Not a great deal to write-up but it was good to see the traditional Boxing Day angling trip being upheld in fine fashion with many anglers out on the banks enjoying the mild weather. Results seem to have been variable, I know of two good bags of chub, several good carp with a river fish of over 23 pounds, perch over three and odds and ends of pike but nothing huge that I am aware of. Many of the anglers trotting maggot were plagued by minnows with just odds and ends of grayling, chub, with pleasingly several small roach.
A shot taken through the lens of my polaroids showing two pairs of salmon cutting at Ellingham. The second pair is imemdiately beyond the cutting hen, just below the trailing branches.
Yuletide Greetings and good health to all the readers of the diary. I think Yule Tide is perhaps a more fitting festival for me with my close involvement with Mother Nature and my personal beliefs - which form no part of this blog. I will have plenty to say on more difficult and contentious subjects when I publish the unexpurgated version! To have passed the solstice shortest day is a milestone that I greet with almost tangible relief. If the weather were to change tomorrow I feel we are on the downhill run into Spring. One other pointer to my Yuletide celebration today was the arrival of a Yule Log. The only problem was that it arrived in the hatches at Ibsley and at fifteen feet, by a couple of foot across, it managed to get half way through before slewing sideways and jamming solid. The baulk of timber was in fact the sawn trunk of a birch tree that some kind person up stream had sent me. I here-by withdraw all my earlier seasonal greetings and wishes of well-being towards this individual as I could well have done without the crawling about below the eel stages behind the creaking hatches that clearing the gates involved. If I knew the identity of the person involved I would buy him a pressie of twenty feet of cheap rope to allow him to tether his efforts to the bank.
The unpleasant task of freeing a jammed gate.
Little else of note cropped up today in that I spent the remainder of it avoiding the rain. I now have four days off, to wander as I choose and to look back over the passing year to assess what went well and what lessons were learnt. Musing events of the past year seems a good way to wile away the next hour or two, perhaps with the aid of an "Innis & Gunn"
The overnight rain Wednesday came as a surprise to me, obviously I had failed to watch the weather forecast as I'm told they had managed to get it right. The morning saw the Forest fords brim full and several of the screens and gates on the river were in need of attention to clear them of rubbish. My arrival at the hatches sent the otters scattering into the main channel and hopefully off upstream to the island where they are currently spending their days sleeping off their latest banquet. Judging by the confetti of scales on the bank dace from the side channels appear to have been the dish of the day but with salmon now cutting redds on the shallows I can see a new main coarse soon appearing on the menu. I found three pairs of salmon chasing about on the shallows which is a little surprising as I thought they would have all made the most of the recent rain and disappeared upstream.
A mobile shot showing two of the mob clearing off upstream; two of seven I came across whilst looking for redds yesterday.
The lift in water levels of the last week or two should have seen the salmon reach the headwaters and the traditional spawning sites, hopefully upstream of much of the dubious discharge and leached chemical load. Fish have been running upstream since the start of the rainy period with reports of fish being seen at several weirs as they move through. Oddly it is not a sight we wish to see at the weirs in that a jumping fish is expending energy it could well put to better use doing what comes naturally during spawning. When I have the eight main hatch gates set correctly at Ibsley no fish show, we do however know exactly the route the fish are taking that involves them in the minimum of exertion to get through the controls. Jumping also exposes fish to the risk of illegal exploitation which I hear has been taking place a little further up the valley. Should any readers spot suspicious behaviour on the estate, connected to fish or anything else, please make a note of my mobile number 07836688908 and be sure to give me a ring, it can also be found on the contacts page with emails etc. We can respond quicker than any other body and can be on site in minutes, if you are sure of wrong doing call the police 101. If you are in any way threatened 999 and make sure you inform the call centre you have been threatened. Take registration numbers and photos of the bandits if possible, I should point out most wrong doers seem to have a distinct sense of humour failure when you take their photograph so make sure you do not put yourself at risk.
Setting the gates for ease of passage.
Burgate weir has long been recognised as a spot to watch and photograph jumping salmon, which might point to a problem, possibly rectified with a little thought about gate settings. It's not always possible to get it right as gates set in anticipation of overnight rain or a rising river may not be able to cope with what actually arrives. On arriving in the morning, water and fish may be heading in all direction a situation that is hopefully quickly resolved with the rebalancing of the gates. I get it wrong on occasions and fish have struggled and can be seen attempting to jump the spillway and fish pass. That unfortunately is inevitable when one deals with natural events, the aim is to get it right on as many occasions as possible.
Whilst talking of barriers to passage I have been told that since the gate settings have been altered to ensure the free passage of fish on the Lower test the catches upstream have improved dramatically. Broadlands have landed eighty five fish this season, a catch rate not equalled for decades. It has to be remembered that has taken place in a low flow season so goodness only knows what a catch would have been made under good flow conditions. It also makes one wonder what unhindered passage into the Avon might show us.
I forgot to mention last Sunday was a WeBS count weekend and whilst the valley remains quiet due to the mild conditions I did find the Bewicks grazing along with fifty plus Mutes at Harbridge. It is always good to find them on the survey day as such low numbers are easily missed even if just flying between feeding grounds and roosts. The conditions have allowed the wildfowl to stay in the east and the continental visitors have simply not been forced to vacate eastern Europe and the Netherlands. Waders are similarly still enjoying the seaside all except the Snipe which probably have moved south from the cold weather they have experienced in Scotland and the north of England.
Five Bewicks found during the WeBS count.
One of the highlights of the year for me today when we had a visit from the Western Counties and South Wales Spaniel Club. From as far west as Devon, Cornwall and the West of Wales, working dogs and handlers travel to run in a field trial to be measured against their peers. I always find it a pleasure to watch the dogs work and today was no exception. The trial was a novice class yet the standard was amazingly high with some of the nicest young dogs I have seen for a good many years. To see the excitement of spaniels doing what they do best in quartering the cover, searching scrub and bracken, to flush game is one of the true delights of the countryside. Spaniels are difficult to handle at the best of times and to see their energy and spirit controlled by their handler is a delight. I am fortunate in that my past reputation as being a competent shot gets me an invite to be one of the four guns that accompany the dogs. I am particularly lucky as from the position of a gun stood immediately next to the handler my view of events is as good as it gets.
Moving ground allowing me the time to take a pic of the following field and the judge giving final instructions before the off.
For readers who are unfamiliar with the set-up of a field trial it follows a well established routine whereby each dog is given a number and runs twice in an effort to minimise bad luck and misfortune. Each run is in front of a different judge to ensure no bias and even out scoring differences. Where possible two dogs are running at the same time with even numbers in front of one judge on the left, with odd on the right in front of the other. The handler and judge are closely flanked by two guns, one left one right; hence flanked!! There you have it, gun, dog, handler, judge, gun , gun, dog, handler, judge and gun, all progressing through the cover. Each dog is quartering the ground immediately in front of the handler and their allocated judge. The dog must not miss game in the dense undergrowth and brambles or it means immediate disqualification. On locating and flushing the game the dog must then stand stock still as the guns dispatch the flushed quarry. The control these dogs exhibit to overcome every instinct to chase is wonderful, to stand as a rabbit or pheasants rockets up in front of its nose is a must or again grounds for elimination. As the gun drops the game the dog must continue to stand until such time it is permitted to retrieve on the handlers given signal. This is where the role of the gun becomes quite daunting. If someone has driven for four or five hours to run their dog and the success or failure of their day might be dependent on your ability to shoot straight you feel a definite sense of responsibility to get it right. Of all the various forms of shooting I have been involved with it is without doubt the one where I feel the most pressure. It is with enormous relief when the shot is clean and the game made available for the dog to retrieve. It may be unsighted behind banks of trees or scrub but the dog is then sent to collect its prize. As the deliriously happy dog picks up the game and returns to the nervous handler, hoping for a final clean collect from the dog the guns make safe and watch events unfold. On the handler collecting the game the dog sits as the retrieve is handed to the judge to ensure a clean kill, without damage from the dogs attention. Almost there, in that if the judge is happy having seen sufficient of the dog working the next competitor is called forward. The process is the highest refinement of what takes place throughout the length and breadth of the land in the form of rough shooting, where friends and small syndicates get together to enjoy a days shooting and work their dogs. At the end of the day when all competitors have been in front of both judges and the guns have dispatched the game we arrive at an eventual winner and the places. Those not fortunate enough to have headed the field have hopefully enjoyed the day and seen perhaps a future champion at work, the sausage rolls and mince pies at the prize giving rounded the day off a treat. As the winners collect their prizes minds turn to the open events to come and dreams of the championships; the day has all been part of the learning process for these super young dogs.
A difficult retrieve for a novice.
I should add as reassurance to one or two of the anglers that may have seen us working coverts close by, the guns are all the most experienced shots and well aware of your presence. It is sometimes alarming to hear shotguns at close quarters if you are not familiar with the procedures but fear not you are not in harms way. The first, second and third priority of any gun is safety, even before dropping the flushed game that is so important to the competitors. The gun has total say in when and what he shoots and this is accepted without question by judge and competitors alike. Today's four guns had more than one hundred and fifty years experience with a shotgun under their arm and almost as much shooting over the top of working dogs, which when considered in that light is far more frightening for me than for you!!
With handlers, judges, the field, fellow guns and dogs, all in very close proximity safety is the top priority.
Don't look to me as a seer or forecaster of things to come, I've just read the entry of the 10th when I couldn't see the much needed rain on the horizon. On the 13th I was up to my neck in it and today - ah, what it is to struggle and slip in the mud and splash through the puddles when simply trying to get to the river. Every hoof print is rimmed with mud and full of water and low lying ground awash, I'll be fed up to the back teeth with it if it remains for more than a week or two but at the moment its just wonderful. I'm not alone in finding the wet meadows to my liking with over four hundred Lapwing and possibly double that number of Starlings busy probing the now giving surface for worms and grubs. A wisp of forty seven Snipe rose in squelching harmony from one particular piece of rough ground. Their call is almost the exact sound a Wellington boot makes on being extracted from thick mud. To see such numbers where I have not seen Snipe for over two decades in an area recently cleared of dark, lifeless willow car gives hope for the future. These may be migratory birds and not our breeding population but if they feel the habitat to be to their liking you never know they may just stay to breed.
Forest streams still looking good for the seatrout.
The water in the river remains high and coloured having received a top-up from the rain last night. The Forest streams are back at perfect seatrout running level so any late arrivals should find no difficulty in reaching the headwaters. The arrival of the high water has also seen a great deal of the accumulated silt and detritus scoured from the channel and sent on its way. We are not at levels that see the river spill from the channel into the water meadows, taking the silt with it, which means we will see many slacks and the slower inside bends buried beneath a layer of loose silt and ooze when the water clears. I will settle for a few lost slacks if we continue to have good flow for a further fortnight or three weeks to allow the salmon time to complete their cutting.
The few anglers I have bumped into in recent days have been looking a little lost with the height and colour of a winter river confronting them. Recent benign flows have given a false sense of security, waggler and light stick floats no longer deal with the depth and pull of a full channel. The dace have reappeared once more in runs where we might expect to find them now they feel a little more confident about hiding from the ever attentive eyes of the Heron, Cormorants and Goosander. Once the Avon has some colour to the water my thoughts immediately turn to one fish to the exclusion of all others. I will be keeping a close eye out at last knockings in the hope of spotting the lazy porpoising of the fish that typifies the Avon above all other, the roach. A month or two back in the late summer I spotted one or two just such backs rolling in the tail of a glassy glide. As soon as time permits I will dust off the gear, purchase a loaf of Tesco's finest medium sliced steamed bread and go in pursuit of an Avon legend. It has to be Tesco's finest as they happen to be nearest and sadly the finest sliced bread ever produced in the form of Mothers pride is no longer available. I often wonder if the disappearance of Mothers Pride from the shelves and the decline of Avon roach might not be mysteriously interlinked??? I spent twenty years pinching the wonderfully inedible, glutinous, malleable sheeting to size ten and twelve round bends and landed some of the most amazing fish. I look back at them now in a sense of disbelief to think that I landed such catches of two and even three pound fish. I must admit to not being overly confident as recent years have been a disaster for such fish but try I will and enjoy the attempt even if the rewards take on a chubbier appearance as they slip over the rim of the landing net.
On my way home this evening, from stopping off to see if "Acker" known and feared by many, had managed to clear a fallen birch tree from Kent lane, I stopped to look over Ibsley Bridge. No, I didn't spot shoals of topping roach, I did however see lots of topping going on. Just below Botney Pool on the road bank sat a pair of otters taking absolutely no notice what so ever of the busy A338 just twenty metres behind them. Not only two on the bank, three others rolling and playing in the channel a little further upstream. The two on the bank slipped into the water to join the others as they passed and all five came rolling, porpoising and diving downstream towards me. I stood looking over the parapet making no attempt to hide still they continued their obviously carefree exercise. They crossed to the bank thirty metres above the bridge and chased some unfortunate fish from its hiding place beneath the small willow that overhangs the stream. The bow wave shot into mid stream with no serious attempt by the mob to give chase. On they came now searching the marginal beds of fool's cress, again with no real intention, they were obviously well fed and not in need of a further meal. They reached the slack beneath the arch furthest from the road where they disappeared for two or three minutes before popping out on the downstream side now play fighting in the cress beds. Two were blatantly aware of my presence making what can best be described as eye contact yet not in the least phased continuing their obviously vital game without a second glance. What ever one might think of otters and the now burgeoning population is causing huge debate in the angling world, they are the most amazing animal to watch diving, twisting and turning in an environment they have so patently mastered. The air layer trapped on their coats gives them the silvered appearance of being part of the water column itself. The water doesn't stop at their side it runs in a continuous sheet over their entire body, they are enveloped. They look part of the water they inhabit, an extension of the stream, a liquid sculpture. If they wish their serpentine rolls and turns do not create disturbance or resistance but become a raised extension of the waters surface, quite incredible. For ten minutes to stand above them and watch their progress downstream and under the bridge certainly brought home the message that they are the apex predator in the river. Nothing that crosses their path is beyond their attention unless they deem it so; there is a very complex debate about the future balance of our rivers ahead.
Poor photographs due to the low light but recording this afternoons meeting with the mob!
Nature seems to have come to the aid of the seatrout in the nick of time. In anticipation of the forecast rain I called in on the Dockens Water on my way home Monday evening in the hope the seatrout would be similarly anticipating the long over due change in the weather. I arrived with twenty minutes of light remaining and the water level as expected desperately low. No sooner were the shallows below the ford in sight when a trout of a couple of pounds could be seen heading determinedly upstream producing a pulsating bow wave in time with the thrashing tail. In the following fifteen minutes a further half dozen trout came splashing past me as I stood in the shallows. Nothing huge, fish to four or five pounds, all with one common objective to get as far up into the forest in readiness for the final push to the redds when the flood arrived. They do not have the advantage of the Met Office to let them know when significant rain is on its way but they unfailingly recognise the signals and start their journey in the preceding twenty four hours certain in the knowledge it will arrive. Presumably their knowledge is gleaned from the changes in pressure or signs we no longer recognise. Whatever the triggers its a further example of the mystery and mastery of Nature.
Coloured water in the forest streams.
On dark I left them to it and headed for home back through the lake complex. As I drove between the first and second car parks caught in the headlights stood the magnificent white hart that lives in the surrounding woodland and scrub. Whilst his companions merged into the background, their eyes being the only obvious points of light, his white flanks shone out for all to see. It was with a casual pace he crossed the road only to stop and wait my passing just ten feet from the car. I fear the increasing frequency the fallow deer visits will inevitably see an increase in the number of collisions out on the A338. Two or three roe deer a year meet their end in the mile or so either side of Ellingham crossroads and I expect fallow incidents to rise to that level in the not too distant future. The consequences of hitting a fallow buck as opposed to a roe are significant, hopefully no vehicle occupants will be hurt but cars will no doubt be written off; so locals beware.
Several times during the night I awoke to hear the wind gusting over the roof tops and at speeds that would inevitably bring about tree damage. Sure enough the day started with calls to remove uprooted and broken trees before we could start the planned work of the day. On my way out I drove over the Dockens that was out in the fields, providing the perfect conditions for the seatrout to reach the redds. The now brown and muddy depths gave complete cover for the fish to move through without the slightest trace; I just have to have faith they were there. It will not be until the water drops and clears will we get an opportunity to count the redds and see how successful they were. It was gone nine before I had finished with the wind casualties and found time to call in to check the hatches. Expecting wind blown branches to have blocked the gates I was pleasantly surprised to find them clear. I did spend twenty minutes watching the spillway in the hope of spotting salmon heading upstream without a sighting, hopefully meaning they are tucked up in the pools and deep bends high in the catchment in readiness for the spawning that will take place at the end of the month.
The entry before last I pondered the way our rural lifestyle was changing and how in many instances those changes had not been in the best interests of many of the species that we associate with our farms and woodland. Today as I was rushing between water main turn-off valves, which involved travelling to the northern end of the estate, I had further occasion to consider the plight of our wildlife. As I rattled along the Ilex Drive towards the last of the valves I spotted a scene that brought all my concerns as to the direction our countryside is heading into sharp focus. I slowed to watch Robert Sampson, who farms the land, ploughing with a team of four of his Percheron horses. Robert still does a great deal of his farming with the horses and this practice of by-gone years has a further connection with our past in that the land around his farm is rich in bird life. A dozen Pied wagtails were in the furrow immediately behind the plough and in the stubble of the field next to where Robert was working were feeding over one hundred and forty Linnets, two dozen Skylarks and numerous Meadow pipits. In the field across the way where the ponies enjoy their extra feed, twelve Yellowhammer, four Reed bunting plus numerous Chaffinch searched through the remaining chaff for seeds collected when it was baled back in the summer . Add over one thousand Jackdaws and several hundred Rooks, a Buzzard or two and earlier in the year one hundred plus House sparrows and you can see the farm supports a very dynamic bird population.
A beautiful picture which perfectly captures man’s involvement with the earth. Robert watching the the soil curl away from the mouldboard, as he has watched a million times before, ensuring a clean, straight furrow. The rear pair with their ears on their master waiting his instruction, the nearest old hand looking to see what I'm up to hoping for a break in the routine whilst the other letting everyone know what a good looking chap he is. The connection of the harness back through the plough to the soil is almost tangible, Robert, controlling all through the reins completing the triangle is a master class in connectivity.
Now comes the rub in that Roberts method of farming probably accounts for less than one in ten thousand of today's farms. Elsewhere on the estate we have advocates of the modern large field mono-cultures, winter cereals, maize, maximised pesticide and herbicide control. This is in general the face of farming today, arable efficiency and livestock intensification with lower biodiversity per acre than can be found in my postage stamp sized garden at home. We are horrified by what we deem ancient and unacceptable practices throughout the Mediterranean where songbirds are trapped for cages and food yet we destroy our native species at a far greater rate. If we are to prevent the continued decline of our birds and butterflies, so painfully highlighted this week in the release of several depressing reports, we are fast running out of time. How do we reach a balance? Is it possible to reach a balance or must we accept the loss of several species? Do we really wish to live in a society that casually dismisses species to the pages of history without so much as a nod in their direction to recognise their passing? See Chris Rea, (The Road to Hell Pt2). What do you imagine the reaction of Joe Public to the plight of the Turtle dove? Or the Yellow hammer, or the Tree sparrow, it doesn't matter what species. A frightening number of caring, intelligent people will not have the slightest inkling of the situation. Others will profess concern, whilst privately acting only if it doesn't involve them in any perceived lowering of their lifestyle or too great an effort. Many can't see the problem which is perhaps the most frightening, ignorance at that level doesn't stop at birds. There is also the group which I feel I probably fit into, which are those that are fully aware but with greater and greater demands of an expanding population, struggling to see a sustainable way forward - that in fact is actually the most frightening!!
A poor shot of the skylarks above the linnets as they rise from the stubble. The second "Time to Share" shows the feed supply so important to the birds as well as the ponies.
What are the keys in how we re-establish our connection with nature? As I say above I don't know! The measures already adopted by the many responsible farmers in the shape of seed and buffer strips, beetle banks and lower stock densities are excellent and in many cases stemming the flow. Continuing to subsidise the greener policies is all well and good where it works but areas such as the Avon valley continue to decline with no upturn in view. What fraction of our countryside is sustainably farmed? I would fear to see the figure; just how dependent they are on the whim of a government minister borders on terrifying. My gut instinct tells me we need to work on the principle that the polluter pays and those that have the most adverse impact should pay to implement mitigation policies. The obvious approach with conservation levies on winter cereal varieties, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and out of catchment abstractions might be a good place to start. Trying to get such a bill past the NFU, chemical company lobby and the water companies looks about a likely to survive as the Turtle dove which is all desperately confusing.
A cold start to the day.
That was most definitely a taste of winter, being one of the first real frosts we have experienced this autumn. Hopefully this will reset the clock and start the process of winter cleansing the river so desperately needs. I can't see our much needed rain on the horizon but I'm back to feeling a little more optimistic about Mother Nature's ability to balance the seasons.
How different two frozen puddles within one hundred metres of each other can be.
Coprinus atramentarius, Ink Caps suffering from the cold.
The reason I included the fungi shot is as a reminder to me to pay more attention as last week I missed a fungi shot I have long looked for. I watched in dismay as the most vivid and symetrical "Red Cage" Crathrus ruber disappeared under the wheels of the digger as I realised just too late it wasn't a plastic ball. It just goes to show fish are not the only subject of the one that got away.
My new mouse has arrived and touch wood things have taken a definite turn for the better and I will hopefully will have caught up and be back in full swing in a day or two.
I must just get underway with the events of Wednesday morning in that in recent weeks having been starved of my regular visits to the river, I decided I would walk the lower half of the fishery. Ellingham to Ringwood east bank and back north, on the west or right bank. Leaving the truck in the Ellingham car park the first thing I spotted was that the carrier was down with the barest trickle running through the gates into the hatch pool. Obviously somewhere upstream was a blockage that required removing. I had made up my mind to walk the lower fishery and determined to continue despite the need for urgent clearing work. I made a mental note to put channel clearing as the next job and set off south, down the path beside the first Ellingham phragmites bed leading to Pile Pool. As I cleared the reeds one unexpected implication of the low water were two Water rail on the margin of the reduced channel, well beyond the cover of the reeds where they spend most of their time. The reeds no longer stood in water, providing easy pickings, they had to risk exposure to predators to follow the receding shore line. My appearance put both in flight as they shrieked their fright and disappeared into the sanctuary of the stems.
Ron's memorial seat looked inviting but hard to justify today; perhaps a couple of hours on a summer Sunday mornings with a good book to be added to the wish list. The concrete revetment added by my predecessor which I have irreverently named "Jonsey's Quay" has collapsed into the river in a further section, hopefully making the mink that inhabit the concrete honeycomb homeless. I actually doubt many mink are in residence these days as there is a well worn otter slide into the carrier that runs parallel, evidence of a regular visitor who will not tolerate our American interlopers.
Over the style beside the last carrier hatch gate and a glance back to the main channel, at the tail of Pile pool showed the inverted canoe that has been acting as a scour board for the last year has moved twenty or thirty metres downstream. Whilst hardly the most aesthetically pleasing object the unplanned arrival and unaided fixed position of the craft seemed an action of fate requiring that I do not interfere and let nature determine events. Insufficient water to support our make shift deflector seems to be rolling it free to begin the next stage of its curious journey which I will follow with interest.
The high free-board on the run in to Park Pool has seen the unsupported banks collapse adding to the clay boulders cluttering the head of the pool. The salmon lie that historically occupied this spot has long since been buried under the clay, hopefully to reappear when the gravel is cleaned at some future date; always assuming we still have Avon salmon. The large bay, park side of the pool, is a glistening expanse of mud with a Green sand piper and three Teal watching my progress down the opposite bank with almost visible frustration as they were forced to forego their breakfast. The resident pair of Mute Swans were grazing on the corner of the pool but they had no intention of abandoning their meal, a hiss of displeasure as I insisted he at least move to let me pass was the only reaction.
Just downstream the inlet pipe from the carrier was a foot clear of the water creating a cascade of bubbles to swirl away in the current to join me on my downstream progress. The shallows above Comber where I thought I might spot a seatrout or two gathering in readiness for spawning only gave rise to three Goosander busily working the gravel and weed for their breakfast. Looking decidedly miffed about my appearance they begrudgingly rattled off upstream flying by within twenty feet of me the two drakes looking remarkably smart in their contrasting plumage.
Three of twenty four Goosander disturbed in three miles of the Hampshire Avon. That works out at eight a mile and with approximately thirty miles from Salisbury to the coast in the region of one hundred birds that specialise in feeding on salmonid rifle habitat impacting on the EU designated Salmo salar of the Hampshire Avon; well done Natural England.
Comber Pool looked inviting with the deep glides and overhanging cover. The summer had seen a resident shoal of barbel at the head of the pool providing good sport with specimens to high thirteen. Finding that fish at the end of the season might produce a fish of a lifetime for some lucky angler. With so much of this pool beyond examination there must be a monster chub or two lurking in those dark, secret places. From here south for the next mile and a half is very lightly fished yet is the home of some of the largest fish I have seen on the estate. Some of those classic chub swims produce an almost physical ache they look so tempting. The tail of the pool rises to be joined by the entrance channel to an old oxbow. A quiet approach and the briefest glimpse of two perch as they drift into the cover of the reed stems growing in the channel. The majority of the reed and sedge beds of the two Ox-bow fry refuges constructed by the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust are now high and dry, awaiting the floods to play their vital role in affording sanctuary to the juveniles saving them from being swept away; when and if the water eventually arrives this winter. Last winter saw the Bittern making the most of the cover and rich feeding provided by the ox-bows. I am told he has been seen gliding over the nearby meadows between the carrier and the oxbows in the last week or two. Lets hope I get to spot him before too long I always find their presence has an air of mystery attached, probably due to their secretive ways but whatever the reason always a welcome sight.
Mackenzie's, named after one of my predecessors author of memoirs of a Ghillie, just like Comber has the look of magical Avon chub country. We are becoming blasé about Avon chub looking on four pounders as very ordinary with five pounders as run of the mill, the pursuit of sevens and eights is a game for those with more time available than I can manage. I am quite happy with a brace of good looking fish that don't require breathless weighing just the opportunity to walk this water with the rods is sufficient objective for me at the moment. As I cleared the bend below Mackenzie's two Cormorants drying on the dead Alders beside the Penmeade carrier spotted me and rapidly departed. My shoot to scare policy has them in a very jumpy mood to the point I'm sure they know the registration of my truck as the sight of it immediately brings about a very rapid exit stage left. I must get those dead Alders, a result of the phytophthora fungus rampant in the valley, felled as they provide too convenient a perch. The path now brought me to Sydney Pool with its long overgrown far bank screaming roach and Penmeade where the Penmeade carriers rejoins. These two pools are perhaps the most under rated section on the estate. In years gone by I have watched shoals of roach spawning on the fontinalis attached to the drowned trees above the cattle drink, yet never seen or heard of one being landed from this section. I have seen the largest barbel I have seen on the estate, certainly one that has never graced the bank in that area. Others have told me of vast chub and bold perch yet catch reports remain sketchy. The Penmeade carrier itself I have never seen any one fish. I have seen every species of fish that inhabits the Avon in its pools at various times but never a bait to tempt them. It is one area of the estate I have always thought deserving of some improvement to provide a more varied habitat. One or two deeper pools and slacks to offer cover and character might encourage fish and anglers to make better use of such a fine stream. It did have a large salmon redd last winter and the long riffles would seem ideal for salmonid parr so before we venture down the route of change I think we will have to discover just w hat is making use of the current regime. Penmeade Pool itself, at the confluence, is always a good bet for a pike or two and they don't wait in its shadowy depths if a regular food supply isn't available.
Over the old footbridge, in need of some TLC and down to Blashford Shallows where a further seven Goosander depart having finished a meal of bullheads, salmon and seatrout parr that thrive in this wide riffle. The shallows always provide the salmon with redd sites and with the next week or two I expect to see them arrive and begin their chaotic chasing and fighting. This time last season the shallows were swept clean of weed providing clean and loosened gravel beds to meet their needs. The picture at present remains that of summer with lush ranuculus covering the nuptial bed. For some reason I couldn't account for the island looked drab and unappealing, the tangle of willow and rushes holding little appeal. Its probably that visits to Island Run I associate with the pursuit of salmon in spring flows when high water brings movement and sound to the channel. Exposed mud lacks the magic even if it does provide evidence of our ever growing otter population, the large webbed feet of a dog otter leaving a tracery of prints across the bars. Last night he or more likely his kin removed a fine old carp from the pools at Ibsley. Judging by how clean they left the carcass I think the recently spotted family had more to do with that escapade than the producer of our muddy patterns.
A well covered nuptial bed.
I have to admit cheated at this point and veered away from the main channel to cross the meadow cutting out the large bend across to Ashley but taking me over to the banks of the Dockens Water. I feel I can justify cutting out the half mile of bends in the hope of spotting the seatrout entering the Lower Dockens as by now they must be desperate to get on with their spawning. I walked the four or five hundred metres south past Lifelands copse, where eight of the resident roe watched me pass thinking I was unaware of their presence in the shadows of the scrub. A bow wave departed from the ford that crosses below the wood but I wasn't quick enough to spot the creator; no sign of disturbed gravel so I don't think seatrout were involved. Little else to see in the stream as the reflection prevented examination of the pools and deeper glides. At least the Himalayan balsam that has arrived from upstream to infest this section wasn't visible. It would be nice to think we had it beaten but I fear that may not be the case, its growing season over it has just died back. I bet I will have to be out spraying again next year. As I approached the split oak footbridge, fifty metres above the confluence with the main river, I was hissed and honked at by seven Egyptian Geese grazing in the opposite field. Their black and white wing patches signalled their short flight to what they considered a safe distance where they returned to their feeding leaving me to make my way down the Lifelands beat to Ringwood.
There was more to tell of my morning walk that had now brought me to the ongoing travellers squat at the weir, which left me with very mixed emotions as to their continued presence. I can forgive ignorance, even stupidity but these people are well aware of the implications of their actions and the associated cost to others. They are beneath contempt and those in the ivory towers housing our public departments and local authorities that allow this continued squalor to exist on the banks of the Avon deserve to be sacked, which would seem a good point to stop as I feel my blackened mood has little to offer the reader.
Welcome to Ringwood. Anglers who travel the length and breadth ofthe land to fish the hallowed Hampshire Avon are greated by this sight.
I've updated my bird record in the header for those interested.
I apologise for the lack of entries but I am currently being driven to distraction by the ability of my mouse to cut out as and when it feels inclined; without any apparent justification. Unfortunately until son Jonathan comes to my aid all I can do is clout the thing, which does seem to improve its attention span. I have taken the precaution of ordering a new mouse to replace my five year old companion but I fear the root of the problem may lay a little deeper than the visible symptoms!
Apart from or perhaps due to the frustrations of my computer I think I can best be described as undergoing a crisis of confidence. For one thing my unshakeable faith in Mother Nature to put things right is undergoing severe scrutiny with the array of problems that currently beset her. I am not alone in my doubts as many in the conservation world who laboured under the belief that environmental legislation takes precedence over fiscal or social legislation have been given a sharp jolt into reality. The planning regulations have been given a revamp in the chancellors autumn statement with the powers of the habitats directive and other potentially restrictive requirements being circumvented. Add tax support to the big energy users in industry and the chancellors measures to revitalise manufacturing and the construction industry may have dire consequences for our environment. This situation has been blatantly apparent on our rivers and aquifers; for many years I have long asked the question, "If society had to pay the real cost for its potable water which political party would have the will to enact such legislation". As the Wylye literally disappears down the plug holes of Bath and the Avon down those of Bournemouth and Poole. Both out-of-catchment and a total loss to the Avon catchment and its environment. Sadly just two examples, a fraction of the Avon water that is pumped to all points of the compass at an unknown environmental cost to the valley. Under the new drive by the EA to bring catchment management to the fore I wonder if there will be any real teeth to the policy when out-of-catchment supply comes under the spotlight. What clout will our catchment management teams have if they decide they do not wish to supply water to Fawley refinery or the Poole conurbation? Somehow I believe I know the answer to that question. Such concerns for Mother Nature give rise to a feeling of unease as we head for the new year in the unknown territory of our current low flows.
Clear water, bright gravel and lush ranunculus, looks a beautiful April chalk stream, only problem its December.
There are many people in the countryside at the present time who have significant concerns about the future of rural Britain. To many the countryside is viewed as a backdrop to urban life where the demands, stresses and strains of modern lifestyles can be discharged. Viewed as an add on to urban living, a resource, a leisure amenity, a playground to be exploited as one feels free. The fact the countryside is a working environment in its own right seems to be misunderstood or conveniently forgotten. Many in the countryside have an empathy with Sir David Attenborough recent comments, " People in towns and cities are losing touch with the "realities of the natural world", which is putting the future of the planet at risk" Perhaps Sir David's comments weren't aimed at the UK rural landscape but the belief that those making the decisions in central government in their lofty city towers have little understanding of the implications on the rural environment. Those central government think tanks are not alone in having grave implications for much of our ecology. People within our cities and towns have become insulated from reality, the countryside and food production has become sanitised. Similarly, for good or for bad the financial demands facing the agricultural world make consideration of any associated natural biodiversity very difficult. It is the economy of scale and the unit price that determine the efficiency of production. Large fields can be cultivated more efficiently, large flocks and herds reduce unit production costs. Consideration outside such efficient practices have financial implications that have to be off-set if balance sheets are to remain in the black. Various schemes and incentives try to soften the impact of "progress"; beetle banks, seed strips, buffer strips are in place. Unfortunately the measures all require funding and if a government see fit to cut that budget many such lifelines will disappear overnight.
When the chips are down and the political balance of the government or the economy of the country is at risk environment counts for very little. This is the dilemma that has faced the developing world around the globe for decades as we sit in our western luxury and make demands as to how they utilise their resources. What this does is bring into sharp focus the fact almost all of our countryside and all its native ecology has to live and exist in an environment determined by the demands of society. To try and conserve and protect threatened species outside of that basic principle is not realistic. Isolated reserves and artificially created habitats may stem and slow a decline but without the working countryside as the main supporter of our ecology we will continue to see our native species disappear.
As someone who works in that rural environment I emphasise the, for good or for bad, as I don't think the present state of the countryside speaks very well for those that have enacted the decisions from on high in recent years. Vast monocultures, indiscriminate pesticide and fertilizer application seen as the way ahead if we are to feed the nation. The major players obviously must be the farming community however there are many others that have considerable influence, mineral extraction, water supply, housing development, the leisure industry and highways, to mention just a few. Each have their impact, each eat away and add to the changing face of the rural scene. Pesticides, disturbance, habitat destruction, pollution all come with our demands for a comfortable lifestyle. Just how much of our lifestyle based on a comfortable standard of living can be ethically achieved is the great balancing act no one seems prepared to come to grips with? I'm not talking about the levels of greed recently illustrated by those captains of banking and industry, I'm simply talking about the ability to keep a family warm, fed and dry. Our present population makes demands on the rural regime and Mother Nature that are simply not sustainable.
Back to a more local level on the bird front the Bewicks arrived this weekend, five of them, three adults with two juveniles that spent some time on Blashford meadows before moving onto the river at Park pool. They had a wash and brush up before leaving, heading determinedly south. They may have dropped back in at Blashford but I can't think there is much to attract them to stay at the moment sharing the meadows with 370 Greylags wouldn't seem to have a great deal in its favour. With 124 Canadas on Ibsley and hucklesbrook most of the grazing seems to be spoken for. I've said before it isn't really a surprise that our Bewick population is falling when they can go west to Slimbridge and be fed buckets full of grain every day.
Whilst on the bird activity, I had a report of an Alpine swift that visited us on 1st November at the same pool as the Bewicks used today down on the Lower Park. I only bumped into Alan Minvalla on Friday giving him the opportunity to let me know of his luck. It is late for a UK Alpine visit but Alan was in no doubt having had the bird circling and feeding overhead for ten minutes as he fished Park Pool , noticeably longer wingspan, slower flight, white belly patch all the characteristics. I must say a bird I have never seen and I would dearly have loved to have been there to catch the moment.
A busy few days that seem to have flown by in the blink of an eye and prevented any input to the diary. The later part of the last week saw me busy in the House and at meetings that kept me out of the valley. A superb Beth Hart concert Friday evening, which I hope the diary readers who attended enjoyed as much as we did, was a further distraction. With a family celebration that was good reason for the valley to take a back seat on Saturday, it wasn't until Sunday's WeBS count I got out and about the river to catch up on events.
As with all WeBS days I had to be out before dawn to be in the valley before the birds left their roosts and headed for the feeding grounds. Seven o’clock and I was crossing the ditch behind Ham Island intending to ford the Hucklesbrook heading for our northern boundary. Probably the same otter I had seen last week at the Harbridge inception hatches a hundred metres away on the opposite bank slide off the other end of the plank bridge as I stepped on. Fording the Hucklesbrook was odd in that it involved marching over a dry gravel bar and taking one step to cross the trickle that now constituted the stream. The exposed gravel did at least give me the opportunity to record a pair of Green sandpiper that departed calling to each other as their white rumps disappeared into the the half light of dawn. Immediately beyond the stream what should have been the floated meadow we flood to attract the waders and wildfowl throughout the winter remained bone dry. The record low flows we are currently experiencing mean we don't have the water to shut the gates and raise the water level to cover the meadow. It does mean the cattle remain on the still growing grass, saving valuable feed every day they stay out, every cloud, yada, yada. I was able to take the most direct line across the meadow following the main drain that divides the meadow, usually too deep to wade. As I hurried north the lazy flight of the first early riser leaving the heronry crossed the meadow being blown rapidly east and out of the valley by the strong wind that had risen overnight. As our paths crossed the rising light level allowed the silhouette to change into the pale form of the Great white egret that has visited the valley for several winters as he headed out to the lakes to feed. I watched the form once more become a silhouette in the distance merging once more into the gloom. As I watched emerging from that same gloom, heading in the opposite direction, was the first phalanx of the days Cormorants. The tight formation was struggling against the crosswind following the line of the A338 as they headed inland to feed. The cold overnight blow had pushed more than usual inland, the sooner a return to settled conditions the sooner they can clear off back to sea. Herons now following the same path as the egret making for downstream ditches and what little damp ground they could find. The river provided the expected duck, goose and Mute swan flocks, twenty Little grebe and a couple of Goosander. The Kingfisher and Cettis count was down, not through lack of birds as they were all in evidence last week but I'm sure they had more sense than me and were keeping their heads down out of the now storm force blow. A little extra colour in that I did find nine Little egret feeding on the shallow gravel bars that the low water has exposed on the boundary. Not the most exciting dawn patrol basically through lack of water. I think we will need to see the river out in the meadows to attract the waders and duck that make winter in the valley so vibrant. As if to prove a point as I reached the boundary a mile and a half from the car I turned to see the approaching front of torrential rain blotting out the view. Two minutes and I was engulfed, buffeted and soaked; ten minutes later as my personal shower departed north, the wind dropped and the sun sheepishly peeped over the high oaks beside the road. I think a cup of tea and breakfast took on disproportionate appeal requiring my immediately heading for home and a break. Should any reader have an interest in an overview of the state of the country's birds the 2011 info has just been released. The simplest way to find it is to Google SUKB2011 or get it from the rspb site; its worth a look.
Depressingly low water levels exposing gravel and stranding weed on the shallows.
Fortified with a cup of Twinings finest Classic Pure I was heading back to the river at Blashford, chatting with the night anglers on the lakes as I went. Not a great deal of excitement on the still water angling front at the moment, still one or two large carp and the bream continue to oblige. No great shape to the catches as the fish struggle to make sense of the confusing change of seasons we are experiencing. I headed out across the carrier toward the shallows upstream of Blashford Island, more out of interest to see the state of the flow at the midway point between controls than what birds might be in residence. When I reached the river the shallows looked a sad sight, great clumps of Fools cress lay stranded like a colony of hauled out seals on a west coast beach. Not the prettiest of sights and other than a pair of Egyptian geese that hissed a greeting and repositioned themselves in the middle of the field not a lot on the bird front as compensation. A move to Ibsley produced anglers that had managed to catch two barbel and three chub which was at least positive. I only met one other angler who had intended to target the dace, which had been producing such large bags up until a couple of weeks ago and that now appear to have disappeared. I still have no idea where they have gone, how thousands and thousands of fish can disappear so completely is a real mystery to me. What they have left in their wake are several theories as to where they might have gone; side streams to spawn, under the marginal weed, eaten by the Cormorants, eaten by the otters but no proof. To add to the puzzle they will almost certainly be back before the end of the season and definitely be back next autumn. Should anyone come across them in the their travels I would appreciate a call as the annual disappearance is losing its charm.
I discovered a very unexpected result of our mild autumn this week when we were opening up the wood panelling to inspect the winding gear on the gallery shutters. The particular shutter in question was sticking and as we couldn't find anything wrong with the runners, guides and hinges had resorted to opening up the winding gear housing. As my colleague opened the front panel and began to lift it free to pass down to me waiting below we were greeted by the sight of a large, in fact very large wasps nest. By mid November we might expect the wasps to have died off and just a remnant of brood in the nest. The young queens that would start next years colonies would have left seeking safe places to hibernate through the coming cold weather. With that thought in mind I collected a couple of dustbin liners, torch and scrapers climbing the ladder with the intention of scraping the old nest into a black bag for disposal. Purely out of habit I gave the nest a tap with the scraper before setting to and removing it. In answer to my tap came a deep throbbing hum that could only have been made by an extremely large number of wasps. Suffice to say a change of tactics was called for.
A very large wasps nest, it was actually over three feet across, they had gained access alongside the creeper tendrils that had forced their way into the winding gear housing. A close up of the papier mache construction of the nest.
My high Jackdaw count this week provides food for thought regarding much that is being attempted in the valley in trying to increase the breeding wader numbers. The sight of a flock of Jackdaws exceeding a thousand birds leads to the inevitable question just where are all the holes that such a large number of birds require to build their nests? Certainly nest boxes that we have erected in the past with the intention of encouraging Barn owls and Kestrels have all been occupied by Jackdaws at various times. Just how many natural nest sights that would have previously been occupied by Barn owls, Little owls, Kestrels and Starlings are no longer available having a Jackdaw as the sitting tenant. I mention Starlings as a particular favourite of mine that seem to have disappeared from our more rural locations. Oddly enough the two sites I am aware of away from the buildings and towns have been occupied for many years by the same pairs, or their offspring, showing an amazing site fidelity. Back to the Jackdaws and the most threatening part of the equation posed by such numbers, that of predation. I believe the work by the Game Conservancy Trust has shown jackdaws to be linked to the high predation of Lapwing eggs in the valley. Its not really surprising when you consider the Jackdaw is a corvid and corvids do enjoy eggs. All too often these days almost every field you glance into seems to have a couple of pairs of Jackdaws quietly pecking about in it. We take them for granted, just part of the natural scene, the increase in their numbers however has inevitable adverse effects on others. All the corvids have enjoyed enormous increases in population in recent years as gamekeepers no longer persecute them with letter box traps and shooting as was the case in years past. S I have spoken of previously the bought in six week old pheasant poult has done away with the need to control the majority of vermin. The old saying if you see more than two Crows they are Rooks no longer appears to have any truth to it, Carrion crows now go about in flocks of several hundreds in places. The impact of these burgeoning numbers has much to do with the breeding wader collapse in the valley and I for one see little chance of that balance ever being evened up.
A rather poor photo of a Starling taken by my turning around at the seat from which I type this and taking it through the double glassing of our living room window. Now rare nesting in our countryside but thankfully making a comeback in towns. .
The first Bittern of the winter has shown up over on the Blashford reserve, it will be interesting to see if we get the numbers that were present in the valley last year? We had at least a dozen birds in the valley and possibly as many as fifteen last winter. These birds are continental visitors or from the Norfolk Broads arriving in the south to enjoy the benefits of our milder winters. With such high number of migrants if we can manage to get the habitat to their liking it would be nice to think that one or two will eventually stay to nest in our reed beds.
Sunday morning I went out to cut some willow for the local junior school. As a result of my activities with the chainsaw last winter there was plenty of willow regrowth but not of the pliable osier varieties most of ours being Crack of Grey willow which by its very nature isn't the best for wicker work. I knew of a couple of well sprouted stools that might fit the purpose and headed for Edward's pool to see what could be discovered. As I arrived at the pool the first sound that caught my attention were the otters, out on the island squeaking their warnings of my presence. I watched as they disappeared into the phragmites bed before I set about trimming a small section of last Springs layering in order to make it thicken out to provide a dense screen and provide me with some withies for the school. An hour of cutting and I felt the need to straighten the back so decided on a walk out the the end of the point to check on the progress of the two large pollards that we had cut back last year. As I cleared the edge of the phragmites bed that screened the far bank I was hailed by Andy Browne from Avon Tackle, fishing the drop off from one of the traditional salmon spawning sites. Andy told me of several coloured fish crashing about in the pool with one particularly large specimen hopefully an encouraging sign for the fast approaching spawning season. The fishing had been reasonable with a brace of Avon bream and a barbel considering the low water, misty morning and he also had the otters in his swim earlier that was reasonable start to the day. Five minutes to catch up on the news and I headed out to the end of the point to what now must be one of the finest swims on the river. Its a swim that has barbel to fourteen pounds, chub way up there to eight and some magical perch. Add the salmon, big bream, large pike, historically even some classic roach and you have the swim of swims. The problem with this swim is that it is on a count down to oblivion. The point is the end of an extremely tight meander where the Avon actually flows north for a short distance. The inevitable consequence of these meanders is that they eventually cut through at the narrow neck creating ox bow lakes and the particular meander that currently supports this swim has very little time left.
The rapidly sprouting pollard providing shade and safe angler cover for a classic Avon swim. The view across the lake looked well as I made my way across the estate Sunday morning.
I suppose we could arrange to reinforce the bank and prevent or delay the inevitable break-through but I'm not sure that is in the best long term interest of the river. I had previously planted pollards in an effort to do just that by what is termed soft engineering. The recent rethink related to the increasingly enclosed nature of the valley caused me to reconsider this idea and but for half a dozen pollards left as cover for the fish the vast majority went with the recent clearing exercise. My Sunday morning walk convinced me removing them was the correct decision. Despite only one year to recover from the clearance the bank is looking well with numerous nooks and crannies to provide fishing opportunities and a more fish and wildlife friendly environment. When the river finally wins the day and breaks through we will be left with an island and a backwater to provide safe haven for the juvenile fish population saving them from the downstream scouring they currently risk. The swims we lose will reform close at hand and we will gain a year or two of new slack water swims before silt and reeds win that particular battle; leaving a reed bed to be in turn filled with the rattling sounds of the Reed and Sedge warblers. Fingers crossed we may also hear the booming of that Bittern I mentioned earlier.
Paul Greenacre playing one of five pike to twelve pounds landed in a couple of hour session with the lure rod this afternoon.
A day that involved several different jobs requiring much rushing to and fro and not a great deal to show for my efforts. A visit to the hatches at first light provided me with an hour of heavy labour as the Fools cress has continued to break free attempting to block my gates again. Today the cress had been joined by several good clumps of elodea that has also broken free from the silt that has anchored it to the bed throughout the summer. The weed is dying back where ever you look, all we need now is the flush to chase it on its way.
Ensure the road grading was under way, as the gravel roads had suffered badly in recent weeks making driving a very bumpy nightmare. Grass cutting almost finished, clearing the scruffy growth from the base of the specimen trees in the park in-hand and the electrician in to wire the new workshop to be met. I looked in on the tree work at Ibsley which is progressing well, pleasingly on schedule; hopefully only requiring one more day of traffic control on the A338. The problem with mature trees, just as with the MOT on your car, as soon as you finish your inspection it is out of date. A little further along the road from the willow work at Ibsley a three stemmed lime tree that looked sound when I visited back in the summer has decided to drop one trunk and develop an extremely unpleasant split between the remaining two. Its fate is decided, growing where it does, close to the main road, it will have to come out. With the contractors on site hopefully it can leap frog up the urgent action required list and be felled before it causes further problems.
Tree inspection over I had to head back to the house for a couple of hours in the art gallery trying to fathom out how the original builders had managed to construct elements of the room that defied conventional thinking. I find unravelling the problems and in doing so witnessing the quality and skill of those that put the mansion together fascinating. Materials and labour were obviously not in short supply and seeing the plaster finish on walls and ceilings that were never to see the light of day is example of this high specification. The bricklayers must have been craftsmen of the highest order to see the fine vaults and arches is nothing short of amazing, wonderfully skilled men. The locally made bricks held together by lime mortar produced from the chalk of Salisbury Plain, slacked and mixed on site is a lesson in the sustainable local communities that existed at the time. How we managed to lose that sustainable balance and come to rely on the global community we currently enjoy is a further area of fascination and amazement for me!
The richly coloured fine brickwork as a backdrop to this fellow on the outer gallery wall.
Way ahead in the gallery determined I had a brief meeting in the office before grabbing the wheel on a stick and departing to measure the area of road surface I have to renew. Difficult road, steep and narrow with springs breaking through from the perched water table laying beneath the gravel plateau at the top of the hill. Lots of headaches, lots of expensive drainage, lots of expensive foundations, it'll take some time to work out the way we go on this one. Measurements done I had to collect some water meter readings in an attempt to discover from where in the ten miles of main supplying the estate we were losing water. Readings collected, to be worked through later, a quick visit to the middle reaches of the carriers was required to ensure the cleared hatches of recent days had allowed the duck splashes to refill properly. I arrived below the lakes intending to park and walk out across the meadows only to find a large willow had fallen blocking the entrance to the field. The next hour was spent cutting and clearing away the tree not leaving time for a visit to the carriers as I wanted to drop in at Ibsley to see how work had progressed. Arriving at Ibsley Alan and John were looking for the dace, without much luck as it would appear the dace have moved. Dace are renown for their ability to disappear, why they feel it necessary to do this and just where they go we have no idea. Hopefully someone will drop on them in the not too distant future and normal service will resume.
A further day on the willow had been productive fingers crossed the job will be done and dusted tomorrow. As I drove back across the estate the cloud like flocks of Jackdaws were wheeling above the Park as they gathered before heading to the roost over at Plumley. Rooks were circling lower, over the maize game crops where they have been greedily feeding, gradually rising to join the Jackdaws. With the low light in the west and the flocks yet to join up it gave me an opportunity to take a couple of shots to do a digital count when I got home which is where I was now heading.
Looking back from Ibsley bridge towards Harbridge Church at 09:30 this morning; can you spot the birdie?
I think it was John Yetton who told me he had seen eleven Wrens entering a similar section of pipe close by at dusk. It is a recognised habit of Wrens to join together in communal roosts but what a Blue tit was doing flying in at 09:30 in the morning I don't know?
The number of Jackdaws 1677, Rooks 223 that's quite some roost!
Making the most of the dry weather I have been blowing the fallen leaves from the areas of newly planted grass seed on the recently cleared road cutting. If the leaves remain as a carpet, covering the seedlings and starving them of light, they will die and our sandy soil will be washed away when the rains do eventually arrive. In most instances we have to take what nature deals us, particularly with regard to the weather, but we can always do our best to work with it and being adaptable is definitely the key to that. The fact the grass keeps growing due to this mild weather has implications in several ways. Whilst we no longer have to keep the grass beside river pools and bank side paths we do have to keep mowing the formal lawns and park land close to the house. This eats into time we would normally allocate to the tree work and stream maintenance and l had failed to visit the hatches on one of the carriers for ten days and today paid dearly for neglecting them. I knew I was in trouble when the keeper told me one of the duck splashes had drained down and the feeder channel seemed to be lower than normal. That could only be due to the hatches upstream being blocked. With crossed fingers I headed for the inception hatches right at the top of the system, hoping it would be a simple weed festoon branch which could be removed with a little brute force. It was certainly blocked, my worse fears were realised and it turned out to be huge mats of Fools Cress that have been dying back and tearing free from the banks in recent weeks. If you don't visit on an almost daily basis the weight of weed builds up and becomes a solid block and this was a classic example. The task of clearing this first set of gates would be down to hours of chopping, cutting and pulling and I knew the gates downstream would be similarly choked or would be as the cleared weed from the tops gates made its way down the channel.
A well blocked hatch, the only way to clear it being to don the waders and get stuck-in. The compacted weed is solid from top to bottom and has to be chopped out piece by piece. Unfortunately the carrier is full of Fools cress waiting to break free, I will have to have a word with those involved to ensure it is not permitted to build up to such an extent next year.
One other activity that also got under way today was the removal of the dangerous willows at Ibsley beside the A338. I must say I am pleased to see the work eventually started as the risk posed by these trees was becoming a constant headache. The team of tree surgeons certainly made a good start and several of the dangerous tops were down on the ground by the end of play today. To see the climbers working the tops made me appreciate that it was contractors and not down to an in-house operation to deal with the problem trees. The tight health and safety requirements of tree work these days have definitely made such operations a much improved working environment but its most definitely a young man’s job to work the tops.
Ibsley will look different when you next visit. Unfortunately this was unavoidable as the willows had become old and dangerous dropping limbs onto the A338
English Oak Quercus robar.
The first of my tree entries; just where to start is the problem when it comes to explaining how exactly trees fit into my working environment? There are several species that contrive to add to my ever lasting list of “to do's”; Pine, Fir, Willow, Alder, Chestnuts and Ash. Add the individual specimens in the parks; Acacia, Liriodendron, Ginko, Limes, Yew and Maples and I have quite a list to consider.
Having said that in reality there is only one tree that can possibly take on the role of the most important and demanding and that is the English oak. There are several other varieties that insist on attention, Scarlet, Holm, Turkey, Pin, Sessile but the one that stands above all must be Quercus robar. I have to deal with the dead and dangerous, decide on the ones that will go for timber and those that will go into the seasoning stacks for eventual inclusion in the log shed. Whilst huge Oaks standing immovably in the landscape encapsulate for many the English countryside; they epitomise all that is solid, unchanging and as such reassuring. For those who maintain them there is a far more practical side to there presence, as was the case with the great Elms that stood in the hedge lines, they are not as unchanging or immovable as their appearance may suggest.
Just like us they get old and weather beaten and bits start to fall off at an ever increasing rate. If left to their own devices and people stay away from them Nature takes its course and the tree moves through the process of ageing and decay providing the homes and food for countless creatures. Unfortunately people are their own worse enemies and will not stay away from them and in the litigious time we live our Nanny State has decreed that the responsibility for the behaviour of the foolish and ignorant lies with the landowner. Here in lies the end of the natural process, the wheels are in motion to bring any tree likely to give rise to a problem to an abrupt end. In these days of raised responsibility and astute business urgency in the rural world the equation that decides this is not the ecological benefits weighed against the risk to Joe public but the cost of felling, disposal and timber value weighed against the likelihood of litigation. There are few financial benefits from having large trees stood about on agricultural land, they restrict light and use vital nutrients, thus growth of crops is restricted. They also get in the way of super efficient modern ploughs, presses, drills, booms and harvesters. Once a health and safety risk is identified the plight of the bat and the owl come a poor second to the risk of being sued and the chainsaws and 360 moves in. What is the future? Bleak, not to put too fine a point on it. With the ever increasing demands for access and income stream diversity on farms, the instances of the public coming into the close proximity of our noble oaks increases; with the inevitable consequences. Fortunately we have several hundred acres of formal parkland that we attempt to maintain in its historic appearance. In the recent past it had been ploughed, fenced and the planting of individual replacement specimen trees had ceased. In the last couple of decades we have taken out the fences and allowed the grassland to revert to ancient pasture, grazed by sheep. We have planted numerous new specimens in an effort to guarantee the existence of the parks long after we have shuffled off. Management remains a time consuming and costly headache but very little worth having comes at zero cost. As an example of our problems, old oaks have an unpleasant habit of self pollarding or dropping huge limbs without warning at the most unexpected times. This odd habit is very often associated with periods of hot dry weather when the tree is unable to find sufficient water to reach the outer most branches of its massive canopy. On calm sunny days a limb that appears in perfect health that may weigh several tons may drop to the ground. If as is often the case on these hot sunny days the shady cover offered by the tree seems an ideal place to wile away ten minutes or keep the car out of the direct sun. The film crew we had using the park on one such occasion were of this mind and it came as quite a surprise when a couple of tons of oak dropped between two of their vehicles. In today's H&S climate we now have to hand out risk assessments and tape off many of our elderly wards Lets hope the demand for access and home grown food doesn't bring about the demise of these beautiful ancient parks.
The Oak avenue on Nea drive. A spreading Holm oak in the Top garden and a problem to be dealt with in the Lower Park.
Having dealt with the most pressing and first priority of oak management today, that of health and safety, the historic primary role of the tree as timber producer comes to the fore. Oak is a wonderful timber as it has strength and durability combined with a beauty that goes from honey yellow to almost black as it ages. Naval requirements for the construction of ships produced an enormous demand for oak timbers giving rise to the name of the tree as the "Wooden walls of England". When you consider that an English war ship of the like of H M S Victory requires in the order of two thousand trees the demand can be appreciated. A by product of the timber production was the fuel wood and the bark for the production of tannin used in the leather tanning industry. The removal involved the use of a "bark spud" just how it came by that name I have no idea but I do have a spud! Inherited from my fathers museum and now occupying a section of my book shelf, why I don't know, I just can't bear to throw it out. The Avon had its own tannery at Downton that was producing hides up until very recent times before being converted to luxury apartments. Many readers may know of the Tannery stretch more for its classic Avon roach fishing as the shoals used to hold there in the winter providing wonderful sport. To produce the oak for the estates needs there are several woods that were planted specifically with that purpose in mind. We continue to plant oak and hardwoods to ensure the continuity of the process as in the case of oak for timber purposes we may be looking at over one hundred and fifty years before the tree is ready to fell. It is these oak woods in there varied stages of maturity that provide such wonderful habitat for countless creatures. To list the species that can be found in an oak wood would be a major task in itself. The tawny owl, Jay, Wood pigeon, Nuthatch and Treecreeper are the birds that signify oak woodland for me. The squirrel, roe, fox, bat and Badger the mammals, add countless numbers of butterflies and other invertebrates and the picture begins to build into a very rich tapestry. What has to be remembered is that the oaks in the wood are a crop and as such have to be harvested. If done in a sympathetic and patchwork manner the ecology need not suffer and is in many instances is enriched as clearings and supplies of sawdust and dead wood are to the benefit of many plants and invertebrates. The gnarled specimens of low timber value are left for the woodland creatures to utilise and the new planting will ensure the wood will outlive us.
Oak woods at Lionsground. Felling and converting timber.
The stage where we have a tree that has been chosen for timber felled and on the ground is the first of many steps before we arrive at the timber we require. If we are seeking to use the timber in its green state, before it has been seasoned, we simply trim off the top wood, clean the stick (trunk) in readiness for immediate transport to the sawmill or mobile bench for converting into the planks we require by simply running the stick through flat sawn. This takes little heed of the grain and the stresses that the drying wood will endure the subsequent twisting and splitting being accepted as part of the construction technique. Green oak has a multitude of uses, timber framed buildings, river bridges, styles and fences there is always a demand and always more jobs than we have timber. On the rare occasions we have been asked or have a particularly fine specimen we may decide to season the wood in one of the barns to produce varying grades of wood for differing end purposes. Moisture content on some building timber may be reduced to avoid the worst excesses of the green timber or we may seek to produce timber for cabinet making fine furniture requiring much tighter control of the conversion and seasoning. The Flat cut through and through conversion is replaced with the rift sawn or quarter sawn conversion, producing finer, straighter grained timber and exposing the medullary rays for decorative effect. Air drying such timber requires close attention to ensure splitting and warping is avoided and the moisture leaves the timber in as evenly as possible. With oak a simple rule of thumb is that it dries at an inch a year obviously humidity at the point of stacking determines the exact timing but it cannot be rushed. Each plank is separated by batten to allow for the free circulation of air and the ends are painted or pinned with plastic strip to reduce excessive moisture loss through the end grain. The stack may be taken down and rebuilt on several occasions in an attempt to allow even control and avoid warping. With considerable effort and a measure of luck the end result is a straight dry plank or baulk ready for the cabinet maker or master builder.
A large oak stick being readied for transporting to the mill. A very large oak over 8m circinference with ivy almost two metres circumference well attached. The result of age and ganoderma fungus.
The sawmill, no longer in use. the four foot inset plate was pretty scary if it took on a wobble! A "Spud" for removing the bark to produce tannin and a shed full of dry, seasoned cord wood ready for splitting into logs for the House.
The top wood that is to become the logwood that is burnt in the house has now to be crosscut into cord wood of handleable lengths and stacked to begin the drying process. Logs for the house have to be seasoned to avoid the build up of soot in the chimneys and perhaps most importantly don't spit and spark when they sit in the open grates. Sparks do not sit well when the fires are surrounded by great artworks, carpets and fine furniture. Oak, along with ash and beech provide us with ninety percent of the logs and once they have seasoned for two years the cord wood is split for a third year under cover before finally going through the sawbench to produce the finished log for the house. Even the humble log has more to it than first glance may suggest.
Taff our Jack standing on large Ganoderma brackets whilst looking for a mink in the hollow tree. A green oak foot bridge at Blashford over the Woodside carrier.
A glimpse into the life of an oak on the estate. Its a story that can be added to when time allows and to that end I will put this entry on the articles page to permit easy access. The need for such entries apart from the pleasure I get in writing my blog is to allay the fears of many who see me arrive on the scene clutching a chainsaw or timber tape. Our actions are well considered and thoroughly thought through. Our felling has been licensed or consented by the relevant regulatory authorities and invariably just like Baldrick, we do have a plan!
Finally a magnificent refectory dining table in the Gunroom at Somerley built from an estate oak lost in the gales of 1988.
As I sit writing this entry for the diary it is pouring down outside, a more welcome sound is difficult to imagine at the moment, it does however provide a natural link to hatches and the present state of setting. I'm not exactly sure where I left you with regard to the state of the gates? Well I can confirm that I have now once more shut the second gate as the promise of autumn rain to fill the river has again failed to materialise. In an effort to temp fate and bring about a lasting period of rain I will look at the implications of a low flow winter.
If the higher reaches of the river flow rates as low as those recorded in 1976 have been experienced in recent weeks the majority of indicators showing less than fifty percent long-term average. The groundwater is at similarly precarious position with Tilshead, probably the most meaningful site for the Avon, recording exceptionally low levels. If those rivers don't receive sufficient recharge to return them to a state of reasonable flow in the very near future the trout will be frustrated in their efforts to reach the shallows and begin cutting their redds in deeper sections of the channel. Should the rains then arrive and the flow pick up to a more normal rate they risk being scoured from the channel. In the event the flows continue to decline the risk is of the deposition of silt and associated reduced oxygen supply to the eggs. What ever happens time is now becoming critical.
Down in the middle and lower reaches we can exist on these dramatically reduced flows for a further week or two without serious consequences. The water companies will have the stream support measures in full swing, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and several abstractions are reduced or shut down yet we still continue to pump water out of the Avon catchment. I'm afraid I look on "out of catchment supply" totally out of kilter with the ecological needs of the river. I know the scientist will tell us there are no lasting impacts, no lasting impacts that they are aware of at least. Its the old cop out that has cost our rivers so dear "Just following best scientific advice" There's a long list of disasters where the best scientific advice took precedence over common sense I'm afraid. I just find it difficult to equate that a ecosystem that has developed over millennia with a given natural flow is not impacted when the flow is artificially altered. I think political will, or lack of it, actually determines why the supply of potable water continues to be sucked from the aquifers unique to lowland chalk streams. If nothing else the dilution factor of the discharges of the same water companies will be reduced giving us the enriched water that we currently receive. The knock on effects of the changes on our larger sections of river for the most part remain unproven. What I do know is that this river has changed dramatically since I first fished it forty seven years ago. Not all those changes have been for the worse but certainly most remain unexplained. We have no more idea of the delicate chemical balances and symbiotic interactions that are so critical to the life cycles of our river than did Cerdic when he crossed the Avon at Charford in 519 to do battle with the Roman-British.
Enough worrying about such deep concerns, the politics of rivers never makes for the most exhilarating readings. Of a more immediate nature, this morning on my round of the hatches I bumped into Neil Hurren out looking for the dace. Having tried the "banker" swims, that failed to produce a bite, was searching the more unfashionable spots. As we chatted his perseverance was rewarded as he found the shoal and proceeded to catch a dace a cast whilst we chatted. Neil's approach is a lesson to anyone prepared to learn in that he didn't sit hoping the dace would come to him, he went out and found them which is a very satisfying approach to trotting the Avon. On my way back to the estate after lunch I stopped to see how Neil was progressing and found the dace had worn him out and he was on the move again looking for a few perch before heading for the shallows in pursuit of the grayling. I have to say I find the light, mobile approach the finest way to enjoy the river and seeing such fine fishing gave me the incentive I needed to finish the decorating and make plans to get the rods out.
Neil's hiding under that hat somewhere showing off an Avon perch. Not the largest but any Avon perch is a gem and it conveniently came along at the same time as I did with the camera.
Due to the lack of rain and unseasonal high temperatures we may not be seeing the expected arrival of the wildfowl and waders the bird world however is still providing one or two surprises. Today we had a visit from a good sized flock of Crossbills in the larch trees below the estate yard. I was unable to get a good count as I was for the most part unsighted, only hearing their calls as they moved through the tree tops. I did get the occasional glimpse and estimate at least twenty birds hopefully a vanguard of the much larger flocks we have enjoyed in recent years. Two days ago I also recorded the single largest flock of Siskin I have ever seen in the valley. They were feeding on the Alder cones beside the lakes and for such small birds the sound of the flock taking off overhead was quite dramatic. Once in the air I was able to get a pic that allowed me to enlarge it on the computer screen and accurately colour dot the individual birds giving a total of 601 birds. It will not take such numbers long to clear the available seed and I imagine we wont have long to enjoy their presence. It does remind me to get on and set up the niger feeders in readiness for the arrival of the birds in the garden looking for their winter food supply. If we are remarkably lucky we may see a cold snap providing us with a repeat performance of the waxwing invasion.
At this time of year, when ground conditions permit, we get our tree work under way. We are not harvesting any major volume of timber in the foreseeable future leaving us time to deal with our potentially dangerous trees and the work required for ecological and fishery purposes. As I have mentioned in previous entries any trees where the public have access we have a legal obligation to have regularly inspected and take the necessary action to minimise any risk. The problem with trees is that very often they do not behave in the expected fashion; the most ancient, battered specimens standing firm, whilst the symmetrical, balanced apparently sound tree tips over on a sunny, windless day. Obviously no one can ever give a one hundred percent assurance as to the risk posed by any particular tree, all we can do is deal with the sections experiences tells us present a potential problem. To that end I have been meeting the contractors who will deal with the climbing and time consuming blocks of difficult trees. I am too old and long in the tooth to go clambering about in the canopy of trees these days but the remaining fishery and conservation felling will keep me busy for some time. With the trees of the valley taking such a high priority in the months to come I have been looking at the part trees play in my life in general. I will endeavour to add the odd entry to the diary looking at different species or particularly interesting specimens that I come across in my daily routine.
Who's that watching Bramble?
Today I managed to see off one of the tasks that has been niggling me for some weeks in that I finally cleared the last of the regenerated willow on the fenland project at Ibsley. As is the way with willow every twig and branch that makes contact with the soil sprouts roots and springs into life. I was faced with three acres of willow up to six feet high at a density similar to a wheat field that if left to its own devices would revert to willow car within a couple of years. NE were keen for us to graze the area in an effort to control this regen and see if we could get it back to meadow land. Anyone familiar with the area and the difficulties of grazing stock on narrow strips of land bounded by deep water and shared with anglers knows just how impractical that idea was. I was also keen to ensure we retained as much reedbed as possible for the summer migrant breeding warblers, rails etc and the wintering Bittern that have always mad use of the cover provided in this area.
The outflow channel and beds of phragmites looking well. A small pond, discovered when the willow was cleared, with newly established plantlife.
Unfortunately the only alternative is for me to strim the stuff out, hoping that the newly establishing reeds and marginal vegetation will eventually win the day and deprive the willow of the necessary light to grow. The area has now enjoyed its first full growing season since we cleared the site back in February. I have written previously of how delighted I have been with the recovery of the site and the speed at which the natural world has healed the wounds and hidden the scars left by our work. The extent at which the exposed outflow channels from the lakes changed from dark, leaf filled, anaerobic, black mud filled ditches into clear flowing channels rich in flora and fauna has far exceeded my most optimistic forecasts. The channels have been full of fry and juvenile cyprinids, mostly chub and dace but with roach and particularly fine shoals of perch attracted by the clouds of minnows and rich feeding. The marginal plants and reeds have filled the banks and the sedge warblers and Reed bunting were quick to take advantage both species raising broods. This autumn the dispersal of Cettis broods looking for new territories seem to have quickly adopted the areas of willow and scrub deliberately left on the margins of the main channel. At least three singing males have been present for the past three or four weeks. A Kestrel seems to have taken up residence in the largest of the willow pollards just downstream of the old Aquarium swim. Moorhens and Water rail in the phragmites, Wood pigeon and Blue tit nesting in the pollards that had quickly sprung back into life with the spiky new tops. Add the clouds of butterflies, hover flies plus countless beetles and bugs that took advantage of the banks of flowering marginals. These attracted the hunters in the form of the dragonflies that patrolled the lake margins with the iridescent Damsel flies which in themselves provided meals for a family of grey wagtails in one of the log piles. A roe doe with her kid, our regular fox family, rabbits a plenty and the otter bitch with her two new off spring, all in all now a real gem.
I noticed the intended mass trespass by the canoe fraternity that was recently cancelled has reared it ugly head again in the media. Unfortunately the media have made the usual hash of reporting the facts and purely gone for the idiotic and sensational. It would appear from what I have been told it has simply become an issue between canoeists and anglers, the ecology, maintenance and ownership seem to have been forgotten. I suppose it is inevitable that as the anglers are the ones that pay so dearly for access they are automatically seen as the protagonists. To pay twenty four million to the government in rod license fees and then a far, far greater amount to owners in the form of rent for access does give the right to protect ones interests I suppose. I sympathise with anglers that would loose the undisturbed access to the rivers but that is not the problem from my standpoint related to the management of the river.
The claim that a 1664 bill that provided the legislative framework to make the rivers navigable for trade remains on the statute books and confers the the right of navigation, not the right to make navigable, to the leisure pursuits of today is stretching a point somewhat. I've not checked with the powers that be but I'm informed by the access lobby the bill does remain on the statute books but does not appear on National Archive Legal Database. The whys and wherefores of the existence or not of the bill seems of little relevance when viewed with the subsequent history of the river. The present course the channel takes is certainly not that which flowed through the valley at the time of the desire to see the channel navigable for trade. The incredible engineering feat of the water meadow and floated meadow construction of the period from 1685 to 1715 saw the river physically uprooted, diverted and channelled into the completely artificial network of races, streams, drains and carriers which are familiar to us today. As someone who was professionally involved with the surveying and fixing of legal and administrative boundaries for two decades in an earlier career I often wonder whether the artificial nature of the change would carry the same implications for the bill as it does for other boundaries. If the change had been "Natural and Gradual" the ownership and administrative boundaries follow the change. With "Artificial" the boundary stays fixed at the time of inception. It would make an interesting point of law to argue and make a brief extremely wealthy doing so. With regard to the law and precedents there is an existing case on the books that deals with navigation of the Avon under this mischievous act. The issue of trespass would appear clear in that the case brought by the riparian owners for trespass against a boatman at Christchurch in 1907 had the judgement in favour of the owners - Cross D A E (1970). I can hear the brief sharpening his quill as I write this, whoever is of a mind to open up this particular box of delights best have a very considerate bank manager.
It must say I worry to hear the defence of the river being based on the protection of the SSSI and designated species under EU law. Proving such a case would be extremely difficult and Natural England are extremely unlikely to make any attempt to do so as they specialise in fence sitting along with most other government agencies. Strangely the area of conservation concern that might still require action under our own UK Countryside and Wildlife Act is that of the disturbance of nesting birds. Don't rely on Natural England the police are able and if given the correct facts and evidence willing to take on any such cases that may arise. I have written previously about the implications for Mute swan and great crested grebe broods when scared and driven by canoes. To interfere with such breeding wildlife is against the law to do so wilfully, having been made aware of the risk to wildlife, might well be in breach of the C&W Act and may well have the makings of an interesting criminal case.
Swans being driven ahead of canoes, this is the reason canoes are used to round-up the swans for ringing in the harbour..
I have canoed on many rives in the UK on which there is legal access and have enjoyed the experience. I would think long and hard before I would do so in Scotland due to the impact the right of free access has had on the fishery communities on many of these rivers. I will not be specific as further adverse publicity will not help their cause, suffice to say on several rivers fishery income has fallen significantly as rods are not prepared to pay the high price of exclusive fishing only to be joined by the National Lampoons day out. Gillies, hotels, restaurants and tackle shops have been feeling the pinch with the inevitable loss to the community. It might be argued by the canoeing fraternity that they are responsible and do not cause inconvenience. Possibly so if you are an experienced canoe or kayaker but if access is allowed for the experienced who is to determine at what level access is denied. Do we allow children and idiots in inflatables and bathtubs to bob merrily downstream into hatches and control structures that have enormous health and safety implications. I think I recorded on the diary the amazing incident a year or two back where a canoe was swept through the hatch gate at Ibsley. A competent canoeist who witnessed the event still cannot understand how the lad in it survived. The four gates have an individual section of approximately a metre square, the water was above the level of the hatch meaning a 8mm steel sheet formed the top of the flume. The canoe was sucked down and under the gate, shot through between the steel stanchions and under the six inch RSJ's that support the three or four metres of the eel stage. Luckily he was ejected upside down into the middle of the twenty two feet deep weir pool and not caught in the stopper that circulates under the spillway where those anglers on the bank were able to rescue him. I could recount tales of woe of a similar nature for hours, especially involving children inflatables and stupid parents. Are those that cry access to take on the responsibility for the welfare of the children and the cost of insurance and the grids on spillways and grills on gates to prevent accidents? Can we expect to see each craft licensed so individuals can be identified as is the case of every angler in the country who by law has to carry and produce on request a government issued permit to be fishing on any river in England and Wales. Along with many other issues that confront us today the access lobby does unfortunately have its zealots. In common with zealots from what ever cause that drives them the over riding factor in their stance is all too often one of self interest and total blindness to the views of others; or alternatively I suppose ignorance.
Back to my take on the problem and it comes about through this artificial change of route the Avon has under gone. The Avon now consists of miles of diverted, perched channels forming races and streams that provide the head of water to flood the floated and water meadows and give rise to enormous maintenance costs that befall the owner of the river. It is simply the loss of fishery income that maintains the artificially constructed channels which incur annual maintenance and repair costs running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. The common misconception that the EA, hence the tax payer, foots the bill for these repairs is alas not so; it falls one hundred percent to the lot of the owner. Currently, virtually the only significant source of income available to the owner is through the fishery and in many instances the exclusivity of the fishery. Should our canoeists wish to annually contribute in the order of ten thousand pounds per mile of river I'm sure many owners would greet them with open arms.
I currently have engineering work required that I have very roughly estimated will cost in the order of half a million pounds at today's rates for plant and heavy machinery. That takes care of a good few years fishery income before we even get into the more mundane day to day running of an artificial river such as the Avon. One particular construction task will involve moving several thousand tons of inert fill, concrete and steel shuttering across the river by barge as land access is impossible. I suppose a compromise might be for us to use canoes; I must find out how many tons of hardcore can be loaded into a canoe with a 360. We would all like access to where ever we fancy without any responsibilities just like our current batch of hippies who are enjoying their river side frontage at Ringwood. That's another story and the local authorities and the Highways Agency are still displaying their total inability to deal with the situation. Remember if you wish to live with a wonderful woodland, moorland or river frontage to your home settle on Highways Agency land; the useless buggers will pretend you don't exist and go out of their way to ensure you are not disturbed.
In all seriousness access without responsibility presents a very real problem on rivers such as the lowland rivers of southern England. I do not see a way around it unless the canoe lobby is prepared to recognise the problems and cooperate in the management and up keep of the rivers in question. The government has backed access by agreement and negotiation the personal take as set out above is what needs to be understood. I see the Angling Trust are on the case with the Avon issue, their future intended action will be interesting to watch.
Time for a break, the Lodge looking well in the autumn cloak.
Having got that little grumble off my chest back to the daily, what did I call it earlier, "mundane day to day running of the river". Well that gate I opened and closed over the last few days I opened again today, yesterday's and last night's rain seems to be having an effect. The Forest streams were over the fords and running thick with mud this morning producing a rapidly rising main river. Hopefully we will now get our desired flush through and get into autumnal trim; watch this space. The site of the forest streams in flood necessitated a visit to one or two spots to see if any early seatrout were making any effort to reach the redds. Unfortunately the height and colour made spotting impossible and ten minutes without so much as a bow wave was enough so I decided to give it best and head for the hatches to see what changes were necessary. The downstream set were blocked with rubbish and required an hour of heaving and grunting to clear and the accumulated weed on the old weed rack also involved lots of clanging and clanking about to free the stanchions and supports. Heavy work it might well have been but the smell of the flood made up for the effort bringing the pungent aromas of mud, rotting vegetation and decaying rainbow trout, washed down from upstream trout farms, surging up from the gates. Its as if the valley has taken its first deep breath of the autumn and the frustrations of the summer are being flushed away to the sea. I love it; mud, floods and a change of season. Back to my crashing about on the hatches. Having done the downstream set I walked up through the wood to look at the top gates. The autumn colour and smell of the damp leaves accompanied me beside the millstream as I reached the spillway which was roaring through making wading across in wellies a definite no no. The dying algae that covered the concrete made grip almost impossible and I have yet to fix a life line across the top this year leaving no alternative other than to drive around to the bridge. I soon reached the far bank and cranked open the required hatch to increase the upstream freeboard and clear the spillway. Along with much wheezing and grunting one hundred and five revolutions of the key achieved the desired result and I stood back to watch for ten minutes to see if the run-off achieved was sufficient. Leaning on a hatch rail is very similar to leaning on the parapet of a bridge and most readers can relate to the experience of peering down at the river willing some denizen or wonder to appear. I was hoping to see some of the coloured salmon that have been laying in the downstream pools take the opportunity to move upstream but as with the forest seatrout I was to be disappointed.
I was just about to return to the truck and head back onto the estate when a bow wave at the top of the spillway caught my eye. Salmon perhaps? I took up my tried and trusted position on the rail and watched the spot for sign of a fin or tail. Sploosh, seems the only suitable adjective, a three quarter grown otter shot up onto the rapidly draining spillway ten feet to my left. I instinctively froze waiting to see what it did next when sploosh, as second one arrived. The previous half hour of rattling chains and clanking hatches seems to have gone unnoticed. Squeaking and whistling at each other like like a pair of two hundred decibel Dunnocks they rolled and slid on the algae covered spillway completely oblivious or completely ignoring me. As I stood watching, a third, presumably the female, appeared below the spillway on the gravel beach where I had been stood half an hour earlier deciding if to try and wade the spillway and began barking a warning of my presence. Duly chastised the two offspring oozed over the edge of the spillway to join her. Once more totally ignoring me all three began to circle the pool searching the large marginal beds of Fools cress for food and sources of entertainment. Typical no camera but as they appeared so intent on their games I decided to walk back to the truck and collect it. I arrived back as they were on their second circuit at the far side of the pool soon to disappeared down the stream toward their day time holt for their siesta. I knew we had a bitch in the area and a further family had been seen a couple of miles downstream, Mick Morgan had also told me two had been about a day or two ago so I shouldn't have been surprised to see them on an early morning visit but at ten thirty in the morning they seem to be getting overly bold. As I was about to leave an angler arrived and was intending to head for the swim beside the hatches. I mentioned the three otters and said he may have to give it a few minutes to settle down after their antics around the pool. He was not in the least phased by my comment replying.
"Not to worry, there were five here the last time I fished and I had a great day!"
I'm not so sure I want five about the place, perhaps its time for a spell of cold weather to send them off down to the tidal limit or the Lower Stour; I know they like to see them down there!!!
Not the best photo but there are three in there somewhere which are fine but five is definitely heading towards a crowd .
A busy day going backwards, sounds like a Milliganism, backwards in that the hatch gate I opened a day or two ago to deal with the arrival of the autumnal rain I closed today. The hoped for rain never materialised leaving the Penstock choked with floating weed requiring three hours to clear it. We are back to a low, clear river that is choked with floating rubbish as the weed begins to die back in earnest. Once I had managed to clear the gates and the Troutstream Weir I had the By-pass culvert to unblock. A private no fishing sign and a handrail off some upstream bridge had managed to get firmly stuck half way through the culvert. There was nothing for it other than to don the chest waders and take my long handled extending rake and try and hook the clutter through from downstream. This has the obvious downside in that the weight of water backed up above the culvert gate meant the weed draped timbers were stuck in the culvert like a cork in a Champagne bottle. Below the three feet diameter culvert with its two ton bung the water was about two feet deep preventing me from seeing up the culvert to dismantle the obstruction so if all else fails we resort to brute force and ignorance. Two or three hefty digs with the rake and I had it firmly jammed between the offending timber. No amount of pushing pulling and shoving was going to move it and I was just thinking of an upstream approach with a section of scaffold tube when a loud crack signalled a rapid change of circumstances. I was no longer stood in two feet of still water, and it didn't take a genius to work out a two foot surge of trash filled water and the rapidly lengthening rake handle meant I needed to leave the scene toots bloody sweet. It was at this point I decided if I was quick I could extract my stuck rake as it rattled by saving a lot of searching of the downstream channel later. Bright ideas often chose the most unexpected time to crop up and this was no exception but it took but a further second to realise this was not such a bright idea as the debris bung came flying out of the culvert with the following head of water and several further tons of crap. Next moment I was to be seen clutching the handle of my firmly stuck rake like Queequeg thrusting his mighty harpoon into Moby Dick as I was propelled backwards down the carrier in an extremely rapid and undignified fashion being brought to an abrupt stop as my fore arm, elbow and ribs came into contact with the concrete channel wall. It is at such times the pleasure of working beside the river looses a great deal of its attraction. The wedge of rubbish, refusing to slow its pace in consideration of my now painful predicament, rushed by lifting me unceromoniously out onto the bank amidst the finest bed of nettles and brambles for miles. There I lay collecting my scratched, stung, wet, grazed, bruised and dented thoughts and catching my breath looking up just in time to see my red handled rake disappear downstream - I look forward to life in the valley moving in a forward direction as soon as possible.
A colourful autumn scene beside the lakes; alas not all is quite as delightful as it seems. The second photo shows the extent of the lake that is now covered with Crassula the alien invasive that seems to be going from strength to strength in a similar fashion as the Azolla.
Yesterday Geoff Chase emailed me a photo of a large set of Signal crayfish claws he spotted on the bank at Ibsley. The missing body he thought might have provided a meal for one of our resident otters. Geoff was probably correct in his belief with regard to the remainder; as I mentioned in the diary recently, the otters on Meadow Lake seem to go out of their way to locate crays in the margins spending hours rummaging about in the roots and reeds. What Geoff's email did once again raise were some interesting questions as to the population of crays in the Avon. I have found the remains of Signals in the main river for almost two decades the first being washed into the screens on the salmon broodstock carriers back in the early 90's. This isn't surprising as there were commercial cray fisheries on the associated lakes at Blashford through the 80's. It wasn't recognised at the time but their habit of marching about on the bank during wet weather meant their arrival in the river was almost inevitable. What is somewhat surprising is why the river population hasn't exploded as it has done in the Kennet and several other rivers where they have found access. This pattern of variable population expansion not only applies to the river but also the lakes in the valley. There are lakes in the valley where the population is colossal, supporting large commercial exploitation and despite removal of the entire catch whether saleable or not they continue to thrive. In other lakes a remnant population fluctuates under the influence of unknown determinants, whilst in one or two populations have proven to have died out. I have trapped the things commercially in the past and have had the opportunity to observe their habits over three decades yet remain uncertain of the factors determining their success.
A large pair of Signal crayfish claws, probably the remains of an otters meal.
I have my theories as to what determines their success or failure and in an effort to get some detailed background on the populations on the estate a couple of years ago I put in a consent application to the EA for tags to do some trapping. Unfortunately I received the usual negative, dare I say patronising response from the EA and I quote - "that it is considered that trapping encourages the populations to migrate. There are sensitive pockets of native crayfish still in these catchments and there is a risk to these if the signals seek to expand their territories." I don't know what evidence was used to arrive at their considered view?? they never deemed it necessary to tell me. I also don't know of any native crayfish populations locally "that the EA" are aware of that are at risk. I was also informed that the EA are working to establish Signal population numbers within the Avon. I don't know how they are getting on with their work but they certainly haven't been near us in the intervening two years so it will be several years before we have even any background data that may prove useful in establishing the controlling influences on these aliens.
Not the best shot but it shows a gathering of over thirty Cormorants, twenty Little egrets, seven Grey herons and a Great white egret, getting ready to feed. The spectacle came to an abrupt end when a camera disguised as a tree appeared or didn't, dependent on where you were stood - and I thought it was only anglers and "airsoft" participants that felt the need of camo!!
I had further occasion to consider the changing species balance of the valley recently when I had the opportunity to watch a mixed population of avian piscine predators in a feeding frenzy on one of the local pits. The pit in question has an enormous fish population and it is inevitable the fish eaters will exploit the source of easy meals. The presence of these avian predators is not a new phenomenon, I have watched such antics for at least two decades. The odd thing in these circumstances is how the fish population remains so enormous. There are one or two physical features of the pit in question that makes overfishing by the birds unlikely and it will be interesting to watch the fish population balance fluctuate as determinants change.
The Fish and Sparrow - good name for a pub.
A tale of strange goings on. This morning I decided to put up my birthday present from Jonathan, Em and Katie which took the form of a nest box with a camera included. Relatively easy once I had drilled holes through the walls, lifted the carpets and floor boards before boring through the living room ceiling!! I mention this as a cautionary note for anyone who wishes to place one of these cameras on the side of their house, it is easier to stick it up a tree and bring the cable through a fan light. My problem is that I would eventually like to have the camera in one of my Swift boxes that are attached up under under the eaves. That said I have seen the results that can be obtained from these little cameras and they are well worth the effort for anyone who enjoys garden wildlife. Enough rambling, back to the odd events that generated this entry.
As regular readers will be aware my house is festooned with bird boxes, I'm not exactly sure how many, about a dozen I think. As I have also mentioned in earlier entries I have a pretty degenerate mob that use them; Blue tits in the sparrow box, bolshie Sparrows in the Starling boxes and Starlings trying to evict the Swifts. This state of affairs has been steadily declining into further chaos last summer when the Sparrows tore down the Martins nest and spent their days trying to block the Swifts from entering the boxes. Enough is most definitely enough, I decided on firm action. I covered the entrances to the Swift boxes on the back of the house to prevent the Starlings establishing roosts and an early foothold. I also blocked the hole in the fascia where the Sparrows had been building between the Swift boxes and giving the Swifts a hard time. There are plenty of other boxes they can occupy without commandeering my newly erected and occupied Swift boxes. Relatively simple three small pieces of ply screwed into position, job done.
Considering I hadn't seen the pair of Sparrows that occupy the fascia for weeks, bordering on months, what happened next came a quite a shock. Before I had descended from the ladder I heard a most indignant chirp and looked up to see the hen bird peering over the gutter at my handy work. Coincidence I decided, or at least tried to convince myself it was. Ladder away I popped back out into the garden for a further look. As I looked up the hen had been joined by the cock bird who landed on the overflow pipe and began tapping my patch of ply to determine the nature of my efforts. Once they spotted me they both sat on the pipe and fixed me with their beady gaze obviously awaiting an explanation. Its at this point one has to consider ones sanity, its a bloody Sparrow for Christ sake, it doesn't know squat-diddly and anyway it should leave the Swifts alone. Where they had arrived from I have no idea, they have not been roosting in there as we can hear them from our bedroom when they are in occupation; nothing for it just let them move. I'll just stop for a cup of tea and as its such a pleasant morning I'll sit in the garden and watch what they get up to. Two cups of tea and a piece of cake later they are both still sat on the overflow pipe like lost souls. Sod it; It didn't take five minutes to get the ladder out and hook the patch off and remedy my heinous crime, anyway those Swifts are big enough and ugly enough to fight their own battles!!!
An indignant cock sparrow refusing to join his kin in new quarters.
I'm not sure if I have told the following tale before but as its such a strange story it will bear retelling, even if I do fail to get the order of events in exactly the same place or time scale. It started several years ago when Anne returned from a shopping trip proudly clutching a plastic bag containing two very small Koi. When I say small I mean small, three or four inch maximum, identical yellow ogons like peas in a pod and from Anne's description of the tank full that they came from probably from the same spawning. I must admit to being none too pleased as I have a closed pond with no new additions for well over a decade. To put these two in with my established fish risked not only one of the large fish eating them but worse they might bring with them some plague that would do far greater damage to my existing shoal. Faced with this dilemma I decided to isolate them in the higher wildlife pond and turn off the waterfall that joined the two ponds together. In they went and I thought very little more about them, other than to glance in from time to time to see if I could spot them, which because of their day-glow yellow colouration proved relatively easy usually finding them hiding amongst the lily leaves.
A week or two passed and I noticed one seemed to have disappeared. For a further week or two I put this down to the size of the pond making it difficult to see the second fish but as I could always find one I had a nagging doubt one of the neighbours cats might have managed to extract him. Weeks turned to months and our single little yellow fish had grown a further couple of inches. With the imminent onset of winter I was out preparing the ponds for the cold weather when I saw the single yellow fish in the top pond swim up under the remnants of the lily leaves. I suppose it was pity for his lone state I decided the likelihood of any such transmissible disease was a risk worth taking and set about netting him out and putting him in the large pond to take there chances. Netting him in a pond twelve feet long and two feet deep proved difficult but I was eventually successful and tipped him over the bank and into the lower pond where this tale takes on a strange twist. As he landed, none too ceremoniously with a splash in the lower pond, before the ripples had settled he was joined by the missing twin. They swam in circles, chased and darted over the entire pond for several minutes before settling down into a partnership that has continued to this day when one appears almost as the shadow of the fifteen inch other. Which is which? I don't know but they certainly do and they recognised each other after several months of enforced separation. The missing fish had somehow managed to cross the dry waterfall and ended up in the lower pond several months earlier. I don't usually credit fish with being capable of emotion but what ever way you care to read that situation they where pleased to see one another.
What do I read into this? I'm not sure. I've not gone vegie, my role in the animal kingdom is that of an omnivore, just like the Badger or the fox I eat meat when it is available. Do I consider fish and sparrows as sentient equals? I don't think so; I am under no illusions that I am simply an extension of the animal kingdom; it would be self delusional arrogance to believe we humans were anything other. It is perhaps well that sparrows and fish show no appreciation of the arts as we are somewhat short of measures to illustrate our superiority. The scary scenario is that the animal world has multiple complex languages and means of communication that we simply fail to recognise having lost our natural association with the earth. We send signals into deep space in the hope of contacting intelligence from distant planets in a belief they will be of a humanoid form and we will be able to communicate. Yet here on earth we have millions of complex lifeforms, under our very noses, that we deem incapable of such contact or communication. Strange ground, its probably better not to go any further down such avenues as the thought of justifying my fillet steak to the previous owner could prove somewhat difficult. After all said and done and to sooth my state of confusion I console myself with sticking the headphones on and listening to that genius Jimmy Cliff who obviously knew a thing or two when he sung that super track "Keep your eyes on the sparrow"
At last I have been able to open a second gate on the main hatches at Ibsley. Whilst much of the West Country has experience significant rainfall and is now flooded we remain in the grip of our low flows. If we receive the promised rain of tonight and tomorrow we may actually see the river return to normal levels for this time of year. The chub and barbel may move out from the cover where they have cowered for the last couple of months and return to the runs and pools we might expect them to inhabit. Whilst fishing has been desperately hard in recent weeks it has been exactly what might be expected of the river under such conditions. I have spoken to several anglers lately who have long faces and threatening to give up angling on the rivers all together as they haven't caught a decent bag of fish for years. In reality they would probably do well to heed their own advice and get away from the rivers for a while, anyone who has held expectations of large bags of fish in the recent weeks is bordering on delusional. Expectations change as access, commitment, catches and tackle change but one element that is guaranteed to be even more changeable is the natural world of the river. I know there have been exceptions such as the angler having landed fourteen barbel recently but he has located a shoal and put in the hours for his fish.
A second web covered hatch winding gear coming into action today.
Late summer and autumn is never an easy time to fish. Only a decade or two ago coarse anglers never had the opportunity to fish the Avon before the end of September as the salmon season was still determining access. The Severals below Ringwood was the first major fishery that enabled coarse anglers summer access to the Avon and during the hey day of that stretch it was enormously popular. Along with Throop down on the Stour they were responsible for ninety percent of the barbel angling through the summer months. What this clearly demonstrated was that once fish come under constant angling pressure their habits change until they become dependent on anglers bait as food. If they stay on a natural diet they become very difficult indeed to bring on to the feed under anything other than perfect conditions or unsociable hours.
The difficulties become apparent as the fish become educated to the continual attention of the anglers, the weed dies back and the first cold nights start to take effect we see fluctuations in temperature and dissolved oxygen making the fish moody and less inclined to get their heads down. The summer glut of natural food has ensured they do not need the anglers bait to survive ensuring that our already tetchy quarry becomes very choosy about what and when it decides to eat. Given the added problems associated with the low flows and clear water this autumn such as the tightly shoaled fish and the reluctance to leave cover it was always going to be nothing but desperate. If our luck holds and the river returns to what we might consider a seasonal norm we may even find the fishing takes on a more autumnal outlook. With the autumn flush- through we will have the opportunity to enjoy chub fishing for specimens far larger than anything that I have seen in the forty eight years I have fished the Avon. The barbel will feel the onset of winter, hopefully seeing them up-a-gear in their feeding in an effort to lay in the fat reserves to see them through the low water temperatures. The perch will return to the eddies and slacks that have been choked with weed all summer and if the pike chasing the dace about at Ibsley are any indication they will start to provide sport on frosty mornings. If like me you have a long term fascination with Avon roach you will continue to suffer. Decent roach remain like hens teeth and no change in river conditions is going to alter that. If I wish to trot the river I will have to change my allegiance and seek out the monster chub that are to be found in those slacks and glides. I have always looked upon chub and barbel as species that you catch by accident whilst roach fishing, its odd how things change.
It will probably be some time before I have a chance of roach in this class.
Saturday was the first shoot of the season on the estate and I spent the day ferrying the beaters about as the tractor driver, not the most inspiring day, I'll be glad when we have a tractor driver back in the role again. What this did mean is that in the event of the threatened mass trespass by the canoeing fraternity I would have had to do some pretty nifty manoeuvring to be in two places at once!! Fortunately the canoeists cancelled their proposed trespass as the water levels are so low there were expressed concerns related to environmental damage. Whether the risk to the environment was the cause of the cancellation or the realisation that the trespass on the grounds of the 1664 navigation bill was ill founded I do not know but what ever the reason it made my day easier. Any readers knowing any of the canoeists that had intended to take part in the action might refer them to the "Access for un-powered craft" in articles; it states the precedent that remains to this day dealing with the 1664 Act.
Sloe picking expedition.
That was Saturday occupied luckily leaving Sunday morning free for the second WeBS count of the winter. With the river so low, mild conditions and the meadows bone dry the winter migrants are in no hurry to find their way into the valley. The highlight was undoubtedly twenty six Little egrets leaving the Bickton roost and making their way downstream in one tight group. Unfortunately due to the poor early light and misty dawn I am unable to find a position where I can watch birds leaving the roost in both southerly and northerly directions. This leaves a nagging doubt about the true number currently using the middle Avon which will mean an early start somewhere about Fordingbridge to look for the northern travellers. There were other points of interest in that the Kingfisher and Cettis numbers remain high with the Mute swan population taking an unexpected dip. From a personal perspective one species that does not get recorded on the WeBS count showed up in good numbers. I had a count of eleven hundred Starlings and what was particularly pleasing is that they were heading WNW; hopefully towards Ham Walls the huge roost on the Somerset levels that we visit each winter in the hope of enjoying the murmurations at dusk as they sink into the reed beds.
The last of the tomatoes; Brandywine, Tigrello, Marmande and my favourite Black Russian. The remaining green crop heading for the chutney pot.
The afternoon saw grand daughter Katie Megan and dad Jonathan arrive providing the excuse far a walk to discover if we could find any sloes for the production of this seasons sloe gin. The sloes have now had the first hard frost on them to soften the fruit and allow the skin to tear when they are picked. We are told in many recipes that a night in the freezer is all that's needed to soften them and so it may be but it doesn't allow the full concentration of the flavours held within the flesh of the fruit. Along with most other fruit this year the sloes seem to have enjoyed a bounteous summer and we found a couple of trees that soon supplied us with the sufficient soft fruit we needed. With sufficient sloes gathered we had time to get out in the garden to lift the dahlias to save them from the frosts to come. One last task to end the day was to pick the remaining tomatoes that still clung to the vines that Anne has surrounded the house with this year. All in all Sunday turned out to be a good day.
The still, clear night brought about the first frost of the winter and further added to my belief that my blood is getting thinner as I get older. I was out before dawn to recce the whereabouts of the geese to see if we might catch up with them in an effort to reduce their burgeoning numbers. To date our efforts can only be classes as wanting. Seven weeks into the season and our total stands at two Greylags and a Canada. I would like to think we could reduce their numbers by ten percent and with somewhere in the region of eight hundred in the valley that only leaves us seventy seven to go. As the first flushes of a red seeped into the slate grey eastern skyline behind Ellingham church I knew I was in for a showy sunrise. I have on many occasions watched the sun rise over the church but this mornings performance exceeded all. Luckily I had the camera with me and recorded the day's arrival. Alas, uncertain of the shot that best captured the moment I have had to include three, shown in the order I took them over the space of ten minutes, to allow others to share the valley dawn.
Avon valley sunrise.
From the skein in the middle shot you see I found the geese but their height on such a still morning makes their future safe for a few more days at least. I have mixed feelings about the outcome in that we need to control the numbers yet I still have a fondness for geese, even these semi-feral populations. I'm not sure if I have mentioned it previously but we have a new alien goose busy establishing a foothold in the valley with Egyptian geese recorded at twenty plus. Further north in the county numbers have reached almost two hundred in a single flock. The vanguard we currently enjoy will undoubtedly reach similar numbers within a year or two and our attempts at control will have to be stepped up a gear; or on our current showing several gears! I believe the Egyptian goose now appears on the quarry list under a general licence, perhaps we should take pre-emptive action to nip our problem in the bud but its not a task I relish.
I'm sure Alan and John wont mind me describing them as belonging to the old school of angling. Happy fishing for anything from salmon to the dace that both can be seen landing in the photo. The secret of dace fishing is to get the feed going in at the correct rate, too little and you wont hold them, too much and they'll follow the feed downstream; and you can do without a pike showing up.
As for the rest of my day it seemed to be taken up with aquatic weed. I have duckweed and Fool's cress blocking ponds and ditches and my new bane Azolla arriving at an ever increasing rate from upstream. During trips up and down the rive,r opening and closing gates and unblocking hatches, I did have the opportunity to stop in at Ibsley to chat with the anglers. Those targeting the chub and barbel are struggling, low clear water is not conducive to large bags. That hasn't stopped one or two good fish from being landed with barbel to fourteen and several six pound chub but they are for the greater part single fish or taken at last knockings. The one exception remain the dace that are still providing superb traditional Avon trotting so make the best of them before they do their traditional disappearing trick around the turn of the year.
Beds of Azolla in the main channel at Hucklesbrook a symptom of dissipated flow and eutrophication. Close-up the Water fern has a parculiarly disarming charm, derived from its similarity to the lichen that covers many of our trees which we are pleased to see as an indicator of environmentally undisturbed woodland.
More photos of my recent trip to Wales might not be quite what is expected of a diary related to the Avon. I justify their inclusion on the grounds that the enjoyment I derive from hill walking is probably the antithesis of my work in the Avon valley. The fact my daily routine involves rivers, drains, carriers and water in general means I need a break from what many might consider the perfect occupation. Whatever ones chosen profession its not a bad thing to get away and recharge the batteries once in a while. The advantage of the Welsh mountains is that they are within relatively easy reach, making a dash across country after work a reality.
The benefit of an early start before the mist clears and others arrive for the day. Not a sole in sight as I scan the horizon, Y Garn over my right shoulder with Snowdon and Crib Goch in the distance.
Our campsite, a thousand or so feet below Richard, where we pitched up at nine thirty last night.
Heading for the main summit on Tryfan as the following party scramble over the north summit. Believe it or not I walk the hills for pleasure, that grimace is the result of ascending the fifth of the eight, three thousand foot peaks we did at the weekend. The hill in the background is Pen yr Ole Wen which was the first climb yesterday, rising straight up the rocky face for one thousand, nine hundred feet, from the outfall from Llyn Ogwen beside the A5 far below.
Back to reality as the azolla keeps arriving along with the weed that is now dying back.
This late nesting Collared dove saved this Fern leaf beech from having several reverting branches removed.
I've been away for a couple more days; normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. The photo is of a wild Billy goat high on the northern summit of Tryfan, Y Garn in the distance.
Whilst I have seen plenty of Azolla in the valley before I don't think I have ever seen it coming down stream in such profusion as it is at present. Not an Avon native but one of our current load of invasive aliens as it is native to the Americas. It looks an uninteresting monotone blanket but this little "Water fern" has more to it than first glance might suggest. We are more used to seeing it in the slow running drains and ditches associated with the water-meadows its appearance on the main river has worrying under tones. It thrives on nutrient rich water where it increases at an alarming rate if phosphorus is available to it. If the current low water we are suffering has turned the apparently clear water in a nutrient rich soup it might explain the huge bloom we are seeing. Unfortunately nutrient rich, slow moving water is a recipe for eutrophication. The thought of the main Avon becoming a eutrophic ditch holds little appeal. A glimmer of light is that one of the strange qualities of the Water fern is that a bacterium that is associated with it, a nitrogen fixing cyanobacterium. The efficiency of this fixing process was to enable more innovative societies to harvest the green mass and use it as a green fertilizer. From the perspective of the river it will hopefully mean that the plant will rid the river of much of the free phosphorus and nitrogen as it is flushed through the system as is currently happening. The downside is that the excess nutrients are in the river in the first place.
Not usually in the habit of recommending listening but for any of you blues or soul fans out there a collaboration between Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa is not to be missed. Have a look on "You tube" tap in their names and start with "Chocolate Jesus" or "I'll take care of you" "I'd rather go blind" "Don't explain" there's not a bad track on the album. If you liked that there are a few tickets still available at Beth's Southampton tour date.
Sorry about the lack of entries, we've been up with Richard and Jade in London for a few days which I must say I thoroughly enjoyed. I've always found that Londoners are the most appreciative of our valley believing us to be extremely lucky to live and work in such a place and if not actually moving down here, many would love to do so. London in small doses is splendid, I would probably soon wilt with the pace of life that seems to be the norm up there and long for the peace and quiet of the valley. The good company, fine food and theatre are hardly content for the diary but I did manage an afternoon at Kew which did have repercussions on the estate. The sight of the magnificent Redwoods beside the woodland walk pricked the conscience sufficiently to ensure I made a few hours to clean up the dead branches and years of leaf litter at the base of a couple of our Coast redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens. They are truly magnificent trees and if I ever win the lottery I will definitely head for the west coast of California to see the stands in their natural environment. I believe they are the tallest trees in the world; even out reaching the Giant sequoia but not attaining the huge volume of the Wellingtonia's. The ones on the estate are not in the league of the Californian giants but that's not surprising when you consider they are less than one hundred and fifty years old and the natural trees are thought to exceed two thousand years of age in one or two instances.
As for the fishing its looking pretty bleak at present, the river remains low and clear and the lakes are limiting action to overcast days and last knockings. The hydrological report came over the ether today confirming what we already knew, it tells us the river is below its long term average as is the groundwater up at Tilshead which is the borehole that best reflects our position. There's not a lot anyone can do about it other than pray for rain and stop sucking the lifeblood from the aquifers, which is not going to happen. With some abstractions restricted and stream supports in action we must now wait on Mother Nature to correct the imbalance.
Whilst we await the return of favourable conditions to see our rivers and lakes topped up and coloured water once more adding to the mystery of our pursuit it doesn't me I am not out and about on the banks. My day starts at first light, in fact before first light these days as its still dark at six thirty and I'm about most autumn mornings just after six. There are several odds and ends that I need to sort out prior to the arrival of the anglers at seven but with the low water sluice gates and hatches need little attention leaving me the opportunity to counts sea gulls. Not every ones idea of a reason to get out of bed but if you wish to count the gulls that use the Ibsley Water as their roost you have to be up before light as they start to leave for the feeding grounds whilst its still dark. You can't count them as they return in the evening either as they often arrive well after the sun has set. Six thirty and the Lesser black-backed gulls began to pour over the A338 and head off west and north west to their chosen feeding ground. In the following hour 9437 passed over me with a further 1225 Black-headed gulls heading north. Well over ten thousand gulls finding this newly excavated pit to their liking which I find odd. I am also curious to discover what drives them to change roosts and where was the roost before they arrived with us?
Always a pleasure to bump into these two for a chat, Alan Sellers and Mick Maidmant sat in adjoining swims fishing totally different methods but both catching. Between them they have over one hundred years continuous membership of Christchurch Angling Club and still manage to get out regularly to wet a line. There's not a lot they haven't seen over the years in the fishing world and I find it immensely enjoyable to spend ten minutes in the company of two such experienced and genuine anglers; apart from the ear-bashing I received over the willow clearance at Ibsley last Spring!!!
A brief entry in an effort to keep up to date with valley events. Firstly the Barbel Society/Roach Club fund raising event took place over the weekend under what can best be described as testing conditions under the record breaking sunshine. I must admit I haven't heard how they got on but I imaging they struggled with the river currently down to it's bones and gin clear. I did walk a section between Blashford and Ellingham and the few fish I found were tucked up very tight under cover and spooked the second they caught the briefest glimpse of a shadow. What was of interest were the number of salmon I found, obviously all coloured up but four or five fish in half a mile is encouraging. Pete Reading also informs me that Bisterne also contains plenty of coloured salmon with one or two big fish among them. One other species seen in almost every swim, the ubiquitous minnow. There were shoal upon shoal streaming up the margins on their spawning runs. I always look upon their presence as a good indicator of the health of the river as there were periods in the late 70's and early 80's when they were a rare sight. I'm not sure the anglers trotting maggot for the dace and chub in the clear conditions look upon their presence in such a kindly light, they can be an absolute curse driving many to move swims or change tactics.
The weather has undoubtedly been the talking point of the last day or two and whilst I wished to see a little more sunshine, to round off a disappointing summer, I could well have done without the crowds it brought out with it. I'll not labour the point as I have previously moaned about the expectations of the Great British public suffice to say I'm in need of some solitude. At least the sunshine ensured the second cut silage was cut and baled without the threat of flooded meadows. The scorching weather was more reminiscent of the first cut that takes place in early July, an event that seems very distant now after a busy month or two, our very own Avon Valley Groundhog Day.
Second cut silage wilting in the weekend sun. An enterprising ewe making the most of a hollow lime tree to escape the heat.
I think that brings us up to date, apart from a very frustrating meeting that I endured this afternoon, a subject best left off record.
I'm not sure how I feel about our present heat wave? At work I'm currently up to my neck in mud and grime as we attempt to stabilise a bank that has caused problems for decades. Once started we have little option other than to press on, which has given little time to enjoy the Indian Summer and the life of the valley.
The house is surrounded by Anne's tomatoes that have all decided to ripen in the warm sunshine. As the Boston Ivy on the front of the house takes on its autumn colour.
I did manage one early morning visit as we eventually caught up with the geese and opened the account almost a month later than we would normally have expected. I would estimate there are over seven hundred and fifty geese in the valley at the moment. The flight patterns have altered as the feeding areas required by such huge flocks are exhausted in days instead of weeks. The Canada's are only now returning to the water meadows after making the most of the stubble fields to the north. The ploughs have been at work and buried much of the feeding bringing them back to the more familiar areas in the valley. The Greylag's are still feeding to the south with the first fifty or sixty just returning to the middle reaches with us. I fear their presence will mean that we are unlikely to see the large flocks of White-fronted geese and Bewicks, the winter migrants that used to visit us for the meadow feeding, as the grass will be fouled and grazed down. At the current rate of half a dozen a month I fear it will not be the wildfowling that brings the numbers back into a more balanced population.
The early morning mists, combined with the long awaited return of the sun has provided scenic backdrops as I cross the valley each morning. This evening's "red sky at night", streaked with purple, silhouetting Harbridge church as the low level mist seeped into the meadows was a photographers dream; pity I didn't have my camera with me! Despite the welcome sun and warm Mediterranean air, the evenings produce the ghostly mist as a reminder that we are on winter's threshold. Nature's metronome keeps ticking and the summer visitors are not fooled by the change in temperature. Thousands have continued to head south without pausing as twenty two thousand Swallows and twelve thousand Martins came down the valleys and were counted by the birders down at Hengistbury as they headed out over the harbour yesterday. The willows and reed beds around the Ibsley pools were alive with passerines as Chiffchaffs, Willow warblers and Reed buntings awoke from their overnight stop and fed briefly before continuing on their way. Yellow wagtails, that used to breed in the meadows we now only see as migrants, stop to feed on the short sward amongst the cattle. Numbers of our residents and those of the summer visitors would seem high pointing to a successful summer raising their families, lets hope a benign winter smiles on them.
The holly trees are laden with berries, welcome food for the winter thrushes. The autumn mists are slow to clear in the mornings
The river has dropped back into its low flow habit as if last months rain never happened. The hatches remain set on the minimum flow settings with only the spiders making use ofthem to suspend their cobwed mist nets. The wider sections of channel, where the flow has been dissipated and the weed is beginning to die back, are now coated with algae and silt. Yet where flow is channelled into the narrower bends and channels ranunculus continues to flourish. The fishing is difficult and those that are to attend the Barbel Society and Roach Club fund raiser on the estate this weekend will for the most part struggle. I would suggest small baits in the weedy runs and oxygenated weir pools might be worth a go as the fish are tightly shoaled up and if found might just produce a bumper bag.
The river has returned to a state of low flow and clear water making fishing for anything other than the dace a challenge. I had intended to spend an hour or two looking for the perch this weekend but along with the low flows come the accumulated silt and algae covered weed, such conditions do not inspire me so I decided on a day playing catch-up with the paper work. Unfortunately that has even less appeal than the low water conditions and my best intentions soon evaporated. In reality they were distracted by various reading matter hidden within the accumulated piles of paperwork on my desk. Half read books and numerous part read papers hide amidst my chaos, like traps laid for the unwary, on coming across them thoughts and ideas resurface and I'm lost.
Today however I was committed to the first WeBS count of the winter and such distractions as unfinished reading matter had to be put back on the stack as I needed to be on the northern edge of my area by six to beat the dawn. Being the first of the winter the seasonal boundaries are a little blurred. We still have many of our summer breeding migrants with us or stopping off in their journey south. The winter visitors are yet to arrive in any numbers as the weather in their distant breeding grounds is yet to turn. As the count is aimed at wetland birds, the clue being in the name, many of the current valley population are not the target species. The fact I am not writing down their numbers for the Wetland Bird Survey does not mean I do not keep a record of numbers and territories, whatever species I find I am always pleased to see them and add them to my personal records. The WeBS survey enables those in the bird world to spot the longer term trends as the survey has been running since 1947 my records lasting a little more than a decade do not afford me this depth of data but do highlight short term peaks and troughs. Most of the short term change can be attributed to the weather. In periods of high water and floods many more wildfowl and waders arrive in the valley from the coast, particularly if our floods coincide with cold weather in Eastern Europe and the Netherlands. One other, perhaps more critical, impact of the cold weather is the effect on our breeding residents that do not head south at the appearance of the cold and have to sit it out and survive the freeze at home. Species such as the Cettis Warbler, or the emblem of our rivers the Kingfisher, can suffer dramatic population crashes during long periods of cold, such as we suffered last winter. When last years counts finished in march I was already concerned for our Cettis, numbers had dropped dramatically with singing males all but vanished. Territories during the nesting season were similarly down with below half of our breeding pairs. Recent visits to the valley had given an inkling as to what I might find during today's survey and I was delighted to record eleven singing Cettis equalling my previous all time high. Perhaps even more pleasing I recorded twelve Kingfishers my highest number ever and that was a conservative count to ensure no duplication. Such numbers reflect a good breeding season with such high numbers going into the winter hopefully the population will survive what ever nature sends this year.
Not the clearest of shots showing a Kingfisher which have enjoyed a good nesting season and a Wheatear about to embark on his journey south.
Other points of note were perhaps the continuing mass exodus of the Martins and Swallows with thousands heading south to warmer climes. Our Mute swan population has climbed quickly back after the moult, one hundred and twenty two returned after many that had dropped down to the harbour or onto the lakes for safety had returned. Good to find eighteen Little grebe, perhaps not quite so welcome nineteen Egyptian geese. At their current rate of expansion it will not be long before we have flocks rivalling the Greylags and the Canada's.
A pleasant way to spend an autumn day, a dace a cast on the waggler. The shoals must contain thousands of fish and if you can get down to the bottom the "Avon Herring" can be found.
The first of the serious autumn storms arrived bringing with it the chaos of windblown trees to block roads, destroy fences and choke the streams. The immediate attention required to clear away the debris makes a mockery of any attempt to plan a work schedule but that is part and parcel of a rural existence. I can't say I overly mind the job of clearing up as the simple task of cutting up the fallen timber and stacking the resulting cord wood gives a satisfying end result whereby the extent of my efforts can be measured. The sight of a neat stack of cord always looks well and part of the rural scene, awaiting the trailer to collect it and run it back to the barn.
The reason behind my last entry, if you look closely you can just see Anne emerging from behind Sgwd yr Eira.
The storm wasn't the only arrival of the week, I was delighted to see the publication of the wetland Bird Survey results for 2009/2010 drop through the letterbox on Wednesday. I find the entire WeBS process a most inspiring project with the main conservation bodies working in partnership with three thousand voluntary counters to provide the survey detail. The simple fact that three thousand counters can act in such a synchronised manner across the entire length and breadth of the land and have done so since 1947 is an amazing feat of organisation in itself. The quality of the information that results is second to none when it comes to defining the population trends of the wader and wildfowl world. To see the pattern of decline of familiar species and the expansion of the new arrivals I find fascinating. The bird world has a lot to teach those of us in the fishery world when it comes to trying to determine the defining factors for such population swings. I've written before about the species that are of interest in the valley such as the disappearance of our nesting Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe to be replaced Little egrets, Goosander and geese of all shapes and sizes. Our summer valley is a shadow of itself yet our winter valley remains a bird world delight, particularly if we have prolonged floods. I look forward to the arrival of the thousands of Widgeon, Teal. Pintail and Shoveler. As the valley fills up we see scarce passage migrants and odd visitors, Bittern arrive from the continent and perhaps my favourites the Black-tailed godwit arrive from Iceland to over winter on our estuaries with visits to the Avon Valley if conditions suit. Pleasingly the valley is recognised as being of international importance for Black tailed godwit and the old gravel pits of the Blashford complex for the Gadwall.
On the fish front I have actually taken the rods off the wall and spent a couple of early mornings looking for roach and perch. I can't say I've been very successful, I've managed plenty of fish just the wrong sort. I've caught hundreds and hundreds of roach with nothing over three quarters of a pound. Its and odd feeling to be beaten into submission through catching too many fish. I have also found some good perch shoals yet I have not managed to land the particular ones I seek. Finding them has been easy, getting them to take the bait is the tricky bit. The fact I have met with problems gives me the incentive to keep looking for my target fish; there's nothing like a challenge to focus the mind. Others have been faring a little better, there seem to be a steady stream of large carp and at the other end of the spectrum those rare anglers who target the dace have been getting good bags. The chub and barbel have gone a little quiet this week with only the odd fish reported, which isn't that odd with clear water and fish that have become educated to the various attempts to outwit them. The autumn can be a trying time on the rivers as the weed slowly breaks up and drifts through the lines and fouls the hook. It will take one or two more floods and a drop in temperature before the weed is scoured out and the fish settle into their winter regime.
Events last week provided me with further reason to ponder those that inhabited the valley before we arrived on the scene. The subject initially arose when Anne and I were walking in mid Wales the week before. Our return route down from Pen y Fan, the highest point in the Brecon Beacons and southern UK if it comes to that, took us over Cribyn and down to Bwlch ar y Fan. "Pass over the Fan", I'm not sure what "Fan" translates as, I'll ask Anne whose first language is Welsh in the morning. From which you will deduce I'm typing this at some unearthly hour in the middle of the night. Having reached Bwlch ar y Fan we turned due south down the old Roman road that brought the legions over the mountains and into Mid and West Wales. Our walk back down to the car was only a little over a mile but the time in such an exposed open hill side gave the opportunity to consider those that had built and used the road some eighteen hundred years earlier. Did an even earlier road exist prior to the arrival of the Romans? Who built it Romans or the local people? If local were they paid or were they pressed into the service of the invading Romans? With surroundings so little changed it was easy to imagine the marching legions and the rumbling of the solid wooden wheels of the oxen drawn carts and wagons. With the thoughts of the Welsh Romans fresh in my mind I arrived back on the estate to find that the archaeologists that are part of the gravel extraction process on the estate have discovered a Roman road running across the top of the hills above the river valley. In actual fact there is also a Roman homestead with the banks ditches and pits all visible once exposed by the gravel extraction process. What is so impressive about both of these roads is the shear scale of the construction. The effort involved in the Welsh road is obvious from the nature of the quickly rising terrain, the road with us on the gravel escarpment is more difficult to appreciate. Part of my role on the estate is to maintain several miles of gravel roads and I am very familiar with the problems involved with drainage and potholes that quickly develop on such surfaces. The road found with us runs down on the gravel deck three feet below the present surface of the surrounding fields. This means one of two things, either the present top and sub-soil didn't exist two thousand years ago or the road builders removed it. I perhaps can accept the foot of topsoil is a result of a build up of more recent vegetation and cultivation but I find it difficult to believe the two feet of subsoil has arrived on site subsequently. If that is so it means for the entire length of the road, exposed by the gravel extraction, the soil was removed to expose the gravel deck in order to improve drainage hence the road surface. If that is the case the work involved with digging out the material and transporting it away with no more than shovels and ox carts is astonishing. Once the puzzle of the construction has been recognised recorded the presence of the settlement has to be investigated. It soon becomes apparent that it isn't a major habitation, perhaps a small farm with numerous field boundary ditches and grain storage pits. What becomes very quickly apparent is such a small settlement doesn't warrant such a major road to be constructed to meet its needs. If that is so where was that road heading and who was travelling along it? If we recognise that the top of the scarp would be the natural route of the roads throughout the area as the river valleys were yet to be drained and controlled where might our major road of been going? If we stand in the dig and look along the road it heads off in a south west direction almost in a direct line towards the port of Poole. It is well established that the Romans used the large natural harbour at Poole, establishing large settlements between the first and fourth centuries. Presumably the people of these settlements were traders importing and exporting their wares and the fishermen making a living from the shallow harbour. Poole, as in recent times, was also established as a centre for the production of pottery at that time being famed for its black-burnished ware. With such a dynamic port to the south it would be a natural consequence of trade to have major roads heading inland to transport the wares to the customers in Sorviodunum (Salisbury) and large villas such as the fully excavated example that can be seen at Rockbourne. As the busy merchant routes traversed the countryside smaller homesteads and settlements would have established along the way to afford access to the markets not only to the travellers but the market towns that are a consequence of any rural way of life.
In the top righthand corner of the first photo can be seen the Roman road as a dark line, slicing across the face of the Tor Glas as it rises to the pass at Bwlch ar y fan.The middle pic shows the recently exposed roman road found in the process of extracting gravel. The two dark outer lines are the drainage ditches the central two created by the wheels of the wagons. The final shots shows the halfway stage in excavating one of the exposed pits. Every pit, posthole and ditch is fully excavated and recorded by a team of five or six archeaologists before the extraction can continue.
To these busy people what part did the Avon play in their lives. As they looked down onto the valley from their lofty heights there would have been multiple braided channels meandering south down the wooded valley. Willow car and alder would have covered swampy islands, marshy fields providing rough summer grazing for stock. Two or three miles away the gravel escarpment rose gain up onto the New Forest plateau; perhaps a heathland reflection of the land upon which our homestead stood. Were the wildfowl,eels and salmon harvested? I imagine so. They would have been taken out along our newly discovered road, along with all the other wares that would have been moving through; transported by a varied band of carters and merchants to meet the requirements of the towns. How frequent were the travellers passing our homestead and what colour and news came with them? How did the travellers appear to our residents? Were we Iron age Britons looking on in amazed resentment at these exotic travellers or part of the new regime spreading out across the land bringing exciting times. Perhaps more importantly have we done justice to their legacy? That is a topic I would dearly like to develop but time doesn't allow me to look at what we have done to this valley in more recent times.
One further event that conjured pictures of a past age were the mink hounds that paid us a visit to see if they could find one of the alien invaders that wreak such havoc on our native species. In times past hounds were a frequent sight through out the valley, having fox deer and otter packs within a few miles of us. Time and legislation has seen the deer and otter hounds disappear with the fox hounds still appearing but in a very much changed role. The mink hounds are in fact a legacy of the old otter packs but no hound running today has ever looked on anything other than mink as its quarry. These wonderful shaggy coated hounds love every minute of their outing, it appears an equally enjoyable outing for the followers but the effectiveness as a means of mink control is somewhat debatable. I must say I enjoy seeing them arrive and set-off in pursuit of the their most objectionable quarry and if the hounds pick up a line and begin to speak I find it a parculiarly evocative sound. There must be a subconscious recognition of that cry as it reaches the inner-most parts, sending shivers down the spine. The huntsmen recognise the call of each hound and the immediate answers of the others, to witness the control and instruction he commands with the brassy notes of his horn is to watch a master practising his art. I dropped in to watch their efforts for twenty minutes but wasn't fortunate enough to hear the music of the hunt. Our mink population is in dramatic decline due to the number of otters we now have on the river and to see one these days is becoming a much less frequent event. I suppose it doesn't help the cause of the hunt when I remove those I come across with the twelve bore but to miss an opportunity to get rid of the wretched animal is not one to be passed up. Whilst not an active follower of the hounds I would be sad not to hear the huntsman's horn and the music of the pack as they do undoubtedly offer a real service and form a very natural part of the rural scene; I wish them well, long may they prosper.
The meet underway as the huntsman takes to the water to reach an island with the hounds in close attendance with the followers looking on. The hounds are real individuals each with their own very distinct character and finally being allowed to spread out and search the island.
Sorry about the lack of entries, we've been away for a few days and this evening has been the first opportunity I've managed to have a look around the valley. There has obviously been a continuation of the rainfall that has seen the river level maintained and the meadows looking extremely soggy. One impact of the wet is that the second cut silage is in need of a dry fortnight to enable the tractors to get on the meadows without sinking out of sight. We also have a considerable volume of soil to move that would be a great deal simpler if the ground were dry so lets hope for a settled autumn. We have a busy time ahead in getting the other jobs in need of dry weather out of the way before the winter makes getting on the ground impossible. Hopefully I will also find time to get out with the rods and keep the diary up to date making for a potentially chaotic week or two.
We also experienced a drop or two of water last week as can be seen as Anne does her best to avoid getting a soaking.
Not the best of weeks with blocked drains, punctures, broken hydraulic pipes and the end of a non-existent summer. Apart from being over it is now officially recognised as having been the coldest summer for seventeen years and I am definitely feeling cheated. I'm at an age when I object to changes in my routine such as the summer failing to show up. My plans for balmy evenings with the fly rod as the hatch brings up those shy and indifferent risers to make their one mistake of the season. Following the whitebait shoals along the shingle banks as the warm water draws them into the shallows followed by the Garfish, Mackerel and Bass; where I can reach them with the fly or surface poppers. Being a creature of habit and leading a life for the greater part determined by Natures calendar when she skips a season my personal body clock takes months to accept the fact.
A poor summer for the bass.
The arrival of September sees the close of the salmon season on the Avon and all that can be said about this season is not a moment too soon. With the warmest driest spring for decades we knew we were going to suffer as the low flow and bright condition meant the salmon were reluctant to run. Having said that there were one or two high spots with Paul Greenacre landing four fish with an average weight over twenty pounds, the best a superb fish of twenty nine. Recently joining the ranks of the salmon anglers Mick Stead opened his account with a fish of twenty three pounds; at least we had two happy rods. Strangely despite the summer being the coldest for years the water temperatures climbed into the high teens and salmon fishing ceased on the Avon. Temperatures did drop but the condition of the river by that time made salmon fishing a very poor sport and most called it a day. The season will go down in the EA records as an improving as the fish stuck below the Great weir continued to be exploited giving catch figures of eighty plus fish at the bottom of the river. Each to his own I suppose but what ever the official verdict this will go down as a very poor season in my eyes.
With the salmon season behind us I must admit to looking forward to the beginning of my coarse season. I don't do a great deal of river fishing during the summer as the late spawning chub and barbel do not get their condition back until about this time of year. If I am fortunate enough to find time to get the coarse rods out I feel I should at least try and get my visits in when the fish are at their best. The Avon takes on a different coat with the autumn colour. As the weed begins to die back and the multi-coloured leaves come swirling through the swim, dark inky depths take on a new appeal. The weed and leaves make fishing difficult and sight fishing soon comes to an end as colour enters the river. The dace shoals appear in every reach and it will be the next month or two when the dace fishing is at its best. After Christmas they will disappear without trace, probably into the side streams and carriers to spawn but I never seem to find them. Trotting maggot through the shoals is always good sport with good chub and grayling also showing up even the odd barbel. We have a month or two of these difficult conditions before the Avon takes on its winter green when at its very best. It may be difficult but always interesting and perhaps its the challenge of over coming these conditions to find prime chub and barbel that adds to the appeal for me.
September also sees the shooting season getting under way in the valley with the Partridge and wild fowling seasons opening. Little wild fowling will be done for a further couple of months other than trying to reduce the ever expanding population of feral Canada and Greylag geese. Unfortunately trying to reduce the goose numbers through shooting isn't proving very successful as numbers in the valley now exceed seven hundred. We rarely see the white fronts that used to winter in the valley as the grazing has been mostly stripped bare before they arrive. Bewicks swans and White fronts do still arrive each year numbers however are a fraction of there earlier maxima. We will continue to do our best to get the numbers down but I fear we are fighting a losing battle.
We are fast approaching the end of the growing season and I have been looking back at the regeneration of our fenland habitat where I felled the willows six months ago, last february . I have been delighted with the rate at which plants have occupied the tracts of previously species poor shaded wetland. Phragmites beds have sprung up already providing nest sites for warblers and reed buntings. Flowering species such as Hemp agrimony, Purple loose-strife and Yellow flag have flourished, striving to reach up to the newly found light. The pollards have their first seasons fuzz, it'll be a second year before they take on the proper look of the new canopy but I think we only lost one which is remarkable considering the severity of the trim I gave them. There are one or two minuses in that the dormant seed bank contained quite a lot of Himalayan balsam requiring several trips to pull and cut the wretched stuff. The willow is already doing its best to re-establish itself as the impenetrable willow car that previously existed but I am doing my best to deal with that with the strimmer. All in all I think of all the various projects that have been ongoing over the summer the new fenland and the refurbishment of the Fishing Lodge have given me the greatest pleasure. Fingers crossed we see the arrival of the Bitterns this winter and I manage to find a beaten-up Chesterfield for the Lodge that should cap things nicely.
The original species poor willow car, devastation as we get rid of it and the recovery well underway.
Yesterday's meeting with the bees as I descended from Hampton Ridge reminded me I had a considerable amount of honey left on one or two of my colonies that I really should get on and remove. I was also keen to get the Apistan strips into the hives to deal with any Varroa mites adding further incentive to pay them a visit today. I have two extremely large colomnies with three lifts above the one and a half brood I work them on, allowing for the old oil seed rape honey that I left in the brood chambers and a lift of heather honey that I intend to leave on each there remains a good few pounds to be extracted. As it turned out I had more heather honey than I had calculated, leaving just twenty five or thirty pounds to be taken from the first hive I examined. I was keen to knock out the combs I had removed and get the empties back on to be cleaned up so I called it a day after one hive and went home to do the extracting. Once empty I loaded them into the truck and took them back to add to the hive above a hive board to allow the bees to clean up the combs. In recent winters I have been leaving empty supers on the hive as it seems to prevent wax moth attacks and the bees seem none the worse for the experience.
I did manage to fit in a look around the lakes whilst I was out putting the empty frames back on the bees. From speaking to one or two of the anglers it would seem the lakes are still fishing very well indeed. Once the nights take on a chill I always expect the fish to switch on to their autumnal feeding in readiness for the looming winter.
Honey comb sections fresh from the hive and figs from our tree. The second shot shows Steve May applying plenty of sidestrain as a good carp makes for the bushes.
Today I decided on a change of scenery in that with the last of the heather valiantly trying to keep the purple cloak covering the heathland a walk in the forest seemed a good idea. I was also keen to have a look at the forest streams that start in the valley mires along the western edge of the forest plateau and gather momentum and water as they make their way across the forest lawns down to the Avon. My route would go directly north crossing not only the streams but the many tracks and paths that run west to east providing access to the forest.
I am fortunate in being able to walk into the New forest from my home without the need of a car, by-passing the frustration of the holiday traffic on the single track roads. The first half mile of tarmac before I reach the gravel of the forest tracks takes me north over the Linford Brook where a week ago the floods had scoured the gravel bed clean of the summer detritus and the odd red van as of last weeks entry. With the made road soon behind me I was quickly climbing up onto the forest plateau, along the ancient footpaths that criss-cross the land where the last fields and houses give way to the heather, bracken and birch scrub of Rockford Common. These foot paths, many of which form sunken ways created by our ancestors as they travelled north from the coast with the imported cargo from the cross channel boat traffic, are the link between the forest and the outlying cottages and farms that surround the open forest. Very few of these homes are now occupied by the rural community that gave rise to them, they have long become the preserve of the banker, business man and bureaucrat who have retired to the forest or commute to the town to provide their income. Being familiar with these ancient paths it came as a surprise to see that we are now treated to raised walkways in order to avoid getting our feet muddy or wet as we make our way north. I can't say I find the construction of pine board walks a desirable or edifying advance in providing the public access and a greater understanding of the countryside. What are we coming to when every muddy patch has a bridge, culvert or by-pass the reality of the countryside is that the path was muddy if not properly maintained and the drainage ditches cleared to take away the water that ran in from the surrounding land that for the greater part was higher than the eroded pathway. Never is wheel chair access going to be possible nor are these walkways designed to take them. I can only assume that they are built to enable walkers making there way over the common to the forest to take the route in summer shoes negating the need for walking boots or wellies. Why? If you wish to experience the reality of the countryside mud comes with it! What is the merit of creating a false impression that will need to be replaced every ten years or even sooner if the health and safety risks of decaying boards is going to be avoided. I suppose I am doing my grumpy old git bit as along with board-walks I find those wonderful signs that are prominently displayed on major access points telling everyone to keep their dog under control as there are ground nesting birds that will be disturbed if Fido is left to run rampant, equally banal. Its not the sign that gets my goat its the fact that every ditch, drain and stream is by-passed or crossed with culverts, French drains and bridges to ensure every man and his dog have unimpeded access to these sensitive areas. Dogs, people and horses are heading in all directions because they can; they don't have to come equipped to deal with bogs, mires and marshes, they have all been by-passed or diverted. Add the ever present car park and the forest becomes the dog exercising, recreation area we see today. I suppose the sign does allow the authorities to feel virtuous in their efforts to protect the Curlew and the Snipe but in reality the dog-walker with his hound off across the heath and the horse rider with a couple of spaniels as outriggers sweeping the forest as they go are the most common use we see today. I know that the Forestry Commission and the National Park Authority came in for heavy criticism when it was suggested that many of the car parks should be shut. The dog walking fraternity immediately began the rant of public access at all costs. Unfortunately the signs of such unhindered access are all too clear to see within a mile of every one of these parking areas. What you don't see are the native birds and mammals that are so desperately in need of undisturbed habitat just to survive. I walk and watch from my position of uninvolved isolation as I no longer have the concerns of the heathland and forest to worry me, the fifteen hundred acres that had once formed part of my remit is now the problem of the National Trust and I don't envy them the problems that go with it in these demanding times of the public verses the disappearing wildlife. Forest access of today bears no resemblance to the historical use of the forest with the paths connecting outlying hamlets and cottages to the villages and churches. The timber extraction rides and the old routes affording access to exercise the commoners rights to graze, make up their roads, cut heather and bracken and collect their fuel all added to this working community. The need to cross the forest was real and today's paths affording unhindered access at the expense of the wildlife is a unintentional legacy of those distant times. Today's walk along urbanised, sanitised tracks and paths that had little or no resemblance to those paths of necessity highlighted the sobering dilemma faced by the authorities; public access to all areas or wildlife?
Sanitised and urbanised.
Enough gloom and doom, back to my route that would allow me to look at the gravels that will be the key to the survival of our seatrout in the coming months. I had crossed the Linford Brook within a couple of hundred metres of home in a spot where the tree cover and road revetments retain the channel in a firm grip to prevent erosion. The pools created by the scouring undercutting the dark tangles of alder roots would provide prefect sanctuaries for the trout as they began their dash for the very headwaters. Some of these giant trout would only be in the streams for twenty four hours and would make scant use of the cover afforded, others may take forty eight, perhaps even seventy two before completing their spawning and heading back down to the protection of the deep water of the main Avon. If we don't have high flows and fish are forced to run into the streams in low water it will be the slower ones that will find these hiding places so vital.
On over Rockford Common, down through Rodens Bottom, skirting the end of Newlands as I cross Digden Bottom with the pungent scent of the crushed bog myrtle before reaching the Dockens water. The Dockens is the most important seatrout spawning stream that remains on the western edge of the forest. When flows are suitable during November and December if all goes well a procession of these superb fish will leave Ashley Bends down in the main river, forcing their way across the Blashford shallows heading for the tiny rivulets at the very head of the stream; above Holly Hatch almost reaching Fritham. Fish up into double figures that when the need arises loose all caution and head for the breeding gravels to answer that primaeval call. My path took me up onto the scarp once more, onto Ibsley Common as I make my way towards Whitefield Plantation. The Small clump of pine that makes up Whitefield was planted by the current Earl's, great grandfather, I think there should be a great, but the thinking was to mark the extent of the Estate that could be seen from the house at the time. It now sits on the horizon liken by some to a stranded destroyer visible high on the heath from near and far. The old Ordnance Survey trig point that sits a couple of hundred metres off the North West end of the plantation has obviously been adopted by person or persons concerned at the loss of these memorials to past cartographers. It was glowing white in a coat of new paint, looking far smarter than any of the hundreds of trigs I have occupied in my professional role in times gone by. The OS had a dedicated trig maintenance team who had the task of ensuring the well being of its trigs bench marks, drainage channels, central column and spider. I think I either did all my observations just prior to their visits or maintenance in my time never included a coat of such brilliant white paint but I must say Whitefield's trig look most splendid aglow amidst the gorse and heather. I pressed on northward across the Common, past the remnants of the old Ibsley wartime aerodrome orientation buildings and spurred off across the heath onto North Hollow that gave views across the expanse of the Dockens catchment spread out to the east.
The peat stained Dockens Water in Digden Bottom and looking north east up the Dockens Catchment toward Holly Hatch.
Northward, northward, Hasley Inclosure, with an "I", to the east and beyond the green lawn of Latchmoor Bottom. A lawn in Forest terms applies to an area of grazing free from heather and bracken that the stock crop down to a fine soft turf. A delight to walk on with the turf cushion giving my ankles a well earned rest. At this time of year the short sward is always popular with the Wheatears as they stop off in their migration south the warmer winter climes. On cue two white rumps flashed as a pair of the birds moved twenty metres before dropping down onto a clump of grass to watch my passing. Across the lawn, showing the debris of tree trunks and deposited gravel of the flood, runs the Latchmoor Brook. Once as important to the salmon and seatrout as the Dockens, alas low flows and drainage have seen off the salmon and the seatrout run is a shadow of its former self. The Latchmoor brook rising up under Studley castle, no longer visible but the site of an royal hunting lodge. Running south west for ten kilometres down through Island Thorns, Amberwood and Alderhill Inclosures, across the lawn down through Ogdens, before changing its name to the Huckles Brook and dividing the Gorley's to run under the A338 to join the Avon a mile upstream of Ibsley Bridge. Like all the forest streams relatively short, dependent on its flow from the valley mires below the heather covered ridges. The Forestry Commission have in recent years plough vast sums of public money into undoing the drainage damage of their forebears in recreating many of these valley mires. Hopefully, the wet moss sponge that constitutes the mire will hold much of the winter flood water acting as a slow release system for the streams, keeping a life-supporting flow through the drier summer months.
Skirting Hasley and on across the Latchmoor Brook with the scattered trunks and roots of the recent flood.
Up once more, up again toward the Hampton Ridge. The ridge road always looks like a motorway after the miles of heather and gorse, its a nominated cycle route that is an equally popular walk. As I cross the gravel way I look left and right to see numerous groups dotted along the route in both directions, hopefully all enjoying the views south to the coast and west to the blue horizon of Dorset. I pass another trig point not in such gleaming livery more as I recall finding them in my past life. North east below me lies Pitts Wood looking for all the world as if it is surrounded by a massive palisade, the trunks of the newly thinned pines stand out stark under the canopy. Push-on, down through Burnt Balls, the name of the hillside not a conditions brought on by rubbing underwear, toward my final stream of the day the Ditchend Brook. As I descend along a sunken pathway bees carrying the last of the heather-honey crop pass overhead in their thousands. Covered in the grey pollen making for one of the many commercial apiaries that dot the bordering meadows. Always popular with the gourmets, who wax lyrical about the wonderful New Forest heather honey, I find the stuff bordering on rank and with the added cost and problems of extracting the thixotropic gel I always leave it on my colonies as their winter feed.
The stockade at Pitts Wood from Hampton Ridge and a natural burnt gorse sculture on Burnt Balls.
My path now took me up onto Godshill Ridge a mile or so west of Deadman Hill onto the B3078 linking Fordingbridge with Cadnam and the M27 making it one of the commuter rat runs that now service Southampton and the towns to the east. Not the most pleasant route to walk so I dropped back into the gorse to walk back south west toward Fordingbridge where I had one last call to make. I was curious to see if the recent rain had sufficiently filled one particular pond in the hope of spotting one of the Forests more fascinating inhabitants. I wasn't sure if rainfall at this time of year brought about the metamorphoses I was curious to see but as I was here I felt it was worth a look. I have to admit to standing in a shallow pool and staring at my feet for ten or fifteen minutes without success. I wasn't keen to get more involved with looking for them as I'm not sure of their conservation designation and didn't wish to risk breaking the law. I imagine such an amazing creature must be afforded the full power of the law as to risk its loss would be a crime in itself. Wishing the subject of my failure well I decided on yet one more further call before heading home and with that further mission in mind I followed the road past Sandy Balls, down the hill and over the Avon into Fordingbridge.
Down from Hampton Ridge over Burnt Balls to Ditchend Bottom and on towards Deadman Hill.
A stop at the George for a Speckled Hen before heading home.
I had occasion to be out and about early this morning and despite the weather forecast the previous evening suggesting I would be shrouded in mist the sunrise came up clear and bright. I was treated to the briefest soft amber glow chasing away the monotones of the pre-dawn before the clouds drifted in to hide in turn the sun and paint the lake and trees flat grey. The glimpse of the sun was sufficient to warm my personal solar panels, charge the batteries and make the early start bearable; reminding me why I find the dawn the most inspiring time of day. The events requiring my presence also required I spend and hour or two just standing and staring, I could use a more descriptive phrase but at the end of the day that's just what I did, stand beside a tree and stare out across the valley. I watched as the night shift of rabbits disappeared from the track verges, the roe deer abandoned the middle of the hay fields and retreated to the reed beds and the mice and voles scuttled and rustles into their tunnels and holes beneath grass and leaves about my feet. The day shift showed up with the Black-backed gulls slowly gaining height as they left the overnight roosts on the lakes passing overhead in flocks of up to a couple of hundred. North in search of the early plough where numbers in excess of ten thousand will gather in a month or two. The wood pigeons flew with unerring certainty across the valley to their feeding places using flight lines as clearly defined to them as our motorways. The Blue and Great tits began their noisy patrols of the scrub and pollards seeking the spiders and grubs that were too slow in leaving their night time stations. Perhaps the most intriguing the warblers as they left the reed beds to continue their migration south to the Med and beyond to Africa. Everything but the reason for my presence; never mind there's always tomorrow.
Sunrise at Thompkins Pool.
The other evening I took a walk beside the river at Ibsley to have a look at the new fenland we have created and decide at what point it would be best to have a go at strimming out the self set willow. Originally to accompany the removal of the old unmanaged willow Natural England had wished us to have cattle on the land to graze the aftermath. We eventually persuaded the powers-that-be cattle in and around the Trout stream and lakes was probably not a good idea due to the elongated nature of the land in question. The risk of a steer, trapped between two anglers approaching from opposite directions, panicking and stomping one or other into the mud wouldn't go down too well! Whilst the lack of cattle allows us to produce a fenland habitat which is far richer in flora and fauna than the nearby meadowland the downside is that there are no grazers to chomp the willow. If I do not get out and strim the stuff we will be back in the same position of a light restricted, over grown wilderness of no use to man nor beast, within a very short space of time. Well, it was pretty obvious that the sooner I make a start the better as once the leaves fall off it will be doubly difficult to pick out the willow stems in the newly established phragmites beds. I reckon on it taking three good days and if I add in the strimming of the self set alder around the lakes down the road, which takes between three and five days, I have plenty of exercise ahead of me this autumn.
The regrowth on the site cleared back in March is now in need of the self set willow being removed.
Whilst wandering through the head high regrowth I happened on Colin Gilson just landing a nice chub. I think the chub weighed about five and a half pounds but its not the chub that so intrigues me about that photo, its that hat! Now that is what I call a technological advance. I take it its a head torch as opposed to some form of sonic fish finder, I hadn't spotted it whilst on the bank or I would have asked. That would have been an absolute god send in the days of my seatrout fishing on the rivers of West Wales. A hands free light source that pointed in the same direction as you looked without cutting off the circulation to the top of your skull as some of the elasticated headbands seem to manage; clever stuff. As for the fishing it seems to be producing very well recently with several bags of chub to seven pounds with catches of ten fish or more not uncommon. The barbel have woken up with multiple catches in at least three different areas of the estate and the dace fishing is beginning to gather pace as we head into autumn.
Colin with a good looking chub and an all seeing hat.
On the bird front we have had a Purple heron lower in the valley down at Avon Tyrell and I have been keeping an eye out on my travels about the estate in the hope it may have moved north. I found over forty of the grey variety plus several egrets but no sign of the hoped for Purple bird. I did spot one or two other interesting locals with fifteen Teal, four Raven and at least four different Kingfishers probably one or two more but the speed at which the birds travel up and down the river makes minimising duplication difficult. One time I had forgotten my camera and I came across a gem of a shot in three roe deer eating acorns under a large oak. As they were the trio from the lakes they are quite used to people and paid little heed to my presence that would have allowed an approach to within thirty yards. Hopefully they will still be about over the weekend affording me a second opportunity.
A further sign of the approach of autumn as the fools cress begins to break away and block the hatches.
This week has seen the sad passing of one of the great men of the salmon world. Not a rich and famous salmon angler who had fished throughout the world and written flamboyantly of his exploits to inform others of his great deeds. This was an unassuming man of colossal knowledge, a man who had spent almost his entire life associated with the sea and the salmon locally at the mouth of our river; Mike Parker.
Mike Parker returning a kelt after stripping in the hatchery, a fish captured six months earlier at the Mudeford nets. .
I first met Mike in the early 90's in his role as the chairman of the Mudeford Fishermen’s Association when I needed to talk to the salmon nets-men about one or two ideas we had about the future of the diminishing salmon stocks. At that time for the rods and nets to talk was unheard of, the disciplines viewed each other with deep mistrust and suspicion. Unsure of the response I would receive it was with some trepidation I tracked down Mike's phone number and gave him a call on the nothing ventured, nothing gained basis. As it transpired I found more than an ally, I came to look upon Mike as a friend that both Anne and I thought very highly. It came as a breath of fresh air in the fishery world to speak with someone who had no hidden agendas, he was up front about the need of the fishermen to survive and worked tirelessly to do all he could to work with the Wessex Salmon Association, as we were then, in trying to find solutions to what he recognised as our joint problems. It was Mike who introduced me to the nets-men and convinced them of our genuine intent. I spent virtually every tide for three years with the nets men of Mudeford and developed an enormous respect for the work and effort involved in there occupation. It was Mike that set the example when we first set up the buy-backs and brood-stock procurement and it was Mike who fought so long and hard in trying to ensure the survival of the traditional netting in the Run at Mudeford. As I write this the screen saver on this computer is a shot of the early morning netting at Mudeford a photo that never fails to evoke good memories.
The first shows yours truly collecting a salmon that Mike Parker and Tim Edgell have just netted from the run at Mudeford. The second is a shot that adorns the wall above my desk and of a similar scene to my screen saver.
We actually had more in common than concerns about the state of the salmon run as Mike had a love of the Avon valley where he spent many a winter day, when too rough or cold to be on the water, making lobster pots from the willow beside the river. He was part of the shooting fraternity and in the days when there was a bounty on the beak of every Cormorant spent many an early morning knocking down enough birds to cover the cost of his netting licence. We would regularly see Mike at the agricultural shows and heavy horse events that took place on the estate as in his retirement his love of the countryside never diminished. I always enjoyed our unscheduled meetings and whilst retired Mike was always keen to hear of our trials and tribulations with the salmon and life on the estate. We enjoyed several pints together as we discussed our plans, hopes and fears and at such a time all I really have left to say is; "Cheers Mike, it was good to have known you".
We have been working on the Fishing Lodge whenever the opportunity has arisen and we are now very close to completion. We have the loo and kitchen up and running and the lighting is nearly there but for a few minor adjustments and realignments. We have chosen a colour scheme to be as warm as possible as the lodge tends to be used when rain, ice and snow drive the anglers from the bank. The days of the old rod list several of the rods never made it beyond the lodge being content to enjoy the fire, a warming glass of sloe gin and the hour or two it took to read the Times in peace and quiet. I don't imagine we will see those genteel times return it is however good to see the Lodge return to the centre of fishery life. It will be some time before we see the picture boards and the prints return to the walls but the very development of this new record of the fisheries life will be a pleasure to see grow.
We are looking to have the facility of holding small group meetings alongside the day to day use of the lodge by the anglers and shoot day beaters. We intend to have four small tables to allow us flexibility of design for various functions and uses. To afford the comfort associated with the old chairs that previously occupied the lodge we are seeking a second hand, well worn, friendly looking leather suite. If you know of anyone replacing a tired chesterfield type suite, a three seater and two armchairs that would still take a coat of polish let me know.
The warm interior of the Fishing Lodge.
From a more practical fishery standpoint the floods of Thursday will hopefully have had benefits for one or two of the creatures of the valley. Its very difficult to stand on the bridges and watch the brown torrent go scouring on its way and imagine that anything can benefit from such a scene. Despite the destructive appearance of the trash filled soup there are many creatures that await such condition and habitats that benefit from such a scouring.
Our salmon and seatrout populations that have been trapped in the Lower river will have felt the pressure drop signalling the deluge twenty four hours before the eventual downpour arrived. The anticipation of fresh water and the opportunity to answer that primaeval call, to run into the river in readiness for the winter spawning, would have given rise to excited movement throughout the pools. Jockeying for prime position in the lies would have seen leaping and bow waving fish showing across the pools and the harbour. As the forest stream filled and discharged into the main channel the river will have started to rise and the seatrout will have started the procession upstream to the confluence pools of the natal tributaries. Some of the larger fish will have made this exact journey several years in succession, others will be following genetic triggers for the first time homing in on imprinted signals from their juvenile time spent in the bright waters of the streams. Once the trout reach the deep confluence pools they will find hiding places beneath undercut banks and overhanging trees where they will await the maturation of the precious eggs and milt developing within them. Whilst the grilse may join the seatrout in the excited, unseemly rush upstream once the pressure drop signifies sufficient water to come our larger salmon will be a little more circumspect. Such large fish require deeper water to cover their huge backs, not for them the risk of running hatch pools or driving over gravel shallows on their flanks, thrashing the water to foam in their wake. Those already in the lower river will become agitated and wait to see the size of the flood before risking a move on upstream to find a further safe haven closer to the eventual redd they strive to produce in December or January. We may glimpse the coloured backs and spotted flanks as they push on over the spillways and hatches. Some may decide they intend to spawn in the middle reaches and will stay put in their current comfortable lie. Resident cock fish becoming aggressive toward travellers as they enter his pool, particularly if he has a potential hen with him, he will be seen bow waving and chasing the visitors as he sends them on their way. Another month and these resident cock fish will become even more territorial driving many different species from their pools and attacking anything that remotely annoys them. Red will be immediately arouse their ire, the proverbial red rag to a bull works equally well to a cock salmon. I have seen a Coke tin repeatedly attacked as it circled in a large eddy and double red maggot can get you into all sorts of trouble later in the year. Hopefully the larger Avon fish, in the Harbour and Lower Stour, will take the opportunity to at least reach the safer waters of the lower river. At flows below ten cumecs such as we have endured this summer the Solomon tracking report informs us many of the fish that enter the harbour never make it above the Great Weir and are lost to the system; fingers crossed the floods will have ensured these fish will now be safe.
One other that will benefit from our flood will be the eel population. At this time of year the yellow eels of our rivers, lakes and ponds lose their yellow and take on the silver of the sea. The colour change is in readiness for their migration in the opposite direction from that of the salmon and seatrout as they head down the rivers and head out across the North Atlantic for their spawning sites in the Sargasso sea. The eel population of our valley is in common with that across Europe in serious decline. The reasons are unknown with differing claims being made along similar lines as those that claim to understand the decline of our lowland salmon. The eels that remain in our river valley will use the cover of the high flows and silt laden water to begin this incredible journey. The lot of our eels is that of being high on the menu for many that also inhabit the valley making the need for caution and concealment as they get under way. Avon eels were prized in the smoked fish world as being of a large average size ideal for the smoking process. The disused gravel pits and estate lakes that are dotted through-out the Avon Valley produce eels of almost mythical proportion. Steve Terry's eleven pound plus record eel came from a Ringwood Lake with accidental and unauthenticated monsters still occurring from time to time. The commercial traps make vast catches of migrating silvers and a thriving fyke net fishery still operates in the lower river. We have not fished commercially for almost ten years with the licence being taken as a means to influence policy. This year we have not set the screens as we wish to see a recovery of the stock before we return to commercial exploitation. What I would dearly wish to see would be greater understanding of the reasons behind the decline. To achieve that we will need to see a great deal of research through our university system that is ideally situated to expand on the concerns of the fishery owners. Residual poisons, pesticides and the tolerance levels that are specific to eels, temperature impact, changes in ocean currents and climate change impacts, questions beyond the scope of the EA yet desperately in need of answers. Strangely populations of yellows in some of the estate carriers are still at a very high level but it does not take a survey to tell you the population has declined ask any Avon angler the problems of fishing the Avon after dark eels gave rise to in years gone by and the answer is obvious. The fecundity of our European eel is vast just why they are not able to sustain their population should be a cause of equally vast concern.
Commercial eel catches, hopefully not a scene from the past.
What else is out there that will appreciate the coloured water? The barbel will love it, coming out from the weed beds and the oxygenated runs, enabling them to forage the entire river seeking the worms and grubs being flushed through the system. Always fish I associate with the floods and spates they will be in their element, high water at a time when the water temperature is still sufficiently high to support a fast metabolism. A smelly bait fished in the traditional swims should find success as long as the colour stays with us.
During Thursday's flood there was three feet of water covering this ford and the driver of the red van failed to recognise the signals.
As with much in the natural world there will also be losers if the flood catches them unaware. The young of many fish and birds risk being swept downstream if safe havens are not available at regular intervals. Hopefully most cyprinids and birds will have had two or three months to become sufficiently street wise to recognise the signals of low pressure and the rising water. Oxbows and the fixed inception carriers, that allow the rising water to slowly back up into them, provide thousands of metres of protected habitat. There is sufficient cover to afford sanctuaries, fingers crossed the signals were understood and acted upon.
Brian Marshall assures me we have just experienced over 70mm of rain in the last twenty four hours and whilst that is an incredible amount of rain for this part of the world having just returned from resetting the hatches I can well believe it. The speed at which the river has risen, over 0.4 metres in just a few hours, indicates that somewhere close at hand in the catchment has received an amazing deluge. It will certainly give the river a much needed flush through hopefully removing much of the accumulated debris of the summer low flow.
The first photo shows the water well out in the meadows at Lifelands as the Linford brook is backed up as it meets the main Avon. The second is a shot of the ford at Moylescourt on the Dockens Water that Brian sent as an illustration of the volume of rain we enjoyed today. It will be very interesting to look at the gravel after such a severe summer flood as it should have cleaned it beautifully in readiness of the autumn seatrout spawning.
Chaotic as ever but I did have occasion to visit Hucklesbrook yesterday and for the briefest of moments it would almost have passed as a lazy summer day. The sun shone, the stouts sharpened up their hypodermics and I was warm enough to take off a sweat shirt, alas it didn't last and the grey skies soon returned. Whilst the river and groundwater, higher in the catchment, are in need of a prolonged period of rain to get things back to normal levels I'm afraid I want a fortnight or three weeks of sunshine before we say goodbye to summer. I need to feel we have enjoyed a traditional summer before I consider the prospects of a long, cold, grey winter such as we endured last year; thoughts such as that make Calabria seem an extremely attractive lifestyle move.
Warm enough to send the ponies in search of shade.
At various times I have the enjoyable task of chicken sitting, this isn't some deviant means of pleasuring myself but the chicken equivalent of baby sitting. Having had chickens at home as I grew up I have always looked on them as part of any rural ideal; particularly marans with their dark brown eggs and bolshie cockerels. Today hens seem to be in almost every garden and they are certainly having a resurgence in popularity. Just how cost effective a means of getting ones own eggs keeping half a dozen hens works out I wouldn't like to say; particularly if they are pampered as some I know. The eggs are only half the story as I think it would be justifiable to claim a health benefit from the calming pleasure the sight of hens pecking about the garden bring with them. The ultimate hen keeping satisfaction is your own broodie leading her dozen day olds out for their first foray into the garden; a cockerel is a requirement for that of course. Unlike my bees which produce the most expensive honey in Britain you can also have a conversation with a hen; it might be worth just checking you can't be overheard by the neighbours. I challenge anyone who keeps hens not to speak to them, its part and parcel of the whole hen husbandry process. Even on my brief, irregular chicken sitting visits I soon fall into the way of conversations with our feathered friends particularly that last one which refuses to enter the hen house to be shut in for the night! With all such enterprises there are of course one or two minus points such as rats that home in on chicken houses with unerring accuracy. There is also the cockerel that decides four thirty in the morning is the time to let everyone know its time to get up. Neighbours soon lose their friendly disposition after a month or two of early calls. Our hen house had a low ceiling to prevent the cockerels from stretching their necks to crow which resolved the problem until he was let out at a more reasonable time. All in all I think it comes down on the plus side and given time and the room I would definitely recommend a few hens and half a dozen cockerels for the table. Before going down the cockerel table bird route its worth remembering that at some point in the future you will have to dispatch dear “Cocky” if you want to enjoy the fruits of your labours. Trying to justify a pen full of ten year old cockerels takes some doing; other than for fly hackles of course but that still requires the fateful decision at some point!
Fresh eggs are only part of the fascination of chickens.
Hopefully we have seen the last of the weed cutting that has been taking place upstream in recent days. It looks as if they may have finished which will hopefully prevent a repeat of his morning events. We had a continuous stream of weed for two hours that made any fishing impossible. I'm not sure what happened to the promised weed booms, mechanical removal and bankside removal; I suppose we should be glad the promised EA officer did turn up for half an hour and stand about with his hands in his pockets before disappearing from the scene. There is a lot of weed hung up that I will try and find time to chase on down to avoid dribs and drabs breaking through for days but with the current low flows I don't imagine it will be too much of a problem.
Hopefully we will not see a repeat of today's loss of fishing.
Show Day has come and gone and the efforts of all the many people involved over the past weeks and months came to splendid fruition. Its quite amazing to see the transition that had overtaken the park within the last ten days, grass cut, hedges trimmed, marquees erected, toilets lined out, horse and livestock rings involving literally thousands of fencing stakes and the months of planning and organising by the show committee; all for one day!
The showground in the background with the horseboxes and the southern carpark stretching into the distance of the Lower Park.
I was on the show ground earlier than I had hoped with time to on my hands whilst I awaited events requiring my attention. One of the benefits of an early start is the opportunity it affords to walk the livestock rings as the judging got under way. Its always more rewarding to see the stock lined out for judging than sleeping in their pens and stalls throughout the remainder of what turned out to be perfect weather on the day being cloudy with occasional sun; not too hot for the animals. To bring animals to the show in the peak of condition and so immaculately turned out is an enormous commitment in time and effort. To train them to walk in a halter is difficult enough but to ensure coats and fleece are clipped and shampooed with hooves oiled and polished takes hours of dedications. To add to the complications of getting them prepared there are also the added problems of Defra livestock travel regulations ensuring disease is not spread across the country and prize animals put at risk. All those that show obviously get enormous satisfaction from producing such wonderful animals and I must say I get great pleasure from seeing them at the show as they are the very essence of what an agricultural show is all about.
Early judging on the morning of the show.
There are of course the traditional attractions in the horticulture tent with the flowers and the prize vegetables, lots of arts and crafts, various pets and dog shows and a mouth watering selection of cakes. The Christchurch Anglers put on a coaching session down on the river and fly casting tuition. Archery, ancient tractors by the dozen, vintage cars and the tangle of food stalls, cloths outlets and car sales and many more attractions adding to the displays in the main ring. Oddly, many of the regulars that meet each year at the show gather at the Ringwood Brewery beer tent which always proves one of the more popular marquees with Best soon being exhausted making the light summer Boondoogle the perfect tipple on the day.
Traditional classes in the horticultural tent.
18.00 degrees C at The Ibsley Penstock 08:30 pm
There you go, below the cut-off figure and if the forecast is correct unlikely to go back into the red in the forseeable future.
At midday today a ton of oak decided to join us on the park.
Despite the recent couple of days rain the ground is still very dry and under such conditions oaks can be extremely dangerous. It is almost a self preservation mechanism whereby they self pollard to reduce there water demand. I have probably seen half a dozen large oak limbs dropped under such circumstances, relatively calm conditons and for no apparent reason down they come. Apart from the obvious and widely known advice not to stand, picnic, park or sleep under large trees we also have the problem of deciding which are the most likely to develop this unsavoury habit. Unfortunately its virtually impossible to identify the likely candidates leaving us with the problem of either felling the entire park or prohibiting people from using it. We try to arrive at a happy medium in restricting access to some areas but taking care to warn people of the risks.
The drop in temperature has also acted as a reminder of the autumn shortly to come. in fact many signs are that autumn ahs already arrived but I refuse to think of August as anything other than summer. The signs I refer to are the birds and their movements with the Swifts for the most part having gone and the passerines moving off south at an ever increasing rate. The waders are also moving with many passing through the valley as they return from the northern breeding grounds. Add the sight of the combine harvesters and the ripening fruit on the laden trees and we must accept the season is turning.
19.00 degrees C at Ellingham Bridge 08:30 pm
With the temperature slowly dropping and a cloudy week forecast we may yet see the salmon rods out on the banks for one last cast before the end of the season. Whatever the water temperature does this week it doesn't look as if I will be out with the rod. Ellingham Show is next saturday and with hundreds of acres of parkland and verges to cut plus miles of hedges to trim we will be hard at it. I will no doubt spend several hours sat in the tractor considering the work schedule that I have to arrange for the weeks ahead. There are trees to fell and pollard beside the A338 and the next phase of the Ibsley tree work to plan. Several areas of bank are in need of repair and several snags to be removed, all in all plenty to keep us busy. The work involved just to keep on top of the dilapidation that occurs annually on the river is beyond us these days; we simply do not have the resources in both manpower and materials. This frustrating inability to get the river back into the state we would ideally wish to see will be the source of much of my thinking as I watch the green world slip by under the wheels this week.
Whatever the true interpretation of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" the more I progress through life the more I seem to identify with Vladimir. During the four decades I have been closely involved with the Avon Valley it seems that I continually await the arrival of someone that has the answers we seek.
What of the other characters? Who is taking on Estragon's role? This just has to be the riverine trusts that we set up back in the early 90's. Pozzo, perhaps the riparian owners or corporate interests? Lucky, the angling clubs or syndicates? The question that hangs on every bodies lips, who is Godot? That's easy, it just has to be the EA . Our play may have more acts than the original two but the end result of years of waiting is that nothing in the valley has changed. On a physical perspective woods have been planted and felled, banks revetted and channels cleared and realigned but the homogeneous mass that constitutes the river and valley sits impervious to our hopes and aspirations and continues it's sad decline. Godot continues to promise his arrival through the "messenger boy" arranging numerous forums and committees, drip feeding the promise of tomorrow. What has to be remembered is that however long we wait for Godot he is never going to turn up.
Whilst we wait we continue to pay Godot his millions not to appear and whilst that money, taken from Lucky, is directed to this end there will not be any alternative other than to keep waiting! As for Pozzo he's far too shrewd; sporting rates having been quite rightly removed the alternative that would have allowed "he who pays the say", in the form of 142, was nimbly sidestepped leaving the way ahead in the dark. The aspirations of the those that use, manage and own the valley to determine and develop strategy through the riverine trusts will continue to be frustrated through lack of core funding; like Vladimir and Estragon a hand to mouth existence whilst they wait!
20.00 degrees C at Ringwood Weir 08:30 pm
With water temperatures at Knappmill reaching 22 degrees C last week (See Temperature Spread Sheet on Knappmill site) salmon anglers continue to fish the Avon. Is it any wonder that many in the wider conservation world considered angling to be at best inward looking at worse a joke, they should be ashamed of themselves. Fish stuck below a water company barrier, reluctant to run upstream with flows below ten cumecs, facing water temperatures at the limit of salmonid tolerance, still being exploited - unbelievable!!!!!!!
21.00 degrees C at Ibsley Main Hatch. 01:30 pm
20.75 degrees C at Ibsley Penstock. 08:30 pm
As you can see I took a couple of readings today as I was hoping to see a reduction after the ten hours of heavy rain we experienced last night and this morning. The river did come up four or five inches and take on a tinge of colour but I fear we will need considerably more rain and cloud cover to have any real impact on the temperature.
21.50 degrees C at Ellingham Bridge. 08:30 pm
I continue to be amazed at just how incompetent EA fisheries division are, we are at the temperature levels that the EA requested we cease salmon fishing and yet we still do not have a record of the water temperature from them. It was agreed the salmon fisheries would check the EA Knapp mill website to ensure an independent record of the water temperature was used as the cut-off point. After weeks of incorrect readings being displayed and with all the EA staff available it still appears that the EA are incapable of getting a daily reading put up on the site. Worse they fail to notify those that look in seeking the temperature reading that their site is useless and the displayed temperature is WRONG.
People ask me why we bother stopping fishing when those at Bournemouth and West Hants, or Semcorp as they are now known, Royalty Fishery and opposite us at North-end carry on regardless. The reason we and others stop is that the EA requested us to, in light of the stress high water temperature place on fish after playing and return. The EA asked us to stop at 18° a compromise was agreed at 19° and the fisheries that continue decided that was still not high enough. Having picked up nine dead salmon at our Ibsley hatches one summer and eight the following year I have seen the high cost of rod angling on the Avon. Those dead fish were all reported to the EA who believed the high temperatures at the time were responsible hence the request to show some restraint. I for one will not fish for salmon under such conditions, I will not comment on the nature of those that do.
21.00 degrees C at Ibsley Botney Pool. 08:30 pm
I dropped in on the new gravel excavation that has been opened up over at Plumley and was delighted to see banks and banks of flowers planted to cover the soil bunds. The air was alive with insects and heavy with the perfume of acres of corn marigolds, phacelia and camomile.
The first shot shows the banks of flowers planted to attract insects such as the bumble bee in the middle pic. The third shows Starlings stripping the brambles of their blackberries. We currently have in the region of five hundred Starlings on the estate but this is the first time I have ever witnessed them feeding on blackberries to this extent.
Before I do anything else I will put up the water temperature as having taken it every day its the time it takes to put it up that I struggle to find.
20.00 degrees C at Ibsley Penstock. 08:00 pm
Now I can try and catch up with some of the events of recent days. I must start with the club Open Day which was an opportunity for those wishing to experience the joy of being beside the water to dip their toe without major outlay or risk. The coaches had a busy day and from what I heard the youngsters managed to catch the fish. I believe the bream put in an appearance to the coaches fishing the tip bringing good weights and size of fish to enthuse the beginners. The 24 hour carp match held on Vincent's was well supported with eighteen youngsters fishing through Saturday night. I have to say well done to John and Clifford Turner for arranging the match and seeing it ran so smoothly. Having looked after the juniors of the local club for a season or two I know just how much effort goes into running such an event. It was good to see so many mums and dads spend the night under canvas, thankfully the midges were kind and despite some disturbed sleep caused by the Optonics bleeping through out the night all enjoyed the event.
Kieren playing a carp at dusk.
I should mention a tale of disturbed sleep not attributable to either bugs, booze or bite alarms as related to me by Steve Gibson as he help steward the match. Steve's section was the end of Vincent's that backs onto Meadow Lake where he had pitched his bivvie in one of the Meadows swims. In the early hours whilst trying to get some sleep between fish he was woken by a sound of someone bathing between him and the next swim. Vigorous splashing and thrashing about went on for twenty minutes and just as Steve decided he'd had enough and was about to tell the culprit to pack it in it stopped. Minutes later it started on the other side of his swim, it went on splashing and wallowing about right next to the bank within ten feet of his bed-chair for a further ten minutes. That was enough, determined to discover the villain of the piece the culprit was illuminated in the beam of Steve's torch and was proven to be one of the local otters splashing and rolling about in the margins almost within touching distance. What he was looking for Steve couldn't see but I suspect it may well have been signal crayfish that in an effort to escape being eaten by the carp hide in the roots of the alders and willows along that bank. Otters seem to love crays and will spend hours searching likely hideaways leaving the tell tale pile of claws and shell as a calling card highlighting their invasive alien clearance project.
The first shows George looking on as the fish that won him a years CAC membership for the largest fish by a non-member is weighed by Nigel and Steve. Things look close as Oliver has his catch weighed in with interest and tension rising as the crowd look on. Oliver, in the green beanie, eventually proved the winner with 86 pounds of carp to his credit.
Much of my time this weekend was taken up with plums, cherry plums, mirabelle plums, call them what you will but with them I have been making slivovitz and plum vodka. Not actually slivovitz but the plum brandy after the fashion of sloe gin with plums steeped in brandy and sugar to provide us with a Christmas liqueur. This year has seen an astonishing set of fruit with hundreds of pounds now ready for picking. You can only make so much booze, its not the cost of the spirit but the frequency at which it can be decently imbibed. With stocks of sloe gin and blackberry vodka yet to be replenished the risk of overkill must be avoided.
19.00 degrees C at Ellingham Bridge Pool. 04:00 pm
Its been a long, long day so only the briefest of reports.19.75 degrees C at Ibsley Bridge Pool. 08:30 pm
What I failed to mention yesterday was that I spent a couple of hours watching the ongoing carp removal from one of the lakes. In actual fact it turned out to be a couple of hours watching the carp run circles around the electro boat and I spent the time watching the local wildlife. Whilst I was sat on a tree stump watching the boat work back along the bank towards me several broods of Mallard were flushed from the margins. I was delighted to have a brood of Teal come quietly along the tree line and get to within five metres of me before the duck spotted me and started her diversionary antics. The five juveniles would not have been able to fly confirming breeding within walking or swimming distance, no more than a mile or so at most.
To add to the Teal sighting I had a flock of eleven Crossbills fly over, heading west so they may be back on the estate in the large pine plantations where we see the large flocks each winter. There were also six Mandarin ducks that looked like a brood that also flew off over the A338 and disappeared into the estate so hopefully they may be on one of the woodland ponds. If I get a moment I must drop in and check one or two of these enclosed ponds as they never see anyone for weeks on end making ideal habitat for the wood ducks.
The stalking is going well and I will write up a few of the more interesting moments when I get time but for now I'm going to bed.
You may have noticed I have changed the date on the last entry, only because I wrote it with the events of yesterday in mind but it was the wee, early hours before I got around to putting it up on the site.
As for today, Wednesday 27th, I have been out taking the water temperature again and this evening at 08:30pm it was 19.5 degrees C at Gorley Corner. Its a bit of a lottery trying to assess when to take the reading to get it to balance with Knappmill due to the increased warming the further downstream you go. I would imagine that the water temperature at the Royalty is at least one if not one and a half degrees warmer than we are in the middle reaches. We then have the warming effect of the sun through out the day to take into account and if we work on a couple of degrees for the teatime maximum the two should offset each other and my reading is hopefully not too far adrift.
I will continue to put the temperature up on the site each day until the EA get their act together.
The reason I was out and about up at Hucklesbrook and Gorley this evening is that we have the deer stalkers with us at the moment and I was out looking at the roe bucks. We are looking for the old, interesting heads, as they go back in condition and unlikely to survive the winter. As with all things in the animal kingdom its the survival of the fittest, they have been the top buck, continued their line and have been driven off the patch. There have been two bucks fighting for the right to continue their line at Huckles brook for the last fortnight and I was interested to see if the youngster had ousted his old man. As it transpired I didn't find either so it will require a visit on spec to see what hand fate dealt the old fella. Hopefully they have not fallen prey to the A338 which claims a high number of the bucks each year, combine that with the long hard winter we have just endured that claimed many old bucks they seem to be a little thin on the ground this season. I did spot a fine young six point further inside the estate but he is safe for a further year as he was looking in top form attentively shadowing a bored looking doe. It will be an early start for me tomorrow, I have to be out by 04:00am to accompany the stalker, so I will leave today's entry at that.
A grainy old pic taken in poor light showing a good young buck in his prime.
I had a good excuse to get the rods out this evening and spend an hour or two looking for a summer perch or two. My excuse was that the EA Knapp mill website has packed up again and the water temperature is close to the point where salmon fishing ceases on many Avon fisheries. The reason the website is important is that at the time the agreement between the fisheries was established it was agreed the Knapp mill website would be the determining site for the water temperature cut-off point. Unfortunately the temperature monitoring equipment has been stuck on 16.14 for days and it is obvious that the recent warm day or two will have raised the temperature considerably. My visit to the river was to enable me to drop the thermometer in the margins to confirm our fears. I chose to fish a deep hole under the bank offering plenty of cover that looked like a text book perch swim. Before I set up a handful of maggots and half a dozen chopped worms into the base of the reeds to be slowly swept through the swim, hopefully persuading the perch to come on the feed. I made up the fifteen foot rod to give me a little extra reach and soon had a lob-tail following the freebies into the depths. I was fishing a 3AA wire stemmed Avon, with an AA missing, to allow it to sit high in the water resembling a traditional perch bob, set at twelve feet to slowly search the hole. I was stret-pegging down the edge slowly allowing the worm to flare up as I inched down the swim. With my attention firmly on the float I fumbled about in the tackle tray to find my thermometer. I slipped the loop of the string attached to the brass cased hardy thermometer over the rod rest and settle in for a couple of hours float watching.
A good bream coming to the net in Crowe Pool to add to previously landed tench and carp.
It turned out to be an overcast, warm, humid evening just what you would have asked for so I had no excuse for failing to catch after forty five minutes. I had one or two bobs and flicks but nothing "hit-able" so I was soon distracted by the number of mayfly hatching bring several trout up to the top to make the most of them. Even more distracting was that on the glassy glide at the tail of the pool what looked like one or two very large roach were also joining in. Large roach are scarcer than hens teeth in the Avon at present so the appearance of these red fins required closer inspection. I whipped the float out and flicked the lob tail in as a freebie before sticking the size 8 in the cork handle and creeping down the pool to the point where I'd seen the roach. The spot where they had topped was ten feet off the bank in what looked like five or six feet of water. The evening light made seeing into the water impossible so I tucked myself down in the reeds to see if there might be a repeat performance. Almost immediately a good double figure barbel rolled lazily over and down, exactly where I was looking. Well, there were fish still down there but whether the barbel had bullied out the roach we would have to wait and see. Not a lot happened for ten minutes then for the next half an hour several bream topped convincing me it must have been wishful thinking turning them into roach in the low light. I was still uncertain as these bream were considerably larger than the roach I thought I had seen, some of these bream must have been seven or eight pounds at least, not easily mistaken for a roach, even Avon roach. I watched for a further ten minutes in which time the bream continued to roll before my legs seized up requiring me to straighten up and get back to the rods. As I stood and looked down into the run an enormous, fin perfect, roach dolphin'd almost within touching distance. Amazing so they do still exist in the middle Avon; I wonder what the odds of finding them this winter would be?
The ants decided the weather was suitable to get on with their flying to establish new colonies.
Ah, the water temperature, over nineteen degrees I fear, it looks as if salmon fishing is off the menu for a day or two. Whilst the majority of fisheries stop one or two continue to exploit the salmon which tells us a lot about the anglers involved and just where their priorities lay. As for my perch I did manage two before failing light stopped play, as for their weight the pair would have been hard pressed to make 8 ounces.
Earlier this week I was at the trustees meeting of the Wessex Chalk stream and Rivers Trust and whilst I firmly believe river trusts to be the future of riverine representation at times it does appear faced with huge problems to overcome. I wont bore you with the administrative details of running such an organisation or the obstacles that have to be overcome before we can actually get on the ground and resolve some of the problems facing our rivers. The reason I comment on my whereabouts is that I missed out on the opportunity to attend the book launch for Caught by the River's latest addition to its library "On Nature". Those of you that like me believe there is a great deal more to angling than fish would enjoy the informed writing and mellow reminiscences of the mixed band of contributors. It is this eclectic mix of contributors that perhaps capture the appeal of angling and the enjoyment of the countryside that keeps us returning to be absorbed into the magic of the valley. I am a firm believer in environment determining outlook in that farmers are farmers be they in Priddy or Ping'an, unfortunately the same can be said about bankers and barristers. Those that appreciate the natural pace and delights of rural Britain share a deep primordial link lost to many in our materialistic society. The river may be the common thread that underscores Caught by the River, the opportunity a visit to the river affords for reflection and relaxed chatter between friends on every conceivable subject is the essence. As we sit and put the world to right and air aloud our inner thoughts the Caught by the River acts as the evening mist that allows us a glimpse of the thoughts of others of a like mind leaving us wishing to know just a little more. "On Nature" stirs feelings like ancient oak doors in high walls, mysterious hidden lakes that have never been netted and cobweb draped leaded lights, they all produce a desire to discover just a little more of what lies within.
Caught by the River presents "On Nature"
I've been out playing catch-up, trying desperately to get rid of the Himalayan balsam, ragwort and Japanese knotweed before they set seed. I recently heard on the television that they believe they may have found a biological control for Himalayan balsam which will be a most welcome advance in controlling the wretched stuff. I found plants over ten feet tall with a stem thickness of three inches that looked more like trees than annuals. I note the advancement of a biological control with caution not only the obvious "Cane toad" syndrome but the effectiveness of any introduction will take some time to prove. We have been dealing with what can best be described as a ragwort explosion in recent years yet the Cinnabar moth remains helpless faced with such profusion. I believe the control that is being developed for HB is a fungal disease that is spore derived so the exposure should be significantly greater so fingers crossed we see a result in the not too distant future.
Whilst on the subject of ragwort, the pulling of which is always a thankless task at this time of year, if I were to highlight a flower of the month it would have to be ragwort. Its contentious existence always gives rise to much discussion and heated debate. In so much as under the 1959 Weed Act, it along with a couple of thistles and a dock that are deemed invasive or in fact injurious, Natural England is empowered to serve a notice on any occupier who allows uncontrolled spread of the plants on their land. Alas due to its poisonous effect on horses there is also guaranteed to be a pony club matron bellowing down the phone at the first glimpse of yellow on the verges. Its one of those seasonal certainties that along with swallows and cuckoos in the spring, each summer buxom Bertha will descend exuding righteous indignation that we should allow our ragwort to threaten the very existence of every pony between Bournemouth and Birmingham.
Back to my flower of the month in that I have decided that whilst ragwort and in latter years Himalayan balsam attract more attention there are far more deserving candidates carrying on their day to day existence in the valley without the fanfares and spotlights of dubious publicity. How about Hemp agrimony, great clumps of it looking wonderful and providing bags of nectar for the insects? Perhaps Angelica with its cloud like flower heads held on such dark and threatening green stems, those stems I remember chewing in its crystallized state when meant for the cake decorations? The water mint and forget-me-not beside the ditches, the fragrance of the mint crushed at every footfall is almost heady in its intensity. The dreamy blue of the forget-me-not so easily overlooked beneath its larger neighbours perhaps a month past its best. Great willow herb is a definite contender, as is perhaps the common mullein but I'm not sure the mullein are not as alien to this part of the valley as is the Himalayan balsam having been brought in with disused gravel pit infill. Its not any of them, I've decided on the flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus this delicate flower hiding away in the ditches and drains is always a joy to chance upon and long may it continue to do so.
Possible candidates for flower of the month.
Simple forget-me-not or complex angelica.
I must mention the angling club open day that gives an opportunity for anyone who feel they may wish to take up fishing to come along and have a go. Its to be held at Somerley Lakes and if you fancy finding out what drives so many people to spend countless hours peering into and dreaming about fish get yourself along there. You don't have to be a member expert tuition plus tackle and bait laid on, so there's no excuse. Whilst aimed at the younger generation its not exclusively so octogenarians have been seen on previous days. If your feeling self conscious bring along a grand child as an excuse, you never know you both may find a whole new world opens before your very eyes. It would be a good Idea if I said that it was next Sunday, Sunday the 31st of July, Somerley Lakes, two miles north of Ringwood up the A338 on the left/west side of the road through Tarmac gravel yard entrance. There's lots to see in the marquees, fly tying, tackle displays, lap dancing - no that's a lie - but I believe Trevor and Budgie will have the Roach Project stand on display which is far more interesting. Hope to see you there.
The winner of flower of the month Botomus umbellatus the flowering rush .
On my desk, in actual fact they are now on our mantle piece through lack of space on the desk, sit a stone axe and a large hammer stone. The axe is a beautiful example of the stone-age flint knappers art and used to be housed in a local museum my father use to have in the village. I've forgotten which period they were deemed to have come from palaeolithic, mesolithic, neolithic what difference is a few tens of thousands of years going to make anyway? The hammer stone was always contentious with some experts in the field undecided whether it was a worked tool or a rock suffering from plough and weather damage. To me it will always be a hammer stone as to pick it up and hold this most tactile of objects provides evidence enough of man's previous involvement with this rock.
What legacy are we leaving those ten thousand years hence?
It is the act of holding these ancient tools that is so thought provoking, to know that five, ten or perhaps fifty thousand years ago one of our ancestors sat on Salisbury Plain and held that very same piece of stone whilst engaged in his daily routine. It becomes a direct link to the past where our ancient looked out over the land that meant everything to him, the same land we pass and re-pass in our daily routines without a second thought. How large was his family? Was he a hunter gatherer or a farmer? How far did he roam from his home and family to provide their food? How close was the nearest neighbour and did they get on? What were his beliefs and did the henges have significance for him? Just what he looked out upon and how he impacted on his environment we will never really know, unless of course the H G Wells vision of the future becomes a reality. Strangely, despite the intervening thousands of years, we still remain ignorant of what our present day impact is on much of our environment. The plants and animals we share this valley with exist on a knife edge, societies demands take precedence at every turn; housing, roads, water, agriculture, waste disposal and many more, the only conservation measure guaranteed would appear to be lip service.
Its far too late for me to write an account of today's events so I'll just put up a few photo to give a flavour.
I arrived on the scene just as Mick Scarborough was letting this mega barbel go, not the best photo but it does capture the event.
Sean fishing hemp and tares in an effort to avoid the chublets. The leaping salmon was carved out of a piece ofthe hawthorn tree stump that can be seen just under the rod.
Deep runs between the ranunculas look inviting but many of the chub and barbel are still on the shallows.
Do you remember the first photo? It comes from the entry on the 21st of March and the second is the scene today showing the new growth.
Dah dah, superb, better than expected as a pair of these wonderful birds take up residence. The first is the hen bird peeping out, the second the wingtips of the male trying to get in beside her. Long lived, anything up to twenty years and believed to fly up to four million miles over their lifetime. From their first flight as the young drop from the nestbox they will not land again for two years, all of which I find simply staggering.
I do however need to correct one detail of my previous entry related to these marvellous birds in that my childhood memories of groups of Swifts screaming up the village high street were not as I thought broods but adult courtship flights. My mile walk home after school was a veritable hike for a six year old but having escaped "Miss James" nothing was too far or more eagerly anticipated. Summer dawdling through the allotments and stinging legs of freezing winter rain, along with the swifts, memories cast in stone. There have been seven or eight swifts hurtling around our house screaming their heads off for the past week. Yesterday a box I had hastily fixed under the eaves as a result of their unsettled visit a fortnight ago attracted the first touch down. Anne and I spent this evening eating our dinner out in the garden watching our new guests flashing in and out of the box as they established their new home. All we need to do now is to keep our fingers firmly crossed in the hope they are successful in their endeavours.
The first two photos illustrate how light and flow has seen a tranformation of the old discharge ditches as they fill with plant and fishlife. The third shows an ash pollard developing nicely but not unaided as all the lower growth has to be broken off to achieve the light beneath the tree cover.
At last I had the opportunity to spend a little time in the valley today and bathed in sunshine it was in fine form. I was actually looking at the state of the meadows as the silage mowing is in full swing and I have been balancing the channels to keep the ground as dry as possible. Even with the low flow in the river the water height is determined by the volume of weed in the channel and in some areas it has become quite dense giving rise to one or two problems. I have shut down the Harbridge on the west side of the valley, closed a gate on the main controls and sent the extra water down the east side of the valley into the trout stream, through Crowe and Thompkins pools and on down the Woodside and Ellingham carriers. Where the grass has been cut, baled, wrapped and removed the meadows are looking very well indeed, no poaching or churned tracks and a flush of fresh green growth has already brightened the valley . If conditions stay favourable, with sunshine and occasional showers, a second cut looks as if it will yield well. My problems arise when meadows aren't promptly mowed when I hold off the water. Not only am I sending water elsewhere, that may adversely impact on others, I am changing the regime within the river risking damage to the fishery and desirable habitat we wish to encourage. Silage made from over-stood hay fields full of dock and meadow sweet quickly loses its nutrient value and becomes woody and course. How the animals manage to eat some of this material always amazes me, I suppose if there's nothing else needs must. Tomorrow I must visit the lower east side of the valley below Blashford towards Lifelands to ensure I haven't made life difficult on the meadows on that side.
Cutting silage is in full swing throughout the valley with firm ground and better than expected yields in many places.
It is interesting to see how the change of flow has implications where it might not be expected. Prior to the start of the mowing the water level had dropped to the extent there was no flow through Crowe and Thompkins Pools. The change of regime has seen the flow once more spill out of the pools and freshen the discharge channels and raise the water table under the area of fenland we are attempting to establish after our tree clearance of last winter. The discharge channels cleared of dead wood and shade have sprung into life in spectacular fashion with lush vegetation and full of fry, S1 and S2 year class fish. Certainly chub and dace in the thousands just what else is hiding in these sanctuaries remains to be discovered.
As for chub, I happen upon John Mcgough on my travels who had managed four good fish when I arrived and judging by the number of fish in his swim he was likely to have added one or two more before the end of the day. John was also able to fill in one or two of the gaps that my recent absence from the river had created with news of several good barbel in recent days. Barbel are still not feeding freely with spawning yet to be completed it will be a week or two before we see larger numbers gracing the bank.
Just an update to let you know of our progress with the Fishing Lodge. Darren has completed the plastering and is now busy fitting out the loo and the kitchen. Hopefully if our luck holds and we don't get called off on other jobs a few more weeks and we will be in a position to use the hut.
As I went about my business today the point of note was without doubt the number of spiky feathered, soft skinned, beady eyed recently fledged young birds. Not only out on the estate but at home in the garden this years juveniles seemed to be everywhere. Pleasingly it was not only the birds that have produced a new generation but the lake margins are swarming with this years fry, in places the roach fry were so dense they blacken the water. Hopefully somewhere along the margins of the river this scene is being repeated countless times; trying to locate these clouds of river fry is far more tricky but we must hope they exist, if not we need to understand why.
The first shows a juvenile Blackcap that wasn't the least phased by my strimming this morning. The next is a juvenile robin as it enjoyed some of my mother's date and walnut cake which along with rich fruit cake she makes on a near industrial scale for church fetes, the drop-in centre and all far flung members of the family. I would imagine it was the first cake our Robin has seen but it just happened to be what I was enjoying with a cup of tea at at the time, besides he soon recognised a potential food source. The final shot was supposed to be the roach fry which were a dense dark mass below the basking carp, obviously not the way to try and photograph them.
I did managed to get out on the riverbank today to rid us of the stand of Himalayan balsam at Ibsley. It was beyond hand pulling as it stood in a bed of nettles that stood seven or eight feet high so I had to resort to the strimmer with the eight tooth blade. I'm a great fan of the strimmer when it comes to making rapid progress through dense vegetation, especially when fitted with the eight toothed blade. The stand of balsam wasn't the difficult part of the operation it was the hundred meters of bank I had to strim before I reached it, thankfully the path I strimmed coincided with the access the anglers require to reach the river so in effect I killed two birds with the one stone. It wasn't all gloom and doom on the botanic front as the margins around the lakes where we felled the willow last March are now taking on the fenland habitat we hoped for. The reeds and marginal plants have established at a truly dramatic rate, a little less welcome is the amount of willow that is springing back into existence that will require a great deal of strimming later in the year.
The Himalayan balsam opposite Ibsley weir that is no more. The rapidly increasing fenland habitat where it was not so long ago dark and shaded. finally a shot up the lake framed by the intense purple of the Purple loosestrife.
The rain has brought the silage and hay making to an abrupt stop, I only hope the black bags that have been left in the fields in the rush to continue the mowing can be removed without churning up the meadows. The hot days of the weekend came to an equally sudden halt but hopefully not before the cloud cover enabled the night time temperature to remain sufficiently high to have enabled the Barbel to have got their spawning finished. I received and email from Dave Clewer to let me know that he had spotted the barbel gathering on the shallows at Ibsley yesterday and as the light began to fade they got into full spawning mode. Time will tell whether they managed to complete the process but what ever happens the barbel will not have their attention on feeding for a week or two.
Pulling Himalayn balsam beside the Dockens Water. Please remember to pull the wretched plant up whenever you spot it.
I must thank Joanne Gore of the Hampshire Wildlife Trust who spent one of her volunteer days pulling Himalayan Balsam from beside the Dockens Water at Blashford. I have balsam springing up in all directions and I am behind schedule with where I hoped to be in pulling and spraying the wretched stuff. If all goes well I will be out tomorrow and deal with the clump that has appeared opposite the weir at Ibsley and the few plants that are left behind Thomkins Pool. Pete Reading and his volunteers from the fishing clubs have also been out on the Ringwood, Lifelands section of the estate and are winning the day as the extent of the plant at Ringwood has fallen noticeably. Unfortunately Pete tells me there is a very large stand of Giant Hogweed just off the southern edge of the estate. This is a most unpleasant plant that can give rise to a very serious phototoxic reaction, if you do see any do not under any circumstances let it come into contact with your skin. If you do spot any on the estate just let me know and I will deal with it. In the event its off the estate you can still give me a call and I will see if I can get some one to deal with it.
A couple of odd-ball pix for interest. The first shows four of the dozens of hares that we currently have with us. Tales abound as to the mystical nature of "puss" I will try and recount one or two if I find time. They are currently part of a busy scene in the Lower Park as we have fox cubs, at least two lots of badger cubs one lot were out in the middle of the day playing beside the river just below Park Pool yesterday, plus several roe grazing down by Mackenzie's. The second photo is quite amazing, its a case of spot the birdie in that if you look closely you can see the heads of two juvenile Wrens poking out from the cab mount on the JCB. We only discovered the nest yesterday when we broke down which involved crawling about underthe machine. What it means is that the hen bird sat tight on the eggs whilst I rooted out all the overgrown laurel trees at Ellingham and moved tons of topsoil and gravel to edge a road. After we had spotted the nest and fixed the breakdown the machine was returned to the barn after having left five hours earlier where the hen immediately began feeding the young. Their travels also involved the tyre immediately below the nest being punctured and repaired and the machine being jet-washed. We have now laid up the machine for the duration but it will be a miracle if they manage to survive.,
As you may have gathered I have been away for a day or two and a most enjoyable day or two they turned out to be. I have been down to Glastonbury, no not to see Bono, I've been wandering around some of the less popular bits of the Mendips and Somerset levels. I preferred his Dublin contemporary Christy Dignam anyway! The levels aren't a line of my distant ancestors but the wonderful low lying rhynes, drains and peat workings that make up the Avalon Marshes. Whatever the mood of the place, misty sunrise to amber sunset, through wind, rain, snow, and frost I find every inch fascinating. I must confess that lay lines and crystals that seem the present day currency of Glastonbury don't quite do it for me, I think my attraction to the levels probably lies in that like the Avon valley the landscape is almost entirely man made. Generations have struggled to control and influence Nature in an effort to thwart her best endeavours to turn the area back into marshland and bog. The story of those that dug the peat, tended the windpumps and dug and cleaned the rhynes is recorded in the surging waves and white noise of the wind blown phragmites beds that have occupied the abandoned peat workings since those earlier times. In more recent years mechanisation has provided larger machines capable of clearing larger areas without such human effort.It is these larger areas of reeds and open water that have proven such an attraction to the Bittern, Egret, ducks and of course the vast Starling flocks of winter. The briefest of visits to the Ham Wall nature reserve during the heat of the day on Sunday provided fine views of two Bittern and a Marsh Harrier along with Black tailed godwit and numerous other waterfowl. A far cry from the hard and isolated life of those that lived and worked in this area when the levels were first drained, the fascination of bird watching would be hard to explain to such practical people.
Glastonbury Tor from Ham Wall reserve and Whirligig beetles, clear water and cabbages of the South Drain.
At Ashcott Corner the disused railway that provides access to the reserve crosses the South Drain that drains Walton Heath. Peering over the railing down into the clear, lily choked water with its shoals of small roach and whirlgig beetles was a step back in time to the period of my childhood when the Kennet and Avon canal at Great Bedwyn was the limit of my horizons. This was a time prior to the restoration of the K&A when the headwater pumps at Crofton pumped west to Bristol and east to Newbury by-passing dry reaches and dammed locks. The by-pass channels were as exciting to a ten year old as the canal itself with trout and grayling to be found in the nettle tunnels and tumbling hatch pools. Derelict locks that were home to shoals of bold perch that lay in ambush behind broken lock gates were a boys own world crying out to be explored. It was the clear water that brought these memories back, watching the shoals of small roach drifting through the cabbages. Not the size of those in my childhood memories but visible and adding considerably to the magic of the Avalon Marshes. The K&A has changed out of all recognition with the restoration came the boats and the muddy stirred up water. I don't object to the change, the boats will keep the canal open and have saved it from a slow and inevitable decline. The fishing will never be the same but that's a small price if it saves the canal.
Back to the Avon and I have received an email from Peter Dexter bringing me up to date with his exploits in pursuit of our salmon. Peter usually manages to fit in some time as the season draws to an end fishing the shrimp, one of his favourite methods at which he excels. I knew I might be hearing some news as I spotted Peter as he left one of the favoured areas up at Ibsley, unfortunately I was rushing to my next task and didn't have time to stop for a chat. It transpires Peter had determined to fit in a full week with the shrimp and his efforts were rewarded with three fish landed and two further fish lost. Twelve to fifteen pound summer fish all with a touch of colour, super stuff, well done Peter. Unfortunately the rather dubious photo Peter emailed to my mobile from his mobile failed to do justice or catch the magic of such an achievement.
There are five swallows in the photo above so perhaps it does make a Summer. The Egret is enjoying the bounty of the insects and frogs that are concentrated in the ditches after the grass has been cut.
Its the early hours and I'm struggling to keep my eyes open as I write this so I will just mention the rush to get the hay and silage in off the meadows before the forecast wet weather wrecks everything and promise to add an entry with all the fishy news as soon as I can.
I once more failed to get out with the rods this weekend and it looks as if it will require me to take a day or two off with the specific objective of going fishing if I'm going to ever catch another fish. Fishing is not the only interest I have that is proving extremely frustrating at the moment.
One of my birding objectives is to persuade swifts to establish a colony on my house and due to swifts being under increasing threat through loss of habitat it is not proving an easy task. Despite the old village name of the Devil Bird Swifts come very high on my favourite bird list as their life spent on the wing conjures images of flight no other bird can inspire. They love, feed and sleep on the wing landing but for the brief period of the three week incubation or perhaps a breeding pairs may shelter briefly on the nest during poor weather. They are the true masters of the air yet despite this life of continual flight their aerobatic displays in town high streets and village greens seem to be expressions of pure enjoyment and pleasure in their abilities. I have childhood memories of broods chasing through the village high street screaming and shrieking as they hurtle at head height before arrowing into the distance only to reappear seconds later overhead once more. In an effort to achieve my colony I have added two nest boxes designed especially for swifts to the jumble of boxes that already adorn my walls. I have wasps in the Sparrow box, Sparrows in the Starling box and Starlings in the Swift box but I am still keen to add Swifts to the collection. Being on the south coast thousands of Swifts pass over us as they move north for their brief summer in Britain. Many hundreds pause in their migration to feed over the nearby gravel pits that swarm with insects. The breeding pairs arrive two or three weeks earlier than the immature non-breeding birds and have gone on their way to their established nest sites. It is the later arrivals that will hopefully find my efforts to their liking. To that end I have been playing a CD of their calls from the top of my garage in an effort to attract the attention of passing birds. After my antics earlier in the year keeping the Waxwings supplied with apples my neighbours take bird calls being played from the garage roof in their stride. I fixed the boxes in position last summer and whilst we did have one or two fly pasts nothing showed any real interest. That changed dramatically Friday morning whilst enjoying breakfast under the fig tree in our back garden we looked up to see eight birds circle the house with two actually visiting the boxes and inspecting the eaves. Since Friday we have had regular visits from small groups of three or four birds stopping to inspect soffits and bargeboards but missing the boxes. I don't think these birds are looking to breed this year but probably non breeders prospecting for future nest sites so it's vitally important they find the boxes to their liking. To ensure they find the house of the dreams I intend to add two or three further boxes of a different design to discover their preference. I must say I'm feeling a great deal more positive about the exercise since our visit and now believe it is just a matter of time before I achieve the objective. If they do take up residence I can't promise to add any pix to the diary as trying to photograph the birds this weekend has driven me to distraction. The time delay on a digital camera has meant I have taken dozens of shots of the walls of my house. From pressing the button on arrival by the time the shutter chunters into action the birds have done two circuits of the house and exited stage left but I will keep trying.
A most frustrating time trying to photograph swifts.
I did have occasion to walk a couple of sections of the fishery yesterday and was delighted to hear that the fishing is proving extremely productive. Several big carp to 35 with some beautiful commons showing. Hundred pound bags of bream with good catches of roach and tench to one or two lucky anglers. It doesn't seem to matter what technique you employ as long as basic water craft is adopted in keeping a low profile and feeding a little and often. Clump along the bank dump your gear in the middle of the swim and commence clanking and clattering about with chairs and rod rests and you will have a quiet day. Take a look at those that are catching and learn from their efforts.
Flower rich margins, buzzing with insect life and a fish on, summer at its best. The chub are to be found on the shallows with the barbel not far away if you get the feeding right they'll hopefully join in. This autumn will be a particularly good one for hazel nuts and probably the final one for my teeth!!
Finally, ladies please excuse me and those of you of a nervous or delicate disposition please read no further, I'm going to have a rant, duly interspersed with very flowery Anglo Saxon expressions. I like to think I am a pretty broad minded individual and in the event someone is caught short or suffering from Delhi belly, the need to relieve oneself on the bank as a last resort is regrettable but unavoidable. All I would ask is those so excruciatingly caught out secrete their efforts away from the public gaze. Kick a trench and cover your efforts with a few leaves, including your tissue or dock leaves if so pressed. If I happen upon the retarded moron who left the deposit in the swim at Ibsley I will ban him/her for life from the fishery. There is no excuse for such inconsiderate behaviour, the fact the greater part of your brain was left on the bank will not save you.
Final, finally on a different note, today I spotted a Goosander brood on the river which has all sorts of implications for the fishery and is particularly relevent at a time when piscivorous birds are giving rise to such concern.
A Goosander brood on the Hampshire Avon.
I feel a little more normality and order creeping back into my routine as many of the recent pressing issues resolve themselves. My head now seems to have cleared after the excesses of the beer festival, so much for my,
"I'm not going to drink, just drop in to listen to the bands"
I can take some comfort in the fact I supported the lower strength end of the twenty or so brews on offer and my head wasn't a result of drinking one of the concoctions designed to fell even the most serious bitter drinker; 6.3% it makes me shiver to think about it. Despite my overindulgence it was a good day, the music was grand, the company good and the beer? My opinion of the beer depends on what stage of the evening you ask the question; suffice to say it started well.
As I find time to get out and about on the estate the events of the eternal calendar are ongoing without any input from me. The change in the weather has seen the dry, sunny days and cold nights of Spring that checked the growth of the grass and corn, replaced by changeable damp conditions when the farmers least need them. With weed and increased flow in the river I will be busy trying to balance the braided channels in the next month.
The last of the ewes on the park were sheared today after being left to last to ensure they didn't get chilled through the condition loss associated with lambing.
My brief walk yesterday raised the spirits a little on the bird front as at least two Cettis were singing in traditional sites that I had previously thought empty this year. There were also Stonechat, Lesser spotted woodpecker and perhaps most pleasing Spotted flycatchers, numbers of which seem to have dipped in recent years. All in all good to be back beside the river and perhaps the icing on the cake, the emergence of the first Scarlet Tigers. They are dreadful aeronauts they are buffeted and blown out across the fields by the least breeze but with their poster paint intensity I'm sure they are put on this earth just to raise spirits. There main food plant is the comfrey that I recently included in an entry beside the Trout stream and it is one of the marginal plants that can suffer from indiscriminate bank cutting. Nature has evolved food plants and their grazers to develop in timed harmony, to cut the plants and destroy the seasonal balance has considerable knock-on implications for the grazers. To ensure the habitat value of fishery margins is maximised I would like to see a carefully planned and implemented conservation strategy developed by every club and syndicate in the land. Record the policy to enable others to emulate good plans and to learn from mistakes and triumphs to establish wildlife havens on every fishery creating a network second to none acros the entire country. I fear it will remain one of my many pipe dreams with most fisheries not even having a coherent fish stock strategy, I dare say it will be left to the wildlife trusts to show the fishery world the way once more as they did with sustainable fisheries. Not that they developed the first sustainable fisheries, not by a long way, they did however quickly learn how to claim money from the various grant organisations that were available.
The appearance of the first Scarlet tigers always lifts my spirits.
One thing immediately apparent from talking to anglers and peering into the shallows is the number of chublets and dace that are in the Middle Avon at present. If thousands of chub from and ounce to a pound or so can survive and if you wish to prove that point try trotting maggot on some of the shallows, why can't roach?
Thousands of chublets yet no roach??
As you may have guessed from the lack of entries at such a busy time on the fishery I have been occupied elsewhere on the estate. This evening was only the second or third opportunity I have had since the start to walk a little of the river and I should add without my rods. I was hoping to have actually managed an hour or two with the coarse rods this evening as I know Jim Foster was out on the lakes which is a good excuse to spend a couple of hours peering at a bright red float looking for a tench or two whilst we sit and natter.
Before I managed to find Jim I had stopped at Ellingham as the two cars in the car park belonged Mike Windows and Bob Gibbs. I needed to find out what was happening on the river as I had not managed a visit since the opening day and two such experienced river anglers would be a good gauge of events. There was also a chance I may spot the sea lamprey cutting up on the shallows as my absence had obviously prevented an earlier search. I was soon searching the shallows below Woodside, a previously favoured area for the lamprey. There was a good sized fresh scoop that may well have been a lamprey redd which was occupied by a sea trout of three or four pounds and several chub, one of which looked impressively large but no lamprey. It was an enjoyable half hour fish spotting over the clean gravel between the ranunculus tresses, it wasn't to be; not a lamprey in sight.
I didn't have far to look for Bob and when I found him he was just in the process of returning a chub, lovely looking fish somewhere in the order of five pounds, completely spawned out and clean as a whistle. The successful method, maggot on a sixteen under a wire stemmed Avon. As pure and simple a technique as one could wish for and Bob went on to tell me that was number nineteen today; with a minimum of half a dozen well over five. As we chatted Bob produced a chublet, a dace and a couple of minnows before yet another dog of a chub making number twenty.
Bob Gibbs with a lump of a chub to add to nineteen others landed today. It seems traditional methods still retain their appeal as this follows a catch yesterday of sixteen chub and a barbel of about seven pounds from a swim a mile or more away.
I left Bob to his classic pleasure and headed off in search of Mike W who I soon discovered half a mile downstream fishing the lead. It seems the chub must just be having it as Mike had already landed several good chub to over five pounds. In actual fact I've forgotten what he told me he'd landed suffice to say he was enjoying himself.
The strange thing was neither angler had seen any one else on the bank except a salmon angler and whilst Mike had only been their a couple of hours Bob had been there the best part of the day. I don't suppose either will be objecting to their isolation and you may think they wont thank me for spouting all over the web about their exploits. Strange as it may seem that's the nice thing about genuinely good anglers they are not in the least concerned, confident in the knowledge they can repeat their success wherever fate determines they cast a line.
After chatting for half an hour and feeling remarkably chilled out after what can best be described as a fraught week I headed for the lakes to see if I could find Jim. Jim and I often spend a few hours Thursday evenings slumped in a swim chatting and watching a couple of floats in the margins. Events have prevented me joining him this week and I was keen to see what I'd missed. It was a little after eight when I found him tucked in a corner, fishing corn on the waggler half a rod length beyond the reeds to the left of the swim. What a lovely spot, evening sun gentle ripple and as it transpired plenty of fish. Lots of roach and two carp, the best of which was in excess of twenty, he did tell me what else he had managed but as with Mike's catch I've forgotten the details. At least I managed to watch Jim's float for half an hour which comes a close second for me these days as I don't have cart all the gear about and get to enjoy the magic of a dipping, quivering quill.
It may not have been the most balmy, angler friendly start to the coarse season but it did not prevent over one hundred anglers being on the estate during the day. I must say it was good to see the anglers back on the banks and whilst, as is so often the case with the sixteenth, it may not have lived up to the expectations most I spoke to today were just pleased to be out. There have been some good fish from the lakes with a 36+ mirror and a 27 common plus one or two nice bream and tench. The river provided chub and bream but I have yet to hear from anyone who "bagged-up" which is very often the way as the fish have yet to expect to see bait and recognise it as food. The sight of the multi coloured offerings arriving on mass was probably sufficient to send the fish diving for cover. Time will tell and in the meantime I will be pleased to see the regulars back with us enjoying this wonderful valley.
Umbrellas were the order of the day.
The sixteenth is also the start of the bait season for the salmon and I know one or two experts with the prawn were out looking. I must admit to thinking there would be a couple of salmon out today as there are several fish in the well known pools but it was not to be but we must take solace in the fact there is always tomorrow.
Dave Jones playing one of four tench he had when I stopped for a natter this morning.
Its an interesting topic of debate that always raises its head during the close season as to value of the enforced exile from the banks. I have to say I have a conservative, with a small "c", view on this and would in many instances extend the protection of one or two species that would bring the close season for coarse fish more in line with the six month lay-up we have for salmon on the Avon. I don't think that view will find much support with the angling fraternity which I fully accept but several anglers told me it was the delight of leaving a cold leafless world in March to return to a green and luxuriant valley in June was the element of the close season they most treasure. Note I deliberately didn't say warm after the squalls that greeted the hardy this morning.
You can lead a horse to water etc etc. My scan yesterday has given rise to one or two comments that the list is not exhaustive and further counting is worthwhile. All I will add is that the page I included is just the nationally important sites. That single published page is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the data collected by experienced counters and recorded online at the WeBS archive. Rivers and lakes across the country are counted on set dates, by experienced recorders with regional co-ordinators that minimise the risk of duplication. Roosts and flights are recorded and accurate figures produced. The value of anecdotal evidence with no coordinated timing or evaluation is worse than useless as it demeans properly produced data and weakens valid argument. "Nuff said" on that subject me thinks!!
Where did I spend the sixteenth? Building the stage for saturday's beer and music festival. What's the saying "I would rather have been fishing"!!
Every picture tells a story, so I have included a scan of the 2008/09 WeBS data related to Cormorants. This data is collected under a joint initiative that involves the JNCC, WWT, BTO and RSPB. The process was started in 1947 and since that date through the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) who are the government advisors related to matters of conservation, Defra have had access to this information. This begs the question when every Cormorant in the land is counted and recorded, why are the EA not in posession of the information? Requesting surveys and counts at recent ASG meetings. Similarly why are the Angling Trust who purport to represent all angling carrying out the naive "Cormorant watch" process? Or does it once more shows angling to be totally amateurish and out of its depth when dealing with such issues?
A change of task today in that a collapsed sewer took over top spot in the priority stakes. It seems all liquid not just that which flows in the river comes under my jurisdiction!! I did manage to drop in to observe the continuing carp removal at Mockbeggar and was interested to see the contractors were trying rod and line as a means to remove fish. I have long believed rod and line is the most effective method to control numbers in stillwaters having cleared several by similar methods. During the three or four hours before lunch the angler trying his luck managed sixty or seventy pounds of carp. I'll leave you to work out how effective a properly directed, ongoing, rod and line removal strategy with a dozen rods a day would be.
Removing carp by rod and line.
The continued electro fishing was more akin to watching paint dry as the fish have learnt to avoid the electric field surrounding the boat. The highlight of the brief time I watched the process being the appearance of a common lizard making the most of what little sunshine managed to break through the clouds.
Not the best lizard photo in the world but just look at that reptilian eye. What's she thinking? Perhaps she's assessing if I'm an approaching threat. Or perhaps she's trying to work out if I'm small enough to eat!
A little after eight o’clock this evening I decided to practice what I preach and put the fly rod together and headed for Ellingham Bridge Pool. I only fished twice in May for a grand total of an hour and a half. I have yet to put the spinning rod up and having seen a fish below the bridge yesterday it seemed a logical place to start. On arrival a spot of bridge leaning was the first order of the evening which was rudely interrupted by the two cobs that have the Bridge Pool as their boundary squaring up to one another in readiness for a sparring session. There was no real intent in the ensuing manoeuvres, lots of posing, set wings and parallel runs, the only tangible result being the tranquillity of the Bridge Pool totally destroyed. Oh well, as I was there I thought I would at least have half an hour with the fly rod at the tail of the pool. I set up the floating line with a size six Silver stoat and as I approached the bank the combatants ceased exercises and returned to feeding with the families. Unfortunately the upstream pair obviously have developed a scything technique in grazing the ranunculus as the pool became a continuous stream of floating weed. Half a dozen casts and it became clear why Avon salmon fishing historically ended in early June and I have always followed that line of thinking. These days I prefer to fly fish for my salmon and I'm afraid I shall not be struggling with them much more this season, we have miles of chalk streams full of trout and a coarse season just around the corner that should keep me occupied.
I've been brushing up on my road building in recent days, not what I had anticipated I would be up to this week but never let it be said we lead a boring life on the estate. The time consuming task has meant I have fallen behind with several jobs I had hoped to have behind me at this time of year. The Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed has yet to be dealt with and with the start of the coarse season just ten days away a second pair of hands would be useful.
On the bright side we have seen a further two salmon in the last couple of days with Christopher Jarman landing a nine and a half pound fish from Blashford and Mike Tolley finding a twelve pound fish in Gipsy. Both fish came to the Mepp, one other common link was that neither Christopher on Monday or Mike today saw any other anglers out on the entire beat. With fish still being caught down at the Royalty and a note from Nigel down at Davis's this evening letting me know they are seeing reasonable numbers of fish moving through it would be well worth a visit if you can fit one in. They have landed a couple more salmon down at the nets and Mike moved one or two other fish during his visit today, they are about.
Mike Tolley's fish from Gipsy. A lovely bright fish, Mike did say it had the red and swollen vent that we saw on one or two fish a year or two ago. I remember the discussion at the time and the concern related to possible difficulties later in the year at spawning time. It was attributed to a virus picked up from its Krill diet and I would ask that rods who manage to land any further fish this season to make a point of checking the fish and letting me know if they notice any problems.
I'm afraid my day or two away has done little to relax and recharge the batteries, in actual fact I feel more unsettled than before I left for Snowdonia. I'm afraid that is the risk we all run if we manage to find an escape that has such appeal. Many may think me ungrateful in that my work in the river valley provides me with fantastic opportunity to commune with nature to my heart's content. Strangely due to the totally man made environment of the Avon Valley that is far from the situation. For me the defining quality of the Avon's appeal is its artificial nature, the control and manipulation of the natural power of the river. I often feel the ever present ghosts of our predecessors, who moulded the river through the sweat of their brow to compliment their existence, watching over my shoulder. In many instances the guiding force that has underwritten my activity in the valley has been how I believe those creators of this environment would view our current efforts. I could write a tome on the interpretation of our current activities much of which would be difficult to accept in many quarters so best left for another occasion.
I wasn't back long before one of the less attractive elements of this part of the rural world appeared. These clowns were too stupid or drunk to try and reason with so they go on their way oblivious to the implications of their actions.
What do the five pix above have in common? The clowns in the boat are stuck on the fish counter of the EA built weir at Ringwood. The construction of the weir caused a ten inches loss in the head of water completely destroying the historic nature of the upstream fishery. The fish counter has never worked as along with the weir it was flawed at design stage. The first of the group shows the swans scared from their nests swimming downstream ahead of the canoes, a sure sign of the imminent appearance of boats. The second of the group shows the disregard for the EU designated Ranunculas community. Third, the fire and empties of last nights camp left by the clowns in the designated SSSI/SAC/Ramsar/SPA hay field. Finally the travellers still at Ringwood weir. The common factor? public bodies; EA aiding and abetting illegal access with the incompetent design of the weir. NE failing to act against such flagrant criminal breaches of the 88 C&W Act. NE again for failing to address the continued breaching of the Olds List where failure to comply with the consent procedure puts the designated habitat at risk. NE, yet again, with the camp fire and the litter under the C&W Act once again. Finally Hampshire County Highways, who in my humble opinion are in a class of their own when it comes to ivory tower occupation, they believe its OK for the travellers to turn the place into a junk yard putting at risk rental and asset value of the associated land and fisheries. Its called "access by default" as the mindless clowns who behave in such fashion know they are immune from prosecution because the laws an ass, incapable of being implimented. Makes one feel warm inside to know the good use to which our twenty two million of fishery licence money plus further funding through income and housing tax is directed.
"Cut and paste the above link to which ever of the agencies you believe to be most in need of serious review, bung it off to your MP and the local press for good measure." What would be the outcome? Absolutely nothing, probably a further committee to discuss the issue. The rural community isn't politically active and lacks sufficient clout to worry the politicians. If the boaters, poachers, dog walkers etcetera were subject to eighty pound spot fines, as is the case for minor traffic offences and other socially unacceptable behaviour, the ignorant would soon take time to learn their responsibilities. Those rsponsibilities cover a much wider group than just the ignorant and stupid, we will all face change if we wish to save our species rich habitats. If the government is serious about protecting the environment they will have to take the issue seriously before much longer if we are not to see further decline.
The other problem of taking time off is that your job list is still waiting when you get back. The first couple of days playing catch-up mean the river drops even further down the priority list. It wasn't until four days back on the estate I finally got to have a look at the valley and the change over the week away has been quite dramatic. The flow has dropped even further yet the water level has started to rise as the effect of the weed comes into play. In one or two places the water has backed into the field ditches and has started to spill out onto the meadows. With a further month to go before the Natural England HLS scheme allow us back on to the meadows to cut the grass it required I reset the hatches to slow the wetting of the meadows. The over enthusiastic, misguided dredging of several lengths of side channel has prevented a selective hand cut of the weed causing the problems forcing me to close gates and reduce flow. It will be a delicate balance to see if we can keep the meadows dry until the mowers arrive.
Water can be seen creeping into the ditch and flooding the field. The yellow spray paint in the rack marks my setting levels and the final shot shows the weight of weed backing up the water.
The first of June saw the start of the netting down at Mudeford and Martin Keeping has kindly updated me on how they fared. It was a disappointing week for the seatrout, on which they are dependent for a living, with just a couple of fish showing up to two boats on six tides. Just what that works out at an hour I would hate to think, suffice to say it would be illegal to employ anyone at the rate. They did manage four salmon between ten and fifteen pounds which were of course returned, as have been all the salmon for well over a decade now. It will be interesting to see if those fish continued on into the river when we get to see the update of the counter which unfortunately is beyond the capacity of the EA to arrange on a regular basis. I must admit to being a little surprised at the current low water temperature of a little over sixteen degrees. If we have many days as warm as today it will not be long before the cut off point of nineteen degrees is reached. If our luck holds and we get to the 16th and the use of the prawn and shrimp is permitted we will undoubtedly see one or two more fish but I'm afraid the salmon seasons is once more stuttering to the finish.
.........because I like dog roses.
I did have one other less arduous task to deal with this weekend and that was the second round of the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) It didn't get off to a very auspicious start in that on emerging from the house at five thirty this morning the truck sat in the drive with an obvious lopsided look about it. Typical, a flat just when I didn't feel like changing a wheel. The solution was to grab the keys to Anne's car and borrow that for an hour or two; all being well I would be back before it was required for horsey duty. No rarities put in an appearance today and the survey was even more enjoyable for that simple fact. The species I associate with the middle Avon were present and for the most part in reasonable numbers. More cuckoos than in recent years but the Cettis would seem to have suffered from the long cold winter. Lots of Rooks in the meadows around the rookery busy seeking leather jackets to satisfy their demanding offspring and too many Crows out in the water meadows looking for eggs but all in all a reasonable count.
I spent a delightful couple of hours opening the 2011 Bass, Gar and Mackerel campaign this week.
I've been away for a day or two, all being well normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
Looking for Llewelyn and finding Gwenllian.
I'm starting this entry in reverse as the photo below is the last of the events covered. I shows Bob Windsor out fishing Ashley as the sun disappears behind the trees of Ringwood Forest. Talking of which some person kindly tried to burn it down this evening requiring the attendance of half a dozen or more fire appliances and me felling a very large burning oak - careful with naked flames please!!
Bob Winsor fishing Ashley Bends at sunset.
Seeing that picture of Bob reminds me I watched a squirrel swim the main river just below Ibsley Bridge the other day. Bob comes to mind because as I have mentioned before he has a penchant for large and hairy flies and the swimming rodent with its bolt upright tail looked for all the world like some great Grey Duster Bob would be proud to cast to some unsuspecting denizen.
I continue to have the procession of people who can't manage to read, have no respect for others or are of the opinion English common law doesn't apply to them. The photographers and artists have been out in force in recent days "I'm doing no harm," trampling on the Lapwing chick that believes its frozen stance will be sufficient defence. Or perched on the bank over the salmon pool which is low and clear; ensuring no fish will move in that pool for several hours. "Not that you're aware of anyway" bless um!! Having said that I did have a first last Friday when I received a call telling me I had three youths behaving most peculiarly in one of the salmon pools well off the beaten track. It seems they were repeatedly throwing a rope with a weight attached into Blashford Pool; just below the seat for those of you who know it. Obviously it was lunch hour, necessitating I miss out on my mid day gruel, none the less I trundled off to investigate. On arriving at the lakes car park I could see the miscreants still behaving oddly out beside the river so steeling myself for the fray I headed out across the field. I arrived to find three young men who were soaking wet and looking none to excited. Beside them in the long grass lay three bikes and a lot of very wet and equally bedraggled camping gear.
"Hello Lads, what brings you here then?"
"We're looking for the New Forest, are we anywhere near it?"
"Oh, what makes you think it may be down here beside the river then?
"Its not that, we were over there (pointing back across the river) but we crossed and nearly got swept away."
"And how did you get over there?"
"We came down through the forest and over the fields."
"Ah, you mean that forest with all the private signs and the locked gates?"
"Well yes, we thought that as our map showed the New forest over this side we would take the shortest route."
"Oh, that must be Okay then if your map said it. What wonderful map might that be then?"
As one of them produced a soggy ink stained lump of card that looked very much like it could once have constituted the back of a cornflake packet.
"That looks like a good map, what scale is that at then?"
"I don't know, we're going to ride from Bournemouth to my home in Reading and it had both towns on so we thought it would do."
"Excellent, does it, or should I now say did it show the public rights of way?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Ah well that's probably why you ended up in the middle of a large private estate and I'm missing my lunch and will have to hang around whilst you dry yourselves off to let you out through the security gates on this side of the river."
"Sorry mate (I do hate that) we didn't know."
"Oh well, I don't suppose me bellowing and shouting is going to have much effect but how come you ended up here beside the deep pool?
"Well, we didn't like the look of that fast ripply water up there so we thought we would wade across here in this still smooth bit, holding the bikes above our heads. It was fine to start with then as we got deeper the current forced us to let go of the bikes and we had to swim for it. When you turned up we had just finished dragging the bikes out of the pool using our clothes line and a load of tent pegs to snag them.
By this time the other two were looking a little the worse for wear, ones teeth were chattering so hard he sounded like a castanet player. The other was glumly examining the bottom of his Golden Virginia pouch and trying to roll a joint with wet Rizlas, damp tobacco and dissolving gange.
"O well, look on the bright side lads, if you had chosen to cross in that ripply bit, you didn't like the look of, you would have missed all this excitement as the water wouldn't have come up to your knees."
"What!" Chimed in the depressed pothead. "You mean I wouldn't be suffering hypothermia and my gear would still be dry?"
As I headed back across the field with them trailed out behind like chicks I could hear them attributing blame for their deep water adventure. It seems one was a "dickhead" and "dozy pillox" which made for a further first in that such affectionate terms of endearment are usually addressed to me as I show people off the estate.
Signs of young life in all directions as the Jenny wren returns with a damsel fly for her young. A juvenile Reed bunting, one of many currently wobbling about the margins and the first cygnets of the year.
I received a thought provoking response to the Steelhead entry from Edward Matthews wondering whether the rainbow Paul landed might not have been an over wintered specimen? He also went on to ask what time of year might we expect to see any run of returning rainbows which whilst I have seen several fish that do not quite fit the bill with regard to resident fish I can't say I have ever made a note of the time of year. I responded to Edward along the lines of the following but I would be the first to admit I don't have any hard fact to support my premise. I have been watching this situation develop over the last two decades, hopefully my diary entry will act as a tactful reminder to the EA to see if they would like to do something about the current level of escapes.
As for over wintered fish I have managed several such beautiful reservoir fish in the past forty years and of the fish I have seen in the river they look and feel totally different. Just how much of that difference is down to the differing environments and how much to the habit of the fish is difficult to say. The scales on the river fish tend to be loose, which would be more in keeping with the state we find with our salmon and seatrout that shed scales at an alarming rate for the first 72 hours in fresh water. We also see many strange "smolt" during March that coincides with our seatrout smolt run. These odd fish have the silver appearance of a smolt but obviously the underlying colours of rainbows. Many of these odd fish weigh as much as two pounds and look most peculiar. We have the largest trout farm in Europe upstream that has some half million or so over wintered rainbow trout present; many of which find their way down to us.
During the 90's, for four years, I attended every tide at Mudeford to buy the salmon catch from the Mudeford netsmen. I hasten to add for release or hatchery broodstock. During that period we saw several of these strange fish straight in off the sea, the largest I witnessed was in excess of eight pounds and a fabulous looking fish. We also saw rainbows that were not silver and retained the full rainbow colours. Whether these fully coloured fish were slob trout or running to sea we could never decide.
I must say that the trout farms have managed to reduce the numbers escaping but this very morning I have been out assessing the current levels. I do this by throwing a handful of floating pellets into the river just downstream of one of our hatches. Obviously I can't quantify the exact number that have escaped but I would estimate that between twenty and thirty rainbows immediately surfaced and began to feed avidly on the floating pellets in an area three metres by ten. That isn't representative of the overall density but reflects the number present.
Feeding the escaped rainbow trout.
When you consider that in the past I have stood in one spot and taken in excess of fifty rainbows on a weighted nymph without moving my feet you get some idea of the density. On one occasion I dispatched several anglers armed with Mepp rods and fertilizer bags to catch and remove the plague. During their morning they filled five bags with many hundreds of rainbows up to two pounds, I dread to think the impact they had on our parr and smolt.
I dare say the escapes will continue and the EA will continue to pay lip service to solving the problem. The best outcome would probably be a self sustaining run of Steelheads that would at least provide us with a fishery asset. As for when these fish would run back into the river I wouldn't like to make a firm commitment. The fish I have seen at the nets would have been in the early summer coinciding with the seatrout run. Whether as the seatrout make the final push for the spawning gravels in the early winter they are joined by any rainbows I have never witnessed but something certainly gave rise to the juveniles in the Trout stream.
If any of you come across these odd fish please let me know the details and if possible a photo. I would be particularly interested in juvenile rainbows, less than three inches. Any of you trotting for the dace may find them, stick them in the keepnet and give me a call if possible. I must say I would dearly like to be able to establish we have a returning run of steelheads, you never know they may even become a self sustaining population.
When the winds abate the valley is full of Damsel and Dragonflies doing what comes naturally..
A fine day in that the sun shone and the salmon obliged. There were two fish off the estate today with the first being landed by Steve Hutchinson keeping up his third week in May catch rate for which he is renown. A fish of fifteen pounds from Ashley Bends that Steve had landed just as Mick Stead arrived on the scene to take the pic on his mobile. A nice bright cock fish that couldn't resist a Mepp, well done Steve. The second fish this afternoon came to Paul Greenacre making it his fourth of the season. Equally impressive was the size, at forty one and a half inches it makes that very close to thirty pounds. Paul is happy to settle for twenty nine as I believe he has promised to curtail his fishing a little if he manages to land a thirty!!
Steve with his fifteen pounder from Ashley.
The sun most assuredly did shine, making it a fine day, we are however still very much in need of a substantial period of rain. I believe I mentioned before the plight of the spring cereal that has not received sufficient water to make strong growth. Even if we have rain now it will be too late for a great deal of the winter planted crop as much of it is already in ear on straw barely a foot tall. Add in the reluctance on the part of the grass to get going, due to the cold nights and dry soil and we have a very serious situation looming in the farming world.
Mud cracking as the water is evaporated from the ponds. At least the willow pollards are still finding sufficient water as just three months after cutting we are seeing strong growth in most cases. The old Ash and Alder are reluctant to get back into life that probably means I have to replant half a dozen pollards next winter. The right hand pic are the Gorley Corner pollards that were cut back again fifteen months ago.
The picture of Paul's Steelhead, I posted yesterday, has attracted one or two comments. Just to add to the debate it is worth recording that I have in the past found juvenile rainbow trout as small as two inches in the Troutstream. There are, to the best of my knowledge, no juveniles of that size that exist on the trout farms for at least ten miles upstream which might well point to these fish breeding successfully in the Avon. If any readers ever spot rainbows cutting whilst they're out fishing I would very mush appreciate a call to let me know the location. Whilst on the subject of keeping a look out for rainbows cutting next winter there is a further species that might be cutting any time in the near future that I would like to be informed of and that is the Sea lamprey. Usually about mid June but with the warm weather of late we may see them start any day now.
I'm busy typing up the minutes of yesterday's WCSRT meeting which doesn't leave me time to add much in the way of diary entries but I just had to make time to put the photos below sent to me by Paul Greenacre.
Paul was uncertain as to just what he had landed when he found this four pound fish at Ibsley today. I am pretty certain its a steelhead which I see with increasing frequency in these days. I wouldn't like to guess at which sub-species of its US cousins it is but it certainly looks fresh from the sea. The eye looks more akin to that of a shad but that is probably down to the effect of its anadromous life style.
This wasn't the only rainbow trout Paul landed today, he had a further six or seven of the escapee size that we see on a regular basis here at Somerley. What this would point to is that these escapees are adapting to their new surrounding and behaving like our seatrout. It would make an interesting addition to the fishery as Paul said the fish fought spectacularly which is a further characteristic of steelheads.
As we reach a further milestone in the year on the river with the start of the spinning its remains difficult to see just how the salmon season will finish. I drove up to Ibsley at seven this morning expecting to see at least one rod in the starting blocks ready to fish the Bridge Pool only to find the place deserted. As I drove back through the estate, an hour later, I only spotted one car which I believe was Peter Dexter. I was unable to see where Peter was fishing so feeling rather disappointed at not finding an angler out spinning to photograph I headed home for breakfast.
Nothing but Swans at Ibsley this morning.
The hour I spent looking for rods was at least enjoyable from the aspect of the bird life on show. I have no facts to back me up but I feel we have far greater numbers of Cuckoos with us, certainly many more than I have seen for several years. Similarly I have seen more Turtle doves this year than I have seen for over a decade. Lets hope these beautiful doves are surviving their migration over the continent where they are mercilessly and illegally shot. You never know the EU might actually be getting to grips with the illegal shooting that has been a problem for years in parts of the continent. There has been a good hatch of mayfly in recent days and the Hobbies have been making the most of the masses of insects picking them off as they dance in the lee of the trees at Woodside. If you wish to see some superb photographs of Hobbies busy chasing these beautiful insects take a look at the link below. There have been very unusual visitors to the Avon reported on the same website, the past few days two Golden orioles being seen on Hengistbury Head the other side of the harbour. Fingers crossed they decide to travel further north via the Avon Valley and drop in at the estate as I have yet to see these flashy visitors.Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group
I went out for a further look around the river this evening in the hope of getting that elusive shot. Still no one up at the bridge but the freshly trampled vegetation at least pointed to the pool having been covered. I cut back through the estate to Ellingham and found three cars in the fishing car park giving rise to hope of a photo or two. It wasn't to be as one was a trout angler just packing up and as we stood in the car park chatting Kevin Styles returned to his car having been through Dog Kennel with out success. There was no sign of the third rod so he was probably downstream toward Park Pool but may possibly be further north towards Harbridge Corner making looking for him impracticable. Kevin was thinking of dropping in at Blashford to have the last hour on the Island Run and as I was heading in that direction I decided to look in on him to finish the day.
Some rods choose to continue with the fly. As Kevin finds a Jack in the lie this evening that cost him a Mepps.
On getting home this evening I found an email from Peter Dexter informing me that his brother David, for whom he was Ghillying for today, had landed a fifteen pound salmon from woodside on the spinner. Well done David and Peter.
I should add that the Knapp mill website has been updated at last and we have seen a reasonable run of fish into the river in recent days. We are fast approaching a Spring tide that will hopefully see the run continue ove rthe next few dasy so make the most of it as this is the peak of the salmon season.
A quick note just to say well done to Paul Greenacre on getting his salmon hat trick from Somerley this season. His fish this evening weighed in at eighteen pounds, a really bright, fresh fish taken from Above the Breakthrough off the right bank. In fact Paul was wading at the time and a great deal of the fight took place very close to his legs. I'll update the return sheet asap.
Interesting couple of days in that we are involved in stabilising a slipping cutting and observing a fish removal exercise along with the many day to day tasks necessary on a large rural estate. The need to stabilise the cutting is to make the access to the estate more user friendly by removing the chance of falling trees flattening passers-by. We are also attempting to prevent the perched water table springs freezing during the winter turning the hill into an impassable ice rink. Once we have re-sculpted the slopes, removed the dangerous trees, the road has to be dug out, drained, new sub-base and surfaced. All in all a great deal of very heavy work that means that whilst it may not be the most exciting job in the world watching a fish removal exercise was a very soft option. It also means that after missing the electro fishing of the EA yesterday I had a surfeit of the practice today.
Re-sculpting and stabilising the cutting.
The fish removal is in an effort to bring one of the valley lakes that has SSSI status into a favourable condition Natural England have requested that the number of carp present are reduced in an effort to lower the turbidity. Turbid water and carp rooting about in the bed of the lake reduce the weed on which the designated wildfowl feed. The lake in question has an enormous head of mid range carp that contractors Quiet Sports have been brought in to remove, leaving just a handful of large fish. I will be extremely interested to see how effective the strategy proves in the years to come. The main interest in observing the exercise from my perspective is to see how the large rudd and roach population has developed in recent years. Unfortunately the carp were spawning today and whilst it made the capture of the carp a great deal easier the only silver fish seen were hundreds of roach and rudd of less than a pound busy stuffing themselves with carp eggs.
The electro fishing process in action starting with the team out sweeping the water, landing the catch, tranfering up the bank to finally empty the fish into the travelling tank.
We have Natural England on the estate tomorrow looking at various schemes and projects and as I haven't been to the northern meadows recently I took the opportunity at lunchtime to drop in to walk the middle ditch system. I must say from a botanical standpoint the meadows are looking well. The sedge is reducing and there is an excellent mixed flora across most of the site. Whilst the sward is also looking very well in most places, with excellent variation that should suit summer breeding waders, I could only see one pair of Lapwings. Alas they were desperately dive bombing a pair of Crows that were obviously close to their offspring which doesn't bode well. I believe the valley wader population is at an all time low with several of our meadows having lost most if not all of the wader population.
Ragged robin blushing across the face of the meadows.
A busy start to the working week in that I had hoped to spend an hour or two watching the EA electro survey team as they came through the estate but unfortunately events transpired to prevent me getting down to the river yesterday. I did manage to have a two minute chat as our paths crossed whilst I was inspecting overhead power cables with the Scottish and Southern staff at Dog Kennel. I seems they found a good number of fish, good barbel and chub, with several perch, trout, grayling and a large bream I believe. It seems several salmon showed requiring the flow of electricity to be turned off immediately to avoid damage. I will be very interested in seeing the results when they are written up. I don't think we will be in for many surprises as we have a pretty good idea what the fishery holds but you never know. I still have reservations regarding the survey and the impact on our gravid chub and barbel but we have three years to discuss that with the EA before we see a return of the survey. As with all matters piscatorial electro fishing has a fascination for me in that you never quite know what may turn up so I was disappointed not to fit in a visit to see some of the more remote less well fished pools fished.
The EA electro team involved in the main river survey.
My time with the electricity board people was to determine the extent of the risk involved for anglers fishing close to or under overhead power lines. We are concerned at the sudden rash of warning signs and restricted areas that have appeared in recent years. We are determined to quantify just what the risk is and just who is responsible which will undoubtedly be a prolonged debate. Coincidently I did learn a considerable amount about the numerous letters, numbers and symbols that I have casually observed on the poles over the years and never fully understood. It just goes to show there's always something to learn in even the most mundane of circumstances. There still remain one or two mysteries associated with the humble electricity pole about which I'm afraid even the electricity men couldn't enlighten me. One such mystery I have commented on previously on the diary that being the reason snails climb poles to over winter on their signs??
How do the snails know the sign is up there??.
Today I spent a pleasant hour with Jon Bass and Brian Marshall looking at potential release sites for the progeny of the salmon broodfish we captured back in January. I haven't been so closely involved with the hatchery process on this occasion having spent an impossible five years attempting to establish a hatchery strategy in the early 90's. I couldn't face a further episode of trying to work with impossible EA conditions. I do all I can to assist with those who have to contend with the EA lethargy, wish them well, keep my distance and keep my fingers firmly crossed for their success.
Hooray! Bloody marvellous! Its finally arrived. I must admit the arrival last night at about seven thirty came as a bit of a shock as I was out on the river. I had dropped in at Blashford just to have half an hour with the rod and literally as I made my first cast an upstream gust of wind blew the line off the surface of the river and piled it on the bank beside me. Branches snapped from the willows on the Island and I was showered in catkins and leaves, clouds of dusty soil were whipped up into the air from the cereal fields over at Ashley and swept away on the wind over the Lower Park like some enormous apparition. Casting was nigh on impossible and both I and Paul Greenacre, who had arrived minutes after me, had to make do with low loops under the wind whilst the squall passed. The wind was soon followed by the first heavy rain and I was quickly of the opinion I didn't need to catch a salmon that badly. I walked back up to speak to Paul and we watched the chub or barbel running up the shallows on the far bank for a minute or two before calling it a day and retreating to the cars. As we turned our backs on the river the wind dropped and the rain stopped but we weren't going to be fooled that easily and headed for home. Wise decision before I got home the rain started properly and full wipers were required as I turned into my road. It does mean however the two thousand trees we planted this winter will probably survive and there may be a cereal crop after all in this part of the country. Just how important that rain has been will be measured in the weeks, months, years and even decades ahead if those trees survive.
As I went about my business in the valley this morning the birds seemed to be singing several decibels louder in celebration. The crisp fresh air, cleaned of its dust and pollen, had the tang of the rejoicing plants as I'm sure on such occasions they deliberately release their minty fragrances into the air. I heard my first Grasshopper warbler of the summer at Ibsley, hopefully a different bird to that reported to me by Bob Windsor who had been out with the rod at Ashley last week.
I found myself standing in a puddle tapping my toes and watching the ripples set off down the channel before reaching the far end and bouncing back shattering the wavelets into a myriad sections. Suddenly realising my preoccupation I hoped there wasn't a salmon angler watching wondering just what strange habit I'd developed now?
Strange thing my puddle? it didn't arrive with self in mind, they exist for any earthly creature to find.
As knowledge and supposed wisdom we accrue we fast forget the delight we shared with you.
We splashed and ran and jumped and fell, laughed and cried, too cold to tell.
We still marvel at your larger kin, the beauty of ponds and lakes and rivers from which seas begin.
Your ephemeral role like the mayflies flight will often never see a second night.
We photograph the drinking doe yet miss the simple jewel below.
We curse and moan your motorway spray as we hurtle on our journeys way.
Your true home is in the gravel track or in the rutted woodland ride with nature firmly on your side.
Where wild creatures know your true worth, the great god money's not worth that curse.
"He's finally cracked, he's gone puggled."
"Puddled did you say?"
"No, PUGGLED, he's obviously been licking the aluminium saucepans again."
"If you ask me I reckon he's been at the Talisker."
Never mind, I enjoyed it and its my blog, I will say in all seriousness this welcome rain, whilst being vitally important, will not see us through the summer. We are forecast more tonight but transpiration at the current levels will deal with what ever we get in the next couple of days in a matter of a week or two. For the time being I will enjoy the respite but just just keep my fingers crossed for repeat performances at regular intervals over the next few months.
I've just had one of those days that you can't quite decide how you feel about it? It started in a standard sort of way in that the young store cattle that have been put in the field north of the drive decided to go walk-about and crossed the stream ending up on a newly planted lawn; their wanderlust requiring me to put up a section of electric fence to stop further travels. I was quite content wandering about in the stream clearing the vegetation likely to give rise to earthing problems when the mobile rang to inform me that the ongoing building work on the estate required the digger to remove some piles of soil and dig out a trench or two. Unfortunately our digger driver was off today requiring me to drive the wretched thing. From playing in the trout stream to sitting in the sun baked cab of a JCB was definitely a poor swap and not one I relished; the sooner the regular drivers back the better. I suppose its my fault for answering the mobile and previously having admitted to being able to operate a digger, never mind these things have to be done. The remainder of the morning was spent loading soil and gravel in the trailer and clearing debris from around the outbuilding of one of the farms. Not overly taxing so not the end of the world.
Lunchtime was nearing and I was dreaming of a nice cup of tea to wash the dust and grit from my throat when the mobile rang, again, to tell me that the club sit-on mower was at that moment precariously balanced on the edge of Edwards Pool for all the world looking as if it might be taking a ducking at any time. Fortunately the driver, who shall remain nameless, had escaped with nothing worse that dented pride leaving the mower balanced on the Cliff, Cliff is perhaps not the right word but Cliff seems somehow appropriate. It appeared that a judiciously placed Dog-rose had saved the day, preventing a watery demise of the mower. Well through the good auspices of the rose and a rope attached to the back of my truck, with much bouncing, spinning of wheels and revving the day was saved and the mower was soon back in action. As luck would have it that left me just sufficient time for a cuppa before heading back to my digging. As I headed for home I met Bob Kay having lunch beside Crowe Pool just having missed a salmon in the tail of Tizards being in trout mode and instinctively striking on the take. Bad luck Bob better luck next time.
The spot of bother with the mower, for his annonymity and to save his blushes I have blocked out the drivers face. At least I think that's how the pro's in the press do it????
The afternoon was thankfully uneventful until four thirty when the mobile rang again to let me know we had poachers spinning the river at Ibsley. Thrice joy, why do the awkward beggars always wait until my tea or dinner time, why can't poachers turn up at nine thirty in the morning or some equally respectable time. O well time to get rid of the digger and pop along to Ibsley to see who we had. It took me twenty minutes to sort things out and arrive at the bridge and it was immediately obvious which car was involved as the female occupant on seeing my arrival started blowing reveille on the horn. Unfortunately her three dopey companions were too far away and to busy spinning the salmon pools to hear which meant I had to walk across the field to let them know that their lookout was trying to catch their attention. All sorts of pleas of innocence and misunderstanding and wouldn't dream of poaching had we known it was private, signs what signs. I recognised them as local intelligentsia and couldn't be bothered to get the EA or the police involved as all that would have meant is they would have sworn innocence and misunderstanding and I would have been stood around on the bank for hours waiting for the EA to turn up whilst my dinner was fed to the dog. Such is life, having sorted out the misunderstanding and promised a much closer scrutiny of the situation should we have a repeat performance I escorted them back to their get-away vehicle with the moll and off they went on their way; until the next time we meet. I was about to head home when Brian Reed arrived requiring a natter to catch up on events and as we leaned on the bridge parapet watching the river when a salmon of about ten pounds cleared the water in the Bridge Pool. We stared at the broken surface of the pool, willing the fish to re-appear and as if to oblige the fish re-appeared and almost instantaneously a second larger fish cleared the water twenty metres further down the Pool. Two in the Bridge Pool, Bob's missed fish in Tizard's and I heard of a fish from North-end yesterday so it appears this weeks spring tide is bringing a few fish. Time for home and if I get a shift on I'll beat the dog to my dinner.
A fine evening ahead.
The thought of the Bridge Pool lined with fish was just too much and after dinner I gave into the urge to once more try and discover the taking spots in that most difficult of pools. A half hour of going through the motions was enough, I admit defeat, for me fish on the fly from the Bridge Pool are luck dependent and not going to happen through a calculated approach. With an hour before dark I was more than happy to give the Bridge best and walk down below Tizards on the right bank and fish the pool between the fence and the style at the top of Provost. Judging by the pristine condition of the marginal plants not many rods have been down that way looking for a fish in recent days. Why that should be with the low water and the likelihood of fish waiting downstream of Ibsley I find somewhat odd, particularly as the water looks so well. What ever the reasons tonight conditions were perfect. It was one of those evenings when the wind drops, the fly hatch is immense and time appears to slow as the casting takes on a life of its own becoming a sinuous reflection of the polished surface of the river. All in all it wasn't a bad day after all.
As we are now into May that has historically provided some of the finest salmon fishing on the Avon and certainly the fairest time to be in the valley, I took the opportunity the day off provided to grab the strimmer and head for one or two of the pools to give them a quick brush-up and trim. I would normally have attempted to fit this in during the coming week but as things are shaping at present next week is taking on a very clogged-up appearance. It's no hardship for me to do a little strimming as I enjoy the opportunity it affords me to have some time to think. I would also just add its not part of my professional role to cut the banks; I just enjoy it! Odd that whilst using a wheezing, coughing, roaring, spluttering contraption I do my thinking but the confounded thing is almost a permanent attachment at this time of year; Edward Strimmerhand of the Avon. I do always have a Turk scythe in the truck which is perhaps a more harmonious means to trim the banks but I'm afraid the distances involved don't make its use a very practical option. Anyway, I started with Cabbage Garden and intended to move to the lake Run but as I stopped for a walk along the isthmus that now forms Harbridge Bend, part of the area included in our felling operation earlier in the year, it was in need of a trim to get this years new growth in-hand. Having taken half an hour to get the upper hand and clear the paths along the spit I eventually reached Lake Run. Lake Run led to the bottom of the Trout Stream that was also in need of a trim which in turn brought me back to the weirs at Ibsley. By that time I'd had sufficient strimming fix to sate my appetite and called it a day, besides there's still Ashley Bends to do as I haven't been down to look at that this season!
I recently referred to the artificial nature of the Avon Valley and the role man has played in creating this wonderful habitat. The scale of the undertaking that re-sculpted what nature had intended to produce the valley as we see it today is breath taking. I was discussing the water meadows and the diverting and realignment of the channels with little more than a pick and shovel. To illustrate the scale of just one project I have included a couple of pix sent to me by neighbouring farmer Mark Vincent who has been out with his model aircraft and mini camera. Mark is a keen archaeologist and has always had an interest other than his professional one in the water meadows. What the photos clearly show is that the areas of water meadows we see today, the Ellingham meadows are shown in the first shot, are but a fraction of what used to be there. The second shot shows the area between the top of the Lifelands day-ticket section and the confluence of the Dockens Water. On the ground you do not see the ditches that the late evening shadow clearly exposes. The field appears uneven but not the complicated pattern of inclined planes and laterals. I'm not sure how many miles of ditches are silted up and lost under the field but if you consider that in the first pix of Ellingham there are over 16000m, over ten miles of laterals alone.
The first shows the Ellingham water meadow which is a rare example of a working water meadow system. Mark's suckler herd can clearly be seen grazing the area of laterals. The sketch is an overlay of pic one showing the complexity of the inclined plains involved. The pink is the natural 1:1000 gradient of the Avon valley, blue the plains between the carriers bringing the water onto the meadows and the drains taking it away. Finally the yellow that would cover the entire area of blue at this density, shows the lateral network delivering the water to the grass. The third shot shows the ghostly shadow of a lost system down where the Dockens joins the Avon, on the ground none of the ditches are visible. Thanks to Mark Vincent for the use of the photos.
If one were to try and calculate the volume of material moved to create just the laterals, not the much larger channels, carriers or drains and to work on the basis that each metre run of lateral and associated inclined plain involved a cubic meter of soil the weight of material is mind boggling. A cubic metre of dry soil weighs in at a couple of tons that gives rise to an astonishing thirty thousand tons of material moved in that one area of meadow- with a shovel.
As we are now into May that has historically provided some of the finest salmon fishing on the Avon and certainly the fairest time to be in the valley, I took the opportunity the day off provided to grab the strimmer and head for one or two of the pools to give them a quick brush-up and trim. I would normally have attempted to fit this in during the coming week but as things are shaping at present next week is taking on a very clogged-up appearance. It's no hardship for me to do a little strimming as I enjoy the opportunity it affords me to have some time to think. I would also just add its not part of my professional role to cut the banks; I just enjoy it! Odd that whilst using a wheezing, coughing, roaring, spluttering contraption I do my thinking but the confounded thing is almost a permanent attachment at this time of year; Edward Strimmerhand of the Avon. I do always have a Turk scythe in the truck which is perhaps a more harmonious means to trim the banks but I'm afraid the distances involved don't make its use a very practical option. Anyway, I started with Cabbage Garden and intended to move to the lake Run but as I stopped for a walk along the isthmus that now forms Harbridge Bend, part of the area included in our felling operation earlier in the year, it was in need of a trim to get this years new growth in-hand. Having taken half an hour to get the upper hand and clear the paths along the spit I eventually reached Lake Run. Lake Run led to the bottom of the Trout Stream that was also in need of a trim which in turn brought me back to the weirs at Ibsley. By that time I'd had sufficient strimming fix to sate my appetite and called it a day, besides there's still Ashley Bends to do as I haven't been down to look at that this season!
The view down towards the end of the spit at Harbridge Bend and the large comfrey beds that line much of the Trout Stream's banks.
During my couple of hours strimming I came across several Mallard and Pheasant eggs that had been predated. Considering how well Mallard and Pheasants hide their nests what ever it is predating them: Crow, magpie, Jay, Moorhen it is astonishingly efficient at finding them. When you see a Lapwings nest in a shallow scoop, in the open, in the middle of a field is it any wonder Lapwings are becoming scarcer?
Half way through the weekend and I haven't seen a single boat, I've met several picnickers and "lost" dog walkers but no boats!! I'm sure they are saving themselves for a big finish over the next two days but I'll enjoy the respite whilst I can. I have been out and about with the rod for an hour with nothing to show for my efforts which under the present conditions didn't come as a great surprise. Whilst it may be low it fished very well with the floating line and a single size six Blue Charm, had a fish been present I'm sure I would have moved it. The water has cleared, it now being possible to see the gravel bed at a depth of four or five feet. Thursday evening, after the warmth of the day had once more raised the water temperature, the chub had gathered to spawn on the clean gravel in the shallower faster sections at the top of Blashford Island. Such conditions are more akin to summer fishing rather than the spring flows we expect at this time of year what we need now is the summer fish to go with these summer conditions. We are approaching the first spring tide of May on the 3rd which historically has brought us some of the finest fishing of the year; next week will hopefully be a good week to be out with the rod. I visited the "Run" again on Friday morning after a far colder night than of late which would seem to have cooled their ardour as the shallows were bare although the odd chub could still be seen in the deeper runs downstream waiting the next rise in water temperature.
Picknicers, in actual fact they're having a barbecue and the dog is out in the field somewhere. The sign on the right which they have just walked by says, "Strictly Private, No unauthorised Access" The sign one hundred metres before that at the start of the footpath says, "SSSI, Keep to Footpath, No Picnicking, Dogs on Leads" They hadn't seen the signs, hadn't heard of an SSSI and hadn't heard of Natural England!!
As the fishing prospects didn't look too exciting it seemed an ideal opportunity to visit one or two of the less frequented corners of the valley that usually have some of our more exotic and contentious species in residence. I was keen to discover if the Egyptian Geese were still with us and whether the Goosander were in their usual hollow ash tree. The contentious element of these species is the obvious piscivorous habit of the Goosander and the obvious alien nature of Egyptian Geese. Whilst the geese are naturally considered alien in actual fact they are little more alien to the Middle Avon Valley than such species as the Little ringed plover that are nesting on Hamer Island and accepted without question by the bird world and Natural England. Whatever their status Egyptian Geese are bold and showy, always making an entrance with their calling and aerial displays, I must say I quite enjoy seeing them. If they were to become a nuisance they could quite easily be culled but lets not go down that route until they become a problem. As for our geese one pair is sitting on eggs in the sheared off top of an oak trunk, there is a second pair flying around that are obviously seeking a nest site but yet to find their ideal spot. The ash tree, where the Goosander have nested for the last five or six years, contained a Stock doves nest. We have at least two if not three pairs of Goosander flying about the estate with one duck sitting on a clutch of eggs in a barrel placed in a large oak a decade past. The particular barrel she has chosen has seen Tawny owls, Stock doves and Kestrels use it in the past, it will be interesting to see if she stays at the site as loyally as the first Goosander that nested in the hollow ash for so many years.
I dropped in at the lakes to strim under the access bridge to the river at Blashford as Damian Kimmins, Pete Reading and Steve Derby had made arrangements to sort out the fast failing walkway. I have mentioned before the amazing job they have done with the styles and the seats that have been so carefully positioned and built about the fishery. I find it amazing that Damian travels from London and Steve from Sheffield to spend their weekends working in the valley. Pete has been fishing Somerley for more years than I have and almost forms part of the backdrop; I think all three should be considered "Fellows of the Hampshire Avon". Its a fitting title and whilst it doesn't have any material or financial benefits it goes some way to reflect their involvement with the valley.
Pete has spotted the problem, "Its bust". Steve Derby stapling down the anti-slip wire on the finished walkway and work in full swing as Steve Gibson joins the work party.
Not only does their incredible commitment improve the physical infrastructure of the valley it also adds to the historic legacy of our surroundings. The Avon is a completely artificial environment, created through the blood sweat and tears of thousands of labourers at the bidding of enlightened engineers and wealthy landowners. The channel of the Avon was changed over many miles with nothing more efficient than pick and shovel, with the spoil shifted many miles with nothing more than horse and wagon. To undertake such a project today would be financially prohibitive, labour costs and plant hire would make it beyond contemplation. The timber for the shuttering of the braided channels and the original control structures that prevent the river from returning to its natural course was grown and sawn locally. Each revetment and piled section being driven with a donkey hammer and the effort of local men. The grazing and hay meadows that resulted, being the first attempt at intensive farming, all build a picture of a carefully managed and harmonious balance. Changes in agriculture have removed the need for such harmonious partnership as artificial fertilizers and modern machinery allow fewer men to work larger and larger areas. Conservation SSSI/SAC/SPA designations are attempting to return to this balance of bye-gone days failing in many instances to recognise the economic and social changes that have taken place within the communities that live and work in the valley.
Today the river remains in its historically changed course and the valley has its designations due to the unique habitat that is associated with this artificial change creating one of the widest biodiversities in the land. It all sounds well and very commendable yet what is missing is the part that our forebears played in all of this. It may sound romantic or even melodramatic but as I walk or climb over wooden structures or adjust a wooden hatch I often think of the men and women that originally created this incredible valley and how little we understand of their effort and their lives. The sawyers who cut the timber, the labourers who dug the channels and drove the piles, the carpenters, the masons, the carters and the brickies. The entire workforce of the estate would have been involved and this pattern was reflected the length of the valley, from above Salisbury to the sea. Not only the workforce but the woodlands would have been managed to provide the timber; elm, oak and larch used in the construction and revetments. We still have the old carpenters workshop and sawmill, the old rack recently having been scrapped and the even earlier sawyers pits filled in. The old smithy having stood empty for decades is once more occupied by a blacksmith bringing the building back to life. Without the connection with the working element of the valley the conservation designation is only half the picture. At this time I do not have the answers but I feel it is imperative that the human element of this habitat is not lost. Not only not lost but incorporated into future plans to reinstate this living landscape.
The Old Smithy that stood empty for over fifty years. The metal circles hanging on the wall are the bands that reinforced and strengthen the winding spindles on the water meadow hatches. The second photo shows an ancient field hatch, the circular bands as in the Old Smithy can be clearly seen.
What did those men do on their day off back at the turn of the eighteenth century? Did the lord of the manner allow them access to the river to catch eels and coarse fish? I doubt free access was that common for fear of disturbing game; any fishing would probably have been in the associated ditches and ponds. I imagine the fate of any fish caught was to supplement the meagre diets not for relaxation. As a very small boy I watched in total awe as one of the very old residents of a village close to my home landed what seemed to me two huge fish from the Kennet and Avon canal at Savernake. He promptly knocked them both on the head, put a string through their gills and slung them over his handle-bars before peddling off home with his supper. I later caught many similar fish from that shoal of bream and they were like peas in a pod at three and a half to four pounds. The sight of those two fish made a lasting impression on me and I still recall the name of that elderly piscator yet I never did pluck up the courage to ask him how you cook a four pound bream!
I spent an hour or two in the county archive over at Winchester last week looking at a diary that recorded the fish caught in the Avon at Somerley between 1870 and 1880. On June the 8th 1871 a thirteen pound salmon was caught at Ibsley Bridge by one of my earlier predecessors on the river, Tizard, I should add it wasn't the bridge that currently occupies the site at Ibsley but not that dissimilar with the same channel just downstream. In the notes that accompany the record of that capture the author had written the first salmon from Somerley for many, many years. What "many, many" constitutes we will never know as no previous date was recorded, prior to this the record listed pike and perch as the bag, salmon playing no part. Subsequent records whilst continuing to list the pike and perch in great detail contained increasingly frequent salmon captures with forty six being taken in the next decade up until 1880. The record from 1880 to the current day is well recorded with Dr David Solomon having catalogued a great many of them showing the change in the multi-sea winter element that has occurred in recent years.
The grass and young annuals on shallow soil have started to scorch and yellow along with the young fresh growth on many of the thousands of trees we have planted over the winter starting to wilt. Gravel bars are starting to show in the river and the fish are proving reluctant to move. Thankfully we are promised rain for the weekend which will not be a moment too soon. With the reluctance of the salmon to move I strimmed out Ibsley Bridge Pool today as fish will inevitably start to hold in the deeper, cooler water in the near future. Currently the weed growth is not sufficiently established to channel the flow down the left bank but it will not be many days before it reaches that critical stage and the fish will hold. The Bridge Pool is notoriously difficult to fish with the fly, not only due to the position of the lies, being close to the bridge and difficult to present to accurately but the slow flow makes all but the smallest fly presented on a floating line snag the bottom. I imagine the spinning will coincide with the time when the fish start to make maximum use of this section so we will see one or two later in May hopefully.
Upstream of Ibsley Bridge, there is a lie in front of the buttress easily covered and one below the bridge that proves far more difficult.
As I greeted the caravaners who are staying with us this weekend I took the opportunity to strim out one or two areas of the lakes that needed attention. I also took time to walk Kings-Vincents to check on the resident bird-world. All looked well with the Great crested grebe, the Coots and the Moorhens all busy with their nest building. One of the older pairs of Greylag Geese, that have been with us for several years, has hatched a brood of fifteen which are now being paraded about the complex with the goose at the front and the gander bring up the rear of the convoy. Whatever your views on these wild geese the sight of fifteen grey and yellow goslings being so proudly attended epitomises Spring regeneration. The geese are not alone in having hatched their broods as the Grey wagtails have broods flying at Ibsley and Ellingham and the Lapwing have young at Blashford so watch where you put your feet when you head for Island Run.
A large brood of Greylags on one of the lakes.
Tuesday evening Jonathan my eldest came over to brush up on his casting which was a good excuse for us to disappear for an hour or two up to the clubs trout lake at Hamer to flex the casting arm. I arranged a ticket to ensure the club are not out of pocket through our adventure and headed for the lake a little after five o'clock. In all the years the lake has been fished I doubt I have cast into it on more than four or five occasions. On those earlier visits, that have usually involved casting lessons,the lake has been alive with fish rising in all directions much to the frustration of my pupils and greatly to my amusement. On our arrival Tuesday evening it was an entirely different picture. The wind was from the north and very cold which immediately involved me heading back to the truck for added coats and pullovers. There was nothing rising and speaking to the only other angler present he had spent the better part of several hours without any success. Things were not looking very promising but an examination of the book in the hut showed there had been fish earlier in the day so all was not lost. As the evening was primarily for casting practice and to iron out one or two wrinkles Jonathan was quite happy familiarising himself with the gear. After initial advice I had a walk around the lake and spent an hour hiding from the cold wind. During my walk and whilst tucked up under the bank watching the water I had seen no more than half a dozen rises and mostly at considerable range. With an hour before dark I was just beginning to think we might call it a day as casting had gone well and there was little point in overdoing it when a fish rose thirty metres out, right in front of me. Due to the lack of rain the water in the margins was very shallow but with leaking wellies and Jonathan in shoes getting out to them would involve a lot of effort. As I watched fish began rising in several areas about the lake and the wind started to drop. Buzzers and midge began hatching and Daddy long legs started to drift off the bank onto the water. The fish didn't need a second invitation and quickly coming up in the water and fed freely just at the moment when Jonathan's casting began to show the the results of two hours of over exertion. An extremely frustrating forty five minutes followed suffice to say that between us we managed to catch the two fish the ticket permitted and called it a day. I must say that despite the cold and shallow water the lake came up trumps in the end and provided some superb fishing. The fish rose beautifully and what fish! Both the fish we had were over three pounds and in the peak of condition, well done CAC, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed our couple of hours and will most definitely be back.
Smoked trout and thyme, plus a few capers or a spoonful of horseradish source fabulous stuff. My land drain wine rack is looking in need of attention! Bluebells on the bank over looking the water meadows.
I had been up on the water meadows in north of the valley where the King-cups and Lady's smock are fading and we await the Buttercups and Water Avens to take their place. As I came back down the valley I took the opportunity call at Ibsley to see how the willow pollards were progressing and was pleasantly surprised to see that even one or two of the old stumps I had not expected to survive were budding and showing signs of life. It will save me a little effort in that I will not have to plant replacements but I will be busy strimming and cutting the self-set willow that arises from every branch and twig broken off and in contact with the soil that has sprung into life.
Pollards spring back into life.
I received the pix of Paul and his fish from Blashford from Kevin Styles who luckily was on hand to take the shots.
Action shot of Paul playing his fish and taking care to get it back safely.
Just a quick congratulations to Paul Greenacre on his second salmon from Somerley this season. A fifteen pound hen from the Island Run, details on the returns page and pix when I receive them.
Its difficult for me to admit that this morning the river held little or no appeal for me. The prospect of the ranging dogs, scattering ducks and waders, added to the garish inflatables and their garish occupants I did not need. I would retreat into the estate to walk the woods to discover how they were healing after our presence with the harvester a little over twelve month ago. The impact of such a massive machine is undoubtedly severe and visits to the woods during the last summer and the autumn showed little softening of the scars. I was keen to see the effect a further cold winter and the new growth of a second Spring was having. I drove across the valley and on into the estate abandoning the river to her fate which was a very odd feeling as the last curve disappeared from the mirrors behind me. The great sentinel trees of the Lower Park were not the company I sought, on over a further mile of dusty gravel road that took me onto the valley escarpment to the west where the steep sides, too sheer for the plough, had saved this wooded ribbon.
I turned off the drive and onto a track that had seen the thunder and destruction of the heavy plant as hundreds of tons of softwood had been sent to the mills. The first two hundred metres of deciduous trees had hidden our worst efforts under the leaf-fall of last autumn and It appeared the winter storms had sculpted the carpet to further soften and hide. Undecided on the route I was to take and in no hurry to decided I headed for two large beech trees where I could sit and await inspiration. As I approached across the dry leaf mould that lays beneath all beech a tawny owl slipped from the higher bowl, dropping down to cross the open ground between the deciduous and the nearby Douglas stand before being quickly lost to sight in the vertical shadows of the firs. Somewhere deep within plantation a Blackbird chattered a warning at the arrival of such silent danger and a Buzzard mewed to acknowledge the call.
A s I record the Buzzard nests on the estate the direction of my walk seemed to have been chosen as I headed in the direction of the mewing to make note of the nests whereabouts. As I left the soft, giving leaf-mould carpet and entered the plantation the discarded brash of our earlier harvest lay a foot deep around the trees. Any desire on my part to remain unseen or at least silent was a forlorn hope, every twig and branch, now brittle after the winter cold, cracked like a whip. I followed the slowly rising track that ran through the centre of the stand between the timber columns that rose majestically to the vaulted roof, one hundred feet above. The towering trees not only have the appearance of a cathedral nave but also the hushed aura that accompanies many of the great cathedrals. The soft breeze high in the canopy accompanied by the calls of the Gold crests that inhabit this higher plain attended my progress toward the crest of the rise. As my view over the rise brought the next vaulted aisle into view the tangled deck of branches that constituted the nest was clearly visible high on a column. As I came within fifty metres she slipped silently from the far side of the nest and soared high above the wood to await my departure from the area of her nest. The seventh Buzzard territory to date with at least a further four to check that pleasingly points to a healthy population. She didn't have to wait long for me to be on my way as I had no need to stop and search as the nest was so obvious. I continued through the tall Douglas and out into the mature oak that adjoins to the north. Nuthatch and tree creepers piped their warnings replacing the shrill calls of the Gold crests behind me. The undergrowth and rhododendron thickened providing homes for Blackcap and Wood warbler busy with the challenge of Spring.
Immediately enveloped by the beech, looking out onto the spiraling bark of the sweet chestnut and the douglas nave.
Half an hour under the warm oaks and I had reached the highest point on my walk where ancient self-set stands of birch ran for a further mile to the northern extent of the wood. A calming fragile light, delicate as the green washed moss floor bleeds colour into the tracery of the canopy. As a younger man I had always longed too travel in the distant birch wilderness of Russia. A longing probably rising from Akira Kurosawa's visually stunningly film account of a survey parties adventures in the film Dersu Uzala. At the time of its release I had just finished my training as a surveyor and such adventure had great appeal to a single young man. Well I didn't get to see my Russian wilderness and have to be content with my postage stamp sized example. I like to think the view through two hundred metres of dense birch grove in deepest Hampshire looks very much as two hundred metres of birch grove in Asia might look. Memories triggered, I'm sure You Tube will come to the rescue!
The green wash of the birch woods.
For ten minutes I lay on the moss carpet looking up through the pastel canopy listening to the Chiff chaffs and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Wood warbler that was singing close by, exquisitely bright little bird that obviously evolved to decorate these woods. It wasn't to be and I rose and dropped down through the trees to the valley to make my way back to the car feeling a great deal more in tune with the world than two hours previously.
Ancient Scots pine full of woodpeckers and bats.
I had one last piece of woodland I wished to visit that had been the site of Goshawk displays recently and it was also a site that every year attracted the Turtle doves. Goshawks and doves do not appear as natural neighbours so I as keen to watch how matters developed over the summer. The area I decided to visit had one hundred and fifty years before been the main approach to the house that had been lined with majestic newly imported Douglas fir. The remaining twenty or so of these colossus that have watched all the comings and goings on the estate are now surrounded by hundreds of hectares of later pine plantation that give a false and artificial feel to the entire area. Luckily nature adapts and fills any suitable habitat with deserving residents and from the top of one old fir, a hundred and fifty feet above, a raven was noisily feeding her young. A Woodlark parachuted down into the rough grassland at the side of the ride and this evening there will be Nightjar chirring at all points of the compass as they return to the clearings to raise their broods in the coming months. As for the Turtle doves and the Goshawk I saw neither, perhaps the Goshawks have moved on and the doves are yet to arrive, I will have to come back in a day or two for a further look.
Ever watchful gate keepers.
I must say thanks to Julian Mahoney for sending me the details and photos of the latest fish from Ashley caught by his fishing companion, Bob Stone. Being hooked at 12 noon on a crystal clear, hot and sunny day it definitely proves the point that fresh fish are likely to take under almost any circumstances. The vital element is getting your fly in front of him and that's the rub with so few fish about. Having said that I am still amazed at how few people are out, the meadows are looking superb and this exceptional April weather is something not to be missed.
Bob in a tight corner, unable to follow downstream through trees and mud, care had to be taken not to spook the fish out of the tail of the pool. Having successfully landed and unhooked a good looking cock fish getting him back in over the soft margins was proving a problem. Happily a very spirited fish was quick to recover and make off into the depths.
My fishing for the day was a little less dramatic but very enjoyable all the same. Granddaughter Katie Megan arrived and required entertaining with some pond dipping at the top of the garden.
One further update that being the welfare of the stragglers I had to leave behind when I moved the big swarm Thursday evening. Pleasingly when I arrived at six the following morning a quick peep under the skep showed a small cluster of bees about the size of an orange hung from the inside. Gently lowered back onto the sheet and wrapped up for the five minute trip to where the rest of the swarm were now at home in their hive. Its always a worry when uniting bees as they will attack and kill strangers and I was hoping that despite their enforced separation they would still have the necessary signals acceptable to the guards. I took the risk and turned them out on the board in front of the entrance where they immediately attracted the attention of the guards who greeted them as their own and the entire cluster marched in procession, up the board and indoors; lovely stuff.
I decided to call in at Hucklesbrook this morning to have a look at the meadows and see if the river looked inviting. This is a shared beat and I arrived just as the tenants on the far bank arrived to fish through the pool which obviously required I look elsewhere. I dropped down to Ham Island to wade the shallows and see if a fish was laying below the drop-off. I wasn't feeling very confident and the amount of weed and rubbish drifting downstream from the swans grazing behind me on the shallows made life miserable. Half an hour was enough of that, I drove back up the bank to see if Hucklesbrook would be worth waiting for but the two rods were not even half way through the run; they would be at least another half hour. I hope they were rewarded for their efforts as the run was full of arguing swans and a herd of cattle crashing about on the shallows, I decided on a retreat to the less complicated waters of the estate.
I knew I would hate this weekend, its already been totally demoralising, the boats and the ignorant have been out in force. I feel like throwing my hands in the air and saying just get on with it. Why should we try and preserve and conserve this wonderful valley when all we get is grief. I don't blame the people in the boats in many instances they are just ignorant and whilst I recognise ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law its not my job to try and educate them. Many are reasonable and pleasant people; some alas are conniving, lying, degenerates who find it difficult to string two words together that don't constitute a lie. Luckily at this time of year very few juvenile water birds are about other than Mallard, that are quite capable of looking after themselves. In a few weeks such chaos would see dozens of cygnets, Great crested grebe young and goslings flushed across territorial boundaries to face neighbouring cobs and many will meet a grizzly end. Perhaps the most pitiful result is not that of those killed by aggressive cobs but those separated from parents that take days to starve to death or weakened sufficiently to become fox food. As I said recently in a diary entry the agencies, we pay a fortune to from the public purse, are in the main responsible. They refuse to take the message to those that transgress, preferring to take the cuddly sound bites to those that already comprehend their actions. When was the last time you saw any educational article or programme about the legal obligations on those that use the countryside or the rights of those that live and work there. The CBLA and the NFU sit in their cosy committees with the agencies nodding sagely and doing absolutely nothing to take the message to the ignorant. You can't blame the Great Unwashed when the agencies and the police don't consider contravention of the Wildlife legislation a serious crime. The local authorities are completely out of their depth. The Highways Agency are beyond belief, the current band of travellers at Ringwood Weir are on Highways property, compulsory purchased at the time of the by-pass. The fishing rights which are owned separately and the ancillary rights of access and parking associated with those rights which of course we have exercised since the road change in the 70's. The pearl of wisdom that has come out of the highways is that they feel the squatters are doing no harm so they will leave them to it. From that some might assume if you want to move your mobile home onto a nice piece of publicly own highway verge or public park just move on in. There are several that have bijou river frontages or close to town centres for convenience of shops and facilities; it would appear you simply need to cite the Ringwood Weir precedent!!!. Its only half way through this celebratory weekend and you can see I'm losing ground fast; stylitism is looking more attractive by the hour.
What an amazing day, we would be pleased with such temperatures during high Summer yet here we are still in April. Temperatures soaring into the mid twenties as the only clouds in the sky the soft billowing banks of apple blossom that perfume the still air. There is a definite flaw in all this high tech computing in that it can't bring you the all enveloping fragrance of the bluebell woods or the drifting waves of lilac and apple perfume. On days such as this one has to pause to let the beauty of our surroundings just sink in. The mundane strimming of the salmon pools and spraying consents for the Himalayan balsam still have to be dealt with yet man and Nature combined have got it right today.
Clouds of apple blossom.
I was checking the hatches at Ibsley this morning and took time to walk the heavily pollarded area beyond the pools to check on progress. Thankfully most of the willow pollards have started to sprout new growth with just one or two of the less vigorous slow to get going. I expect about a five percent failure of the willow which we will replace with new pollards that will quickly fill any gaps deemed undesirable. It will be several more weeks before we know if the ash pollards are going to be as successful so carry on with fingers crossed for them. One of the objectives of the tree work was to open the sight lines that had been lost through the willow being allowed to run wild. It was hoped with the canopy lowered and the space and light of the valley reinstated the birds would be more inclined to use the neighbouring meadows. Already we see the flight lines across the site established and in daily use and today I noticed Lapwing displaying territorially in the nearest meadow, a site I haven't seen in my twenty plus years at Somerley.
As I reached the last hatch I noticed the roach were patrolling the edge of the submerged trees in preparation for further attempt to get the interrupted spawning completed. With the water temperature around thirteen degrees yesterday if temperatures remain reasonably high overnight I will be surprised if the fourteen degree trigger point isn't reached tomorrow. Roach are not the only fish with spawning on their mind. The larger lakes to the south have bream populations that have gathered under the crack willows where the roots grow out from the bank in matted layers to form soft nuptial beds. In the natural progression of events the different species spawn at differing trigger points ensuring minimum competition for space when hormones take control. Pike, perch, dace, roach, bream, chub, barbel, carp and tench, carp don't fit quite so neatly into the sequence as they are likely to succumb to their urges at odd times that don't appear to fit any natural cycle. The predatory pike and perch have their off-spring in position to benefit from the later arrival of the massed cyprinid population in another of Natures balancing acts. With the lakes being a degree or two higher than the river it was to be expected the bream would get under way at any time. What did come as a surprise was that the barbel had started to gather on the shallows with large fish chasing in the tail of Woodside pool as even their Spring urges gather pace.
I do have concerns about these large gravid fish in that we are to have the EA main channel fish survey take place on May 9th a survey that uses electro fishing techniques to collect the data. This is now a three yearly survey that in reality tells us nothing we do not already know, if the affirmation of that knowledge potentially adversely impacts on our large chub and barbel I'm not sure it warrants the risk. I have assurances there are no spikes in the power output but I remain sceptical. I admit the ruptures to ovarian sacs and dislocated spines of older eletro kit do not appear so frequently these days but I'm not sure I would want to be whacked with even the most benign power surge when I was occupied in procreating!! The more I think about the merits of this survey the more I question its need. It will tell us we have a healthy barbel and chub population, the salmon are holed up in Provosts hole, Dog Kennel and Ashley and we have no roach. What action or research would be forthcoming to improve the lot of any failing species such as the roach isn't known. To obtain sufficiently robust data from a three yearly survey to make the case for research or remedial action would take in the region of a couple of decades. Why do we allow it?? I think its because we don't want to spoil their day out in the boat!
As for where those salmon are holed up, one fourteen pounder was holed up at Ashley bends today and was successfully landed at midday under the clear baking sky. It just goes to show these fish have not read the books about when and where they are to take. I will get the details tomorrow hopefully and update the list asap. Still on the salmon front a good fish was seen in Dog kennel today but refused to be tempted, having read the books properly. I strimmed out the short section of bank on the right bank just above DK which can be reached 100m upstream from the Fishing Lodge. Its always a good piece of water worth a cast or two so if you are at the Lodge don't forget to have a look.
I keep forgetting to mention that the salmon smolt have been running for the last week with several good shoals moving downstream chasing and jumping after flies and shadows as they head for the sea. It always gives me an odd feeling to see the six inch bright splashes of silver moving downstream, to hope that when we seem them next they will be the silver travellers that inspire dreams and longing in so many fisher people. They have an incredidible journey ahead of them as the cross the North Atlantic to their rich feeding grounds in the Davis Straights off Greenland, I wish the well.
The derelict fishing shelter at Dog Kennel and the view from inside. If I ever get the time I will make a special project out of rebuilding three or four of the old shelters.
After a hot and tiring day I was just about to head home when I received a call from some one on the estate to tell me a swarm of bees had arrived on their garden gate and was giving rise to some alarm. I do keep bees but at this time I do not want any more but with threats of bendiocarb being puffed at them I felt I better go to the rescue - of the bees, not the alarmed resident. April is very early for swarms to be on the move but with everything else’s timetables all askew I should have expected it. It was a large swarm and in a difficult corner so I headed for home to collect my bits and bobs. My father's old skep and a sheet being the most important items. Back on site I scooped up several handfuls from between the brickwork and the back of the gate and placed them in the skep which I stood on the sheet with one edge trigged up on a stone. Rather unceremoniously I'm afraid I scooped, brushed and swept what I could of the remainder onto the sheet in front of the skep and once I was satisfied they were heading inside I left them to it.
I needed to find them a new home and headed for the apiary where I had a knackers yard of old hives stacked in one corner. They should have been burnt last year when I rehoused two of my other colonies but I couldn't bring myself to do so in the belief they may just come in useful some day. I must say I struggled to find them a dry home but with a warm night and a favourable wind the floor, brood chamber, crown board, outers and roof I salvaged would do at a pinch. Off home to fit some foundation comb in half a dozen brood frames and give the old hive a quick once over with the blow lamp to rid it of any unpleasant squatters and we were in business. Back to the apiary to set up the new home and within an hour and a half I was back at the gate to see how we were progressing. Things were okay, about one hundred bees still refused to enter the skep and fifty or so were still fanning just on the entrance. They fan to send the scent of their new home out to stragglers and late arrivals that have been out scouting for a suitable new home. Unfortunately if I was going to get the bulk of them in the new hive this evening those still flying would have to be left behind at this stage so removing the stone I dropped the skep flat onto the sheet. Once round with some twine and onto the passengers seat for their transfer to their next home. I should add that I have donned my veil at this stage as from bitter experience of having a colony escape into my car I can assure you driving with ten thousand less than impressed bees on the loose is not to be recommended. The sequence of photos below show the process of getting them from skep to hive which is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable parts of looking after bees.
from the left, the skep collecting them, turning them out onto the running board. A shot showing the queen, almost centre of the frame, a nice young leather coloured ceature, still quite small her abdomen not as yet swollen with her eggs. If you look closely she is still covered in the soft hair of a young bee. Finally a shot of them running into the new hive, if you are into the where's Wally books the queen is just above centre.
Once I was happy with their progress into the hive I shook any stragglers out of the skep and headed back to the gate to trig it up to collect the few I had unavoidably had to leave behind. They were all flying about the gate with a walnut sized clump hanging from where I had removed the swarm looking for their lost companions. I scooped the ball into the skep and the fliers soon started to follow, all being well they could be left to collect overnight and be picked up in the cool of the morning.
A great deal of effort to collect a swarm I don't really want but the thought of them being destroyed was more than I could bear. I'm not what constitutes a real beekeeper, I keep them because I like them, not for their honey. I perhaps take off twenty pounds a year but that is probably the most expensive honey in Britain if the cost of hives and equipment are taken into account. I don't have to feed them through the winter as I leave them most of their honey and we enjoy the late flow of heather honey which is a thixotropic gel which has to be pressed out of the comb and usually ends as a sticky mess so I am more tham happy to leave it to the bees. It also happens I don't like the stuff anyway, I find it coarse boardering on rank when compared to the lime and bramble honey of the Spring and Summer.
I'm having a reshuffle of the diary page, please bear with me whilst I sort things out.
Brian Marshall sent me this photo which he took as I dealt with today's unwelcome visitors at Ibsley. The two I can be seen approaching, plus two of their mates had camped the night in the trees just out of shot. This bright pair decided to start the day with a spot of chub fishing and spinning. Suffice to say I explained they were poaching and they packed up and left, having first informed me they didn't realise they were doing anything wrong. This afternoon I found a swimmer splashing about in Tizzards obviously totally wrecking any chance of a fish from there today and destroying any fishery value. When challenged he said he didn't realise it was private, despite having walked past two large signs. Yesterday's "father" with the kids, "didn't realise" in fact ninety five percent of the people I will encounter this summer "Won't realise"!
What this very clearly illustrates is that the general population of this country is totally ignorant of the fact the countryside is a privately owned, working environment and not a leisure amenity for the urban masses. I absolutely dread the coming weekend that is forecast to be sunny, bringing thousands out into the countryside. They will be totally ignorant of the fact the grass they trample is someone’s livelihood and the only income we derive from the river is for the fishery. A fishery that is dependent on exclusivity and peace and quiet for which our tenants are prepared to pay. They will not be prepared to pay to have some clown paddling in his salmon pool and the half million pounds of revetment and reconstruction we have on the books will not be funded.
I've said all this before but the element I have not looked at before is the root cause which in ninety five percent of these occasions is ignorance. The worrying part of this is that it is not only ignorance on the part of the transgressors but on the part of the agencies that establish these paths and access points as part of there public access to the countryside remit. They have absolutely no idea the implications of such well meaning strategies. The number of genuine users is minuscule compared to those that misuse the access afforded by the footpaths yet those taht work and live in the countryside are left to deal with the ignorant and moronic.
What recourse under the law does the landowner or fishery owner have? Very little, to prove loss of amenity in a civil court is practically impossible under such circumstances. The only winners of such a case would be the solicitors and barristers that would be rubbing their hands in glee. As someone said to me today, people do not park on yellow lines because they know they will get a sixty pound fine; they know they will get away without penalty when they trespass. We have to resort to conservation legislation that affords much of the flora and fauna of the valley far more protection than the human inhabitants.
A quick request to the rod who landed the 14 pound salmon from Harbridge Bend last night (monday evening) I have lost your details. Age I fear!! If you see this would you kindly email me please. John L
Thanks rob, the details of the latest salmon are now on the list.
It's been a long day with an early start, before six, to be on site by six thirty for my first Breeding Bird Survey of the year. I have not joined the hoards of "birders" who spent the week end in the New Forest seeking the Black Stork that has taken up residence in the more remote areas of the forest in recent weeks. I am definitely a "patch" man with the inhabitants of the area I impact upon being my interest. The BBS is a BTO survey which takes place over an established route, at a constant speed, that is repeated twice during the summer and has been undertaken for many years to give a measure of change. Strangely, unlike the winter surveys, listening is the key to these surveys as the foliage hides many of the smaller residents and identification of their song is often the only way to locate them. Deciding the classical singer be it Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap or Willow Warbler is a joy even at six thirty in the morning. Trying to sort out the jarring punk chords of the Sedge and Reed Warblers as they claim their patch always has its problems as they swap places and move unseen through the reed beds. A reasonable count was managed despite the surprising cold that made writing difficult after half an hour of clutching a pen with freezing fingers, the wind had gone back to the north taking the recent mild nights with it. To the early morning travellers who obviously knew me and beeped as they passed me at Ellingham Crossroads, if I looked distracted and slightly vacant I was listening and not having a turn.
Some of today's delights from the left; ramsons or Wild Garlic. The invasive alien Skunk Cabbage, stinking well, not unlike our native Wild Arum. I'm not sure if this larger spotted variety is as wild as it makes out possibly having escaped from cottage gardens along with the snowdrops in this particular wood. I always associate the Arum with the shaded woodland where we also find the lovely Wood Anemones at this time of year.
I draw no conclusions from the strange tale of the Guardian Angel I encountered today at Ibsley, I will leave it to you to decide. It began late this afternoon when I called at Ibsley to clear the hatch of the accumulated algal scum that builds up on the screens these warm and sunny days. As I walked along the revetted bank between Crowe Pool and the start of Tizzards pool I spotted on the far bank two small children at the head of Ibsley Pool. They were leaning over the steep bank with small, brightly coloured, pond dipping nets attempting to reach into the deep water below. I was horrified at the sight of two such small children, probably no more than six or eight years old, beside such a deep and fast pool, apparently without an adult with them. I didn't dare shout a warning as the fright of a sudden raised voice may have caused panic and actually brought about the very scenario I so feared. At a loss as what to do I decided to leave the hatch rakes on the bank where I was and drive around to the bridge enabling me to at least collar the little blighter’s at close quarters. Just as I turned to head for the truck I spotted the adult, plus a further toddler, who were over one hundred metres away at the tail of Tizzards laying on the gravel promontory that juts into the tail of the pool, reading a newspaper. It was in fact his black lurcher that attracted my attention as it raced about the field and returned to his side pinpointing his whereabouts. I picked up my rake and walked on along my original route until I was opposite him and within easy earshot. I pointed to his children and suggested he called them over to avoid a problem but he didn't seem overly phased by my concern as the toddler tottered off across the field to join his brothers. At this I explained that unfortunately he was trespassing and worse than that he was trespassing on an SSSI where dogs need to be kept on leads as per the large sign on the gate to avoid disturbing the ground nesting birds deemed deserving of the conservation designation. He was actually quite apologetic, said he hadn't seen the sign and his dog had eaten its lead hence he was unable to control it; he even looked as if he might actually call the children and head off for the near-by New Forest where I informed him there are safe shallow streams for his children to play in. They may have scared the salmon out of Tizzards but if that was the worst outcome of the situation I wasn't too concerned and turned to head over to the hatch. I had taken no more than a dozen paces when I heard the obviously very distressed screams of the elder two children over at the head of Ibsley Pool. I spun around and it was obvious the little one was in the river at the very spot the current from the tail of the main weir pool hits the bank and turns to boil out into the depths of Ibsley Pool. Ten feet deep, very fast and very cold. Dad seemed to have realised something was amiss and was looking at me running back along the opposite bank before he started off across the field. At the precise moment of those screams a whirlwind descended from the heavens and scooped up fathers newspaper and bits and bobs and spun them in a twenty metre vortex high into the sky, several hundred feet above the trees through a startled flock of gulls and out of sight towards Alderholt. I had watched this all in the space of twenty seconds as I ran parallel to "father" on the opposite bank. I was heading for the second weir pool channel intending to cross this and climb onto the shallows at the tail of Ibsley Pool to intercept the child as he were swept towards Tizzards. As I reached the channel bank and was deciding if this was going to be a matter of swimming or wading "father" reached the children and immediately jumped into the pool. I watched in horror, not sure what would surface, for what seemed hours but was probably less than ten seconds before "father" reappeared with junior and managed to get an obviously healthy child, judging by the sobs and wails, back onto the bank. As I climb back onto the path and "father" carrying a very distressed youngster came opposite. I asked how the little one was and suggested if he had been underwater and inhaled any quantity of the Avon he should watch him closely for any signs of shock and if remotely concerned take him for a check up. I also added that the missing papers and bits and bobs had been whisked away by the peculiar whirlwind. He said he had noticed the odd wind at the precise moment he heard the cries of his children. I'm not going there; wishing them well and very much relieved I left for my hatch.
Nectar rich flowers proving popular with the bumblebees beside the Trout stream. The floating algal scum that has to be cleared from the hatches during this warm weather. One of Damian Kimmins sturdy seats that now adorn many of our sections of river. Damian and Pete Reading have also been out putting wonderful new styles in at several of the awkward fences. They really do make a professional finish to the beats.
Five minutes later having cleared the hatch and heading back to the truck "Trevor the roach" arrived to check the spawning boards and I relayed my tale of woe expressing my disbelief that such a situation could have arisen. As we looked back over the river we could see "father" slowly packing up the remnants of his picnic whilst his two elder children were once more over at the Head of Ibsley Pool dip netting. What can you say to such a person? He was obviously so absorbed in his own thoughts he was oblivious to the implications of his actions.
Trevor harrop cleaning the roach spawning boards, at least that's what he told me the gaff was for!!! Still they come, the Grannom hatch is entering its twentieth day, by far the largest and most prolonged hatch I have ever witnessed.
Trevor didn't find the whirl wind at all strange and put the disappearing reading matter down to it being probably the latest copy of "Kite Flyers News" I'm not so sure, when I later drove back to the estate, a mile down the road as I passed Harbridge there on the barbed wire fence was the title sheet of the way ward reading matter. I stopped to clear it up and as I approached the only words visible were " The Guardian"
I have just been reading through the bumff on the Beer Festival website and notice Christchurch Angling Club have sponsored a beer. Well done CAC, very apt beer, I have a suspicion that may be down to one of the organisers wicked sense of humour? I must admit to being a fan of otters, one in particular that being Anne Sofie Von, If you hear her sing "Voi che sapete che cosa e amor" and fail to be moved you are beyond redemption and require a sole transplant. Interestingly being on June the 18th the festival will be the second day the river opens for the new coarse season. I will find it extremely suspicious if the entire membership of the club turn up on that day; especially if its just for a recce!
"The new seasons open dear I'm just popping out to wet a line"
At this time of year the water meadows speak for themselves.
The roach are busy with their spawning and Trevor and Budgie are busy clearing, cleaning and collecting the eggs for the next batch of the Roach Club rearing scheme. The couple of cold nights we suffered last week but a brake on the activity but I noticed they were gathering about the boards again today. The changes in water temperature not only effect the roach spawning but the turbidity of the river that is dependent on the suspended algal blooms. The different algae respond to different temperature triggers, springing into growth to filter their food from the nutrient rich water. As the water cleared mid week with the sudden drop in temperature the algae settled onto the bed of the river turning the gravels black and slimy. It wont be until the weed growth establishes a platform for the algae and concentrates the flow that we will see the gravels clean again.
When I have finished adding this entry to the diary I will be heading out for a look around the estate, we have one or two individuals who believe it to be acceptable to poach private waters irrespective of the poor light it may cast the angling community in the eyes of those outside the angling world. I can always turn a blind eye to the odd foray by local lads but when it comes to idiots who leave litter and make a general nuisance of themselves its time they were reminded of the truth of the situation. If they wish to go equipped to steal fish, ie have a fishing rod and bait, they must face the consequences of the 68 Theft Act. They must also realise that to go so equipped is to commit a criminal act and as such may lead to the confiscation and destruction of vehicles used in pursuance of that criminal activity; food for thought for one or two individuals.
I have spent endless hours out at night watching and waiting for poachers and looking after the night fisheries that I started way back in the early eighties. Thirty years of night time wanderings the number of frights, frustrations and and the number of ploys adopted trying to stay awake could fill an encyclopedia. Fortunately I do not have to deal with the running of the night fisheries these days and the number of times I get out at night has reduced dramatically. Despite the inconvenience of turning out at night, or half way through dinner, I do enjoy night time walks even without the nefarious activities of the bad guys to keep me from my bed. As your vision adapts to the low light and your hearing becomes heightened you become aware of sounds that would go unnoticed during the day. It may take a number of visits to become relaxed in the dead of night, beside dark waters with the demented shrieks and hoots of the creatures of the night but worth persevering.
I must sign off by congratulating Colin Morgan on a twelve pound fish from Ashley bends Saturday morning. They may be few and far between but that just adds to the pleasure of the capture; well done Colin.
Thursday evening I managed for the first time this season to visit Harbridge Bends in an unproductive search for that elusive salmon. I did however bump into Mick Stead, out looking for a second salmon to add to his twenty three pound fish of Tuesday from Gypsy. He had met with a similar result as myself with the salmon but our meeting at least provided me with the opportunity to congratulate him on his Tuesday fish. Not only was it Mick's first Somerley salmon it was his first salmon. In Mick's own words. "Anyone who is in any doubt about the power of such a fish should persevere, I think my heart stopped more than once. It took about 15 minutes to land and 10 minutes to return. I used a small cascade with a size 5 gold Partridge SALAR double" A true initiation into the world of salmon fishing.
Whilst heading for Harbridge I spotted Dobbin posing beside the sign for his gig this weekend. Harbridge Farm, on the north of the estate, still utilise heavy horses in the day to day running of the farm. The sight of these great animals at work in the fields causes time to go into reverse.
For me they evoke memories of my grandfather who spent much of his working life behind such animals and as with all grandfathers was a source of magical tales and sticky sweets. Days spent searching the hedge rows around the farm for the nests of wayward hens that refused to use the nest boxes and chasing rats in the feed store. Distant and isolated memories of a man I wish I had known better. Born in the lowlands of East Anglia he was responsible for my lifelong fascination with roach, showing us how to make paste from flour and water that barely held on the hook yet the roach in the then clear water of the Kennet and Avon canal at Bedwyn loved the glutinous slime.
Having now advertised the coming Heavy Horse event I had better promote the up and coming beer festival at Old Somerley, beside the river at Ellingham. In reality you are more likely to find Anne and myself at the beer festival, listening to the bands of course, especially if its a warm evening and we can walk home. I can't claim that beer festivals evoke many memories for me, in fact quite the reverse they seem to come from a black hole in time that appears to have swallowed all recollection of previous events??
Deep sigh, the much needed rain has arrived at long last, a fortnight of this and we will be fine. I just had to get out this evening and fish through one of the pools, particularly in light of Mick Stead landing a 23 pound cock fish from Gypsy yesterday.
It's encouraging to know the fish are getting up to us as I was beginning to have my doubts, starting to think they were holding downstream in the deeper water at Tyrell or Bisterne. I have seen the pix of Mick's fish and it's an absolute beauty, I must ask him if he noticed my name on it anywhere as I'm sure that was the fish with my name written on it that I was meant to catch last weekend; never mind, I still get to anticipate the take when it eventually comes. I'm not sure if that's Mick's first salmon, it's certainly his first from Somerley which is an excellent way to open the account. Well done Mick, you have certainly given my confidence a much needed boost.
My trip this evening whilst unproductive fish wise was none the less enjoyable as I fished down Pile and into Park. I had dressed for the occasion with double lined waterproof trousers and an extra fleece under the wading jacket. Even with the rain rattling on my jacket hood I was warm and comfortable as I fished into the south westerly wind, being prepared certainly makes the difference between a good and bad session under such conditions. Despite the rain there was lots happening to keep me occupied as the martins and swallows were out in their hundreds catching the flies that sheltered behind the willow clump on the far side of Park Pool. The numbers increased towards dusk when it was impossible to estimate true numbers but I imagine approaching a thousand birds. Skimming upstream over the river before taking a circuit out over the park before flying back downstream across the fields to begin the process all over again. It gave the appearance of a huge living conveyor belt, seemingly almost solid, for over thirty minutes. I was not the only observer of the spectacle as on the high bank at Park, above the Kingfishers nest, sat a pair of Mandarin ducks and keeping their distance fifty metres downstream of me a pair of Egyptian geese. Both pairs appeared indifferent to my presence the Mandarins not bothering to get up even as I fished the tail of Park opposite. Every ten metres of my approach the Egyptians begrudgingly got to their feet and shuffled ten metres further down the bank before settling back down to watch events pass by. I imagine they are involved in nest building somewhere close by and once finished for the day do some people watching. Both birds are obviously non-indigenous alien species and I should presumably rid the valley of them. I can't say the idea has much appeal to me as I enjoyed their company and they certainly both added colour to the overcast evening.
I had spent Friday morning clearing the overhanging willow branches from the Island at Blashford to open up the far side of the "Run". We did not see a fish landed from Blashford last season and in an attempt to encourage the rods to visit a little more frequently the Run needed cutting back to allow a clearer cast.
The day didn't start well when the strength of the flow prevented me from wading directly to the island involving a long and interesting detour across and downstream to the tail of the run. I did eventually make it across to the island without loss of life, limb or my block and tackle which I had come close to abandoning when the choice between a swim and making dry landfall seemed very much in the balance. The morning deteriorated from there, after several very stressful hours later spent hauling and heaving on the sunken rubbish that had accumulated under the cover of the willow my left shoulder muscle gave out. I determined to finish the job and it was early afternoon when the return trip across the stream was undertaken without a great deal of confidence. Suffice to say I managed a very uncomfortable trip and on reaching the safety of the water meadow I considered that Run owed me a fish.
It was after six when I climbed the style below the lakes and headed out across the rickety old carrier bridge to once more stand beside the head of the Run. With the news of several fish from the Royalty I had a positive feeling one would be resting in the two hundred meters of water I was about to cover below the Blashford shallows. Having spent a very uncomfortable ten minutes wading across that section this morning "Shallows" definitely didn't seem a very apt description. It did at least add to my belief that there is sufficient water for fish to reach us from the lower river and confidence was high.
The Run fished delightfully allowing a fly to be presented well to the gravel bars and shoals we had regularly found fish laying behind in years gone by. Alas there wasn't one there Friday evening. I fished on down the pool, past the seat, towards the tail and as I reached the bottom lie a firm take resulted in a solid resistance as a fish took and remained tight on the bed on the river. This looked like the fish I was owed, I increased the pressure to provoke some form of reaction, expecting head shaking or steady upstream progress. What I in fact got was a cartwheeling jack of about seven pounds that continued to thrash about on the surface refusing any attempts on my part to allow it slack line to shake out the barbless hooks. The débâcle continued as my net got caught in the gusset strap on the side of my boot involving me hopping down the bank as the jack cartwheeled into the reeds well downstream. Further embarrassment was saved as my antagonist bit through the line and departed into the swirling depths. There are a couple of lessons to learn from that episode, one always cut your gusset straps off your green wellies and second and more importantly, rivers never owe us anything.
Back to the river bank and my next visit was the following morning as I was still sure we would have a fish or two up with us and the accepted wisdom of having a fly in the water if you are to catch called for further efforts. Anne had to feed the horses allowing me a couple of hours before starting the jobs about the garden I had promised to help her with. I decided on the Run again as it had fished so well the previous evening. I would be guaranteed a pleasant couple of hours even if I didn't find a fish which seemed reason enough. The morning was clear and fresh and I was greeted by the honked warnings of the Canada's as I climbed the style and crossed the carrier toward the river. The cold night had produced a heavy dew tracing every footstep leaving a dark green trail marking my progress across the meadow and intervening ditches to the head of the island. A pair of Goosander, startled by my appearance, splashed and rattled into the air and disappeared away upstream and the piping calls of a Redshank warned his sitting mate of my arrival. The sun was gaining strength and the increasing warmth battled with the chill of the overnight northerly that had gripped the valley. I made up the rod with a bright yellow Torrish to add further warmth and colour to the side of the sun and started my way down the Run. The morning was busy with the activity of the valley residence as the herons flew back and forth trying to assuage the rapacious appetites of their raucous off-spring high in the oaks of "Whithy Bed". Reed buntings were calling in every phragmites bed and the Sedge warblers have arrived to add their chirring voice to the morning role call. A pair of Kingfishers commuted between river and lake across the two hundred metres of meadow keeping in touch with their abrupt piping call. As I worked my way steadily downstream over my right shoulder, across the river, a Skylark rose into the air with the trilling song that has evoked such feeling throughout the ages. The Ralph Vaughan Williams piece for violin quintessentially captures the mood of the English meadow and here was the real thing. I felt compelled to leave the fly on the dangle and turned to search the sky for the shivering dot that sang to the morning and as I search the heavens I spotted the faint movement of a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet as its vapour trail speared across the sky toward Heathrow. The resonant rumble of its engines eventually reached me from twenty thousand feet, drowning out the pitiful voice of the lark. It was probably Anne's horsey friend Jane "Air" flying in from Houston in her role as long haul cabin crew that had brought the twenty first century thundering into my rural reveries. Ah well, you can't win em all and I didn't catch either.
Out comes the sun, out come the problems.
I occupied the remainder of my day between the garden, reading and taking a few photos of the meadows that look so well as they burst into colour after the bleached starkness of winter. I occupied my time in readiness for the sun to dip that I could get back on the river to find that elusive salmon I know to be right where my fly will next glide. Shortly after six I headed for Pile and Park Pools set below the House on the edge of the parkland. Wonderful setting with a long history of producing portmanteau fish the type the Avon was justifiably famed for. The evening passed with the accompaniment of the ewes that graze the park gently calling to their wayward lambs as if reinforcing the presence of Spring and new life. Strangely the bleating echoes the sound created by drumming Snipe as they go through the evening display routines to reaffirm their territories. Sadly it has been several years since I last heard the Snipe make that evocative sound and I fear we are no nearer seeing them return to the meadows to breed. We are hugely ignorant of even the simplest requirements of the most common of our valley residents how we hope to re-establish them in numbers alas remains a mystery. Efforts are being made to put right the wrongs of neglect and past ignorance but I fear we have a long, long way to go before we can confidently say we understand and are winning the battle.
Grannom swarming down my wellies.
Just a few lines and a pic or two just to catch up with the news. I have been told there have been three salmon out of the Royalty today which hopefully means there is a run coming into the river off the recent high tides. If you have the opportunity to get out in the next day or two head for the known holding water, Ashley, Harbridge Bend, Park etc. It is always worth giving the running lies a once over, Ibsley and Blashford but with the current bright conditions the fish will probably be running early and late. I certainly hope the capture of three fish indicates a run and not that the fish are reluctant to run the Great weir and being caught in the pool below. Under such circumstances it would be really useful if the fish counter information was automatically updated. The business of trying to enthuse the rods to get out on the bank would be a great deal easier if we could see the fish heading our way. It has cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds of licence fees and tax payers money for that counter that tells us what we already know a year after the event. If it has any real value at all it is in keeping the rods informed of events. The EA believe we are incapable of evaluating the information and as such cannot be trusted with it, which just about encapsulates the meeting of minds between rods and regulators.
Ellingham Carrier looking well and ten year old Adam Greenacre with his first trout caught on the fly. Dad Paul informs me Adam actually landed three brownies on his first fly fishine expedition which is a very impressive way to begin his fly fishing career; well done Adam.
I did spend several hours with a strimmer today clipping the paths and banks into shape without destroying the seasonality of the marginal plants. With the huge hatch of grannom continuing at least the streams looked the part with the amazing clouds of fly on and over the water. Unfortunately as we see the water temperature rising we will soon see the start of the algal blooms that spoil the visibility until the weed thickens up and filters out the nutrients. This year has all the hallmarks of unknown territory with the current flows and what ever happens now we are heading for a difficult summer. From the salmon anglers point of view the best we can hope for is a wet summer to keep the water levels up and the water temperature down. If that comes into being we will be seeing a replay of the 2008 and 2009 wet summers where many farmers in the valley were unable to get out on the meadows to make hay and silage. Heads you win tails I lose, what ever way it goes we are likely to see some unhappy faces at the end of the season.
Yesterday's rain will have very little impact on the rapidly dropping river, with all the attendant problems this heralds for the summer. The low water has at least a benefit for the survey that is currently being undertaken on the Ibsley section as part of the Avon restoration strategy. Attempting to survey channel profiles if the river had the flows we might have expected at this time of year would have been a daunting prospect.
One project being investigated is the construction of a cyprinid friendly fish pass I conceived as a demonstration of what might be achieved if best management practice is followed. The main gates at Ibsley have never been a barrier to salmonids and large barbel have been seen swimming through them yet smaller fish, less well evolved for the fast flows of a hatch, do have problems under certain flow conditions.
That brought back memories, I spent more years than I care to think about peering through something similar.
I have previously expressed my long held belief the artificial nature of the Avon acts as a one way conduit with hatches forming one way valves restricting upstream migration of many cyprinids. This has to be viewed in light of the downstream drift of many larval stage cyprinids. We do not know how far cyprinid fry drift on the Avon as the work to establish the movement has never been undertaken. On Rivers on the continent where the work has been carried out it has been shown that roach drift many kilometres. If a similar situation exists on the Avon with our roach population quicker reaches may be denuded of roach very quickly. The historic situation with many miles of water meadow carriers acting as refuges offered sanctuaries and population stability. Recent work to reinstate oxbows and link many miles of the old carriers to the main channel will hopefully begin to yield results in the near future.
Our cyprinid friendly pass will allow spawning migrations to travel upstream to compensate for the downstream movement of fry. The gradient will be sufficiently shallow to permit the free movement at periods of low flow when flow dynamics make passage difficult. It is odd to think of low flows as the problem however when all the flow is concentrated in the main channel with reduced velocities and head height remain high passage is at its most difficult. With the once reliable pattern of the seasons appearing to have succumbed to the rigours of climate change, these days we are unable to say which season is likely to be the one suffering from low flows. If the migration of the dace in February or the chub and barbel in May coincide with a low flow period, fish passes as we are considering would negate such restrictions. That's the thinking and it should prove an interesting project. We are still some way from installing such a channel, if we do get to the construction stage I will obviously keep the diary up dated.
Enough of yesterday's rain, what of today's change to proper Spring sunshine, the real McCoy, a superb day. "Teacher, teacher, teacher" Great tits announced their territories, Blackbirds, Wrens, Robins sang their hearts out in celebration of such a morning. Today they were joined by the new arrivals staking their claims; Chiff chaff, Blackcap, Willow warbler and the first Reed warbler of the year all finding cover to their liking and letting the whole world know of their presence. As we await the Garden and Sedge warblers to arrive in the next week or two the place seems to be already bursting at the seams but their preferred niche in the bramble thicket or phragmites bed will be just that little different from those already spoken for; Mother nature filling in the few remaining gaps.
I forgot to mention the cacophony in the tree tops as the Rooks argue over who builds where.
The grannom hatch of yesterday had been blown from the river into the surrounding fields where they were now attempting to dry their wings and get back to the river channel. The Black-headed gulls and Mallard chased and stabbed in all directions in their haste to gorge themselves and on reaching the river the fish still steadfastly refused to take any notice of them. Clouds of flies drifting up-stream and not a single rise; what is it about grannom that fish dislike? I was working on the Trout stream and watched shoals of six inch dace and roach drift in and out of the ranunculus fronds in a synchronised ballet between flow, weed and fish and not so much as a glimpse at the clouds of fly overhead. What ever the reason for the indifference on the part of the fish the presence on millions of these small caddis as they mass and head upstream to lay their eggs is a miracle of nature not to be missed.
The upstream movement of the grannom is exactly the same compensatory response as seen to drive our fish into heading upstream to spawn. Nature has evolved this safety mechanism to ensure the survival of the species. It is only when man arrives on the scene do we see the delicate balance thrown into disarray and bottlenecks and barriers interrupt natures great plan.
After I finished in the trout stream this evening I had an hour of daylight that was simply too good to miss. The grannom hatch was reaching its height and the sun still had sufficient warmth to make a coat an unnecessary hindrance; added to this I just happened to have the salmon rod in the truck, what luck! I hadn't visited the southern limit of the estate down at Ringwood for several weeks and as we have some new age travellers on the highways department land adjoining our fishing I felt I should drop in to see all was well. It also has the added advantage in that Ringwood weir always provides a temporary barrier to the grannom simply through being a couple of metres high giving rise to the spectacle of clouds of milling flies as they work out how to by pass the concrete walls.
On arrival the odd-ball collection of coaches, vans and lorries, with their patchwork repairs and multi-colour paint jobs, had not appeared to have moved very far since my visit of a few weeks ago. Looking at them I would be amazed if one or two of them could actually be persuaded to cough and splutter back into life and roll out onto the road again. They gave the appearance of an elephants graveyard having managed to crawl in there as their final act before expiring. I'm sure I do them an injustice and despite my doubts as to their mechanical integrity from one of them wafted a homely aroma of dinner on the stove and a more delightful end of the day addition to the brushwork of Mother natures grannom sunset would have been hard to imagine.
I did put the rod together and have a cast or two in the weir-pool and from the bottom croy but with the low water my heart wasn't really in it. I had a pull or two from an over enthusiastic trout that luckily managed to avoid the hooks. I was actually content to spend the last ten minutes leaning on the rail beside the weir to drink in the evening before the thought of that dinner, probably by now on some fold down table, was enough to send me home for my evening meal.
Grannom flood the margins whilst our visitors enjoy the river frontage.
That ten minutes watching the setting sun gave me time to ponder the alternative lifestyle of those young people in the camp. The Bohemian, nomadic existence is definitely not one for me and as some one who in my teens lived in a converted van for six months I do know some of the discomforts involved in such a lifestyle. My travels were not to indulge in a alternative lifestyle but to allow me a greater choice of mountains, rivers and beaches through out one of those odd summers one looks back on in ones youth. Between fishing, cricket and Felinfoel I don't know how we ever found time to make maps but that's a very different tale.
As for our travellers, the highways department will be in the process of moving them on, I suppose I do have some sympathies for them but we would all like a river side frontage without responsibilities unfortunately life ain't like that – it may be a drag for some but that's how it is I'm afraid. I know one or two anglers have been reluctant to park up down at Ringwood for fear of damage to vehicles and the intimidatingly large and noisy dog, fear not they seem good people and the dogs a real softy.
As for my pondering of the alternative lifestyle one might just be forgiven for thinking it may be the water of the Avon that attracts such disparate individuals. We had the King of the Bohemians in Augustus John up at Fryen Court in Fordingbridge from the late 20's and Dylan Thomas and Caitlin living at Blashford in the late 30's. I did have on almost permanent loan from Mark Vincent, neighbouring farmer, local historian and all round general good egg, a book recording Thomas's time at Blashford with pictures of them posing beside the river at Lifelands - odd who circumstances has placed in this valley!
Events have taken me away from the valley for a day or two, helping move Richard, my youngest and his wife Jade up to London and dear old Bracken needing a trip to the vets. Whilst moving Richard and Jade to London was hard work the stress involved in taking Brac to the vets, literally a hundred metres around the corner, made it pale into insignificance. I had dreaded that visit to the vets as she had broken her right hind cruciate ligament; again. I say again, as she had broken the left three years ago and undergone the traumatic operation involved to repair the damage. At thirteen coming on fourteen and over weight the prospect of that operation did not bode well. I was not prepared to see her suffer and if there was no alternative I was faced with the prospect of having to put her down. I'm sure all pet owners know that hollow pit in the stomach feeling as those decisions have to be made. The fact Brac was a working dog and in the working dog world hard decisions are made more frequently didn't apply on this occasion. I had also been in this situation several times in the past and that also makes it no easier. Our dogs have always been family pets and as such have been very much part of the clan. After much sole searching it was agreed her discomfort was not beyond the scope of anti inflammatory painkillers and it was a considerable relief when we decided her quality of life was worth preserving. In many respects it does look like a manoeuvre to delay the inevitable but some days you don't feel up to taking such decisions and that was just how I felt last week. So she's back home and we have a hoppy, waggy dog getting under our feet all day, which is just fine by us.
Enough of my personal distractions, what of the valley now the changes of Spring are in full flow. As more and more of our summer migrants arrive and our winter visitors leave those that have over wintered in more protected form are reacting to the temperature triggers and changing photo-period to hatch and emerge. The bats are once more skimming the lakes and river as the fly life becomes plentiful once more. The first hatches of Grannom appeared last Thursday a hatch that often reaches vast proportions in the Lower Avon valley and a sign of Spring I always look forward to. Whilst I wait for the hatch to lift my spirits the reaction from the fish is always somewhat muted. The chub and dace may start to take the odd one or two but the trout never seem to rise freely to them. Perhaps they are intercepting the nymph stage as they rise in the water but I doubt even that as there is little movement from established trout on the shallows. This hatch usually coincides with the downstream movement of the salmon and seatrout smolt but they also seem to ignore the bounty on their doorstep. The seatrout smolt started moving downstream a week or two ago when the odd fish could be seen leaping and vigorously chasing fly on the shallows in the evening but as of yet the salmon smolt haven't appeared above the hatches as they gather in numbers to head downstream.
With the margins yet to grow up a long cast is called for as Craig looks to move a fish at the start of the brown trout season.
We are forecast a reasonable weeks weather and I have a relatively free week ahead at work, which is tempting fate, hopefully allowing me the opportunity to catch up a little on events in the valley. It may even allow me the chance to get the salmon rod out on the odd evening to have a look at the salmon pools. April and May are wonderful months to be in the valley with the seasonal change heralding the return of the warm weather I will spend as much of my spare time as possible beside the river soaking it all in.