Ending the year as we came in with a shot of our dafs out in the front garden. Despite the recent cold snap our daffodils have seen in the New Year once again. Sorry about the photo it was taken whilst it was tipping it down. The last fourty eight hours have seen the river once more topped up and remaining well out into the meadows. I'll put up a few photographs tomorrow to give an idea of what awaits anyone thinking of braving it.
The water is well out in the valley with more to come, making conditions extremely difficult. The Mistle Thrush is in the Himalayan crab apple in my front garden. It's become extremely aggressive towards other thrushes, guarding its larder of mistletoe and the small apples. It won't let any blackbirds or thrushes come anywhere near, even after filling its crop it remains on guard chasing all new arrivals. I can take shots of the birds in the front garden without leaving my desk so if we continue to suffer rubbish weather you may be getting quite a few of these!
I knew I should have fished for a couple of hours off Sibley's Point, there was obviously denizen hiding at the end of that rainbow.
Seasons Greetings to all readers in the form of a Christmas Robin. In actual fact its Anne's familiar, I can safely get away with that as she doesn't read my ramblings. There is also a further tale related to this bird in that since the end of the nesting season she has protected our garden from all comers. Including her mate with whom she rearer two or three broods last Summer. Since last Wednesday, the Winter Solstice on the 21st December, she has allowed the male bird to once more feed with her in the back garden. Is this a simple softening of her attitude towards her mate, who attentively fed her throughout the three broods they reared together. Or is it the first step in the reaffirmation of their partnership in readiness for the next breeding season. I believe it to be the second as not only the Robins but the Blackbirds seem more tolerant of each other and the Canada Geese have paired off over the lakes and establishing their territories out on the islands.
The finches in the front garden seem more intent on filling their bellies than worrying about the Spring ahead.
Roger playing his sixth of the day closely watched by Betsy, my charge for a day or two whilst Richard, Jade and the girls are away visiting Santa. Roger ended up with ten in his four and a half hour session including one of the next generation mirrors in a double hook-up. These young fish look in tip top condition, hopefully the coming season will see them kick on, becoming the specimens of the future. Well fished Roger, that's quite a catch from a lake that was frozen just a day or two ago.
The water continues to rise, now well out in the meadows and just starting to overflow the Ibsley Bund at 21.65 on the bridge gauge. The water temperature has rocketed from a fraction over 2 degrees C, three days ago, to a high of almost 9 degrees today. The colour and the warmer water has brought out the barbel anglers, with the hardcore contingent up at Ibsley today. I hope the club lads keep an eye on their vehicles as its not only barbel that will be about in the milder weather.
The South Marsh with the flocks of recently arrived wildfowl.
The North Marsh with the wildfowl at the far end, which included two or three of the Great White Egret that are currently about the valley. Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard, add geese, Goosander and Lapwing plus other bits and bobs and the marsh is looking well in its Winter glory.
Harbridge Meadows now in flood. Twenty four hours earlier it had been frozen solid.
I've done quite a lot of bird counting at various times for various studies and have become quite efficient at it. Despite that the current birds occupying my time are proving quite difficult to get a definitive answer. To that end I have been trying to count the Egrets that roost on one of the islands out in the lake. If they were the size of a Hawfinch and roosting in the top of a fir I could understand my difficulties. Egrets however are the size of a bar stool, brilliant white and stand out like a dogs proverbial. The problem arises when they arrive from all points of the compass, come into the roost and then after five minutes decide to move to a different tree. In the fading light it is almost impossible to decide whether that's just a bird shifting position or a new arrival. I'm determined to get a firm answer and will keep trying until I do so, or they push off for the Spring. At the moment the best counts I have achieved are eleven GW's and thirty three LE's it remains to be seen how accurate those numbers are. In the dreadful photo above there are eight Great and a scattering of Little Egrets visible, which gives a taste of the problem when they are all moving about in that gloom.
The count, the problem starts when a further twenty white blobs arrive.
There has been a large arrival of Snipe in the Valley during this cold weather with over 200 in various areas of the Estate. The wildfowling organisations have now requested that shooters show voluntary restraint with regard to, ducks, geese, woodcock and snipe, at a time when these birds are under extreme stress. If the weather remains at freezing for a few more days a statutory ban on shooting these birds will come into force. If the weather once more turns milder during the period of voluntary restraint, please allow two or three days of continuously milder weather before recommencing shooting. If the statutory ban comes into force, it will require fourteen milder days before recommencing. This may be reviewed after seven days.
A couple of further shots of valley birds showing three visiting Barnacle Geese and one of our regular local peregrines.
Nice shot of the bridge bordered with this morning's hoar frost. I had been out since first light attempting a WeBS count, which was proving trying and cold. As I said in yesterday's entry the birds are scattered about the valley in search of food and safety with many of the lakes now frozen. Its not actually the view this shot illustrates but yet another of societies groups that have a total disreagard for the rights of others and the disturbance they create. I say disregard, in actual fact its just plain bloody ignorance but the end result is the same. In this case if you look through the middle arch of the bridge you can see a photographer marching about down by the weirpool. Miles from the footpath, having had to walk around a sign informing them the land is private. I had started my count up at Bickton first thing and made my way downstream via the North and South Marshes heading for Ibsley pools and meadows. Unfortunately our friendly photographer has seen to it that any birds that may have been present would be long gone by the time I got there. What excuse on being requested to return to the public footpath? "I'm doing no harm" beggars belief when people who claim to live locally and claim to understand the ways of the countryside behave in such a fashion. They were not an isolated case other members of the Estate staff charged with keeping the disrespectful off had similar run in with trespassers today. On being requested to return to the path they became offensive. Disrespectful, ignorant, totally selfish, it certainly doesn't bode well for the future if that's what the informed behave like, might as well forget any efforts to conserve the river and valley.
John Slader sent me the two letters above that were published in the Trout & Salmon in 1959, over sixty years ago. Sounds familiar? I wonder what Mr Brackenbury and Mr Kirk would think of our subsequent efforts to protect the rivers in this country. All that can be said for certain is that there has been a vast amount of parliamentary debate and promises, volumes of regulatary scientific papers, endless bloody talking and a huge amount of public money spent. No river in the country is in a good ecological state, no one has been sacked and a considerable number of people have gotten fat and wealthy in the intervening years. Snouts in the trough would seem to best sum it all up.
We are at that point where the seatrout should have completed their spawning and the salmon getting under way. The only snag is that we have yet to see any sign of the seatrout. Other than a good condition fish that looked as if it has yet to spawn, picked up at the confluence of the Linbrook by a chub angler. We can hope that they have yet to cut, for reasons known only to themselves. As for the salmon starting to cut? Despite walking miles today I failed to catch a glimpse of any early action. We are keen to discover where our fish are and how they are reacting to the Summer low flows and the recent erratic rainfall. Whilst out and about in the valley, or the forest, I would very much appreciate news of any sightings, where ever they are in the catchment.
I don't have to tell you that we are experiencing a decent cold snap, a result has been that many of the lakes have frozen over. With the lakes frozen many of the birds that feed and lounge on the stillwaters have had to turn their attention to the valley. The Cormorant, Goosander and Heron that are usually to be found concentrating on the rudd and roach shoals of the lakes are now predating the Salmon parr, Dace and Roach on the river. The vast shoals of roach and rudd in the lakes can absorb their attentions, the already threatened populations in the river cannot, being definite downside of a freeze up.
We discuss the problems our rivers face on a regular basis; sewage, fertilizers, slurry, predation yada, yada, yada, yet we see very few answers to our concerns. The current concern being expressed by the regulators re the water companies is simply hot air. A talking shop to play for time, whilst the government fiddles as our rivers burn. No heads will roll, no one will be dismissed or lose their bonus payments, the agri-chemical companies will keep their heads down and as soon as the cost of production falls they will be maximising their sales once more, with the support of Defra. The débâcle in both houses of parliament provides little hope of strong leadership, self interest is very much the oft repeated pattern from our supposed leaders. We can't rely on our MPs who are basically powerless to help in real terms, Defra is a complete wast of space where environmental issues are concerned through deliberate underfunding and management self interest. Our representative organisations are so tied in to what scant government funding is trickled down to them, they are not in a position to take on real issues and scratch about the banks righting historic wrongs. Wrongs that were pointed out at the time to be against the best interests of the river only to be ignored by our regulators. The latest delays being driven by Coffey are just so symptomatic of what is before us, short term political gain, once more at the expense of the rivers.
So where do we look for help? Good question. I know what I would like to see done. Issues such as determining whether the quality of our river water is capable of supporting invertebrate and fish life-cycles. Life that the many surveys show to be disappearing at an alarming rate, or hanging in there by the skin of their teeth. Where are the PhD researchers and their funders, continuously monitoring above and below specific discharge points? To parameters that have invertebrates as their baseline. Why are deep substrate incubators not continuously running to establish if natural conditions can support life. The results available to all online. Ask any trout farmer if he could hatch his eggs in main channel river water and he will laugh at you. The house building programme is going to increase the pressure on our rivers dramatically. We need ecological water quality objectives that are fit for purpose and can demand discharges either cease or improve. Enforced by regulators with teeth and funding. Pretty basic and all a little simplistic points that would be a good place to start as it would at least show, some one cares!
With the river looking well, after the recent rain, we now have some proper Winter temperatures to help reset the seasons clock. One of the carriers this morning experiencing the results of a hard frost. This will ensure much of the weed, such as the huge beds of Fools Cress, that has choked the carriers in recent months will now die back and enable the flow to clear the channel in readiness for next Spring's new growth. The second shot is a Grey Wagtail down at the channel's edge, were the flow has kept the ice at bay.
Starlings leaving the frosty reeds at first light.
The river is now looking well in its Winter garb and producing some classic Avon Winter specimens.
Steve with a good common, the best of a recent three fish catch. Recent weeks have seen the action slow considerably from that of a couple of months ago.
Another of our odd visitors to the valley in the form of this Pink-footed Goose. Along with the regular single Barnacle Goose, Black Swans and our long staying Ruddy Shelduck, we often see oddities dropping in on the resident flocks. That now carries an increased risk in that they may bring less welcome arrivals in the shape of viruses and disease. Not that they could bring any increase in the risk of avian flu as that now seems established in the valley.
A great back drop to the lake, clearing some of the islands, not a bad place to spend the afternoon.
The river is out in the meadows and the geese and swans are enjoying the easy access to their grazing. Unfortunately we are seeing one or two casualties of the Avain flu most days and carcasses scattered about the valley. Yesterday and this morning one of the Isle of Wight eagles was in the valley around Ibsley. Hopefully this bird is not in the valley to feed on the flu victims, with the associated risk of infection.
Despite further wandering along the Dockens I have yet to spot any redds or seatrout and have yet to hear of anyone else spotting any. I know several readers do visit the headwaters of various streams in search of the trout, should you come across any fish I would appreciate a text.
Some low life threw this lot over the Mockbeggar gate mid morning, between 9am and noon, on Saturday. With fly-tipping rife why is it we never come across the criminals in the act?
On a far brighter note, a couple of shots from last week with the first catching a rainbow over the water meadows with Ellingham Church the location of the pot of gold. The second shows a small part of the Starling roost, that are back, dropping into the reedbeds. As well as the welcome return of the Starlings winter roost the Great and Little Egrets are also back with at least thirty on one of the islands last night.
Anne and I spent a very pleasant couple of hours this morning looking for signs of the seatrout, or their redds, in the higher catchment of one of the forest streams.
Unfortunately we found no sign of the trout but its no hardship to be out in the forest on a bright Autumn morning.
Recent days have seen the Forest streams in full spate, which will hopefully have seen most of the seatrout reach high into the tributary headwaters to spawn. The water height and colour has meant that we were unable to watch the progress of the run, it has to be a case of fingers crossed the made it safely onto the redds. The third photo shows a dead Heron beside an area of flood water. We have seen increased Heron deaths in recent months that may be attribuable to avian flu or more likely in the case of Herons, lack of food now the fish farm has shut removing a significant proportion of their diet.
Unfortunately it looks as if avian flu has reached the valley with at least half a dozen dead swans the demise of which cannot be attributed to powerline strikes. Defra advice don't touch unless wearing suitable PPE and have a recognised means of disposal. The recent pandemic awareness of the need for scrupulous cleanliness applies to anyone out and about near the lakes and river. Ensure hands are washed as soon as possible on return from any fishing trips. You may not have touched any dead birds but it doesn't mean it didn't spend its last hours sat on the bank where you spent the day behind the rods. H5N1 and H7N9 are both bird flu viruses that have infected humans in other parts of the world, that's one Avon Valley first we could well do without so take care.
They missed a trick there, they could have stuck a counter in it and claimed it wasn't a barrier as the fish could get through on the occasions the flow inundated the dam!
Under the new round of planned cuts to government spending we may at last see an end to the pretence of maintenance, improvement and development. Not that we would be aware of any change, it would be a couple of years before we noticed they had gone.
The rain continues and my gauging station at the tail of Ibsley Pool is now looking spot on. If we continue along these lines throughout the winter it would be just perfect. Unfortunately we have no control over the elements so its back to keeping our fingers crossed. The present height does mean that the slacks and eddies are now looking far more inviting. One or two of those perfect "Grabtree" eddies will now be holding those much sought after winter pike and perch to hopefully make someone's red letter day in the months ahead.
Between showers the visibility was superb. The sweep of Tizzard's Pool taking me back to the hours I spent peering through an instrument longing for such viz.
Another clear view over the forest from Chestnut Avenue. The flooded fields below are part of the Lower Park, hiding behind the middle trees lies the entire Avon Valley, before rising to look out across many miles of the forest. A rare view in Southern England in that in all those many square miles not a single building is in sight.
Mid November WeBS and what an odd day, temperature in the high teens and brilliant sunshine. As for the count it can be best described as abysmal, the river has dropped back and the meadows whilst wet are far from flooded. The Heron and Cormorant numbers have collapsed with just three Heron and two Cormorants at the trout farm, counts for the previous two or three decades at this site have seen Heron counts as high as two hundred and Cormorant at a similar height. The trout farm has now shut leaving stews with blocked screens containing the remnants of the stock that avoided the removal nets. The attractant flow remains at the outflow with the salmon about to begin their spawning run where, as they have done for decades, they will bypass the screens and be forced to spawn against the bottonm screens of the trout stews. We used to net them out each year and release them upstream but that hasn't been done for years, presumeably no one can be bothered! It makes the maintenance, improvement and development of the fishery a sick joke. To maintain, improve and develope the fishery is the EA statutory obligation, for which the angling community "donates"!! twenty four million pounds a year to the EA.
One other cause of declining counts is the presence of Crassula Helmsii, New Zealand Pygmyweed, in one of the lakes that had previously attracted high counts of wildfowl grazing on elodea. Crassula has little or no food value for wildfowl, hence other than sitting out or loafing the lake is little used these days.
There may not have been the number of wetland birds we might have wished for it was however a fine day for a walk. I'm not sure how many miles a WeBS count involves but there is always something going on the make it interesting. The Kite watched me approach from his lofty perch before feeling a closer look was required coming to circle immediately overhead. I walked the Woodside Carrier that we had cleared of willow last Autumn. The benefit of the mild Autumn has seen the margins green up wonderfully and the extra flow and light has seen volume of starwort and ranunculas tresses in the channel looking brillaint pea green.
A surprise in the garden when I returned home at midday in the shape of the delightful Long-tailed Blue that was feeding on the late flowering rosemary. Not the only butterfly I spotted today with Red Amiral and Peacock enjoying the sunshine but certainly the most unexpected.
Salisbury Cathedral that stands at the very heart of our valley was looking particularly spectacular yesterday evening. Salisbury Cathedral is always spectacular and worth a visit at any time, however Anne and I popped along to enjoy the, Sarum Lights: Renaissance, after work yesterday. It was a great display of light and sound that gave a new perspective to the cathedrals wonderful architecture. It certainly brought the Pillars of the Earth in sharp relief for me and well worth a visit.
A video of the Renaissance Lights, Anne took yesterday.
Alarmingly avian inflenza is now on a neighbouring lake, just north of Ringwood, less than 500m from the valley where some of our largest concentrations of swans and geese feed. Its actually worse than that as the dead birds were swans and geese that undoubtedly move in and out of the valley on a regular basis. It seems Defra aren't particularly interested just advising that the dead birds are not touched. In reality there is not a lot else they can do, its a case of keeping our fingers crossed over the winter months in the hope that by some miracle it passes us by.
The rising water level on the North Marsh is starting to look well. A little soon to see a great deal in the way of birdlife, other than the valley resident of course, geese, gulls, swans and jackdaws making the most of the fresh food source.
A further nice lift in water levels requiring the main gates to be reset in readiness for further rain to come. The middle shot shows the cleansing rush of water clearing Summers accumulated detritus from the main weirpool. The third shot are the Eel Pool gates that were also cleaned and reset. The brown blip on the track the far side of the gates is that otter I have been trying to photograph all week. My camera was in the truck leaving only the mobile to capture the moment, or more correctly not capture the moment.
The bottom two show the loss of freeboard in Ibsley Pool and the colour pouring out of the forest, on this occasion transported by the Hucklesbrook.
Perhaps the perfect photo to wrap up the Mockbeggar season, John with a mint conditioned young tench, taken in front of the tower. Caught during today's pouring rain it caps a season that has seen John get to grips with the lake tench. I'm sure John will be the first to admit he has only just begun to get the measure of the tench and roach of the lake, there are many secrets left to discover in there. Whilst most of the tench appear to be young fish specimens to over seven pounds were landed, lets hope we can keep the population fit, healthy and growing in the seasons to come. Well done John, really well fished.
One of the things I learnt from the mystery amanita episode is that the world of mycology is about as confusing as any natural science can be! In future I will appreciate the fungi I discover on my travels for their mystery and beauty and leave the indentification for those better placed to determine such matters. To that end I post the shot of my bonsai hornbeam, surrounded by the latest arrivals from the world below.
The beauty of the misty autumnal mornings belies the plight of the river that remains desperately low for the time of year. The second shot showing the tail of Ibsley Pool is always a good place to judge the water height as it has no downstream barriers to impound the water. Hopefully the water height will be within six inches of the top of the bank by the time the salmon season opens next February. We have a long way to go before that time so a great deal can change before then. Despite the low water the river continues to produce some amazing specimens with 17+ barbel and chub to almost eight pounds in the last week or two, so its not all gloom and doom.
The delayed rains have enabled me to continue with one task that I try and sort out before the water height makes it impossible. The next span in the rack will require a little more effort to clear than my rake and long-handle saw as there's a large multi-stemmed tree jammed under it. It looks as if it will be a further job for the steel cable and the PWD grapnel.
Twice this week I have come across a young bitch otter busy rummaging about in the margins and haven't had a camera with me on each occasion. This morning she was sat on the weed mass upstream of the rack when I arrived on the scene. I had the camera in the truck and thought luck was on my side, yet once more I missed her. Only getting out of focus shots of her as she departed upstream.
I believe the pannage season has been extended a further few weeks due to the large acorn crop this year. Not that the porkers in the photo will find many acorns out in the middle of that field. It looks as if the fencing may require a little attention if they wish to keep this lot out!
Now we know, thanks to Mark Pike of the Dorset Fungi Society for arranging the genetic sequencing, Amanita cecillae, common name the snakeskin grisette and thank goodness for that.
Katie and Nath were about this half-term week, which involved a session in preparation for Halloween. I have to be honest and a day cutting hollow trees with a blunt chainsaw would have been less stressful!
I'm posting this as further warning about the risk of parking at Ibsley Bridge. Thanks to R&DAA member, Chris Thomson, for sending this through showing the damage to his van. Thankfully nothing of any value was stolen but the damage and inconvenience is considerable. This is the second such incident at the bridge in about a fortnight. Annoyingly there is nowhere else we can offer to the club as a safer parking area. These low life scum seem to operate with impunity so be aware and collect any registration numbers or dodgy individuals you see lurking about.
We are not alone in this situation with a friend having his vehicle broken into on the other side of the Forest over at Brockenhurst and having lots of bits and pieces of camera and "Go Pro" gear stolen. Fortunately in his instance not any valuable cameras but he still has the inconvenience of the disruption and replacement hassle. If you see any "Go Pro" or bits of camera paraphernalia up for sale make a note of the seller please.
Yesterday's very welcome rain has even managed to lift the water level three or four inches, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. With the first colour of the winter also entering the river all looked very promising this afternoon. The slight lift was just sufficient to move the floating debris from some of the slacks but it will take considerably more to move the still anchored river weed and floating sweet grass. Fingers crossed that frequent rain events of a similar size gently lift the levels to a fisherman friendly height for the Winter ahead.
Autumn is now in full swing with the recent rain sufficient to trigger the explosion of fungi that bring their mystery and magic to the woods and meadows. The old cock pheasant has been dining on fallen chestnuts along with the myriad of grey squirrels we seem to have this year. I could have put up a photo of a squirrel but as I detest the wretched things it would have spoilt my diary entry. As well as eating the fallen chestnuts, which I hasten to add I don't begrudge them, they have stripped the bark and killed every young beech and chestnut tree that we planted ten years ago in one of our woods.
Just a glimpse of the multitude of the fungi that are currently to be found about the Estate. From micro toadstools growing on a fallen Weymouth Pine cones, to the huge parasols that are dotted about the meadows.
The five shots above are of the mystery fungi that has been the header photo of this years diary. This Autumn I am delighted to say it has returned with at least fifteen and possibly as many as twenty specimens appearing around the lake. It is still giving rise to considerable debate in the mycology world but with the help of experts in the field we are narrowing down the possibilities. Brother Dave is doing the spore readings and I hope we can arrange DNA sequencing to give a definite answer this time around. Once an answer has been agreed upon I will let those of you that care know!
Users of the lakes will have seen where I have placed logs alongside the road to protect the specimens, which seem determined to grow where they will get run over, please be aware and give them as wide a berth as possible. Just a couple of words of caution about fungi and the desire to eat them! Whilst several of the ones in the top block of photos are edible it would not be a good idea to try them without expert advice. That particularly applies to the mystery mushroom that all agree is in the Amanita family, which also includes the, "phalloides" and "virosa", the Death Cap and the Destroying Angel, both are deadly poisonous with no antidotes. Our mystery toadstool does also resemble another of the deadly Amanitas, the Panther Cap. So don't be tempted to add mushrooms to your bivvy fry-up in the morning, or try for a natural high, leave them ALL well alone as I don't want the hassle of the paper work and police statements on finding you stiff and twitching when I come around in the morning!
I'm sure everyone is aware of the huge concern avian flu is giving rise to across the entire country. Case numbers are increasing and with many of the winter migrants about to arrive we are in the lap of the gods as to whether we will be affected or not. We have major outbreaks in wild birds just north of us at Salisbury and to the south down at Christchurch. I keep an eye on the various flocks about the Estate and as of three oclock this afternoon they were all thankfully looking well. With approaching a thousand geese and swans on the Estate it is inevitable and natural that we do see odd birds that look below par. With Winter Mute numbers reaching in excess of two hundred birds, half a dozen cable strikes and old birds dead or dying is about the norm. Add to this over four hundred Greylags, three hundred Canadas and a hundred and twenty Egyptians that the wildfowlers in the valley are currently knocking lumps off, the odd pricked bird is also inevitable. These birds move about the valley and also visit other river valleys and the coast so the risks are considerable.
If any of the syndicate should come across dead or injured birds give me a call or drop me a text and I will drop by and check them out. Just what happens in the event it does arrive with us, at this point in time, I can't say what measures we can take to deal with the situation. I'm sure Defra will be able to provide advice dependent on the severity of the outbreak, for the time being its a case of "as you were" and keep your fingers crossed it misses us.
Not the largest pike we will see this year but a great self take by Mark, with a Jack that has been bothering his shoal of tame rudd.
We didn't get that lot either, hopefully it deposited itself higher up the catchment. The middle shot is somewhat of a mystery. As I'm sure you can imagine with twenty odd miles of roads and tracks about the Estate I come across all sorts of strange objects laying in the way that require picking up, fly-tipping, bits off vehicles and general trash. I have a large plastic sack in the back of the truck that I fill up on a regular basis. Today's mystery item was a half full pot of strawberry jam, or to give it its correct title as per the label, conserve. Just how such an item can find itself in the middle of the road completely baffles me! Answers on a postcard to.......... The final photo shows the benefit of dead-heading your buddlia as the newly encouraged flower spikes attract another Hummingbird hawkmoth to round off the season.
..............................and its not a "Penny Bun"
With the river water levels as low as I have ever seen them at this time of year I took the level out to measure the head difference from above the hatches upstream of Ibsley Bridge to the far bank of the weirpool below. I have to say the development of levels has come a long way since my time as a surveyor. The use of the laser level allowed me to complete the task in a fraction of the time and with half the effort. I will have to do some working out to see if my thoughts re a future by-pass route are practicle.
Autumn colour is coming to the garden as the fruit sets and the leaves begin to turn.
The hydrology report for the Wessex region arrived in the in-box this morning that made pretty dire reading for the Avon. Despite the recorded rainfall for the region being on or about the September long term average the groundwater and river flows showed a different story. The two most relevant ground water monitoring sites for us in the Lower Avon registered "Notably Low". Our two nearest river flow gauges were recording "Exceptionally Low" Not only the valley water tables and flows are low, we have the ever present sight of the perched water tables at rock bottom staring us in the face every day in the quarries. The drop in water level is well illustrated on the far bank of the flooded quarry bed.
These dead ash and the one at rightangles across the river, have been removed to make the snag swim safe once more. We do our best to ensure dangerous ash dieback trees are removed, however should you come across trees that are dead or dying please avoid close contact, particularly sitting under them!
I walked the lower river today, from Penmeade to Ringwood and back. I have never, in my sixty years of walking the banks of the Avon, seen it so low at this time of year. The first and middle shot are looking from the right bank at the tail of the last of the Ashley Bends and upstream across Lifelands Shallows. Just where we are heading under these conditions is unknown territory. In previous low flow years we have seen the Autumn rains top the system back up, in a couple of instances with a deluge sending the river out into its flood plain, for the entire winter! As an illustration of the current plight of the river, I crossed the Blashford Shallows, just above the island in the photo on the right, in my Wellington boots. As I stood on the gravels mid river I couldn't help wondering just how much of what little water there was had already passed through the sewage treatment system, or even through the upstream inhabitants of the valley! Whilst we are currently not seeing the disgraceful raw sewage discharges that the water companies have been getting away with for decades, which I'm sure at the first sign of rain they will be at again, the chemical cocktail our society produces is still present. I believe there are over three hundred different chemicals that enter our river systems through STW's of which less than twenty are tested for. Of course the symbiotic interaction of this chemical soup on the ecology of the river is unknown and dramatically increased with the far lower dilution rate we have endured since mid Summer.
One of the few butterflies that remain active out on the Michaelmas daisies.
Whilst on the timber theme here's another of Kingsley's wonderful pieces of wild wood timber. This time its a slab of English walnut root which is beautifully and amazingly well figured. Walnut is used in the gun trade for the most expensive and crafted shotgun and rifle stocks. Unfortunately much of the wood used by the gun makers today is imported from the continent. It would be amazing to see English built guns, stocked with English walnut. If anyones looking for a project pay Kingsley a visit, he's still got half that root waiting to be milled.
Soaring well over one hundred feet and weighing four or five tons, your heart sinks when the bar discovers its also hollow. Thankfully I wasn't on the other end of the saw, that dubious honour fell to one of the contractors doing the thinning. It doesn't matter who's cutting, getting such monsterous, dangerous, trees safely on the ground can be a nerve racking business.
Today Phil came over and gave the paddocks beside the lakes their annual eco-cut to prevent the brambles overpowering and shading out the wild flowers. Some years we Winter graze the site to attain the same result but this Summer has been particularly hard on the wild flowers, most having been burnt off by the prolonged drought back in June and July so a more controlled cut is required. The recent showers have spurred the growth back into life yet I fear the damage may have already been done for several of the more delicate plants. It won't be until next year we will know whether permanent damage has been inflicted. I did hear on the radio today that September had received above average rainfall. Well, I don't know who got our quota but it certainly hasn't arrived in the Avon Valley. The river remains down to its bones with the gravel bars well exposed and water clarity allowing sight of the riverbed in ten feet of water. The final photo is a finished meadow with stripes of standing vegetation left to afford food and cover for over-wintering invertebrates. next year the stripes will be reversed with this years standing vegetation being cut, to prevent coarse grass and brambles taking over, and the cleared lines left.
Today we celebrate Michaelmas, the official beginning of Autumn. One of the Quarter Days, traditionally when leases and finances are started and finished. The Aster, or Michaelmas, daisies are in full bloom providing the final splash of colour before the flowers finish in the face of the longer, colder nights. A shot of the bonsai, through the glass of the window, which have had a difficult Summer with the prolonged dry spell requiring me to water every day the sun shone. The Summer has been equally difficult for the river and the wild flower meadows with the lack of rain responsible for reduced growth and nectar flow.
The arrival of Autumn signals the beginning of the final cut of the banks of both the river and the lake complexes. Yesterday I started with the triangle, between the weirs up at Ibsley. In the photo "Hoodies" can be seen on the far side of the weirpool after I had finished my clearing.
There is a great deal more to clearing paths than simply cutting all the vegetation that can be reached with the strimmer. The benefit of clearing with a strimmer is the degree of selectivity that can be achieved; light on the margins to encourage reeds and rushes, self set oak and sweet chestnut, sunny bank for the snakes and lizards. The brambles, briar and hawthorns left with winter food stores plus protection of the self-sets from the wretched deer. Plants such as sorrel and birds-foot trefoil encouraged for the small copper and common blue. A carefully considered patchwork of habitats with every element cleared or left to achieve a desired result.
A further casualty picked up from the river today, worryingly there were no obvious signs of the cause of death. I hope this doesn't indicate conditions within the river being so difficult salmon are critically stressed.
Today's delivery to the Ellingham Lay-by, photographed as I passed on my way to work. Thankfully this is not an Estate problem, this lay-by seems to fall under the jurisdiction of NFDC who have spent a fortune of public money collecting and disposing of fly tipped crap from it for the last couple of decades. Used almost exclusively by, illegal over-night sleepers, poachers - thieving fish with a value of up to three thousand quid each, dog runners - after the deer and rabbits locally, our delightful fly-tippers and bears. Most of whom are the night-time community that appear once the local reserve pack up after their day time attendance. Nine to five countryside management I believe its called! However, its good to see the local authority take measures to meet the requirements of the local minority communities, as opposed to filling it in and planting trees on it, which I hasten to add could be done for next to nothing.
Giant puffballs on the park and the river weed dying back dramatically dropping the water level.
Collecting acorns from selected oaks that thrive in our environment. The first stands on the boundary of Mockbeggar where Alister's sow is doing her best to clear the fallen acorns from poisoning the ponies in the brief pannage season. Four trays of collected acorns shortly to be planted in their nursery beds. Finally looking up the twenty foot of clean stick of a specimen tree. Unfortunately this tree has been struck by lightening and has a split from top to bottom on the other side.
Dave Watkins had a good weekend with a cracking brace of big carp. The common is over thirty five pounds and a personal best for Dave, congratulations Dave, well fished.
I have been away for a few days visiting family in the far West of Wales. The first shot is of Anne and her sister Jill, contemplating the beautiful setting of Church Rock. With myself and brother Dave heading that way as twelve Chough passed overhead. A truly wonderful part of the world.
A trip down Memory Lane for me as I briefly lived in the white pianted house, many, many, many years ago, it was then a working boatyard.
Kevin cleaning the carriers and drains, whilst Phil and Nic, cleared willow off the water meadows.
If you wish to depress yourself look these up and read them. After which - the last one out of the countryside switch the lights off please! If these pass then the protection of the environment will be a thing of the past. I will do a more balanced review when I have finished reading and trying to get my head around how the promoters of these bills believe the environment will survive such measures.
On a brighter note a Common lizard enjoying this afternoon's sunshine down by the sheep pens.
A real Autumn treat, flatcaps for breakfast and buttons to pickle.
The migration continues with the Common Sandpiper and a soaked Black-tailed Godwit drying off having just had an early morning bath.
The Main Hatch and the Eel Pool Hatch at Ibsley. The annotations show the 0.6m head of water through the gates. The Main Hatch shows that even during the reduced flow with fifty percent of the gates open an air gap and unrestricted flow is maintained. During the low flows of Summer the mass upstream movement of chub and dace traverse the Main Gates gates without difficulty. No fish attempt the Eel Pool Hatch as there is a 150mm step that is sufficient to stop the migration.
A 2.0m head of water at Bickton where nothing gets through. The more northern gates and the salmonid fish passes have multiple steps, far greater than the 150mm step on the Eel Pool that prevents cyprinid migration. Add the Great Weir and Burgate with similarly disastrous steps, deemed acceptable by those charged with the Maintenance, improvement and development of our fisheries, natural cyprinid passage will never be achieved. Without cyprinid passage for twelve months of the year the Avon will fail in all but isolated pockets. The aquifer sucked dry, chemical and sewage discharge, combined with deliberately maintained barriers to passage is quite some legacy we leave the generations that follow us.
A very grainy shot of an Osprey taken during this mornings mist and drizzle. Osprey are familiar visitors these days with the population up country from us using the valley as one of its southern migration routes. Added to which, these days we probably get visits from the introduced birds down on the reserve at Arne. I put it up to draw attention to passage migrants that I am keen to record and see if at all possible. With so many syndicate members eyes in the valley it is inevitable that frequent sightings of passing birds that I am unaware of will occurr. Recent examples being a pair of Dipper feeding at Blashford on a gravel bar, with all their under water travelling, bobbing and dipping etc. I also missed the Hobby, attempting to catch a Kingfisher at Ellingham recently. I may have missed them but I very much appreciate hearing about them. Please drop me a text or an email so they can be recorded for my Estate records.
A few of the two hundred plus Canada Geese and one hundred plus Mute Swans about the Estate during the WeBS count.
A few of the WeBS species counted, not including the Peregrine. Since the closure of the trout farm Cormorant and Heron numbers have plummeted. The Heron count was just twenty, in previous years well over a hundred was the norm. As for Cormorants just one on the entire Estate, where counts in excess of 200 were common place, around the trout stews before the staff arrived for work in the mornings. With these birds not being drawn inland and spreading out onto the surrounding river and lakes when disturbed avian predation has seen a similarly dramatic fall. I dare say that as the Winter storms arrive the birds will head back inland, by which time we will hopefully have sufficient flow and colour in the water to afford the fish some cover.
What I did also notice was that although the trout farm is no longer in operation the head of water at the main gates is in the order of two meters and considerable attractant flow is still being directed through the old stew ponds. From the end of May when the coarse fish begin their upstream spawning migration, through June and July when the juvenile chub and dace are heading upstream in large numbers as part of the natural river recruitment dynamic this barrier remains in place. Second only to the Great Weir in the impact it has on cyprinid migration and spawning I will watch with interest the future regime that governs these structures. I'm afraid the EA will sit on the fence and continue to tolerate this abuse of our river system as they have done for decades, whilst of course the remainder of Europe are forging ahead with dam removal. We in the UK certainly have some way to go before we can claim to be prioritising our environment. We are made to look very outdated and third world in our approach, in fact there are some wonderful fishery schemes in developing countries that sadly make us look like a corrupt, money orientated banana republic.
Yellow wagtail are still moving through in large numbers.
The overgrown alder that we coppiced last year is now looking well after the good growing season. The stools have continued to grow on the wet ground that supported them through the dry Summer we have just experienced. Coppiced alder is a rare woodland crop these days, very few of the deliberately planted charcoal plantations remain. Alder would have produced fine charcoal for both fuel and black gunpowder and would have been far more widely planted. These days its value is as a fast growing carbon sink as the multipled stemmed stools soar skyward to the seventy or eighty feet they attain under the perfect growing conditions of this section of woodland.
The second photo is a shot of the Woodside Carrier where I spent the day clearing some of the overgrown willow as we endeavour to sort out the tangled mess that is threatening to choke the flow. This carrier is one of our most important as it brings water to the many thousands meters of braided channel system on the east side of the main channel. Braided channels that provide vital habitat for the juvenile stages of our Avon specimens.
Those of you that have been down the bottom end of the Estate to Ringwood Weir will have noticed the change of stile that affords access to the true right bank of Lifelands. We have removed the old wodden stile and replaced it with a metal one that we have moved to the very beginning of the path. This was done to try and make the short length of barbed wire fence between the old and new position obsolete. This was necessary to remove the risk of people cutting the barbed wire to gain access to the field. This last happened a few weeks back when dog runners, lamping the hares, cut this section potentially allowing the ponies in the field direct access to the A31 dual carriage way. The consequeneces of ponies running about on that section of road does not bare thinking about.
The old wooden stile has now been removed. Whilst I was down there I strimmed out the bank, I had left overgrown to deter idiots, down to the bottom concrete groyne. Hopefully with the silly season now behind us we shouldn't get too many idiots and poachers visiting. If whilst you are down that end should you see lamping or dog running taking place dial 999 and inform them poaching is in progress. Failing that give me a call and I will set the wheels in motion to try and catch the culprits.
I retrieved the dead salmon from the deep hole and I looks as if one of our large pike was possibly responsible for the death. If you look at the dark area over the shoulder, between the dorsal fin and the head, there are a series of very deep slashes. Not the damage down at the tail, that resulted from the weed rake I used to retrieve it. I am quite relieved to see a physical cause of death as opposed to the current low flow and warm water of the river resulting in over stressing it. Whatever the cause it means the sad loss of a 2SW hen and her five thousand eggs at a time every salmon is vital.
A visit to one of the lakes this evening in an attempt at landing a carp with blackberry as bait. I have landed chub on several occasions using them and seen carp take freebies offered them in the margins so hopes were high. I chose the easier of the lakes as trying this on a lake that has a head of large well educated carp makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions from any blank sessions. I did cheat a little as I was a little strapped for time and fired a few pouch fulls of 2mm pellets in the margins. As usual in this lake the water was soon boiling with rudd and roach and in the very shallows at my feet three double figure carp were happily digging in search of food. Basically I used the same rod and reel as for perch the other day, self cocking crystal and a tell tale no 4 down to a size 8 Kamasan barbless J. Casting was hardly necessary and as I lowered the float into position it sailed away resulting in a 6" rudd. That continued for the couple of hours I was there, actually getting a blackberry in front of a carp proved impossible. I'm sure they will take them when presented properly and the silvers can be avoided. A good start on that front will be doing away with the initial introduction of pellets, chopped blackberries will be the next means of attraction used.
Dozens of Yellow Wagtails, briefly stopping on their migration south, feeding on the disturbed grass beside the cattle. I had occasion to visit just two lots of cattle today and well over fifty birds were feeding. I imagine that every herd in the valley has similar numbers accompanying it. So many birds moving south hopefully indicates that Yellow Wagtails had a good breeding season this year. Its been a long time since I found Yellow Wagtails nesting in the valley, it would be a good day should they make a return.
The salmon season behind us and that is the best place for it. I will put together a brief review in the next few days to pick the few high points that we enjoyed in this most difficult of seasons. The only salmon news today was the sight of a dead fish laying on the bottom in Broadmeade. Too far out to reach but I will take a rake down to drag it out to see if there are any obvious signs that caused its death.
As for my fishing? A day for a walk down Memory Lane. I got up at first light and headed for the river to see if I could find a perch, the fish that set me on my lifetimes preoccupation. Armed with a couple of pints of reds and Ringwood Tackles finest lobworms my approach was simple. My favourite Pro Daiwa 12' rod, Daiwa closed faced reel, largest wire stemmed float I had in my box plus an olivette to balance, a no 4 shot as a tell-tale and a no. 8 Kamasan strapped on the business end. Loose fed maggots into likely corners and search the area with my float fished lob. Action from the off and in the next two and a half hours I landed five perfect perch and the obligatory Jack that always joins in when using lobs. The same magic and enjoyment the sixty intervening years have failed to dull.
The first of the Starlings gathering for the coming Winter roost in the nearby reedbeds. The coming Winter will be critical on many fronts with the need for water to replenish our rivers and reservoirs and cold weather in the East to reset the environmental time clocks.
With the gentle northerly wind the evening was a great deal cooler than of late, the perfect evening for a walk to see whether the egret were back on the island winter roost site. I arrived half an hour before dark and settled down where I could keep an eye out for any arrivals on the island. I had the continual sound track of squeaking from the late brood of Great-crested Grebe out on the lake and the overhead display, against the backdrop of the sunset, probably the largest number of bats I have seen on the wing this year. From tiny little pipistrelle to huge creatures, probably Lesser and Greater Horseshoes, with every size and variation thrown in. They were feasting on this evenings large hatch that hung in clouds along the tracks and rides.
As for the roost, I was delighted to see four Great-white and two Little Egrets come in this evening. Interestingly the foliage under the roost trees was covered in droppings, which looks as if the island has been used for some time already this year. The blurred photo shows three of the GWE and one Little Egret, by the time the last two arrived it was too dark to get any sort of photo, even a blurred one.
A couple of Dall_e generated views of the Avon and a chalk stream. Interesting concept and implications.
Love it, we've had daily visits for the last month. Certainly two individuals but trying to identify something that travels at the speed they do is beyond me. I had also planted two very fragrant honeysuckles in the hope of attracting some of the even rarer Convolvulus Hawkmoths or even an Orleander, unfortunately the aphids killed the honeysuckle before it came into flower. Better luck next year hopefully.
I managed to muck up my attempts at videoing our visitors, thankfully Anne was more successful.
The last of the runner beans and the first of the outdoor tomatoes, despite the best efforts of the dry weather the garden has done well.
Some of the couple of thousand campers here to enjoy the weekend, shooting at each other, at the international Airsoft event.
In stark contrast to the Airsoft camp, Steve and Mark are enjoying the peace and quiet of the lakes and finding some fine fish in the process. There have been some remarkable catches recently with Dave Winter adding to his busy session of a fortnight ago with a three night session that produced over twenty fish with seven in excess of thirty pounds, quite staggering, well fished Dave. Another simply amazing catch involved a twenty three and a thirty four pound commons. The brilliant thing about that brace is that they were taken on the fly, by John Slader of course. John has managed a number of twenty pound fish yet the thirty had eluded him for a couple of seasons, a fact he has corrected in superb style with the thirty four. Congratulations John an amazing achievement.
The rich margins are on the section of bank below Ringwood weir. Its not that popular with the members, other than for the salmon at the start of the year, so after the salmon season I give the growth free range of the bank. This not only provides a wonderfully rich habitat but also deters some of the unwanted attention this section seems to attract. Whilst down that end on a recent visit I noticed a huge tangle of spiders webs spanning the complete width of the hatch gap. At regular 30 centimeter intervals, over the complete surface of the web, sat large grey spiders. I'm not up on my spiders so I can't say what they were, or whether their social behaviour was deliberate or expediant, whatever they seemed well practice in their communial food gathering.
Whilst on the subject of spiders, I doubt very much whether they would relish the appearance of the fly above in their web. The superb looking creature is a Hornet Robberfly and at 25mm in length an impressive fly to say the least. I believe it is one of the largest flies found in the UK and whilst it looks intimidating it is quite harmless to humans.
The recent rain has made little or no difference to the river levels. The forest stream remain dry or down to just a shadow of their winter selves. Down as they are the streams still provide a vital drinking hole, at Moyles court on the Dockens Water, for the New Forest stock. The oaks look as if they will be producing a huge acorn crop, which means the pannage pigs will soon have to be out and about eating them as they fall, ensuring the ponies don't eat them and poison themselves.
The Osprey has been with us since the weekend, roosting down beside Park Pool before spending the day drifting about the valley and local lakes. Always a pleasure to see them as they move south for their winter quarters. The otter shot was my best effort at trying to photograph this very large dog otter as he dug about in the margins up at Ibsley recently. I have tried to get better photos of both the bird and the otter but time and fate seem determined to defeat me. If the Osprey continues to hang about and remains faithful to his favourite dead ash tree I may get a further chance but I fear the otter is a case of fingers crossed I bump into him again when I have the camera handy.
The local equivalent of my favourite robinia tree in the form of these wonderful ancient Crack Willow pollards up at Ibsley that I have been cleaning out today. These are the overgrown unmanaged mess that we decapitated a year or two back, leaving the site looking devastated. They have now started to regrow their heads and are looking every inch the classic riverside tree they should be. In fact, these are now my favourite trees, they are simply fabulous. Birds, bats, bugs and mammals abound, making the site a real valley gem.
Whilst I was cleaning up around the willow pollards Mark and Martin were over at the weirpool, enjoying its scenic calm. I'm not sure how the fishing went as conditions remain far from perfect being low and clear. I didn't see them before they packed in for the day but at lunchtime Mark had managed to find two or three nice bream to keep the hopes alive that a barbel or two may be out in the tail of the pool sharing the run.
My front garden has been themed around our pollinators this year with today's highlight being the Hummingbird Hawkmoth above. This particular moth has been a regular for several days, along with a handful of bumblebees and butterflies. Whilst I am delighted to have seen the use the flowers have been put to it pales into insignificance when I walk the valley and see the true extent of the pollinators seeking food. Once you rise ten feet out of the valley onto the valley gravel terraces the ground is scorched to a crisp. Not a vestige of green, no pollen, no nectar, no flowers, no food. The next generation of plant dependent invertebrates are in desperate trouble the larval stages are starving if not already dead. It will take years to recover from such a drought, if another doesn't follow in the next few years. If, as we are told, we will face these hot Summers at more frequent intervals the future of many of the species we take for granted these days will be in the balance. Will they adapt, move north, or die out is the unknown question. What we do know is that unless our utilities and regulators adopt the precautionary principle we are fiddling whilst Rome burns. The recent decision of the government not to press ahead with the legislation to restrict the pumping of raw sewage into our rivers is a clue to the protection we might expect from that direction. The raw sewage isn't the only pile of shit that threatens our rivers in that sentence.
The braided channel system of the valley provides vital buffer and food habitat for countless invertebrates escaping the drought on higher ground. Even more important now the hayfields have been mown reducing the available grassland habitat even more.
Bees, butterflies and hover flies in their thousands feeding on the strips of remaining habitat beside the river and carriers. Water mint, loosestrife, fleabane, willowherb and gypsywort to name a few of the plants proving so attractive. The population of Migrant Hawker dragonflies also seems to be expanding to utilise the food source that the increase in insects provides.
George, still setting the pace, with yet another of those dark commons from last nights session. George is having a great time on both complexes with multiple catches of big fish in his short sessions with dad, Nick. One recent catch included nine fish, with three over thirty and several other twenties. Well done George, great fishing and thanks to dad for the photo. Its a pity the photo of Nick's thirty was too grainy to include, it would of made a good father and son photo record.
Taken from the top of East Terrace, the centre of the Ellingham Show with set-up in full swing in preparation for tomorrow's show day.
DON'T GO UNDER THE OAK TREES or any other parkland tree. They are suffering in this heat and are likely to shed limbs to conserve moisture.
The valley remains green, in complete contrast to the land half a mile away on the gravel terraces that is burnt to a crisp. On the terraces farmers are feeding their winter fodder to their animals whilst the grass continues to grow in the water meadows. Whilst teh river flow and water temperature are becoming critical the weed is thankfully coffering the water level saving the day.
With fifty plus swans, dozens of Canada and Egyptian geese, a couple of Snipe, a Green Sandpiper, two dozen Lapwing, lots of bits and bobs and the Barnacle above, the birds also appreciate the green valley.
The Master in action, Chris with two of his recent prizes off the top. Today's was the stunning brown oak common that has obviously been exposed to plenty of sunshine in the clear water of the lake this season. It looks almost as if it were French polished for the pix. The big mirror is our well known lady at 39, once more taken off the top a week or two back. Pleasingly, on that occasion I was on hand to help with the weighing and photographs. Brilliant result Chris, a real master class in surface fishing.
Some of the hot little beggars, at over 100,000 SHU just about as hot as we wish to cook with. I do grow several more user friendly varieties that are now ripening and ready for use.
There seemed to be lots of bream lazily drifting about in at least half a dozen pools I looked in today. Don't forget that Manny is still filming his epic and would appreciate pointers to where he may find, multiple salmon or seatrout in near bank locations. In fact anything that might be considered of interest, shoals of perch, roach or seriously large pike, drop me an email or text if you spot anything whilst out and about. He is also looking for a really old pair of brown leather hob-nail boots should you have your grandfathers pair hanging on a nail in the shed!
I did manage a few hours tidying up beneath my favourite tree in recent days. Its been three years since I last strimmed it out and removed some of the dead wood that served no purpose in its spreading means of regeneration. With the Ellingham show at the weekend it was good to see this wonderful old tree looking its best once again.
As regular readers will be aware I rarely put "fish on net" photos on the diary. However, Andy Jackson has been down for a couple of days, landing lots of carp and several tench including the one above. Knowing how keen I am on our tench Andy quite rightly thought I would be pleased to see this beauty. Not a massive fish, just a few pounds, the condition however is just perfect, it looks almost if its been polished. This is a fish that has grown from an egg in our waters as no tench have been added to the lake since the initial stocking way back in the 80's. With John Slader targeting and managing over thirty tench this season it looks as if our young fish are doing okay. Thanks Andy. lovely fish, I would say how many carp you banked but today I think your tench should take centre stage.
Glasses, hair and contrast.
Some of the recent moths in the form of a Spectacled Moth, Oak Eggar and a Jersey Tiger.
Things are changing as Summer is starting to show signs of peaking as Autumn waits in the wings. The Swifts have left us with the adults departing a week ago and the last of the abandoned juveniles leaving yesterday. We definitely managed eight nests this year, possibly nine. We lost an adult a week or two back and I was unable to see whether the surviving partner carried on and reared the juveniles. I expect the answer to that question will be answered when I clean out the boxes and shut them up for another year in the next day or two. Hopefully we have added a dozen or so to the population, with which we are delighted. Having left the nest for their first flight it will not be for almost two years until they once more land when returning to seek nest sites of their own. From the screaming of over forty birds circling the house a week or two ago it now seems eerily quite, not even the rustling and whirring of juvenile wings in the boxes as they exercised their muscles in readiness for the big day. Hopefully, fingers crossed, they are now all safely on their way, long past the channel, high over Europe, heading to their wintering grounds in Africa.
Anne's constant companion.
Looking a little the worse for ware, no doubt from the exertions of rearing two broods at the top of the garden, she spends the greater part of the day peering through the kitchen window waiting for Anne to appear and supply her with mealworms. Already the romance of the breeding season has past. No longer requiring feeding by her attentive partner as she broods the eggs, she has driven him from the garden. He still slips in if she is too busy eating to notice and Anne supplies him with a separate dish of mealworms but woe betide him if she spots him. Nature I suppose, they're not to know the supply of mealworms is endless.
Just a seasonal reminder now that the nights are drawing in. If you have occasion to use one of our combination padlocks, please leave the numbers FACING UPWARDS, its an absolute sod to read at night if its upside down.
With the majority of the grassland, away from the river valley, now almost completely burnt off the botanic diversity is hugely diminished and the invertebrate population is in real trouble. Walking the meadows can be depressing as it becomes apparent that this may be a snapshot of things to come, a very real indicator of possible long term change ahead. Dwelling on the change of climate and hence changes to what we accept as our indigenous ecology I find not only depressing but frightening. Even more frightening the lack of action being taken by our policy makers to deal with this change.
A far more pleasant time can be spent down at the fenland habitat we created a few years back when we cleaned out one of the large oxbows. The habitat surrounding the shallow oxbow is now well established and providing a wonderful sanctuary for many of the species driven from the parched surrounding grassland.
Pollinators on the comfrey, angelica and hemp agrimony.
Today started very well with the Estate team dealing very successfully with several very tricky jobs that had plenty of potential for problems. It started to get worse when I had a call from a syndicate member to tell me I had canoes on the river. Here they are, the winners of the "Ignorance Personified Award". I knew what I was going to meet before they arrived as the member who reported their presence said they were "very gobby" You just know the response you will get from such individuals, refusal to discuss their presence and totally unaware of the implications of their actions. As the syndicate member said when I reported back later, "You can excuse ignorance but arrogance and bad manners as well"?
Things continued on a downward curve when on the way back through the lakes I came to the main gate and discovered some delightful individual had climbed over the gate and defecated beside the road. I guess it must have been a desperate situation and the effort of climbing the gate may have been the last straw as his soiled underwear crowned the deposit. Digging a hole in the parched earth was difficult but covering the offending pile was eventually achieved and my equilibrium could thankfully return to neutral.
On consideration of the two events I have to say I have more sympathy with the latter gate jumper as his circumstances must have been pretty desperate and unplanned. Comparing our first two visitors unfavourably with a pile of excrement may seem unfair but I assure you there is less damage inflicted by the pile of shit and its not illegal!
Regular readers will be well aware of the concerns this famous old oak has provided us in recent years. Due to the roads that run beneath and the number of visitors who enjoy this part of the Forest we have been reducing the weight of dead timber in the canopy in recent years to minimise the risk to the public from falling limbs. Unfortunately despite the generosity of the local council acting for the public good in funding of various attempts of reinvigorating it, the recent dry weather appears to be hastening its decline. We will be keeping a very close eye on its health over the coming months.
A recent example of the stress the hot weather has put these giants under came all too suddenly on the day the UK temperature record was shattered. On the windless scorching day, in the middle of an event and without warning the oak in the first shot above dropped two massive limbs alongside the car park, much to the alarm of those present. During hot weather oaks are very prone to self pollard. Being unable, due to the dry conditions, to lift water to the top of the canopy they drop massive boughs to reduce water demand. Thankfully as we are well aware of the habits of these ancient trees we do not allow parking or access beneath the canopies of park trees. No one was injured but some very ashen faces could be seen following the drop.
What remained of our oak was a very unbalanced tree with the remaining timber on the car park side. Immediately cordoning off the car park climbers were sent aloft to assess the state of the remaining limbs. Sadly examination showed considerable rot present in the still standing section of tree. Once this was established there was only one outcome and the tree had to be removed.
Felling the giant before it can do any serious harm. The union where the climber can be seen in the right hand of the two shots above, it can seen to be completely infected with dry rot. With the third shot showing how brittle and powdery the heart wood was.
Related to the plight of our oaks in that where timber is salvageable we get it milled at a local sawmill. It comes back to the Estate for building our styles and bridges on the fishery and about the woods. Not perhaps the best timber in the world but more than adequate for our needs and a far better outcome than being turned into chip or firewood. We are doing our best to make good the loss of our ancient oaks with the planting of a new generation. This Summer has been extremely testing requiring a bowser being regularly employed to keep them safe. It does give rise to the question as to whether the change in our climate will make our Southern English Parks suitable for oaks in the coming years. Should we be looking for more drought tolerant species such as sweet chestnut or do we persevere with quercus robur, keeping our fingers crossed as we go?
An interesting consideration for the future goes back to the Moylescourt Oak. At some point in the not too distant future the fate of that tree will have to be seriously considered. Looking at the first photo above, the weight of the large dead limb running out to the right is several tons. The rot and fault lines in the main trunk make it inevitable that it will fail and fall at some point, with all the inherent risk to the public. If we leave it for nature to run its course are we being negligent? If independent assessment tells us the risk is unacceptable we will need to remove the limb, or limbs, so assessed. At what point should we say its fate is sealed and it has long past the point of no return and remove the entire tree. In such a popular publicly accessible position leaving it as a ecological haven isn't an option. On felling what timber might be considered salvageable could be used to make bespoke tables or dressers from this unique tree. There is no monetary value to the estate, only considerable outlay and grief, unless we were to complete the entire process, which we are not in a position to do but it would be a wonderful legacy to remember the noble giant.
I included the third shot showing recent grey squirrel damage, on sycamore on this occasion, just because I hate the things with a passion. It also adds to the concerns for the future as they have also stripped all the sweet chestnut in this plantation. Bark stripping has been very prolonged this year spreading from the early Spring when we expect such activity right up to the present day. I can only assume the moisture in the cambium layer is used to quench their thirst during the dry weather.
Should you come across such a light in your travels, its simply a moth trap seeing what we have living locally, please don't touch.
A few of the results. I'm no expert so you can look them up as easily as I can, Black arches and Lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, are names to conjure with.
This great clip was captured by syndicate member Adrian Taylor when on a recent visit to the Estate and I am very gratefull to him for permission to include it on the diary. We have known for a long time that otters eat a great many of the signal crayfish that are found in our rivers and lakes as we come across the disgarded claws and pieces of shell on a pretty regular basis. I have occasionally seen them grubbing about in the marginal tree roots and reed beds in search of crays yet I believe this is the first time the practice has been caught on camera. I'm not sure who had the greatest surprise the otter or Adrian when it finally realised Adrian was there and instantly dived, there seems to be quite a jump in the filming!
Its now all becoming a little clearer just what the end product will be.
As luck would have it I had stopped for a chat with Clint and Roger when Clint had a storming run on his left rod. After a really spirited scrap, involving getting weeded and safely extracted and requiring Roger to get the other rods in out of the way, Roger eventually safely netted a lovely looking twenty plus common. The icing on the cake capping a lovely evening beside the lake that was looking a great deal more angler friendly after the heat of the previous two days. Well fished Clint, wouldn't have missed it for the world, I enjoyed every second.
Kings-Vincents looking pea green due to an algal bloom.
Interesting comparison between the two lakes with Kings-Vincents suffering the algal bloom wilst Meadow remains clear. The difference being the volume of weed in Meadow using uo the excess nutrient, whilst Kings-Vincents is currently weed free which allows the algea to multiply at an alarming rate. A great deal of the excess nutirent load probably arrives through the two hundred moulting geese crapping in the lakes for the previous two months. The danger comes when dissolved oxygen levels dropped during heavy thundery weather. Currently the fish are feeding well in both lakes but I will be mightily pleased when we get some wind and rain to send this pea soup on its way. Every year I say I won't allow the wretched geese to moult with us and every year I fail to keep them off. Next year I will definitely keep the beggars out in the valley!
A screen grab from my dash-cam. The sun is out and with it the disrespectful trespassers we have to deal with on a daily basis. The group in that shot had passed withing feet of six signs asking people to respect the SSSI and private property, No Swimming, Stay on footpath, dogs on leads, clearly defined path, yada, yada, yada.
I'm used to this hedonistic selfishness, its a sad indictment of today's society, from the older generation in the groups. The sad part about this is that the children are being brought up with exactly the same total lack of respect for other people and the environment. It doesn't bode well!
These two families were just one of three lots, totalling thirteen people, swimming or looking to swim in the river today. Its not the people in these groups I believe to be beneath contempt but those that deliberately facilitate this abuse of private property and the environment. You guessed it those jobsworths at Hampshire County Council, those that are totally clueless about how the countryside operates and don't give a damn about it or the environment. Just for the record, I haven't seen a genuine user of the footpath in the last 48 hours.
You've got away with it lightly this Summer, hardly a butterfly to be seen previously on here! So, to make me feel better about the invasion of the damned some of the specimens that have been about this week. The Clouded Yellow, in the centre, is the first I have seen this Summer. This one certainly looks as if he journey across the channel was a little rough judging by the state of its wings. Hopefully it will be strong enough to lay and start a generation of locally bred specimens.
Mark with a self take of a mid twenty common from his latest session that produced ten fish over twenty pounds. Perhaps the mobile a tad higher next time Mark! In reality I love these shots as they capture the reality of the situation of landing such a fish and trying to capture the moment. Well fished Mark, thanks for the pix, they are simply perfect.
The second shot is one of eight Red Kites that were over the hay field this morning as Robert was tedding the mown grass. It may be unbearably hot but the site of the valley meadows being cut and the interaction with the wildlife is something very special. Long may it continue.
A more up to date photo of Tripple Crown holder, after his three lakes carp feat the other day, John Slader. John has continued his run of success on the fly with a super brace of carp of 23 and 25 pounds, which is impressive stuff, especially considering how difficult conditions are at the moment. Not satisfied with his remarkable trio John has added a further first to his angling achievements with the fly, which can be seen in the attached photo. Simply amazing, great result John.
The new member of the Estate team, Nic, bringing up the rear of the flock as we moved the ewes and lambs this morning. Welcome aboard Nic, they don't always behave in the fashion they did this morning, sometimes they're down right bloody awkward!
A Great White Egret in the park this morning. They certainly seem to be spreading out from their Somerset stronghold, we don't normally expect to see them in the Summer months. There was also a male Marsh Harrier working the meadows, unfortunately I failed to get a photo. The shot of the food pass was taken back in the Spring when this pair tried unsuccessfully to nest in the valley. Fingers crossed we see both species breeding succesfully in the coming years.
I've been away for a day so the shots above were taken on Saturday. The first showing the flock spending the day keeping away from the flies in the shade of the park oaks. Now we are into July we are permitted, under our agricultural agreement, to cut the grass within the SSSI, the middle shot is one of the mowers currently flattening hundreds of acres of grass about the valley. On the right a Spotted flycatcher sat on the fence down by Kevin's. We'll have to keep our eyes peeled to see if we can find a nest in time for Brenda to ring the juveniles.
If you look closely you can see a wasps nest under the bridge step that has been broken open by our local brock. I found it when I stepped down off the bridge with a bump, sending a cloud of very active wasps up into the air within seconds. I imagine they thought brock was back and were determined to see him off. I beat a very hasty retreat and headed off the the workshop to pick up the powder sprayer before an unsuspecting syndicate member repeated my experience.
I'm a little late with this news as I've been hoping to bump into the man in question to get an up to date photo of him. The person in question being John Slader who has just achieved quite a remarkable feat of angling. John has managed to land carp from, Meadow Lake, Kings-Vincent and Mockbeggar Lake, all in one day, In fact that's not the order he achieved them it was Mockbeggar, Meadow and Kings-Vincent, however in what ever sequence it was done in it remains a great piece of angling. Well done John and I hope you don't mind the photo from the archive used to illustrate your achievement.
A photo from the archive of John about to land a carp.
The weir in the article is nowhere near the tidal limit yet deemed sufficiently damaging to warrant removal. Before anyone from the EA or elsewhere informs me a fish pass can be seen in the photo so it must be okay, read the article.
Talking of threes, as I was above re John's McNab or grand slam whatever you may wish to call it, that's the clown gone. Or at least going, thank goodness. I of course refer to Bozo the clown, who with the idiot across the water being dumped just leaves the Gangster. Whose departure will be the subject of enormous celebration around the globe I should imagine. Of course whilst Bozo had no moral compass or consideration of anyone other than himself, he didn't get into the position he did, to do so much damage, without help. If you are one of the MP's that supported and encouraged him, or the everyday man and woman on the street who voted for and supported him. You may well wish to have a good look at your moral compass! What you were getting in electing Bozo was no secret and there were warnings enough about his character at the time of his various elections.
The snag we missed in Lifelands Pool, when we removed the tangle of roots and trees a month or two ago, is now removed; hopefully!
An unusual look at the courgettes, which just appealed to me as I picked a few for dinner this evening.
Looks like a wild wood table to me, perhaps Kingsley has plans for it.
It seems to be getting warmer again, at least these three thought so. The middle shot showing our Ellingham oxbow in all its Summer splendour. It's alive with calls of warblers, Moorhens and screeching Water Rails plus countless numbers of dragon and damsel flies. Its an absolute wonderland and exactly what we hoped to achieve. The final is a further shot of our Red-footed Falcon that the dragonflies aren't so happy to have about the place as they appear high on the menu.
A brief tour of our postage stamp sized garden that is just coming into its own. Stuffed with flowers for pollinators, I also grow plenty of more traditional garden blooms to ensure Anne puts up with my weird stuff all over the place.
Sunday 3rd July
As I write this at 10:30am the EA spread sheet is still only updated to 02:30am today, the water temperature at that time was below 18 degrees C so salmon fishing at Somerley is okay.
Here's a good big 3SW fish from a most unusual spot for Peter. Peter spotted what he thought was a fish move on a very shallow stretch of the river not normally associated with taking salmon. Working on the nothing ventured principle he removed his weight and cast it a shrimp, which it bumped on the first time through. A second cast and the fun began. Being shallow and streamy the fish gave a great account of itself during which time Peter had time to give me a call whilst he sweated it out on his barbless hook. On arrival I found Peter with the fish in four or five feet of water behaving itself very well. Two or three more circling runs and the fish was safely in the net, as was the hook that popped out as soon as it was given slack line, just perfect. Well rested and with the shallows immediately to hand photos were easy and we dropped down to take a snap to remember the day. Peter's dog Moss, thought he'd deliver a feather to the source of the excitement but seemed somewhat wary of such a large fish. The final shot is proof that I needed to be a great deal quicker if wanted a shot of the departing fish.
Phil provides a scale for this stick, which surely must be the ugliest lump of wood on Somerley. Its hard to believe it has a value other than as an eco-pile. Yet I know a man who may just have a use for such a stick, I guess time will tell.
Wednesday 29th June
The water temperature remains below 18 degrees.
The head and tail of Park Pool
Three of several Silver Washed Fritillary on the transect this week. Today, a butterfly first for me in the shape of a Swallowtail butterfly in the lake car park! Just what a Swallowtail is doing on the Hampshire Dorset border is difficult to explain as a truly wild specimen. Blown down here from Norfolk or across the channel? Extremely unlikely. More likely to be a wedding butterfly release or an individual running their own stocking programme. Whatever the reason it was a delight to see such a stunning butterfly around the lake.
Tuesday 28th June
The water temperature remains below 18 degrees, salmon fishing is okay today.
Monday 27th June
The water temperature remains below 18 degrees, salmon fishing is okay today.
The water temperature remains below 18 degrees, salmon fishing is allowed at Somerley.
A photo for the river members showing John with a good looking 13+ he opened his account with last week. Lovely fish John, congrats and thanks for the photo.
The river generally is very low and very clear, making for difficult conditions. The weed is in overdrive as the light is penetrating right into the depths, which is adding to the complications. There have been a scattering of barbel and our ever present chub population has formed the bulk of the catches to date. A careful approach is going to be key if condions stay as they are. We all know what's present so it may be tricky but the rewards can be amazing so good luck in your endeavours.
I added a further photo of a Meadow Brown to the entry I did in praise of standing grassland a day or two ago. When one thinks of tall grassland Meadow Brown are the obvious butterfly that springs to mind, which I forgot when I did the piece, its an age thing!
The water temperature is now below 18 degrees, salmon fishing is once more allowed at Somerley.
A five pounds plus male tench that I was pleased to catch on the waggler this evening. After being driven off by the rain yesterday evening I was keen to have a further try for tench today. I didn't get underway until 7 pm and it continued where it left off yesterday with a fish a cast. The old stager of a tench was very welcome and gave a good account of itself on my 15' Acolyte. A further tench dropped and the roach continued every cast, with just one eight ounce rudd joining in this evening. That was up until 08:30 when the evening took on a distinct chill and the fish stopped feeding as if some one had thrown a switch. By then I wasn't overly concerned and was quite happy to pack up and head home to warm up.
The water temperature remains over 18 degrees.
One for the birders among you in the form of this beautiful young Red-footed Falcon. She has been with us in the Park for a day or two and shows very little concern for our daily coming and going. Long may she remain.
Strange old world we live in. If I were catching roach of this stamp from the Avon I would be over the moon. When catching them in a lake that is just a few meters from the Avon they are bordering on being a nuisance. Fish up to a pound literally one a cast, no time to put the rod down between bites. Corn or soft pellet, it made no difference.
That brings me back to my long asked question, why do roach thrive in waters that are just a few meters from the river, yet they struggle in the river? There are remnant populations but no stable, sustainable population throughout the length of the river as there should be. The list of possible causes is demoralisingly long but the worst bit about it is that no one is trying to make it any shorter.
I have to admit this one was a little larger than I had previously thought. Thanks for the video Kevin, catches my concern perfectly! That's the PWD number one prototype out in the field behind me, which now has a bend in it require a design rethink perhaps?
The water temperature remains over 18 degrees (19.15 at 09:00am) as such salmon fishing is suspended at Somerley.
A few pointers for the carp guys in the form of the weed in the other half of Meadow Lake .
This is not an attempt to rub salt into the wound but this family double was on the last day before we hit 18 degrees. A paticularly pleasing brace as Jared's fish was his first of the year, from a pool that hasn't produced a fish for decades. Fish occupy it most years but for reasons best known to the fishermen very few actually fish it?
The standing grassland I was praising the other day is coming into its own as a vital habitat for many species. Two that are dependent on grassland are the Burnet moths, familiar in their red and black garb and the beautiful Marbled White butterfly, which is in fact a brown but we won't go into that here. The first shot is taken looking across one of the lakeside paddocks with the middle shot showing a burnet cocoon on a tall grass stalk. The cocoon is in the middle of the third shot, beautifully camouflaged in the jumble of stalks. Its almost central, not the yellow bent stem but just to the left just below the seed heads of the cocksfoot grass.
Shots showing an emerging Marbled White drying its wings, feeding on a scabious flower before coupling to ensure the next generation. The scabious is a welcome addition to our flora with this single plant appearing this year. Strangely we also have a single knappweed that has been with us for several years, I keep my fingers crossed they will thrive and multiply as they are superb nectar sources.
Having failed to mention them originally I have added the shot of the coupled Meadow Browns, which when thinking of grassland is the butterfly that should Immediately spring to mind. They certainly make up the largest population currently to be found on the grassland transect routes.
Please be aware the water temperature is back over 18 degrees once more, salmon fishing is suspended at Somerley.
Well, the water temperature dropped below 18 and Paul came out to give the shrimp a go, now that bait fishing started on the 16th. In true Paul fashion he managed to find a couple of lovely fish. The first was a sixteen pounder alongside the ranunculus beds that Damian was on hand to take a snap. The second, a cracking big twenty that I was fortunate enough to witness and take the photo. Great result Paul, I'm putting this up mid afternoon so I may yet get a call to say a third has been added to the list!
Another family out fishing, with this late brood of grebe on the lakes.
Please be aware there is an annoying failure of the EA Knappmill website, that all fisheries rely on for the cut off temperatures, to load with the most recent information. Any rods planning a visit that may involve having to travel considerable distances if in any doubt give me a call.
As with yesterday's entry, the Somerley Lake complex opened on the 16th, the traditional opening of the coarse season and today was the hottest day of the year so far. To me the new season and hot weather immediately brings tench to mind.
If I think about tench, I think back thirty or forty years to when I was fishing a great deal more than I do these days. Back in the distant past tench were a far more popular pursuit as the carp revolution was only just getting under way.
One of the anglers who spent many an hour after the bottle green beauties was my old friend Neil Hurren, who sadly, recently passed away. Neil was the perfect tench angler, he seemed to almost blend into the burgeoning Summer margins in his sun faded fishing jacket and wide brimmed hat. Always carefully selected swims, quality tackle, meticulous presentation and accurate feeding, if anyone was going to catch Neil would be a pretty safe bet.
One aspect I mentioned above was his quality tackle and I was hugely surprised and honoured when after Neil's passing, his daughter Jo contacted me to say that dad had left instructions that one of his favourite set ups, that I had always admired, had been left to me. Jo was down with mum and we arranged to meet to drop off the tackle. The rod was a Bruce and Walker, Powerlite, with a lovely smooth through action that was matched with a little Trudex pin. The rod and reel had been well used by Neil and I'm sure the list of captures would make for some great reading.
So I was in a mind to go after a tench and what better way to do so than with Neil's set up that had accounted for so many in the past.
I arrived on the water at about six o'clock, chose a swim that I knew was a firm favourite of both Neil and I. A Garden Warbler in the brambles behind declared I was entering his territory and a Reed Warbler rasped out his call alongside. The perfect spot to spend a Summer evening. As it was already quite late I added a handful of two millimetre pellets, a few grains of corn and twenty or thirty pellets of bread before setting up. Hopefully the few freebies would encourage some interest and save me some precious minutes in getting the fish into the swim.
Six pound line throughout, a small, three inch self cocking waggler, locked with two no 4, plus one no 4 eight inches from the size 14 Drennan barbless hook. Couldn't be much simpler but I'm a great believer in not over complicating the issue.
I needn't have worried about encouraging fish into the swim as it was a bite a cast from the off. Unfortunately, not from the tench I was hoping for, it was rudd, roach and carp a chuck, which whilst enjoyable fishing was not the species I had set my heart on. Two and a half hours, plenty of action yet still no tench. Half an hour and it would be too dark to see my float despite it being only three or four meters away. Fifteen minutes to go and a Nightjar began his spooky churring from the far side of the meadow behind. The float disappeared once more and on setting the hook the unmistakeable boiling and diving of my hoped for species. Certainly not massive but any tench would do, all I had to do now was get him safely in the net!
The perfect evening swim and the rod in action.
Plenty of action from the off with carp, roach and rudd and a perfect little tench to round off a lovely evening. I landed six carp, five of which were between eight and fifteen pounds, the sixth being the micro carp in the photo. A problem in themselves as they survive to overstock the water and create problems for the other species.
The man himself, Neil with a big rudd. Thank you Neil, this evening was perfect and the rod was a pure delight.
I can see setting one or two further targets may be an incentive to try a further session or two.
Quite like old times as eight or nine members waited for midnight to get the new season under way on Meadow Lake. Even more like old times in that the fish promptly did an about turn and disappeared out of sight! I think the sudden arrival of the heat wave didn't help, sending the fish into hiding with very few being landed during the first night. One or two tench falling to the carp guys seemed to be the only participants under the clear conditions. Roger did have the good grace to land the lovely dark, twenty plus common in the photo above as I was passing, proving that they can be caught if you can find them.
The photo above is a photo mosaic quickly tacked together to show the extent of the weed in Canada Bay. I need to know the amount of weed in order to get the balance between what's good for the fish and what's good for the fishermen. To that end Manny came over and very kindly flew a series of passes to provide the photos for me to stick together. From the photo weed cover would seem to be about right and means no further action is required to increase or decrease the current volume for the next twelve months or so at least. I will put the remainder of the lake together at some point as I'm sure many of the members will be interested to see where they are casting their bait! From my perspective it looks as if the tench may be difficult to catch again this year as they will have plenty of food available to them in all the weed growth. Not that I'm personally overly worried the chance of a tench is almost enough these days, if the swim looks good that will do.
Just a reminder to the salmon rods that the water temperature has reached the cut off point of 18 degrees C and as such all salmon fishing is currently suspended at Somerley. Keep an eye on the Knapp Mill counter page to see when it drops back below 18, allowing fishing to resume.
There are lots of these chaps about at the moment. This one decided one of my herpetological sheets was just the job to keep him warm. In the event you do come across fawns tucked away in the long grass or bracken ensure you give them as wide a berth as possible and definitely don't touch, the doe will know exactly where she left him.
A nice comparison between the Little and Great Egret as they searched the runs between the ranuculus for their food.
Paul with a nice 2SW fish, making it two in recent days as Colin also managed a Summer fish on Friday, proving that age old adage if you don't have a bait in the water you definitely wont catch a salmon. That brings numbers up to a round dozen, thankfully ensuring this will not go down as our worse season ever. Well done and well fished both, also thank you for sticking at it under such difficult conditions!
Across the entire country there are literally thousands of fisheries that have parcels of land attached that for the most part are completely ignored. A role for some forward thinking group would be to liaise with the owners and compile a record and management plan for all these areas of river bank and adjoining parcels of land. The first shot above shows areas of tall standing grassland that we leave until the Autumn. The middle shot shows the carefully managed bramble beds that provide so many different ways the natural world interacts with them. The third is one of the wild flower meadows that we manage in the main for the invertebrate population.
The Stag Beetles were flying about the back garden this evening. I would like to think they are emerging from the pile of cherry logs I have stacked in a corner of the garden, unfortunately before I spotted them they were airborne making it impossible tp establish their origin.. The middle shows a Painted Lady feeding on the bramble banks beside the Lagoon path. Finally a Little Egret sat on the hatches, spearing any minnows that fail to concentrate on staying away from the surface. We also still have two Great White Egret on the Estate, certainly the latest I have ever known them on the Estate.
Before lunch I had to pop over the the Estate to water some container grown trees we are trying to get into the ground asap. Anne decided to join me and we thought a walk across the meadows to see how the new drains were coping with the low flows and back through the nearby covert. The meadows looked well as the recent rain has spurred the grass into growth and the lack of floods the winter just past meant a heavy, reasonably clean crop, free of docks would be awaiting the mowers next month. The drains looked well with sufficient flow to keep the fry population content despite the lack of weed that is yet to get established.
The river itself was looking extremely low and very clear for this time of year. The height is partly due to the lack of weed to coffer the water back, as well as the obvious lack of rain. The clarity is something new as we usually are in the midst of an algal bloom at this time of year, which seems to be missing this year. Why that might be is currently providing considerable interest. Possibly we haven't reached the trigger temperatures that set the algal growth in motion. That seems at odds with the fact the barbel and chub have spawned, which require a higher temperature than the algal trigger. Another possibility is that the water companies have had a twinge of conscience and stopped pumping so much untreated nutrient rich, crap in the river upstream of us. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Or possibly its due to the trout farm on our northern boundary having closed, thus the several tons of nutrient rich, faecal detritus that has flushed through the river on a daily basis has ceased to flow. I can't believe it was the latter or the EA would have stopped it years ago. Having said that they don't stop the water companies filling our river with untreated sewage do they! Whatever the reason for the water clarity long may it continue.
The river itself was looking extremely low and very clear for this time of year. The height is partly due to the lack of weed to coffer the water back, as well as the obvious lack of rain. The clarity is something new as we usually are in the midst of an algal bloom at this time of year, which seems to be missing this year. Why that might be is currently providing considerable interest. Possibly we haven't reached the trigger temperatures that set the algal growth in motion. That seems at odds with the fact the barbel and chub have spawned, which require a higher temperature than the algal trigger. Another possibility is that the water companies have had a twinge of conscience and stopped pumping so much untreated nutrient rich, crap in the river upstream of us. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Or possibly its due to the trout farm on our northern boundary having closed, thus the several tons of nutrient rich, faecal detritus that has flushed through the river on a daily basis has ceased to flow. I can't believe it was the latter or the EA would have stopped it years ago. Having said that they don't stop the water companies filling our river with untreated sewage do they! Whatever the reason for the water clarity long may it continue.
I had a count of fourteen Small Tortoiseshell whilst crossing the meadows, which I shall record on "iRecords". A few years ago that wouldn't have been notably, these days unfortunately with the Small Tortoiseshell struggling it was good to see them as they fed on the Marsh Ragwort. They seem to do well in the valley with the later flows of nectar of the water mint, marginal hemp agrimony, creeping thistle and fleabane. On the way back through the covert the foxgloves were putting on a bold show where we had coppiced an acre of woodland allowing the light to reach the woodland floor. A final flash of blue as a Kingfisher stopped briefly to fish the new ditch beside the lake. A delightful walk for an hour to work up an appetite for lunch.
Hooray, a new record for the river! The most swans being driven by one canoe, 110 in the photo, 35 further downstream around the bend and about 25 that had panicked and flown back upstream. At 170 that will take some beating. I did ask the couple in the canoe what they thought would happen when they compressed this lot into the section above the hatches. They didn't have a clue! Thankfully, despite having heart burn through having had to gulp down my lunch when Pete's call came in, I reached them before they collected the two lots of newly hatched cygnets in that section, I wouldn't have given much in the way of odds on them surviving the final panic. They were a nice couple just totally ignorant of the impact of their actions. I had to give one of them a lift back to Fordingbridge as they had left the down stream pick up car keys in the drop off vehicle. It just makes your head hurt, half the population appears to be of an equal standard of intelligence and that's the polite version. Why, oh why, is not respect for other people and the environment taught in schools. If the Defra policy, through the national parks, is to turn the countryside into a giant theme park, as is the obvious intent with the New Forest, surely they have a responsibility to educate the masses they release on us.
The ups and downs of a sunny bank holiday. Nick and George about to land a good common in today's glorious sunshine whilst complying with all the rules related to the SSSI and paying for its upkeep. It wouldn't be a bank holiday if we didn't have clowns in a canoe, who were totally ignorant of what an SSSI was, how it was maintained and that its not a good idea to paddle through hatch gates. Thats the fifty percent of the GBP that I mentioned the other day who are either totally ignorant or don't give a bugger about the environment.
Opening day of the spinning and we added a further four fish to this year's dire tally. I have to say I was surprised to see so few rods out on the banks. Recent weeks have seen the rod effort almost disappear so I was expecting a rush to the river when spinning started. I only spotted three rods today on the entire estate although Stephen Hutchinson was out and I failed to spot him. I know he was out as he put a fish on the return sheet in the lodge, as did Paul Greenacre who added a further three for the day. Well done all round, we can certainly do with a few rods out to try and get the numbers up a little.
The second of three for the day, congratulations Paul, well fished. By the look of the gill plate and general colour it looks as if this fish has been in a week or more.
Pile Pool now beginning to look the part as the bramble strip has now gone and the grass is slowly establishing. Bang on time, the first of June and the Stag Beetles appeared this evening. I couldn't get a shot of a male, only this poor shot of a female that are often overlooked as not sufficiently dramatic, yet antlers or not they are a great looking beetle. Finally another shot of the Canada geese juveniles that are everywhere I seem to look.
Thanks to Mark Collins for sending through the spectacular shot of a sunset he enjoyed whilst fishing the gate swim at Mockbeggar the other evening. Great shot Mark, on such an evening a fish comes as just a bonus.
He may be late to the party but you have to give credit where credit is due he brings a considered resume of the situation that raises the profile of such problems. Hopefully the closed shop of the water companies, agrichemical producers and the EA won't be able to shake off his attentions as easily as they could ignore us back in the 90's. I'm sure the combined efforts of such committed campaigners as Feargal Sharkey and George Monbiot will be more successful than we were in our naivety. The problem is that whilst fifty percent of the GBP, that's the Great British Public not the Pound, profess to care deeply about environmental issues and just love David Attenborough, once those concerns land on the door mat and have an incurred cost, they quickly forget their virtuous commitment. As for the other fifty percent couldn't give a toss about the environment, they are simply ignorant or too stupid to take the gravity of the situation onboard. If the public are bad, industry is far worse and now that any form of regulation has been effectively emasculated by this government the shit street we are all well and truly up makes the problem of our rivers pale into insignificance. Greed, ignorance and self interest make for formidable foes, where ever they are encountered.
Sadly we have exactly the same scenario with barriers to passage on the river. We have the water companies hiding behind the regulators and the regulators hiding behind out dated legislation that affords protected status to salmon and totally ignores the ninety nine percent of species that contribute to the natural wonder of the River Avon. The stock answer from the water companies when questioned with regard to the barrier to passage the Great weir and Turbine House present always refer to their compliance with the requirements of the regulator. When the regulator is asked why they do not insist on the removal of the barriers they hide behind having no power to protect any species other than salmon. Catch 22, we just keep going around and around, with raw sewage in at the top and barriers at the bottom, whilst the EA sit on the fence, with their thumbs firmly up their a*"*s. You can understand the cynical, commercial policy adopted by the water companies. Unfortunately you can also understand the policy adopted by the EA, they certainly aren't going to press for new legislation to protect Summer migrating invertebrates and cyprinds whilst they sit in such a cosy relationship. They only have to look at the evidence of their own shameful counter to see the number of cyprinids that are able to pass upstream on a natural migration. They will tell you that cyprinids are too small to be counted yet they manage to count sea trout, believe it or not the Avon hold enormous numbers of barbel and chub that are considerably larger than seatrout and where able migrate many miles upstream. With us many move upstream as far as the next barrier to passage for cyprinids a mile above our boundary. If the Rivers or Angling Trusts, or any of the other bodies claiming to represent rivers and angling, want to do something useful perhaps they might get a serious campaign up and running to update the legislation to prevent invertebrate and cyprinid barriers to passage. In a recent conversation with a caring angler it was suggested a good starting point might be to stop buying the rod licence.
Of course, cyprinid friendly fish passes are the obvious alternative. Designed by some one outside the EA, we are still suffering the balls up the EA made of designing the Ringwood Hatches!
Thanks to Roger Harris for the photo of the Mandarin brood that he managed to snap whilst working about the lakes today. Lovely shot Roger, good to see they were using our recently cleared out ditches as their highway. The middle shot is just one of our Lutece elms that are hopefully disease resistant and going to provide a stable food source for our White Letter Hairstreaks. I put the shot up because I happened on their passports whilst I was rooting through some files recently. This Spring they seem to have had conditions to their liking as they have made considerable new growth, which is gratifying considering the number of watering cans full of water I carried up from the lakes in the first two dry Springs they endured after I planted them. Finally the first toadlet of the year sat on one of my water lily leaves. I think its a toadlet as I believe I can see his paratoid gland bumps but I wouldn't swear to it. I'm not sure they are officially called toadlets and froglets, if not they should be as its a great description of the perfect little minatures they emerge as.
Having had time to take a closer look at our toadlet I can almost see him thinking, "What have I done"! Only seconds earlier he left his totally submerged aquatic life and is now looking at his new world that he shares with us humans.
Brian landing a nice tench, which was the last of five he managed this afternoon. Completely at odds with recent behaviour the fish stopped feeding at about six o'clock almost exactly when they have been coming on the feed in recent weeks.
The main question occupying my time at the moment is who locked the police car in Mockbeggar this evening? The finger of suspicion is pointing toward Mike W, who left the scene at about the time in question, we won't know the identity of the culprit for certain until the police dash cam is downloaded and the stills are published in the Police Gazette!
The war between the Starlings and the Swifts seems to have settled down with the Swifts apparently coming out on top. Four new pairs have taken over boxes previously occupied by Starlings bringing our total to nine pairs of Swifts now established. The Starlings have all raised their first broods and are now occupying previously unused boxes within the cabinet to start their second. Its all a little mixed up however I think we managed eight first broods, along with seven or eight broods of House Sparrows so we're not doing too badly.
A further tale of the river bank, or in this case the lakeside.
The other evening I decided a walk around Mockbeggar would be a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, so about seven o’clock I headed off up the Gorley Road in the direction of the lake. Five minutes and I was at the gate clicking in the combination and opening up. As I pushed the gate back out of the way I heard a very deep, unusual “meow” in fact several "meows". All sorts of creatures sprung to mind, with the Mockbeggar panther at the top of the list. Odd, I hadn't realised panthers meowed! There was only one course of action curiosity would allow and I peeped over the bank, that ran alongside the road at that point, to see what was giving rise to the call that was obviously in the small clearing that held the gate swim. No panther, or wild beast, just one of the syndicate that discretion prevents me from naming, stood in the clearing, eating a tin of anchovies and meowing like a demented tom cat?
Now I come across all sorts of strange things in my various roles about the Estate but I have to admit this was up there with the weirdest. Obviously I was in no danger of being mauled by some threatened creature so I clambered over the bank and hailed our man with my best, “How's it going then” All the while hoping this behaviour wasn't the result of exposure to too much sun without a hat on. I needn't have worried as I was answered with a relieved response of “You wouldn't believe what has just happened” Well, actually knowing the member in question very well it would take something pretty amazing for me not to believe it as he seems to attract adventures. That said he did seem pleased to see me and get some support for his obvious dilemma.
It transpired that our man had spent the day working ten miles or so away at a property where there were two cats in residence. Not that in itself would bring about this unusual behaviour, there was more to come. It seems our man, like myself, had decided that as it was such a pleasant evening and he had his tackle in the van, he would have an hour or two beside the lake on the way home. On arrival and seeing the gate swim was free he parked up and opened up the back of the van to get his tackle out only to have a most disturbed moggie pass him at head height and disappear into the nearest thicket! Without doubt one of the felines from the property he had been at all day and it had no intention of stopping to allow its capture.
This is about the point I arrived on the scene, well, in fact events had developed about an hour earlier, our man had spent the intervening hour trying to temp moggie out of the bushes with his jigger impersonations and a tin of anchovies, most of which he had eaten to allay his nervous tension. Now puss was obviously refusing to play ball, which I could understand from pusses perspective because our man doesn't immediately come across as a feline friendly individual, things were looking bleak re the success of this operation. The scolding of a robin in a nearby bramble patch was a clue to the location of puss but that was of little use or consolation.
At this point the options for our member might have been to forget about puss and deny ever having seen it should the question ever arise, or come clean and call the owners. Thankfully a man of integrity a call was made to the owners, to come clean and a plea for help. On receiving the news the owners immediately departed for the lake and within the hour arrived on the scene to assess the situation. The robin continued to whistle its warnings and on the owner approaching the brambles and calling, puss appeared without a care in the world to be gathered up in the waiting arms.
Puss having departed for home with a relieved owner, all that was left was for our man to call it a day, or more correctly an evening and head home to steady his frayed nerves. I just love a happy ending.
For good or for bad I'm back. My enforced absence through loss of my internet has now, hopefully, been resolved. various bits and bobs to follow.
Sunday morning saw me over at Mockbeggar and following the example set by John Slader I was hoping to land a tench or two. Despite a forecast that had promised overcast and breezy conditions the day dawned clear and on reaching the lake flat calm and misty. To add insult to injury on setting up in my chosen swim and casting to the spot I deemed held all the tench, before I could set the rod in the rest it was slammed around as a mob of carp tangled in my line at my feet. Two hours was enough of that, I packed up and headed home for breakfast. I also fitted in the BBS survey at the weekend, providing a pleasant early morning walk to record the details of our ever changing bird population. As it turned out pleasant didn't quite cover the visit as it was surprisingly cold with a very heavy dew. The usual valley residents but these days Great White Egret and Red Kite are regulars as species such as Yellow Wagtail and Snipe have disappeared.
I'm pleased to say the Slepe Stream bridge is now back in place allowing access over the Slepe and Harbridge Streams just above their confluence with the main river. You may well recognise this bridge as the original oak trunk that I split almost thirty years ago that had disappeared a couple of winters ago in the big floods. On the occasion of its disappearance it ended up down at Ringwood weir where the EA hauled it out of the gates and I arrived on the scene in time to rescue it from being trailered away for destruction. Last week we eventually got around to collecting it, taking a trailer down to the weir to bring it back to its original site. With much slipping and sliding, cables and pulleys we dragged it back over the stream. Last weekend Damian turned up and on his own managed to position it on its concrete plinth, add a step and wired it down to prevent a recurrence of its escape.
Not, you'll notice, Alan but son Will out there in river trying to persude the stock to cross the river. His efforts met with partial success as about half the herd followed and made it across to the rich grazing on the other side. Will told us the water wasn't too cold, which is just as well because he was out there for about half an hour.
As for the fishing we struggle on with the salmon, which are proving just as elusive. There are without doubt fish in the system now but conditions are making them all but uncatchable that has the knock on effect of a very low rod effort. If you want to open your account this season now is as good a time as you are likely to find so make the most of it. Mockbeggar is still producing carp and tench all be it none to predictable, one day they are feeding the next spawning, making visits somewhat of a lottery.
Just a reminder to the EA, who have a legal obligation to maintain, improve and develop our fisheries, sitting with your thumb up your arse whilst the water companies pump shit and chemical cocktails in at the top and prevent the movement of species in at the bottom, isn't going to solve itself. I suppose it will take a dedicated group of individuals to stir up a stink and hold them to account before they jump into action, claiming to have always had the best interest of the river at heart...............and we are still charged for the privilege of suffering such a non existent service. The really sad part about it all is that the EA management believe they are doing a worthwhile job.
We opened the salmon season with east winds and no rain, everything in the valley seemed to be in suspended animation. Nothing was growing, nesting and the salmon refused to run. We have now enjoyed a couple of wet weekends with heavy thundery showers and the vegetation has gone into hyperdrive, we have juvenile birds everywhere and the salmon have continued to remain elusive. I have been out clearing salmon pools, trying to keep pace with the growth. Hoodies, the Bridge Pool, Above and below the breakthrough are clipped up and this evening Lower Cabbage and Harbridge Bend joined the list. I will keep at it and Pete Reading is helping by hacking away at the in the hope of having the pools clear for when our salmon run does eventually turn up, hoping to get in a desperate last fling. Unfortunately we can only keep our fingers firmly crossed we do see a run whilst the river remains sufficiently clear of weed to allow us to fish and before the water temperature reaches our cut off point of 18 degrees centigrade.
The barbel have continued to spawn on many of the shallows, which will hopefully see them cleaned and rested for the beginning of the season, which is now in less than a month. The freshet of water in recent days saw the river colour briefly, as the forest stream disgorged the flash floods brought about by the thunder storms of the weekend. The colour has quickly drained out as has the inch or two of freshwater, disappointingly it failed to encourage the salmon so we have no idea whether we have fish in the river or not. The EA continue in their totally useless fashion, refusing to release counter figures to encourage rods onto the fisheries, just when will those supposed fishery representative organisations organise a campaign that finally gets rid of this costly burden hung around the neck of the fisheries.
Three shots from today that provided food for thought in the shape of masses of tadpoles in the margins of the lake, a Wall butterfly and Ellingham Church across the water meadows. The reason for thought was that the tadpoles were crowded into the invasive crassula helmsii beds that have recently arrived in the lake. Whether this is coincidence or there is a food source they are exploiting I couldn't decide. The thought that tadpoles may be a means to control the wretched stuff seems highly unlikely. The wall butterfly turned up appropriately enough in the Walled Garden where I was pruning the grapevines. I have seen three Wall butterflies on the Estate and two of them have been in the Walled Garden so it might seem the sunny aspect on the sheltered walls is where the name came from. The shot of Ellingham Church across the meadows is one I have put on here several times, the difference on this occasion is that in the foreground beside the carrier are a Great White Egret and a Little Egret. The new species in the valley are now becoming established, Little Egret have been here for a couple of decades or more. The GWE roost reached double figures this winter and they are staying throughout most of the year. Nothing remains constant, new species and changing weather patterns can't be denied.
Meadow lake looking grand with just another month before we get underway again. There seems to be plenty of weed growth yet again this year, which will hopefully ensure the fish thrive and we get conditions that will allow us to see some of the lakes tench population. Having said that John Slader is proving that the tench population of Mockbeggar is doing fine, if somewhat erratically, he has had bags of five or six fish interspersed with sessions with hardly a touch. Lets hope its early days and as the weather warms a more reliable pattern emerges.
Thanks to Manny for sending over some frame grabs of the carp that he was filming at the weekend. The fish on the right is a recognisible resident that several of the syndicate may have seen on the bank, often weighing in at well over thirty pounds.
Whilst its always enjoyable to get a different perspective on our big carp I get an equal amount of pleasure from seeing the juveniles that swarm about the weedbeds and margins. In this instance perch and roach that abound in the lakes around Ringwood in their millions. I still can't get my head around the fact the Avon, that is only a couple of hundred meters away, doesn't have the same abundance. Unless of course its to do with the raw sewage and agrichemical runnoff that is pumped into the river by the water companies on a daily basis ........... and in the meantime the hot air and talking goes on!
Always a pleasure to see a further herald of warmer Summer days as the Scarce chasers appear around the lakes.
I was down at Ringwood Weir earlier today when I got wind of the foetid stench of decay from what I assumed was a road killed deer somewhere between me and the main road. Whilst I have come across many Stinkhorn fungi I had never smelt such a pungent specimen. I was not the only one to have caught wind of it as the blue bottles that are tricked into dispersing the spores of the fungus were in close attendance.
Life on the river, where we still have a couple of Great Egret with us, both the birds are in non-breeding plumage. They are staying later each year so I imagine it won't be long before we have them breeding alongside the Grey Heron, Little Egret and Cattle Egret that are already breeding in Hampshire. The cattle were beginning to feel the heat yesterday and stopped to cool their legs in the river. As soon as they enter the river the disturbed gravel downstream of them becomes alive with minnows, dace and chublets feeding on the disturbed invertebrates. Third shot is a small brood of Canada's, one of several dozen now dotted about the Estate. Come on Steve, just when are your Eagles going to earn their crust, there are pork pie sized geese whizzing about all over the place up here, just waiting to be scooped up!
Talking of Canada Geese, as I was above, have you ever seen them stick their heads down in the grass in an attempt to hide? Its the old Ostrich syndrome. Well, that's a pic of Manny doing his latest bit of filming of the carp in the margins. In fact he's not pretending to be invisible, he knows we could see him, he's covering his head in the dark material to see the video screen better in the bright sunshine. Should any members come across this strange apparition on the bank, he's alright under there so please don't give him a poke and disturb him.
Lakeside on my transect one or two of the bugs on show. We seem to be experiencing an early "June Dip" in numbers as the count wasn't particularly good. The June drop, or dip, is a short period between the over wintering species and the Summer species arrival. What over wintering/early emergers were about they looked extremely tired as illustrated by the peacock in he third shot. Whilst we did have several common blue and our first brown argus of the year numbers have a long way to go to announce Summer.
Finally to record the red beetle day a shot of a Black-headed Cardinal beetle and a Poplar beetle spotted during the transect.
........and for something completely different. A huge well done to Anna Kent on her beautifully written and brutally honest autobiography, it should be made compulsory reading in all schools.
The sun came out and the river continued to drop, just not what we needed for the salmon fishing. Along with the sun came the loons with picknicers and trespassers oblivious as ever to the results of their activities. Add a flat tyre at dinner time and the local youfs having a bonfire on Ringwood Hatches it was a typical sunny weekend in the countryside. The local youfs can't be that bad as I think they must have been doing scrapbooks or making birthday cards judging by the number of glue tubes and tins left about the place. Bless um!
Time hasn't permitted me to provide any more than a quick snap of one of our starling broods with juveniles about to fly the nest. They are in fact shouting for more food from their ever attentive parents. One of seven broods currently in boxes on the side if the house, along with at least six broods of House Sparrows, making for a pretty noisy garden at the moment.
Some odds and ends that have caught my eye in recent days, starting at home in my garden, which is currently alive with bees as they collect pollen from the tree peony and the Himalayan crabapple. It almost sounds as if a swarm has moved into the crabapple the tree is actually buzzing. If anyone should wish to plant trees for pollinators I can't recommend the crab strongly enough, its a superb blossom tree and the bees love it, plus the massive crop of tiny, five or six millimeter, apples are a great food source for the birds come the Autumn. As soon as the fruit shows any sign of ripening our resident Starlings strip the entire tree. Unfortunately it's not a tree that we can plant in the valley, or around the lakes that are in the SSSI, as they are not indigenous, which is a pity as it is a wonderful food source for both insects and birds.
I've been out and about giving some of the paths the second cut of the season and whilst up at Ibsley I spotted the Crow in the second photo acting oddly. In fact there were two Crows the second is hidden a few meters upstream of the first behind the vegetation alongside the two trips of ducklings. The bird visible in the photo was acting oddly flapping and hopping about trying to distract the ducklings, the second suddenly swooped down the bank and made a grab for one of the ducklings, causing mayhem with the adults as they drove off the attacker. On this occasion the Crows were unsuccessful but it was obviously a well tried and tested routine that must have worked for them in the past. Hopefully the dozen or so Lapwing, sitting or with juveniles out in the meadows are similarly successful in escaping the attentions of that pair. The meadows themselves are looking their best as the Kingcups and Cuckoo Flowers are at their peak providing a wonderful backdrop for the valley..
A pair of confiding Oystercatchers that are currently about the meadows, their piping calls can be heard as they move up and down the valley. One of several Holly Blue butterflies spotted on my transect this week and the first damselflies hatching in good numbers were also about the lakes.
Anne's familiar, this is the one that Anne has been feeding throughout the Winter who now has appeared with his mate. Its been quite an education watching him feed his mate and carry mealworms back to his brood of juveniles. I think we are now approaching the time for their second brood. Nesting material is being flown back and forth and he is once more being very attentive toward her taking offerings at regular intervals throughout the day. They provide one of those rare photo opportunities that I hope to catch at some point and that is the pair of them hopping about the table as Anne drinks her tea as they come to feed. So far I've missed them but fingers crossed at some point in the not too distant future camera and birds are all ready at the same time.
John Slader with one of a brace of tench and a pound plus roach he managed today from Mockbeggar. That's a great piece of fishing after many blanks looking for the fish John at last managed to get them to join in. Well fished John, peserverance rewarded. Hopefully now they have woken up they will stay active, despite the continuing cold northerly wind.
That's me up a ladder removing the Starling doors from our Swift boxes. I was in the garden this evening when the first of our Swifts swept in over the house. She twice attempted to get into her nest box that was still had the Starling door fitted, requiring a mad dash to get the ladder and drill to remove the offending doors. It took five or ten minutes to clear all the boxes and we imagined she would have given up trying to access the box this evening and would hopefully try again in the morning. We needn't have worried as I no sooner had the ladder stowed away when she reappeared and immediately entered the box, one down fifteen to go.
The grannom have been struggling to hatch for the past fortnight as the cold north and easterly winds blow them from the river. Today was no exception and whilst I was out clearing paths, which are now due their second cut of the year, at one moment clouds of grannom were passing on their way upstream, the next they had all disappeared into the bankside cover. Comfrey seems a firm favourite and many plants were completely covered, to a far greater extent than that in the pic.
That's an interesting photo above, taken by Kevin out on the meadows at Ibsley, the arrows show the alignment of the public footpath. Although its difficult to see, it shows two groups of people that were riding motor bikes about the meadow. There excuse for doing that was that they weren't from around here and didn't know what the signs meant. How in the name of Jesus, Mary and Joseph does that work? Does it mean that from where they came from ignorance is deemed an excuse for all stupidity, or from where they come from everyone is fucking stupid! That particular section of meadow has probably the highest density of nesting waders in the entire Avon Valley. Eleven pairs of Lapwing and at least one pair of Redshank that didn't realise the stupid sods on the motor bikes didn't mean them any harm!!
They weren't alone in marching about out there today they were just one group of three I have had to ask to return to the footpath or public highway; on my day off! One of the other family's told me that dad had worked in the conservation business all his life, some trust or other. He felt that he was acting responsibly and believed the public had a right to access the countryside. When asked why they had ignored our clear sign explaining the SSSI and the protected status of the ground and delineating the public footpath he returned to the old, I'm doing no harm defence! He fervently believed we shouldn't allow dogs, horses, bikes and picnickers, yet he and his family were fine. He couldn't understand that having to turn out to chuck him off when I'm not working is a complete pain in the arse. He couldn't grasp that if we let him, as a “responsible walker” on just how we kept off the rest of the fuckwits. Perhaps we should pay for a little man to sit either end of the SSSI section of public path informing the pig shit ignorant of their transgressions. Unfortunately we don't receive unlimited public funding or corporate green wash slush funding to cover that cost! Perhaps his most pathetic excuse was that the pecked line on the OS map showed a public footpath. The second time I had heard that in twenty four hours!
I have to say that the recent announcement that there is to be a new environmental qualification introduced to schools is perhaps light on the horizon. Having said that it needs to be kept out of the hands of the Middle England, politically correct brigade that currently claim the higher ground where environmental matters are concerned. Many lads and lasses that don't have a bent for the deemed basics of maths, science and English do have a love and genuine feeling for the countryside and the environment. If the curriculum provides those youngsters with the basic guidelines that govern the daily running of the countryside it is definitely a step in the right direction. By basic I mean basic, grass isn't something you find in parks to roll about in, its feed for our animals.
What of our current position, certainly the schools have a great deal to answer for in not preparing a generation to coexist in a diverse world. As for our bikers they are direct result of Hampshire County Council being totally clueless when it comes to the impact of their actions. Sadly I don't see the situation changing where are local authorities and regulators are concerned. They are underfunded and totally lacking in any understanding or experience of what they oversee. It does not bode well for the future I fear, the police won't or can't help, NE are unable to help, the local authorities don't give a damn, it has all the hallmarks of being a very long Summer and a continuing downward spiral for our environment!
The PWD mark 1 ready for field testing. Phil having built his design we were keen to get off to the river and put it through its paces having a further crack at those wretched willows that had been washed in and spoilt Lifelands pool.
With the steel cable attached to the digger and run through a block, snatched on the back of the Mitsubishi, to give us a better angle to find some grip we were ready. Several successful launches had dragged the offending rubbish close to the bank where the digger would hopefully be able to reach it and rid us of the menace once and for all.
Not everything always runs as expected but we did get there in the end and the PWD, mark 1. worked without a hitch, perfic!
Job done, a clear pool opening up the 170m of Lifelands pool. With the pool back in action, combined with "Dockens" seen looking upstream from the parish boundary marker and "Above the cut through" there is now well over 400m of really excellent fishing available. I appreciate its a bit of a hike with the shortest route being from the substation car park that is about 850m to the Dockens confluence. Its not a bad walk now the old bridge has been upgraded and fishing back down also lets you add the "Humps" providing a further good pool. The walk down from the lakes is over a KM further, once you've fished down to the Cut Through and made your way back upstream to the car. Lifelands Pool always used to hold fish and with the shallows at the head fish will always rest before attempting to run them, its very similar to Blashford, give it a go it looks perfect.
Today we replaced the old scaffolding death trap of a bridge that crossed the ditch towards the tail of Dockens Pool. The entire left bank of Dockens is now safely fishable, despite the geese and swans doing their best to add to the erosion of the bank. We did try and remove the two willow roots clumps that have been washed into the top of Lifelands Pool due to bank erosion, unfortunately we straightened out my grapnel so its back to the drawing board. We will get them out and Phil is now on the case to produce a grapnel light enough to throw yet strong enough to survive the JCB and steel cable pulling it!
The sad sight of my bonsai ash showing the epicormic growth associated with die back.
Mike Stead with an absolutely wonderful, sparkling fresh, 20+ Avon Springer. Exactly what we needed to cheer up the salmon rods, congratulations Mike, stunning fish. I imagine this fish came into the river in the last week during the very high Spring tides we have just experienced. Whilst there were no lice present the scars were very visible, more than forty eight hours but less than a week, the perfect Avon 3SW salmon.
A day off, well almost, I remained in the valley and went fishing at a small lake fishery on the Sweatfords Water, a tributary of the Avon at Rockbourne, just up the road from Fordingbridge. A most enjoyable day in the company of son Jonathan, seen bothering a fish in the pic above. Interesting day ahead, as I had never fished this water before and on arrival fish were very active on the surface where ever I looked, taking what would appear to have been smuts or subsurface buzzers as nothing was obvious. I set out my stall on a quiet pond, which I had all to myself and was as picturesgue as one could wish for. My 4 weight rod, with a size 16 Black Gnat and when this proved unappealing through the fly box with various delicate patterns and dressings, with, I'm afraid the same result.
After an hour or so of being ignored I wandered back over to see how Jonathan was getting on and he was landing his second fish that had taken a fly that resemble a Jay with a hook strapped to it! Lots of feathers and startling blue stuff. Not to be out done I retreated to my pond to go through a selection of buzzers, fished at various depths right up into the surface film, with strikingly similar results as the dry fly had achieved. Unfortunately I do not posess a fly of the successful lineage that was doing the damage on the other lakes and was forced to delve into Jonathan's fly box to find a suitable option. With the Jay look a like firmly bound to my leader it was back to my opponents that awaited my return with continued activity. I was convinced the result of this avian interloper would be the same as my earlier frustrations as these were obviously wise old stockies that had seen it all before and would continue to treat all my efforts with disdain.
In the clear water of the lake a handsome rainbow could be seen purposefully heading past, just a gentle cast out. The fly was aerealised and sent forth to land with what could best be described as a flop, three feet in front of our passing trout. I had not even started the retrive when this wretched trout bow waved across the intervening few feet and surged out of the water in an effort to engulf the drowning jay. In my shock I struck the fly straight out of its mouth and watched as a swirl and a departing bow wave signalled what was probably going to be my only chance of the day. Nothing ventured I headed along the bank to some overhanging trees where several fish could be seen idly circling just under the surface. Once more the fly was presented in all its finery just beyond the tips of the branches and I began to retrieve along the tree line. The result was almost as instant and startling as the previous effort, yet on this occasion three fish charged out of their lair in an effort to be first to snatch the passing jay. This time, I'm pleased to say, my reflexes were held in check and a fine four and a half pound rainbow soon grace the net.
There were many lessons to be taken on board from my experiences of today, unfortunately I'm not sure what they were. The jay continued to extract fish whenever it was offered, making not catching my limit the next problem to present itself. It did mean I had plenty of time to just sit and stare, which is as good a way to spend a few hours as I could wish for.
A nice surprise on the way in to work this morning as this fine male Ring Ouzel was scratchinging about in the mole hills in search of breakfast. I had the camera trained on him for at least five minutes and in that time he never once turned to face me allowing a shot of his full bib.
Better late than never! I know its taken a long time but we have at last replaced the missing and dangerous bridges at Hucklesbrook. You no longer have to take your life in your hands to cross the ditch and the stream, the rotten and the missing bridges have been replaced with the two I cut from the wind blown larch. Hopefully they are positioned sufficiently above the flood water level to avoid the future floods and thanks to Damian they have now been wired to the foundation stones.
Delighted to see that Mockbeggar is now up and running and the fish have woken from their winter reveries. It remains a little patchy with the frosty nights applying the brakes every now and then but overall some lovely fish have graced the bank. The common in the photos above is a thirty plus fish landed by Andy Jackson in one of his recent day sessions. It was part of a brace of fish with the other one going twenty plus, making for a good way to open his Mockbeggar account this Summer.
The second photo is a really interesting fish, which I hadn't realised had ever been caught. I had seen this fish about the river back in the 90's when it was occasionally up at Ibsley in the weirpools and also down at Lifelands Pool just above Ringwood. It was usually in the company of a large common that had been caught and weighed on several occasions, once even by the EA at Ellingham whilst on one of their surveys. The heaviest I had seen the common was just a tad over twenty nine pounds, I never witnessed it at thirty plus. The thing is if that's the mirror that used to accompany it, it always looked if it weighed considerably more than the common. I always used to tell anglers I bumped into on the bank where it could be found, oddly no one seemed interested and as I said I never saw it on the bank. In frustration I even invested in a tin of strawberry flavoured sweetcorn and set out to catch it myself, only to be thwarted by every bream that seemingly lived in the river at the time. Today I was out with Damian on the river, wiring our two replacement bridges down, when he produced this photo having landed this fish over twenty years ago. Unfortunately Damian never weighed this fabulous fish, having decided to travel light on the evening in question sacrificing the scales in an effort to reduce the weight of his tackle bag. So the mystery remains, we perhaps will never know what weight that fished attained in its peak. Unless of course some one out there knows differently.
I was pleased to see that our Lapwing and Redshank survived the plunging nightime temperatures this year. Today I could spot six sitting birds and others displaying, so fingers firmly crossed they survive the Crows and trespassers dogs, which have taken a toll in previous years.
It's an ill wind that blows no good. After the difficult work of coppicing the alder on the wet ground and thinning the larch on the steep slopes, three winter storms have flattened the greater part of what we left standing. The destruction and tangled debris will have to be cleared and added to the chip pile before we see what restock or regeneration will be required. It will be some time before we get around to sorting the mess out but today I decided one of the felled giants might provide two bridges to replace those up at Gorley on the Marsh stream and Hucklesbrook Stream. Getting under way is a little like that family game of pick-up sticks, the intertwined trunks have to be safely separated to get at the chosen trunk for the bridges. Once the sticks had been sorted out, without collapse, splitting the section of trunk could start. Unfortunately my 16" bar was too short to get right through so it was necessary to resort to wedges, cut from some of the fallen beech at hand, to complete the process. The end result two good sound, seven meter plus, bridges that should last for a decade or two if we can prevent them being washed away like their predecessors.
The meadows are just beginning to look their best as they begin to burst into life with the Cuckoo Flowers and Kingcups brightening the scene. The new growth is beginning to hide the sitting Lapwing that are out beside the shallow splashes making counting them almost impossible. Today I could spot four sitting birds but I believe there are a further five pairs in the section of meadow captured in the middle photo. I notice that we are forecast night-time temperatures of minus five in the next 48 hours. If you look back to last years entry for the 7th April the sitting birds suffered similar overnight temperatures and whilst they survived the night every nest in the field was deserted within a day or two, presumably despite sitting tight the eggs chilled. It would be desperately disappointing to lose the entire meadow breeding population once more.
The first Swallows of the year, showing three looking tired and cold as they arrived over at the lakes today. I can imagine they are less than impressed with the weather that welcomed them, probably wished they had put off arrival for a few days! The second photo is of an odd couple that are in the Top Park. The closer bird a Ruddy Shelduck, in the background his Egyptian mate? Along with the dozen or more pairs of Egyptian geese we have nesting it will be interesting to see if they are successful in rearing a brood.
Roger with a couple of our elderly residents. He landed the well known mirror a month ago and the common yesterday, the last fish from Meadow before the close season begins today.
An unusual snake, in an unusual pose. It is in fact a fine, yellow grass snake, almost three feet long, that lives over the lakes. I've been trying to get a photo of her for several weeks as she sun bathes in the early sunshine each day. The enlarged first few inches of her body aren't some cobra like hood but an unfortunate frog that came too close and ended up as dinner. Today, whilst she was distracted devouring the frog, I was able to get a photo of her before she made off into the brambles.
Like buses, Rob opened our account yesterday and today David Lambert landed a brace! Both fish were very similar to Rob's, about twelve pounds and sparkling fresh. With one other large fish coming adrift it looks as if we have a reasonable run of fish in the system. Congratulations David, great result.
...............and we're off! Thanks to Rob Smythe, beautifully captured in the second photo, we are now up and running with our first salmon gracing the bank today. A small bright fish that had probably entered the river after last weeks rain and the very high Spring tides of the weekend. Unfortunately I was clearing the right bank at the tail of Ibsley weirpool with a chainsaw and missed Rob's call. When I did pick it up five minutes later Rob had released the fish with a quick snap in the net. Not that Rob was worried, he doesn't need a photo to remember the events of the day. Congratulations Rob, well deserved, just what we needed to cheer everyone up.
The offending weir pool where I was busy clearing the right bank tail and missed the call. The tail of the pool is a good looking piece of water at the present water level so if you're up that way give it a whirl. Be warned, you'll need waders to cross the stream at the tail of the pool.
Not the most interesting WeBS day but there were one or two noteable records, three Little Ringed Plover, Great White Egret, yet the definite highight of the day for me were the number of Lapwing and Redshank nesting in the meadows. In the photo above there are three sitting Lapwing and their mates visible, plus a pair of Redshank. There are at least eight pairs of Lapwing in that one small area of meadow and one of the advantages of the higher density of nests is the ability of the non sitting birds to drive off predators. That advantage was well illustrated today when three of the local Red Kite population drfited low over the meadow. The defence was scrambled immediately and the interlopers were dive bombed successfully out of the area. Fingers crossed we don't get a repeat of last years 7th of April frost that wiped out the entire nesting population of the meadows. The other significant risk they run is the appearance of Hampshire County Council encouraged idiots with their dogs loose off the leads, "He's not doing any harm, he's just enjoying himself" This weekends sun has unfortunately brought out the first of the Summer clowns from hibernation, another advantage of a wet Summer!
As well as the birdlife there were plenty of butterflies out and about today enjoying the mid-day warmth; brimstone, red admiral, peacock and at least half a dozen comma in just one corner of a meadow.
The longer than usual break in entries is due to an unusually busy time at work and Anne and I being away in the West for a couple of days. I did see out the coarse season on the river where I failed miserably to get a session with the float, seeking our wonderful chub. I did buy a couple of pints of reds with the intention of getting a visit in but in usual fashion it looked as if the chublets in the carriers were in for a free meal as I usually end up scattering them over the bridge. With the intention of picking them up to get rid of them I opened the garage door to collect them only to meet them crawling under the door to greet me on a determined break for freedom. I'm not sure exactly made it clean away, I do however fear a good hatch in a week or two that is likely to land me in hot water.
The end of the river coarse season very much followed the topsy turvy pattern of a great deal of the past nine months. We never enjoyed the settled spell of mild weather we always keep our fingers crossed will arrive at the end of February or early March. Cold frosty snaps, bitter north winds, cold rain and rising water levels, before back to low flows and clearing water, it really was a case of pot luck whether you found the fish or not. There were several remarkable catches of chub and huge barbel, good perch and some fine pike. Roach as ever were thin on the ground and on the last weekend of the season the dace moved upstream on a mass migration heading for the gravel shoals as high in the river as they could manage.
In reality the Avon is probably the finest chub fishery in the land and our barbel take a lot of beating but in best Avon fashion they are never easy. Fin and scale perfect eight pound chub and eighteen pound barbel that the Avon produces time after time, to the point where with some lucky anglers six pound chub never get weighed unless they might make seven! All in the stunning surroundings of the Avon Valley. Certainly a frustrating season, however one that continues to reinforce the view of many that the Avon remains the finest river in the land.
Darrel with a big fourteen barbel, not his largest of the season as I believe he had them over seventeen. The middle shot of Gavin with a lovely pike and also a seven plus chub, again not his largest as he landed fish over eight. Stunning specimens, for which I thank Darrel and Gavin for sending through the shots to add to my records.
Not to forget the stillwaters that will see the close season on Meadow and Kings-Vincents with Mockbeggar coming on line to add a new challenge for the Summer. Thanks to Andy for the lovely shot of a cracking thirty plus common carp from Meadow last week.
Not long now girls, The ewes, looking very round, are now within a couple of weeks of lambing getting underway. Three of the Great Egrets heading for the roost this evening and the gull roost out on Ibsley Water, taken as I walked out to do the egret count this evening.
Spring creeps in, despite the chill of the recent northerly winds and overnight frosts, the herons are well advanced in their nesting. The end of the coarse season on the river also creeps ever closer with just six days left to get out in search of an Avon specimen. The river has continued to produce some incredible fish, perch, pike, barbel and chub that simply beggar belief. I bumped into Mark today as he was landing a true Avon slab in the shape of his second bream of the day. The larger of the two was over eight pounds, accompanied by a good chub making for a great Avon session.
A few shots from the weekend starting with a chilled bumblebee suffering from the cold northerly wind. The overnight frost combined with the very cold wind made getting the motors started difficult for the Red Admirals that were creeping about the lakes as well as the many bumblebees. It was well into the afternoon before they could be seen moving freely about the sheltered corners of the meadows. The Elf Cups I added just to brighten the cold, grey day, as with the other two shots showing the Mandarin and wild dafs beside the stream.
A visit to another of the stands of Douglas Fir where the volume of regen came as a complete surprise. On several acres of ground, under the standing douglas, regen is coming up on a wonderful scale, thousands upon thousands of new trees. There are a couple of snags with that in that the overstory is not due for further thinning or clearing for several years, in which time the deer will have done their worst. As the ground at Somerley seems to suit Douglas if we can find the time we must transplant a few thousand into new enclosures and shoot the bloody deer!
Whilst out and about it also gave me the opportunity to do a little bird spotting and I'm pleased to say two Gos sites have chanting males in attendance and the Kites are spending time in their preferred plantation. Calling at the Lakes this evening I visited the Egret roost, which acts as a wonderful weather vane with the egrets always in the lee of the island. The icy wind from the NE has put a chill on the complete day and I believe we are in for a week of it. Typical with the end of the coarse season rapidly approaching we were hoping for a warm few nights to bring the fish out of their torpor. It doesn't seem to have deterred the chub that continue to provide some staggering sport, I would just like to see one of the big girls of the barbel world grace the net as I'm sure a couple of them will challenge Pete's Avon record fish. As for the egrets, the Little Egrets seem to have left us yet we still have seven Great Egret using the island tonight, accompanied by two Grey Heron. Whether they are immature birds spending time away from the established breeding areas such as the Somerset Levels or perhaps we are seeing the start of our own breeding population. With breeding in mind it was good to see twelve pairs of Lapwing on just two areas of the meadows. They were being extremely protective of the area giving any passing Crows a serious amount of dive bombing. Lets hope the weather is kinder this Spring and we don't get a repeat of last years minus five degrees of frost in April that wiped out the entire first nesting attempts last year.
Odd jobs at the weekend, collecting mistletoe berries from the apple tree in front of our house to implant into the orchard appletrees on the Estate. Hopefully it will also stop the Mistle Thrushes covering our car with the sticky gloop they eject after dining on the berries.
I drained the North Marsh at the weekend and today the first of this year's Curlew arrived to spend the day feeding out in the meadows. The wildfowl count on the marsh this winter has been very low as the arrivals from the east if Europe never felt the need to run from the cold and travel to us. Our own coastal waders never came to exploit the flooded meadows as the saltings were never that hostile. Along with the Curlew today there were two pairs of Lapwing, establishing territories and a single BTG that seemed to think it was a Curlew, flying with the small flock when they were disturbed by the passing Marsh Harrier.
Here's an interesting one. Getting it down is not too great a problem, getting it down without flattening the fence is a little trickier!
WeBS day and in an effort to beat the birdworld out of bed I was out and about early. The wind had yet to return in any real force, as it has as I type this just before dinner, making the dawn a reasonable experience none of yesterday morning's frost and no flying trees. The first shot of the Goosander were four of over thirty on the river today. Thirty is a high count for us on the river and I imagine that the birds from the nearby roost didn't wish to venture too far with the threat of more foul weather and stayed locally. This is the same effect as when the lakes freeze, we end up with the displaced population on the flowing water of the river.
The middle shot of the Lapwing is a great deal more pleasing as it records the return of at least three pairs of birds establishing territories on the Ibsley meadows. It was these birds that suffered the late frost on the 7th April last year that brought about the failure of nine nests. If you look back on the diary for that date late year you will see the birds covered in frost having endured overnight temperatures down to minus four degrees. We can only keep our fingers firmly crossed that this years nests will be more successful.
The third shot just records the fact our herd of Mute Swans seems fairly stable with in the region of one hundred and twenty birds in this section of the valley. For the past decade or two this has been about the norm. We usually have in the region of twenty nests on the Estate, about half usually successful, which would point to a balanced population.
Today's route took me up to the North Marsh that has been quiet this year with few migrants arriving from Europe. Today was no exception with very little other than gulls, geese, a few Godwits and a single oystercatcher. The Godwits are the first I have seen this winter, which is the result of the storms driving the waders inland. Sadly the second of the Gorley Twins has succumbed to the weather and the pair now make a sad sight laying in the flooded meadow. I suppose its a fitting end as the they have stood together for probably a century or more. Jeez, I'm getting sentimental about trees now, it must be an age thing!
The last shot is a fallen ash in what is known as the "Snag Swim" its certainly living up to its name now! It will be some time before we can get machinery out across the meadows to heave that out as they are currently water logged.
My walk this morning was like entering the eye of the tornado, not a breath of wind stirred the reeds at sunrise. Around the corner and the gulls were waking, heading off in search of the scraps and rubbish that are put out daily on one of the neighbouring properties. A couple of hours later the rain and wind had returned. Hopefully not with the severity of yesterday's blow. If you look in the background of the gull shot you can see that our eagle platform survived the gale and awaits its first tenant. Sadly two of the introductions have been found dead in Dorset and concerns have been raised as to the cause of death. I haven't spoken to Steve over on the island but if man's hand has played any part in their demise, ten years in prison would not be too great a sentence. Intolerance, stupidity and ignorance are no defence in the eyes of the law and until our wildlife is afforded the protection the legislation is suppose to provide British law enforcement sentencing is a laughing stock. As for the comments of that West Dorset fuckwit dismissing the introduction, it comes as no surprise I fear and just reinforces the commonly held view that many of our politicians are just sad, outdated, posturing jokes.
The aftermath of one of our huge Scots pines having succumbed today, unfortunately one of dozens trees and branches that blocked roads and brought down powerlines locally. Kevin has pushed the head of this tree off the road as the fastest means to clear the road and move on to the next one. This tree took just a couple of slates off the roof of the building, which is about as close as you can get with such a huge tree.
The difference a day makes. Today the Humps, during the peak of the blow and yesterday the run into Lifelands looking just perfect. It looks as if we are going to suffer a rough few days that will make fishing difficult. If we get a break in the weather hopefully we will see a good finish to the river coarse season and our first salmon will hopefully also put in an appearance in the not too distant future.
A timely reminder supplied by Stephen Hutchinson in the form of a bright, fin perfect kelt. Luckily Stephen has plenty of experience of fresh salmon and kelts and this one was recognised for what it was. To less experienced eyes a very bright fish without a mark on it might well have been misidentified. Please take your time to ensure you are certain of what you have captured.
A couple of these a month and we will do okay. These being twenty four hours of rain and a rise in the river water level sufficient to bring any fish in the bay or lower river up to us. The forest streams were over the fords, which also gave a good tinge of colour, which provided as good a conditions as we could have asked for. More rain is forecast for later in the week that will hopefully sustain these levels for a further few days so make the most of it, if you want a February Springer that is.
Early morning in the valley.
I've been walking a great deal of the woodland in recent days as I assess the next phase of our woodland work. I was visiting the chestnut coppice I had briefly passed on one of our recent shoots and wished to see how our crop of fence stakes were doing. I was pleased to see they had established well and were now out of the reach of the deer population. Whilst out and about I thought I would have a look at how the regeneration was doing in some of our recently thinned or cleared woodland. Much of the natural woodland of the acidic sandy soils of the hilltops is dominated by silver birch with an under story of bracken making regeneration difficult. The shot of the birch trunks is an area we thinned two or three years ago and whilst our work has allowed light to reach the woodland floor the bracken has prevented most of the regeneration with only holly and honeysuckle present in any volume.
Almost all of the many hundreds of large oaks on the Estate have been planted by our predecessors, mostly between two hundred and fifty and four hundred years ago. Contrary to the popular view, very few are self set. Most of the self set oak springs up in the grassland surrounding the woods as jays and squirrels bury their winter stores of acorns and forget where they left them.
Other areas of the woodland has commercial stands of douglas fir that tower above us at well over one hundred feet. Where light can reach the soil new seedling spring up and race for dominance over the surrounding bracken and rhododendron. Always assuming the escape the attention of the fallow herds that now occupy many of the woods. One further area I visited was the Larch and deciduous mixed plantations. Bracken has not estabished in this woodland and where the light reaches the woodland floor regeneration is progressing well. Beech and larch where the ground is broken up and sycamore as closely spead as wheat where it can get established.
One of Brenda's firsts of 2021. Below is a link to Brenda's full Mockbeggar nest report.
Brenda has produced another great report recording her efforts over at the lake. Her work over the last five years is now building into a really valuable and interesting record.
As coincidence would have it I spent several hours today strimming around the reedbeds out on the islands in preparation for the return of Brenda's warblers.
Lifelands Pool with St Peter and St Paul in the background, surely one of the most quintessential lowland salmon river views. The view upstream from the same spot showing the geese have found a use for that gravel bar I put up the other day.
Gorse brightening the day beside the lichen lawn.
The world looked well this morning as I headed across the Estate to work. The first shot captures the mist spilling off the Top Park and flowing into the restoration hollows. An hour later and the mist was lifting in the valley and by mid morning the sun had broken through completely. The third photo also shows the extent of the gravel that is now visible down at the southern end of the Estate as the water levels drop.
Spot the Buzzard. Actually he's quite easy to spot as he drops his wings to soak up the warmth or the early morning sun. I have to say I was pleased to see him sat atop the willow pollard I cleaned up last week. This old willow is in a fragil state these days having lost its top a decade ago it is now hollow and threatening to split asunder. Lets hope we get another decade to enjoy the shade this ancient specimen provides and the wildlife that hide inside and shelter in its hollows.
I spent a very trying morning removing several extremely large chestnut boughs from the weirpool. These limbs that were up to thirty feet in length and a couple were well over a ton in weight had fallen from the massive chestnut before we recently pollarded the tree to make it safe. Fishing the weirpool had been spoilt by the presence of these huge boughs and getting them out had proven problematic. The main problem has been getting machinery close enough to deal with the size of them. Today I backed the truck over the first weir to within forty meters of the pool, rigged a block in a neighbouring chestnut and ran a steel cable down to the snags I was hoping to remove. Waders on and out in the pool as far as I could reach to get a strop firmly attached and back to the truck to drag the offending timber clear. Unfortunately the snag had a different take on matters and when the pressure was on the truck skidded sideways and slid gracefully into the ditch beside the track. Cable off and wriggling out of the ditch before back to the snag to reduce the weight by as much as possible with the chainsaw. Second shot was a repeat performance, requiring further extraction from the ditch and another lump cut off the bough. At the third attempt, it reluctantly came and crunched its way out onto the bank. A further half dozen lumps dragged out and half an hour with the long handled rake hopefully has seen the weirpool back in action.
I was keen to see how effective my efforts had proven so after I had finished my commitments with the timber cutters at lunchtime I headed home to grab the rods and a few lobworms to see if the perch were investigating the disturbed corner of the pool. The result was some good news and unfortunately some bad news to temper the success of my efforts. The good news was that the perch were there and I found a lovely brace to meet my perch fishing needs for the season. The bad news, there are still a couple of snags in the pool that cost me a couple of hooks. These snags were well out in the pool beyond where I could get at them to with the cable. There have always been snags in the pool that we have lived with for years and these are manageable with care. Having said that if anyone has any contacts with a scuba club that wants its freshwater ticket get them to get in touch and we'll sort something out in the Summer to deal with the snags that are left.
Don't get over excited, this photo is a couple of decades old, not the first of the season. You can tell that because I don't look grey and haggard as is my current appearance, well grey anyway! Its also an extremely rare shot as I don't catch many fish these days! I have put this shot up as an example of what we like to see in the way of a salmon pix. A rested fish briefly held safely out over the water, see the piece below.
Perhaps the beginning of the salmon season is an opportune time to mention the care needed if a photo of your fish is required. We should start with salmon as they are the species that set the limits by which all fish should be considered. Our objective at Somerley, which is obviously total catch and release of all species, is to ensure all of our fish are safely returned to the water with the minimum of stress and disruption. With salmon the process of resting in the soft, rubber meshed net before unhooking is the start of the process. When your capture has got its breath back and settled, the removal of the fly or hook whilst still in the water can be dealt with. Hook out and resting fish laying comfortably thoughts can now turn to getting your photo. At Somerley we do not want to see fish photographed anywhere other than in the river, over water, so that in the event of dropping your catch it has a safe landing and as it has been rested can disappear into the depths from whence it came. You may have lost your chance of a photo but at least you have not harmed the fish. Hopefully matters will run smoothly and once you feel safe and composed, briefly hold your fish clear of the net to record the happy event. If more than one companion is on hand the net can be whipped out of the way and two or three cameras can record the scene, to minimise the chance of a cock-up and your memory will be immortalised on film, or at least digitally, forever. Unfortunately "selfies" are not an option with salmon and to avoid the need we are always on call to ensure you get that important shot. The fish will be fine resting upright in the net, in a good clean moderate flow, whilst you give me a call and I come to your assistance. That's the ideal, which will be complicated by nerves and excitement but take your time and both you and your fish will be none the worse for the experience.
Having run through the routine for our salmon it should not be forgotten that many of our coarse fish are also a great deal more delicate than some anglers may be aware. At certain times of year they are also at increased risk, times such as when heavy with spawn or having been exhausted by the rigours of spawning. At such time even carp and barbel, thought by many to be as tough as old boots, need to be given maximum consideration. Pike, chub, roach and particularly grayling are easily harmed if handled badly. Almost all carp anglers now have unhooking mats and take considerable care when dealing with their fish, tucking in pec's and pelvic fins to ensure nothing is folded or broken. Given the time constraints our salmon anglers work with it may be worth just considering the time your coarse capture is exposed to the air. I'm not aware of any conservation meshes currently in use in the coarse world nets but hopefully these will become the norm to avoid split fins and damaged scales, they certainly have revolutionised the salmon world catch and release. If your fish is resting in the margins, in your net, it is recovering and safe. The key here is to get any photos sorted out before it is restored to fighting fit and gives a good account of itself all over again. We all have seen or suffered the good slapping or the juggling scene, or at worse case dropped on the bank as it bounces back into life. That's the reason sacks are banned other than for brief, which means brief, five or ten minutes whilst you sort out your gear. Certainly no fished sacked overnight for daylight shots or your buddy to climb out of his scratcher and answer his mobile.
Perhaps the most important aspect is the time the fish is out of the water in an alien atmosphere. I do not see many prolonged photo shoots these days but perhaps a good measure might be to try holding your breath for the time you have the fish out of water. In the salmon world such an extended period of time is totally unacceptable, anything more than thirty seconds and your salmon is unlikely to survive, especially if its a very fresh fish just in the river. Pale rigid bodies and fixed eyes are a thankfully a much rarer sight than they were when were establishing the handling methods thirty years ago. I do still see carp and other large fish on the bank for several minutes, which needs to be reduced. Before any photos are attempted ensure you are ready and organised. Scrabbling about for cameras, rinse water etc with a fish on the bank needs a little more thought and organisation. Certainly no checking you have an acceptable shot to decorate your album with whilst the fish is still out on the bank. Selfies for coarse fish are difficult but not impossible if you are organised, so do your best to have everything ready and at hand before lifting the fish from the water, the next couple of minutes are extremely important, not for your photo but the well being of the fish.
A rather strange photograph taken at first light this morning that clearly illustrates the extent of the worrying freeboard we are currently experiencing. This is the run into Coomber Pool that is roughly halfway down the Estate and a couple of miles above any artificial impoundment or draw down. I did stop and measure the freeboard at the point thirty meters from the head of the pool and we have over 800mm, or 32 inches, of clear bank. The reason I chose that spot to measure, apart from the lack of artificial interference, is that is the spot Danny landed our first fish of 2020 on the 7th March. At the time there was sufficient water over the bank to release the fish out in what in the photograph is the field, making the water height difference close to a meter. When Colin landed the first fish last season we were once more stood in over six inches of water flowing over the bank at the Breakthrough. We are certainly in a different position for the start of the 2022 season, only time will tell how it pans out.
I got around to cleaning up, Below the Cut Through, on the right bank this afternoon, which combined with above and below the weir, The Humps, Above the Cut Through and Lifelands Pool provides a good hour or twos fishing. Plenty of pools now fishable and Michael Gubbins, down on the lower fisheries tells me he has been out and about, busy cleaning up the Lower River so it won't be through lack of access we don't see a salmon or two grassed in the near future.
Opening day and a great turn out to greet the new salmon season and catch up with everyones news. The valley had its best winter coat on and the river fished well, in reality a fish on the bank was expecting a little much but you just never know. The consensus of the day was that a foot more water would have been ideal yet with the current water height we might expect the odd fish to creep through to us. Perhaps of more concern was the fear that should the rains not appear we will be struggling for flow this year. This is definitely a case of, damned if you do and damned if you don't, if the rains don't come we're done for and if they do its going to be a rubbish Summer. The moral of that bleak outlook is to make the best of what flow we have and keep your fingers crossed.
The importance of our salmon is two fold in that it is vital to the viability of the fishery it is also the primary indicator of the health of the river, if our salmon are failing things are amiss. Definitely a worrying time ahead.
On a brighter note whilst out and about, meeting and greeting, I did spot one of Steve's eagles that joined us for an hour at lunchtime, a Marsh Harrier drifted by and three Great White Egrets were dotted about the water meadows. Seven GWE and fourteen Little Egrets were in the roost this evening making it a pretty good day despite the lack of a salmon.
The A338 closed beside the Bridge pool at Ibsley for the past three days. When I passed Friday morning the water was half way across the road and running off into the Bridge Pool
Lots of busy hands dealing with the support flow. What ever strategy they adopt it does not alter the fact a barrier to fish passage at the tidal limit is totally unacceptable in this day and age.
They won't get around me that easily! Whilst its an amazingly inventive solution, closing the A338 for three days and opening the watermain to add stream support flow to the river at the Bridge Pool to compensate for that shameful barrier to passage at Knappmill, it still doesn't cut any ice with me. Despite the low flow we are currently experiencing I am still not a fan of stream support. The real danger is that if we do not see significant rainfall throughout the coming months we may well be looking at a long, low flow Summer. The fact that known migratory species such as barbel are not able to get over the Great Weir in any numbers is a disgrace, particularly when aided and abetted by the EA. The counter is set up to register fish over 500mm, which a great many of the chub and barbel that would and should be moving upstream to spawn if allowed to behave naturally are unable to do. We know from repeat captures of these species that they move freely up and down the weirs at Ringwood and Ibsley a pattern repeated by barbel all over Europe, yet they are not recorded moving through the Great Weir. many of the Lower Avon coarse fish turn up in the Lower Stour and at times of low flow when unable to access the Avon many of our salmon also wait in the lower Stour in the deep lower reaches. I'm just thankful we are a sufficiently large fishery, with many miles of main river and even more miles of carrier, to support a sustainable population. Were I having to manage a fishery in the lower river I would be even more disgusted with the treatment of our fish as these slower, deeper lower reaches are where our salmon should be waiting, not in the Lower Stour.
We are not the only species that enjoys the arrival of the growing season signalled by the snowdrop. Honey bees and hoverflies were busy working the blooms about the garden today, even a Red Admiral visited briefly to check out the activity.
Paid from the public purse, obligated to serve the public, determined to conceal the truth, destined to be superseded. The sooner a publicly elected board and truly accountable system is implemented to replace this embarrassment the better. A good starting point would be for Bevan to go.
I've put this link up as support for my apparent devastation of some of our uniformly planted woodland enclosures and hedges that are suffering from ash dieback. The felled trees afford the new growth a patchwork of light filled clearings and protection from the deer, allowing the naturally regenerated species to establish.
I was pleased to see the overgrown chestnut we coppiced a couple of years ago has survived the attention of the local deer population and has established an even regrowth that bodes well for the future. I must try and find time for another visit to produce a better record of the work.
Always good to see the snowdrops announcing the arrival of the growing season. Light at the end of the grey old tunnel! The second shot is of the Egret roost that was counted tonight as part of the HOS survey. Having thought they had all moved off a few weeks ago it was a pleasant surprise to see eight Great White Egrets and seventeen Little Egrets are still with us. All eight GWE are in that murky photo, several of the LE arrived when it was too dark to take any further snaps. The GW's are relatively easy to distinguish, the one that is tricky to see is on the left above the easily seen pair. The other difficult bird has its neck extended just right of centre.
For ten minutes a pair of otters intent on increasing their population were kicking up a right old racket immediately beneath the roost, which the Egrets totally ignored. I bet that despite being over one hundred meters away if we had so much as snapped a twig the entire roost would have abandoned ship.
Dog Kennel is a lovely looking pool and it is altering every year for the better, the tail is now widening and steadying down making it a really inviting piece of water, all it needs now is or the salmon to agree.
22nd January 2022
Thursday night was certainly the coldest night of the Winter to date and personally I hope it stays that way, my blood seems to be getting thinner by the day. One or two of the shallower lakes froze and the muddy fields and tracks became overnight ankle breakers. The grass in the valley remained frozen all day curtailing the activity of the large flocks of geese that have been about in recent weeks. The large flock had broken up into smaller family flocks that were spread the length of the Estate. Overnight the valley filled with Snipe, forced in from the widespread feeding across the forest and farmland looking for the shelter and softer marshland to be found in the valley.
It wasn't only the wildfowl and waders that were forced to move as the number of birds on the feeders increased dramatically throughout the day. Along with the usual Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Siskin we spotted the first Redpoll on the sunflower kernals, once more photographed through the double glazing.
20th January 2022
We still have three or four Great White Egret about the place with three still at the roost and one other heading north up the valley heading for the Bickton roost late this evening. The grey Heron in the middle shot are giving the local frog population a hard time. Just as they feel the urge to spawn the water levels fall leaving them exposed in shrinking pools. The Great-crested Grebe along with three pairs of Canada Geese and three or four pairs of Egyptian Geese are convinced Spring has arrived and are establishing territories.
I gave the nest platform a Spring clean yesterday, which involved cutting back the branches in the south east quadrant to allow the birds an unimpeded vertical drop to launch from. Will this be the year we get something a little more exciting than the local Buzzard using it as a dining table to devour his rabbits on?
The river continues to drop and clear, it at least makes tidying up the salmon pools easier. Under the powerline at Ashley was at one timed deemed to be one of the best early season lies on the river. I think it has been several years since a Spring fish was taken from that lie yet last Autumn there were at least two good fish in the pool.
18th January 2022
A frustrating morning with the chainsaw that conspired to make life awkward with jammed bars and broken pull cords. A far better afternoon cleaning up the bridge pool, a view downstream, from the bridge and back upstream. A very satisfying result to the extent I even picked the chainsaw back up and cleared the regrowth willow from the phragmites bed. As we no longer cut them the reed beds need tidying up before they are lost to willow car and brambles. If we get a dry week in early February the reeds need burning off to clear the accumulated weeds and rubbish and to re-invigorate their growth.
17th January 2022
A day off to chase the Channel whiting about on what was forecast as slight sea state that turned out to be a considerable SW swell with a fresh northerly making for a very bumpy day. With an hour to go the wind dropped, the sun came out and as we got back to harbour it was just perfect!
14th January 2022
A hard frost this morning meant a cold start that required warming the gloves on the manifold cover of the strimmer every quarter of an hour to keep the fingers from dropping off. The pool cleaned up and ready for the start of the season in a fortnight. Worryingly the water level is already a little low for this pool, we are in need of a good top up, so fingers crossed we see a good downpour in the very near future.
13th January 2022
Ibsley garage, up at Gorley, came to my rescue this morning when I had a puncture that requiring fixing. Whilst I was waiting I enjoyed the sounds drifting across the road from the rookery in the tops of some tall, skeletal oaks. Despite the hard frost this morning the inhabitants seemed convinced Spring was on its way and were disputing nest sites still in situ in the tops since last Summer.
12th January 2022
An interesting walk a day or two ago in that I had the opportunity to see how the Penmeade Carrier was getting on. The culvert linking the Ellingham to the Penmeade, just above the Pipe on the main river, was blocked and required clearing. The branches blocking the culvert had cleared and swept away downstream so I set off to follow them and see what I could haul out in an effort to avoid blocking downstream gates. Thirty years or so ago, when I arrived at Somerley, this stream had been allowed to become completely choked with weed and silt, with only the bottom couple of hundred meters having clear water. It was solid phragmites from bank to bank and the flow was completely impounded. The link from the Ellingham Carrier had been deliberately blocked for reasons I could never fathom and the Woodside link had closed completely. Both the Ellingham Carrier and the Woodside that are interconnected with the Penmeade were sluggish, mud filled ditches. At the time I couldn't justify the expense of cleaning them out for environmental reasons and I couldn't afford the time to get involved with the regulators sorting out the required consents. In an effort to set things in motion I simply removed the blockages that had been put in the Woodside and Ellingham links, which turned out to be a couple of sheets of corrugated iron and a circular manhole cover, the latter was an absolute sod to get out! Once removed I let a little more water in at the header hatches and left Nature to do the hard work. I wasn't expecting any rapid change but any return to clear channel had to be beneficial to the fishery. Within five or six years the weed and silt had gone and we had replaced the silt and mud bed with clean gravel. The Penmeade alone is over one thousand meters with clean, sparkling gravel riffles to six feet deep pools and bends. A thousand meters of mystery as in the intervening thirty years I could probably count the number of people who have fished it on the fingers of one hand. During the Summer I have spotted shoals of dace and roach, with double figure barbel and huge chub skulking in the deep pools. I did see a twenty plus pike landed about two hundred meters up from the confluence but that's about the total sum of our knowledge. I should add two salmon redds in one of the low flow winter spawning a year or two ago, which adds a further dimension to the stream.
The pool under the conveyor, just south of the drive. North of the drive one hundred meters of sparkling gravel immediately below the inception as it begins its journey with the feed from the Woodside Carrier. The pool has depths down to six or seven feet and in the Summer, thousands of dace, plus a scattering of roach and perch, enjoy the sanctuary of the tangle of branches overhead. Rushing out of the pool the stream hides under a tangle of sallow that is no barrier to the fish yet provides further protection from the ever present Herons and Cormorants. Clear of the tangled limbs it now takes on the appearance of a lowland brook as it wanders across the meadow, beside the Crack Willow pollards in need of some attention when I have time. Still narrow enough to jump if I were fifty years younger, although even then I fear the odds would have been just in favour of a dip! A hundred meters on and the Ellingham Carrier link joins after crossing the Snipe Marsh, immediately doubling the flow, adding real intention to turn from brook to stream.
A slight detour back along the Ellingham Link to find the bridge to allow us to continue out travels. The old wooden bridge remains in situ to add further cover when festoon in nightshade, trailing several meters downstream throughout the summer. We rejoin a stream that now takes on the air of mystery that so intrigues as it skirts an ancient pollard that adds a further twinge of guilt as it requires urgent attention to ensure it continues to reign over the restored pool. A deep glide back into the shade of the undercut alders before once more emerging with sufficient depth and flow to cross the meadows ahead without need of overhead cover. At this point the route takes us out onto Goose Meadow where we are looking to encourage the breeding waders, where tree cover is undesirable as it affords cover for the ever present Crows that so heavily predate out remaining Lapwing and Redshank.
Half way down and we reach the hump-backed bridge. I have often stopped in the Autumn to feed blackberries the chub in the pool below. It was just at the tail of this pool a fine pair of salmon cut their redd a year or two ago. As I head on at the foot of the bridge a tell tale patch of chublet scales shows where an otter dined last night, which is a clue in itself as to the productivity of the stream.
Now out on the flood plain a couple of the woody debris deflectors the rivers trust added a year or two ago to undo the historic dredging and straightening the carrier had suffered in its past. They are looking well and adding to the diversity of the habitat with several new gravel bars and restful slacks to encourage further diversity and recruitment. Third shot is just a couple of hundred meters from the confluence where deep, reed flanked runs afford sanctuary for many of the inhabitants of the main river when it is in flood and backs up into the Penmeade to provide the perfect sanctuary. Finally the confluence with the parent river as it dives deep into the hidden depths of Penmeade pool. A pool that is pure Hampshire Avon, with a species and specimen list to make any river angler drool.
Thirty pound pike and salmon, eight pound chub, two pound roach and three pound perch, all to be found at various times in that pool and yet perhaps some of the greatest mystery is not out their but behind us, tucked away in the Penmeade carrier. If I ever had the time I would make a point of spending a day a moth throughout the season trotting maggot in that stream, to see how our juveniles were doing and to get a measure of what the future holds when they grow and migrate to the main river. I wouldn't be heart broken if I did bump into the odd specimen whilst I was discovering what lay beneath but just a bonus not and end in itself.
That's taken bloody ages to put together, all to the accompaniment of Swamp Dogg and his wrist slashing blues. There is more to discover and tell about that simple stream, hopefully I may get the opportunity at some time in the future to add a further instalment.
10th January 2022
No surprise there then!
If you are surprised or shocked by this you must have been on long term sabbatical, or naively believing the annual reports churned out by the water companies and the EA. It's the level of protection the NRA/EA have been affording our river for decades. Since the division of the water authorities into the water companies and the NRA under the Water Act 89, deliberately taking the funding for the protection of our rivers off into private pockets.
Achieving the other elephant in the room, the perfectly synchronised emasculation of the regulators. In the early days it was embarrassing to watch how closely ex colleagues in the NRA and the Water Companies worked. Staff moved on and well meaning though similarly ineffectual replacements took their place and we were no better off in trying to protect the fishery assets. Priorities remained fixed, the well being of the fishery, with its measure of riverine health, somewhere well down the list far below, potable water, sewage disposal, flood defence, we were stuck in there somewhere along with navigation, whilst our rivers were flushed down the pan. Bearing in mind that the angling fraternity were the only body with a statutory requirement to actual contribute to this farce, twenty four million annually. By this time the landowners had sidestepped the fishery rates and the water companies had no statutory obligation to contribute.
The government of the day, through its lap dogs Defra, had no intention what so ever of restricting the flow of cash into private pockets by any self inflicted policy such as adequately funding the regulators. The treasury instructed Defra who dutifully obliged and looked about for easy meat to cut. The EA were and remain that easy meat, with a dutiful minister appointed board, there would be no boat rocking coming from that direction. Sit back, take your bung and await your gong!
When they first started cutting and shedding staff those that saw the writing on the wall quickly established consultancies to tell everyone what they already knew but at twice the price. The price didn't matter it was the fact there was someone to blame between the ineffectual EA and Defra. “We were acting on the best scientific evidence as supplied by, “Joe Bloggs Environmental Expert Consultants” blame them no one here is responsible!
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, the cuts eventually got so savage that the consultants also began to feel the pinch and a new way to achieve the perfect balance on the fence had to be devised. Enter the realm of the “Partnership” lots of various bods all sycophantically, bowing and scraping with their hands out for minimal funding available. Just perfect to deflect the blame. A screen to hide behind for years without having to tackle any of the real issues and keep those nice people up in Defra's head office in their pay masters good books.
If the direction from the top has no consideration for the environment this is the mess you end up with. Hollow sound bites and crocodile tears will not fix our rivers. It will require a government with a genuine will to put the environment, not mammon, at the top of the priorities list. We are desperately in need of fresh legislation and a return to the polluter pays as the first step.
9th January 2022
In light of Bertie's success with findings yesterday's kelt I thought I would take a walk along some of the shallows to see if I could match his result. Unfortunately the added colour and water height resulting from recent rain has made spotting extremely difficult. The fact most kelts sink, if they die in open water, I fear many will be washed through the system without being found this year, likely to be a poor year for my head collection! An added problem in collecting the few that our obliging otters drag ashore are the number of scavengers waiting to clean up the afters. The first photo shows three Red Kites and two of the four Buzzards that were circling, there were also two Raven plus various Crows and Magpies close by, waiting to dine. That wasn't even a kelt but a small Jack pike that some stupid Heron, with eyes bigger than its belly, had abandoned when it couldn't get it down its throat.
The second shot shows less than a fifth of the geese currently about the Estate, fingers crossed they stay as healthy as they looked today.
8th January 2022
Master Bertie Cutts, proudly measuring a large salmon kelt found on the bank of his family's stretch of the Hampshire Avon at Folds Farm. A classic Avon salmon in its day still retaining an impressive depth, despite the best efforts of the local otter and fox population. Many thanks to dad, Alister, for letting me know about the fish as its exactly what we are looking for to further the research into the amazing travels of these incredible animals. Although the Crows or Magpies had removed the eys this remains a valuable specimen as the otoliths remain intact. Please remember I am looking for them for my head collection, if you're out and about and spot one a call or a text and I'm only too happy to drive over to collect them. It would be great to think that such research may just add to our knowledge enabling us to safeguard these fish, making sure that Bertie may look forward to landing such a Springer from the Folds beat in years to come.
7th January 2022
Feargal still hard at it, doing an absolutely brilliant job, "Flushed Away".
6th January 2022
It has been a long time since "Hoodies" could be fished safely and I'm delighted to report the "TreeMenders" were in yesterday sorting out the horrendous, tangled mess. The first shot is how we've become used to seeing it in recent years with the windblown poplar resting on the horse chestnut under which Hoodies used to be fished. With the amount of dead wood precariously balanced overhead and the tottering nature of the inter-twined trees not somewhere to spend a day relaxing as you watched your nodding rod tip. The middle shot captures the removal of the poplar canopy and the third and final shot the finished horse chestnut pollard, hopefully now safe for a good many years to come. The swim now has to be approached from the south as the old northern route is blocked by the root plate of the massive, wind blown London plane that we removed some time ago. Fingers crossed we see a return of Hoodies to the magic of its historical past with a string of specimens few swims can equal.
4th January 2022
The ash tree where the first Goosander in the valley bred way back in 2000 is slowly sliding into the river. It suffered the indignity of losing the top a decade or so ago, recorded somewhere on this diary. Being on the outside of the bend the bank beneath the root plate has now been eroded bringing about the inevitable collapse.
The second shot is a great deal more alarming showing a dead swan washed up on a gravel bar below Blashford. The reason for the alarm? The high incidence of bird flu currently being experienced across the country. With cases ten miles to the south, twenty miles east and ten miles west we are dreading its appearance on the Estate. With a resident population of about one hundred and twenty Mute Swans and currently a goose population of between five and six hundred birds an outbreak with us could be devastating. The bird in the photo was hopefully a powerline strike washed down by the high water over the weekend, we see in the region of ten birds hit the cables each year. If its either of the cables at Hucklesbrook or Ellingham, which they hit as they cross the river, they usually drift off downstream before the foxes are able to drag them out. There were a pair of Raven doing their best to dine of this bird but its semi submerged state was making progress difficult for them. As can be seen in the photo there were over thirty swans in the field immediately opposite the site where it was caught up, the sooner it goes on its way and clears the Estate the happier I will be.
3rd January 2022
A shot or two from about the fishery as I was out and about looking for redds and any kelts that may have been washed up. The first shot is the large slow run at the tail of Botney pool, the list of specimens from that spot is staggering. Too coloured for redd spotting and possibly too early for any kelts to be washed through the system. There are certainly kelts in several pools that are showing constantly, it would seem the exertions of their spawning have yet to catch up with them. The middle shot is just a record of the sad demise of yet another old oak pollard that has finally given up the ghost. I have walked past that tree for decades and it is sad to see it fall, which is an increasingly familar sight as our ancient oaks struggle with the stresses of climate change. I did bump into Tim when I visited the lakes who was doing well on the waggler with a roach a cast with the occasional bream to add a little interest. The weather was mild and overcast, fish were moving and feeding freely, a pleasant way to spend a few hours watching a float. Back to reality tomorrow as I believe the cold weather is about to return!
1st January 2022
The first daffodil to welcome the New Year, lets hope for an improvement on 2021.
When I looked yesterday the weather forecast was favourable for this morning so I felt my annual pilgrimage to trot the Bridge Pool at Ibsley seemed like as good an idea as any to welcome the New Year on the river. When Manny was filming back in the Autumn there were plenty of dace and roach both above and below the bridge so I was hoping one or two may still be there. It wasn't an early start as I only wanted a few hours to give the tackle a run out. The water looked well, fining down and off the banks, I decided to start above the bridge and trot maggot, as I had a couple of pints in urgent need of using up. I was soon set up and running the float through an almost perfect trot, fifty meters down to the bridge. Half an hour and nothing seen other than salmon kelts throwing themselves clear of the water every ten minutes or so. Kenny dropped by to exchange seasons greetings on his way downstream and told me the forecast was now for rain at eleven o'clock, which was a complete pain, as I hate trotting in the rain, especially with a pin without a line guide. Kenny went on his way and sure enough in half an hour, at eleven, the skies opened and it poured. I was thinking of packing the gear away and heading for home but as Kenny said it was only due to last an hour I took the opportunity to move downstream, below the bridge. The rain stopped on cue and I fished down the left bank, opposite the hatches, in three different swims with just one sucked maggot and the small dace in the photo that saved the day. At mid day a large dog otter came swimming up the middle of the river and disappeared over the spillway into the weir pool below, which was signal enough for me to call it a day and head for home. Hardly the most exciting few hours yet I thoroughly enjoyed the few hours on the bank watching the river enter the New Year.
It doesn't look as if the cock fish managed to spawn, the infected, saprolegnia coated vent looks as if it was just too much to cope with. Sad as it is, hopefully it will not have died in vain as his head will go into my collection for the further uni investigations of his life style. Don't forget I am collecting heads so if you come across any kelts that have given up the ghost please don't forget to give me a call.
30th December 2021
The year is ending on a high, where the water level and temperature are concerned anyway. The recent rains have coloured and raised the water level preventing any further attempts at finding redds. I did get one or two messages from upstream letting me know thay had fish on the redds in the headwaters, which is always pleasing to know. I do appreciate such feedback as it at least allows us to believe that the future generations are safely in the gravel. The tricky bit is getting them back out and onto smolt stage to allow sufficient numbers to run to sea to safeguard the future of the fisheries. As mentioned in the piece below there are changes ahead, one being the trees that can be seen in the three shots are all threatened by disease and climate change. The ash just showing on the lefthand side of the first shot already has die back and will be lost. The ash beside the hatches that can be seen in all three photos remains healthy and it will be interesting to see how long it stays that way. The tangled mess of polar, chestnut and London plane i the middle shot will hopefully soon be sorted out and made safe. It really is an ugly job for the Treemenders as the tops have to be taken down bit by bit to ensure the rotting timber does fall on passing anglers. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will get back to a pollarded horse chestnut that will once more be a safe place to fish that classic Avon swim "Hoodies"
At my age there is nothing quite like looking back to, “How it was done in my day” a bit of nostalgia is good for you. My arse, I bloody hate it, particularly in light of the fact it is my generation that has got us into this environmental pickle. Reviews of the year are all well and good, unfortunately other than one or two lessons learned, hold very little value. Its what's around the corner that matters. There are many side issues such as a coloured old cock salmon that still holds the sea trout record to distract. That actually says more about the rod caught record committee than the fish! Its the influence that you can bring to bear on major issues that will undoubtedly impact on us all that should be the focus of our attentions. Ask what you can do for your river, rather than what your river can do for you, sounds familiar? Real issues such as the extent to which the Environment Act 2021 will improve on the WFD, as promised by the Somerset gnome. That's not the ugly little sucker at the bottom of the garden, more the ugly little fuckers sat on their filthy lucre in Zurich.
Will Section 5 of the act see “Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plans” actually achieve anything in my lifetime? If so they'd better hurry up as I'm no Spring chicken! Will the Secretary of State be up to ensuring the plans are firstly produced by competent authorities, that bring integrity and understanding to the issues. That's not as simple as it may sound, especially if the advice behind the plans is to be produced by the water companies themselves. Probably better the water companies fund the plans and independent agencies and NGO's, with executive powers with regard to what is included, produce them. Will the plans Impose a time frame that has meaning, perhaps more importantly, with significant penalty clauses for failure to meet any such targets? I can already hear the cries of poverty and diverted infrastructure expenditure. I wouldn't mind the resultant enforcement undertaking if I thought the subsequent bonus payments to the water company exec's and share dividends wasn't as a result of the fines avoided. I look forward to seeing the plan for our area completed and published in the near future. Hopefully we won't have to wait until September 22, by which date the legislation states it has to be published.
We've also got the bright, shiny new Agriculture Act 2020, promising to work with farmers to ensure that further desecration of the countryside is prevented and funded properly. That's not desecration that's funded properly, its the measures to prevent it of course! Under ELMs (Environmental Land Management) will we see less winter brown fields as cover crops provide protection for the soil and potentially food for the wild birds? It won't help the ancient grasslands that covered the downs in walking distance of my ancestral home. They disappeared under the plough decades ago and any true reversion to downland seems highly unlikely. Potentially a step in the right direction if its supported in sufficient numbers. Banning winter sown cereal and mono-cultures might also be an option worth considering.
With the new filters being developed for washing machines will the discharge of micro-fibres into our rivers be prevented? Will the extent and implications of this invidious pollution be fully investigated? Alternatively will we see materials made from these previously heralded man made fibres banned or large sanctions placed on their import. Possibly a resurgence in the price of wool to make it once more the valuable product that shaped the South Downs, Salisbury Plain and Cranborne Chase. As opposed to it costing almost as much to get it sheared than the farmer receives for the fleece. Could that once more see those historically important downlands that now go under the plough each year restored to ancient flower rich grasslands? Considerable thought may need to be applied to stocking densities to avoid a return to economics of scale yet under ELMS anything is possible. I know meat is out of favour in the dietary requirements of many in Middle England but what's better, monoculture cereals destroying the soil structure and causing siltation of rivers, or a return to ancient grasslands? Isn't it odd how so many issues are interlinked.
As well as ridding the countryside of the menace of subsidised winter arable perhaps our greatest concern on the rivers is that of pesticides. Under ELMS we are assured we will continue with the EU's efforts to limit the indiscriminate use of herbicides and insecticides we have become accustomed to. With the current government looking to reverse the ban on neonicotinoids for sugar beet growers I fear it's not looking very promising.
Failure to meet the ELMs requirements, losing subsidy payments is perhaps insufficient incentive to adhere to the rules. A significant fine or potential stay at her majesty's pleasure might focus the attention. Whilst inside they could attend environmental workshops with the water company exec's they may well meet!
I suppose we could all go for “re-wilding” and run tourist trips around the place to show the urban population what we do and the yokels that sit on the village wall watching the world go by. Mind you very few yokels can afford a village home any more, accountants, lawyers, media exec's, retired Middle Englanders and second home owners, seem to have the sway these days where rural properties are concerned.
In reality the idea the countryside can be saved by re-wilding on any significant scale is pure nonsense. Unless of course the government intend to nationalise land, in which case anything is feasible. Otherwise land is an asset and has to be managed as such. If outside finance can support the abandonment of the land all well and good, otherwise it has to produce a financial return or rent.
Lots of other issues to get your teeth into if you feel so inclined and its a good idea if you do. The self regulation of the water industry has proven not to work, it requires honest regulators with teeth and an independent over sight. Carbon offsetting, a real alternative or a developers charter? Climate change and how we can adapt to its reality. Short sighted planners and how do Highways England get away with the run-off from the roads entering our rivers without filter?
Having got that lot off my chest I'll stop there. That's quite enough to add to this depressing, grey old weather without sending you all in search of the Prozac. I dare say the aforementioned will crop up many times in the coming year and I bet a good many more will be added to the list. I just hope there are enough of the younger generation, who care, out there to look over the shoulders of those impacting our rivers to keep them honest.
28th December 2021
When you next have occasion to be sat across the table, or on the phone, to someone in the water industry bear in mind the truth behind what you are being told. They are concerned about; antibiotics, microplastics, diffuse pollution, abstraction, nitrates, Tom Cobbly and all, to the extent they will obfuscate, delay, green wash and plead poverty, as long as you are prepared to listen. The water companies are a closed door, hiding behind the regulators, its those self same regulators that have to grow a set and prove they are fit for purpose.
25th December 2021
A lovely Christmas Day with Anne, thankfully recovering from her latest work inflicted injury, family coming and going, the Perfect Day. Strictly has just started, much to Anne's delight, which seems an ideal opportunity to sort out next years diary files and enter the WeBS info. With a glass of good red to help the concentration of course. I should add my congratulations to the James Webb launch team that provided such an unusual tension to the day.
24th December 2021
George has landed this lovely fully scaled before this year but its no hardship to catch her again for Christmas. Well done George, great result and thanks to dad, Nick, for sending through the pic.
I have received from the EA my section 25 that allows me to collect dead salmon for the ongoing salmon research.
Over the coming weeks we are likely to see the salmon kelts being washed up on the gravel bars as they die after the rigours of spawning.
Should you come across any casualties whilst out and about on the river please give me a call and I'll drop by to pick them up.
23rd December 2021
A Christmas Message
I've spent several days recently beside the river, preparing for the salmon season, which is just over a month away. Fear not I will sort out the renewals asap! This has also allowed me plenty of time to keep an eye on how the salmon spawning is progressing. Over the past week or so I have found about a dozen redds with fish actively cutting. Recent days have seen a slowdown yet fish are still moving slowly upstream, I walked beside a small hen today as she negotiated the Trout Stream by-pass channel. I only hope this current rain amounts to sufficient to give the water level a boost and enable the fish that have still to cut a helping hand in reaching their preferred destination.
I was somewhat surprised to see reasonable numbers of fish still cutting with us as I would have thought the rains of October and November would have seen the fish move into the headwaters without any problems. I was also surprised at the water levels in the river after the rains of October and November, the plug seems to have been pulled and the water has all gone. Much of the weed has been stripped away by the earlier floods and the swans adding to the drop in levels. Travelling fish will have trouble negotiating obstructions at the current height.
Recorded by Danny Taylor up at Northend, this is a thirty plus cock fish that would have been the fish of a lifetime when it was fresh upon entering the river. An astonishing fish that sadly is not looking its best, fingers crossed it makes it to the redds and finds a mate to pass on its unique genetics. Although touched with sadness it never fails to amaze that such fish are still to be found in the Avon. Thanks for letting me use the video Dan, much appreciated, see you in the New Year.
Several readers have said that Dan's salmon video above does not open so the second link is a different format that will hopefully solve the problem.
This fish should be a threat to all that enter his domain, “Finny bites your legs” that will be lost on the younger generation of readers. Instead we have a saprolegnia plastered lethargic lump just holding station in the shallows. They will spawn even with a certain amount of this fungus attached, see 18th December 2016, but he definitely is not screaming well being I fear. These incredible multi-sea winter animals suffer the maximum extent of societies indifference. Did the MSW cock fish in the video run the river immediately on reaching the harbour or did he wait in the Lower Stour, as many do before attempting to enter the Avon via the Great Weir? Irrespective of Avon or Stour they enter our river system in the Spring and as I said in a recent post, have to suffer the indignity of the abuse we heap on them. They are the first to arrive in our system and have the longest exposure to high temperatures and all the associated pathogens of aquaculture, agriculture and our own “flood event” STW releases. Then their progress is dependent on sufficient water to negotiate the previously mentioned barriers we stick in their way.
I see we have received the latest update from Knappmill that illustrates the problem of both salmon and our coarse fish when it comes to negotiating barriers. The update points out the chublets and juvenile dace that migrate up our river in their thousands mid Summer. It did not show many large barbel, chub, pike and roach that also naturally migrate many miles upstream during spawning migrations. They are certainly large enough to trigger the counter many being considerably larger than the seatrout and grilse that are counted.
When we were running the hatchery we were continually trying to understand the key to maturation in our stock fish, in an effort to avoid the need of pituitary injections. We kept them in black polythene shaded tanks, reducing light levels in an attempt to simulate natural photo-period. We ran coolers to try and stabilise water temperatures all with the minimum of success. I am sure some wizkid fishery scientist will now tell us where we were going wrong. It has to be remembered that at that time they were still destroying the ecology of the Avon cutting out the weed, frying our fish population with the “big boat survey” and chopping off appendages that had taken millennia to evolve.
Are they safer higher in the catchment or do the reduced flow and exposure to exploitation outweigh any advantages. Lower in the catchment where they have deep and hidden sanctuaries and a greater volume of water to await the autumn floods, if they arrive. Does the pollution burden of the river decrease with the greater volume of water in the lower river, as forest stream with less human impact enter the system. Despite the fwit planners in the National Park trying their best to bugger up the west flowing streams. Or is the additional pollution that enters the river on its way, from the huge trout farms and STWs at Downton, Fordingbridge and Ringwood, to the sea counteract this? If they are waiting in the Lower Stour, STWs at Throop, Wimborne etc still pour shite and chemicals into the water column. They also run back out through the Mudeford run and go back to sea, just how many of these ever re-enter the system we have little data.
A classic example highlighted in the FT today in that most water companies have slashed their infrastructure investment since the 1990s. These cuts have for the most part fallen on the STWs that have seen a reduction in the order of 20% over that period. Does that come as a surprise? What do you think? They should be in prison! It raises all sorts of questions that need to be answered by our regulators.?
I cannot say I was a fan of the previous Labour Party leader yet I have to agree with getting the water Companies out of private ownership. As for inspiring, encouraging and rewarding best practice, pay large bonuses to ALL staff, dependent of course on our rivers being in A1 Condition! As in all aspects of life a balance between idealism and realism has to be reached.
Just keep your fingers crossed we see a rise in water levels to get the remaining fish to the redds.
In the true sense of Christmas may I wish all readers a very happy Christmas and a more peaceful and settle New Year than that we have all endured in the one just past. Take care and I look forward to seeing many of you in the approaching new seasons.
22nd December 2021
This mornings sunrise, the first after the Winter solstice, was cold and bright making the drive to work a joy.
18th December 2021