could be for reasons best known to themselves the salmon have once more decided to cut low in the catchment again. The last three years at least I have witnessed trapped fish cutting below the footbridge, hopefully we wont get a further repeat this season. Not my favourite area of the valley I fear, I'm always pleased to have finished the count and be on my way to my next stop on our northern floated meadows at Hucklesbrook.

Wigeon on the flooded meadows
Wigeon on the flooded meadows.

Seatrout redds on the Dockens Water
There were still fish present on both these redds when I arrived.

The meadows are flooded at the moment so I was hoping for a reasonable number of birds in what is an unseasonably dry valley. On my approach as if on cue a wave of Widgeon hove into view over the gorse and scrub that mark the coarse of the Hucklesbrook stream. Close to two hundred they lifted and resettled a couple of hundred metres further up the flood. Similar numbers of Teal, half a dozen Shovelor, Gadwall, loads of Mallard and three fine Pintail drakes. A hundred plus Canada geese, six Egyptians and a scattering of Greylag accounted for the geese. Snipe, Green Sandpiper and as with last WeBS day a handful of Black-tailed Godwit. I almost forgot, a similar number of Lapwing. Not perhaps the massive flocks of a full valley flood but most enjoyable to see all the same. I also had the difficulty of getting a more accurate count without flushing the entire population off the marsh. It seems somewhat of a paradox to be counting the birds in an effort to provide them with an informed and more secure future and yet the process involves disturbing them. You might say the end justifies the means but that oft heard saying that the fishery scientist is the hardest thing on fish keeps popping into my mind with a change of classification!

Further down the valley and the Mute Swan population seems to be its usual healthy self with a hundred and thirty dotted about the Estate, the largest gathering just off our northern boundary at North-end. The Great white Egret, fondly known as “Le Rook” was on one of the splashes at Ellingham before heading off east toward the lakes but apart from that a pretty quiet valley. If you add the other birds I happened upon today, that do not get included in the WeBS count, such as the Kestrels, Wagtails, Stonechat, Goldcrest, Kingfisher and many more, this mild, low flow winter seems to be to their liking. Fingers crossed they all make it through. Perhaps one other sighting worthy of note this evening was a bat happily mopping up the midge clouds beside the drive at Ellingham. Add the three Red Admirals that we saw flying about on the 6th December the year is ending on a most peculiar climatic note.

I said above that it looks as if it will be a low flow spawning season as in my visits to the valley during the last day or two I have already found several salmon involved in cutting. My visits had in reality been an effort to look at the sea trout redds and the hope of spotting a late pair or two still involved. I did find a very healthy number of sea trout redds, pleasingly with several in the estate carriers as well as the Forest streams. The carriers which I briefly mentioned the other day, when I put up the photo of Andy Hunt landing a small chub, are superb juvenile habitat. As I have difficulty finding the time to give them the time and attention they deserve I did offer the local Agricultural College fishery department the opportunity to use them as a training facility for their students. Unfortunately they didn't feel they could utilise them which is a pity. I suppose I will just have to find the time, which in reality wont be that much of a chore!

December daffodils

December in the Avon valley, fresh green grass and daffodils!

11th December

Jackdaws and Rooks pre-roost gathering
The photo gives a false impression of the low light level as the camera is clever enough to deal with such gloom as really existed. The shot shows the Rooks and Jackdaws peeling away to roost just as I reached them.

Digital Jackdaw count
One of three digital counts it took to arrive at a figure of 1668 Jackdaws and 315 Rooks. I don't think the Rooks present too great a risk to the Lapwing clutches but I'm not sure about all those Jackdaws.

I should begin by apologising for not as yet sorting out that video link. I promise I will let readers know when I have managed to get the correct number of dots and dashes on the HTML which is currently driving me to distraction.

This evening, just on dusk, found me on the northern boundary of the Estate up at Hucklesbrook. I had called in to see how the flooding was progressing as I have dropped the boards in again to cheer up the waders and wildfowl. All looked well with reasonable numbers of Shovelor and Widgeon tucked up in the flooded soft rush clumps. Add the obligatory flock of geese and several thousand gulls it was a satisfyingly busy scene.

I had sufficient time and more importantly light for a walk up the river to see how the finished river restoration was looking. It all looks very orderly over the far side but we will have to wait until we have seen a period of high water in order to get a more accurate idea of the effectiveness of the work. It certainly has created a more diverse and interesting habitat, Mother Nature will ultimately determine if the efforts of us mere mortals will succeed. As I neared the top of the marsh I had walked beyond the geese that had simply waddled out of my way as if knowing I wasn't carrying a shotgun and meant them no harm. As I reached the very top field in the gathering gloom I could see a vast assembly of Jackdaws and Rooks getting their supper before heading for the roost over on the west side of the river.

It was a thought provoking sight to see such numbers in that they were on the very area of the Estate we are endeavouring to encourage the Lapwing to breed in greater numbers. The work of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, who have studied the Lapwing in this section of the valley for decades, has shown that predation by Jackdaws is one of the major factors in their decline. Together with the GCWT we have created one of the most perfect wader habitats in the valley yet I wonder even with all our work and efforts whether the Lapwing can compete with such potential predation?

During my travels earlier in the afternoon I was at Ellingham when I bumped into syndicate member Andy Hunt who had been trotting maggot in the main river in the hope of a chub or two. No chub but the grayling had saved the day and whilst I chatted with Andy he added several dace and chub to his bag. I was particularly pleased to see the chub covered year-classes from this years 0+ to 4+ and 5+ fish around the pound mark. Its all very well having the stunning list of specimens that we are currently enjoying but these back-up generations are the future of the fishery and at current levels I feel confident our sport is secure for years to come.

Chub from the carriers

I find the unknown of the carriers one of the finest examples of our chosen sport. Just what the next dip of Andy's float will bring borders on magical. Small rod and light line, stick float set-up, maggot pouch, landing net and simply add five or six miles of carriers and there's a wonderful world to explore without ever seeing the main river. Oh for more precious time!

10th December

Dockens Water Seatrout redd Pannage

A brief glimpse of today's activity when I had occasion to visit the Dockens water at mid-day. I have to say the Dockens is looking very well with redds from top to bottom. The recent floods have provided ample opportunity for the fish to reach the headwaters which they seem to have achieved. Down on the estate the weed is looking lush and green, sweeping the gravel nicely clear of silt and also attracting cutting trout. With fish spread throughout the system it bodes well for the next generation. The last shot is one of the pigs that have been turned out for the pannage season which due to the large acorn crop this season has been extended.

Below is supposed to be a link to a lovely DVD of the trout busy cutting. I was given it today whilst I was out on the Dockens by keen conservationists Richard and Judy Hunt who live alongside the Dockens and have captured this piece of magic. I'm not sure why but I am having a great deal of trouble getting the link to work, it may be my limited HTML abilities or my systems don't have viewers that support the file. I'll keep working on it and if all else fails I will get Jonathan my eldest, to come to my rescue. Hopefully it will become available at some point in the not too distant future, I assure you its well worth the wait.

Cutting Seatrout(Testing).

9th December

I'm aching having spent the day strimming head high brambles beside one of the lakes that is not fished but still has to be kept tidy. I have to admit to an ulterior motive in that its another great walk on a summers day to spot butterflies. Its just as well because I feel like I've been run over by a bus at the moment.

I did have to walk a mile of the river before I got to the lake and failed to meet anyone else on the bank . The river looks good, if low and unseasonally clear and I did hear from one member who had landed a 14.6 barbel so they are still coming out. For the life of me I can't find the email or text from the member who reported that fish so I can't credit him with the capture but I was pleased to hear the barbel are still coming out.

Busy bird feeder Timber shed Hampshire Bird Atlas

The birds are busy in the garden at home but the highlight of today was a Short-eared Owl drifting over the sedge beds alongside the drive as I headed home this evening. I'll have a look in the reed beds tomorrow to see if I can get a photo record of the bird as they are not seen all that frequently about the estate. The middle shot is the timber shed in the yard at work after we recieved a further delivery of oak and Douglas. No shortage of material for bridges and styles for a few months! Final shot is my copy of the "Hampshire Bird Atlas" which arrived today. Produced by the HOS, a superb publication and a must for any serious Hants birder. I must add many congratulations to editor John Eyre and the production team on a wonderful job well done.

7th December

I suppose it must come under the heading of climate change as this weather is certainly a change from anything I have ever experienced. Whilst I sympathise with those in the north of the country, who have faced disastrous flooding once more, we have conditions more akin to a mild September. A low river, the grass continues to grow, the wintering migratory wildfowl have yet to arrive and today a Mistle thrush was singing at the top of its voice to an unseen mate. Just what the long term implications of such unseasonal conditions might be is an unknown. Temperature triggers for the ash trees to come into leaf and the spawning salmon to head for the redds have some way to go if they are to meet the new year as programmed by millennium of natural selection. Potentially having now written this down is signal to the Powers that Be to send the deluge and freeze the river from the bottom up – a unique quality of the Avon.

Super chub Golden mirror

Thanks to Mark Woodage and James Channell for sending a couple of shots of their recent adventures in the valley. Mark is new to the Avon and seems to be enjoying getting to grips with the new challenges, this 6.9 is a further stunning image of an Avon chub; scale perfect. James with one of Meadow's "Old Girls" at 32+ she's not looking too bad on it! James also added a couple of mid twenty commons to his tally for the session. Both great results and thanks again for the photos.

30th November

Over the weekend one of the dilemmas of the fishery world that we face at Somerley reared its head again. Some of you will remember previous entries where I have raised the problem of too many fish. I have bemoaned the number of bream in Meadow, carp in Mockbeggar and the population of bream and carp in Kings-Vincents. We have started with measures to deal with some of these issues and as if a reminder was required I came across this years massed roach fry shoals in Mockbeggar. Solid banks of fry that hang in great coloured sweeps along the margins. Just how many is impossible to guess, millions is certainly no exaggeration. The shoals have found unexpected protection from the avian flocks behind wire netting fences I have erected to act as guides for larger fish. If ever the effectiveness of fry sanctuaries were required these shoals make a fine example. The problem being, I don't want them, the lake already has far too many roach.

In this particular lake complex this will be an ongoing problem as it provides the perfect environment for spawning cyprinids. There is a variation of depth from twelve feet down to a few inches, which includes several acres of shallows that warm quickly. The slightly low PH provides good water quality for spawning and larval stages. Once underway they can gorge on the myriads of chironomids and other creepy crawlies that abound in the warm shallows. This not only applies to the roach but also the carp that will continually have to be cropped to keep the larger fish growing healthily.

Clouds of fry Net of fry Little Egrets

Clouds of roach fry sheltering from the birds behind the wire netting fences. The result of a single dip of the net and the birds longing to get at the masses.

What to do with them? I suppose I could let the bird population have them as a distraction to the more delicate populations of the river. There are currently a dozen or more Little egrets, similar numbers of Heron and even greater numbers of Cormorant and Goosander doing their best to eat their way through them. The only problem is that based on past years experience even this lot are not winning the battle. Alternatively I could try and remove them and put them in the river in the hope they will develop into our much depleted river roach population. Whether such fish would survive in the river I wouldn't like to say, even if they were not to I imagine the Avon's chub and perch would enjoy the unexpected bonanza. The down side to this route is the red tape involved with dealing with the EA, life's far too short and I have far too much on my plate at the moment to enter into such a debate. On that front I would rather the EA got on with the job they are charged with and ensured the Avon is capable of recruiting roach at the same level as the stillwaters that abound in the valley.

6.14 chub

You will have seen Kenny Parsons grinning over the top of one of the Somerley chub before on here but I just had to put this one up as an example of the perfect Avon specimen. At 6.14 not the biggest of the year be some distance but it must be up there in the frame for the best looking. Thanks for the photo Kenny, superb fish.

29th November

Early daffodil

I have put this clump of daffs up on here several times in previous entries as being exceptionally early with blooms on 1st January. Just what I make of this years efforts I'm not sure?

Green Sandpiper Black tailed Godwit

A couple of record shots from today's WeBS count in the form of a Green Sandpiper and five Black tailed Godwit up on the marsh sheltering from the storm force winds.

27th November

Avon Perch Bridging the Trout Stream Flooded marsh

Just a shot or two to keep up with events. The first is yet another perch by Dominic, not as big as the one I put up the other day but a further two pounds of perfection; just look at that shoulder! On the fishing front the chub have still been obliging and pleasingly several reports of Grayling putting in regular appearances. These lovely fish are a good indicator of water quality so it will be interesting to see how they fare in the coming year or two. Centre shows Rosie, Kevin's cocker, about to christen the recently replaced bridge over the Trout Stream to enable the shoot to once more safely access the River Bank covert. The final shot is of the northern marsh which during these continued low river levels I have flooded for the waders and wildfowl to enjoy. With the mild weather and low water levels bird numbers in the valley are currently very low but we are seeing good numbers of Lapwing, Wigeon and Teal along with the regular Geese and Swans all enjoying the new found flood. Pleasingly the first Black-tailed Godwits of the winter arrived this morning; lets hope we see good numbers of them this year.

18th November

Little and Great white egret

If any further confirmation of the eventual change of seasons was necessary I seem to have been wet and windblown for the last five days and joy of joys, have now developed a fine cold! I put up the rather odd photo of the Egrets as they looked about as impressed with newly named "Barney" as I have been. The whole lot, which included "Le Rook" our regular French GWE, have spent the better part of the last week humped up in the lee of one of the islands.

15th November

I have been somewhat distracted in recent days with preparations for the shoot involving lots of trimming and bridges but I think we are about there at last so I can get back to the fishery. My first visit today involved a visit to Ibsley for the regular Sunday canoeists! I must add my thanks to the members who text their arrival on the scene. They were well equipped kayaks actually and thankfully two very polite and apologetic young men. It's most definitely an education problem our river is suffering from. Just who should be grasping the task of remedying that I am not sure. It would help if some the organisations purporting to represent canoeists made it clear where and where not boating is permissible. There appears to be a deliberate attempt on the part of some to create a deal of turbidity with regard to this issue. Its a great pity as several of the recent canoeists I have had to deal with would genuinely appreciate assistance in this direction.

More photos of canoes to record my activities today hardly has much appeal so I was pleased to get an email from member Dominic Longley this evening. Dominic sent me a couple of pix of a brace of Avon Perch he managed today with the best going three pounds. I'm sure regular readers will know how I enjoy the sight of these beautiful fish and this pair just typified how wonderful Avon Perch look. Dominic also tells me he lost a much larger specimen having played it for some considerable time so we will hopefully get to hear of a second instalment of this tale. Thanks for the report Dominic, I just love these Avon Perch.
(Note to self – very envious, must try harder)

One of a cracking Perch brace

Dominic with one of his lovely brace of Perch.

7th November

Despite the local forecast telling us we would be overcast, without rain, it was doing a good job of getting me pretty wet at 08:30 this morning as I called at the marsh to see how things were progressing. I didn't go beyond the second gate as I didn't wish to flush the flocks of wildfowl that were enjoying the flood. Numbers were up on yesterday with at least two hundred widgeon, sixty or seventy Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Shovelor, Pintail, Lapwing and Green Sandpiper. As I turned to head back to the car yesterday's Peregrine arrived sending the gathered fowl in all directions. At this point my concern about flushing them seemed somewhat unnecessary. I returned to the car and decided a walk around Mockbeggar would be sufficient exercise for this morning.

Donkeys and Galloways Winter work force

I had to do a double take when this lot came up the track behind the donks. I thought for one minute Natural Englands concerns about anglers bait were justified and the local badgers had been on a diet of high protein boilies! It seems Alan has added to the winter grazing work force with half a dozen Belted Galloways; I have to say they look well in their new home.

7th November

The cattle having been removed, the ditching finished and the bridges all in place I thought I would give the wildfowl a treat and flooded the north marsh at Hucklesbrook. Suffice to say Sod's Law then put in an appearance and it rained continuously for almost two days; it looks as if I may have to go up on Monday and let some of the water go. In the meantime it didn't take long for the waders, wildfowl and gulls to discover the new food supply. Wigeon, Teal, Mallard all appeared as if by magic. Black-headed gulls, Lapwing, Heron and Geese all add to the melee. Also quick to respond to an easy meal a young Peregrine turned up sending waves of birds into the air at regular intervals as they attempted to confuse their aggressor. I didn't see him make a kill and when I left he was sat on a fence post with the surrounding flocks completely ignoring him.

Fast rising forest streams The flooded marsh

The forest streams have been full and coloured, hopefully providing safe passage for the first wave of seatrout heading for the redds. The flooded marsh alive with appreciative wildfowl and waders.

With the river now the colour of beef Bisto and full of autumn leaves I wonder if the Osprey that has been feeding at Ellingham for the last week or two will still be here on Monday. If it has any sense it will have continued on its way to its African winter quarters and got some warm sunshine on its back. Its been quite a week for the hunters, added to the Peregrine and the Osprey a Goshawk was upsetting the Jays by the House and the Kestrels have been busy the length of the water meadows. There are always good numbers of Buzzards and Sparrow Hawks about the estate and if you add the Tawny, Little and Barn owls its been a good week to keep your wits about you if you were a menu sized fish, bird or small rodent.

5th November

Well, apart from being totally depressing, what did you make of it? Do our rivers have similar problems? If so have we set about them with the same zeal? Do we as a society care about the future of our rivers? Or are we happy to see them as a useful urban prop; just to keep the taps running and the loos from blocking up. When the boreholes and abstraction pumps were put in all those years ago the experts involved didn't set out with the intention of destroying the river, the knowledge of the impacts simply didn't exist. We now have the situation where water companies cannot be forced to limit their abstraction or discharge without compensation from the government. The regulators are abysmally underfunded and unanswered questions abound and we are without the resources to answer them. We all have a pretty good idea where the current political shade places environmental protection in its priority list! We are about to find out what our leaders are to endorse as the next five year step in the WFD protection of our rivers is shortly to be published. I will await the publication with bated breath.

In reality the US work makes our efforts to deal with the issues of the hundred or so miles of the Avon look pretty miserable to say the least. In our case I think it probably comes down to misplaced priorities with the political fall out from the risk of failing water supplies and waste disposal being absorbed by the river rather than the multi-million pound utility companies. I believe we need to step back and have a long hard look at what we are about. Don't look at the river from a position of self interest, angling, farming, sewage disposal, potable water, aquaculture. What ever your use, or misuse, of the river most uses benefit from a healthy riverine environment.

River restoation

New bank profiles under the river restoration strategy. Just in the nick of time if the rain forecast in the next day or two is correct!

To that end we need to draw some very clear lines in the sand and put the riverine ecology at the very top of the pile. Once we have the ecological parameters in place we have to give the regulators the teeth to implement them without fear of financial penalty or political interference. The river restoration strategy has the right idea with such projects as the North-end project. Correcting the wrongs a litany of abuse has inflicted on the river has to be a positive in all but the eyes of the most Luddite of individuals. Its a shame that much of that damage had been the result of those self same regulators acting on best scientific advice at the time! A further policy to reduce impoundments is clearly beneficial to designated salmonid species. The adverse impact on other species that were in situ at the time of SSSI/SAC designation is more debatable. As a point of interest we have been running the main hatches at Ibsley 100% open this year to evaluate the potential impact for ourselves. It has proven an extremely interesting year, there have been some surprises but there most certainly are downsides to the strategy, more of which later. Unfortunately the restoration programme in many instances appears to be taking the easy options first and putting the real problems on the back burner. I can see that taking a new look at abstraction, or aquaculture with a much higher ecological threshold holds little appeal. The consents from sewage works need to be driven by the impact on the lowest life forms in the river. Potable water abstraction at times of low flow needs to cease at a point where the first indication of adverse impact is seen. Not where the impact is deemed tolerable by a team of experts working to the best available knowledge. How many times have we got to witness the wrong conclusions being drawn and the river having to bear the consequences. This will involve new legislation, lots of time in court and compensation being shelled out by the government. Time will undoubtedly tell if our rivers are to be given the protection they so desperately need.

A local perspective

4th November

The link below provides some food for thought about the interdependency of nature and an insight into the on going work at Ibsley. We are currently having a long hard look at the state of the Avon fishery and I will make our views known in the not too distant future, in the meantime the US version of BBC Natures Great Events is well worth a look. It certainly shows a different commitment from the government toward our rivers and the recognition of the key part they play in the complex fabric of our ecology and society.

River restoration

3rd November

Chestnut coppice New bridges Blocked gates

Three shots that capture the change of seasons with the start of the coppicing of the sweet chestnut stands, the new ditches require new bridges before the winter floods get into full swing and the first blocked hatch gate of the season as last weeks rain gets the clean up of the river underway.

29th October

The rough with the wet A rare gem

I have put these up as a snap shot of a wet and further frustrating day with the netting. We did find a few bream and the odd carp, plus this gem which immediately went back. If they exist on the same scale as the bream, we failed to catch, there could be hundreds of them!

28th October

Busy, busy, busy, all sorts going on with the forestry, river, lakes and shoot. I always prefer these hectic days as we make the most of the dry ground before we have to live with the autumn rains. We have the netting team down again attempting to remove the bream and smaller carp. This time we have some fishery students from Plumpton Agricultural College to provide a helping hand and enjoy a couple of nights on the lakes. Its been good to see the enthusiasm and willingness to get involved of the younger generation in the fishery world. These young people will be the future of our fisheries lets hope all the fishery politics of the last three or four decades will leave them something to treasure. I wont go off on a lack of funding and government abdication of responsibilities rant, for now I will enjoy the positive glimpse of the future.

Prior to the arrival of the netting party I took the opportunity to spend a couple of hours cutting back the track on the back of Kings-Vincents Lake. When time permits we will get a new gravel surface on the track in an effort to make progress around the lake a little more comfortable. During my travels around the lake this morning I came across young Dan Hickey who is fishing Meadow with Dad Jim. Last night had been misty and still resulting in a pretty quiet time with only one run. Mind you when that one run turns into a 36.1 common, a personal best for Dan, you can live with that!

36 common

Dan with his impressive common. Result Dan, well done and thanks to Jim for the photo.

I failed to report on Sunday's WeBS count which proved quite a trial due to the coldest morning of the year to date greeting me as I headed out to greet the early risers. The windscreen required considerable scraping to remove the layer of frozen rain before I got underway, only to reach the valley to find a pea soup low lying mist completely obscuring meadows. The eventual arrival of the sun chased off the mist and by eight oclock the count could get underway in better surroundings. The low water levels in the valley combined with the mornings weather produced very little of note. Plenty of Herons and a scattering of other odds and ends but nothing to get overly excited about. I failed to spot the Osprey that has been seen over the valley at Ellingham most days this week, I also heard from Mike Window that a Bittern was up at Ibsley today, making it more a survey of missed opportunities!

Ibsley in the mist The Gorley Twins Wildfowl on the river

Ibsley Bridge hiding in the early morning mist as the twin willows at Gorley greet the sunrise, chasing off the mist to allow a count of the wildfowl on a very low river.

23rd October

Layering the margins
Layering the willow into the margins to provide nest sites and cover.

Diversity of habitat
Diveristy of habitat is essential in an effort to meet the needs of such a biologically rich area.

I've been out doing what comes naturally at this time of year. In the calendar of valley life the autumn see us busy getting the banks prepared for the coming winter. Scrub and regrowth has to be cleared and decisions made as to where we wish to encourage certain habitats and discourage others. Some areas left to provide shelter from winter weather, other areas prepared for next springs nesting birds and spawning fish.

In the river flow and light combine to determine the nature of the habitat. On the stillwaters light becomes the dominant factor determining the vegetation both in the water and on the banks. With the ditching work at Hucklesbrook now complete I took the opportunity to visit one of the lakes to start the clean-up. The islands needed strimming to reduce the willow and alder regrowth in an effort to encourage the nesting waders next spring and the overwintering wildfowl in the coming months. All in line with the SSSI designations of course. In an effort to minimise disturbance the fishery in question is closed for the next six months and the islands in question are never fished even when the gates re-open next season. Having said we do not fish them they still have an important role to play in the management of the fishery. As we clear many hundreds of meters of regrowth on the banks we must ensure we do not create a single habitat devoid features and cover. At regular intervals we allow willow and alder to establish to provide woodland shelter and food sources for the bird and mammal population. Roe and Fallow deer, badgers, foxes rabbits, weasel and stoat, all make use of the woodland areas and previously constructed eco-piles of rotting timber. Green and Greater spotted woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Long tailed tit and Goldcrest, Thrushes, blackbirds, Dunnock the list goes on and on. Areas of willow are deliberately layered into the water to create a lattice of branches and root mass for the nesting Great crested and Little grebe, Coot and Moorhen. Perches for the Grey Heron, Little Egret and Kingfisher seeking the fry that shelter below in the root mass. Fry that are spawned on those self same masses of roots and spend their time in the shallows at the margins of the lakes. The clouds of 0+ and 1+ fry that provide the vital first link in the food chain for the other piscivorous birds that frequent the lakes. As the fry mature into older year classes they form the diet of Osprey, Goosander, Cormorant and Great white egret, also the otters we now see on an almost daily basis.

This cycle of valley life is currently being given a huge boost by the work of the river restoration strategy team in the Harbridge section of the river. The degraded section of river has suffered dreadful neglect and abuse for over half a century. The channel had become uniform in section and devoid of features. This loss of habitat diversity is symptomatic of all too many sections off the Avon as the braided channels and vital shallows have become silted and dredged out of existence. Those shallows and protected channels that were so vital in the historic past of the Hampshire Avon; the most biologically diverse river in the country. The current work ongoing at Harbridge is recreating that diversity and sinuosity of the river. Restricting channel profiles to encourage flow, providing spawning habitat and shelter bays with the introduction of large woody debris. Recreating the Hampshire Avon of old. With such on the ground commitment from the EA, River Trusts and owners it is perhaps the most encouraging development on the Avon since the cessation of mechanical weed cutting.

River restoration

Preparing to introduce the large woody debris.

21st October

Ditching complete Visiting Lapwings Herons

The ditching complete and the residents are moving back in as the Lapwings cast their eye over our efforts and the Herons arrive for lunch.

19th October

I had occasion to walk the lower section of the fishery this morning whilst I waited for the tyres on my truck to be changed in the local tyre centre. At this time of year I would normally see the river beginning to colour with the autumn rains well underway. Today's river remains low and clear as it has been since the middle of the summer and beginning to look stressed. Fortunately we are promised our first real rain of the autumn this coming Wednseday in what might aptly be described as the "Nick of Time". I have to admit to keeping my fingers crossed that the dry spell would last until we have finished the work on the northern marshes. Luck and good fortune have been on our side as it looks as if we will complete the work tomorrow. I love it when a plan comes together.

Low river

The clear water has enabled the Ranunculus and Callitriche to remain green and fresh but it has also allowed the algal growth the smother the river bed gravel in all but the fastest parts of the stream.

16th October

Simon the "Moth Man" came down last night to run his moth trap down by the Lodge so this morning, when I saw his car along the end of the lane, I stopped to see the results. Simon informed me that there were sufficient numbers to make it interesting but nothing of any real rarity or significence. I viewed the various captures with interest immediately reaffirming my belief moths are still far too variable in size, shape and form for me to dedicate sufficient time and energy to study and understand them. I have to admit to be far more intrigued by the number of river flies present in the chamber. In my daily routines I see the river flies as part and parcel of the background fauna and fail to give them the attention they deserve. When confronted by several different species and considerable numbers hiding in the trap they become more accessible for examination. Sedges, olives, stoneflies all attracted by the light that proves so irresistable to the moths.

Satelite moths Caperer sedge Blue winged olive

Two Satelites, exactly the same species yet they look totally different! The middle shot is of a beautiful "Caperer" sedge fly, one of several in and around the trap this morning. Similarly there were a scattering of Blue winged olives that must have been on the wing in good number last night.

Hucklesbrook ditching Wheatear Scrape

The ditching continues well at Hucklesbrook along with the cleaning and construction of several new scrapes. The dry weather has certainly been welcome in that we have been able to work without fear of being flooded off or sinking in out of sight. Just another day or two and we will be there and the job will be done for another four or five years. The dry conditions have allowed us to get on with the work but it has meant the bird population that might usually be expected on the flood meadows in the form of the wildfowl are nowhere to be seen. That is other than immediately around the digger where there seem to be avery mixed assortment making the most of the freshly turned weed and mud. Grey and Pied Wagtails, Herons, Little Egrets, Gulls by the dozen and a very high count of nine, Green Sandpipers. Also include the Kingfishers, Stonechats, Pippits, Snipe and Kestrels it makes for quite an active meadow despite the lack of flooding. Plus two migrants that were moving through but stopped off for a bonus feed in the shape of two Whinchats and a Wheatear it made for a very rewarding visit to check on progress.

15th October

Spot the rabbit

"Spot the Rabbit" I do exist still and will get back in harness asap. The master buck was enjoying ten minutes R&R in the sun, away from the dozen or so does he is currently keeping tabs on!

9th October

The ditching continues apace with the South Marsh now finished and the work north of the Hucklesbrook well under-way. With several splashes to be added to the ditching in the coming week fingers crossed progress continues in a like vein.

After my visit to the marsh I headed for the lakes to continue the cleaning up of the islands in readiness for the wintering wildfowl. As getting the saws, fuel, strimmers etc out to the island is a yomp I had brought a flask and was intending to make a full day of it. The cold morning rapidly gave way to bright sunshine and pulling the old timber from the lakes and cutting it into handleable lumps for the fire soon had me working up a fine sweat.

Mid-morning cuppa was an excuse to sit on a handy root and survey the watery world. The root in question was the remnant of a large single alder I had left in the hope of providing a nest platform for the Osprey. Unfortunately a winter storm had different ideas and now its role is that of the perfect seat. Comfortably seated, warm sunshine, only the lightest zephyr of a breeze and the Dragon's-well nicely brewed; spot on. It may be hard work but such an environment is compensation aplenty. A small group of fallow were on the far bank, ignoring my presence as they similarly enjoyed the warmth of the sun. It was a young sorrel, possibly a sore, accompanied by three or four does he had separated off from the master bucks harem. He'd do well to keep an eye out for the old buck as I'm not too sure he'd be overly impressed. The buck in question is the white buck that has been with us for several years, you never know he may be getting a little lazy in his old age.

Fallow deer
Fallow enjoying the morning sunshine.

A further couple of hours and not a minute too soon lunchtime and my wooden recliner beckoned. The sun remained strong and there wasn't so much as a sound from the nearby traffic, perfect tranquillity. The deer had drifted out of sight into the nearby cover yet there was plenty still going on to amuse me while I recharged my batteries. The background sounds of the countryside are all too often taken for granted as we go about our busy schedules. The barking of the farm terrier every time someone passes his gate. The whinnying of the Forest pony in answer to clip-clopping of a rider passing along the Gorley road. Accompanied by a cacophony of bird calls, Kingfishers piping their presence, Nuthatches calling from the surrounding oaks. The more you pay attention the more you hear. Jackdaws chattering, the juvenile Great crested grebe relentlessly calling their parents for food and the screeching of the Jays and a cackling Yaffle alarmed as the Goshawk appears silently alongside the fir plantation. Croaking Raven, high in a thermal with the Buzzards, countless Gulls and a Harrier passing silently through the crowd. Coots, Teal, Mallard and Gadwall all add their voice to the backing track, add the occasional tail flapping double splash of a jumping carp plus the crackling of the fire and you just about have a recording of lunchtime by the lake.

East to the Forest Lunchtime couch

East to the Forest and West into the Avon Valley from my lunchtime couch.

8th October

Clearing self-sets Cleared margins

Whenever I get a chance these days I spend time clearing the margins of the lakes of self-set alder and willow and clearing sections to enable the wildfowl to reach the grazing on the banks.

Badger sett bedding change

On returning to the meadow in the second photo above I found several of what can best be described as balls of grass and reeds scattered about the meadow. I didn't pay a great deal of attention as I assumed the donks had been rummaging about in the cut grass and heaped up the inedible rubbish. It wasn't until I was leaving that I spotted a clump of the grass against the fence where we have cut a lower strand of wire to let the badgers from the nearby set through. A glance over the fence confirmed my suspicions the local brocks had taken the opportunity to change their bedding and must have been raking up the dried cut margins for the purpose. Considering the amount of wild mint that I had cut when clearing out the nearby section I imagine this winters quarters will smell a great deal more pleasant that the aroma normally associated with badger setts. We have over twenty such setts dotted about the estate so I imagine there has been a great deal of house cleaning during the recent sunny spell.

7th October

Ditching Double figured barbel

The first shot captures the nearest thing to walking on water I have seen for some time. We are currently trying to rid the ditch system on the southern marsh at Hucklesbrook of willow and clogging reedbeds. Despite one or two frights we are still making progress and hopefully the next 24 hours will see the worst behind us. These flood meadows are an accumulation of rootmass floating on a saturated peat like gloop, trying to pull out a willow is an exercise in overcoming Newton's third law of physics related to equal and opposite forces, its a bit of a toss-up whether the willow comes out before the machine breaks through the crust and disappears into the gloop! Its all in an effort to create a more wader friendly environment and judging by the number of Green sandpiper and Snipe that were enjoying the muddy bounty today we are heading in the right direction. The second shot is of Steve Kenchington enjoying last Thursday's sunshine with the second of two eleven pounders he landed within an hour of each other. The number of reports of barbel captures I have received this week just goes to prove I've no idea what's going on out on the river, making complete nonesense of my report the other day when I said the fish weere becoming more twitchy in recent days! Thanks for the fishy report Steve and also keeping me informed of our recent miscreants in their paddle boats.

5th October

Mockbeggar has closed for the winter wildfowl and we have the memories of the summer gone on which to base next seasons campaign. It was a remarkable season, on what is a remarkable water. Some wonderful fish and some difficult times. The behaviour of the fish remains as great a mystery to me today as it was a decade ago, they simply do not behave in a conventional manner in that water. How fish so engaged in smoke screening, digging and tail waving can ignore a bait is a wonder of nature. I assume the period of time they have survived on a wild diet has conditioned them into becoming preoccupied on the blood worm in the silt. Before we get under way next season we will hopefully have removed a good number of the small roach and carp to enable those remaining to grow into much larger specimens. With a minimum of thirty five fish capable of going well over thirty and at least a couple of forties already in the water it will certainly be an interesting year ahead.

Stalking territory

The shallow bay behind the island absolutely jammed packed with carp swirling and digging yet ignoring all offerings!

Scattered scaled mirror Tufted duck 25 pound common

Thanks to Jack Harvey for a couple of pix from his night on Kings-Vincents. It was a pretty sleepless night for Jack as they are two from twenty odd fish landed. I have included the Tufty as it only seems appropriate in a carp fishing sequence these days; I'm sure it will make the carp lads feel at home!

Double figured barbel Double figured barbel

Thanks also to Paul Fuller of the river syndicate who sent me a couple of photos of a lovely brace of double figure barbel he landed yesterday. Good to hear that the river remains in good shape. With today's rain we will hopefully begin to see the start of the autumn colour and fresh water. The fishing will change from the summer sight stalking to the apllication of much of the knowledge the clear water has enable us to glimpse during the summer months. Those fish will not be far from their summer haunts, parhaps a little slacker water but even that isn't certain, water craft becomes the greatest skill to be taken on board for success in the next month or two.

2nd October

One of those odd sort of days when unexpected events determined the course of the day. It all began according to plan when the silver fish we were after for the health check were still feeding despite the cold, clear night and flat calm that greeted us this morning. Its always satisfying when a plan comes together and I must thank the half dozen members who turned up to lend a hand. Plenty of roach, bream and carp even a scattering of rudd and the odd perch so an excellent sample for the necessary checks on there way by lunchtime.

Unfortunately my morning was interrupted by that series of unexpected events in the form of a stuck 360 slew, a flight pond that decided to empty itself for reasons best known to itself and the final straw the all too familiar idiot canoeists on the river. As it turned out the machine was rescued, the pond was refilled and the canoeists learnt the error of their ways. All's well that ends well but I could well do without the distractions.

13 pound barbel 14 pound barbel

With the river remaining extremely low and clear the fish have become very twitchy so I must thank Garry Somers and Rob Sly for sending me this fine looking pair. The fish are certainly looking well after the benign summer, hopefully getting ready for the benign coming winter!

Clouded yellow

Just a good shot of a clouded yellow from last week, which was out enjoying the last few flowers of summer.

1st October

White rabbits.

New bridge Old bridge Stonechat

Darren and Kevin have been down to Lifelands and replaced the dangerous bridge that spanned the Linbrook. The new bridge is considerably higher than the old model, now being well clear of the water in times of flood. We still have the anti-slip netting to fix to the boards but a lack of staples prevented that today, hopefully we will locate some and get it finished in a day or two. The Stonechats that were watching events today can currently be found in many areas of the valley. Whether these are our breeding population or birds moving through is diffficult to establish but where ever they come from they seem to have had a good breeding year.

29th September

A couple of us are having a silver fish "Fish In" on Meadow and Kings-Vincents this Friday morning in order to get fish for health checks. Any members with a spare morning your help would be appreciated.

The autumn marsh Comma Gymnopilus junonius

A shot or two to greet the autumn. The first shows the northern marsh looking well inreadiness for the wet weather in that its grazed down to levels we have not achieved for a couple of decades. Not a lot making use of the currently dry meadows other than 30+ Eygptian Geese! The larger of two flocks currently to be found on the estate. The middle shot captures one of 25 Comma butterflies I counted yesterday lunchtime, all enjoying the fruits of autumn in the form of the juice from the decaying blackberrys. Finally the onset of the autumn fungi explosion - not an edible one in this case.

Missing truck Comma butterfly

Damn, so that's where I left my truck! While we're on the subject, just how did the Comma butterfly get its name?

27th September

WeBS day and an early Sunday start saw me out of the door heading for the north end of my count area for 06:30am. As the light slowly gained a foothold and the misty gloom gave way to a misty dawn the Herons and the Cormorants began to drift across the valley from their roosts. Mallard and Moorhens noisily greeted the sunrise and bird numbers began to climb as I made my way down the footpath toward the river. This peaceful dawn was suddenly shattered by a triple explosion of a nearby bird scarer in the trout farm, sending a cloud of Herons up into the watery sky. The other outcome of this explosion was my need to check my underwear to ensure a change wasn't required. Relieved I had survived the fright I decided there was little point in continuing the stealthy approach and accept the count of the birds flushed on the scarer report. Not the most satisfactory state of affairs but sufficiently robust to provide a handle on the local population.

I decided an immediate move south to the next count area was the best ploy and hopped back in the car to drive a mile south to the marsh. Ten minutes later parked up and heading out across the marsh through the staring cattle curious as to my motives. Before I reached the river I could see all was not as it should be as small flights of Tufted, Gadwall and Mallard came hurtling downstream and away into the distant southern horizon. The cause was soon abundantly clear as on following the gaze of the cattle closest to the river a GSP and an English pointer came loping down the far bank of the river. The owner was several hundred meters to the rear as the dogs raked the bank and meadows. O well, I got a rough count of the birds flushed so that will have to do. I think a move to one of the lakes I count was required, I was pretty certain these would be undisturbed.


My rather hasty departure to chase the canoes gave away my presence and sent the herons back up the valley.

It had taken thirty five minutes or so to drive to the next car park and walk the three-quarters of a mile to the pit. I reached the obs point on top of the surrounding bank, Teal 12, Gadwall 2, Little Grebe 2, Herons ?? the mobile rang! It was Darryl down at Ashley to tell me he had a flotilla heading downstream towards him driving the entire Swan population before it. I had seen a couple of canoes on roof racks whilst changing between the first and second survey points a couple of hours earlier and wondered if I was going to see them again later in the day. It seems I am!

Here they come, driving all before them.

Further trespass averted
This time my lecture seemed to hit the mark, for which I thank those involved.

No alternative but to pack up the count and head downstream to explain to this lot the error of their ways. A call to 101, as I hiked the three-quarter mile back to the car, to inform them of the contravention of the Countryside and wildlife Act SSSI designation and away see what awaited me? Sunday morning threats and verbal haranguing? Just what I need! Ten minutes and I was down at Ringwood awaiting their arrival. A further twenty minutes and the swans came piling around the upstream bend, things were about to get under way. At this point perhaps I should add that even the most inconvenient of operations does on occasions have a silver lining and that was the case with the current engineering work that is ongoing at the Ringwood electricity sub station. A requirement of the work is a downstream boom presumably aimed at intercepting any accidental pollution spill. Well it also acts as a canoe interceptor and the entire flotilla headed into the bank in an effort to get around it.

As it happened luck was on my side and despite the rather intimidating numbers this group were extremely polite, apologetic and complied with my requests to abandon ship. No swearing, threats or abuse, things are most definitely looking up. I did take the time to explain the legal side of the issue and the implications for the wildlife. Also the implications for us on the estate through loss of amenity. Just as well they were a decent bunch of guys as the police failed to put in an appearance yet again.

Perhaps a step along the long road of educating some of the Great British public that the reason we get so irate does have some justification. Perhaps now is not the time to express my views on those august bodies such as the National Parks, Local Authorities, Natural England and the EA who are all keen to promote access to the countryside yet fail to address the problem of ignorance of rural ways and problems it gives rise to. Its a good job I don't work weekends!

All this doesn't help with my WeBS count though! The lower three miles of the estate would now be devoid of any wildfowl or waders making any realistic survey impossible. Perhaps a couple of hours to settle down would provide sufficient numbers to give me a baseline for the coming winter counts but the margin of error would be pretty huge.

Line clearing

You'd think guys who work for the electric company would know better than let their rod get so close to the overhead lines!

25th September

Mink hounds

Just a note to the river syndicate members in that the mink hounds are about tomorrow morning. They do not present a problem other than they might come through your swim during their ramble. Should they do so just wind in for two minutes and let them go on their way. They don't pose much of a threat to the mink population as our resident otters have sorted most of them out long ago. There may be one or two of this years youngsters looking to set up territory which they may catch up with but apart from that the greatest threat they pose is to your sandwiches and bait so cover them up as they trundle through.

24th September

Pollard on Kings Black tomatoes Fox in the sun

Just a filler in that I have been busy elsewhere about the estate which has managed to keep me away from the valley for the best part of a week. From what little I have gleaned from my rare visits it would appear the on set of Autumn has brought with it patchy results. There still are some superb fish being landed but they appear to be getting more difficult to pursade to join in. I did manage to get back on the lakes today to begin the tree work for the winter with the pollarding of the Kings willows. They should have been done three or four years ago, unfortunately I have only now managed to find the time to get the job finished. These willows are at the weather beaten, mature stage where they are beginning to decay and die back creating lots of hollows, nooks and crannies, just what the birds and bugs find perfect for nesting and hiding from prying eyes. Its satisfying to see the culmination of a planting scheme I put in motion twenty five years ago when these willows were planted as two inch diameter stakes. The middle pic is just a record shot of Anne's latest weird tomatoes; they taste as good as they look. The final shot was sent to me this evening by John Slader who was out this afternoon drop shotting around the southern lake at Mockbeggar looking for a perch. No perch to show for his efforts but hopepfully he enjoyed the afternoon sunshine as much as this chap. Lovely photo John, thanks for sending it through.

18th September

Relaxed at Blashford Migrating hirundines

After the heavy showers at lunchtime the valley was a wonderful place to be lazing on a sunny afternoon. One or two Swallows and Martins can be seen in the first pic, in the second they can be seen taking a drink before setting of south to warmer climes. There were literally thousands of Swallows and Martins moving through today, quite clearly marking the end of summer.

17th September

The briefing before getting under way with the fence removal. I'm not sure the horses took it all in!

Productive morning
A very productive morning with several hundred meters of derelict fence cleared.

I was pleased to see the weather had got its act together today as we had students from Sparsholt College, Game and Wildlife course, assisting the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust remove fences from the flood plain. The fences are coming out in an effort to improve the habitat for the breeding waders. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust have been studying Lapwing on the Estate for decades. As a result of their observations a project aimed at clearing predator habitat and adding new scrapes is now under way. Waders do not like small enclosed fields that afford foxes cover and crows perches to over see their nests. Clear lines of sight to spot potential threats are the order of the day. The splashes will be able to provide invertebrate rich feeding for the juveniles even when the unpredictable English summer weather dries and sets the soil in the meadows like concrete. Add the Estates maintenance of the ditch system and we have some very positive action on the ground in aid of our struggling wader populations.

16th September

Today we all endured a classic lesson in the frustrations of fishery management and netting large gravel pits. All part and parcel of fisheries you might think but that doesn't ease the frustrations. As many will be aware, we have too may fish in in several of our lakes. In an effort to relieve this problem we intend to remove many of the smaller and undesirable species. The means we hope to employ to achieve this objective is netting, which requires us to get various consents and health certificates before we get properly under way. FR2 consent in place, today's operation was to collect a sample to have the health checks completed. All started reasonably enough until halfway through the first haul of the net, the corks dipped indicating a snag. These disused pits are wet extracted, meaning the bed of the lake is a moonscape of bars, ridges and dips, inter-spaced with large blocks of aggregated gravel and iron the size of wheelbarrows. Not really surprising that we managed to catch a “crab” and alas it wasn't the only one we found today!

Netting Netting Netting

I have to admit I hadn't anticipated being quite so hands on with the netting today but needs must and it was a case of all hands on deck. For which I must thank the members of the syndicate that turned up and were Shanghaied into hauling on a rope. We did manage to get our sample in the end but I have to say it was an extremely labour intensive effort which half a pint of maggots and a feeder rod would probably have achieved in about the same time, with a great deal less effort. Hopefully having learnt the lay of the bed today and with the necessary consents and certificates in-hand we will improve on our hit rate next time around! Thanks to Hugh for the pix.

13th September

Having spent a couple of hours yesterday chasing three canoes about and today ejecting similarly disrespectful idiots off one of the lakes my karma was a little out of kilter. What do I do when I need to realign my aura? I go for a walk in the valley!

It works like magic, within minutes of getting out of the truck I have met with one of the members with whom five minutes chat has started the healing process and helped restore my faith in my fellow humans. I had no direction, heading from one encounter to another without plan or reason. Around the lakes, circumnavigate the suckler herd to avoid getting blared at and down to the river in an effort to catch up on any news. An hour later back through the lakes to the truck with my sole well and truly restored, absolutely perfect.

46.8 Common 14 plus barbel 37.8 Mirror

Lee with a 46.8 which is currently the talk of the local carp world. This was a real "lump" a stunning fish well deserved Lee. The middle photo shows Bob Edwards smiling over the top of a 14 plus. Bob hasn't been able to get down much his season so this fish plus a 12.7 earlier in the day must have gone some way to settling those frustrations of not being able to get here as frequently as you might wish. Lovely brace Bob and thanks for the pic. On the right Dan Wrigley with a 37+ mirror which he freelined out of the margins as I was walking around the lake. They say all good things come in threes and those are three of the best.

I perhaps should have mentioned the outcome of the ministerial decision re the Navitus Bay wind farm project that was proposed for the approaches to Poole Bay.

I'm sure you remember the discussion that took place related to the possible impact on our salmon as they come and go from our lowland chalk rivers. Rivers where the plight of the salmon was considered sufficiently dire to warrant EU conservation designation. It was the construction phase of the wind farm that gave rise to concern in that the decibel level of the pile driving was at levels potentially harmful to salmon and sea trout. It is at this point things became rather grey in that no one could tell me what a salmon would do as it approached such a zone or what speed our smolt, adults and kelts crossed the impacted area. Add inter-catchment drift and climate concerns, there were considerably more unknowns than knowns. I always believed EU designated species could rely on the precautionary principle being applied by the regulators to safeguard their future but alas this was not the case. Using what scant scientific research that existed and by more than a little speculation our regulators modelled the potential impact. To say I was less than impressed by the weight of their argument is very much an understatement! If they were wrong it would be the fish and the fisheries that bore the cost, not the regulators. They, as usual, would walk away unscathed.

As for the ministers decision, the scheme has been refused. I have to admit I haven't read the basis for the refusal but I do not think the risk to our salmon had much to do with it. If the feedback I have heard is correct they were more concerned about the impact on the heritage coast line. I suppose I should be pleased about the decision however it was arrived at but I have my reservations. Yes I am pleased the risk to our salmon from that source has disappeared. What the decision doesn't help with is shedding light on the many questions the scheme had given rise to. I would hope that the regulators might look on the episode as a warning about the lack of knowledge and implement measures to fill in the gaps. Do I believe that will happen? What do you think?

It seems somewhat ironic that such a threat should have been hanging over the fishery throughout what has been the best salmon season for decades. We finished the season on seventy two fish that averaged thirteen pounds. Certainly we would have to go back into the eighties to find similar numbers and those 80's catches contained a significantly higher proportion of grilse. The Avon average in the hey day of the river in some seasons exceeded twenty pounds, the famed Avon Springers returned as three and four sea winter fish. This season our fish showed a marked return to this multi-sea winter element. Not the 4SW but a significant upturn in the 3SW catches and all but three or four of the others being 2SW. Only two of those fish have been landed since the end of June, low flows, high water temperatures and weed growth do not make for good salmon fishing. Our season followed the natural pattern of the river leaving the coloured and late run fish to lay secure and in peace in their pools. I know the EA have trialled an extension to the season but as I say fishing for coloured fish and grilse in a river full of weed is not what Somerley is about. I am not quite sure what is being trialled as there are records going back to the 1870's to tell of the result of September salmon fishing. We will leave it to others to reaffirm those decades of returns; with crossed fingers the Avon is once more showing signs of returning to being a Spring river.

Putting a curve in the split cane

One of today's encounters was Hugh putting the split cane through its paces with a spot of freelining in the margins.

12th September

Like many others around the country in recent evenings I have been out mixing the booze. In this instance the mix has been a bottle of red wine, any old stuff will do Petrus 83, what ever you have available, with a pound or so of sugar dissolved into it. Also a bottle of brown ale, dollop of treacle and a pound of soft brown sugar. The ale mix was painted on various fences, trees and posts, whilst the wine was soaked into hessian strips that were suspended from branches out in the garden. Its should have been hemp rope but I didn't have any hence the hessian. The purpose of all this effort was to try and attract the local moths in for a drink as its seems they are rather partial to a tipple. Once darkness settled in an inspections every ten to fifteen minutes soon recorded a list of various creatures that seem to be equally keen on a drink, spiders, woodlice, earwigs, slugs, snail and despite the darkness even hornets and wasps. Eventually the moths did arrive, nothing particularly exciting but good to see them all the same. Also they were not in the numbers that can be light trapped but in a much more moth friendly means. I can also say that they preferred the wine as opposed to the brown ale, not sure why but the difference was quite noticeable.

Hessian sugar rope

I couldn't find any rope!

Large yellow under wing Red underwing Angle shade

Not particularly rare but they proved to be a very pleasant way to while away an evening.

Carp direction fencing

Finally a shot of a one way fence errected to prevent the carp upsetting the local conservation group. If any members of the stillwater syndicate are looking in we are going to do a trial netting on KingsVincents on Wednesday the 16th which might prove interesting should you care to drop in for an hour or two.

10th September

Clifden nonpareil

A Clifden nonpareil one of the rarest and most beautiful of our visiting moths that Kevin spotted resting on the bracken beside one of the estates woodland rides and snapped with his mobile. Well spotted Kevin.

6th September

Events of the last week or two have conspired to keep me away from the fishery for far more time than I would have wished. I did manage a couple of days behind the strimmer but that hardly constitutes constructive time on the bank. I suppose access paths are a must but I always feel time spent cutting grass might be better spent elsewhere. I have a list of bridges to repair, styles to build, trees clear, roads to surface and hatches to repair, all require my attention much of which needs to be attended to before the winter rains set in. Perhaps the greatest problem I face in getting to grips with the list, apart from time of course, is simply getting materials on site. Concrete post, thirty five foot bridge supports, plus block and hardcore foundations all require heavy duty machinery and excavators. In an attempt to get some sort of order to these events today I decided one of those busman's walks I indulge in from time to time was required to at least get a plan in my mind.

The sun was bright and sky clear when I pulled up at Ellingham mid morning and decided to head downstream to Blashford. I hadn't even left the car park and crossed the drive when the number of warblers, tits and buntings in the willows and reeds pointed to our summer visitors upping sticks and heading to warmer climes. If today's numbers were any indication the wet and windy summer hasn't adversely effected their breeding success. Now we must keep our fingers firmly crossed they do not end up being shot, netted or limed by our European kinsmen around the Med. I'm told its acceptable under EU law as its a traditional practice! So was bear baiting and the scolds chair. I'm afraid bloody savages would seem a better description, supported by corrupt politicians. I'm too long in the tooth to get involved in any more political battles with Europe. I'm afraid the twenty five million migrating birds a year killed around the Mediterranean need some pretty radical action to make their travels safer.

Enough of such depressing thoughts, the sun is out and our valley wildlife is out making the most of it. Four sets of roe twins, last years and this years, are out with the does grazing in the big field south of Blashford. The Swans and Goosander are preening on the gravel bars at Island Run whilst the Green and Common sandpipers are dipping at the riffling waters edge. Chub just inches away on the shallows, barbel in the deeper runs and dace in small shoals throughout the side streams. Multi-sea winter Salmon seem to almost outnumber barbel with the odd small grilse on station in front of the clay boulders that were washed from the banks last winter. I have often wondered why we do not see more grilse spawning on the estate. I assume Natures plan is to allow the smaller grilse to reach the headwaters of the catchment with their ability to travel at lower flows and through shallow water. It also makes sense to keep the small cock grilse away from some of the crocodiles that have taken up station in our deeper pools.

Goosander leaving the run at Blashford Roe twins

Goosander leaving Island Run and one of the sets of roe twins in the meadows.

Fish spotting Work on the sub station Buzzard

Perfect conditions for fish spotting on the two miles downstream to Ringwood, where the work on the sub station will hopefully be finished before too long. One of the many Buzzards that could be heard mewing along the entire route of this mornings walk.

3rd September

Mixed stock Perfect swim

Winner of the rubbish photo competition but one of my favourites of recent weeks. It shows a small patch of gravel and I have annotated some of the fish that were present, to which you could add several more dace and roach, two more gudgeon a salmon parr and dozens of minnows. Trying to get them all to line up proved overly time consuming so we have to settle for the best shot. Its simply enchanting to watch that under water scene as the next generation of Avon monsters went about their daily routines. The second photo is a swim I passed through on my strimming mission today and it captures the very magic of the Avon. It is the grown up, main channel, version of that patch of gravel, where hopefully all those juveniles will one day take up residence. This particular swim has in recent years produced barbel well in excess of fourteen pounds, big seven chub, perch over three, huge salmon, masses of dace and these days reasonable numbers of roach to 12 ounces. Minnows come as a given and I imagine if you fished single maggot or a section of worm for long enough you might catch a gudgeon. The time involved in the gudgeon catching exercise would not be waiting for a bite but getting through the dace and minnows; Avon perfection!

Longhorn cow Cattle on teh river bank

For those who are a little concerned about the bull at Ashley he has been removed from the field. The heifers are still present and will show their normal curiosity but are not aggressive. As for the photo it is of a cow, a Longhorned cow and whilst it looks rather sinister it is not aggressive; not that it would do you any good if it trod on your foot. These cattle are on the meadow beside Ibsley Weir and if they are up on the bank near the hatches do not try and approach them as they will panic and push back past you toward their field and if you are in the way they may well tread on your foot!


Butterfly of the day, the Brimstone.

2nd September

Autumnal mist
A very real autumnal chill greeted us this morning.

Baebel on
The mist soon cleared and member Dave Charles managed to find a barbel to further brighten the day.

With the beer festival and the national "Airsoft" gathering now fading into the distance we may now begin to get back to a little normality. It has been an extremely trying time as we balanced setting up the events without turning the show gounds into swamps after the recent rain. The rain that brought the river up and provided a timely flush to clean out the accumulated detritus of summer. I'm pleased to say we managed to preserve the ground and the events went without major upset. After the flush through the river has already cleared and we are once more able to see the fish in the weedy depths again. The barbel and chub are once more back on show and severel of the very large salmon in the deeper pools have remained with us and not taken the opportunity to depart for the upper river. Three of those salmon have posed me quite a dilemma in that they are almost certainly over my personal best. They are laying in deep pools, under the bank and the temptation to donk a leaded nymph on theirs noses I have to admit did cross my mind. Thankfully I managed to refrain from such dubious activities and those magnifcent fish are still resting in their chosen sanctuaries. I only hope a fresh 30 pounder will find my fly next season when we once more get underway in search of a Springer.

Small Copper Roach Hornet

The banks of marginal mint now provide one of the few nectar sources for the butterflies and bees. The clearing water shows plenty of roach in the slack corners. With nectar now in short supply the honeydew produced by the aphids is proving very popular for many insects.

25th August

Every picture tells a story and this one tells a particularly pleasant one. Syndicate member Pete Reading has been doing his usual bit for the various fishery organisations and recently brought the Barbel Society and Wild Trout Trust auction day anglers down for their experience as his guests in pursuit of an Avon Barbel.

First barbel

A very happy Stephen Hodges from the Wild Trout Trust auction day smiling over the top of his first barbel. Thanks for the lovely pic Pete; job done.

24th August

Caddis case

I have included this section from one of the sample pix I put up the other day simply because it captures one of Natures masterpieces in the form of a caddis case decorated with dozens of minute mollusc shells. Unfortunately the pix were taken through the water in the sample tray making the image a little fuzzy but worth a second look and the natural processes that create such a wonder certainly provide food for thought.

Summer on the Avon

Thanks to Hugh Miles for capturing the very essence of summer in the Avon Valley last week.

A rapidly rising Avon Moylescourt ford

Unfortunately the Avon looked like this today, the main river rising and colouring and the New Forest streams well over the fords.

22nd August

Day off and spent four hours wandering around the fishery, as you do! Fabulous walk with lots of pix, which I'll put up later, just a few of the Hummingbird hawk moth to keep us going.

Hummingbird hawk moths Hummingbird hawk moths Hummingbird hawk moths

Taken at 1:2000 not quite there but getting closer. Just look at the length of the tongues in relation to the body, amazing!

Hummingbird hawk moth Hummingbird hawk moth

I can assure you they are a lot easier to photograph when they decide to land. There were at least four whizzing up and down the track where I was attempting to photograph them, which having spent an hour feeding began resting on the surrounding brambles. The moth in the second shot is resting on and not impaled on the thorn. They are most peculiar creatures, having a black centre to the eye and hair that resembles feathers making them look even more bird-like than their flight.

Barbel Coloured salmon

Not photographs that would make the mags but a couple for Avon regulars who are used to finding those hidden monsters. A nice group of barbel and a 20+ salmon, one of at least a dozen a similarly size and colour that can be found tucked up in the deeper pools, where they will hopefully remain undisturbed until they run for the redds at the turn of the year.

Kick sample Kick sample Kick sample

Kick sample Kick sample site Kick sample

kick sample Kick sample Kick sample

I spent a couple of hours this morning doing a few kick samples to see how the aquatic bug life was faring. Absolutely nothing scientific or ordered about the process, just an informal look. The normal three minute samples simply don't work on the Avon at this time of year due to the number of Gammarus present. To count the number in a three minute sample would take the remainder of the day. Despite that a sixty second sample is sufficient for my needs and throws up several interesting issues. In one or two it looked as if fifty percent of the Avon bed consists of molluscs and their previous generations of empty shells. If Avon fish were to eat snails alone they would never go hungry. Add the Gammarus, nymphs and the new item on the menu in the form of Signal crayfish and its a wonder they ever get caught on anglers bait. The crays were particularly interesting, I must contact the EA again to request a copy of the Avon crayfish report that they were about to produce a decade ago!!

21st August

I did mention the other day how pleased I was with the start we had enjoyed with the syndicate and just to enforce that feeling I received an email from member Julian Ward with a report of his season to date. Julian, who often fishes with daughter Eleanor, tells me he has probably enjoyed his most successful season for a couple of decades and the report of his last overnight session, where he landed five fish over 20 to 30.12, would certainly seem to support that view.

Mirror carp Mirror carp

30+ common 30+ mirror 30+ mirror

Common carp Common carp

Some of Julian and Eleanor's recent captures. The three on the middle line are all thirty plus and the others are good twenties. Great fish, well done Julian and Eleanor and thanks for the report.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Its not a butterfly but a day flying moth and when I say flying, I mean flying! Its a Hummingbird Hawk Moth that beats its wings up to 80 times per second making getting a shot of it almost impossible with my bridging camera on auto. I've seen several such moths this summer and if the sun comes out tomorrow I'll go out and push up the shutter speed and do my best to capture a clearer photo, in the meantime just marvel at this blurred little gem.

20th August

Weed Mayfly

Even with the recent rain we have low flows making us thankful for the green tresses of ranunculas that help cofer the water and retain a reasonable depth across the shallows. The shallows that are so important for the survival of our salmonid juveniles. Those great banks of weed that often run for several hundred metres also provide a wonderful sanctuary for the adult residents of our river when avoiding predators and angling pressure. I would dearly love to know exactly what was hiding in those green depths. Currently the odd small patch of clean gravel allows us a glimpse of small barbel, dace, roach and down the margins the odd lurking perch. That green wallpaper makes for a very restful photo for the computer as you sit and ponder the secrets of its hidden depths. The second photo is of one of our Mayfly that have continued to emerge throughout the summer. I'm not sure what the windy, changeable weather will have meant for the success of their season.

19th August

I am delighted to say we have enjoyed a quite exceptional start to the Somerley syndicate throughout all three disciplines. A salmon season not seen the like for over twenty five years, the lakes have produced a constant string of great fish and the coarse river is producing barbel, chub and dace fishing at levels not seen before on the Avon.

Having said that the levels of threat to the very existence of our fisheries seems to remain at extremely high if not increasing heights. We see a rush by industry to take off the brakes applied by EU conservation legislation supported by a cynical government. We see rampant institutional protection established to protect the ivory shrouded empires that purport to protect our rivers in both the government and private sectors. Add greed and self interest and we can see the almost perfect storm facing the river. If we are serious about the future of our fisheries it is for us, in the shape of the owners, managers and users, to set and abide by the best management practices to safeguard the future of our fisheries for future generations. Hopefully with the shortening days I will find more time to expand on these views and ask the questions of the owners, managers, users and regulators that will perhaps shed light on the safeguards being implemented and evaluated to ensure the future of our rivers.

In the meantime I will content myself with putting up a set of photos that capture the ongoing world of the valley and yes, it does include more butterflies!

Dead salmon Squirrel damaged beech Gathered Grey Heron

A dead salmon, one of at least half a dozen I have seen this summer. We are told by the regulators that catch and release doesn't harm the fish so just what is killing these fish? The middle photo shows the squirrel damage inflicted on our beech trees this spring, this despite having removed dozens from the wood involved. The reduced numbers still had a devastating impact proving terminal for most of the beech in the woodland. On the right a shot capturing just a few of the thirty plus heron making the most of the shallow northern lake at Mockbeggar. In reality they are not doing us any long term harm as they are reducing the numbers of juveniles that prevent the continued growth of the larger fish.

Brown hawker dragonfly Migrant hawker dragonfly A very old Scarce chaser

A few dragonflies in the form of a female Brown hawker, a fine female Migrant hawker and a very old and battered Scarce chaser, still managing to fly without too much difficulty. Almost all the photos on this site are taken within a few metres of our river banks and lake sides, all visible for those that care to see.

Green veined white Holly blue Small copper

Finally the butterflies with first a Green-veined White, not the one that eats our cabbages. The middle shows a Holly Blue keeping a close eye on my activities and on the right a beautiful Small Copper enjoying the last of the Ragwort.

10th August

After I had photographed Lee's fish yesterday evening I had another call from an angler on Meadow saying he had a fish tethered on line that had previously been left trailing in the margins. I appreciate such calls as I would much prefer to ensure the safe release of the tethered fish than the alternatives of torn mouths or worse. On this occasion, as I got to the lake, I had a further call on the mobile to let me know the fish had managed to free itself and the rig had been safely recovered. Unfortunately this did not resolve the problem of the orginal snag that must have arrived since we cleared the margins a fortnight earlier. A chat to the angler pinpointed the offending line sufficiently for me to be able to find it in the morning, when I would get the boat down to clear it.

Having brought the boat down and with no anglers on the water it seemed an ideal opportunity not only to clear last nights problem but a further circuit of the margins to deal with any similar potential problems. It also afforded time to remove the willow root mass on the "Swan Point" side of "The Gap" that had been giving rise to concerns as fish kite to the right, back up the lake toward the sanctuary. A very mucky and muddy couple of hours had the beating of it and with the roots piled at the back of the point future problems should hopefully be considerably reduced. It wont stop the fish kiting but hopefully they will be under control before they get around Swan Point!

Cleared line Barbed hook

Just some of the accumulated line, rigs and a couple of "Spombs" cleared from the margins today. I will endeavour to do a similar clearing trip at least once a month but in the event you snag a rig or get a break at the reel leaving yards of trailing line just let me know. As I said earlier I prefer to minimise the risk to the fish and a call will enable a rapid removal of potential snags. On the subject of risk to the fish the second shot shows a barbed hook. Please note the R&Rs, rule 5, Barbless, pinched barb or micro barbs only please. Lob hooks are perhaps a legitimate exception but I can think of no other case. Thick wire hooks, such as the one in the photo developed from the commercial sea fishery hooks of Japan, the objective out there is to get the fish landed by what ever means are available to them as quickly as possible. Some of the thin wire hooks will bend out if too great a pressure is exerted on the fish, which is a extremely good trait in that pressure sufficient to straighten a hook has no place in fish friendly angling. If your trophy shot is more important that the welfare of the fish then you are most definately in the wrong syndicate.

10th August

Today I had an easy day in that I spent the entire time sat in the tractor topping the summer growth and cleaning the edges of the paddocks around Mockbeggar. As in previous years the topping will be done over several visits in an effort to leave standing grass to afford cover for the invertebrates to over the winter. After the anglers finish, at the end of September, we will put in cattle to graze further areas and enrich the ground with their dung. At the end of the winter a final topping to tidy up after the stock and the cycle will begin all over again.

A pair of spectacles in a blue crush proof case were picked up at the entrance to Somerley Lakes last night. If you are the owner give me a call on the mobile and we will arrange to reunite you.

32 pound common

An enjoyable task this evening to drop in to do the pix for Lee Molyneux who had landed a great looking 32+ Common. This really was a good looking fish, long and lean without a mark or a previous hook hold in its perfect mouth. The sun even poked its nose through the clouds for the ten minutes I was there. Lovely fish Lee, well done.

9th August

Flower rich margins
Flower rich margins.

Black and Yellow Long-horned Beetle
Black and Yellow Long-horned Beetle.

Yesterday evening when I bumped into Steve landing his chub at Ellingham the reason for my visit was to check on the state of the margin paths and check on the access to the river bank. Pleasingly the paths remained well defined and the surrounding marginal vegetation was looking magnificent. Pinks of the Hemp agrimony, Willow herb and spikes of Marsh woundwort, add the purples of the Loosestrife and the Water mint that makes for such fragrant progress as its crushed on the path beneath our feet, they are simply a delight to walk. The insect world has been quick to reap the harvest of nectar and pollen that the banks of flowers provide so late in the season; bees of every shape and hue, beetles, butterflies and bugs, simply perfection. Our objective with the margins has been to link the river with its surrounding floodplain and provide a rich habitat for the myriad of creatures that inhabit this zone. I think the result in this section has exceeded my wildest expectations.

8th August

Ellingham Showground Playing a chub

Friday's preparation for today's Ellingham Show. I was away from the area today and missed the show but I did get back in time for an evening walk around the fishery and take the classic shot of syndicate member Steve Derby playing a big chub at Ellingham.

6th August

Silver washed fritillary(f.valesina) Painted Lady

So I lied! I have been fishing and suceeded in landing more bream but thought these two worthy of putting up instead in the form of the (valesina) form of the Silver Washed Fritillary and a superb Painted Lady. I would also like to thank those readers that took the time to email saying how much they enjoyed the butterflies and bugs, its good to know my obsessions are not driving readers away on mass.

3rd August

Double figure barbel Big chub

Thanks to John and Darrel for these amazing photographs from their recent visits. I don't need to say much about these fish other than they capture the very essence of Hampshire Avon magic. The perfect proportions and balance of John's beautiful 14+ and the sheer solid presence of Darrel's big six are simply magnificent. I should add that both Darrel and John have numerous other big fish to their credit this season but for me this pair will take some beating.

I just have to add the further butterfly shots below as the season is now getting very eratic and soon to come to an end, giving you all a break from my delight in these creatures. I have to add that I am still hoping to get a couple more species in the form of the Purple Hairstreak and the Grayling to add to the twenty two I curently have recorded at Mockbeggar but other than new species you should be able to relax. I still have several dragonflies to spot so your not quite in the clear!

Clouded yellow White-letter Hairstreak Brimstone

Fine examples of recently emerged Clouded Yellow and Brimstone plus a White-letter Hairstreak down from the canopy feeding on one of the few reliable nectar sources at present, the much maligned ragwort.

30th July

Double figure barbel

Thanks to Brian Bonell for a photo of his latest capture, which will please our fishy readers and keep them going for a day or two. Thanks again Brian, nice fish.

28th July

An interesting day in that I had a meeting this morning with some of the leading lights in the conservation world. We were discussing the means by which we could best meet the requirements of the valley flora and fauna. In particular the needs of the breeding waders and the fishery interests of the main channel north of Ibsley. The problems faced by the wildlife in the Avon Valley are extremely complex to say the least. I could list influencing, or potentially influencing factors for the rest of this entry but nothing can be held to account with cast iron certainty. What has been hard learnt over the past two decades are some of the most significant factors and it is to enhance these elements that a couple of extremely exciting projects are about to become reality in the Ibsley area. Over the next couple of months scrapes will be cleaned out, ditches will be maintained, fences will be removed and channel habitat diversity will be enhanced and encouraged. The thrust of this work will link the river to its flood plain to establish a more natural, sustainable environment for the benefit of all the valley flora and fauna. You will see contractors on both sides of the river north of Ibsley and to the south of Ibsley out in the meadows. Some elements will be temporarily disruptive, the long term benefits how ever will outweigh this inconvenience so please be patient and bear with us whilst the project gets under way. Hopefully I will be able to update readers of the results of the project in the months and years to come with Lapwing and perhaps the coarse fish population as key indicators. I don't imagine we will see the immediate return of three pound roach, breeding Snipe or Yellow Wagtail but you never know, at long last its pleasing to see positive action on the ground. Watch this space!

White-letter Hairstreak
I was pleased to get this shot of one of our more difficult visitors, a White-letter Hairstreak. In common with the more frequently seen Purple Hairstreak they are usually streaking past high in the canopy out of camera range.

With the reducing nectar flow sharing is becoming the order of the day.

On more mundane matters after my meeting I took advantage of a free half day to get to grips with some of the alder and willow regrowth on one of the islands. Unfortunately for the more fishy readers I have little to report as only a couple of members were on the banks. Having said that Geoff Wishart had managed a 27 common, which is a cracking fish but alas I have no photo. No fishing update perhaps but more butterflies I fear! The reason is they are easy and I like them. It simply involves half an hour in one of the sheltered paddocks with crossed fingers hoping something will show up. Today's high wind combined with the now slowing nectar flow as the grasses burn off and the bramble flow has almost ceased does not make for perfect conditions. Thankfully the Avon valley remains a stunning place to enjoy some of the best of Britain's wildlife. When travelling, from the Alps to the tropical rainforests, the presence of large showy butterflies always causes comment. Blue Morph, Caligo, owl butterflies or orange Julia's, without doubt stunning creatures but you don't have to go to the ends of the earth to find such magical creatures. They may not be so dramatically large and showy but they are no less colourful and their discrete reserve is perhaps more in keeping with English meadows.

Worn Silver washed fritillary Sharing the food supply Common Blue

A worn Silver washed Fritillary suffering from the seemingly constant wind of recent weeks. Moths and bees also having to share the available nectar and a Common Blue as colourful as any Morph!

23rd July

I continue to keep the fishery clipped-up throughout the summer when ever I get an opportunity. Yesterday a day on the lakes. Today I spent on the river, giving paths and swims in the Ibsley area a polish. Summer strimming is a much more gentle affair than the Spring cleaning of March and April when the overwintered margins have to be completely removed to enable the rods to access the salmon pools. With the need for cover when creeping up on those clear water chub and barbel, with the less demanding methods enabling the salmon anglers to find their fish without the need of clear banks, strimming isn't quite such a daunting prospect.

Could I ask all syndicate members ensure they keep us updated as to their car registration numbers. All that is required is an email to Nathalie at the Estate office and all will be peace and tranquillity. Failure to do this means your details do not come up on my phone and when I find a strange vehicle on the banks I have to track down the owner. Having to trek half a mile up and down the river is okay the first time. After a couple of times the novelty loses its appeal. So please have pity on my weary legs and keep us up to date.

Just what is happening on the fishing front now that summer is on the wane? I say summer is on the wane based on the simple fact my Swifts are starting to depart for their winter quarters in South Africa. We will hopefully see several weeks of sunshine before the autumn mists arrive so don't despair just yet. I can only say I could not have wished for a first six months with the syndicate to have gone any better. Obviously the salmon fishing has ceased as the fish are stuck in the harbour unable to pass the Great Weir as flows drop below nine cumecs. With rain forecast for tomorrow and the weekend we may see a few more fish but in reality the salmon season is over. Over it may be but what a season, I think staggering best describes the earlier fishing we enjoyed this season. At the end of the season I will do a more comprehensive round up of the salmon year and where we hope to go in years to come.

The coarse season on the river has continued where it left off last season with catches of chub and barbel that seem almost beyond belief. With the fish having eventually got spawning out of the way they have settled down into a routine of getting their heads down in an effort to regain their condition. The low clear conditions have made the fish easily spooked if care of approach, behind that marginal cover, isn't practised. Those that have taken the trouble to stay out of sight and allow the fish time to pick up the free offering have been rewarded with some very special catches. Chub to 7.12 with six pounders in numbers hard to comprehend. These are clean, spawned fish that are in spectacularly fine condition; fin and scale perfect, wonderful fish. The barbel are in similarly good form with doubles throughout the fishery. I wont list the catches, suffice to say fingers crossed such catches continue. Add the wall to wall dace and today I found the roach shoals I was hoping would show as the water cleared, things are most definitely looking well.

Soft strim Natural cover

Summer soft cut at Ibsley and natural cover affords the dace and roach confidence to move freely throughout the deep pools of the backwaters.

High Banks

Thanks to Hugh for this lovely shot of the perfect tench sunrise taken from "High Banks". This shot should have accompanied the two I put up yesterday of the "Oaks" and the "Steps" to illustrate the power of nature to make good even the most severe of clean-ups. Regulars at Meadow will remember that last autumn I devasted this swim to bring the willow back under control.

Just why the Avon is currently looking so well, when we so often hear of the almost endless list of problems it faces, is quite remarkable in itself. The cessation of weed cutting, the reduction of the artificially induced scouring of the eel stages, reduced predation or more benign winter flows of recent years. Climatic or as a result of man's intervention the Avon continues to bounce back.

Lost and Found – did anyone pick up a couple of bait buckets in the Ellingham Car park Monday. Give me a call or drop them off at the lodge please if you have them.

22nd July

33 Common carp Snag removal

A couple of shots for Adam in that his dad seems to be doing okay over the lakes at present; nice 33 Nige! The second shot shows Darren and Kevin removing that snag up from "Bird Hide" so you will be okay for those bream next time out!

The Steps swim The Oaks

The "Steps" and the "oaks" have been cleaned out and whilst they may look a little blitzed at present nature will soon put right my efforts.

16th July

I can't guarantee that the streets of Ringwood are lined with gold but I can assure everyone the Avon is most definitely lined with silver. Silver in the shoals of dace in their tens of thousands that seem to be in every section of the river. From the main river to the carriers and from the shallows to the deepest holes, there are dace everywhere. I always enjoy trotting maggot with the centre-pin and a light rod and such shoals offer too good an opportunity to miss. To that end I have been out this evening doing my best to find some Avon Herrings. I have to say it didn't go according to plan as the herrings proved elusive. It wasn't that they weren't there it was simply I couldn't get through the myriad lesser year classes that occupied the head of the swims I chose to fish. I could see the larger dace in the deeper water but getting the bait down to them was nigh on impossible. I have no idea how many dace I landed in the two and a half hours I fished, it must surely have been approaching the hundred mark. Of all those dace perhaps two or three could have been described as herring. I even resorted to deep, dark swims in the hope of avoiding the massed hoards yet continued to catch six inch fish. I was also very firmly reminded that deep holes in the Avon usual have a resident “croc” and a most impressive old girl leisurely appeared and engulfed an unfortunate dace on the retrieve. The outcome was inevitable but she was in no hurry, a slow turn back into the depths before deciding to circle the pool and depart via the willows opposite. I had to admit defeat but was happy to pack away the gear in the knowledge there is yet another worthy target for later in the year.

To date this season my fishing seems to be of this somewhat discordant nature. Tonight it wasn't the wrong species, as last week in the case of the bream instead of tench, it was too many of the wrong size. My first eel fishing expedition last weekend resulted in an early bath as on setting up the bivvie I didn't have my pegs with me. The latter problem has now been rectified but just how I can become more selective in achieving the fish I target remains open for debate. I suppose more practice and lots more trial and error will iron out the snags. That's my latest theory anyway and I'm sticking to it, it looks as if I'll just have to go fishing more frequently!

Birthday Tench dace

Thanks to Hugh and Dominic for the photos from their recent visits. Hugh proved eminently more succesful than I did in finding a tench or two, this one coming as a gorgeous tinca green present to help celebrate his birthday. Dominic took a break from pursuing the barbel to enjoy the pleasures of light tactics for our silver lining. After fifty years attempting to unravel the secrets of our lakes and rivers I sometimes feel I understand little more today than I did all those years ago when I first became hooked on the mysteries of our water ways.

On a different subject I have a favour to ask. Could I ask that any members spotting any dodgy goings on; canoes, poachers etc In this day and age of smart phones could they take a photo and email it to me. Don't get yourself into arguments or trouble, a shot of a suspicious car or of a canoeist as they pass is what I am after. It's simple in that the police wish us to record all the incidents of trespass and the like in order to allocate more time to our part of the world. Any help would be very much appreciated.

As regular readers will be aware I have a problem with several of the weirs on the Avon in that they potentially offer serious barriers to migration of both salmonid and cyprinid fish. Great weir, Turbine House, Winkton, Bickton, Burgate, Breamore, Stanlynch, Wire hatches, at various flows anyone of these can provide a potential threat to fish migration. We have been investigating getting a cyprinid fish pass at Ibsley which is proving problematic due to the lay of the land. This year in an effort to assess the impact of the control I have been running Ibsley at minimum intervention levels. This basically means the gates have been fully open all year, bar when we had one blocked with rubbish on a couple of occasions. This it appears also meets with the requirements of the Avon Restoration Strategy that promotes the idea of a naturalisation of the river. This naturalisation of the river is deemed the most desirable means to achieve favourable status for the designated species of the Avon SSSI. Those designated species which I'm sure you are all aware of being salmon, bullheads, lamprey etc. I am informed the EA have a legal obligation to run their controls in accordance with the requirements of these species, I hope this isn't just a further instance of the EA hiding behind conservation legislation as a fiscal manoeuvre to avoid its responsibilities to the fisheries. Its proved an interesting year to watch the impact of this lack of intervention on those species deemed unworthy of protection, which I am similarly sure you all are aware of; roach, chub etc. As I say its been an interesting year, I will have more to say on this subject when I have seen a full cycle of the season unfurl.

16th July

Silver washed fritillary Six spot burnet Three butterfly species

Please indulge me as I am struggling to get the fishy content any higher at the moment. The river is certainly producing some fabuous fishing with multiple catches of double figure barbel to 14 pounds and stunning chub to well over 7lbs. I will do my best to capture one or two leviathans and recount the events in the next week or two. In the meantime one or two more shots of this wonderful butterfly year will surely be appreciated. A Silver Washed Fritillary from below. All that glitters is not gold and in this case is pitch black at first glance. Finally the thistles are attracting clouds of butterflies to enjoy the deep rooted nectar flow.

11th July

Having got my weekend underway with some poachers and a paddler I feel I'm owed an hour or two of relaxation. In light of which I'm off up to the "Echoes of Italy" this evening and will have the mobile very firmly switched off. Events are running smoothly on the fishery and I have been out and about at first light to answer the question as to whether I had a bream proof bait that tench would continue to eat. On my arrival at my pre-baited swim at 05:00am the mist was drifting across the surface and a tench the width of a rugby ball rolled not six feet from the bank.

The early start Amphibious bistort Bream

The perfect dawn as the mist rolled in, perhaps the couple of hundred geese that insisted on calling their passing neighbours could have been a little quieter. The margin dotted with the pink flower spikes of the Bistort added to the scene, with that great tench no doubt awaiting my carefully prepared offering - back to the drawing board, the bream seemed to have misread my intentions!

Trespasser 11.3 barbel

There was a silver lining to me having to spend part of Saturday afternoon chasing this guy about to inform him of the error of his ways in that I met syndicate member Gary Taylor enjoying a day on the river. Gary had managed a lovely brace of double figure barbel when I happened upon him and later he very kindly sent me a couple of shots of his captures. I have been involved with fish and fishing for over forty years, I see fish in one form or another virtually every day and yet I still get a deep rooted feeling of pleasure when I see a photo of such a wonderful fish. Well done and thanks Gary, hearing news of your captures certainly made up for chasing the canoe about.

Mammatus cloud formation

Friday evening saw the clouds gathering in a most ominous fashion.

Butterfly habitat Habitat management Habitat improvement

Flower rich habitat on the islands and lake margins.

Peacock Butterfly Six spot burnet Silver washed fritillary

The beneficiarises.

Somerley fireworks

We did finish the day in fine style with a wonderful taste of classical Italy.

7th July

Emporer dragonfly

I should put up a pic of an Emperor as they are probably the most commonly seen dragonfly about the valley at the moment.

Comma butterfly Darrel with a good barbel Gatekeeper butterfly

I am still here, just a little busy at the moment. In the way of an update a couple of butterfly shots and many thanks to Darrel for the lovely shot of a recent capture.

1st July

Please Note until further notice all Salmon Fishing has stopped due to the water temperature exceeding 19 degrees "C".

Large Red Damsel

25th June

I've been tied up with work schedules and priorities for most of the day and news of the valley is a little sparse. I did get a text from Paul Greenacre to say he is still catching salmon in the shape of a fresh 12 pound cock fish from Broadmeade. Its encouraging to know that given an opportunity the fish are still keen to get into the system, the degree or two drop in temperature looks as if it will only be a temporary respite so please keep an eye on the Knappmill website.

Darter dragonfly Black and yellow long-horned beetles

A couple of space fillers from yesterday, a Darter dragonfly and a pair of Black and Yellow Long-horned beetles, to make up for the lack of photos from today.

24th June

Today I had the toilet and parking at Mockbeggar to sort out and as I finished the tidying up just before lunchtime I decided a walk around the lakes to list outstanding tasks and enjoy the sunshine. The sunshine had brought out the butterflies so a count to get some idea of numbers also seemed a good idea. It wasn't a perfect day for a count as the wind was a little strong as it came gusting across the lakes clearing unsheltered paddocks of any candidates. In the shelter of the small woods the paddocks were alive with butterflies, dragonflies and damsel flies providing plenty to keep me busy for half an hour.

Bee orchid Bee Orchid

Take half an hour to enjoy the surroundings of the lakes. Enjoy flowers such as the Bee Orchid above and the butterflies and Dragonflies below.

Skipper Skipper Skipper

Skipper numbers increasing as the sun brings more nectar bearing flowers into bloom.

Black-tailed skimmer Emporer Golden ringed dragonflies

Dragonflies in the form of the Black-tailed skimmer, Emperor and Golden Ringed have been emerging in numbers for several days.

Marbled white Large White

Marble White numbered over twenty but the stars of the day were the Meadow Browns with over 380, as opposed to the Large White with a count of one.

21st June

I had just decided I would not get involved with moths as they come in far too many species, myriads of different variations and they only come out when its dark, far, far too confusing for my aging brain; life's just too short. I would stick to enjoying my butterflies as there are far fewer species and they tend to float about the meadows on pleasant warm days, much more up my street. That was until this weekend when I put up what was a rare sighting for us the pic of what I took to be a Chalk Hill Blue. If you Google Chalk hill blue and look at the images it looked about right.

This is where diary reader and butterfly expert Mark Tutton came in when he emailed me to say that he thought the creature was in fact an aberrant female Common Blue. I didn't know butterflies did that sort of thing! Mark discussed the photo with others more familiar with these things and the consensus was definitely a female Common Blue. There you have it, the simple life's out the window, even the butterflies are pretending to be something they aren't!

Female common blue  Common Blue Aberration

A bog standard female Common Blue, which we currently have in good numbers and the dastardly wannabe.

Back on firmer ground in that we are continuing to enjoy some great fishing with some lovely fish gracing the banks. I'm still not finding many anglers out and about on my travels but I'm sure its just because our paths must be failing to cross, I hope your all our there somewhere enjoying the Avon valley at its best.

19 pound salmon 12.10 barbel

We are still seeing the salmon numbers climbing to new heights as this cracking 19 pounder by Pete Littleworth shows. When I called at the Lodge this evening to add a further sheet to the return book I notice that Peter Dexter had also added a brace yesterday. Well done both Peters amazing times we are enjoying. The barbel is a 12.10 caught by Kenny Parsons when he paid us a visit today. He was enjoying the chub when this old girl turned up in the swim and in Kenny's own words it would have been rude not to try for her! Great fish, well done Kenny. As for the chub, six fish all 21" long weighing in between 4.14 and 5.10 and completely spawned out.

21st June

I just love sunny weekends

Trespasser Boaters Litter

"I didn't see a sign" "Onus of responsibility on the individual, whats that mean?" Wonderful things these public footpaths! Why not do some boating and kill some cygnets? Finally I see Sainsbury's are doing their bit to keep the Avon tidy. I assume its Sainsburys that left it, if it were my name and address all over the litter thats the assumption the regulating authorities would make! Aren't the Great British public wonderful?

In reality the anglers I meet during my rounds and the environment in which I work make the ignorant and ill informed just a minor annoyance.

Pyramidal Common Spotted Southern Marsh

Three of the orchids that can be found around the lakes.

20th June

Meadow Lake

The late afternoon sunshine was sufficient to lure me out into the valley to catch up with the days fishing news. I visited Lifelands and Ibsley on the river and couldn't find any anglers to chat to so decided to call at the lakes on my way home. I didn't fare much better than on the river in my search for anglers, I did manage to find three on Mockbeggar and two on Meadow so with 80 acres of water at their disposal they were not exactly struggling to find a swim. The fishing has been spot on with some huge carp, large catches of bream and some lovely tench. Stephen Hutchinson had over twenty bream plus the odd tench and carp, whilst Matt Moore had tench to eight and a half pounds. Add Chris Flack's 30+ mirror opening day and we are looking good for a productive season.

Perhaps I should add that Matt also had carp to 26 plus! I think Matt's comment about the lack of anglers on the lake was the highlight of that day when he said,
"It was alright for you country folk but us townies are not so sure about being out here alone in all this dark and weird noises!"
Brilliant, I'd never considered that aspect of night fishing.

The Lagoon Paddock Spotted orchid Newly emerged Meadow Brown

I have shown the paddocks that surround Mockbeggar on here many times, where we are attempting to encourage our native flora and fauna. Often overlooked are the small paddocks tucked away around Meadow Lake that offer some equally attractive habitat. Whilst the Southern Marsh orchids are now almost over we are seeing several more Common Spotted appearing in new corners and Meadow's paddocks are no exception. With the grass and wild flowers come the butterflies and the newly emerged Meadow Brown is worth showing despite having put up a Meadow Brown pic just a day or two ago. There also some new faces with the first Marbled White and Cinnabar moth putting in appearances and member Andy Jackson reported the first Silver Washed Fritillary at Mockbeggar yesterday.

Chalk hill blue

Last but not least, perhaps not the best shot as it was hiding in the long grass, this newly emerged Chalk Hill Blue was in the entrance paddock at Mockbeggar. Whilst these are fairly common a few miles north on the Plain we do not see them as frequently this low in the valley, a lovely surprise.

19th June

14 pound salmon

Congratulations go to Graham Barker on his first Avon salmon in the shape of a 14 pound fish from the tail of the Bridge Pool. Graham was fishing with Paul Greenacre who was introducing him to the pools when he found his fish. Paul added yet another himself making his personal tally for the season to date twenty fish, its a long time since an Avon rod has managed twenty in a season, astonishing achievement, well done Paul.
Bearing in mind we stop salmon fishing when the water temperature reaches 19 degrees C please keep an eye on the temperature on the Knappmill website. It was 18+ today and if this weather persists will top 19 degrees any time soon.

17th June

A day of bits and pieces, catching up with jobs that require my attention that has been distracted by the recent preparations for the opening of the river coarse season and the Somerley Lakes complex opening to run in parallel with Mockbeggar.

My day began at 05:30am when the phone rang to bring me news of fish that had been landed and required a decision related to its fate. The decision only involved deciding if I needed to attend to take some photos but in this particular instance others were on hand so my presence wasn't necessary. As I was up and about I felt it might be a worthwhile exercise to walk a mile or two of the lower end of the fishery at Lifelands to ensure the fact we were now syndicated was getting out. We had found a couple of wayward individuals yesterday and I'm keen to ensure we send a clear and unequivocal message we are now members only on Somerley. No villains to report so a very pleasant hour and a half walking the river and discovering several hundred meters of bank that requires further attention of my strimmer. Hopefully I will get a day or two in the not too distant future to break the back of the strimming and cutting required at the bottom end and get it spick-and-span for the summer ahead. Back into the estate for 08:00 o’clock and as I drove over Ellingham bridge a huge shoal of small dace were rising freely looking for their breakfast. Its good to see these vast shoals and hopefully I will discover their larger brethren later in the season when I dig out my trotting rods.

The next few hours took me away from the river and it was at lunchtime I called at Ibsley to see if any of the coarse members had found any fish. As it turned out the only two anglers there were salmon anglers, in the shape of Paul Greenacre giving one of our new rods a guided tour of the pools. It turned out to be quite a memorable day as not only did our new rod hook a fish, which unfortunately came adrift, he was on hand when Paul landed his first of the day.

Second of four salmon

I wrote first of the day above as Paul went on to land a further three fish, making four after lunch today. Quite remarkable, well done Paul, you are enjoying a spectacularly good season.

16th June

Whilst my role on the fishery requires my involvement with angling every day of the year the 16th June is ingrained on my subconscious as a very special day in the angling calendar. On the stillwaters fishing 365 days of the year has seen the 16th lose much of its magic. Of course the 16th is the beginning of the coarse season on the rivers and the anticipation and excitement of getting back on the banks remain as true as ever. What has changed in the river world are the species that are targeted from the off. The days of trotting for dace and chub have been replaced for many by the feeder and the rig designed to out wit the keenly sought monster barbel. Pleasingly today one or two of the syndicate anglers I bumped into were looking for the chub and perch in those traditional ways. I only met a total of two or three anglers out on the river and very few about the lakes today so I didn't get a true picture of how things were fishing. I suppose with the syndicate now in place it is a situation I will have to get used to. Hopefully one or two more members managed to get out on the river after work this evening and enjoyed the wonderful end of the day.

6.3 chub Meadow Brown 20+ common

Member Kenny Parsons enjoyed a perfect day with the chub with eight fish to 6.4 including this 6.3. The wonderful sunshine also brought out the butterrflies and the meadows were full of their natural partners in the shape of hundreds of Meadow Browns. Finally a photo of a carp in recognition of days gone by. I did see mirrors over thirty and commons to 27.8 but not this fish which Dan landed a day or two ago. I wanted to put it up as its such a smart looking carp with those lovely long barbels. All a little higgledy piggledy but as I have been awake since four this morning I think that will do for this evening.

12th June

In an effort to clarify the situation re fish handling the local EA contacted the EA fish health team in Brampton for their opinion. As well as their considered view on the cotton gloves they also sent through the air exposure graph below which clearly illustrates the care we need to take with these fish. With the water temperatures now rising quite quickly ensure you take heed of this sensible advice.

Air exposure graph

Whilst this is based on Rainbow Trout the implications for fresh salmon are probably more severe.

With regard to the use of cotton gloves for handling fish, the Environment Agency considers that the weave of the cotton (whether pre-wetted or not) is likely to remove a higher proportion of a fish’s protective mucus than wet hands. Therefore we would not recommend their use for handling fish. Smooth surgical type gloves may provide some benefit over wet hands, but this would be outweighed by the delay it takes to get them on and the retention of the fish during this time. We would therefore recommend that wet hands are the best for handling fish so that the fish can be returned with the minimum of delay and minimum of mucus loss.

I fully endorse that position as such; any conductors out there or anybody wanting to buy six pairs of white cotton gloves? - really cheap!

Ketrel brood Peacock caterpillars Sloes

Checking the nest boxes found these little gems? Peacock caterpillars on the nettles and it looks like a good year for the Sloe Gin.

Grey herons

The frogs are having a hard time of it at present, the shot shows eight of twenty one that were in this corner of the meadow.

10th June

Paddle boards Five spotted burnet Mandarin brood

Summer's here and the idiots are abroad. "We didn't see any signs" "We're doing no harm" "That law doesn't apply to us" I despair! I don't suppose they'll be the last but at least the police saw these two clowns on their way. More pleasant signs were my first Five-spot-burnet of the year and what must be a record Mandarin brood of eighteen - unless you know differently of course?

Kingfishers, not quite! Missed it!

Sometimes those shots don't quite come off.

09th June

Chew Valley

I was away over the weekend, tiring myself out catching trout, I'll catch up with events as soon as poss.

6th June

Last night was a small step in the direction of summer but was a long way from being warm. The sun may have come out today but this evening was an equally long way from being a balmy Summer one! I think most things in the inhabitants of the countryside are as confused as I am. Carp stop start spawning in the shallower lakes and yet to even show in the deeper ones. Huge midge hatches around the ;lakes yet the valley Damsel and Dragonflies have been notable by their absence. That was until today when they made up for lost time and hatched in their thousands.

Banded Demoiselle Painted Lady Broad bodied chaser

With the sun Nature's jewels came out in the form of a mass hatch of Damsel and Dragon flies, which were joined by one or two butterflies including my first Painted Lady of the year. Banded demoiselles, Broad bodied chasers, Scarce chasers even a Darter did what its best at and darted off before I could capture a shot of it! The fresh colours of the newly emerged insects sparkled from every suitable drying perch.


Not the finest photo of a cuckoo but that shot also included at least three, if not four warblers. I can only see one Sedge warbler but when I pressed that shutter there were at least three mobbing the Cuckoo in an effort to drive him from their nests.

Walking, as opposed to fishing, the river seemed as good a way as any to while away a few hours and catch up with Nature's events. The river is as low as I have seen it at this time of year and with the weed yet to get into growth mode there is nothing in the channel to coffer it back. Just where we are heading with this seasons flows I begin to wonder. With so many salmon already in the system low flows and warm water pose a considerable risk to the population if it continues along these lines. Many fish will now be unable to enter the Avon as the flows have dropped below the critical 9 cumec highlighted in the Solomon tracking report. These fish will hold in the Royalty for some time before dropping back into the harbour and up into the Lower Stour, the risk there is not one of lack of flow but but lack of oxygen. In best antisocial fishery management fashion I'm crossing all appendages and praying for a weeks rain.

5th June

Somerley Lakes

Bear left at the daisies for paradise!

The Lagoon Lazy Man's The Lagoon

The lagoons looking wonderful and heaving with fish.

3rd June

It seems the file I sent out to the river coarse syndicate members still has the wrong night fishing bank on it. It should read "left/east" bank NOT left/west. We'll get there in the end, hopefully!

Roe doe

I've been over the lakes today tidying-up in readiness for the 16th. The doe above has watched my progress through out the day from the comfort of her bed in the bracken. She is the twin sister of the young buck I included the other day. I actually prefer this photo as it captures the more typical behaviour in that the roe tend to spend the day in cover as opposed to her brother who sits out in the open for all to see.

There has been an Osprey bobbing about at Mockbeggar since the weekend, could members please report sightings to me and text me if its hanging about. Whilst on bird news the first brood of Mandarins are on the south lake at Mockbeggar which contains nine juveniles that are now ten days old. I was expecting two further broods to have hatched by now, should members see any very small juvenile Mandarins please count how many and I would also appreciate a text.

1st June

With a fortnight before the start of the river coarse season I am doing my last cut of the salmon pools before allowing the banks to regrow and soften to provide cover for the coarse swims. I must be honest in that I had thought with such a low river we would have seen the salmon failing to get to us and begin to stack up in the bottom of the river. Pleasingly they are still arriving and Bob Kay added his name to the return book today with a 2SW out of Woodside on the fly. Well done Bob, I haven't seen much of you this season so its good to know you haven't lost the knack.

Ibsley Weirpool

Peter Dexter fishing the tail of the beautiful Ibsley Weirpool.

31st May

Atlantic Salmon Midge smoke
A shot of Largue with his second fish taken on a size 9 Posh Tosh, fished on the floating line. A classic Avon summer fish, well caught Largue, congratulations. The second shot is a rather poor attempt at catching the millions upon millions of midges that hang in vast columns in the shelter of every tree and bush around the lakes. This is an illustration of Natures bounty providing food for dozens of different creatures, several hundred Swifts, hundreds of Black-headed gulls and frustratingly thousands of fish. It gives some indication of the richness contained within the nearby lakes when you consider everyone of these millions of midges has hatched from a larval and nymph stage within the waters and this is only one night and this is repeated night, after night, after night. One other point worthy or recording was reported to me by syndicate member, Peter Howell, whilst out on the meadows at Harbridge. Peter counted five individual cuckoos, surely a result of the dozens of suitable hosts in the form of the warblers in the nearby reed beds.

During my river visit today I spent some time discussing the recent spate of saprolegnia covered fish. One possible cause of the initial injuries that we considered was that of handling of rod caught fish. I think we are now all aware that every effort should be made to retain the fish in the water and in the event it has to be taken out onto the bank any exposure to the air is for a maximum of 30 seconds. Even if apparently keen to go attempt to rest the fish for at least ten minutes to ensure the release of acids into the muscles has peaked and these fish apparently return to the river little worse for their experience. It is the unseen elements of this process, the removal of the fishes protective slime that may potentially inflict damage that subsequently becomes infected with saprolegnia. In an effort to minimise this damage some fisheries have introduced the requirement of only handling fish when wearing white coton gloves that once wet reduce this slime removal. I am currently looking at the science behind this thinking and looking at different patterns of gloves, if convinced of their benefits we will consider introducing such a requirement at Somerley. The gloves themselves cost less than a pound a pair so the expence element isn't an issue so please keep an eye on this space for developments.

I would of course appreciate any feedback from readers related to their personal experiences of the use of these gloves, particularly if the background to their introduction is known.

30th May

Meadow flowers

Yet another photo of the meadow flowers. This one shows the patch of orchids that have established in one of the corners. Last year just a solitary flower spike was evident, this season has seen thirty plus Southern Marsh and six Common Spotted grace the banks. Fingers crossed we see a compound increase in their numbers again in years to come.

First grilse of the year Snout damage Little grebe

Paul G has been breaking new ground once more with the capture of our first grilse of the season. Not only the first grilse but the fiftieth fish off Somerley this quite remarkable season. The appearance of a grilse at the end of May is quite something in itself. We have been used to seeing the grilse in July in recent years. Historically mid June saw their with us at Somerley so one in May is further food for thought in this odd season. I must just add congratulations to Colin Morgan who landed his third fish of the season from Blashford this morning. Finally on the capture front a special well done and congratulations to Simon Tomkinson who's comment in the returns book saying he didn't know who was the more surprised himself or the fish made my day. It may not be a seatrout Simon but it has to be the next best thing! There is actually one more fish in that Paul had a brace today with the addition of a ten pounder from Island Run this evening; he just can't stop catching them! The middle photo is of the snout of Colin's fish with the erosion we have seen on several fish this season. There is perhaps a clue on this one in that there appears to be a fish louse onthe side of the erosion. I've never seen lice infestation on the snout that could cause this damage so perhaps the fishery biologist that I know look in from time to time may like to give me a few clues. The final shot is one of the native fishermen we share our waters with in the shape of a Little Grebe or Dabchick. I took this out of the window of the Goosander hide on Ibsley Water whilst out looking for the fish we are meant to be removing. The hides on the Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve offer exceptional opportunities for bird photography if you ever wish to try your hand at the game.

27th May

Salmon casualty

Apart from the previously expressed concerns about the condition of several of this years fish showing signs of obscure bites and fin erosion, today we found the third fish in excess of 20 lbs dead on the bed of the river, plastered in saprolegnia. Just why we should be seeing so many fish showing signs of wear and tear is worrying, particularly if we see a low flow summer with high water temperatures in which this freshwater mould will flourish. Saprolegnia is a secondary infection growing on damaged tissue. On today's fish there was no obvious cause of death or primmary route of the infection. Possbily a rod caught fish but not one we have seen as all three exceed any that we have landed this season. It did have a broken anal fin and possible net marks across its flanks but not sufficient damage to be fatal. I presume it will remain a mystery just what is causing these injuries it does however indicate a potentially stressed population that we must treat with kid gloves.

Weir pool salmon

On a happier note a shot of Paul with his latest capture from the Ibsley Weirpool. Paul has been hoping for a salmon from the weir pool for over seven years and this week he achieved his ambition, well done Paul, job done.

26th May

Ox eye daisies

A pic of the meadows overlooking the lakes as the summer flowers begin to bring everything to life.

An update of the last day or two on the river after a very busy weekend. I have to admit to being away from the valley for the most part of Saturday, out chasing Smooth hounds about in the Eastern Solent. On my return a visit to the lakes was required to chase the cattle out of the meadows as someone had managed to leave the gate open. Please take special care to ensure you remember to lock the gate behind you. If you fail to do so the free roaming cattle and horses of the Forest immediately make the most of the opportunity and I suffer a serious sense of humour failure!

On a happier note we have a further couple of salmon to report in the shape of Paul Greenacre adding yet another to his amazing total and pleasingly Rob Smyth opened his account with a fresh 15 lbs cock fish from Park Pool this morning. The river is dropping like a stone so we are now crossing everything we have in the hope of a day or two of serious rain to bring the flows back up and keep the fish entering the system. Whatever the outcome, even to the extent we do not see any further fish, we have enjoyed a remarkable season. If I were asked at the beginning of the first year of the syndicate what figure I would have wish to see in the book at the end of the season I would not have been bold enough to have predicted where we are today.

Sunday got underway with a bridge building exercise, in that Pete Reading, Steve Derby, Darren Slavin and son Ronnie, complete with plastered broken wrist, came down to help get the bridge before Ashley Old Weir finished. I haven't been in a position to arrange any organised work parties due to our efforts in getting the infrastructure completed before the season gets under way. To that end there will be one or two changes on the river scene that have appeared in the break. We have now surfaced the track from East Terrace Down to Ashley and reinstated the car parks at Penmeade and Ashley itself. This will mean that the car park in Sunderton Wood that required walking across the field immediately over the fence, will not be available from June 16th. Should you feel the need access will still be available to Ashley, off the Verwood Road, it will however mean continueing up Ashley drive for a further quarter of a mile through another gate by the cattle grid before turning right down the newly graveled track that will link to the road between Penmeade and Ashley new car park. It will involve three gates with combination locks and two latched gates as opposed to one or two gates that just require opening and closing. The new car park is also in at Fools Corner at the other end of the estate that gets cars away from Ibsley Bridge. All the changes and corrections to the existing rules will be blind copied to members before the season gets under way and also on here on the members pages. It may sound difficult but the salmon rods have picked it all up without major incident so all bodes well for the new season.

Monday began with a dawn walk just to enjoy the lakes and catch up on the stillwater news. I spend my working life on these waters yet I still enjoy the added bonus of free time spent in the same surrounds, made even more pleasant on this particular morning as I met with a like minded syndicate member similarly out like myself simply to enjoy the early morning sights and sounds. The meadows were bursting into life, birds were in full voice, the carp were busy spawning, deer and rabbits made their way back under cover for their days rest and the views across the lake, with the backdrop of the forest escarpment, were perfect.

As for the fishing there have at last been one or two roach bags coming out. Later on Monday John Slader, who had found roach in the southern lake last week, enjoyed two dozen fish between 10 and 12 inches plus four small carp from the north lake, all on the corn which is certainly very encouraging. Lets hope they keep their heads down and begin to show in such numbers on a more frequent basis from now on. The carp fishing has been improving in leaps and bounds with one or two great catches and some huge fish but more of that at a later date.

24th May

Salmon Red Vent Syndrome

Interesting shot of the vent of one of the recent fish in that it clearly shows a salmon suffering from Red Vent Syndrome. It is caused by the parasite "Anasakis" a small nematode that lives in the body tissue of its host. The accumulation of the parasite in the region of the vent causes the swelling and bleeding. The last I heard it was not deemed fatal to the fish or ultimately detrimental to spawning but I would appreciate a report of any fish caught that are seen to be suffering. It can be transferred to humans through eating raw fish but as these fish are not entering the food chain I see little concern from this quarter.

Salmon Red Vent Syndrome

On a more positive note here is a photograph of a fish that marks a remarkable achievement for Paul Greenacre in being his tenth of the year off the estate. It is a long time since a salmon rod has taken ten fish in a season, congratulations are very much deserved, well done Paul. If we continue with the cool water and see a top up of the river I imagine several more fish will be added to that total before the end of the season. Many thanks for the photographs Paul

20th May

Second from the weirpool Tail of the weir pool Third from the weir

In the past 25 years we have not seen a fish from the weirpool yet today Stephen landed his third in as many days. Even more incredible they came on consecutive casts!

There have been other fish in that Paul Greenacre landed his ninth yesterday and this one from the other end of the estate down at Ringwood Weir. Its been several years since we have seen a fish from that pool as well so we are in very strage territory this year. Also requiring further congratulations is Bob Stone with his fourth of the season, taken in five visits, wonderful stuff.

Nine plus tench

Here's a pic for the stillwater lads, who have been suffering the cold weather of late, in the shape of a 9+ tench. Lovely fish Russ, well done.

There's lots going on and I will up date the page asap but now I'm sticking the fly rod on the roof of the car and heading for the weir pool!

20th May

Four point buck Weirpool salmon
A lunchtime update with a shot of the young buck, "Just sleeping in the sun" Many of you will be familiar with him and his sister just chewing the cud as you make your way to Blashford. The second shot shows Stephen Hutchinson who is well documented on these pages during the third week in May in his role as Mr Consistent. Well he has definately done it again this year, which is I believe the fifteenth consecutive year, with his third in the last three visits. Of particular note with this fish is the location Stephen has taken it from in that its from the Ibsley Weir Pool, the first from the pool in the period of my association with the Estate. Super result well done yet again Stephen.

To round off the report for the day I must start with congratulations to Mike Tolley for a cracking brace to bring up numbers thirty nine and forty. Mike's fish came from Dog Kennel and pleasingly the second a 17 pounder from Sydney Pool, a section of the river that never receives the attention it deserves.

Interesting development down at the Mudeford Run in that a dredger has moved in to dredge out the new channel and redistribute the resulting sand and gravel on the nearby holiday beaches. I find it amazing that at the most critical time for the Avon salmon fisheries with probably the most important spring tide of the entire year and we risk the confusion, disturbance and disruption of the salomn run. I've been informed by the EA, "They don't think it will have any effect on the fish". That's alright then, I'm sure that's based on sound locally produced research and will be closely monitored. There again if they have got it wrong its only the fisheries that will suffer. I think that half of that EA response is correct at least!

Goosander Brood

The third brood of Goosander at Ellingham today.

19th May

Fate, luck, hard work, sods law, just what is it that determines the outcome of our efforts? As we go about our daily lives, be it work, family or play, we have hopes, aspirations and goals that keep us on our chosen paths. One of the advantages of my age is that during my years of people watching I have witnessed many, many differing routes to achieving these desires.

As regular readers of the diary over the past ten years many of you will be aware that I am a great believer in fate. What defines fate is another of these great imponderables. Is it just luck dressed up as a greater force determining our future or is there more to it? Before I get overly philosophical I should recount the event that has brought about these ramblings.

The event was a simple phone call at about 08:00 oclock this evening. That call was form Danny Taylor, sharing with me the capture of a salmon, but this was not an ordinary salmon. This was a salmon landed by Danny after weeks of effort, with the correct gear, at the correct time, in all the correct places. Just why it has taken all those weeks for both Danny and for that matter his fishing partner Largues who landed his first at the week end, to get that elusive fish on the bank is a mystery. Those of you that regularly fish Somerley will know well the efforts of Largue's and Danny to find a Somerley Salmon. It is difficult to understand why it has taken until this stage in the season to achieve this goal. They both have considerable ability when it comes to presenting a fly on a well cast line. Both have the water craft to know and understand where salmon are most likely to be found. Certainly both have put in the time on the bank that would expect to have crossed the paths of salmon on a much earlier occasion. So why has it taken until now? Why? That's simple, Its fishing!

Avon salmon Avon salmon
Two of the same fish with its delighted captor. Brilliant result Dan and thanks to Largue who was on hand to take the photos, I bet you held your breath playing that fish!

“Thank Christ for that, we can all relax now and enjoy the rest of the season” ;-)
I do have two further fish to report in that both Paul Shutler and Stephen Hutchinson added to their seasons tally yesterday. Well done both, keep up the good work. If history has anything to tell us this next week or two will see the peak of the fishing so ensure you make the most of the opportunity.

17th May

The drop of temperature last night once again put a brake on the fishing at the lakes. With the fishing slow few anglers were out making my round an extremely relaxed and pleasant occasion. Time to stop for a chat and catch-up with those that were still hoping for a chance of just a fish or two. Pleasant enough weather, perfect opportunity for a close look at the progress of the surrounding grassland, just to see how last winters grazing regime has set us up for the summer.

Southern Marsh Orchid Reed beds Mayfly sheltering on yelow flag

As the growing seasons gets into gear the grassland and margins are looking in excellent fettle. I have fenced off one small area to protect a small group of orchids that are establishing themselves behind the ropes. Where the grassland finishes and runs into the marginal strip now the reed beds have sufficient light they are thriving. Its an odd crop we are attempting to grow in that it has many factors acting on it that we do not have under our control. Whilst we can bring in the stock and remove it when the sward is where we deem it sufficiently cropped we do not control the natural grazers; deer, geese and rabbits all of which have a considerable impact. This spring has seen the rabbit numbers rapidly recover from the ravages of myxy and possibly RHD that almost wiped out our colonies last autumn. Whilst the Buzzards and foxes appreciate the return our meadows are receiving quite a haircut in places. I don't think the impact will be too grave as the mixed sward that is appearing probably has significant benefits for biodiversity, especially if you consider the interaction between rabbits, red ants and Green woodpeckers that seems to be once more back on track. With my first Clouded Yellow of the summer drifting by as a pointer of things to come, too fast to photograph, I will watch the arrival of the summer flowers with keen interest.

On the river scene the Ibsley Bridge Pool has produced its first salmon of the season with Stephen Hutchinson taking a 12 lbs cock fish that still had sea lice attached, which would point to it having been less than 48 hours off the tide. Whilst on the subject of salmon one of our rods lost his fly box whilst out on the estate on Saturday. Its a small three division Myran box that contains a collection of self tied tubes. Any one picking it up give me a call please.

Avon flow history

The flow data chart from the EA Knappmill website showing the history of the recent run of 3SW fish, marked in red. Food for thought.

16th May

Largue with an 11 pound salmon

Here's a photograph that will give many in the syndicate a great deal of pleasure. Its Largue with his first on the fly from Somerley. Congratulations Largue and very, very well won and thoroughly deserved.

There are a couple of more well dones due in that Colin Morgan managed his second and George Hudson who travels from Kent for his time with us landed a fine 12 lbs cock fish from Harbridge Bends. I don't have all the details for George's fish but will have a look in the book tomorrow to discover the secrets. Congratulations both and commiserations to those of you, who know who you are, that were fishing in conservation mode today! Considering the number of fish hooked today that must have been quite a pod that arrived with us this morning.

12 pound cock fish

Well done George, nice one.

North from the church tower Town from Ringwood church tower

I spent an interesting half an hour at the top of St Peter and St Paul church tower, which is the one we see when we fish the bottom end of the estate waters.

15th May

Yesterday was the last day of the fly only restriction as spinning is permissible as from the off today. I can only say a big well done to the syndicate members who have made the first months of the syndicate such a success. In saying this I am not only speaking of those members who have been lucky enough to have landed salmon. Those who have not had such good fortune have played an equally important role in making our banks such a pleasant and enjoyable place to be. A big well done to all involved.

We have enjoyed an incredible start in that we finished on thirty salmon on the fly, which without checking back through the records, I would hazard a guess as being an all time record for fly caught fish at Somerley. Thanks to Bob Stone for making it the round number with his third of the campaign from Harbridge, congratulations nice fish. I should also add that many rods will continue to fish the fly so I imagine, water permitting, we will be adding to that marvellous number.

My request the other day for feedback related to the injuries that many of the salmon appear to be suffering has invoked quite a response. I have received many suggested culprits inflicting those wounds and up until today I must admit I was looking at Tope as being perhaps the most likely candidate.

I say up until today because one of our rods, Paul Shutler text me a photo he took this morning whilst out in his boat off Christchurch Ledge. Quite independently of Paul I was also contacted by river syndicate member James Martin who forwarded a video clip taken by his friend Steve Rich whilst out in his boat off Old harry rocks last week. The content of these photos and clips, dolphins, estimates of as many as 30 would put a further possible culprit firmly in the frame.


Paul Shutlers photo and I would have put Steve Rich's video clip but its late and I'm not sure how I store the file so that'll have to wait I fear. I have been calling these animals dolphins but I have no idea if that is what they are, possibly porpoise but whatever they are I bet they eat salmon.

Back to the river and over the last two days there has been a quite remarkable fly hatch. I perhaps have seen more of individual species but yesterday in particular whilst the showers continued apace the river was alive with Mayflies by the thousand, Yellow May duns in drifts with assorted olives and midges in clouds. The entire river was alive, the wagtails were packing beak fulls down their offspring, the Hobbies picked rising females off the wing as they drifted from the river. Less welcome several hundred Black-headed Gulls dipped tens of thousands of Mayflies from the river. Each gull dipping every four or five seconds for hours on end. It never fails to bring out the worst in me when I see deliberately encouraged non-indigenous species hammering our threatened up-winged flies each season. There is now a colony of several hundred of these SEA gulls on an island in the bird reserve and I use the word reserve very loosely. Its the double standards of the “conservation” groups and the hypocrisy of Natural England that never fails to get my goat. Of course if you really want me to get on this hobby horse just put a small fly through Ibsley Bridge pool, or now of course a small spinner, number 2 long-blade Mepps and see what happens. One rod had thirty five rainbows as he attempted to fish down the pool a day or two ago. The river is crawling with the wretched things, I've been informed that one of the upstream trout farms had a stew full of rubbish to get rid of and pulled the screens. To top it all my bait freezer has broken down so I can't do my annual recharge of my pike dead-bait supply.

Hobby Mayflies Feeding Grey Wagtail

A wonderful hatch in yesterday's drizzle.

Not to worry the valley remains an absolutely wonderful place to be, the syndicate is up and running, despite my struggling to get many of the infrastructure projects completed there is most definitely a very positive buzz about the place at the moment.

Greater spotted woodpecker Grey wagtail

The valley is a wonderful place to be at the moment.

13th May

As it was such a grand day after dinner this evening I decided to do my busman's holiday take on life and head for the river valley to enjoy the last of the evening sunshine. On opening the door of the car in the car park the first thing you notice are the warblers. The estate appears to be the centre of warbler world at the moment with the ratcheting and chirring of Sedge, Reed and Cettis sounding from all directions. The second thing you notice is the fly hatch. Millions upon millions each a point of light dancing in the lee of every bush, bank and tree.

Mandarin brood Oyster catcher Pen and cygnets

It seemed that the sunshine had also encouraged many of the other valley residents to come out for the evening, many of them bringing the next generation with them. The first Mandarin brood of the year, Oyster catchers that I presume are the non sitting half of the pairs nesting on the nearby lakes and the first brood of cygnets.

Fly hatch The head of Park pool

The millions of flies dancing in the lee of the hedges down the drive and Largue throwing a fine line at the head of Park, amidst the valley residents coming and going.

Goslings on the lakes Pheasants Goosander brood

Goslings, Pheasants and Goosander all out enjoying the last of the day's sunshine.

12th May

John Harwood looking justifiably pleased with his first Avon salmon on the fly, congratulations John, nice one!

Number eight
Paul playing number eight in a perfect Avon Valley backdrop, what an incredible season he is enjoying, stupendous would seem a good description.

Twenty four hours seems a long, long time with the speed of events in the valley at the moment. I spent the last day away from the river and seem to have missed all the fun. As well as John and Paul's fish in the photos Paul Tibbins and Bob Stone have been adding to the ever growing tally. I'm told the weather is threatening to warm up over the next week or two and if that is the case it may be to the detriment of the salmon fishing but hopefully the lakes and my blood will appreciate the change. What ever the outcome of the salmon season we have to say it has been a fabulous period whilst we have been restricted to fly only. With spinning just a couple of days away it will be interesting to see what the river has produced up until that point. As it stands at the moment I believe we and the Royalty have enjoyed a very similar start and there have been some notable catches from the fisheries in between, I'll try and get an update for the 15th as I'm sure it will have been the best start for several decades and fingers crossed that its a sign of things to come.

10th May


These are some of the crowd that along with the House Sparrows are currently rearing nine broods on the side of our house. As I mentioned last week the Swifts have returned and they are establishing the ownership of their nestboxes, which involves an established routine in how they go about this. It begins with the Swifts arriving at high speed high over the house announcing their presence with a burst of high pitched screaming. Upon hearing this the lot in the photo immediately go on full alert and fly to their nestboxes and stand guard at the entrance. The Swifts circle the house once or twice at low level and any box with no guard will be inspected as a prospective home. Once they have found one to suit, or in our case one which I have kept clear awaiting their return, they enter and stay inside for periods from five to thirty minutes hissing and shrieking warnings to any other bird prospecting the box to establish their ownership. Its so simple yet so effective, a further brilliant example of nature's efficiency at work.

9th May

Paul Greenacre with his seventh of the season.

Bite mark
Odd bite mark.

Paul's seventh fish this afternoon further emphasises this remakable start to the season, also a remarkable feat of angling, well done Paul. As the flows begin to drop lets hope they continue to make it into the river in similar numbers. With the start of the spinning less than a week away make sure you make the most of this final week of fly only if you want that elusive fish on the fly. Interestingly Pauls fish had a clear bite mark on its flank. Just what was able to leave such a complete imprint on the flat side of the fish is a puzzle to me. Too round for a pike, too large for an otter and too small for a seal? Gummy Dolphin or toothless shark any ideas email them through I'd like to hear them.

I've mentioned on here in earlier entries the eroded snouts, as if battling against a hatch. We have seen several deep tooth marks and torn skin which makes me believe these fish are running quite a demanding gauntlet to get to us so ensure they are treated with kid gloves. I would be interested to hear about any injuries that you might find should you be in the fortunate position of landing one of these magnificent fish. The more we understand the more complete the picture we can put together in our attempts to ease their passage.

8th May

Between the pools Grey Wagtail

Just a couple of cut-aways in the shape of the track between the pools and a busy Wagtail seeking to fill demanding young.

7th May

Having been duly chastised regarding my bad habits and trained in the latest thinking related to chainsaws I feel like a new man. It did mean I was away from the valley again and it seems I missed all the fun. Two landed in the shape of 2SW fish, for which congratulations to Bob Stone and Peter Littleworth, plus at least four others that decided to come adrift. Certainly exciting and encouraging days we live in, Peter's third this term so he is definitely getting the hang of Somerley!

Lots of speculation regarding the appearance of such number but unfortunately we remain completely in the dark, “With,” and here I quote a well known and well respected salmon fishery biologist, “our thumbs firmly up our bottoms just guessing” Was it as I speculated earlier the low flow winters that gave rise to lower river spawning and better parr survival? Perhaps the benefits of the 2010 moratorium on the EA destruction of our river with its reciprocating weed boats has allowed the natural lower river riffles to support those increased numbers? Cooler summers? Colder winters? Reduced levels of flooding? Its anybodies guess and that's just the problem.

Surely the universities, colleges and NGO's that specialise in riverine ecology and protection must be able to put in place research work to answer some of these questions? If its down to funding its long past the time when Defra were removed from the equation or a funding system capable of protecting the rivers, as opposed to the riverine institutions, was developed. I do not see the riparian interests ever being in a position to support a level of protection our rivers deserve or if it comes to that the riverine ngo's cosying up to the EA and Defra will not provide the answer. In which case it must be based on that simple principle that the polluter pays. Discharge, abstraction, agricultural chemicals levies? I fear we will never see a UK government with the balls to implement such measures so it looks as if Europe will continue to be the only hope for the salvation of our rivers.

Under control

Bob Stone doing what fishermen strive for with his fresh fish well under control. Bob fishes with Julian Mahoney, for whom I must thank for the photo and who landed that lovely fish from almost the same spot a day or two ago.

6th May

As fate would have it whilst the wind of the last couple of days is doing its best to blow the estate flat I am halfway through a chainsaw refresher course. I believe this was due to me not having felled sufficient trees in the last couple of years though I am informed it is down to insurance and health and safety needs. Whatever the reason, we are all distracted from the goings on in the valley whilst having our bad habits exorcised. I have kept an eye on the car parks on my way in and out at lunchtime and there seems to be a current lack of rod effort presumably due to the unpleasant blow howling up the valley. I can appreciate this reluctance as this evening I took the rod across the meadows from the new car park to fish down Provosts. Simply crossing the field proved quite challenging, just staying upright against the wind. Casting was best described as interesting, sometimes rolling out across the pool with the merest of flicks, lifting off simply involved raising the rod, the “D” formed without effort. The next cast would arrive at my feet in a heap! I have to say that whilst tricky it fished sufficiently well to have found a fish if one had been present. Justifying to myself at least my being out in such conditions. The only problem was there wasn't a fish there tonight but I would be prepared to bet there will be one there tomorrow!

Wind blown willow

The willow at the tail of Middle Cabbage has blown into the river today. It was one of the willows that should have been pollarded under phase 2 of the Ibsley tree work that has never been completed. Oddly it may have proved fortuitous in that its not in the way and it looks as if it may provide quite a good slack at the head of Lower cabbage. Before I make any decisions about its fate I think I may leave it where it is for a while just to see how the flow develops behind it.

5th May

Large common

One more for the carp anglers in the shape of this 30+ common. Lovely fish Julian, thanks for the photos and the report.

4th May

I have been off on various family duties this weekend so my knowledge of the valley goings on is a little hit and miss. I do have to thank Martin Hughes for texting me news of his first Avon salmon. Many congratulations Martin and may it be the first of many. Dan Wrigley also text me through a photo of a common he managed this weekend which I have included below as a break to the seemingly never ending pix of salmon. I have heard that the lower fisheries had several fish last week which is great news for the Avon salmon fishery. Its been a long time since there has been such a feel good feeling on the salmon front.

I did see that the EA fish counter published its data until mid April that does seem at odds with the rod catch. It either means we have caught virtually every fish that has entered the river, the counter is not working efficiently or we have caught the same fish on numerous occasions. I will leave it to you to make up your own mind which answer best fits the bill. Just a little added information in that I have seen several of the fish landed at Somerley and I have yet to see a repeat capture.

One aspect that is becoming apparent is that of the number of released and perhaps lost fish that are in the pools. We are seeing an increasing number of fish coming short to the fly and leaping clear of the water as the fly passes. I have seen this behaviour with recognisable fish in the Bridge Pool in years past. They appear to almost panic at the sight of a fly similar to the response a prawn can induce in over-fished pools. A further problem that arises with these fish is that they occupy lies that should be occupied by fresh taking fish. Hopefully the freshet of water over the weekend will encourage these fish to move on and allow us to find the fresh fish I expect to be with us this week on the first spring tide of May.

Mink platform Common carp

Mink platform to record the presence of mink might be found dotted about the river, please do not touch or disturb them. Dan Wrigley with a nice common which is encouraging to think they may be about to get their heads down at last.

During my recent travels I have had occasion to drive through our neighbouring River Test valley and the head waters of our own Avon catchment. What has been very noticeable across huge swathes of land is the extent of the oil seed rape planted this year. The hill tops and plain seem to have bright yellow geometric patterns as far as the eye can see. Some like this yellow splash, I personally find it horrifying that our catchment can be abused is such a fashion with such monoculture cropping. If its not oil seed rape its barley or wheat and if you add the nitrogen grown lush green meadows can we be surprised we are losing our farmland birds and insects at an unprecedented rate. I must contact the catchment sensitive farming group for their take on the future. I must also see if they can supply me with the figures for the land within the catchment currently farmed in this soul less fashion. I must also ask them for the tonnage of fertilizer and pesticides used within our catchment I'm sure it would also make interesting reading.

On the bird front our Swifts are back. It meant I had to unblock their seven nest-boxes to let them in. The foam rubber I had stuffed in the entrances had foiled the attempts of our Starlings to occupy them before the Swifts returned. After I had removed the foam rubber within minutes the Starlings were trying to set up home in them. We have four pairs of Starlings already rearing their first broods and two further empty Starling boxes. They will just have to forget about taking over the Swift boxes requiring that I chase them out every time I pass. In light of the carrying-on on the side of our house I can see why Swifts are becoming increasingly rare. The lack of suitable nest sites due to the UPVC soffits and fascias, never rotting or splitting, combined with bolshie Starlings is enough to drive anything to extinction.

Siskin Starling Oil seed rape

As well as the Swifts returning this weekend we still have the odd Siskin on the niger seed and our troublesome resident Starlings looking smart in their Spring plummage. The photos may look a little fuzzy as they are taken through the double glazed window from my desk. The yellow of oil seed rape can be seen in every direction higher in the catchment.

1st May

Fish on Happy angler Avon salmon

I make no apologies for all these salmon photos, its been a long time since we have enjoyed such a good start to the season and I intend to savour every moment. The photos above are particularly special in that this is Julian Mahoney playing his second fish of this season on one of my favourite pools at Island Run. The fish itself is a classic Avon fish the width and depth not being particularly well illustrated in the photo but it was superb fish of about 18 pound. The roof of Somerley House can be glimpsed under the curve of the rod in the first shot and Julian's expression in the second needs no explanation. A cracking fish and I was on hand to do the honours, what could be better. Congratulations to Julian on such a classic capture in the heart of the Avon Valley

30th April

Mandarin Ducks 20th salmon

Today's events started with a frosty Breeding Bird Survey and continued with Peter Littleworth landing our 20th salmon this season.

29th April

I must start by congratulating Paul Greenacre on yet another salmon this evening. Paul didn't arrive until after tea around five oclock and I had a call on the mobile at seven to let me know he had managed to take a fish from what in recent years has been one of the less productive pools at Harbridge Corner. Well done Paul an extremely good fish to add to your ever growing tally.

I have added a photo of the current catch return on the salmon members page for those that might like to see where the action has been taking place. As far as I can make out it seems to be across the board which is extremely pleasing showing the fish to be well spread out through out the estate. I have also added the length to weight scale that one or two rods may find of use.

28th April

Several bits and pieces that need to be reported today to ensure everyone is up to speed with syndicate news.

If you are a member of the salmon syndicate you should have received an email from me today with news of current events and thinking. That is assuming I have managed to send the blind copies and you have managed to avoid dumping me in the trash can! I know six of you have not received the email as I have failed mail notices for you. I will do my best to sort out if the problem is with me and an incorrect address or at your end. To ensure no one need miss out I have also included the email in the salmon members page. You can't miss it its in large red print.

If you do not have the username etc drop me an email or text as a further round of blind copies will still miss the original six.

Salmon number three
Harry Stollard about to return his third of the season.

On the salmon front Mr Harry Stollard has landed his third of the season in the form of a ten pound cock fish, which further confirms the remarkable season we are enjoying. The low water certainly doesn't seem to have stopped them running perhaps the low water temperature is helping to keep them on the move. What ever the cause long may it remain so and we will continue to enjoy their arrival.

I light of today's email to salmon members I have been out clearing and tidying up the banks down at Lifelands. Apart from being a three day camel ride to get down there that involves fighting with god only knows how many Hampshire gates and carrying the fuel and the flex for the strimmer head. I have to say it was all worth the effort in the end when I packed up the left bank of Lifelands is looking really inviting. Lifelands has always been neglected due to its inaccessibility but we need to change this as it offers some amazing runs and pools. When it formed part of the beat system being part of beat 6 and 1A it used to produce some amazing fish. Somewhere I believe I have a photo of old Somerley rod Bruce Penny with a wonderful looking 30+ fish taken down on that bottom beat. I'll try and find it as its well worth an airing. As well as from Ringwood Weir the left bank can be accessed from Somerley Lakes, from the car park for Island Run. Just take the bridge over the carrier and turn immediately south and follow the carrier down to the confluence with the main river. There is a further footbridge back over the carrier at the bottom end that gives access to the top of Lower Dockens Pool.

Dockens Foot Bridge

The footbridge at the bottom of the Dockens Water.

Lower Dockens pool Run into Lifelands pool Tree cover

The top pool is from the confluence of the Dockens down to the Lifelands boundary fence. The true tail of Lower Dockens is just below this boundary fence from where it enters the shallows above the head of Lifelands pool. These shallows form a barrier very similar to that created by the shallows at Island Run making fish hold below them if conditions aren't perfect. The third photo shos some of the cover that gives such attractivelies for the travelling fish. All this water is probably best fished with a floating line with a sink tip, the pools are quite wide reducing flow rate quickly as the river levels fall. It is also best to make the most of this water in the next four or five weeks before the weed gets into full growth making conditions difficult. It does fish well on the Mepp so don't give up all hope when the weed does make fly fishing awkward. With the current trend toward wading the head of Lifelands Pool is ideally suited to wading to reach those far bank trees, remember you will be wading toward deep water so becareful.

Above the Cut Through

Above the Cut Through looking downstream to BTCT on the far bank. Unfortunately there is a tree in the tail of Lifelands Pool that I am not sure how I will remove.

27th April

Three salmon day

This is quite a remarkable photo in that it shows Paul Greenacre returning his third salmon of the day. By what ever standards you measure that feat, it is remarkable, well done Paul reward for your efforts.

Morning light
Beautiful light in the woods this morning.

The Grannom hatch continues at a steady pace as it has for over a fortnight.

Odd doesn't quite fit the bill when it comes to describing the events of today. Having spent the weekend away in London watching Richard run his marathon I was a little out of touch with goings on in the valley. Its remarkable the change that takes place in just a couple of days at this time of year with everything bursting at the seams to get into summer growth mode. I seem to have spent the day chasing to catch up with jobs I believed to have been completed last week; Somerley ground hog day.

Frost first thing, requiring the ice to be scraped from the windscreen to get under way as I set of for the valley. The weather also seems to have taken a backward step as we have returned to frosts and stingingly cold winds that chilled to the bone before the sun got its act together mid morning. I had to visit Ashley where I bumped into Paul, fishing down to the powerline, who told me of his earlier double success. Certainly reward for getting out there on such a cold morning. It was a couple of hours later as I finished my rounds of the lakes that the mobile rang to tell me of the third just hooked at Island Run, within an easy five minutes enabling me to be on site to do the honours with the net and take the pix.

23rd April

Avon salmon

This is the photo of Michael Robson's lovely fish that I promised the other day.

Let me tell you a story that will hopefully inspire and even go some way in explaining why we fish. Michael is an experienced angler having successfully fished for barbel for several years with a commendable list of specimens to his name. As with many of us wishing to experience different aspects of our chosen pursuit this year Michael decided to see if he could discover the pleasures and mysteries of salmon fishing. With this goal in mind the Somerley salmon syndicate was the chosen path and last week saw Michael on the banks of the Avon at Somerley for the very first time. Not on a fishing expedition but a day to familiarise himself with the fishery and meet the regulars. Never having even held a double handed salmon rod before Michael quite correctly decided a recce seemed a sensible precaution.

As it transpired three of our regulars were on hand to offer advice and encouragement in sufficient measure to persuade Michael to invest in a new set up to meet the demands of the Avon in spring time. With newly acquired salmon gear two days later saw Michael arrive on the bank for his first ever attempt at mastering our dark art and plum our hidden depths.

This is where I come into the picture, out at my usual distraction of strimming salmon pools. Luckily during a lull in my efforts the mobile rang where upon I heard what I thought was Michael telling me he had landed a salmon.

“Sorry, did you say you had landed a salmon?”
“Yes a lovely looking fish”
“Good grief.”

An hour into his salmon fishing and a fish on the bank!

“You've landed it? Where is it now?”
“In the net recovering”
“Good grief” I must stop saying that.
“Hang onto to it, I'm only just down the river I'll be there in a few minutes. Just let it rest in the shallows, it'll be fine. That has to deserve a photo”

There you have it. I duly arrived and found a beaming Michael and a beautiful fish of 13 pounds resting happily in the shallows, which resulted in that super scene captured above.

Lovely tale clearly illustrating you don't need to be an expert of many years experience, or wield the most perfect gear with consummate skill. What you need is enthusiasm and an ability to learn. It also helps if the gods are on your side, as you know I'm a great believer in fate playing a major part in all our successes.

Some might dismiss this story as simply beginners luck and give no credit for considered preparation and inherent water skills. If that is so, how do you account for Michael's result today, on his second visit to our banks?

11 pound Avon salmon

Two visits, two fish and a third that hit the fly and failed to hook up. Brilliant stuff Michael, double congratulations.

Happily I have more tales of success to tell. Firstly a call from "Mr Consistent" Stephen Hutchinson this morning telling me he had landed a 15 pound fish from the head of Middle Cabbage. Amazing as I know Stephen was the third to have fished that pool this morning proving salmon are perverse creatures, joining in as and when they chose not as we direct. Stephen did send me through a photo of his fish in the net and a lovely looking fish it appears to be. A very clean fish with very few marks unlike one or two others I have seen recently that appear to have been in the wars, particularly around the snout. What is responsible for the damage I don't know but I fear secondary infection could play a major part in the future of fish carrying such damage. Enough of such thoughts, back to the events of the day. I haven't included the pic of the fish in the net but I have put up a shot of the fly, for which many thanks Stephen.

13 pound Avon salmon
Peter with his Avon prize. I did notice Peter used one of the fish friendly mesh nets. I must get one for my Gye it certainly will help to avoid fin damage.

Successful Avon salmon fly
Stephen's successful fly complete with "Fish Skull" head to aid balance. What it has in common with many of the other successful flies recently is Black and Yellow.

Having firstly heard from Stephen and then after lunch Michael with his second fish I can't say I was overly surprised to get a further call at 05:00 o’clock from Peter Littleworth saying he was into a fish at Provost. This is more like it three fish landed in a day and two more failing to stay connected. I was still down on the river so I was keen to get across to Provost and get a shot of Peter's fish. As luck would have it the new car park at Fools corner is now up and running allowing me quick access across the field by means of the Avon Valley Path that leads directly to the head of Provost. Peter is an experienced salmon angler having an impressive list of captures from far flung rivers across many lands but this fish was his first from the Avon. As with Michael he had joined our salmon syndicate with the expressed target of breaking his Avon duck and here was the proof of the pudding. Well done Peter richly deserved.

Blackthorn winter water avens adding to the colour in the meadows Vixen.

The Blackthorn is almost over and hopefully along with it the Blackthorn winter and we will see an end to the northerly winds that have accompanied it. The valley was a simply stunning place to be today it gave rise to a physical almost tangible feeling of pleasure to walk beside those glorius meadows. Finally a vixen that crossed the Dockens in front of me today on her way back to the earth to feed her cubs. I imagine the meadows were equally relaxing place for her today, away from those demanding mouths.

22nd April

An odd day with several highs and equally as many lows to leave me feeling unsure of just how I decide the final outcome in terms of good and bad. In reality the highs were of far greater importance so I suppose we must come down on the side of a good day. It all started in a mundane sort of fashion with a new sign to replace the “No Access” one that had disappeared from the river bank at Provosts Hole. I now have at least six such signs in the quarter of a mile around the Avon Valley path where it reaches Ibsley Bridge. I'm not quite sure why I bother as an hour later I stood and watched a couple read a similar sign and then ignore it by walking straight past it! On being asked why they had ignored the sign the very polite lady replied that they didn't think it would apply to them as they weren't doing any harm. At least they're consistent.

After fixing my shiny new sign I strimmed out a few hundred meters of bank around Provosts Hole leaving everything looking well and at one with the world. Back on a high. Next stop the river at Blashford and on walking from the car park I suffered a real low in the shape of some one using the bank as their toilet. I'm a little confused about this as the only people currently with access to the car park at the bottom of the lakes are the salmon anglers. Suffice to say Rule 9 applies but I hope it was some crafty crook who crept in, crapped and crept out, I would hate to think it was one of our members! After clearing up after our crafty crook I decided ten minutes walking around the lake to let the air blow through me was called for. It didn't take long and my spirits were back on a high as I had plenty of carp and even more bream to distract me from thoughts of my previous task.

Having enjoyed my walk at Meadow Lake I decided that at lunchtime I would walk Mockbeggar to ensure everything was as it should be. I have to say the lake looked magnificent as it always does but with the cold north east wind cutting across the surface it felt a completely different place to Meadow where I had been an hour earlier. Hardly a fish in sight and looking cold and clear. Despite the lack of fish the bird life and the scenery looked as good as ever and all looked well. I did see that someone had driven across the meadow to collect their gear from their swim, which is a definite no, no, at Mockbeggar. We are trying to work with Natural England and produce natural grassland for the benefit of the local wildlife. People driving about on it does not encourage young growth, so please desist.

The final downer was meeting one of the members who told me of a dead deer in the lake. Curiosity raised he led the way into a thicket where the sight of a fallow buck, several weeks dead, was half submerged in the lake. The cause of his demise was pretty obvious in the shape of a bright orange lifebelt hanging from his neck. Attached to that belt was the remains of several meters of 8mm nylon rope that had become entangled in his antlers and tethered him to a sapling where despite his obvious efforts he had failed to free himself and starved to death before toppling in the lake. It wasn't one of our lifebelts so the poor beast must have picked it up on one of the other lakes before meeting his end with us. A real downer, I was definitely in need of a pick me up and it didn't take long for this amazing valley to come up trumps and it also involved deer. Not fallow this time but a pair of Roe, out enjoying the sunshine surrounded by the masses of Kingcups and Ladies Smock that currently fill the valley

Sun-bathing carp Roe out in the water meadows Orchid struggling through.

Carp all over the place in Meadow lake and they're not floaters but willow catkins, its hard to believe that the two complex can behave so differently. Middle shot shows a pair of roe deer out on the water meadows and finally on the right the reason we do not wish to see people driving on the grass at Mockbeggar, a small group of orchids fairly inconspicuous and easily crushed.

21st April

Clearing snags |Downstream from Ringwood weir Above the weir

That tree Below the Cut-through has now been removed and the weir is looking spick and span after its mid season haircut. Don't forget these lower pools if fish are likely to be running, such as around the time of high tides, they are well worth a visit.

A productive day on the river in that we are making good progress with the parking at Fools Corner and I strimmed out Ringwood Weir and Below the Cut-through. I also removed the willow that had fallen in at the Cut-through and the pool now fishes absolutely perfectly. I know this as I went back to fish it for a couple of hours this evening. No fish but the wind dropped and as the sun set millions of Grannom drifted past on their way upstream to lay their eggs, it was a perfect evening. For a non angler the prospect of standing beside a river completely covered in flying insects probaby doesn't come high on their wish list but I can certainly recommend the experience as a means to reconnect to nature

The photo on the right is interesting in that it shows the weir with the radial gates, somewhat surprisingly with such low water levels, wide open. It turns out that the gates are set in this fashion for the benefit of the trespassers in canoes who might bang their heads on the gates as they shoot the flume? Forget the benefits for the SSSI, designated for breeding waders requiring raised water levels, the owners and users who are dependent on the fishery for their income, the EA deem it most fitting to ensure they can wash their hands of any such responsibilities by hiding behind health and safety. For a long time I have considered the EA incompetence an irrelevance that it was simplest to ignore. Unfortunately it has now reached such a level that it must now be viewed as a direct threat to the welfare of the fisheries. The entire history of this weir is a cock-up. It was originally designed by the EA, then in the guise of a former incarnation, with the sills too low totally changing the Lifelands flow regime. Not to worry, no consequences for the EA, it just ruined the most productive roach water on the Avon! Add the fish counter that has never worked from the day of its construction to the present day. Not to worry its not an EA problem, it seems no one is accountable for their actions in the agency, carry on regardless. When I arrived on the scene in the early 90's I was informed that there was a management protocol, agreed at the time of the construction of the new weir, that would ensure the continued existence and effectiveness of the weir pool as a salmon pool. It involved the eight concrete posts that still remain on the bank as markers for the large boulders that were planted in the new weir pool as fish holding lies. Surprise, surprise the EA can find no record of any such agreement. Add Signal Crays, Navitus Bay, Weed cutting, historic dredging, failure to establish an effective strategy to meet their legal obligation to improve, maintain and develop the fishery. I could go on as the list is endless but you can see why I have concerns.

Don't worry, I'm told there can't be a problem with abandoning their management responsibilities for reasons of financial expediency and institutional protection as there have been no complaints! That means having finished my paper work in the evenings and written the diary I can now add formally complaining to the EA about the total abdication of their responsibilities; bloody wonderful, I'll look forward to that.

That's the abridged version of that moan, I had written pages but out of consideration for you the readers I ditched most of it.

20th April

Non-breeders Powerline strikes

Goosander duck Goosander clutch Great crested grebe nest

There was a salmon landed today, a thirteen pound cock fish by Michael Robson. Great story and some lovely pix which hopefully I'll put up tomorrow. AS for today's pix they show some of the activity in the bird world. The first showing that we still have over one hundred swans on the estate, mostly non-breeders that are grouped together in an effort to stay out of the territories of the established twenty odd pairs we have dotted about the place. The second shows the electricity supply people are doing their best to keep the numbers down. This is one of over a dozen the cables have brought down over the winter. Another one of those, "one law for you and one law for them" scenarios. The lower three show on the left, a Goosander duck about to leave the nest, her clutch and on the right the daftest birds in the valley. This pair of Great crested grebe have attached their nest to just a couple of twigs sticking out of the water totally exposed to all the elements. The chances of making it through to hatching young is pretty slim I fear.


The sun came out along with the Great British public to do as they wish in the countryside. Hampshire County Councils guests on the Valley footpath are proving as troublesome as ever but I suppose I should be grateful in that I only got threatened with physical violence once over the weekend!

19th April

Kingcups on the marsh Kingcups Kingcups

The marsh may have looked stunning in today's sunshine but there is an underlying stillness that I feel is due to more than the bone chilling NW wind. There were points of interest in that the Swallows were struggling north against the wind and one or two Snipe, Curlew and Green sandpiper could be seen but the Lapwing and Redshank that shoud have been there in numbers were almost absent. Two pairs of Lapwing and three Redshank pairs felt uncomfortably few for mid April, lets hope my fears are premature and they were just sheltering from the wind and will turn up when the weather changes.

15th April

Here comes the sun! With it has came the awakening we have been looking for as the leaves have flushed green on the willows and hawthorn and the fish have appeared on the surface in numbers at the lakes. The butterflies are drifting in all directions and the evening hatch rising from the lakes is creating clouds of midges for the ducklings and nowadays the less welcome Black-headed gulls to dip from the surface. The cuckoo has been calling from the willow car and high in the oaks the Buzzards are looking replete on the banquet of young rabbits that have appeared at long last. Every reedbed and clump of scrub is alive with the calls of Chiff Chaff, Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting. Willow Warbler and Blackcap singing in the willow car and Cettis shouting in every direction. I think I have recorded at least sixteen Cettis territories to date this season, they have certainly over wintered well. Add Raven and Red Kite in the lambing fields, looking for after birth and casualties and there's an awful lot going on about the valley.

There's no such thing as a free lunch and we will pay for this heat wave if we do not see a return to a more seasonal weather. The river is dropping away far quicker than I would like to see. If it continues at this rate we will struggle with the salmon not being able to get to us. I don't wish to put a damper on this most welcome and wonderful sunshine but I feel I should keep at least the fingers on one hand crossed firmly crossed in the hope that we get a balance throughout the summer.

Carp sunbathing On the feed Strimming Ducklings

The sun has brought the carp, along with everything else in the valley into life, thankfully it has also encouraged them to feed. It does mean the new growth is in need of a second strim along the miles of paths and salmon pools. It has the compensation of spending the day in the meadows that are now full of colour as the Kingcups and Lady's Smock, also aptly named the Cuckoo flower, come into bloom. The evening hatch providing timely and unlimited food for the newly hatched Mallard ducklings.

14th April

Seven + tench

Things are a little busy at the moment making entries difficult. I've put up the great photo of Russell Breckon with a 7+ tench just to keep things ticking over; if that fish ever drops a gut it will be a comfortable double. The Mockbeggar carp remain slow but the sunshine of the past day or two has encouraged a great deal more movement so hopefully they'll get their heads down in the coming week.

With a big Spring tide building for the weekend hopefully we will see a fresh run of salmon enter the river in the latter part of the week and over the weekend. It will be worth getting out to see if you can meet them on their way up from Thursday.

10th April

The problem, Ganoderma brackets signalling trouble ahead.

The threat
The risk, as the powerlines, houses and telephone lines are in the radius of fall.

You must think I am becoming tree obsessed but the demise of these two massive oaks is worthy of recording. In the great scheme of things at Somerley whilst large they are far from unique. As with all our trees that are in positions that the public, estate tenants or staff can potentially come into contact with they have to be regularly assessed for health and safety responsibilities. These two massive oaks also had the power lines within the radius of the canopy giving rise to concerns for the electricity supply company. Two independent assessments both pointed to problems with the Ganoderma brackets reaching ten feet up the trunks signalling the destructive fungal infection was well entrenched. Ganoderma is a bracket fungi genus that destroys the very structure of the roots and timber of the tree. Once established the end result is only a matter of time as these giants will eventually succumb and fall. That isn't in doubt, its just the time scale that we have to determine. We had been watching these trees for several years and were considering a plan to reduce their weight, which didn't look to have many long term advantages when the electricity supply company assessors deemed the nearer of the two to the powerline to be in poor condition and wished it felled immediately. The further of the pair from the line, whilst in a similar condition was not such a threat to their line and deemed our responsibility to deal with as we saw fit. Well, once the inspection of the base showed the extent the rot had now reached, the fate was decided. It also had to come down and as quickly as possible.

The powerline contractors felled the first which they made what can best be described as hard work of, which is sufficient record of the event. The second was down to us. With such a dangerous tree with powerlines, phonelines and houses on three sides our options were limited to say the least. Climbers would be needed, to clear the lines and ensure the tree was weighted in the one remaining direction open for us to fell the stick. Confronted with such a dilemma our first port of call, as with the recent lime, was Andrew and his “Tree Menders” team. Andrew deals with all our trees and is always keen to rescue, reduce. balance and "mend" only resorting to felling when he considered all else deemed to have failed. Andrew looks upon me a some sort of Philistine as I have different priorities in that public safety has to be our first objective and I am risk adversed making felling the safest option. We had previously considered reducing the head on this specimen but subsequent inspection and the elec company had forced our hand into making the sad decision. We do plant many hundreds of trees and a long term forestry policy is currently being developed so its not all gloom and doom.

Climbers in action Silhouettes Top work all done

Climbers aloft to clear the lines.

Felling begins The Gob Over she goes

With the top work done our Kevin took over to do the felling with Darren in the machine attached to the steel cable. As soon as the "Gob" was in we could see the extent of the rot, when plunging the letterbox the centre was completely soft. With the aid of the cable we could determine the direction of fall.

Rotted out

The bitter truth confirmed. As the cut went in and the fall began the butt shattered as the completely rotten base tore out of the ground, thankfully, following the line of the safety cable. Once down, the decision to fell was clearly visible as barely a sound root could be found.

The full crew

Thanks to the full crew for a job well done, Andrew and his "Tree Menders" on the stick with the estates Darren and Kevin below.

9th April

Pollards Broken bridge plank Greenbank

I had hoped to have finished the tree work by now but I'm afraid we are still playing catch-up on several areas of the estate. The pollards on the end of Canada Point originally came from Redmire Pool, brought back as 9" twigs by that loveliest of guys, Stuart Glover, who sadly is no longer with us. Today sorting out the willows brought back very fond memories of the days when Stuart was fishing the lake. At lunchtime I was called away to sort out the bridge that the same lorry driver who ignored the weight limit a fortnight ago and was duly and clearly informed of the fact, drove back over it again. I think Nathalie explained the error of his ways today so there's a good chance he now understands the correct route onto the estate doesn't include this bridge! Thanks to the salmon rod who took the time to let me know we had a problem, we very much appreciate such calls. Finally the view from Green Bank across to the side of Canada Point. The willows on the point have been felled into the water to provide a holding area for the fish. The brash has been left as a dead hedge to provide future nesting habitat on the back of the point. The swim that faced out into Canada bay from the side of the point has been closed to provide a longer safe haven. The corner of the bay now provides a sheltered area that can be safely fished from Green Bank. The margin tench swim in the corner now receives more light hopefully encouraging margin and aquatic weed to attract the tench once more.

Whilst I worked on Green Bank the old carp that inhabit the corner 30m behind me spent the day enjoying the Spring sunshine. Despite the ripple that was blowing into the corner they were determined to make the most of the early sun and at one point sixteen of them jockeyed for the favourite spot beside the willows. I always enjoy the sight of them appearing on the surface and try to have a few dog biscuits in the truck to provide them with an extra treat as they relax in the sunshine. A month ago their very presence in the lake could have been in doubt as not so much as a fin was visible. As soon as the season finishes the first sunny day has them in every swim on the lake almost making one think they must be new introductions as surely the crafty old stagers that live in this lake wouldn't behave in such a carefree fashion. Not so, I have known these fish, or their blood line, for over thirty five years and it has always been their habit.

The length of time I have known these particular fish had me thinking about other carp I regular contact with and just how old are some of them? If I start at home its fairly easy as some of the carp in my pond are about to celebrate the thirtieth birthday this year. Fish that I have seen grow from a couple of inches into double figure leviathans that feed freely from my hand. As if to affirm my thinking about the age of some of our carp I had a really interesting email from Somerley member Stephen Hutchinson this evening that contained a set of photographs of the shoal of carp and bream at Hucklesbrook. This group of fish I have also known for well over twenty years with the ghosty amongst them making them fairly easy to spot throughout the clear water of the summer. It wasn't the age that had brought about Stephen's email but the fact that making up their numbers was quite clearly a grass carp which he had cleverly managed to photograph. Its a good double figure fish, so any chub anglers be warn just to avoid any false dawns re records and once Stephen had pointed out the identifying features, short dorsal etc it was a plain as the nose on ones face. Just how long had that fish been with the shoal? I have no idea, I must have seen those fish dozens of times in clear shallow water and not seen it but I have a sneaky feeling it may well have been there all along which just goes to show what this river can hide in its weedy depths. I could put this down to Stephen having a doctorate in freshwater biology which gives him a clear advantage but I have to admit to believing it just comes down to my lack of patience in not looking for the unexpected. Well spotted Stephen and I would dearly love to hear from any other anglers who have managed to have spotted or even landed that fish to give me some idea of just how long it has been with us.

Large sunbathing carp Home pond Hucklesbrook carp

The old girls out enjoying the sun in the lakes and my pond at home. I know the pond is green, they preferr it that way! The third photo is of the grass carp, its the dark fish beyond the ghost. Stephen sent several more pix that better identified it but this shot gives a good comparison with the well know ghosty. I would also add a note to some of the younger members who fish for the carp in that many of the fish they seek are considerably older than they are so make sure you give them the respect and careful handling such age deserves. That also applies to fishery managers!

8th April

Sunrise from Above the Breakthrough

A cold and frosty morning as the mist rises from the river Above the Breakthrough.

As I stood beside the river watching the sunrise, on what was obviously going to be another very bright and sunny day, I convinced myself the river had lost its mojo of recent days as it would be far too bright for salmon today. Odd how nature plays tricks on you as this evening I received an email from Somerley rod Julian Mahoney informing me he had landed our tenth salmon of the season not 100m below the point where I had stood earlier this morning. So much for theories and salmon!

Salmon on Playing a salmon Safely in the net

"Fish On" Julian into his salmon. One of those shots that records the moment when you have everything crossed in the hope that hook holds as your prize powers by. Finally a 15 pounds cock fish safely in the net, unhooked on the shallows without even leaving the water. Congratulations Julian, lovely fish and well deserved. I must just add a thanks for the photos, which Bob Stone was fortunately on hand to take.

Which brings us back to the question as to just what these fish are? Should any rods find one or two scales have come adrift inthe landing process and found on the net I'd love to have them. If we could get a sample it would help indentify just waht we are dealing with and the year they were spawned.

5th April

Salmon scale readings

I've put this scale reading record up to add to the debate about the background of these recent fish. Despite the spelling they are Somerley fish!

4th April

Salmon on

We're in uncharted waters here at present, with a further two salmon today it is many years since there has been such a start to a season on the Avon. One swallow and all that but long may it continue. With a similar number to us down at the Royalty and several fish in between, over twenty fish makes an amazing start to the season. Today's fish were a 14 pound fish to Colin Morgan and Paul Greenacre managed his second with a 11 pound hen. Congratulations to both of todays successful rods, both fish came from down the Ashley end of the fishery. Nice photo of Paul with his fish on for which I believe I must thank Simon Delaney who was on hand to do the honours, many thanks for sending it through Paul.

I've had a look back through the records and it is 1990 before we get catches at this level this early in the season. As I said in the text above we must not read too much into these wonderful fish, at this stage we must be grateful and enjoy their presence. If I get the opportunity I will try and rescue a few scales from the net if any are shed during landing and see if we can get a reading to confirm just what they are, as far as being two or three sea winter fish. I am assuming due to the early nature and size of these fish they are 3SW but I wouldn't like to guarantee that without a scale reading or two. To that end should any angler having released a fish find a few scales in the net please collect them and give me a call and I'll arrange to pick them up.

If we assume they are 3SW it means they are the result of the 2010/11 winter spawning. That winter was a low flow winter and the fish struggled to reach the higher catchment and many spawned lower in the catchment, from the plan below you can see at least 24 pairs cut with us on the estate. If they spawned December 2010 through to January 2011 the fry would have emerged March or April 2011. Avon parr usually spend just one year in the river which would see these fish run to sea as smolt in March and April 2012. Grilse would have returned after one sea winter in July 2013, 2SW summer fish, May June last year and 3SW with us now.

What can we glean from that? Nothing, but it does go some way in allaying fears I have when I see fish cutting with us. I have a nagging doubt that exposure to higher levels of pollutants lower in the catchment might be detrimental to the ova, fry, parr and smolt. Hopefully this is a pointer to my fears being unfounded.

Redd map 2010 - 2011

The map recording the redds on the Estate in 2010 - 2011.

3rd April

An early start as I wanted to check the lakes and the park before I got an hour in with the rod. A totally depressing site on the lorry park as the ground has given way under the assault of five hundred horse boxes. The show jumping arena and practice ground didn't look a great deal better which means we will be struggling to get the park back in shape for the next events in a month or so. Never mind, nothing I can do today and the river looked in great order as I drove over it this morning.

I like fishing beats that have yet to produce a fish and the head of Park Pool beckoned despite the gloom. The rain continued to blow-in but at least it was warm and the wind had changed to a more benevolent south westerly, definitely fishy. It was the third time I've been out this season and as I had struggled with "Jim's" heavy Hardy on the last two windy occasions I took a lighter more user friendly rod, Hardy sinker, five foot of flourocarbon and a 2" Willie Gun. I fished Park and after forty five minutes was actually enjoying the feel of the rod again and couldn't decide whether to carry on down to Island Run or come back to the car park and head north to fish Dog Kennel on the left bank. Barrie had landed yesterday's fish from Island Run and the left bank of Dog Kennel was yet to produce so back upstream it was. As I came back through the car park Barrie was coming down the drive, heading for the Lodge, which enabled me to congratulate him in person on his fish of yesterday and after five minutes exchanging further positive vibes I headed out across the field to Gypsy. I fished down the run at the head of the pool and by the time I had reached the confluence with the Harbridge Stream I was back on auto pilot, just perfect, even the rain had cleared. Around the bend over the shallows that will see a seatrout or two later in the year and towards the lie under the power cables. I'm afraid I'm a little out of step with the modern approach of shooting heads and specialised spey lines, my old Hardy sinker is a double taper which allows me to expend as little effort as possible. My concession to modern practice is that I now no longer fish a loop, letting the line come straight off the reel as it saves me even having to retrieve any line at all. Pace, cast, pace, cast, back in harness, everything looking and feeling at one with the world.
Thump, good grief a fish. After all these years it still comes as a shock.
A pace forward but this fish didn't need any encouragement as it turned away across the flow and settled back in the lie. Brilliant, perfect, even time to collect my wits.
A slow drift into mid stream and then back in the lie. I wonder if Barrie is still at the Lodge just downstream on the opposite bank? He may be able to get a pic of the action from over there. Alas he wasn't answering his mobile so back to seeing what our fish next intended.
Steady pressure brought a steady response and a drift into the flow and downstream to the slack opposite the Lodge where a well behaved 14 pound cock fish duly came to the net. Unhooking was in line with earlier events on the river as the flattened barbs simply fell out in the shallows. Without need to head for the bank I simply rearranged the net and set him in the shallows to get his breath back. Five minutes and just as I was about to lower the rim of the net and set him free Largue arrived at the Lodge and spotted me on the far bank, enabling him to capture the release on one of todays ever present video cameras. Perfect, hopefully a still from the video to follow.

Wet ground Salmon

Soft-going in the lorry park making restoration a pretty complex operation this year. I'm sure that fish winked at me just as I took this pic! Even that mess in the Park doesn't seem so frustrating now.

2nd April

Windblown lime

I'm putting this entry up in bits and bobs. The first piece of real news is that Barrie williams has landed his second salmon of the season with a great looking 18 pound cock fish. I'll post a pic and details later. I've put up the photo of the lime tree in the Top Park for the tree men who I know often look in on our goings on. As a result of Tuesday's blow the large central trunk that is in the region of 80 feet has sheered about fifteen feet above the ground and has tipped over into the supporting side trunks. With a couple of tons of timber balanced on thin surrounding branches it presented quite a problem. We had the craft fayre setting up that required the surrounding parkland for the various marquees meaning we had a very pressing problem. We also had 600 international event horses thundering by, as a loop in the course of the ongoing three day Somerley Park Horse Trials that came within a 100m or so. A call to "Tree Menders" who do our dodgy stuff resulted in confirmation that this was a sod! More later.

The outcome Cross country in the Lower Park Show jumping in front of Old Somerley

Climbing and bringing the broken section down in pieces was a non starter, it looked as if we were to loose the tree as it would have to be felled. As a last ditch effort to save the tree we decided on attaching a 120m steel cable to the broken section as far above the break as we could manage. One of the climbers did the deed and attached the cable six feet above the break. Tuther end on the back of the JCB with Darren at the helm and all was set for an attempt to pull the section free. We hoped the butt would pull free and the stick would slide down to the ground see-sawing over the break and coming down without too much damage to th eremaining tree. We expected a number of limbs would be torn off the supporting trunks but with the climbers on hand we would hopefully save the tree. All was ready, thumbs up to Darren and off we go. Instead of the butt coming free and dropping down to the ground the butt jammed and the entire stick slowly came back to upright and gently followed the line of the cable out onto the Park without so much as a twig being broken off the still standing tree. Incredible, the perfect result, cut into sections and carted away to the dump all done by lunchtime.
The middle shot is a the Lower Park in full cross country swing and all looking as it should, thankfully. A final shot of the show jumping arena looking similarly business-like, fingers crossed it stays just so over the next three days.

Other bits and Bobs

An ottered pike Mink Greenhouse

I put up this pike to remind me to ask the questions of just who is bearing the cost of much riverine and conservation legislation so readily written, supported and implimented by those that do not have any idea of the consequences or the true cost. Those questions may need to be asked of those that purport to represent rivers and fisheries as well as the legislators and regulators. The mink is just one of these odd occurences that crop up from time to time as I go about my business. Nothing remarkable about shooting the mink, the fact the roach he was carrying was still alive and swam away quite strongly on being dropped back in the lake is not a sight I have witnessed before. It always amazes me just how quickly mink can catch roach or presumably any other fish they so choose. We are talking in terms of seconds, as opposed to minutes, from entering the water and reappearing on the bank clutching a fish. Just how they locate and catch active, healthy fish in such a space of time remains to be explained to me. Finally a shot of life away from the fishery in that with the arrival of Spring my garden and greenhouse are starting to come back into life. Apparently not as quickly as syndicate member Tony Crisp who very kindly provided me with a dozen or so Primo plants that were a month ahead of my attempts to greet the Spring, made me feel quite guilty of my obvious neglect. Many thanks Tony and I have just the spot for those boysonberry and blackberry briars.

Fresh 18 pound cock fish

Barrie's second fish of the current campaign came in the form of this cracking looking 18 pound cock fish. Superb Barrie, congratulations on another lovely fish.

30th March

Atlantic salmon

Having lost one or two fish in recent days Paul Greenacre had one finally stick today adding to our March returns in the shape of this bright cock fish. Well done Paul, good fish, I think I feel a video coming on!

29th March

Pollard willow Roe buck in velvet Otter spraint

A hectic week as we tried to finish the tree work. Dealing with the willow regrowth in the cleared areas that we were unable to do due to floods last year has certainly cleaned the reed beds at Ibsley. Also the last willow pollard on the bottom bend at Ashley that will now allow a fish hooked in the tail of the last bend to be followed should it run around the corner into the run down to Dockens. The middle photo is of one of the bucks looking scruffy and a little bloody as he moults out his winter coat and scrapes off his antler velvet. Finally where else can you find a photo of a pile of poo? I have a garage full of the stuff and must get it down to Prof Rob Britton down at Bournemouth Uni for the diet analysis work. It looks as if the one responsible for this lot was on a micro fish diet judging by the size of the scales and bones.

25th March

Osprey platform Mockbeggar osprey platform Osprey platform

An interesting evening as syndicate member Gareth Moors came over to fix the Osprey platform in the 90 foot poplar overlooking the lakes at Mockbeggar. Thankfully Gareth is a professional tree surgeon with Peter Best Treecare and climbing a tree such as this daunting poplar comes as second nature, which is just as well as my days of such adventures are long gone. I must say I enjoyed watching the ease at which Gareth worked at that dizzy height; there is something very special about watching someone who is good at their work going about their business. A big thanks to Gareth for his efforts and a job well done, all we need now is for an Osprey to arrive and recognise the effort that has gone into providing him with such a homestead.

24th March

The link below is to Paul's latest salmon epic of Paul Shutler landing his fish. I have yet to watch it so as with all Paul's videos I claim no responsibility for the content.

Paul S's fish

23rd March

Avon Springer

Here's a fish that was well deserved. Paul has been chasing this Springer on the fly for some years without success so I bet this bright cockfish felt just brilliant. Congratulations Paul lovely fish.

Tree work red deer stag Mink

Just a photo entry today as its late and I'm too tired to think about writing. The first shot shows the tree work which we are desperately trying to complete before the end of the month and the birds need to be left in peace to raise their young.The middle photo was sent to me by Stephen Hutchinson who bumped into this pair whilst out with the salmon rod on the estate the other day. They are a Red deer stag abnd spiker that I believe escaped from a nearby deer farm a year or two ago and now live wild on the forest. Why this pair decided to come down to the river I have no idea and we could certainly do without them. Hopefully they'll go back over the road to the forest and stay there. Third shows a mink also spotted by one of the salmon rods the other day who let me know where he'd seen them. An early morning visit with the shotgun sorted this one out so hopefully the local wildlife will be a little safer.

Finally three photos I've had for some time but deserving of an entry on the diary.
Harbridge Corner 31 pound mirror carp Mockbeggar sunset

Harbridge Corner from Riverbank during the last few days of the coarse season. The middle photo is of Chris Flack beaming all over his face having landed this old girl at 31 pounds. Nice fish Chris, well done. Finally a recent sunset at Mockbegger that has produced a scattering of carp to mid twenty but has yet to wake up properly. Luckily we have finished the tree work on the islands, west and north side of the complex which is just as well with the willow we layered into the margins now providing nest sites for six pairs of Great crested grebe. At least two pairs of Mandarins have occupied nest boxes so lets hope for a repeat of the twenty three young that were successfully reared last summer.

23rd March

Mr Harry Stollard

Hows that? Mr Harry Stollard with a slightly larger cock fish to go with his hen of the other day. Congratulations again Harry, remarkable brace of fish. Harry was fishing with Paul Shutler on this occasion who did the honours with the net.

The link below will take you to Paul Greenacres short video of Harry's 15 pounder of the other day.

Harry's first

22nd March

Wading the carriers
Being the weekend where did Anne and I spend Sunday Afternoon? walking in the valley.

Early Tortoiseshells, also my first Brimstone of the year was out today.

Draining the splashes

A month behind time but I managed to drain the splashes today.

Carriers Carriers Carriers

Carrier Avon valley carrier Avon carrier

Avon carrier Avon carrier Avon carrier

Whilst out draining the splashes we had the opportunity to walk several of the many miles of carriers to be found on the estate. These channels have been sadly neglected in recentyears yet they are vital for the future of the fishery. It is our intention to ensure they are developed as nursery areas for the future stock of both salmonids and cyprinids. We will need to establish just what they are currently producing in the way of juveniles and once we have established that we will need to create the habitats we wish to see developed. It would be good to see a habitat improvement project such as this run in conjunction with a water quality study in an effort to determine the most significant factors in Avon recruitment. It would be good to think that the trout farms could use the water from the main channel, as opposed to boreholes and springs to hatch their eggs in years to come! No time at present but I will no doubt have a great deal more too add to this topic in years to come.

16th March

15 lbs Avon Springer

I personally may not have managed to finish the coarse season on a high but this cheered me up no end today. Well done Mr Harry Stollard for our second salmon of the season; absolute classic Avon Springer. Harry was fishing with Paul Greenacre, for whom I must thank for sending through the photos. Paul also supplied the fly, an alluminium, Ally Park shrimp fly, with a 2" black tail from Helmsdale. It seems there were one or two heart stopping moments whilst landing but I'm sure Paul will have captured all on his head-cam; I'll post the link when Paul sends it through. Congratulations Harry, you certainly made today a Somerley special.

View from intended Osprey platform Heronry in full swing House Sparows

To round off the day some of the happenings in the bird world. The first I took with the mobile at lunchtime today from the intended site of our Osprey platform. We now have NE's consent and Gareth has promised to do the technical stuff up the tree; the sooner we have it in place the better as they are already heading north. The middle shot is down at the heronry which is in full swing as the nests are all ocupied and the birds sitting. Finally the final shot of the year of our sparrows. I find them totally fascinating as they shout their presence from the shrubbery causing passers by to stand and stare trying to fathom the commotion within from the bushes. I never did better my earlier count of 75 but I'm sure there were more some days you just can't count the blighters as they buzz about the garden.

16th March

As you may have guessed by now I've been somewhat distracted by events in recent days. The close of the river coarse season, Somerley Lakes taking its traditional close season break and Mockbeggar getting under way, there has been plenty to occupy my time. I am also having to divert the machines from road and car park resurfacing and repair onto ground preparation for up and coming events in the Park. In an effort to get all the work party contacts in some sort of sensible order I am also creating several spread sheets that will make contacting groups a great deal easier. Thankfully we are about to reach the vernal equinox that will afford us more daylight and transpiration will get itself into gear to suck up some of this excess water allowing us to get on top of the workload.

Days like today come as a very mixed blessing. The drizzle has fallen throughout the day, sufficient to make the ground slippery and hold up progress but insufficient to give the river a lift and bring the salmon up to us. Not to worry, hopefully the salmon will appreciate the low pressure and overcast skies encouraging some movement and it can't rain for ever. Can it?

As for the close of the river coarse season it came as a bag almost as mixed as the weather. Some enjoyed some stunning fishing with the chub, pike and barbel fishing being beyond all my wildest expectation. Seven pound chub came from all areas of the Estate with a catch that included a brace of seven's that being the highlight I suppose but any seven plus chub is a most definite highlight in my book. The last double figure barbel of the season I heard of was an 11.10 to Gary Taylor on the evening of the last day. Unless anyone knows differently? Nice fish Gary and thanks for the positive email. To count the number of doubles that have graced the banks this season is beyond me. Why so many? I can only speculate, the huge scouring floods of last spring and this summer's low weed growth made the fish easier to find and perhaps more importantly easier to land. What ever the reason I just hope it continues in a like vein.

The lakes finished on a similar high but as there is no enforced lay-off, with the immediate move to Mockbeggar, the last gasp effort looses its urgency. We have shut up shop in an effort to get to grips with resurfacing the road along the bottom of the lake. When you next see the banks they will be green with better and safer access, plenty to anticipate on 16th of June. I should just mention Jack Harvey's catch of twelve carp to 25 pounds, as a farewell to the Somerley Lakes season. I mention this as Jack asked if were possible to extend the night fishing on the north bank of Vincent's around the corner into Kings. I see no reason why not so from the start of the season we will extend it a couple of swims up the west bank of King's. This will allow the shallower water of Kings to be reached at night when the fish are at their most active at that end of the lake.

As everyone seemed to be out there landing monsters I duly gathered my tackle and made a couple of forays to the river in one of those previously mentioned last gasp efforts to sort out one or two of these leviathans for myself. All I can say is that I have not lost my ability to NOT catch fish. I sat it out for several hours only to suffer from extremely cold feet, numb bits and a total lack of bites. I put my total and abysmal failure down to lack of preparation and blood that is definitely thinning due to age. My ability to fall into a state of dribbling sleep on a river bank I credit the several hours spent chainsawing my way along the banks of the lakes earlier in the day. From the description of my efforts you can see that not everyone finished the season on a high!

9th March

An extremely busy weekend that involved our first salmon of the year, some great fish to welcome the final week of the coarse season on the river and lots of activity in the bird world. Add an evening at the Swanage Blues just to throw a spanner into my carefully planned weekend agenda and you can see where this is heading.

25+ pike 15+ barbel

Steve Derby with a 25+ pike and John Mcgough with a classic Avon 15+ barbel. With less than a week to go of the coarse season we will have to be extremely fortunate if we see better fish than these two. Steve also manged a 6.12 chub over the weekend and the pike was one of three 18+ and 19+ in little over an hour and a half.

The weekend got under way as planned with my shallots and garlic planted in its carefully prepared bed in glorious early Spring weather. A visit to the weir at Ringwood to check on a couple of anglers I could see on the far bank and events started to take a dip. Both turned out to be fishing club members who were not aware that Somerley was now a private in house syndicate. Disappointed but pragmatic in their resigned trudge off the water after what transpired was thirty years fishing the Lifelands section of river. I had hoped the message was out in the angling community about the changes at Somerley but alas they were not the first and I fear they will not be the last.

Returning home I soon had my day back on track as I added two further Swift boxes to the gable end of the house. The number of pairs seeking accommodation last summer required further boxes if a serious turf war was not to ensue. The next part of the day is where the agenda went out the window with a late decision to head for Swanage and the blues festival. Suffice to say Sundays WeBS count was later than usual.

Late I may have been but conditions were spot on for the count with the Spring migration and breeding activity in full swing. The focus of the WeBS count are our wildfowl and waders and they showed up right on cue. Waders were making the most of the high water levels in the meadows with; Curlew, Snipe, Lapwing, Green sandpiper even a pair of Oyster catchers and a single Black tailed Godwit. There were one or two notables on the wildfowl front in the shape of over 100 Shovelor, several pairs of Mandarin and perhaps not so welcome, 22 Egyptian geese. The perfect three or four hours of walking the valley was exactly what I required to blow away the excesses of the night before.

7th March

Its becoming a habit, these unaccompanied photos but this one is very special and well worth recording.

First Somerley Springer of 2015

Congratulations to the man of the moment Mr Barrie Wlliams with the first Springer of the year off Somerley and possibly the Avon as I have yet to hear of anything else. Well done Barrie and thanks for the pic.

5th March

A pictorial entry tonight as I've used my daily allocation of words doing my emails and after last nights moan you all deserve a break.

Paul at Pipe Pool Sydney Pool

Here he is, Paul Greenacre is still out there strimming up the pools. I'm not sure how many people strim their way along the banks wearing chest waders but the end result is that the salmon pools are looking fantastic, brilliant job.

The boat out to the islands Before and after

This morning I took the boat out to the islands to finish off the North Lake strimming. The middle shot is looking west before getting going and the righthand shows the result, all ready for the geese and gulls!

Lake view

Despite being cold and leafless surely the view from the permissive footpath through Somerley's Mockbeggar complex must be one of the fairest in the valley. By the time the path opens next month we will hopefully be seeing a little more green in the picture.

4th March

We have been busy with our continued efforts to get on top of the brash and scrub that has taken over the Mockbeggar Islands. We are also widening the channel connecting the northern and middle lake to provide a better circulation of the water and free passage for the fish and birds. I'm afraid our activities have upset one or two of the residents, whilst we are working the egrets have got the hump and cleared off over to Ibsley water and the Oyster catchers are piping their annoyance at our activities like some demented coxswains whistle. They wont have long to put up with us as hopefully I will finish this years work on the islands tomorrow, if weather permits. One of last years occupants I hope may take umbrage and clear off for good would be the Black-headed gulls that colonised one of the island. They are not indigenous to the valley and are a bloody nuisance out on the river devastating the Mayfly hatch and gobbling bait around the lakes at an unbelievable rate.

One of the islands we have been clearing had, at one point in its early evolution between gravel pit and restored ground, an area of nutrient poor, lichen heath. In reality what this meant was that the island was the result of waste gravel known as rejects in the trade, that contained few fines capable of supporting plant life. The powers-that-be in the nature conservation world were very keen on this small patch of heath as it was deemed beneficial in the biodiversity rankings. The intervening years have seen willow, alder, brambles, gorse and rough grass establish and slowly choke the heath of light and add leaf mould, bringing nutrients allowing a more locally recognised habitat to establish, the heath has almost disappeared. This brings me to the reason for this rambling in that whilst strimming and chainsawing my way across the landscape I have had plenty of time to consider what we are attempting to achieve in maintaining these non indigenous habitats. Just what is the thinking that says a greater biodiversity is a desirable strategy when it comes to protecting and conserving the wildlife of the Avon Valley and the New forest?

Lichen Heath

The remnants of the heath struggling to survive in the changing environment.

Into this “bio-diverse” world we must add a second conservation catchword, sustainability. The sustainable population is one that has adequate broodstock to ensure the future of the species without eating itself out of house and home. The sustainable fishery is one that has a population of fish that provide adequate stock for the anglers without the need of restocking whilst the next tranche of Public, Greenwash or Lottery funding comes along to do the work required in keeping the place up together. I'm not sure that is the declared definition but it seems to fit the bill when it comes to several of the fisheries I see claiming to be sustainable! It is the source of funding that is necessary to do the work that obviously occupies a great deal of my time when I'm not driving the strimmer or the chainsaw about. Our income is derived one hundred percent from our members. From that we have the maintenance of ten miles of main channel river bank, three major weirs or controls, goodness knows how many hatches and sluices, miles of drains and even more miles of roads, tracks and car parks.

It would appear if you are in the conservation world you can declare yourself as a charity with all the advantages of tax, gift aid etc and your members volunteer to do a great deal of the work. As with us many of the conservation sites involved are given over to miles of roads and paths to allow access for the retired of Middle England to gain access to the various viewpoints to see the wildlife they subsidize. Now this is where I get confused. For the life of me I see no difference between ourselves and many of the organisations that manage or own these nature reserves. They like us manage their land in a way that enables certain species to occupy it and act to attract members to pay their fees to run and maintain them. How is it that many of the fishery contain a multitude of species, far in excess of many of the subsidized conservation sites, those that manage them have to adhere to the same conservation regulations heaped on the them as the nature reserves, yet do not seem eligible for wads of Public, Greenwash and Lottery money. Quite the reverse, I estimate that adhering to the restrictions imposed on our fishery probably cost in excess of 50K a year. Season restrictions, bait restrictions, species restrictions, method restrictions, yada, yada, yada, all have a real cost as members vote with their feet if they are unable to enjoy their pastime at a time, in an environment and in a fashion that suits them. This has added gall when those of us that wish to fish our own waters have subsidised the government to the tune of 24 million a year through our licence money. At a very rough guess that is probably in the region of quarter of a million annually in the Avon catchment. Lots of jumbled thoughts that require an innovative and new approach to managing and regulating the working countryside if we are to see truly sustainable wildlife habitats and fisheries.

3rd March

Paul Greenacre and Nick Jones have been down today and have continued to polish the Lodge and the Pools to a state of perfection not seen for many years at Somerley. I feel a little guilty not to have joined them but I have been over at Mockbeggar trying to get the lake in a state of readiness for the start in what is now less than a fortnight. Neglecting my salmonid duties my excuse is that the salmon season, whilst officially under way' does not really get going until the middle of the month when I feel we are in with a real chance of a fish if conditions are on our side. These early February, cold water fish are for the real die-hards of the angling world, which probably accounts for the fact I have never landed a February salmon!

Clearing Park Pool Downstream at Park

Nick on the rake with Park Pool looking perfect. Thanks for your efforts and the great photos Paul.

The weather today did its best to convince us Spring is on its way, it has certainly persuaded the bird world as several of the waterfowl were establishing territories and displaying to their intended. The Little grebe with their staccato, metallic chattering holding territories in the reed beds competing with the strangled lament of the water Rails for the choice spots. Set to the background of the rasping cough of the three pairs of Great crested grebe, the guttural note of the Coot and the honking clamour of the Canada geese. What ever else one can say about the lakes today they were certainly could not be described as quiet.

2nd March

Eco boundary Eco fencing Dead hedging

Whilst the syndicates are all in full swing on the river and Somerley Lakes my absence is due to preparing the way for the opening of Mockbeggar in the coming weeks. The photos above show the stacks of branches and brash that have resulted from clearing the willow and alder from areas of the islands for the benfit of the wildfowl and waders. Clear sitting out and grazing areas for the ducks and geese, reed beds for the warblers, egrets and bittern, with clumps of alder and willow for the Siskins and tits etc. When the original clearing was undertaken the bulk of the risings were heaped up and burnt. In the intervening period we simply created huge piles of the material which now afford safe havens and food for the multitude of creatures that make use of dead and decaying wood and the cover the piles provide. In an effort to make even greater use of the material we now construct boundaries between the differing areas of habitat and barriers around the areas were access is barred. A multitude of benefits and habitat as decay sets in and the brambles gradually hide the impact of man. I will include the full conservation plan for the lake in the members only pages for those that are interested.

1st March

Kenny Parsons 6 lbs 10 oz chub

Good to hear from Kenny today and receive the cracking photo of a recent 6 lbs 10 oz chub. It seems the river continues to fish well with chub certainly being the highlight but pike have been providing good sport and with the coloured water one or two barbel have begun to show. I dare not make any predictions or recommendations for the last few weeks of the season for fear of putting the dreaded hex on things. .

28th February

If you require the members page user name and password before we get around to circulating it please email me directly.

Lost & Found, normally such items will be found on the relevant syndicate page but as not everyone has the password yet I will put such odds and ends on here for a while. The items lost are a pair of rod rests at Harbridge Corner, give me a call please (Contacts above) if you have found them.

26th February

Lodge Police training

I've put a similar photo up before but some new members and the more forgetful might find it useful to be reminded that the police cars at the Lodge are not the centre of some major crime scene but using it as a training base and do not interfer with the anglers use in any way. If you get your timing right you may even manage a cup of tea and if its wet or cold the fire may even be lit so make the most of it.

25th February

I am currently busy trying to write the html for the syndicate pages. When I have managed to get it into some form of order I will try and do a mass email with the password etc. It will contain the Ibsley Water calendar as per last year with same booking in routine. Lots of other bits and pieces but nothing of major importance at this stage. The page format will be one members only syndicate page with seperate pages for each of the three syndicates viewable by all. I see no need to have seperate members only pages for each syndicate, particularly as its me who will have to remember which password is meant to go where!

24th February

Just a quick couple of record shots showing one small section of the Coomer Oxbow hopefully doing what we had constructed it for in that the high water has backed up into the reed beds providing perfect shelter and cover for our fry and juveniles. We have no way of confirming this as technology has yet to find a way to test the efficiency of our efforts. It has been in place now for eight years and we will continue to clear the entrance of silt as it builds up over a couple of years and if the current chub, dace and roach population is anything to go by it can't be doing any harm. The second is the tree that currently sits on the shallows at the tail of Penmeade pool. Just what we do with that tree is yet to be decided. By the time the river drops and the fields are sufficiently dry to allow us to get the machines down there to remove it the current scouring caused by this high water will have resculpted the pool below. I will probably leave it where it is for the time being and await the clear water of summer to assess the effects, beneficial or otherwise.

Coomer fry sanctuary Casualty of the flood

The sanctuary looking well in the current high water and the tree stuck on the Penmeade shallows.

23rd February

20+ pike
As if to prove the point that it remains fishable today Chris added yet another 20+ to his tally this season.

As I sit writing this its pouring down again outside with the rain hammering on the windows. I was afraid the mild weather and Spring like sunshine of last week was a false dawn and so it turned out to be. Sunday started with a white frost, as hard as any we had endured this winter, yet by lunchtime it had been replaced with what can only be described as a freezing deluge as hail and sleet came down in sheets. This morning the river was up and coloured and the freezing water was swirling its way toward the sea and the sooner its gone on its way the better as far as I'm concerned; in the words of Tom Waits "You can never hold back spring" and long may it remain so. The water temperature didn't actually fall that much as it had reached 46 degrees last week and I was told was still at 42 today. Not ideal but far from unfishable.

The old rail at Ibsley Eleanor with a 20+ common

Look what I found! I've always known that the old rail existed beside the Salisbury road north of Ibsley Bridge but having cut back some of the roadside scrub I spent twenty minutes cleaning up fifty yards of the old rail just to see how it looked. I actually like the look it adds to the river, akin to that of the old rail on the dam at Redmire. There are several hundred meters hidden under the remaining scrub, many sections being bent and broken, given time I would like to think it may one day be resurrected to recreate a picture of Ibsley past. The last photo you saw of Eleanor was smiling over the top of a double figure pike, to which she has now added a 20+ common. Thanks to dad Julian once again for the super photo.

18th February

It has been a good week to date in that we have seen good numbers of anglers out on the banks and some good fish have resulted. There is a caveat to that in that the majority of the anglers out have been salmon anglers and we have yet to see the first salmon of the season. That again is not quite correct, the first fish has been seen as it did an exit stage left and headed off downstream quicker than the pursuing angler could follow. I will spare the blushes but the brief sighting would seem to have pointed to a very large Springer, extremely bad luck but I'm sure its only a matter of time! Always bearing in mind that it is February and in recent years not a productive time.

Whilst the weather has been smiling on us I have been out strimming more of the salmon pools. Cacooned in my ear defenders, cutting suit and dark glasses the hours of repetitive grass cutting do allow me time to think. I have to admit that I enjoy strimming and look forward to any opportunity to get out on the banks clearing the pools. I used to think that it was the pleasure of looking behind after several hours and seeing a completed task, looking smart and ready for action, now I'm not so sure and I am beginning to believe it is my thinking time that gives the greatest satisfaction.

Fishing shelter Spring salmon lie Ibsley Weirpool

The remains of the old fishing shelter at Ashley, as I strimmed toward it the designs of a replacement and getting the materials on site occupied my thoughts. As I strimmed along Lake Run at Ibsley I gave time to considering where our first salmon of the season might come from. If we ignore the location of the lost fish and accept that Ibsley Pool is always going to be a favourite due to its ease of access, what would be my top three pools most likely to produce the goods. Number one in my book would be the electric pole at the run into Ashley Pool. The run into the pool starts at the delapidated footbridge, on the to do list, across the Kings Stream inception and curves the 100m or so into the neck of the pool. Historically fish have come from the entire length of that bend in recent years however the pole has been the taking spot and looks absolutely perfect in this height of water. If you do visit Ashley I would recommend starting "Above the Breakthrough" opposite the tail of Blashford Pool, it all looks beautifully fishy and is clipped and ready. Second on my list might well be Lake Run, the short run from the tail of Harbridge Bend down to 30m above the confluence of the trout stream. This run deserves more attention than it receives often being forgotten tucked away below the pond. It is a bright sparkling piece of water that has produced Spring fish in the past but in recent years summer fish have made up the bulk of the catch. The fish are usually to be found from about halfway down to where the bank kicks left a couple of meters, often tucked right under the bank at your feet. When ever I fish this water I have high expectations and have enjoyed several summer fish from this pool. Third would probably be Hoodies, down to the top of Ibsley Pool. Again bright fast water with under cut banks and gravel shoals. The last photo is from Ibsley Bridge looking down across the weirpool to the clipped bank of "Hoodies". I'm sure many Somerley salmon anglers would give you the names of three entirely different pools and that is one of the problems with the estate in that there are sixty odd pools and they all look wonderful. Where ever our first salmon does come from I look forward to its arrival and will not be unduly surprised which ever pool produces the goods, lets just hope its not too long in coming. Whilst strimming out the first phase between the weir and the bridge at Ibsley thoughts drifted to the chances of the dace or even the roach being in the perfect looking glides that are every where you look on this piece of water. I think clearing above the bridge and cutting back some of the willow regrowth will have to become phases three, four and five as phase two is crying out for a session or two on the float to see just what is down in those deep, Avon green swims.

Perfect 6-7 chub

Here's another one of those "fish on a net pix" I said I don't put up very often! This one has got to be the perfect chub and was sent to me by Stephen Hutchinson who enjoyed success trotting flake including this wonderrful 6-7 fish. I don't need to say any more other than thanks to Stephen for the report and the photos.

16th February

Paul Greenacre has been busy again as the photo of a strimmed and cleaned Island run illustrates. As well as doing a stalwart job with the strimmer Paul has very kindly donated a micro-wave and a toaster to the lodge making warm snacks a very welcome reality on cold days such we have recently experienced.

Island Run Blashford

Island Run and the long straight down to Blashford Pool looking extremely smart Thanks to Paul's efforts.

The height gauge upstream of the Ringwood Weir has now been removed, making the casting considerably easier when fishing the run above the hatches. Much of the rubbish has been cleared away and we are slowly getting to grips with the remainder of Lifelands. We are entering a period of high Spring Tides so if there are any fish out there in the bay they may well chose the next four or five days to enter the river. If you intend a few visits in search of a February fish the next week might be as good a time as any to make the effort.

The river is still producing some amazing bags of chub with Andy Cowley finding twelve fish to 5-10. I should say that not everyone is finding them, others seem to be managing just the odd fish. Some of those odd fish have been six plus, which makes them well worth catching but the large bags are avoiding some. The larger bags of fish seem to be coming on the float with the feeder in the slacks and holes often struggling. Trotted maggot on light gear would be my preferred approach especially should we see further clear weather that will cause the colour to drop out of the river once more.

12th February

Perception's a strange thing when it comes to making sense of angling and what makes it tick. During the recent cold spell several anglers had managed some good bags of chub in the face of what might have been deemed adverse conditions. As the weather started to warm at the weekend I was expecting to see the fishing pick up accordingly and even more remarkable chub bags being landed. Oddly I spoke to a couple of anglers at the weekend, before we headed west for our Starling visit, and the fish had failed to show as I had expected. This afternoon I came across two very experienced members who had been out looking for the chub for two days and they had most definitely struggled. This, despite the water temperature having risen over five degrees since the weekend, the river looking spot on and it was nicely overcast. Five minutes discussion with the unfortunate duo failed to shed any light on the dilemma so I left them to await the obviously imminent and definitely overdue feeding frenzy in the gathering gloom of the evening. There was one other angler, some half mile upstream, I needed to check was a syndicate member and all was well in his world. As I approached across the meadow I noticed the net being unscrewed and the rod tucked away in the bag, he was packing up for the day. I reached the swim and found it to be one of the syndicate I had briefly spoken to first thing Sunday morning a further half mile upstream. This is where the danger of making assumptions is clearly illustrated. I assumed his leaving the bank just on the witching hour was a sign of a further unproductive day, pleased to have had enough and be heading for the warmth of home. My inquiry along those lines “Had enough then?” drew the response, much to my surprise, that it had been a great day. Eleven chub, three of which were over six pounds with the best at 6 lbs 9oz; explain that! Graham, as that was who it had turned out to be, had been trotting all day, which in fact was the reason for an early exit as standing and long-trotting the Avon can be extremely tiring on a cold day. Why the difference? I am none the wiser. The swim was shallower and quicker than perhaps the location of some of the others anglers I had spoken to. The area was also sheltered from the cold wind but I would be amazed if the fish were responding to such a detached influence. Presentation? Flow? Cover? Anyone’s guess; that's why we go fishing.

21 pound pike

Quite an odd photo for the diary in that I do not usually put up pix of fish on nets. I have made an exception in this case due to the beautiful proportions of this fish. It was landed by a new member of the syndicate on his first visit and weighed in at 21 pounds which is as good a way as any I know to open your account. The fish was fin and scale perfect and looks like one of those tiny jacks you sees laying in the margins, if she drops a belly and broadens across the back she will be a very impressive fish indeed. The third different twenty in the first tens days as Chris Blood managed a further twenty today in the shape of a fish I saw on the bank a few weeks before the syndicate got underway.

11th February

Starling watching

The watchers watched, Anne has spotted them approaching from the South West! We're back, in that we've been away for a couple of days on our annual Starling travels down to the Somerset Levels. Normal service will now resume.

8th February

As with the Mockbeggar news and info last season I will eventually, hopefully in the next week or so, get a syndicate page up and running on the diary. This will be accessed with a password that I will circulate to members as and when I get it sorted out. The members only section will include all three syndicate running on separate pages within the members section; work parties, fishery plans etc. To have individual passwords for each syndicate will make my life a misery trying to remember who is who and where! Also of course there are many members in two or three of the sections making their life easier. I'm a little unsure of just how I'm going to write up the news in the future as this blog averages around five hundred unique readers a day. That doesn't mean you are all unique in the accepted sense (not that you aren't of course) but your web addresses are. That's getting confusing, time I stopped digging! What this does mean is that I have a readership that far out numbers the total membership of the syndicates and as such I do wish to keep them included in my writings. So I will have a little balancing to sort out as well.

With the first week of the syndicate behind us we have seen both 30+ mirrors and commons, 20+ pike and 7+ chub. There are probably other bits and pieces that have escaped me so its been a great opening despite the rigours of combating a completely antisocial north wind.

I was out and about early today as my rounds fitted in well with a WeBS count that was due. The freezing cold has made the valley a less than comfortable place for many of the migrants and the high numbers we see in wet winters have failed to materialise this winter. Our local residents are enduring tough times with heavy frosts bringing frozen pools and lakes, congregating the wildfowl on what open water remained. Many of this years Herons are looking particularly weak to the extent they fail to fly when disturbed simply moving out of immediate danger and returning to their chosen spot as soon as we pass. Counts are very much as expected with the Mute Swans (140), Greylags (245), Canadas (184), Eygptian Geese (14) perhaps the number of Cormorants (224) reflected the cold weather at sea preventing marine feeding. The numbers of geese also perhaps a slight concern in that these numbers are after the close of the shooting season which would point to potentially high numbers of breeding pairs this summer. This only matters if you deem the basically feral goose population is undesirable and a threat to what might be considered indigenous inhabitants of the valley. Yet another delicate balancing act the valley has to deal with!


There were good numbers of Coot out on the river today.

7th February

I had occasion to be out walking the Avon Valley Path at first light this morning and as I crossed the footbridge over the out-fall of the trout farm I noticed we still have salmon spawning immediately below the bridge. There is one completed redd and a plump hen fish that looks as if she still has to spawn. I was led by the EA to believe that the bottom end of the outlet channel was screened to prevent the salmon getting stuck in this dead end channel and being forced to spawn in the detritus and shit that spews out of the stews. Its seems that it is only effective if you don't go and look to see if its being effective, certainly in the last three years fish have been forced to spawn in exactly this spot. I would ask for an explanation or at least clarification but as with the rainbow escapees there seems little point.

Trapped salmon

Very late spawning as salmon are still cutting redds below the footbridge on the Avon Valley Path.

Yesterday I walked Lifelands and whilst coming downstream on the left bank I was able to look across and see what was once the extremely productive salmon pool Below-the-Cut-Through. It was overgrown and unfishable but the flow looked as good as ever. I can't be certain but if my memory serves me correctly the last fish that came from this pool was a 32 pounder way back in about 1988 or 89. This was in the days of the beat system when rods had to fish their section of river not having the freedom our open system permits. Considering the position this pool occupies in being the first good holding water above the Ringwood Weir and below the Lifelands Shallows it is prime "real estate". The problem it has is that it is isolated. To fish Below-The-Cut-through you have to visit just to fish this pool as little else in the immediate area is fishable. If however it is fished in conjunction with the weir pool to walk the 300m up the true right bank is not too great an effort, making a visit to the bottom end of the fishery considerably more attractive. To that end this morning I clipped up the banks to bring the pool back into being so if you feel adventurous please give it a go. I would just add a caveat that to put in too much effort this early in the season risks burn out before the main run of our fish arrives in a month or six weeks, don't go mad in these freezing conditions; unless of course you are set on a February fish!

Below-the-Cut-through upstream Below-the-Cut-through downstream Lifelands Shallows

Below-the-Cut-Through looking upstream and downstream, with the third shot showing the Lifelands Shallows quarter of a mile upstream that act as a break on migration, similar to the Blashford Shallows above Blashford Island.

5th February

Just a quick note to syndicate members about the combination padlocks on the gates. After setting the code you need to press the button on the bottom of the padlock to open it. After dark you will also need a torch and your reading glasses if like me your eyes are no longer in their prime.

Strimming the salmon pools

We've been out giving the salmon pools their first trim of the season to get rid of the dead reeds and nettles to avoid any lost flies when concentration lapses and that back cast drops. I say we as the photo is of salmon rod Paul Greenacre clad in his PPE who very kindly brought his strimmer along to lend a hand, for which I most heartily commend and thank him. The photo of Paul was taken by Paul Shutler both of whom I came across later in the day clearing above Ellingham Bridge.

Dog Kennel pool Cleared of brambles Dockens Pool

I sorted out a patch of brambles that have bugged me for years due to their being exactly in the wrong place to cover an extremely good lie. Whilst it has always been possible to cover the fish laying in the tail of the run that comes down to Dog Kennel the actual lie right in the neck of the pool has always been a difficult long cast. As now can be seen from the second shot, it is no more and a great deal better it looks for an hours effort. The third pic is of Dockens now clipped and awaiting a fish and some attention from a rod or two. I did two of the bends just upstream but I left the tail of the pool immediately below the power line aas there is a tree laying exactly on top of the lie. I'm not sure how big it is but what ever size it will require a machine to get it out so we will get there as soon as we can and sort it out. When we're there I will also take out that willow that blocks the bend at the tail of the bottom bend, which will make fishing the holding area on the far bank a lot easier and safer.

4th February

After the first weekend of the syndicate and a very busy last couple of days, after lunch I took time to draw breath and walk a little of the fishery I hadn't been on for a week or two. I wont list the jobs I discovered suffice to say there is plenty to keep me busy for some time. Below are one or two of the valley residents I bumped into along the way.

Foxes Fallow buck Roe doe

The foxes need have no worries if they stay with us on the lakes and stay away from the release pens and breeding waders. This buck and his twenty or so does were curious about the sound of Classic FM coming out of the car windows and he approached to within 30m to discover the source; it certainly makes taking pix a fairly simple process. Finally the roe doe and four of her group refused to be so co-operative and did their best to hide.

The Lodge across the river

Chris was awake, I spoke to him shortly after taking the pic. Apart from Barry and Paul, whose cars can be seen beside the Lodge, there were not many other anglers out today.

2014 Review

I fear my review of the year is running late. This I put down entirely to the fact that I am always running to catchup with myself and being a firm believer in that old adage better late than never. My personal take and thoughts of the year past, with some comment triggered by the process of remembering, I will set out below. I will do my best to give the associated world of fishery politics and bullshit a miss and concentrate on that which is real in the form of the every day life and death within the valley.

We began 2014 in a state than can probably be best described as underwater, the rain that started in mid December continued sending the river out across the flood plain as the year commenced keeping the anglers from the banks. Hopefully our salmon got on with their spawning, hidden from prying human eyes, in the polished gravels of the higher catchment. We sloshed, sploshed and splashed our way about the estate and listened to people who have moved into floodplains across the land blaming all in-sundry for their plight other than the blatantly bloody obvious. Record levels of rainfall complimented with storms, with their gale force winds at intervals just to add a little spice to our lives. The water logged ground, incapable of retaining its grip on the desperately clinging roots saw the demise of hundreds of trees as they crashed down in harmony with the squalls that came roaring up the valley throughout February. I started to try and count the causalities in order to plan their removal but after a couple of hundred I gave up – we're still playing catch-up in that department.

March brought the end of the coarse season with the water still well over the banks and the access paths remained awash. One or two brave souls stuck it out to the end were rewarded with some very special fish. Chub over eight pounds, barbel over sixteen and even roach in the Ibsley slacks to one and a half pounds but more encouragingly as far as roach are concerned within double figure bags. Conditions were foul but the Avon is never easy and if you do manage to cope with the elements the rewards can be staggering.

The annual high water rainbow trout migration came through as the water cleared allowing me to stock the freezer with next winters dead baits. I almost look forward to the escapes these days as they always provide unlimited pike bait and an hour or two's sport before they are flushed through the system is always good for testing the gear. Perhaps not quite so easy to tolerate are the hoards of Signal crayfish that now inhabit the river. We again asked the EA if we could trap them but true to form they said that they do not consent trapping in the Avon...????????? All isn't lost on that front as the otters seem to have taken it upon themselves to see if they can control the plague. With the decline in eels lets hope the crayfish fill the void where the otter food source is required. Hopefully Bournemouth Uni's excellent work in examining the otter spraint we find about the river may well go some way to answering that particular question.

On and on, the water kept coming and the meadows remained water logged until mid April with the King cups appearing through a layer of clinging silt with the Lapwings laying in the clumps of soft rush that afforded islands in the stream. Things dried out at long last through April and the Grannom arrived with the first signs of warm weather; there was light on the horizon.

We had seen the Mockbeggar syndicate set up and get under way in a matter of weeks and in typical angling fashion the start, in the warming weather, produced less fish than in the freezing blast twelve months previously. That's fishing! Thankfully the fish soon got their act together and began to respond more favourably and we enjoyed a super season with some notable captures in the wonderful surroundings tucked under the scarp of the New Forest. The Ibsley Water fish removal proved problematic, due to the exceptional weed growth, it did produce some good fish during the first week or two but not many of the fish we were looking for. We did see fish to 39, well done Gareth but we know there are better things to come. Hopefully we will be more successful in the coming season. I think and fervently hope the elodea is due for a crash so it will be interesting to see what the new season brings. The problems of having too many fish proved almost as frustrating as too few as the vast numbers of roach and smaller carp on occasions made getting at the larger specimens a most frustrating process. For me overcoming these problems is what makes angling so intriguing, if we were to catch dozens of monsters on every trip the interest would soon wane. The odd monster every now and then certainly helps though, perhaps an excuse for a few more hours on the bank in the coming year!

A good common Mirror carp

Cracking looking carp.

If you're going to be frustrated by too many fish what better place to suffer. Apart from the statutory obligation we have toward wintering wildfowl and the ever present bird population, the Mockbeggar prescription we are attempting to implement in-house is aimed at the invertebrate and insect world. Butterflies, moths, bees, ants, frogs, toads, newts and bugs in general, all welcome, the more the merrier. A successful interaction between Green woodpeckers, rabbits and ant hills is my current aside. The lakes form a new environmental link between the New Forest and the Avon Valley, a blank canvas for us to form and fill. My ramblings immediately betray the fact I am not a trained scientist, my approach is based on a simple enjoyment of my surroundings. If it coincides with the demands of the conservation legislation and we are in a fortunate position to enjoy our chosen distraction in this unique corridor so much the better. The moths I mentioned earlier are the personal interest of one of our environmental advisers and his appearance at intervals throughout the summer gave rise to a new curiosity on my part that remains in need of satisfying. I just can't take up any more activities, I am failing dismally with those that already occupy my diminishing time. Hopefully I will be able to enjoy the sight of the occasional moth trap being unloaded in the coming year to sate this new distraction.

Migrant Hawker

All bugs welcome; perhaps with the exception of ticks!

Floods meant the start of the salmon season was a disaster in that we didn't know whether we had fish with us and couldn't get down to them with the fly or the fish simply weren't there. High water made fly fishing very difficult indeed, combined with the lack of any information from the counter we were fishing blind. Just how we are meant to maintain, improve and develop the fisheries when we have one hand tied behind our backs by those who should be assisting us remains a very sore point. If public money in the order of hundreds of thousands of pounds is to continue to be spent on counting fish at the barrier to passage the counter creates at the tidal limit, benefits other than the box ticking of the EA might be expected in the future.

The first salmon did eventually arrive on the bank, landed by Paul Greenacre on the 6th May. Three months into the season and we saw our first fish; staggering. Steady, back to the valley. We did eventually begin to see the fish arrive in May and June, unsurprisingly with 2SW summer fish making up the bulk of the catch. We didn't see the huge 3SW fish of the previous season hopefully they were there, hidden by the high flows. The coarse anglers reported good numbers of salmon in the pools throughout the autumn which hopefully bodes well for the number that spawned later. Whilst it was an extremely difficult season there were one or two highlights that came to the rescue. Two and I stress two, salmon rods in the form of Rob Smyth and Mike Tolley landed six fish apiece, which was a great achievement on both there parts. Somerley is a huge fishery and getting familiar with all the pools, runs and vagaries of such a length of river is never going to be easy but it proves the point that if you take your time and fish on a regular basis the results will follow.

Grilse from Somerley

The summer fish and grilse did eventually appear after the flood.

As the salmon arrived in the river from the cold North Atlantic our Swifts arrived home after their epic round journey to over winter in the warmth of the African continent. Our home colony has now expanded to three pairs ensuring our alfresco summer evenings have the magical accompaniment of screaming squadrons circling the house. Beer in hand I spend hours watching from my garden seat as the non sitting bird awaits his partners evening feeding flight. Steep stalls, sharp turns, high loops and precipitous dives that seem bound to end in disaster, avoided at the last second with a manoeuvre within inches of the garden fence or my head. Surely the pinnacle of evolution as the earth's finest natural flier, obviously enjoying his mastery of the air, whiling away time waiting for his lifelong mate; terrible time waster! I look forward to their return each year with ever increasing delight.

June and the coarse season got under way bringing with it some superb dace fishing. The art of trotting is not lost, it never fails to make my day when I come across one of our anglers float fishing in what was once considered the Avon norm. Also on the float enormous bags of chub both in size and numbers that seem impossible, add some cracking perch and roach showing up from all areas of the estate, things looked well. The barbel specialists have had an extraordinary season, again not only with the size of the fish but the number of multiple catches of good doubles. Just look back through the diary at some of the catches I have recorded and they speak for themselves. I've known and fished the Avon since the early 60's and certainly in my experience such fishing has never previously been available, 2014 has been a vintage year on the river.

15+ barbel 15+ barbel

Barbel in the wet

Red letter catch Multiple doubles

Incredible barbel fishing

The autumn brought the Starlings back to their valley roosts but numbers were down on the previous year I imagine due in large part to the much milder weather allowing much better foraging across Europe. A pattern that has been repeated with the wildfowl numbers as warmer weather in the east and lack of flooding in the valley has seen much lower numbers than normal. Hopefully it means the bird populations will have had an easier time in finding their necessary food adding to the number of breeding birds this Spring.

Although perhaps not the sunniest, statistically, 2014 has proven the warmest on record. When I say not the sunniest there were days when the sun did us proud with some wonderful summer days. The sight of butterflies in the number that were to be seen at Mockbeggar was pure delight for a sun worshipper such as myself. It was not until the last few days of the year that we felt the stinging cold of one or two proper frosts that put a skin of cat ice over the lakes.

I'm afraid I have to round of my review with mention of the Wessex Chalk Stream and rivers Trust and the riverine politics that I promised not to mention. At last the WCSRT is up and running with a full time staff and a committed and passionate board of directors to face the challenges that await the riverine world in the coming years. All we need now is to get Defra to recognise that the world of riverine representation has changed. How much does it cost a fishery to have to support Defra's diktats? Season reductions, method restriction, bait bans, catch and release, it is ultimately the fisheries that bare the cost of these measures as anglers vote with their feet. We recognise precautionary measures are required under the present salmon populations critical state. All I would ask is that each catchment is allowed to determine its own fishery policy, independent of government interference. The dozens of catchments trying different approaches would find the answers we seek a lot quicker that the previously implemented ones that have now been in position for almost two decades without so much as a measurable twitch in the salmon numbers. How long do we have to continue down this faltering path before something new is tried. The need for a regulatory catchment fishery officer, to ensure an even playing field and fair play, we all recognise, the associated baggage we currently have to endure isn't so easily accepted. Catchment officers might simply act independently of the trust and liaise with fellow CO's to determine the implementation of policy. Its not rocket science, so what's the problem? Other than of course the empires that exist in the ivory towers of Whitehall, hiding behind the ramparts of the treasury. Into this convoluted system of management we now see Navitus Bay rear its ugly head. A development that could potentially devastate the chalk stream salmon populations. Our regulatory bodies have said its okay as they “feel” the risk is minimal. To say the hypothesis that feeling is based on is somewhat sketchy hardly covers my feelings on the matter. That's enough of that, I'm rambling again. With the WCSRT now established I have been able to step aside from the board to enable me to devote my time to the new era at Somerley. I look forward to working with the trust in the future in the best interests of the river and I have retained my interest in the form of a life membership. It has been an interesting two and a half decades. I think our new era for both the trust and the fishery at Somerley is likely to be even more interesting with the multiple challenges that lay ahead.

That's it. With apologies to Brandon Flowers, "I can see the time dripping down the clock" as its two thirty in the morning and its time I was in bed. I'll read through this "Ramshackle Day Parade" tomorrow (Joe Strummer)and try and knock it into some order. Good night and tight lines.

2nd February

Snow at the lakes Salmon fishing

Just a couple of photos from today. The first was the sight that greeted the lone angler on the lakes this morning and hopefully a scene that I will not see again this winter - I simply hate snow. The second shows a well insulated Rob Smyth fishing the run into Park Pool, which is a scene I hope to see repeated on numerous occasions this year - I simply love seeing members out fishing!

2nd February

Overnight below zero and we woke to find the lakes with cat ice where the light breeze was unable to keep the surface on the move. I looked in at Mockbeggar on the way to work and the shallow north lake sheltered by the islands was frozen over completely. A genuine spell of cold weather that will help reset the time clocks of many of our native plants and hopefully control some of the pests and diseases that thrive during mild winters. I didn't get time to call with the anglers who had been out overnight on Meadow, hopefully they had all the necessary thermal gear to remain comfortable throughout the freeze.

I have run out of the padlocks that I need to sort out one or two of the gates that needed to have the new combinations fitted so I headed into town to pick up half a dozen more. Unfortunately I had bought the entire stock last week requiring a further order that will arrive tomorrow. Once I have them, hopefully, we will have found all the gates that will need to be changed!

One gate I did get sorted out today was the gate at Ringwood weir that permits access to Lifelands and the weir-pool of course. The weir-pool itself has not produced a fish for years and I decided it was time we cleared the banks again to see if that sad fact could be rectified. The pool has altered since the EA redesigned the weir and managed to mess up not just the pool but the famous roach fishing upstream. Despite the change it used to be one of my favourite pools where I have had a number of good fish and seen several more landed. I have had most success with the summer fish but I have seen early fish taken from here, which isn't really surprising considering the physiology of the place. I have put the photos below with the lies and the approach that I successfully adopted years ago. Until we find anything different it is as good a place to start as anywhere. The pool always fished well on the Mepp and if its a slow weed growth year it will continue to do so until weeded out late in June. Bear in mind its a running pool and fish will not hold there for any period of time. If factors that we consider relevant to running fish, fresh water, overcast, Spring tide, align it would be well worth some time to explore the potential of the pool again.

Before today's clear-up

The banks at Ringwood Weir had become dreadfully overgrown.

Upstream of the weir is tricky with a 15' fly rod but not impossible. The lies are dependent on the volume of water in the river, fish that have moved through the hatches may drop down to lie just above the weir if the river is low or dropping after recent rain. It is a very easy lie to spook so do approach it stealthily as a miscast will send any fish bow waving past you upstream into the deeper water. I have taken fish from immediately in front of the first wall buttress, they lay with their tails just inches from the concrete. Cast out onto the shallows in front of the fish pass throw in a quick mend and allow the fly to hold four or five feet in front of the wall for as long as you can without it dragging. You can cover the lie from upstream of the silver birch but watch you don't catch the rod tip when you lift off for a second cast. The second lie is tight under your own left bank and fish will come from under the brambles to a fly on the dangle. They will also follow the fly on the retrieve from this spot which can be extremely frustrating on occasions. As soon as May 15 is here these two lies fish well with the Mepp and a great deal easier. Once hooked the fish tend to run past you upstream, don't give them too much pressure or they may turn and bolt down through the gates, which would be extremely difficult to resolve if you're fishing on your own! Be warned I have probably hooked more kelts in this spot that anywhere else on the Estate for the applied rod effort.

Below the weir is a little more straight forward, even if the overhead telephone wire can be a pain. Close to the gates tends to be very turbulent and fish occasionally used to lie on the far right hand bank, beyond the point a fly could be presented decently. Once again with the arrival of May 15th this is worth working with the Mepp. The first reliable lie used to be mid river out from the sycamore tree. It had shallowed up considerably during the five or six years I had fished it but fish still chose to wait there as it was the point where the flow first straightened into a decent glide. Below this point downstream to the concrete croy is very shallow and weeds out very quickly. It is good grilse water if the weed remains clear so worth a try if you've tried everywhere else. Mid river out from the upstream edge of the croy is a decent lie that has to be fished from 15 – 20m upstream covering the point where the water comes off the shallows and drops into the deep hole beside the croy. Starting from that point 20m upstream of the croy fish through the croy and down as far as you can cast onto the shallows at the tail of the pool. Fish lay throughout this pool dependent on the flow and the weed growth.

Above Ringwood Weir below the weir

Its not an easy pool to fish on the fly but when you get it right, with a benign breeze, it can be a delightful pool to while away an hour or two searching for that elusive fish. I'll see if I can get that EA height board moved on the upstream side as it sits right on the back cast.

One more bit of news I should let you in on and that is the size of the largest carp landed in Meadow on opening day. I did call at the lakes on my way home from work in the hope of catching up on events after I left yesterday. On my way around it was pretty obvious we had suffered a bitterly cold night as the lagoons and a quarter of Meadow was still covered in ice and I would estimate half of Kings-Vincents was frozen. Only three members remained on the lake, which to be honest was three more than I expected to find considering the cold. The chap fishing Duck had retreated into his bivvie and was tucked up in his bag and covers having suffered last nights cold without result other than a couple of bream. I found the other two to be new members James Channell and Terry Blake who had suffered their first visit to the lakes last night. I wasn't expecting much change due to the temperatures but when I spoke to James to my surprise he was delighted with his first night on the lake and it didn't take long to realise why.

Large Mirror carp

James with his first Somerley carp, which at 36.8 is a pretty impressive way to open your account. Great result, well done and thanks for the pic.

1st February

We're off! The new salmon season is under way and the syndicates have come into being. Several salmon anglers were out looking for that first elusive Springer and the stillwater members turned out in force despite the elements doing their best to make it as unpleasant as possible. An icy cold night gave way to an equally cold bright day with a wind best described in meteorological parlance as a sod. I had checked the lakes last night at about 09:00 and it was dark, cold and very raw. Two of the stillwater lads had arrived during the evening unable to delay their start until the first dawn and they were set up on on the point. To say they had an exposed swim was an under statement, it was bloody freezing. I walked the path around Meadow and returned home with a nervous doubt I may have miscalculated the direction on which we are now set. Such doubts are presumably a part of any management decision process that has such potentially dramatic consequences.

With the river looking in good order, height and colour wise as far as the salmon fishing is concerned, I arrived at the Lodge today to find four stalwarts out welcoming the new season. A relaxed half an hour catching up, comparing notes and deciding on future campaigns was just what I needed to relax me into our new era. The season lays before us and we have all this years triumphs and disappointments to come. Within ten minutes of getting back in touch with like minded souls I knew the efforts we are going through to get the fishery up and running again are worthwhile.

I met with carp men, pike men, salmon men and the guys who just needed to be there; despite the abysmal cold it was beyond my wildest hopes. It was a gamble to allow the fishery to run straight through with the bonus extra week or two at end of this current season but how pleased I am that we decided on this route. I was concerned that our maintenance work would make the fishery look overly devastated and it would perhaps be better to put off the start until June on the lakes and the river to ensure the green of natures recovery hid our efforts. I needn't have worried as without exception everyone I met today just glowed with delight at being on the water and the positive vibe toward the future. I didn't realise how much I have missed this element of the fishery world as my role on the Estate has taken me ever further from the water that first brought me to the valley. It came as a huge, deep gulp or fresh air. I can't wait for tomorrow to see what the new day will bring. How good can a job get when after over twenty plus years you look forward to your next day with such anticipation. We will get the locks, roads and car parks sorted in the next day or two and where we don't you have to let us know. We want feed back, that's what will make the syndicate work if you feel able to contact me or the estate office if you have concerns. Having said that, give us a little lead in time during these bonus weeks as we endeavour to catchup.

As for how those brave soles out today fared is a further testament to the quality of the valley. No salmon, which to be honest would have been incredible had we seen a fish on the first day of the season but working on the principle if you don't have a fly in the water we will never know I was delighted to see the rods out trying. I had intended to wet a line myself but events conspired to prevent me landing the first salmon of the season but never mind there's always tomorrow. The lakes which were by far and away the busiest of the three syndicates where I met with faces I hadn't seen on the banks for years. A desire to see a return to a more traditional approach to the fishing seems to be a favoured approach and one I whole heartedly support. The lakes did produce several carp with the best fish from Meadow being a 22 plus pound common with Vincent' producing several fish throughout the day down by the sanctuary. I know of at least one other carp that came as the day came to a classic still, winter sunset landed on Kings-Vincents. Not hundreds of fish but those that did venture out were most definitely in with a chance.

Nice double figure pike Twenty plus pike

Thanks to Adam and Dominic for the reports, the photos of which I have chopped up for obvious reasons. Adam with a nice double and Dom with a twenty plus, a lovely way to get the new term under way.

29th January

I'm not sure the Beeb had us in mind when they scheduled the beautiful film "Kiss the water" on BBC4 the other evening, it is however perfect timing for the start of the Avon salmon season on Sunday. I have mentioned this film on here before when it was doing the rounds on some of the smaller screens in the area a year or two back, pleasingly it is now available from the comfort of your sitting room on the iPlayer. The story line is the life of that most extraordinary salmon fly tier Megan Boyd, in her small cottage in the Scottish Highlands, yet it has far more to say about our pursuit than tying the perfect fly. If you need any encouragement to get out during the cold of the early season then this little masterpiece may just reaffirm that need that drives all of us fishermen.

Kiss The Water

25th January

Twenty + pike

For many years Nic Price has been a Somerley regular and today decided on a final visit before the syndicate comes into being at the weekend. His reward came in the shape of this beautifully marked pike. Just how big she was we will never know, as we had no scales between us, comfortable twenty seems as good a description as is necessary on such an occasion. I'm a great believer in fate where fishing is concerned and Somerley fishery has long rewarded those that have a genuine feeling for her charms. Well done Nic, nice one to finish on.

24th January

Mixed emotions this weekend as it is the last full weekend that the club members will have access to Somerley Estate before the syndicate comes into being on the 1st February. Whilst I am looking forward to the challenges ahead it is a sad day when some of the regulars, who I have seen grow from junior members into grown men with youngsters of their own, will no longer be on the fishery. For various reasons many of the regulars have not been in a position to join us so it is very much with a twinge of regret that I will not see their familiar faces during my rounds of the banks. Never say never, as circumstances change at some future date I may yet again see them join us to enjoy their old stomping grounds. Where ever their future fishing may lead them I'm sure they will continue to enjoy our pastime and hopefully look back on their time on the estate with fondness.

Good common returning a common

Keith Cherry with a good looking 28+ common and after having taken the pix Rob Channon, who had managed a couple to 24 pounds, returned her whilst the blood came back into Keith's frozen fingers.

Being the last weekend it was a pity the weather could not have been a little more amenable. Freezing rain to start with before the wind swung around to the NW dropping the temperatures to minus five degrees and falling flat calm. One of the well established facts about Meadow Lake is that it has always been a good winter fishery and true to form added to Keith's 28 half a dozen other carp graced the bank. There were also several bream and the odd tench but most of the carp lads don't seem to appreciate a five pound slab at two in the morning.

Mockbeggar wildfowl Siskin and Goldfinch Freezing Mockbeggar

A mild start to the weekend and the wildfowl were all in full Spring courtship mode. A drop in temperature Saturday night cooled their ardour somewhat as the cat ice crept across Mockbeggar in the morning. The cold snap seemed to bring the Siskins south with flocks of over 200 on the alders in the park and numbers in the garden with the Goldfinches for the first time this winter.

Now please forgive my bit of a moan.

Could I ask that those dozen or so potential syndicate members who have received an invitation to join us and have yet to contact us do so please. The numbers are spread fairly equally across all syndicates but we would appreciate knowing whether you do or don't intend to join us and then we can contact others who were not fortunate enough to have been in the initial tranche. If you expressed an interest on the second occasion when we released the details you will have heard from us. Either with an invitation or an email expressing our regret your name did not appear in the first round and will have been included on teh waiting lists. You most definitely will have been contacted. My concern is that those who have not responded to the invitation in any way may not have received the email, it may be in your junk box so please check! Nathalie will do her best to go through the list and pull out the names of those involved and send a reminder, which is added work she could well do without, so an email one way or tuther would be very much appreciated. If we don't hear within the next week or so your names will be removed from the lists.

21st January

Middle Avon floods Flooded Avon valley reed beds Good winter common

An overnight deluge has brought the river back out into the flood plain, washing out the forest fords and filling the road side ditches to overflowing. The valley reed beds are awash, forcing the roe to head for the escarpment woods in search of a dry bed, closely followed by the mole and vole population that have escaped the attention of the vastly inflated valley gull population. Hopefully the other secretive inhabitants such as the rails and the bittern will find sufficient high ground to wait out the storm. The rain has turned the tracks around the lake into a quagmire so a walk seemed the best way to beat the bounds. I was hoping to find that the water levels had not risen to the extent that margin clearing would grind to a halt until the flood ebbed. Forlorn hope I fear, the lakes are rising almost as quickly as the river. As I splashed my way through the puddles along the side of Kings-Vincents I came upon the sole angler on the lake in the form of Peter Hawks landing his reward for facing the elements in the shape of an 18.12 common. Nice fish Peter, fortune favours the brave.

21st January

Odd sort of day in that we appear to be caught in between weather worlds. The river is dropping back yet where it remained in the fields, such as up on the Hucklesbrook Marsh, it is frozen solid. Not a leaf is left on the stark trees and they provide little or no cover for the creatures of the valley. Views across the valley that have been hidden for nine months of the year appear as hazy visions where just weeks ago a solid bank of green enclosed the river. Spring is stirring as the drakes display to their intended and rooks gather in the bare tops to decide on quarters for the coming year. Increasingly for me the time she takes to get here seems to take longer each cold and brittle winter I endure. It seems almost impossible I shall ever be warm again!

I did get a little food for thought today whilst staring at a blocked, icicle covered hatch trying to decide if I really wanted to get in there and clear it a skimmer bream shot through the gate and landed on the pile of debris that was giving rise to my dilemma. Perfect little bream, a clone of the dozens we used to see when we used to set the eel stages. I always assumed their arrival on the stages was as a result of our activities in channelling the flow at times of high water, flushing them through the hatches. The increased flow being too much for them to cope with and the reason that whilst we regularly catch large bream throughout the river we seldom catch skimmers. Today it would seem that the natural high flows of the river are just reaffirming that the Avon is not a suitable river for bream. It chases the regular stew bred rainbow escapees through the system at a similar rate which would point to us having little understanding of the flow dynamics of our river when it comes to the species that we consider indigenous. How have the three one hundred year probability floods of the last couple of decades, that's the actual reality as opposed to the theoretical, impacted on what we consider the norm?

I suppose a statistician would now consider the one hundred year probability floods we experienced not to be so, if you see what I mean? I don't think I'll dwell on that!

Contemplative day obviously in that during my weekend absence at least two further pairs of salmon have cut in the Trout Stream giving rise to all sorts of questions. Getting late but that brings the total number of redds to date in the stream to six, as to whether that's a good or bad thing I can't decide. In a high flow year such as this why numbers of fish spawn this low in the catchment, with all the increased risk of exposure to contaminants and pollution, is somewhat of a mystery. Given I can't see how many fish have cut in the main channel the numbers could be considerably higher. Does that mean that they are simply returning to their exact natal gravels and they have been successful in the past and we are to their liking, or is there a time and temperature element? Why risk the STW discharges, agricultural run-off and trout farm shit when they could clear off up the Wylye and get above all of it? Lets hope the Wylye and the Nadder are full and they have dropped back down stream looking for suitable habitat. Not likely I fear but I would dearly like to know.

Skimmer bream 20+ pike

The unfortunate skimmer of this morning. On a happier note a good looking twenty for long time Somerley regular Chris Blood, which was also accompanied by two smaller fish. Nice catch Chris thanksfor the update and photos.


I did ask Mark about that Teabag chimp in yesterday's entry. It turns out it is a lucky mascot - seems to be working, must look into getting one myself!

20th January

I've been away for the weekend and today I spent chasing pheasants about the Estate so I am a little out of touch with events on the river. I can tell you that the recent high water that made it out into the fields is dropping back and the river is back within its banks. The drop has coincided with the cold weather and the drop in water temperature making fishing equally difficult but at least you can get to the river without risk to life and limb.

We are now just ten days from the start of the new syndicates that coincide with the start of the new salmon season on 1st February. If there have been any fresh salmon out in the bay fingers crossed this last flood brought them into the river. I always find myself in the same position at this time of year in that I have several yet to be achieved visits to finish the coarse season before I get to grips with the salmon. I have to be honest in that whilst I have fished for salmon since 1970 I have never landed a February fish. The counters usually seem to record one or two early salmon into the system but Lady Luck has to be very firmly on your side if a February fish is to take your fly but that's the beauty of our game, you just never know.

12+ barbel Frog spawn Pintails

Unusual of me to include a pic of a fish on a net but this is one worthy of recording. It was captured by Mark Tutton during the recent floods, on the day I wrote on here that conditions were dreadful. Mark proved that those that persevere reap the rewards in that he had to wade two or three hundred meters to his chosen swim and then spend the time whilst fishing balancing his gear on his seat but was dul rewarded with this 12+ fish. As for the teabag chimp I have no idea but I have asked! The middle shot is of the clear jelly that was recently featured on one of the nature programmes. It appears it was a mystery from whence it came taking a study to identify the frog eating Magpies as the culprits. I could have saved them great deal of time and money as I have watched Magpies and Crows de-juicing frogs for years. Tye final shot is an old archive shot of some Pintails as their numbers have climbed whilst we had the meadows underwater. How long they will stay now the levels are dropping we have yet to discover.

15th January

Ibsley Weir Flooded meadows

I knew I was tempting fate when I said in a recent entry the river was in great condition and fishing well. We now have a river out in the meadows in full flood and almost impossible to fish. Fingers crossed things will drop back and we return to a more fisherman friendly regime.

12th January

The photo below shows students from Bournemouth Uni collecting Gammarus, better known to us fishermen as Freshwater shrimp, in the main weir pool at Ibsley. They are collecting them as part of an ongoing PhD into the parasite burden of these creatures within our river. The infected shrimp is an intermediate host that when eaten by our fish passes on the parasite with often devastating effect. There is obviously a great deal more to the work than my simple description; the important element for us is that it is expanding our knowledge of our riverine environment. If understanding related to the parasite they are looking at can be achieved we may begin to identify critical elements with regard to the population dynamics and interaction with our fish stocks. Elements and determinants that can be controlled and managed to avoid population crashes and population imbalances. On its own it looks of little use but as a first step it is of mega importance. If we add subsequent studies to expand further on the habits of the Gammarus and other intermediate hosts. Expand our knowledge of the hook worms, flat worms and flukes, add the viral, fungal and bacterial risks and things start to shape up. Water chemistry, invertebrate requirements, pollutants, discharges and societies demands all with the riverine environment as its driver, as opposed to potable and waste water quality, we may start to see some understanding of the problems our rivers face.

Collecting Gammarus

Collecting specimens for analysis back at the lab.

It is the riverine trusts that need to be asking the questions on behalf of the owners, users and perhaps most importantly the ecology of our rivers. The trusts sit independently of the regulators with their conflicting interests and legislation. They must become the eyes and ears and most importantly the champions of clean rivers. They must monitor and use the repository of knowledge, specific to each river, that needs to be held within each catchment or geographical trust boundary. Whether the information is held at local universities or within the trusts it must be a knowledge bank available to all, online, catalogued and free of charge. It's quite a challenge but if our fishery licence money, riverine and conservation grants and GIA can be levered free of the sticky clutches of Defra we might at long last start to see some progress.

The alternative is that the work just provides us with another Dphil and is subsequently shelved to be repeated in a couple of decades when the dust has covered its memory.

11th January

With the high, cold, coloured river looking less than appetizing today it was good to get an email from Julian Ward keeping me up to date with his and daughter Eleanor's success over the Christmas break. I find it extremely pleasing to hear of the exploits of the younger generation who will hopefully safeguard the future of our rivers and lakes in years to come.

Fifteen pounds pike Fifteen pounder No 2

Well done Eleanor, two 15 pounders from a catch that included two more slightly smaller doubles and a couple of Jacks. A well done and thank you also to dad Julian for the report and the super photos.

For those of you about to send in your subs for the syndicate in the coming week please allow a few extra days for our response. Nathalie will be away for a few days, so her usual practised efficiency will not resume until the following week.

10th January

House sparrow flock Goldfinch House sparrows

With the miserable weather the warmest place was at home in the lounge, watching the Sparrows in the front garden. The first shows about 60 of today's record garden count of 75, along with 35 Goldfinches and a close up for luck.

8th January

Great White Egret

Le Rook, or perhaps more correctly described as the regular French, winter visiting Great White Egret, looked well beside the reeds in the sunshine today. I'm afraid the overnight rain has pushed the river up a foot, fingers crossed it drops back to where we were asap.

7th January

Two steps forward, one step back!

Resurfacing the tracks Fallen willow

Busy resurfacing the tracks and car parks as the old willows continue to fall down in the slightest breeze.

For those that enjoy the river in the winter when conditions are at their most difficult, make the most of it as its spot on at present. The chub are feeding with some fabulous bags and specimens, the pike are enjoying the benign flows and even the roach have shown up in several swims through the middle of the Estate. Add in at least three double figure barbel its about as good as it gets.

It all sound Idyllic but don't forget its the winter, with all its associated downstream winds, freezing temperatures and icy rain. If you are going to venture out make sure you have the moon boots and thermals on and a brolly in the quiver is not a bad idea, anything more than an hour or two can be very testing.

5th January

Good barbel to begin 2015 with

John McGough enjoying the New Year and what a cracking looking fish with which to open the 2015 account. Thanks for the pic John, I've altered the background for obvious reasons.

A further high note of the opening week of the new year are the number of good pike I have had reported in the first day or two. Perhaps not the largest but without doubt the pick of the bunch for me is a report from Michael Twitchen who took son Richard down to the Severals for a much anticipated second ever pike fishing trip.

Richard's 17 Richard's 13

The result of the pike expedition proved to be 2 - 0 to Richard as he managed his first ever pike at 17 pounds followed by a 13 pounder. Well done Richard, undoubtedly an angling star in the making. As for dad I'm afraid he blanked, which might give concern for future laurels in the salmon season ahead if Richard continues his success in that direction. Lovely photos, thanks for the report Michael.

4th January

Please forgive the hotchpotch entry, its due to having to re-jig the html for the New Year. I will do a review of 2014 in the next day or two, I will also try and get my aspirations for the year ahead. It certainly looks as if we have an interesting time ahead of us in the valley. The Wessex Autism charity 10K run was at Somerley today and whilst I don't usually attend my youngest, Richard, with several of his friends had decided to blow away the cobwebs of the festive season.

Home grown veg Oven ready haunch

The season of veg peeling and over indulging now behind us our thoughts turn to the year ahead.

The start In front of the House Through the Park Richard

The Start as Lord Somerton gets them underway, in front of the House and down to the Lower Park. The last shot is of Richard; waving, not the one resting under the tree!

Moving gravel

Back in harness tomorrow preparing for the new syndicates.

31st December

Almost cmplete ice cover on Mockbeggar The ponies Cold skies

Not the bright sunlight of yesterday with mist hanging over the river when I came in to work this morning. Almost complete ice cover at Mockbeggar when I arrived that continued to freeze the remaining gaps throughout the day. Fortunately the ponies have plenty of grass to keep the cold snap at bay.

Cold conditions on the river Hard frost

I did take the opportunity at lunchtime to have a look for any cutting salmon. Still only the two in the Trout Stream and the main river remains just a fraction too high to see in. Fingers crossed the fish are all busy in the higher reaches of the river. Any feedback that readers might be able to provide would be appreciated.

Cold nights One of a dedicated few

Despite temperatures down to minus 7 the two nights fished by the owner of the rods and his friend did manage to catch and there are still one or two dedicated anglers willing to try their luck during the day.