19th April

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.

Wild Garlic Skunk Cabbage Wild Arum Wood Anemone
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 blighterís 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.

New growth Algal scum Damian's seat
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 the roach Grannom hatch
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"

16th April

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"

Water meadows in April
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.

15th April

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.

Heavy horses

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.


Beer festival

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??

13th April

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.

10th April

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 dťb‚cle 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.

Blackthorn
The blackthorn is in full bloom, beware the cold snap.

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.

Jumbo jet
The Skylark and the Elephant; sounds like Kipling.
What of today, well in fact its yesterday as its just gone midnight, I was out at eight and quickly fished Blashford from where I left off yesterday to the tail of the pool with a repetitively similar result. It had only taken an hour and with the sun climbing I decided to pack in and drive up to Ibsley to check the hatches. I had finished raking out the nights accumulated rubbish when our neighbour to the north Rae Borras stopped for a natter and to swap news. We share many problems with low water, cormorants and trespassers being three currently high on our radar. In the twenty years I have known Rae he has proven to be probably the most dedicated salmon angler I have ever met. Over that period he has not only fished all over the world he has fished his beat at North-end with a unparalleled consistency that has proven a very reliable measure of the state of the river. If Rae is, or isn't, catching then that is likely to be the indicator of the results that might be expected elsewhere. As we parted I was promised a phone call in the event of a fish; I can only assume Rae has lost his mobile as he didn't call!

Trespass
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.

The old green road
The old green road clearly defined by the kingcups.
Blashford water meadows
The water meadows look their finest over the next two months.
I fished through Pile Pool, past our newly arrived canoe lie, and made my way slowly down to Park, One of the pleasures of Park Pool is that it offers some shallow wading which is all too scarce on the Avon. To have the water riffle and gurgle about your feet as you quietly wade the gravel shoals is one of my treasured delights. Being in and seemingly part of the river itself adds a further dimension to what makes us seek the company of fish. The distance one is able to enter the water at Park is less than one hundred metres but that short section brings disproportionate pleasure. I didn't need waders, wellies were quite adequate to allow me the feel of the gravel being forced out from under my feet by the rush of the water. I had not been in the water more than two or three minutes when the grannom, that have been a constant presence for the last three or four days, saw fit to land on my boots in an effort to submerge and lay their eggs. Usually reed stems act as the path down which these millions of sedge flies crawl to attach their egg sac several inches below the surface. How strange to be accepted as part of the natural scene and used as a surrogate reed stem. To be such a close, almost intimate, part of the wondrous spectacle of the grannom hatch quickly recharges batteries that have become jaded and tired through concerns related to the day to day running of the river. Ample reward for my earlier efforts.

Grannom
Grannom swarming down my wellies.

7th April

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 First trout
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.

5th April

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.

Surveying
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.

The rookery
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.

Travellers
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 Ė 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!

3rd April

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.

Start of the trout season
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.


29th March



Ibsley Troutstream
I think Sean has been busy out on the Troutstream, its looking well and in fine condition to receive the first stock of trout for the season.
Lake Run
Lake Run, a good low water salmon lie, looking similarly well after last years dead reeds have received a quick hair cut.

The last few days have seen the sun do its utmost to drive away the last remnants of the winter blues and we are promised a day or two of much needed rain, all in all things are looking pretty good. Unfortunately with six hundred horses galloping around the Lower Park for one more day the last thing we need for that area is rain. Once they have gone on their way a week of heavy rain would go down very well indeed. That may cast me in the light of a killjoy but we are experiencing very low flow conditions for this time of year and we are in desperate need of a top-up. The need for a week of rain is due to the enormous volume of water that is taken up by the explosion of new plant growth at this time of year, through the transpiration process water is returned to the atmosphere by-passing the river.

27th March

Its four oclock in the morning and I've just lost some of this text?? It simply disappeared! so if you find some odd, out of character, out of position piece of text that's where it went!!!

The reason for this entry is simply that I have added a Somerley Salmon Catch Map to the somerley Salmon Pools page that can be found in the header. Whilst fairly accurate it is impossible to get the exact position of each fish but it certainly shows the hot spots. If you take out the car park element you can see how widely spread the catch comes from.

25th March

A fine day; the tricky jobs have gone well, the sun has shone, a fresh fish has been landed and I had an hour with my new rod what more could I ask.

I wont bore you with the problems of running sand and gabion revetments other than to say we left the site safe and secure for the weekend which always allows me a sigh of relief and a chance to enjoy a day off. We have the horse trials next week requiring water supplies, cattle grid covers and sanded road crossings to take precedence. Nothing overly taxing so time to forget the tree felling to take stock and sort out the next phase of the works schedule.

A new wood
The new wood looking well, planted with oak, sweet chestnut and beech an investment in the future.

It was late this afternoon when the phone rang and I answered to find I had a heavy breather wheezing down the line. I was just about to tell him he had a wrong number when an out of breath Paul Greenacre's voice cleared to announce he had just landed a eighteen or nineteen pound Springer from that beautiful glide at the tail of Tizzards. Brilliant, whilst Paul has landed several fish on the spinner in previous years this was his first on the fly after several years of trying; a just reward. I was only down the lane so I hoped in the truck and headed for the spot opposite, where I had watched Jim Foster hook his earlier fish, to see if I could capture the moment. I arrived just as Paul released the fish and my shot shows the spray of a well recovered, fast disappearing Springer. The fly was an inch and a half Willie Gunn fished on a lead core leader which in these low water conditions must have been bouncing the bottom. Congratulations Paul, very well done indeed.

Paul Greenacre releasing his salmon
A job well done, safely back.

Whilst congratulating salmon anglers I had a call from Jason Lewis, down at the Royalty, letting me know the details of the twenty five pounder I mentioned yesterday. As I was actually out fishing when Jason rang please forgive me if I have failed to remember the details correctly, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I'm pretty sure it was Mr David Browse who had the fish, once more on a Willie Gunn, from Jack's Hole just below the Great Weir. Congratulations Mr Browse, may it be the first of many. If my failing faculties have got things wrong I'm sure someone will let me know.

Now, as for my outing this evening it was the icing on the cake. Having recently broken a rod I have fished with for over twenty years the prospect of replacing such a trusty servant didn't sit well. I'm not a "tackle tart" in fact I'm a tackle dealers nightmare being prepared to use any tackle providing it suits my needs and is comfortable. My new rod didn't cost a fortune it was from a manufacturer that I have confidence in and was from their middle range. I traditionally use a very soft, slow rod that fits with my approach to the river and I had my doubts as this new weapon had the faster characteristics so in favour today. Nothing would be discovered with it sat in the rod tube so out she came and I was soon rolling my DT 10 down the run below Hoodies; not surprisingly after recent events a two inch Willie Gunn firmly attached at the end. All seemed well, certainly faster than my old rod and whilst lighter appeared to produce considerably more power. Within half a dozen casts I knew I would soon master the different action and I settled into a gentle routine as I worked down the run. Step-lift-dip-cast. The evening was shaping beautifully, the wind had dropped and the light had the misty pastel hue so beloved by the water-colourists. Step-lift-dip-cast. The hum of the midge smoke and the thump of my heart being the most intrusive sound to break the still of the evening. Step-lift-dip-cast. Half an hour and the evening song of the Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens rose to announce their bedtime. Step-lift-dip-cast. The Heron "cronked" and along with the Little egrets flopped lazily up river to the heronry and their mates sitting tight on their nests in the cypress trees. Step-lift-dip-cast. Cock pheasants called and rattled their wings in defiance as they prepared to leave the meadows and head for the roost in River-bank Covert. Step-lift-dip-cast. All seemed well with our rural world and a very real optimism of a new Spring could be heard in every one of those songs and sounds. Step-lift-dip-cast, step-lift-dip-cast, the new rod was going to be fine without conscious effort my casting was silent but for the occasional click of the line on the butt section, no swish, no slap, no effort; I'm going enjoy the next couple of months in the Avon valley.

24th March

Just to prove how little we know Mother Nature has deemed that our single hen Waxwing turned up again yesterday and has remained in the apple tree since. Where she went for two days is somewhat of a mystery, we can speculate she started her return trip to Scandinavia only to decide the lure of Ringwood apples was just too great. Something along the lines of the chocolate craving that seems to effect some of our ladies!!

Hen Waxwing
Returned after her two day break.

I have heard a rumble there has been a twenty five pound Springer from the Royalty. I have yet to hear the details but will attempt to keep catch reports coming in when ever I get the info. If my luck holds I will soon be rid of the much delayed tree work that has been occupying my time at work recently. Once the physically draining work is finished I will get the salmon gear out and try to add to the Avon catch return, the prospect of a Springer seems very appealing at the moment.

Back to the birds in the form of Long-tailed tits that are building their exquisite little nests in bramble clumps in at least half a dozen spots in the valley. These delightful little birds are relatively common and for anglers on the lakes they are a constant presence during the autumn and winter months. They always bring a smile as family groups travel the hedges and lake margins in search of food. Occasionally two or three broods join forces and the Blue tits and Firecrests tag along making a noisy, busy mob all playing chase the leader as if worried the one up front has found some rich morsel the rest are missing out on.

Long-tailed tits nest cup Long-tailed tits completed nest
The beautiful Long-tailed tits nest under construction, the cup and the finished ball.

23rd March

Yesterday I received the sad news that Avon salmon stalwart and delightful character Nick Cave had sadly passed away after losing the struggle against his recent illness.

Many will know Nick from his involvement with the Royalty Fishery in recent years; my association with him dates back to 1991 when I first came to Somerley to run the river. Nick was one of the salmon syndicate rods that fished Somerley at the time and from the beginning it was his kindness and generosity that marked him out as being someone special.

His kindness aside I will always associate Nick with his trademark red socks and his daft white boxer dog. As with today dogs are not allowed on the bank at Somerley yet despite this Nick remained blissfully unaware and there was not a mean bone in that dear dogs body so we turned a blind eye; as they say dogs become an extension of their owner.

At that time Nick ran a very successful photography business and his talent behind the camera was considerable. As with many who spend their time behind the lens photos of them are scarce yet somewhere in my archive I have a lovely photo of Nick in his red socks which I will continue to search for. Deep down I believe Nick always wanted to be a river keeper and from the relaxed and contented aura that seemed to exude from him during our last couple of meetings he seemed to have found his true niche down at the Royalty. The inimitable sparkle he brought with him to the river bank will be sadly missed.

21st March

Whilst I should have been in London at the fishery summit in Westminster events conspired to prevent my attendance; that despite being up at 04:00am this morning! Luckily Tom Davis Director of the WCSRT was able to attend under one of his multiple hats so we will have our views expressed on the day. I have to admit by mid-morning, beside the river at Ibsley on such a glorious Spring day I think I had the best deal.

Just what was I up to at Ibsley? Desperately trying to tidy up more loose-ends with the tree work. I had a line of leggy willows to layer in an attempt to screen some unsightly huts and two paths to clear to allow access to a small section of riverbank. Despite the late date willow is a forgiving tree and the new screen will soon be a six foot high wall of dense withy. The path clearing was in an effort to cut and pile a previously felled willow allowing the marginal growth to grow up and add to the ecological value of the stacked wood and brash.

Hedge layering
Layering willow to provide a screen for the sheds.

As our visiting Waxwings have failed to show for two days it looks very much as if they have left for home. As regular readers will be aware I have thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of these beautiful birds and have been delighted that we have been lucky enough to have them visit on an astonishing fifty six consecutive days since there January arrival. We got to know one or two of the flock quite well, one hen bird in particular was always first to arrive and very often last to leave often returning alone to feed further. Two other hens would often remain behind with our original regular and two distinct flocks of eight and fifteen would come and go at various times during the day. We usually had a flock of twenty six, depending where our three long staying hens were. I had a maximum count of thirty seven, whilst more were present their continual movement made counting impossible but I estimate fifty five or fifty six birds arrived on that one occasion. I will certainly be putting apples out for them again next year but I fear their arrival was more to do with the early cold winter we suffered during November and December last year. That of course poses an interesting question, would I wish to suffer that prolonged cold with its threat to our native small species such as Cettis and Dartford warblers to see the arrival of the Waxwings. Or the milder winters we have become used to over the last couple of decades missing out on our spectacular visitors. I have to be honest I dislike the intense cold and would wish to take the milder option but I wouldn't mind the odd cold snap just to give the chance of a lucky visit.

Blackcap
The only birds making the most of the unseasonal apples today have been two blackcaps.

The huge tides of recent days plus the cloudy start to the day provided reasonable conditions for a salmon, if there are any in the system at the moment. Up until mid-morning there was a distinctly "salmony" feel to the day, if the rod had been in the car I may well of had a look in one or two of the fishy spots close to where I was working. I did have a look at the river of course and I have a rising feeling of alarm as I look at the current water levels. At this time of year we should be seeing a maintained height considerably higher than we are currently enjoying. If you add in the fact the Tilshead borehole, which is the best indicator of our groundwater up in the chalk of Salisbury Plain, is registering well below normal without considerable rainfall in the near future we are heading for a low flow summer. I am a firm believer in mother Nature correcting short-term imbalances so lets hope she's not too long in sorting this one out.

19th March

A reminder not to forget the sting in the tail that March so often brings in the from of a blackthorn winter. Yesterday the wind moved back to the north and the clear sky last night allowed a hard frost to settle on the countryside. A crisp, white frost greeted me as I loaded dear old Brac' in the car as we headed for the lakes at six thirty this morning. The beauty of a frosty morning at this time of year is that you are on the right side of winter and however many we suffer in the next week or two we will soon see the back of the cold. The cold nights are too late to stop the willow from budding, the Brimstones from flying in the sunshine and the Butterbur spikes from appearing on the riverbank.

Frosty morning Butterbur
A cold frosty morning greeted our early walk but it did allow me to settle an outstanding account! The blossom in the distance is prunus similar to Mirabella plum but I don't think they are as sweet as the Mirabella plums of Lorraine that produce the wonderful plum brandy of the district. The second shows the Butterbur flower spikes that are appearing along the river banks bringing the irreversible progress of spring.

As the day had such promise with the sun driving the frost from the grass and the wind swinging back to the south west I decided to take an hour or two up at Ibsley to tidy up one or two areas still requiring attention. As some of this involved tree work I was keen to get this finished as quickly as possible before the marginal plants and nesting birds are at risk from disturbance. I'm not sure whether its a trick of the memory or the effect of climate change but I'm sure we used to be able to safely do tree work until the end of March. In recent years I believe the end of February is not a minute to early to call a close to such work. I already know of Robins on eggs and Mallard sitting in hollow trees so care is required if further work is necessary. Thankfully the work I needed to complete was mostly removing debris from the recent tree work that had fallen in the lakes. I also had to lower a further section of canopy but this provided a double opportunity in that I could layer the material into the margins of the lake to not only provide cover and sanctuary for the fish population but also allow more light into the margins of the lake. The last few weeks of the season had seen the one area of cover in the lake provide ninety percent of the sport, the fish were jammed under the cover like sardines. Not only the larger carp and tench but the shoals of roach and bream were also seeking cover. During the years I held cormorant licenses on these waters my log, that was required to record sightings and kills, showed a maximum count of seventeen birds visiting these two waters. We don't have such a severe problem currently but if nothing else thirty five years of looking after fisheries has taught me its that fish like cover; it has also taught me many anglers don't. You always get the guy who wants to chuck his two leads within a foot of the cover and then wonder off and to prattle on with his mates. Or the one who will only be satisfied when his bait is under the overhanging edge repeatedly casting until he hits his predetermined spot. He'll drive everyone else on the fishery insane rather than tempt the fish out a yard or two with a little stealth and water craft. I'm afraid that mentality is beyond education but unfortunately will always exist.

Cover
Lowering the canopy with the advantage of providing cover for the fish population.

The more dangerous mentality with regard to the fish population is the anally retentive OCD case that believes everything should be removed to enable him to reach every inch of his swim. The prospect of loosing a lead is almost beyond his comprehension, the fact fish need cover is once more difficult to persuade such an individual. Yes, leads will be lost and inexperienced anglers will loose fish but much of that can be countered by education and fishery maintenance. Try one rod, shock horror, and fish within easy reach or even hold your rod!!!!! Obviously don't fish near snags at night if you are going to crash out in the bivvie three yards from the rods. Fish as directly opposite a snag as possible and clip-up to kite any fish before they can take line and reach the problem. Those in charge of the fishery need to inspect and clear cover on a regular basis to remove any leads and line that has been lost. Once a week wouldn't be too often, once a month would be negligent on a popular fishery. I am always amazed there's not a queue of young regulars willing to do the job as they would collect sufficient leads to see them through the season in a matter of a couple of visits. They would also get to know the contours of the lake as they search their way systematically over the snags and bars looking for sunk line. Several of our lakes have roped off sanctuaries which I am convinced contribute to the productivity of the fisheries as they allow the fish an area to retreat to if in need of peace and quite. Once recuperated fish can move back out into the lakes and feed freely and they don't end up as a nervous quivering wreck in the middle of the lake continually bombarded by lead.

Whilst at Ibsley I walked the outlet channels of the lakes to clear some of the broken branches and was pleasantly surprised to see hundreds of two plus dace and roach shoaled up in the shallow waters. I don't think the temperature of the channel would have been that much warmer than the main channel to attract such attention. As with the layered trees perhaps the shallow snaggy channel bed afforded protection from predators but what ever the reason it was good to see them.

15th March

I had a Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust trustee meeting this morning that has brought me back down to earth with a bump to the arrayed problems that our rivers face. The complexity of many of these issues is daunting yet as trust strategies and programmes are developed I feel reassured that with people with the commitment and knowledge of those giving so freely of their time as those around that table we are at last on the right track. It will take time for those programmes and strategies to be implemented but at last there is a clear overview of the needs of chalk streams and rivers in Wessex. With the continued support of the landowners and working in partnership with like minded groups and agencies, at long last I feel we are on the way to a positive future for our rivers.

This afternoon on my return to the estate I had occasion to visit Hamer to deal with a roe deer injured in a road accident. After dealing with the poor creature I dropped down to the trout lake to thank Ian May who had notified me of the haplass animal, I knew he was down there practicing his casting for his next casting qualification. On such a glorious day I would love to have had time for a cast or two. In fact that's not quite true as I did have a cast or two as Ron Davis was the one angler actually fishing making the most of the day when I arrived and I scrounged five minutes with his rod; not that it did me any good. Ron had enjoyed a productive day having had eight fish on his catch and release ticket which includes the right to take a brace. Ron had spooned the two he was taking home and they had been feeding on some form of Chironomid larva; Forcipomyia, Tanypus or the like, I would need a magnifying glass and a species guide to get it any closer, what ever they were I most definitely must have an evening after those trout in the near future.

Hame trout fishery
Ron bothering another good trout at Hamer.

14th March

Well, I'm delighted to say this morning I did manage to catch-up with one of the perch I have been hoping for; not the largest in the river or the best looking but she will do nicely. They were in one of the large eddies I had tried earlier in the week but the taking place was very small in relation to the slack. I only managed to land the one but once I found the area they were holed up in I had knocks and bumps every cast but they refused to take the lob down. Had I known what I know now, with regard to their location, I would have tried a different approach but time was pressing so I stayed on the original link ledger and suffered for my inflexibility. Its odd how familiarity and confidence is so key to catching fish consistently. That knowledge comes with regular visits to the water and getting to know each section; it's moods and wrinkles, tricks and cons. That's one thing with the Avon, every swim looks a winner yet for reasons unknown to us the fish don't feel the same about them, only trial and error sorts out the holding swims. Routine is also a key element in catching fish, the confidence that comes in knowing your tackle is correctly and properly assembled and prepared. This knowledge comes from setting up in a organised and relaxed fashion, having to hand all your necessary shot, hooks, trace all your bits and bobs. I haven't coarse fished seriously for several years and it has taken me a fortnight to get back into this routine and a similar time to feel I was getting to know the waters again. I will make sure I do not get so rusty in coming years.

Perch
Gotcha.

The rather tatty appearance around the tail and wrist of my fish looks as if it may well be down to over ambitious Cormorants. Last night whilst I was at the lakes I counted 152 flighting back to their roosts downstream. I can see I am going to have to spend a great deal of time keeping the river clear of the wretched things over the coming months.

Avon common Chub
Garry Somers with a lovely looking Avon common and Dave Lester with a 7.14 chub to add to his 15.5 barbel of a week or two ago.

News of some of the weekend results is trickling through and I must thank Dave Lester for the pic of his lunker of a chub and Garry Somers for the pic of the mint looking Avon common. Both great fish to finish the season with, well done both of you, classic fish under difficult circumstances.

I must also say well done to my Jonathan who did manage to get his carp to finish the season, it was in fact a ghost carp which I didn't realise we had in that particular lake, life's full of surprises. I will just add not before he had let one or two go!!

Jonathan with a carp
Jonathan with his end of season "Ghostie".

The close of a good season, well done to all who achieved their ambitions and there's always next season for those of you that didn't; I suppose I will just have to get the salmon rods out!!

End of the day
Time please gentlemen.

13th March

The wind changed direction on Tuesday and I was expecting great things for the last weekend of the coarse season. I'm afraid it didn't really happen. Whilst there were some good catches of chub and one or two reasonable carp the fishery didn't really switch on. With a fishery the size of the estate it always takes a day or two for news to filter through, I hope one or two rods out over the weekend managed to find the fish they were dreaming of. As for myself, Saturday morning I had a walk around one of the lakes to chat to the night anglers. If I need to discover how a water's fishing the night lads will have the information even if they're not aware of it. Early or late action, the number of moans about bream and tench or the complete lack of action have a tale to tell. I'm afraid I did not have a great deal of news to aid in my pursuit of tench, a couple of bream from "Duck 2" one carp from "Canada" and not a lot else. Despite the south west ripple now blowing up the lake the cloudless sky and still conditions last night would appear not to have been to the liking of the fish population. I eventually got around to "Sibleys Point" where despite no carp one of the anglers had landed a six and a half pound, male, golden tench. We have never stocked golden tench, in actual fact we have not stocked any tench into that particular lake for over thirty years but every so often Nature rewards us with one of her jewels. To land such a unique fish is not a project to be entered upon in a calculated fashion, no number of sessions, special baits or fancy rigs. Such a fish is a present from Lady Luck and today it looked as if I would struggle to get even one of his olive green kin.

It was now ten o'clock and the rugby didn't start until 02:30 so just where to fish for an hour or two? I could have had a look for a carp in the margins, I'm pretty sure I could get close enough to interest one in a dog biscuit. I didn't fancy that, I'd had a good week with the carp why press my luck. The sun was out making conditions far from ideal but I decided on an hour with the float in the deep bay by the car park. I didn't expect much action but it would be a pleasant way to while away a couple of hours. What I hadn't reckoned on was the warmth of the sun, the psychedelic reflection of the light and the metronomic bob of the float on the ripple; I was nodding off within minutes. There's nothing worse than trying to stay awake when the fish aren't biting and the eyes just refuse to stay open. An hour of that and I decided my time would be better spent in the greenhouse so up and away perhaps a visit tomorrow will be more inspiring. It also spared my blushes as the thought of the carp lads finding me snoring and dribbling down my front would have been a little too much to bear.

What of Sunday? Again I was undecided, overnight showers but by mid morning it was clear and bright. I headed for the river but my heart wasn't in it and by the lack of anglers about nor was that of many others. If a fish was unlikely an hour or two in a favourite swim seemed a worthwhile way to spend the morning . A second reason to choose this section was that it overlooked one of the water meadows, I would get the opportunity to see if the summer migrants were here yet. As it turned out the migrants were the hit of the morning with Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe and Curlew all being active on the meadow. Its a great pity but whilst we will have one or two pairs of Redshank and Lapwing nest here, the Snipe and Curlew are just passing through on their way north. My next move was decided for me when a call on the mobile let me know that we had sheep loose that needed attention calling for the gear to be quickly stowed and off to see what could be sorted out.

Any one lost three rams? I know where they are if you have. Jonathan was coming over this afternoon to continue his search for a fish to round of the season and I said I would join him on the lake after the rugby. Yesterday's rugby was a mixed bag to say the least, the truly magnificent Italy, France game followed by the dťb‚cle of the Wales, Ireland fiasco. As it turned out England scrambled a win making for a good final game against Ireland to look forward to. After the game I headed for the lake for the last couple of hours just to round off the day. Jonathan had set his stall out for a carp but I still had a desire for a tench to finish on so small baits were the order of the day as the fish still refused to get their heads down. I'm pleased to say I did get my tench and one or two other bites but far from easy and it wasn't until the last half hour of light that the fish began to top and move about the lake.

Tench
Not the hoped for bag but I did manage one to finish the season.

One day to go and due to the disappointingly slow fishing of the weekend I have decided to take the last day of the coarse season off for a final visit to the river. If I were feeling brave, or perhaps confident would be a better description of the approach that is required, I would have a go for a barbel, alas I'm a little out of touch with their whereabouts and in such difficult conditions plonking a lead blindly into five miles of river takes more time than I have available. As it is I think I will look in one of the old favourites and hope to bump into a perch you never know, despite the clear cold night outside as I write this, they may just fancy a lobworm in the morning.

Common carp
Amazing what you can land on an 18 barbless!

11th March

With the need to finish off my tree work as soon as possible I spent the morning planting specimen trees over the lakes. When I say specimen they were in fact two greengages and two laburnums, being outside the SSSI the lakes allow us a little more freedom with what can be used to screen neighbouring buildings and deaden the sound from the nearby road. I have a personal attachment to the trees in question being seedlings and suckers from very old trees that I grew up with as a child.

Laburnum also has association with my years living in Wales where they grow in the stone walls and hedges that run up onto the Preseli Mountains out of the valley of the Nevern. The Nevern a delightful little river running the dozen or so miles from the top of the Preseli's to enter the sea at Newport passing St Brynach's church with its bleeding yew and high Celtic cross; a wonderful part of the world. If I wasn't to be found fishing the Teifi for the salmon, sewin and wonderful bass of the estuary I would usually head for those hills with the panorama of the North Pembrokeshire coast. I spent many months working along that coastline, threading my way down from Aberystwyth Bay, around Dinas and on to Fishguard. It was here I met Anne, my long suffering, who is a native of Eglwyswrw a village laying almost in the shadow of Megalithic, Pentre Ifan. As I watch those trees grow to maturity they will bring back many fond memories of my time in Wales which is just one more good reason to plant trees - and that is I can assure you the correct spelling of that village!

The greengages have a similar family history but in this instance the two trees are suckers of a sucker, that has grown into a mature tree in my present home garden. The gages in question are not the hard green marbles we all too frequently see masquerading as greengages in our supermarkets, they are old fashioned Cambridge gages. They ripen to a firm golden yellow fruit with a tracery of red that have a taste as sweet as nectar, once tasted no other gage will do. They have been responsible for several bouts of serious over indulgence on my part the memories of which do not have quite such fond associations. I like to think many year hence someone will wonder down that tree line and be delighted to find such a hidden treasure and wonder who planted such a gem. I'm rambling, links to the Avon valley are getting pretty thin.

Wild daffodils
Slepe Brook beside Dog Kennel Bridge plus "A host of golden daffodils, Beside the lake, Beneath the trees" two out of three's not bad.

After lunch I joined Jonathan, my eldest, to see if we could find a carp for him to see out the season. As I arrived and dumped the tackle, a chocolate coloured mink wondered up the bank as bold as brass not twenty meters away. My usual response would have been to remove the murderous Fizz-gig without ceremony but alas the only thing I had with me to shoot with was the camera. Not one to miss an opportunity of a pix for the diary I followed him along the bank to the base of an old pollard where he entered the reeds and almost immediately returned with a four inch roach; bless him. Not content with one he dropped this on the bank shot back into the reeds and returned with a carbon copy of the first. I was torn between grabbing the nearest stick and attempting to brain the thing or continuing to take some photos. I decided on the photos as when I usually get this close mink tend to be perforated and leaking claret all over the place. Having got my photos and returned to the swim to tackle up the sight of the wretched thing crunching roach in the next swim became just too much; I headed for home to collect the twelve bore. Not really the wisest move as the likelihood of him staying put was remarkably slim and so it proved but I our paths will cross and I will settle that account for our roach.

Wild mink
A wild mink eating a roach.

This evening Rod Cutler rang to have a chat about his fish, he had been reading the diary and nagging doubts have crept in and needed to be quelled. Rod is an experienced salmon angler fishing in Scotland and Russia and other far flung places but is not familiar with the Hampshire Avon. Unfortunately due to my lofty perch at the top of my mother''s apple tree at the time of our last brief conversation I was unable to clarify some of the more cunning disguises donned by our Avon salmon. It seems that as the fish appeared bright straight in off the sea, lice were considered a given and whilst excitement and memories play tricks Rod is unable to remember clearly seeing them. In light of the out of character size of these fish and his doubts as to the presence of lice Rod has asked these fish are not recorded on the Somerley catch return. I fully appreciate the dilemma Rod faces as I see it regularly on this river and I'm only sorry I didn't manage to pre-warn Rod and Peter of this Avon trick. I would like to think these fish were two of a new plentiful run of smaller spring fish we are to see in the future on the Avon, we will never be sure but I thank Rod for his frankness and honesty.

I'm not sure it will be of much comfort to Rod but at least he didn't proudly present me with a very dead chub declaring it to be the finest salmon he had ever landed. That event is a factual account of an incident in the days of the old rod list when this particular member of the good and the great, who wasn't used to being corrected, presented me with this problem; tact and diplomacy are undoubtedly other strings that a river keeper requires in his bow! My other option of course would have been to offer my heartiest congratulations, graciously accepted the usual gratuity, carried it to the boot of the Bentley and wave him on his way. The emperors new cloths syndrome may just have saved my future embarrassment.

I have always wondered just what those other salmon that compared so unfavourably with this specimen looked like and which keepers were dreading the return of the enlightened rod.

10th March

One of those strange sort of days in that I had a day ahead of me away from water and fishing, I had to catch up with pruning the apple trees at my family home, a job that was long overdue. I try and get all my pruning finished before the end of February however the distraction of five weeks felling and pollarding the willows at Ibsley has pushed this task beyond the recognised time to prune apples. I had to make a call in Winchester before heading north to my ancestral home and as I was exiting the motorway at Winchester my mobile rang and rang as some one obviously wanted to get hold of me. It wasn't until I reached my stop that I was able to ring back to find Somerley salmon rod Peter Lewis had been calling to inform me his fishing partner Rod Cutler had just landed the second salmon of the season from Park Pool at Ellingham. A sparkling cock fish, fresh from the sea still carrying sealice. The weight? below ten pounds, estimated at eight which is extremely unusual at this time of year. I don't quite know what to make of it but more than happy to see a second fresh fish on the fishery. Congratulations Rod and thanks for the call Peter.

Two or three hours later I was stood in the very top of a bramley apple when the mobile chimed into life once again. Groping about in the pockets I managed to discover the thing and press the necessary buttons to once more hear Peter with an almost identical tale. He passed the phone to Rod who relayed to me the events that had brought about his second sealiced cock fish of the day at an almost identical weight. I was absolutely amazed, two March fish to a single rod in a morning whatever next. Congratulations hardly seems sufficient to cover the event, it must be several decades since such a feat has been achieved. If I ever get the opportunity I will go through the records to see when it last happened. When ever that was last achieved I can only hope we do not have to wait a similar number of years before we hear of such a feat again. Well done again Rod; perhaps the lure of the Dee will not be so strong in future!!

Having survived Peter's calls, descended from my lofty perch and returned home to Ringwood I checked the emails to find one from Nigel down at Davis Tackle letting me know one of the coarse anglers had landed a cock salmon estimated at twenty nine pounds on a lump of luncheon meat! I should really refrain from showing pix of salmon as we try and get them back in the water as quickly as possible. Salmon and seatrout that are unintentionally landed by coarse or trout rods must, as with salmon rods, be released as quickly as possible without weighing or photographic records unless you are lucky enough to have a happy snappy on hand to record the capture and release without involving any delay. It has been estimated a fresh salmon has approximately 60 seconds in which it must be netted, unhooked and back in the water. Anything beyond that and the chances of survival begin dropping dramatically, particularly if the water temperature is high. Having said all that I feel the photo of Mr P Robinson snapped as he was dealing with this fish is worthy of inclusion as encouragement to the salmon rods. Not that they need that much after Rod's efforts today.

An Avon springer
That's what an Avon Springer looks like and that very fish, or one very much like it, could be following your fly the next time you cast into this wonderful river. Thanks to Nigel, down at Davis Tackle and Mr Robinson for the photograph.

For a day when I was away from the water and fishing it has been a remarkable day of news on the fishery front. After more than forty years of knowing the Hampshire Avon the more I see and hear of this river the more I appreciate just how fortunate I am to work in such an environment. Luck and health willing I look forward to a further wonderful year enjoying the magic and mysteries that continue to arise and to top it all, I'll be back on the banks in the morning.

9th March

As we approach the end of the coarse season time seems to speed up as conditions look perfect and the fish come on the feed. Today the river was producing chub to every rod I spoke to and I seemed to be the only angler out there who didn't get a six plus.

I had decided to have a morning roving on the west bank downstream of Ibsley Bridge as the wind had now settled in the south west after its change yesterday lunchtime. The west bank would enable me to hold the float against the tree line on the opposite bank with a minimum of effort especially as I intended to use my eighteen foot rod. I decided not to us the pin as much of the fishing would be the width of the river and tight under the trees making the lack of practice of my Wallis casting a little too variable to risk.

I parked the car at Hay-ricks a mile downstream and walked back up the drive and across the field arriving at the tail of Tizzards to start my fishing just after eight. I was intending to feed mashed bread and crumb with flake on the hook and make my way slowly downstream back to the car. As I got under-way I was briefly joined by one of the regulars who stopped for a natter and as we chatted I landed my first chub of the day; a fish of about a pound that had obviously had a run-in with one of our Cormorants. The wounds were obviously healing and it swam off strongly so hopefully it will learn from the experience and have nothing worse than a scar or two to bear witness. My casting with the closed face ABU was a source of amusement as I instinctively swing the float out in an underarm sweep of the Wallis cast, expecting the drum to rotate, forgetting I had to "ping" the bale arm with this reel. I was getting in the swing of things and whilst we chatted I lost a second slightly larger chub as it darted into the main flow and I wasn't up to the job of following it. Having seen the fish were on the feed my fellow angler was keen to get on downstream to see if the barbel had started to move with the change of wind direction and he bade me good bye as he set off around the corner.

Another ball of feed and one more chub of about three pounds before I moved five metres downstream to see if I could find any of their larger brethren tight against the tree line that jutted into the stream at this point. Five or six casts and a chub of three and a half, followed within a couple of minutes by an old bream looking very warty and black. After the bream the swim died which in real terms meant I didn't get a bite within a dozen casts so I moved downstream to the next likely swim. By this time the wind had picked up and was making reaching the far bank a simple flick, the pin would have coped easily but never mind I was covering the swims effectively with the closed face. The current was pushing a little hard in this swim and without considerably more feed than I had with me to draw the fish it would have been just five or ten casts to see if anything was in residence and once completed a further move was on the cards. I slung the rucksack, grabbed the net and ground-bait bucket and moved on downstream around the next bend. As I cleared the bend I could see three anglers set-up in the swims I was heading for and another two further downstream below the next big pool. Its would appear I am not alone in trying to cram my coarse season into the last couple of weeks, half a dozen anglers on a mile of Avon makes the place look packed. I guess we are spoilt with such wonderful rivers on our doorstep and the sight of six anglers at one time isn't really that daunting but when we have over ten miles of bank available to us on the estate alone it is a very rare sight. I was also a little reluctant to start lobbing mashed bread about which in the intended fashion would possibly draw fish from swims already occupied by anglers. I can imagine some might take a dim view of the river keeper turning up and disturbing their peace and carefully laid plans in light of which I decided to call it a day or at least a morning at eleven. Two and a half hours which I had thoroughly enjoyed, some good chub and a dubious bream in classic Avon style definitely sufficient to scratch that particular itch.

With time on my hands I thought I would take the opportunity to drop in at the lake which I had recently denuded during our felling and pollarding regime. Catching up on fifty years of maintenance in a month had left the place looking bleak but the fish were still in there and with this south west blow should be active. I had spent a couple of hours on the lake yesterday morning before the wind had changed and decided then a change of weather was needed and now that had been provided so it had to be worth a shot. I stopped on the adjoining lake for a chat with regulars Keith and Paul who had been catching consistently in recent weeks only to discover things were yet to show any improvement. Keith did tell me he had seen the fish in the lake I intended to fish a couple of days ago and they were looking for food so if I could find them they should feed. With the trees removed wind activity on the surface has considerably increased and with that south west blow a four inch ripple was hitting the north east bank square on. If ever text book conditions existed the fish were going to be tight in on that windward bank. I parked up, unloaded the gear and crept along the bank to the swim I was intending to fish. I had my old faithful dog biscuits and half a bag of 4mm halibut pellets that would do fine if the fish were there. Before tackling up I carefully put a couple of handfuls of pellets in the chosen area alongside the bank and retreated to set up my float gear. Six inch red topped peacock quill with one BB two inches from the biscuit in the tried and tested pop-up fashion. I didn't need to cast just simply lower it into the swim before settling back in my seat to make up an identical second rod. I'd threaded the float and was about to slide the grinner down to the eye of the size eight when the float on the first set-up sank a couple of inches below the surface. Odd, must be the undertow on the this windward bank? It then continued to sink and slide into the depths, definitely not undertow, a firm lift and I was into an obvious lump.

I was joined by Matt Day who happened by looking for inspiration trying to decide what to fish for today, "nice glasses" was the opening comment as he came up beside me, I really must get some new ones. Keith also left Paul in charge of the rods and came over to see what I was up to, hardly believing I could be into a fish already! Suffice to say a solid, steady struggle soon turned in my favour and I was ready to draw a very large fish over the net. One last twist saw her dive into a twiggy branch that had drifted into the swim providing a few extra heart beats as she flashed and rubbed through it then up she came and safely in the net. When we looked in it was obvious which fish this was and equally obvious the hook was outside the mouth stuck in her chin; I'm not sure fish have chins?? There's probably a D Phil for some budding fish expert in determining that! Chin, branchiostegal rays, bottom of the operculum, what ever its called its most importantly not called mouth. Bugger, did it slip on that last tussle in the twiggy branch which would seem to some to be fitting as it probably resulted from my recent activities with the trees, it doesn't matter, I didn't weigh her or even lift her from the water. I simply flicked out the hook, five minutes rest in the net then back into the depths she slid hopefully none the worse for our meeting. I will say it was good to see her and Keith who has caught her before thought she looked in good condition which was reward in itself. Perhaps I will creep back and have a look for the elusive common that shares her lake, or perhaps my carp fishing is over for another season, its been a good week.

A good mirror
Many of the local carp lads will recognise this particular lady.
safely released
Rested and returned but she looked well.

I didn't feel inclined to continue despite the fish obviously being active which gave me a second early finish of the morning, with time now just approaching mid-day; what now? I had a rather peculiar task to get out of the way so this early finish would enable me to get this started if not completed a day or two earlier than I had expected. On the estate we have about twenty breeding pairs of Mute swans that establish their territories some four or five hundred meters apart and woe betide any other swan that enters this area. The estate supports these natural territories with new pairs wishing to set up nest sites either having to wait until the death of one of the breeding partners or fighting for the space. Battles are frequent and often with fatalities but with a population in excess of two hundred in most instances we let nature take its course. On this one occasion however I have decided to take a hand in events, hence my peculiar task! The last two years have seen a young pair trying to establish a territory between two mature and established pairs with dire consequences. In both years they succeeded in building a nest out in the middle of the field where the two neighbours ignored them, being too much effort to chase them hundreds of metres overland. Strangely the sitting bird has avoided becoming fox food and has managed to hatch cygnets which is the point the problems start as they move onto the streams with the youngsters. On the water they are now in reach of the older residents who immediately set about drowning the young with singular efficiency, usually in full view of the main drive giving rise to all sorts of distress and calamity amongst the passers-by. In an effort to resolve this I am trying to persuade the new comers to give up their field and move a hundred metres onto an island in an old dairy pond which we have recently cleaned out. When I first came to the estate the pond had sufficient water for a pair of swans to nest on the site proving it is suitable if we can persuade them to move. Unfortunately the island has no nesting material so my task today was get the Turk scythe sharpened up and cut a couple of bundles of reeds and sedge, wade out to the island and stack them in a fashion to attract our aspiring breeders. I'll follow their progress and hopefully be able let you know if we have succeeded.

Nest building and lunch had taken me up to three o'clock, still time to see if I can find that perch. John Yetton had emailed to say he had lost a good perch right on dark yesterday evening. I knew where John had been fishing as I was in the swim just downstream on the opposite bank which was not only frustrating for John but also for myself in that it proves the shoal is still in the swims we suspected yet remaining very difficult to attract. I decided to a couple of hours fishing the pool from the opposite bank to where John had been. Its a difficult piece of water with several snags and a very variable flow making consistent presentation difficult. Lob below a maggot feeder was the method and it proved effective for the chub from the off with two more of a pound or so. Encouraging but the end result was the same as yesterday on the perch front with a nil return leaving me a further target for the coming few days.

8th March

I'm still resisting the urge to put the fly rod up whilst the coarse season has a day or two left to run but much more of this cold and I may begin to waver! The wind direction did change to the south west at lunchtime today so lets hope we get a mild finish to the season, I might just get my days tench fishing yet.

I must thank Paul Greenacre for the photo of a well mended kelt that he landed today down at Ellingham. This fish is a hen that is well silvered but can clearly be seen to be very slack bellied. The first minutes after the take are always exciting and a fish such as this one will often give a good account of itself so for those few minutes at least you get the adrenalin rush we all fish for. Take care with them should you grass one of the few survivors, they have already undergone considerable rigours during the spawning and deserve to make it back to the sea to rebuild their stamina on the rich feeding.

A well mended kelt

A well mended kelt safely going back.

Yesterday I mentioned it was the local birds, the Cettis and Kingfishers, that had given the greatest pleasure during the WeBS count. Today whilst waiting for nothing to happen I was feeding the resident Robin and thought how we very often don't see what is right under our nose and the confiding little bird is a good example. Whilst his association with anglers is purely motivated by self preservation his presence is always good company. Each swim appears to have its Robin as they are fiercely territorial and squabble continually on the boundaries. The maggot supply is always appreciated and the crumbled boilies eaten with equal gusto. I sometimes worry that with the amount of high protein feed some manage to tuck away we will create some super breed. The prospect of some muscle bound redbreast the size of a rook seems to lose the appeal somewhat! In the event this unruly misfit doesn't arise lets just keep on enjoying the company of the original. In the biblical sense of Jimmy Cliff's great track strike Sparrow and keep your eyes on the Robin.

Robin

Today's companion.

By the way I was right, I did wait for nothing to happen today.

7th March

Sunday morning required an early start as I had the last of the Wetland Bird Surveys to get underway. It was extremely cold and dark when I left the house at 05:30am to be on site at first light. The last count of a very difficult winter with the early freeze-up that started in November seemingly by-passing the rain and flooded valley we have become accustomed to in recent years. I must admit to being disappointed with the lack of water in the river and the accompanying floods as I always look forward to the arrival of the vast numbers of wildfowl and waders. Having said that if it weren't for the cold and lack of rain we probably would not have seen the Waxwing, Brambling and Bittern that have been so prominent this year. I have never seen Waxwing and Brambling in such numbers and as I write they are still visiting the garden daily. Every cloud has a silver lining; as opposed to a flood! I have stopped feeding now as I believe the departing birds must become accustomed to foraging naturally for their food again, having hopefully enjoyed the benefit of our winter handouts. The Bittern are starting to return to their reedbed nest sites on the continent and the Anglian fens, The dozen or so that have been with us in the Avon valley will soon have disappeared. Booming has started down on the Somerset levels which is probably our nearest breeding population. Nesting Bittern in the Avon valley would really be a measure of the success of our ecological management; time will tell.

What of yesterday's count? There wasn't anything startling to be seen but our valley regulars are always worth a morning walk just to enjoy their presence. Our Mute swan population is at its peak with over two hundred in the section between Fordingbridge and Ringwood, ninety percent of them being in the Ibsley area. That number of swans is enough to give the keepers on the chalkstream trout fisheries higher in the valley palpitations, fortunately we are sufficiently deep and wide to deal with such numbers. The breeding pairs are on station so they will soon drive off last years cygnets and any non-breeders that are still in their territories starting to reduce our numbers.

Grey heron

Forty six heron in the count yesterday but many didn't get counted as they were busy in the heronry as they are early breeders. I could hear them calling but couldn't work out numbers.

Ten Bewicks remain with the Mute herd and ten Curlew stopped off on their passage from the coastal wintering grounds back to their moorland nest sites. Having said the Bittern were leaving I did disturb one that has yet to go but it was our regulars that seem to have managed to survive the cold winter that gave me the most pleasure yesterday. Cettis are back in the Scrub and bramble patches and six kingfishers were busy chasing up and down the streams, both species have very distinctive calls announcing their presence on the block once more. Others that whilst not WeBS listed species were very welcome sights during the morning, four Bullfinches, a Skylark singing his heart out and the Ravens "cronking" to and fro about the valley. Lots of other resident species to spot about their business. Two species that I suppose should be classed as alien and discouraged are the Egyptian geese looking to nest in a hollow oak on the park and a pair of Black swans nest building on an island in the Bickton weir pool. Alien they might be but lovely looking birds all the same.

What of today's efforts on the holiday fishing front? I have to admit to taking the easy option today and letting the sun raise the temperature a little before venturing over to the lakes to bag a carp. My chosen swim being more dependent on the direction of the wind and the whereabouts of the sun than the presence of fish. Fortunately the lake in question has a good head of carp and you will never be more than a few yards from a fish or two. All you have to do then is get them to join in which after more than thirty years I seem to have almost mastered.

Common carp

A good looking 22 pound common that took less than half an hour to find, luckily club head bailiff John was on hand to take a pix on my mobile. I should explain the glasses in that I am down to my last couple of pairs and these were not supposed to see the light of day; I will have to order another bag full asap.

I did get back out on the river for the last couple of hours in the hope of catching up with those perch which have managed to elude me. I decided to have a look in the main weir pool at Ibsley where I witnessed a bag of perch that included five over two pounds with the best being over two and three quarters a month or two back. I don't need to catch that lot, just one of those two pounders would be just fine. I have to admit to being none to confident about fishing under such bright conditions and as soon as the sun went down the temperature plummeted. Two gudgeon and a bullhead don't quite make up for the lack of perch so I will just have to keep looking for my stripes.

Bullhead

Amazingly these little blighters are an EU designated species in the River Avon SSSI/SAC. I'm afraid that still doesn't make them a substitute for a good sized perch in my mind. Thinking about it, it might make them a good bait for a good sized perch though??.

5th March

At about this time of year, for the last ten years or more, we have had on the Avon the Oliver Cutts Memorial Pike Match. It was fished on fisheries from Salisbury to Bisterne and the forty or fifty anglers who took part had a most enjoyable day, usually rounding it off with a bowl of chilli and a pint in the Royal Oak at North Gorley to thaw out. As I have relinquished my role in the WSRT I am a little out of touch with the fate of the event but whatever its fate I did miss it this year. I always thoroughly enjoyed catching up with the news of the anglers and what they'd been up to in the intervening twelve months with the added advantage of seeing some of the pike the Avon is capable of producing . I couldn't do much about catching up with all the news but I could have a go and see if I could catch up with a pike; particularly as I always associate cold weather with the pursuit of esox and cold it certainly is.

Strangely, as I don't do a lot of pike fishing, I have a freezer full of trout dead-baits. This is purely down to the fact I hate to see anything go to waste which in the case of escapee rainbow trout that would otherwise be their fate, knocked on the head and dumped. In preparation for the trip I had taken out a dozen trout from the freezer the night before and sorted through the boxes of wire trace and hooks that are piled in my garage to find some gear for the morning. Tackle and bait prepared I would have a trouble free and leisurely start to the day, load up and away whenever I felt inclined.

I didn't hurry in the morning and arrived on the bank at about eight o'clock still very much confronted by the bitterly cold north wind. I had decided on a big reed fringed bay that has produced good pike in the past and with any luck the phragmites might just take the edge off the blow. I had intended to try out the circle hooks I have heard so much about in recent years and a new trace, "Cannelle Supratress" a woven steel braid but amazingly despite sorting out the gear yesterday evening I had managed to leave both hooks and braid in the garage. Never daunted I tackled up with the conventional barbless trebles fished under a slider set at about nine feet and opened the baitbox to select a trout. Some one was trying to tell me something, the trout were all still frozen in a solid block despite having been out of the freezer since last night. The next five minutes were spent soaking the block of rainbows in the river to free a bait. At last one was sufficiently thawed to get the hooks in and cast out to the edge of the bay.

Pike fishing

First of three from a fishy looking bay.

Thankfully action was almost immediate with a confident pick-up within minutes. I am a firm believer in hitting runs immediately to avoid any chance of deep hooking and was into a jack of about seven pounds that provided a exciting few minutes as he tailed walked about the bay. Having a fish under the belt so early in the day makes the subsequent waiting considerably easier and the next three hours produced two further pike the largest went somewhere in the region of twelve pounds. Not monsters by any stretch of the imagination but a very enjoyable way to spend a cold morning on the river.

3rd March

Odd really, when you think about it anglings not that different from any other addictive habit. When I think back to the height of the carp boom in the 70's and 80's the number of guys who allowed the pursuit of large carp to get out of sync was alarming to say the least. If a non human could have been cited in divorce proceedings some of our carp would have spent half their life in court. I would love to have heard some of those conversations where dearly beloved was being asked to believe the Mavis, with whom hubby had spent the night, was a fully scaled mirror carp.

At that time with limited night fishing on the lakes those not on for the night would sleep outside the gate and rush back in when we opened at seven next morning. We had people sleeping in the back of old Redi-mix drums with the milkman leaving milk at the opening, Sleeping in the duck food hopper, when I lifted the lid one morning there was our man zipped up in his sleeping bag with just his nose poking out; the rats were all quite at home sat on top of the bag. Sat in the margins with a bar of carbolic and the loo brush having a wash and brush up, smalls pegged out on the bushes to dry. Wives and children having mail directed to my place for delivery to the absent spouse with sessions lasting for months, I drew the line at kiss-o-grams and singing happy birthday dear daddy. Those were the good ones you could still communicate with, the others were beyond the pale with monosyllabic grunts and wheezes being the extent of verbal exchanges. They were obviously guarding the secret ingredient or deadly rig that was going to change the face of carp fishing and couldn't risk letting slip any clue.

Mirror carp

Thirty years down Memory Lane.

I don't think it ever quite got such a grip on me, running the place was too great a distraction, having said that after my carp antics today it's remarkable how quickly that old feeling of just one more cast to stay that extra half hour returns. I was freezing my bits off again yet I was delaying packing up on the slightest of excuse; was that a twitch? did that line move? did I hear a carp gloop? The only gloop in that north east blow was the freeze dried duck going down for the third time after striking a berg. Thankfully I'd forgotten the Optonics and was forced to use the bread from my sandwiches for bobbins in the failing light. Had I remembered the alarms I would probably still be out there. It had been a strange day but totally intriguing a real walk down memory lane.

I hadn't rushed out, the white covering of frost was incentive enough to enjoy a relaxing breakfast and catch up with some paperwork it was ten thirty before I was thinking of making a move. That I decided would give me a couple of hours up until lunch, the time I have probably caught more winter carp than any other. I intended to go up to the estate yard after lunch for a couple of hours to look at a new tractor that was being brought over for us to view. I hoped to get back to the lake by four to get the last couple of hours having given time for the morning session's bait to have worked in the event I was still looking for a fish.

I had a worry over the bait in that I have changed Bracken's biscuit since I last fished and I wasn't sure if the new biscuit floated or sank to the bottom like bricks. From that you can surmise I use dog biscuits as bait, I always have and that goes back to the 70's, I'm afraid I don't have time to make bait and whilst I was catching I saw little point in changing. Very versatile things dog biscuits, some float, some sink and some have a wonderful neutral buoyancy, taking ages to sink making perfect interceptors. Fished in conjunction with an attractor such as trout pellets, wheat, corn or hemp they have always worked for me. Before getting the gear I grabbed a handful of biscuits from the bag and dumped them in a basin full of water where they bobbed about in fine fashion looking as if they would float a house brick, that'll be fine. I loaded the car, broke the ice on the bird bath in the front garden and got under-way.

I set up a confidence rig with a free running trilobe stopped with a bead on a swivel, eight inch Drennan super strength trace with a BB a couple of inches from a size 8 Kamasan to work the pop-up. I was set up, freebie pellets scattered, bait in the water, fishing slack line by eleven thirty; I was hunkered down out of the wind trying to stave off the worst of the frost bite. I had the remnants of my maggots from the trip up the river and was loose feeding them very occasionally hoping to draw the silver fish into the swim as confidence boosters for the carp. I was also feeding the ducks and seagulls to encourage their noisy squabbling and splashing over the bait. I have always used birds as attractors, carp long ago learnt that feeding birds mean food and if they're active will soon investigate. In my carping days of the 70's and 80's in margin swims such as the one I was in today I looked for signs of activity between forty minutes and an hour of getting settled in. It seems the carp still work to the same old time table and on the hour I had a confident run that I missed in the finest style possible. I was fishing the biscuit with a pellet band which had probably shielded the hook but I wasn't about to change anything, I put that down to being just one of those things. I had an hour to go before I had to break for lunch and tractors so still time.

Twelve forty five and nothing, one oíclock and a twitch showed there was still something down there, one thirty nothing and time to go. As I leaned forward to pick up the rod the line snapped up taut and I was in; brilliant. One advantage to cold weather carping is that they tend to be slower than the warm water summer variety, a couple of sedate turns around the swim and up for the net, lovely, a great little session.

Common carp

One of those fish on a net photos but unmistakably a fine lunchtime common.

I was back by four feeling confident which is odd in that I personally have never done particularly well with winter carp in the evenings. Exactly the same set up and feeding pattern other than I fed most of the maggots to the Robin who quickly cottoned on to a free lunch. An hour and a half in and the cold had sapped the confidence and memories of blank cold winter evenings had settled firmly in the mind. I decided if nothing had happened by six I would pack up and get off home for dinner. Five to six and the bread jumped about three inches, could have been anything but it was life and sufficient to dispel those creeping doubts. Five minutes later and the six o'clock Bittern flew over the bank behind me toward his roost exactly as he did last night but our twitcher down below hadn't returned.

Fifteen minutes later the dark silhouette of a tench turned three rod lengths out nowhere near my bait none the less fish are on the move. The bread definitely flicked up again, damn! the thing is still down there. The Robin burst into song immediately behind me in his ivy covered roost to say thanks for his dinner and another tench did a repeat performance just as the last of the light made bread bobbin spotting more imagined than real. Time to pack up I think. Not before I fire the remainder of those maggots out where those tench topped, I'll be back to have a go for them tomorrow if the lakes not frozen.

2nd March

Wild daffodils

Wild daffodils beside the river at Dog Kennel doing their best to encourage the arrival of Spring.

I can't say its quite what I had in mind when I decided to take the last fortnight of the coarse season off but things are looking up. This afternoon I had to wait in for the electrician who was coming to look at the thermostat on the oven - duck confit doesn't work at 200į C! As a result it was gone four oíclock before I eventually made it to the river. One distinct advantage of my job is that I can cheat when it comes to getting to the river and my old truck can get to most areas making the couple of hours left to me worth the effort of getting the rods out.

The bitter north wind was still spitefully looking for victims and I decided on a swim at the head of a deep pool in the lee of a large clump of willow on the far bank. Just downstream of the those willows, yet exposed to the full blast of the wind, sat one of our Avon regulars looking none too impressed with the Arctic breeze. I felt for his predicament but was not going to suffer a second battering by this weather in search of a more likely swim. I was at least going to be relatively comfortable after the rigours of the perch episode. It was too late to set up the trotting gear so the tips came out and I soon had a maggot feeder fished short to get some feed into the swim as quickly as possible and a lob on a link ledger a couple of meters further out. I had previously enjoyed good sport with perch at this spot and I was still living in hope of a stripey. I was working on the theory that the arc of the maggot feeder would attract anything about and the lob would fish just below on a wider arc finding the fish as they moved up into the swim. Still working to that plan!

After one or two minor adjustments I was happy with the set-up and settled down in the late afternoon sunshine in what was as pleasant a spot as I could wish for. Out of the wind, the sun was quite warm and I at last felt this was more like it; a fish would be a bonus. Knocks started with the second or third cast, quick flicks as something investigated the tail of my lob. Minnows were topping in the margins giving raised hopes of a perch but I don't normally associate knocks with perch. Once found lobs are usually sucked down in a single mouthful making missing them almost impossible. Persuading them to stay hooked is a very different story as hook points come into contact with their bony jaws but lets get one on before we start worrying about dropping it.

Knocks continued without any firm commitment or damage to the lob which began to smack of chub who will snatch at a bait time and time again without damaging it or getting hooked. Dace will usually take the tail off the worm or leave just the section containing the hook. I wasn't unduly concerned, I was quite content with knocks as any sign of a fish was a distinct improvement on my last trip, I felt it only a matter of time before what ever it was down there would make a serious stab at getting my lob down its gullet and sure enough a bold pull resulted in a firm resistance that immediately shot under the bank. No prizes for guessing what was on the other end of here. Gentle pressure brought about a change of direction and after a lively turn about the swim a fin perfect chub of about five pounds was safely netted. A good natured call of "lucky blighter" came across the river and I had to agree; I was out of the wind, enjoying the warm sunshine and had the fish; that'll do nicely.

Waxwing on apples Waxwing

I have derived almost disproportionate pleasure from the Waxwings feeding on my apples and I'm sure you'll enjoy a couple more shots I took this afternoon whilst waiting for the "sparks". They have now been with us on a daily basis for six weeks which I find astonishing. I expect the Scandinavians of their homeland look on them as we see our garrulous Starlings as they do tend to squabble and chatter but they have been an absolute delight to me.

1st March

Strange as it may seem I was back at work for a couple of hours this morning as I had a pre-arranged meeting with the EA to attend. I don't begrudge the fact I had to miss the opportunity to get the rods out, from speaking to one or two anglers who did get a few hours in it was very hard work indeed.

I did manage to get out for a couple of hours myself this evening. I chickened out about facing that north wind again, I headed for the lakes and sprinkled a little bait in one or two likely spots in the shelter of a high and very solid bank. Depending on the force of the wind tomorrow I may head to the river or I at least now have a fall back plan in the shape of a possible carp.

15+ barbel

Thanks to Dave Lester for the pix of his 15.5 I mentioned a couple of days ago. Lovely fish Dave well done.

28th February

The rally came and went and for the greater part uneventfully where I was concerned. The Park will need some TLC but that will be by others as I am on leave!!

Today's first trip was the result of desperation, in that I have hardly touched the coarse rods this season and with a fortnight to go I have to make the most of every opportunity. Having taken leave I knew the weather would do its worst but I was determined to get out. The five day forecast showed a change in the weather coinciding with my first day off when the mild south westerlies we have been enjoying for weeks were forecast to change to the north. Not to worry, the fish know spring is just around the corner and having been feeding confidently for a week or so they wouldn't shut up shop at the hint of cold. Keep telling yourself that; you have to have a plan, everything will be fine.

I had decided the perch would still be active as they are early spawners they would be reluctant to pass up an easy meal, what ever the temperature. I was torn between a light roving approach or sitting it out for a full day. I'm not very good at the long wait any more, especially when absolutely nothing is happening for most of the day. I plumped for the short, early visit in the hope of a fish or two before a late breakfast. That all sounded very civilised until I went out to load the car in the half light of dawn, the car doors were frozen solid and needed a considerable effort to open them to stow the tackle. If nothing else I'm adaptable and I headed back to the warmth of the kitchen for an early breakfast of bacon and eggs. I'm not usually a breakfast person beyond tea and toast however on this occasion the decision was definitely a good one, the inner insulation would be needed.

I had decided on the Ibsley section as there have been some lovely catches of perch in the area recently. There are about half a dozen likely looking spots; either weirpool, the big slack behind Crowe, where the stream comes in at the head of Ibsley Pool and under the chestnut at the tail of the main weirpool. I decided on the tail of the main weir as I know there have been good fish from there in recent weeks and it has the added advantage of being a comfortable swim.

Downstream from Hoodies

Downstream from Hoodies the salmon rod looking for a February fish.

A couple of bait droppers of maggot under my feet to swirl into the pool and hopefully bring the minnows out of hiding exciting any reticent stripeys. My old thirteen foot Diawa and trudex pin, a 5BB wire stemmed Avon, set at five feet and a good lob on a size 8 to do the business. I searched every inch of that swim, down the crease, beside the reeds and under the bank at my feet; two hours and not a twitch. During this time my extremities had been cooling rapidly and I decided a change to a feeder and single maggot on an eighteen, it will at least get me a minnow to trot through the swim on the reckoning they were there but didn't want lobs - you have to have a plan. One of the salmon rods arrived and fished down from Hoodies to the top of Ibsley Pool, just down stream of me which at least provided a diversion for half an hour. A further twitch-less forty five minutes and with the rain beginning to fall things were not looking good.

Rain, it hardly seems an adequate description of something that can bring such discomfort and misery to a fishing expedition. Rain should apply to the night time precipitation that tops up reservoirs and aquifers. Or perhaps the warm, gentle, summer drought relieving present from the heavens. The stuff that arrives horizontally from the north at one degree above freezing and brings numbing pain to fingers and ears should definitely be called something else. If I were half way up a mountain I might expect this assault on the extremities but I wasn't, I was mulling this over hiding behind the chestnut tree beside my swim in lowland Hampshire. This question ultimately leads to deciding if I was deriving any pleasure from this outing? The answer was regrettably no, I was off home; if the weather improves perhaps a couple of hours this evening? (Note to self; buy thicker trousers)

25th February

In one of the diary entries recently I spoke of a section of river as being "one of my favourites". Having said that I came to consider just what it was that gave this section that little extra, making it special for me.

Perhaps the wildlife that accompanies each visit? The calling geese of the winter or the dragonfly chasing Hobbies of high summer. The taunts of the owls as I leave at dusk on the trip home, Tawny, Little, Barn and Short-eared have all at various times put in an appearance to usher me from the meadows. The fact it is lightly fished? Probably in most part due to it being the furthest from any car park but being totally enclosed within the estate it does usually avoid disturbance from outside influences.

There's more to it than that, its not simply the physical absence of anglers or people that is the appeal, its the corresponding increase in mystery. Some will say that all big fish of any reach of river are known and yet time after time big fish suddenly put in an appearance putting pay to the exhortations of the experts.

Cover of Creel magazine

Bernard Venables with Reg Righyni walking upstream between Coomer and Park pool.

Being double bank there is never an occasion when a comfortable swim isn't available. Swims of every depth, shape and pace, long glides where chub and dace make long trotting a delight. Deep holes with bold perch jockeying for the best feeding spot, stencilled pike that hang motionless watching the fishy landscape with their cold unblinking gaze. Its not just that, there something else that takes me back to those very first fish and the craving for writing and knowledge about the secrets of those mysterious, slightly threatening waters I first cast into. I think like so many of my generation it is the imaginary swims that Mr Crabtree found and fished, catching those glass case monsters. Those classic overhanging trees and deep weedy runs, every swim seems to fit those pictures. I often wonder if any of those "Crabtree" swims were described by Bernard Venables with the river south of Ellingham in mind. I have, thanks to the kind auspices of Mark Wintle, angling historian and pretty mean angler to boot, a photo of the cover of an old copy of "Creel" the zenith of angling magazines, edited by Bernard. That cover from September 64 shows Bernard and angling writer Reg Righyni walking back upstream between Coomer and Park Pool with a fifteen pound salmon, Reg had just landed in Blashford pool, slung between them. From the entry in our catch records at Somerley you will see that was on the 10th of June 1964, the one hundredth salmon off Somerley that season. How wonderful is that, not only can I fish the very same waters as the creator on my angling hero but I can walk on that very same path on my way home. There has to be something special in that!!

Catch records

The entry from the estate records showing the event recorded on the cover above.

I did see several more carp and tench today which is encouraging and I also bumped into Dave Lester who had just landed a 15.5 barbel and 6.6 chub plus other barbel and chub, well done Dave and long may it continue for after tomorrows rally I am on leave. If Dave ever gets to unravel the complexities of his computer he will email me a pic but don't hold your breath, hopefully his other half will take pity on him and send a shot through!!

24th February

Oops, got that wrong didn't we! All sorts of changes going on now as the site is moved to a larger server, hopefully and I stress hopefully, without further hiccups.

Lots going on as we prepare for the rally this Saturday with all the attendant issues that arise when fast cars and the general public get in close proximity. Luckily the "Rally Sunseeker" organising team seem well up to the job; fingers crossed for friendly weather for the spectators and the Park which we will have to restore after the event. The park in in for somewhat of a pasting in the next week or two as we have five hundred horses due to arrive for the horse trials at the end of the month so we definitely could do with a dry spell.

The area where we are to plant the hardwood trees is almost ready which gives us a week or two to get the two thousand trees in before it gets too late. I have been surprised at how good the soil is in this section of the escarpment which should aid good root development on the new plants giving them a good start in life.

Ground preparation
Preparing the ground for the new wood.
Flushing the trout streams
Flushing the carriers before the first trout are stocked next month.

If the weather stays mild we will see the grass spring back into growth giving us the prospect of an early bite on the water meadows. Natural England are keen that we get cattle onto the areas of sedge as early as possible meaning I will soon have to drain these areas of the meadows completely. Before draining down I need to flush out the trout streams to get rid of the accumulated rubbish of the winter. I should have this job finished in the next fortnight and with several thousand meters of stream to sort out I will be busy. I always enjoy this element of the job as I get to see how some of the juveniles have over wintered and I feel very positive as a result of the past day or two. I have probably seen more two, three and four plus dace and roach than I have ever seen at Somerley. This is a real fingers crossed time as the prospect of good roach shoals appearing again in the Middle Avon is something I would give my eye teeth for. Actually that's not such a sacrifice these days as I take one of them out and put it in a glass each night!!

Back to the job list and most importantly in the next two or three weeks I intend to fit in some fishing so things look pretty tight. I had plenty to further whet the appetite to get the rods out today as I bumped in Paul Phillips who had had three more good carp to twenty plus and three good tench just to add interest. I have always enjoyed fishing for the tench at the tail end of the season. Totally different to the misty summer mornings with the lazy bottle green adversary. Winter tench tend to be in full fighting trim and appear almost yellow after the winter lay up. My largest bags have been made on mornings when it was too cold to hold the rod. A well shotted waggler in a two or three inch ripple, single or double maggot over loose feed, perfect, time will tell. I did talk with two regular pike men on the river today who had managed a couple of good fish the largest going twenty plus so things are looking very positive. Perhaps positives not the word Bob Windsor would choose to use after dropping a salmon down at Ashley today. Look on the bright side Bob, you now positively know that orange chicken impersonation you were throwing about is attractive to salmon.

21st February

Sorry about the disappearance, mind you, you all have to shoulder some of the blame. It seems there has been a steady increase of readers to the extent my current bandwidth allocation fails to meet demand through to the end of the month. Always nice to know the diary's popular, if you are reading this I will have contacted my server and solved the problem. I have a similar problem with my disc space due to the volume of photographs on the site. I could simply remove the archive but that seems to defeat one of the most important roles of the diary in that it allows reference to the past as a comparative tool to see how we are progressing; or not.

I hope the salmon readers noticed the Somerley catch returns that I have started to add to the header. It will take some time to get the entire record uploaded but I will endeavour to keep the 2011 catch return updated as quickly as possible after the event.

I should say well done to Paul Phillips who I happened on as I walked around Crowe on Saturday morning. He had just landed a fine common one of three he had Saturday so he at least is a happy punter. The fish are tightly grouped under what little cover is available in Crowe, presumably where they have been laying up during the cold spell. Hopefully we will be able to layer one or two further areas of cover that at least will give the fish, and fishermen, a choice of where to concentrate.

Self portrait

There's something very telling in this photo of Paul, as the lone angler, taking a record of his capture. I'm afraid I've never been sufficiently well organised to achieve such photos which is probably why my albums look more akin to kiddies scrapbooks. The prospect of a photo of a fish on a net doesn't hit the spot for me which usually only leaves me with the memory. Having said that due to over thirty years on the rivers and lakes I have probably taken more fishy shots for other anglers than most!

Hopefully further disappearances will be at a minimum and I will get back to regular visits and updates from the valley.

In a diary entry a week or two ago I questioned why national environmental and conservation agencies couldn't be assured of air time on the national broadcasting companies wavebands. This I argued would allow the agencies to highlight many of the problems faced by our countryside; abstraction, access, discharge, yada, yada, yada. It could also be used to spread the message and inform the public of the thinking and science behind adopted policies and inspire others to join the search for the solutions to our problems. Unfortunately in an audience ratings driven system their would be very little hope of reaching the time slots that would achieve worthwhile investment. I can't see the Beeb moving the likes of Clarkson and his merry band to give airtime to concerns for the environment and they will point to the audience figure for justification. Sad really, I'm sure if an outside broadcast crew had been on hand at the rape of the Sabine women the audience figures would have been enormous. I hasten to add in its Latin literal meaning; for peace of mind the current meaning viewing figures would be best left unknown. Having said that I bet somewhere deep in the heart of the Beeb there is a producer that would be able to defend Trajan's excesses in the Colosseum based on audience figures!!

Coomer oxbow

Coomer Oxbow cleaned out by the WSRT in its raw state in 2005, the cleared area was so soft you couldn't walk on it for six months.

What has given rise to my thinking along these lines are several conversation I have had with anglers whilst engaged in the felling work at Ibsley. From these conversations there developed definite age and geographical patterns for those fore and against the work. Obviously there are exceptions in both camps but generally the older country people understood and accepted the work as a natural part of rural life whilst the younger or more urban population were bemused by the work. It wasn't until this division of opinion became apparent did I give it much thought and it soon became clear that many who quite rightly enjoy the countryside these day have become isolated from its management. Its a further example of the polystyrene and cling film chicken syndrome that has arisen in our modern society.


Coomer oxbow Coomer pollards Clearing Coomer

This afternoon, in the drizzle, I spent a couple of hours on the annual task of clearing the regrowth in what is now one of my favourite spots on the river, the Coomber Oxbow. Unfortunately the initial clearance of such schemes is only the start, someone has to maintain them for years to come. The regrowth amongst the reeds and on the pollards has to be cleaned off to protect the reeds and shape the tree. The resultant fry sanctuary looks perfect, three feet of water full of phragmites stems. I challenge any flood or Cormorant to get the juvenile coarse fish when they are safely tucked up in there. It would appear Bitterns have managed to catch one or two as one spent several days this winter in the reedbed but I don't begrudge him his dinner.

This isolation or detachment has arise from almost two generations of rural dilapidation that has become accepted as the norm as large tracts of the countryside have been abandoned. This has arisen since the Second World War when mechanical development and labour costs have changed the face of farming. Pre war labour was cheap and this was a time when on large rural estates when the harvest was in the men were occupied in working in the woods or river valley. Our section of the river would have seen the arrival of thirty men in September directed to shuttering the banks with larch and elm, clearing willow car and ditching right through until the winter floods or duck shooting drove them off the meadows. Since the war the tractor has driven the men from the fields and tractors can't cut willow, work on wet ground or turn in confined corners. The small parcels of land where the tractor couldn't reach or were too boggy were abandoned and it is this neglect and dereliction we now accept as the norm in the valleys. The days when miles of the carriers were shuttered in elm and larch felled on the estate and converted in the estate sawmill have long gone never I fear to return. This old shuttering can still be found in many areas and along with the work of the drowner in the water meadows the extent and complexity of the work is something we can only marvel at.

The wisdom of the elderly has been achieved through this period of change and whilst they may agree or disagree as to the benefits of this change the knowledge and memories of this epoch are still clear. I have been very fortunate to have enjoyed the company of several knowledgeable countrymen and through them I have been allowed a glimpse of the valley in its heyday. As I said earlier we will never return to a management regime capable of maintaining the valley in such a tended state, I don't think we even understand the elements that interacted to produce the environment and habitat that was present at that period but we must at least try. Today's lack of keepering, the diffuse pollution from roads, agriculture and a myriad of other sources. Changes in agriculture, increased abstraction and discharge, ever greater demands for access and disturbance if we don't try and assess the consequences and take steps to alleviate and mitigate wherever possible the end result is inevitable. To sit and do nothing is not an option, that only leaves us with the option of investigating, experimenting and educating and the greater the diversity of this programme the more likely we are to succeed. The more grey matter struggling to understand and get to grips with the issues the better. My firmly held belief that localised diversification offered by the river trusts is the way ahead, with multiple projects approaching the issues on different rivers with their own set of localised differences holds a higher chance of success that we can all adapt for our own ends. The national approach to river management does not work and the sooner the government recognise this simple fact and empower the trusts along the lines of the old river boards of the pre-war period the better.

Canoe salmon lie

I've found a use for canoes on the hampshire Avon! This one has appeared at the tail of Pile pool where it has stuck firmly in the bed of the river. I must say the laminar flow over the upturned hull looks perfect for a salmon lie so perhaps I'll leave it there for a few weeks to see if the salmon agree. At this point I would just like to say that should anyone from EA development control be looking in I had nothing to do with its instalation and that's why you haven't recieved a land drainage consent application from me!!

15th February

Congratulations Jim


Into a fish First of the year Safely back in

Fish on, 16 pounds of Avon silver and safely returned; perfect.

Jim Foster rang this morning to ask if the river looked in reasonable condition, well that confirms it, it looks great. Jim stopped in where we are clearing up for a quick chat before heading for the river and I stopped for a cup of tea to watch him start down the pool on the far bank. Suffice to say it was one of those rare occasions when everything clicks.

I had just sat down on a tree stump on the left bank to watch Jim fish down Ibsley pool towards me on the opposite side. Jim had set off and my green tea had cooled sufficiently to enjoy a sip and soak up the water February sunshine when Jim's stance changed to one of complete concentration as he swept the rod up into a solid curve; fish on. I couldn't believe it, a very quick shot with the camera, tea was spilt in the turmoil as I headed for the truck. Chainsaws, petrol and oil drums all heaved into the back and off to the bridge to get around to Jim to help with the net if required. I parked a hundred metres past the bridge jumped over the fence and set of across the flooded meadow. Progress slowed as the mud built up on the lumbering chainsaw boots requiring the development of the silly walk as each boot had to be clawed free and launched forward to produce a rocking goose step down to the pool. As I cleared the corner I was just in time to see the fish safely netted by a coarse angler who had been onhand to do the honours leaving me to take a shot or to of the unhooking and speedy return of, as far as I know, the first Avon salmon of the year on a wonderful February day.

Jim was using the traditional two inch black and yellow brass tube so popular with the Avon rods for these early fish. Interestingly he had returned to using the Hardy DT line that equates to about a wetcel 1 that we have used so effectively in the past, it was good to see that fish and it couldn't have happened under better circumstances, congratulations again Jim, well deserved.

Kingfisher

One of the locals examining a recently pollarded ash trees.

15th February

I think this is best described as a rambling update in an effort to catchup with events. I'll start with the first phase of the willow clearance at Ibsley which thankfully is now over. We have a days clearing up with the 360 and then in a more relaxed fashion tidying up by hand for a day or two; not having to keep pace with the machine will be a very real pleasure. The reason I'd taken on this felling work was purely through being the only person available with the necessary experience to fell these large trees. Whilst others on the estate have felling tickets up to fifteen inches it has been my lot in life to fell the huge park trees for the last twenty years. I really think we must train someone a year or two younger for the future role!

Clearing willow
Making headway.
At last felling finished
The finish of phase one.

The machine is staying with us, it is moving to one of the forestry plantations to root clear where we have clear-felled a large area of Silver fir that we intend to replace with broadleaves; oak, beech and sweet chestnut. To plant a broadleaf wood that will, long after I have gone, hopefully provide high quality timber and rich feeding for the feathered and furry inhabitants of the valley is enormously satisfying. Certainly more satisfaction than felling the willow has proved. Having said that I know how the area we are currently clearing will eventually look and the wonderful habitat it will also provide, its just my aching bones dramatically diminish any pleasure at this stage. Look on the bright side, the rally stage on the 28th, the tree planting and the preparation for the horse trials can all do without my attention for a day or two - time to dig out the rods me thinks.

Talk of rods and I have to mention Kevin Styles who has been out after a February springer and met with mixed fortune. It would seem that the barbel are still active as one took Kevin's black and yellow tube fair and square. The resistance of a good double barbel, twelve or thirteen pound according to Kevin, in fast water feels very similar to a large spring fish reluctant to move from its lie. It always amazes me the number of these big barbel that are caught on the fly in fast, shallow water each year, there could be a pointer here for the barbel lads who seem to stick to the same known deep glides. Back to Kevin who having landed his barbel continued on down the pool only to hook a second very large fish that behaved in a similarly dogged fashion until it decided to run upstream briefly showing its large silver flank and broad back as it swam past. A coarse angler trotting for chub close by joined our man offering to do the honours with the net to which Kevin suggested the fish was a long way from that point just yet and having showed on the surface he was not very happy about the hook hold. With that said fish parted company leaving Kevin to rue his luck and think back to last year at this very time when he hooked and lost a very large spring fish in exactly the same place; it was not to be his day. With the addition of a well mended kelt I think Kevin's opening visit can best be described as interesting!

At a more local level I noticed the frogs have moved into the ponds at the weekend starting their spawning activities. Always a sure sign of our clamber out of the cold and ice, fingers crossed the trend continues and we don't see the spawn frozen in the shallows this year. I'm a little dubious about trumpeting the arrival of Spring just yet as the Waxwings are still with us, their Scandinavian nest sites have yet to exert there call, perhaps they know something the frogs don't. I may have mentioned previously the strange confidence of these birds being quite prepared to sit in the tree top whilst we walk underneath and drive in and out in the cars. During all this time they continue with their strange electrical sounding chirring calls and as I passed under them today I recalled where I had heard that sound before; Sand Merks. Those readers with children will have sat through the Flight of Dragons where Gorbash, the dragon, gave man the choice between logic or science. One of the trials for our heros was to over come the wicked sand merk and their queen with their strange chirring call that once heard meant all was lost. Ah well, it seems we chose science hence we no longer see many dragons or sand merks about. I'm not so sure about that as the means of dragon flight was to inflate themselves with hot air, I can think of several people that could well be dragons if that's what determines one! Back to the bird front and Brian and Pat, around the corner, have had Hawfinches at the Garden feeders, I've got my fingers crossed they will pop down the road for a bite at the fast finch food facility I'm currently running.

Spawning frogs Waxwings on apples

Frogs busy in the ponds and the Waxwings still visiting daily three weeks after they first appeared.

I had a WeBS count on Sunday that the weather conspired to make just about impossible. We had little alternative but to delay the count 24 hours. I must admit to being a little disappointed with the final result. The Bewicks are still with us and the White-fronts were a few miles south, like the Waxwings the pleasures of the summer nesting grounds yet to call. Hundreds of Canada and Greylag geese plus one hundred and ninety five Mute swans busily stripping the new grass off Edmund and Bernie's fields. Several hundred duck but not the numbers I might have expected and as for waders very poor; a hundred plus Lapwing but no godwits, sandpipers or snipe where earlier in the week there had been plenty - bit like fishing, just as you think you have it sussed they change their habits!

I made time to re-pot one or two of my bonsai that were entering there fourth year without this vital requirement. Its always a strange task in that you have to knock them out of their pots, rake off all the soil and prune the root ball to ensure future well being of the tree. All my bonsai I have either grown from seed or very small transplanted seedling. Some I have had for over twenty five years and whilst they may not be the finest examples of the bonsai growers art I have become very attached to them. Anything that demands daily attention throughout the summer and care to ensure cold and snow do not damage in the winter you inevitably treasure. Having pruned the roots and rewired them back into their pots I have the next month to worry that they will survive the ordeal; the first swelling buds will be greeted with great relief.

Repotting a bonsai

Repotting my ash tree bonsai.

One advantage of Sunday's rain was the rise in water levels which has allowed me to drain the meadows with the minimum of disruption. The high water means removing the boards and opening gates only sees the impounded water drop a few inches and doesn't scour mud and soil out into the main channels threatening to damage last months salmon redds. If the water is lower when the time comes to drain down the meadows the process has to be spread over several days involving many visits to slowly balance the levels, Sunday's rain at least saved me that task.

Draining the meadows

Draining the north marsh.

Back to one of my soapbox themes, that of compensation for those whose livelihoods and assets are adversely impacted by the presence of protected species. In recent days I have been watching a pair of Goshawks as they go about their aerial displays and I have been considering the potential impact they will have on the estate. There has long been good natured banter between myself and the head keeper about my desire to clear much of the estate woodland and replant with a more clear cut forestry agenda. This has always been thwarted by the desire on the part of the shoot to keep much of the ancient birch and over-stood timber for the benefit of the pheasant roosts and drives. In common with many of the great country estates the shoots have always played a very important role and much of the woodland and scrub that might have been more efficiently utilised for agriculture or forestry has been saved by the importance to the shoot. This situation has always been the case and long may it remain but it does no harm to mention in passing to the keeper that I have my eye on such and such a section. This is always met with a robust response and a suggestion that "Clear Fell Levell" should look elsewhere for his Douglas plantation. What has this got to do with goshawks and compensation? Its the fact that the presence of a Goshawk might well make the difference between success and failure for the shoots year. A brood of Goshawk feeding on a release pen, as they most certainly do, may take as many as one hundred poults. One of their most annoying habits is that if they are disturbed early on a kill, be it by the keeper feeding or anything else, they will not return to the freshly killed corpse but take another. Its not the price of the poult that has the dramatic impact on the shoot but the loss of the pheasant that would ultimately be flushed over the paying gun. At current prices such losses might accrue to a figure in the order of five thousand pounds. As with the otter on the lake eating valuable stock and threatening the fishery business the Goshawk is potentially making the difference between success and failure of the shoot. Those opposed to shooting would do well to consider the consequences of no shoot to oppose the increased efficiency currently much in vogue to feed the increasing population demands.

To put this in perspective, if one looks at the situation that exists on the valley water meadows the restrictions placed on agriculture are compensated for under such schemes as the HLS. Under this scheme those that manage the areas on the ground are "involved" and "incentivise" by having access to further funding in the form of such things as breeding wader payments. That means if you have Lapwing, Snipe or Redshank nesting on your meadows you can claim a considerably raised payment for achieving this. Well I don't see the difference between a Lapwing preventing you grazing at a raised stocking density costing you money and a goshawk chewing your pheasants or an otter munching through your carp population. If Defra want to "incentivise" (their word not mine) the rural population they would do well by getting the game and river keepers onside when it comes to looking after the protected species. How about five hundred per Buzzards nest, they're common as muck we have eleven pairs on the estate but they do eat poults so are on occasions a bloody nuisance. The real payments start with big impact species such as goshawk where four or five thousand pounds would be a fair and sensible payment. It wont stop the keeper feeling aggrieved every time he picks up another poult but he will at least not have to worry that the impact cannot be offset by putting down a further one hundred birds. This scheme should be extended to reward good keepering and stewardship where species such as Honey buzzard find the management regime to their liking. Five thousand pounds as reward and incentive to maintain the current woodland regime would seem a sound investment. What about a heronry, surely the impact on local fisheries deserves reward especially if it also includes Little egret or perhaps Great white. Corn bunting, Quail, stone curlew, Lamprey and bullhead, all species have a value and all would benefit from having the owners and land managers onside - defra please note.

10th February

Despite the apparent ideal conditions fishing appears to have dropped off a little, just to prove how perverse our chosen pursuit can be. The larger dace seem to have disappeared completely with the three and four year classes being the only willing participants. The whereabouts of the larger fish at this time of year always gives rise to much debate. Being early spawnerís I believe they are heading for the side-streams and shallows in readiness for next months activities. With the river looking so well I think its definitely a case of location being the key and keeping mobile is very often the best bet especially when seeking the chub or pike. It is a good idea to have a swim in mind for the last hour if you don't hit the jackpot on your travels, somewhere to sit out the witching hour with confidence.

The good weather of the early part of the week has seen us making good headway with the pollards and clearing of the over mature willow. Clearing the fallen and rotten willow has revealed the old leaf choked outlet channels to the lakes and an old pond that will hopefully provide super habitat for both invertebrates and juvenile cyprinids now exposed to the light. Crowe and Thompkins pools were dug on the site of the old estate fish farm. Record of the development and activities that took place on this site can be found in the book written by my predecessor Gregor Mackenzie "Memoirs of a Gillie" The farm was on a very large scale with six to eight thousand two pound trout being stocked into estate waters annually. Surplus fish being sold to the famous trout fisheries on the Test. They went on to stock the river with salmon reared from eggs brought down from the Thurso; Gregor attributing this project with the start of the grilse run on the Avon. I must admit that earlier records would seem to be at odds with such claims but the book is a good read if ever you get the opportunity.

ibsley willow clearance willow clearance

North and south from the middle of the site; scarily different but with a little vision and imagination the end product can be seen. The tall over-grown pollard immediately over the arm of the 360 is a tree I removed the top from twenty years ago as a demonstration of the urgent maintenance these trees required. Twenty years later and we are getting around to sorting out the task. That must say something about workloads and piorities but I'm not sure quite what?

What is interesting is that the Ibsley site does not provide spring water to hatch the eggs, meaning all hatching and rearing had to be done in water diverted from the main channel. I'm assured by those in the aquaculture industry today that using water from the main channel would be virtually impossible. That gives rise to a second even more interesting question in that we ask our wild fish to do just that! I would be extremely interested to put that thinking to the test; setting up a project to hatch trout eggs in deep substrate incubators every km from source to sea - or two or three kms, with the ever present finance in mind. This might allow us to identify areas where pollutants enter the system or water quality changes naturally make redd productivity incapable of supporting a naturally sustaining population. It would be an interesting project but costly; funded Phd student? EA fisheries - river trust partnership perhaps? You never know.

Being so busy with the willow has not allowed me much time to visit the meadows or even enjoy the birds on the feeders at home. This mornings rain made felling large timber an overly unattractive occupation so I took the opportunity to visit the north marsh which I still have flooded. Its amazing how quickly one becomes out of date with events in the countryside, three or four days and arrivals and departures change the look of the place. We have a WeBS count this weekend and it will be very interesting to see the comings and goings; will the Black-tailed godwits still be with us? Will the white-fronted geese, Bewicks and Great white egret have left. What ever the outcome I always look forward to walking the length of the estate and catching up with both birds and anglers.

Finches and a sparrow

Rubbish pix taken through my front window but it shows five species all making the most of the free meal. The Brambling numbers have more than halved with less than thirty birds in the garden today but the Waxwing numbers have reached twenty six on the apples overhead.

6th February

A good day, in fact a good weekend, the still-waters continue to fish and the Salmon Open day that coincided with the re-opening of the Fishing Lodge was a great success.

I had been down on the Somerset levels on Saturday, watching millions of Starlings, so I had failed to catch up with news of the river. It was with relief that I awoke this morning, after arriving back late last night, to find the weather smiling on us and the one hundred and twenty plus members and guests managed to squeeze onto the limited parking without problems. It was good to see so many people and equally pleasing to feel the enthusiasm that remains in the angling community despite the problems that have beset the Avon salmon. The entire event, from the opening of the lodge, the casting demonstrations and hog roast was very well received by all present. Well done to the club on the lodge renovation and the organisation of yet another excellent Salmon Day.

I will add a word of caution at this point to ensure that the enthusiasm doesn't run away with us. It should be remembered that February salmon have not been a regular occurrence on the Avon for a good number of years. Whilst there were one or two grassed last year, do not go away with the belief that February rod effort will result in a fish. I would suggest to rods new to the Avon not to burn themselves out in pursuit of an early fish. A visit or two if the water is in good shape and the weather kind and you never know you might be that lucky rod that can claim a February fish. I would suggest you keep the best part of your powder dry to get out into the water meadows from mid March to the end of May. If the flow remains stable through that period you will certainly find the best of the Avon fishing waiting for you. As for the local rods, you know the score and the time spent on the bank that will be required if its down to effort as opposed to that which makes fools of us all; luck.

Opening the Fishing Lodge Cutting the ribon Casting demonstration

A good crowd gathered to see the refurbished lodge re-opened by the Earl of Normanton before heading off across the river to watch the casting.

I have attached three photos of the current work that is ongoing at Ibsley. I have put them on as some people are still surprised at the extent of the work despite my earlier efforts to explain the rationale behind the scheme. I warned that the area would look devastated and it does, there is no easy way to cut and clear that area of woodland. The project is based on sound science and a great deal of empirical knowledge and the end result will be to the benefit of the river and valley. The work has been undertaken for the benefit of the area of floodplain shaded out by the unmanaged, derelict and dangerously abandoned woodland. the work is under the auspices of the Natural England/Defra HLS scheme. In common with 86% of our UK woodlands this is a typical under managed, species poor area and we are endeavouring to rectify this neglect. It is intended to restore wetland fen to the area currently being cleared to restore the biodiversity of this section of the valley.

The over grown tree canopy is also being lowered by approximately 75%initially, recovering to 50% as pollards reach the maximum of their maintenance cycle. Hollow and ivy covered trees are being preserved, where deemed safe, for the benefit of bat and bird populations.

Clearing derelict woodland Machine work Eco pile

Amazingly in the first shot there is a Bittern between the machine and myself, despite fifteen tons of 360, bonfires and roaring chainsaws for the past fortnight the bird was wondering about like an old farmyard hen. I was within ten or so feet trying, not very successfully, to take the photo on my mobile before it flew to the other side ofthe reed bed. The second and third shots show the devastation as we clear and pollard our way through the willow. The eco-piles and stark willow pollards will soon soften and blend back into the environment, within three months it will all be greening up and within a couple of years the finished product will be apparent.

The more open aspect of the valley will encourage the desired flora and fauna as proven with work undertaken elsewhere on the estate in areas such as Ellingham and Hucklesbrook which have been recently categorised as of international importance. This is to bring the area of floated meadows south of Bickton, coinciding with the SSSI/SAC, into a condition similar to that which existed at the time of the zenith of most if not all EU directed species; salmon, wetland waders and wintering waterfowl.

Numerous other species also stand to benefit under the valley HLS work aimed at the directed species such as the invertebrates; dragonflies, mayflies etc. Fish such as roach, chub and dace in the ditches and carriers and birds like the Yellow wagtail, Cettis and the Bittern.

All areas of tree cover currently in, or immediately bordering, the river, 75% caprea 25% fragilis (Goat and Crack Willow)are to remain in a managed state. This is to afford instream habitat for fish refuge, marginal nesting birds and shade where appropriate. The majority of trees removed are Salix caprea, fragilis and cinerea. (Goat, Crack and Grey Willow) The majority of the taller, most visually dominant Salix britzensis (coralbark Willow)are being removed or pollarded under health and Safety review due to the extremely dangerous nature of these particular trees and the proximity to the lakeside angler access. Seven of the eighty foot tall britensis have fallen into or immediately next to the lake in the last twenty four months. The opportunity to remove the non-native Robusta poplar hybrids and two or three Leylandii is also being taken at this time. All trees involved have been consented by NE, the Forestry Authority and the NFDC as part of the area falls within a planning conservation area.

I have listened to many genuine concerns which I hope I have allayed and heard a great deal of clap trap which I hope I have ignored but if you do have genuine concerns, based on sound evidence or experience, we will be more than happy to hear from you.

3rd February

Back to the trees and they seem no easier, we are however definately making progress, probably half way through the job; if the weather holds. I seem to have more aches and pains after my day off than when I spend hours grinding away with our mega chainsaw.

Lunchtime and the sunshine was doing its best to make the mornings frost a distant memory, with the unexpected warmth I decided to stop off at the beehives to see how they were getting on. On arrival the bees were very busy rushing in and out on water and cleansing flights but it soon became obvious one hive had been subject to the attention of one of our woodpeckers. The mouse guard, which consisted of a strip of excluder held in with entrance battens, had disappeared and the battens pecked to pieces. The bottom lift also had a couple of holes where "Woody" had tried his luck. The beauty of WBC hives is that they are double skinned with the lift and super having an air gap that foils such raids. The woodpecker had been thwarted but the field mice had made the most of the opportunity and taken up residence on top of the crownboard. It was too cold to open the chamber but I removed the outer lifts and evicted the residents, hopefully there were no others inside the chamber I will have to keep a close eye on the entrance for the next day or two to see if the new mouse guard is disturbed from within.

Behives Waxwing on crabapple

The first shows the woodpecker damage on one of my beehives and the second is yet another Waxwing pix. I feel I can show this one as I didn't take it, Brian Marshall who lives around the corner from us took it as the birds enjoyed the crabapples in his front garden.

2nd February

With the 360 broken down and the truck needing to go in for a service I decided to take the day off. That, in true busman's fashion, I spent draining and flooding different sections of the water meadows. The ice has started to disappear from the north marsh and with the shoot season over I wanted to drain the Ellingham splash and meadows to allow the sward to recover and firm up. I will leave the north marsh flooded and move some of the Ellingham water south to ensure a sufficient area of wet meadow is available for the waders and wildfowl. With well over 200 Snipe out on the Ellingham meadows last weekend its important to safeguard the soft soil structure, the preferred feeding habitat suitable for their probing bills.

Flooded water meadows Drained meadows

The difference a day makes.

1st February 2011

The first day of the salmon season saw at least two rods out and about in search of the first fish. I didn't hear of any success but unless you have a fly in the water you most definately won't catch so well done those that were brave enough to face the elements. We did see a couple of February fish last season and they were big fish which is an added incentive if any were needed. The high water of a fortnight ago would have provided the conditions for any fish wishing to enter the river to run and with the water now fining down and at a good level the chance of an early fish is as good as you are likely to see.

First day of the 2011 salmon season

Brian Marshall, chair of the WCSRT, out wetting a line.

What we will see and I have already seen caught by the dace anglers is the appearance of kelts as the few hen fish that survive make their way back down to the sea. Obviously back in the water as carefully and quickly as possible but I would ask that in the eent you land a kelt just check the adipose fin to see if its clipped. The fish that were stripped for the hatchery programme were clipped and any added information related to their survival would be appreciated. in the event you do get a clipped fish take a quick measurement against your rod for latter verification and let me have the details.

For those salmon rods wishing to meet and chat to past acquaintences don't forget the SALMON DAY at the refurbished Fishing Lodge at Ellingham on Sunday. Always a well attended event with casting instructors and expert advice freely available it could save new rods hours of fruitless searching to get the inside info from one or two ofthe old hands. Hopefully I will see many of you there and catchup with your adventures since last summer.

30th January 2011

Waxwing

Last Waxwing pix; probably!

The Rooks have arrived back in the oaks of the rookery, Goshawks are displaying and the ravens have chosen their new nest site, add the dafs and the snowdrops and there is hope on the horizon. We may yet have to face a further week or two of freezing weather but we are now on the downhill run into Spring. I have a couple of jobs to sort out at work and I've promised myself a week just chasing large chub and perch. If anything is tempting fate that is, the river will be out in the fields next week until the end of the coarse season, fingers crossed for a kindly spell of weather.

First dafs of the year

This clump has flowered at the end of December in years past making it four weeks late.

In the short term we face the close of the shoot season and the start of the salmon year with ice covering much of the still-water in the valley. The marsh at Hucklesbrook is ninety percent covered as are all the splashes, apart from the laterals that have overflowed on the water meadows. I will have to spill a little more water onto the meadows in the coming month before trying to get them dry for the early bite that NE have allowed us in one area in an attempt to get on top of the encroaching sedge. February is often a good month in the valley for both wildlife and angling if the weather will only smile on us.

Avon scene

A classic Avon scene as Mark Dykes plays a good chub.

I enjoyed a walk along the river this lunchtime and stopped off to watch Mark Dykes land a fine mint condition chub, long trotting on the pin. It was a classic Avon scene despite the bright conditions and the overnight cold the setting was pure "Avon". Like myself Mark is a huge Avon fan travelling regularly from Brighton to fish the hallowed waters of the valley, such commitment is what makes the Avon very special, well done Mark you deserve a hatfull.

I hear rumblings that one of the lake anglers had a result this weekend catching eight carp during the day with the largest going 32+. If I can find the lucky captor and get the details I will put up an entry to inspire us lesser mortals to greater efforts.

Waxwing flock Waxwing flock

I lied, these will be the last Waxwing pixs; probably!.

29th January 2011

A day away from the trees, well that was the intention, best laid plans and all that. It all went awry when a dozen Waxwings turned up for their breakfast and found they had finished the apples. The success of the "winter apple" tree has far exceeded my expectations, the single arrival of a Waxwing would have justified the exercise but the reappearance of up to a dozen of these lovely birds has been superb. It did mean that once Anne had returned from town with a new supply of apples replenishing the depleted fruit was the order of the morning. The appearance of the Waxwings this year must be due to the early cold weather we suffered throughout November and December. It's not only Waxwings that have arrived in large numbers but a Bramblings flock with at least seventy three birds is also a regular visitor to the garden feeders. I say at least seventy three because accurate counting is almost impossible when mixed with a chaffinch and Siskin flock and continually moving in and out of the trees they are never still long enough to photograph or count them. The birds feeding in the garden are not the only populations that seem to be changing. There are at least eleven and probably thirteen Bittern in the Valley south of Salisbury and if you add in the Testwoodtwo or three birds and those further west at Radipole and Hatch Pond, five or six, the place is awash with them. Great white egrets are similarly appearing more frequently across the south with an unringed bird recorded upstream of Fordingbridge giving us two again in the valley and again further west on the Avalon Marshes six or seven are together in one flock. Surely it is only a matter of time before we see Bittern or Great white egret breeding in the south and hopefully in the Valley.

Back in the trees
The ladder is required to fill this bird table.
Apples
Simply cut off a branch and stick on the apple.
Waxwings on apples

It didn't take them long to find the new supply.

I haven't had much time to talk with the anglers in recent days so I am a little behind with the news of how the fishing's going. The only anglers I have had the opportunity to speak with are those in the Ibsley area where we are currently working. Dace from the sidestreams appear to be the saving grace with the odd chub and perch coming to the rescue. With the size of the chub and perch of late it only takes one to make a season but you may have to suffer a further week or two of this bitter weather for your trophy.

Dace fishing

Dace have been the saving grace.

The start of the new salmon season Tuesday will hopefully see one or two rods out looking for any early fish that have crept in on the recent floods. I think we are due a decent season this year as we seem to have had conditions conspire against us in recent years. What ever it brings I look forward to the warmer April and May evenings when I will be at the tail of a pool looking for my Avon entertainment.

26th January 2011

Odd, is probably the best description of today. After seven days of very tiring work felling the willows at Ibsley a breakdown of the machine provided me with an opportunity to take stock of matters elsewhere. The morning allowed the opportunity to try and catch up with events on the fishery front which pleasingly seem to be providing some reasonable catches. Things are a long way from easy with the successful anglers being confident they are "on" fish and prepared to put in the time particularly as the light goes in the evenings. One negative note was sounded when the otter chewed carcass of one of the well known carp from a small pit close to where we are working at Ibsley turned up on the bank. With all the noise and racket we are creating you would have perhaps thought the otters would have cleared off for a week or two; its seems they are not so easily disturbed these days.

Clearing the willow car Otter kill

Continuing to clear the willow car and pleasingly the swans on the left of the group are Bewicks, unusual in these fields. I expect the regulars at Ibsley will recognise the fish in the second shot from the distinctive linear scales, I would appreciate hearing from anyone with recent captures and particularly a photo; see the contacts page above.

As we progress with our efforts to get rid of the willow we begin to see the extent of the area of fen we are attempting to regenerate. Once the light gets back onto this currently dark, dank ground we will see the lush marginal growth the Avon is famed for. The diversity of insect and plantlife will once again make this area a real jewel in the crown of the estate. The seven or eight hundred meter marginal strip will form a vital link in the attempt to provide continuous habitat corridors for valley wildlife; Cetti's, Reed and Sedge warblers, Reed bunting and the secretive Water rail all will be the winners in this instance.

Willow car Rich marginal growth diverse plantlife Ecopile

From the starting point of the light starved, species poor willow car we are attempting to recreate hugely increased bio-diversity. The two middle shots show cleared margins elswhere on the estate and the resulting growth the fourth photo shows an "eco-pile" of which there will be several at regular intervals across the site. Eco-piles are intended for the wood eating bugs and beetles and to provide damp habitat for the frogs, toads, newts and grass-snake that will hopefully quickly populate the available fenland habitat.

The afternoon was given over to the "Avon Valley Grazing Project Workshop" to hear of what the future holds for farming in the valley. I must admit to being still somewhat confused as to the way ahead that Natural England see for us. We heard from several projects dotted about the country but there appeared to be very little that could be fitted into our finely balanced valley. Much was made of the desire on the part of Natural England to move away from hay or silage into a grazing regime to keep the sward in condition for the waders and wildfowl. The balance between grazing the meadows and over-wintering the stock has many pitfalls that I have yet to see clear answers provided. The debate is in the early stages and it will run for some considerable time at the end of which I personally believe the farming regime will have changed considerably to what we are seeing today.

Old breed grazing

The thinking is that the rare and old breeds of cattle are better at converting the rough grazing into saleable beef. Unfortunately life's never that simple when a finished steer of a lighter carcass may have to be over-wintered twice, involving feeding and housing and loss of premium as the animal extends beyond the 30 month optimum period - difficult times ahead I fear.

21st January 2011

A mixed day for birds today in that I had a visit from Natural England tp look at Hucklesbrook and Ibsley to see how the management regime under the HLS Agr/environment scheme was progressing. These visits are all part and parcel of NE's inspection programme and strangely I quite enjoy them and look forward to getting the feedback on the estate's efforts to achieve the conservation objectives. It also had the advantage that it gave me a break from dealing with the willows at Ibsley. I always have a sneaking regard for anyone who takes on the role of a conservation regulatory officer because as sure as eggs are eggs what ever ill befalls the valley will be put down to the actions of the conservation strategy; floods, drought, snow and ice its all the fault of NE. I know this because many view my various roles in much the same fashion; farmers, fishermen, wildfowlers all seem to me to believe I deliberately go out of my way to make life awkward for them! The difficulty arises from the fact we have to balance the requirements of each and every person, creature and practice that takes place in the valley which inevitably gives rise to clashes of interest.

Back to the visit and I was looking forward to showing off Hucklesbrook, as I'm sure regular readers will know has been alive with ducks and waders in recent weeks. You might have guessed it, hardly duck in sight. A couple of hundred Widgeon on South Hucklesbrook along with a few Coots and Swans but nothing like the recent thousands we have enjoyed. There were three Bewicks and the Great-white egret put on a show plus a fine male Hen Harrier down at Ellingham but I was disappointed with the North Marsh. It wasn't until we actually walked out over the fields to examine the state of the sward did I realise much of the surface was still frozen. The recent couple of cold nights, combined with the wind from the north, have put an end to the recent thaw.

Waxwings

Not the best of photos but it does record the Waxwings enjoying the unusual apple crop.

Despite the low wildfowl numbers in the valley I had already enjoyed a great day on the bird front! On popping home at lunchtime, to collect my scope for the walk around with NE, there in the front garden feeding on apples I had wired to the top of my Hupehensis crab were half a dozen Waxwings. I was delighted to see them as despite the good numbers flying in from Scandinavia this winter I had failed to see any locally. The fact I had wired apples to the top of the tree may sound a little odd and the neighbours are still a little nervous about the strange behaviour the result makes up for any strange looks.

20th January 2011

I'm definitely getting too old to be attempting to keep pace with a 360 felling and cutting up the willow at Ibsley; it wouldn't be so bad if the trees in question weren't quite so awkward. I have never enjoyed cutting willow as it tends to spring and split at the least provocation, add to that delightful habit rotten centres and you have the makings of a very unpleasant days cutting. Its probably made worse by the fact we have just had a large commercial timber harvester working in the main forestry blocks; to see that piece of kit felling softwood was a revelation. Alas it would not deal with the willow at ibsley. I am particularly keen too be present for the duration of the project to open up this section of valley as the challenge of creating the new habitat is one I enjoy enormously. I find the entire process challenging, not just the felling of the large timber, ensuring the recovery of the flora and fauna goes as we hope will require considerable attention over the next decade; I only hope I am still here to see the improvements we are endeavouring to implement established.

Rotten willows
Those of you who recognise the view across Thompkins will have sat under this two tons of leaning timber.
Rotten willow
Impossible to cut a pit and they explode the second you touch them with the saw, I have no idea how these trees remained standing.

The Fishing Lodge is looking well as the scaffolding has been removed and the electric supply is now in place. We still have to finish the internal fitting but we are fast approaching a time when the Lodge will hopefully become the centre of the fishery life once again.

Somerley Fishing Lodge

The Fishing Lodge looking well after the hard work of Kevin Styles and his team.

19th January 2011

I needn't have bothered about draining Hucklesbrook as the weekend's rain has sent the water spilling out into the floodplain at long last. When I refer to Hucklesbrook I should more correctly refer to Hucklesbrook North as there is a reasonable sized marsh to the south of the stream that I seldom have occasion to visit and have become lazy in my description of the section of valley. I have to explain this as the rise in water has flooded the south marsh for the first time this winter and the wildfowl and waders have been enjoying the fresh feeding. From the stream down to Botney is under water and from the photo you can see the birds are making the most of the event. The Great white egret and a bittern were on the North marsh but the bulk of the other birds fancied a change.

Hucklesbrook south marsh

Birds enjoying the bounty of the fresh floods at Hucklesbrook South.

The three swans that can be seen in the left middle distance are Bewicks. This winter they have been on different meadows throughout the estate and spent very little time on the normal meadow north of the road at Ibsley. They also seem to be far more scatterd than in previous years with small family groups with juveniles, the largest group of adults we've had visit is twelve and this flock combined with the various family groups and individuals probably adds up to a maximum of 25 - 28 this winter. Whether we have had in excess of 20 birds with us at any one time would be difficult to say but the total is slightly up on recent years.

We are underway with the work on the willows at Ibsley and I understand there is concern in some quarters with regard to the scale of the clearance that is occurring. Rest assured I recognise that Somerley is a very special place, to no one more than me and I would not undertake or enter into any such work lightly.

The lack of woodland management within the valley over the past fifty or sixty years has allowed large stands of willow car to develop in areas where the land has been considered agricultural uneconomic, usually through being too wet. The encroachment of this willow has created the current enclosed nature of the valley that is alien to the flood plain south of Bickton with the added problem that the species as listed on the SSSI notification, wintering wildfowl and waders are reluctant to feed on the floated meadows. The old crack willow pollards at Ellingham which date from the early 18th century were the character of this section of valley. In an ideal world we would like to see them established elsewhere on the estate. Those incredible pollards at Ellingham are on their last legs and are dying out at an increasing rate. The work that was undertaken at Hucklesbrook ten years ago has shown the extent to which this decline can be reversed with this section now classified as of international importance for one of the waders, the Black-tailed godwit. The pollards at Gorley Corner, that emerged from the tangle of goat willow when it was cleared ten years ago, along with the one or two newly planted pollards, will hopefully mature into a picturesque and productive section of the valley for all the wildlife not just a single element.

There has been work undertaken that has not taken the needs of the river and its conservation classification of equal stature to that of the flood plain into consideration. This will not happen at Ibsley despite the designated riverine species potentially benefiting from a more robust programme of clearance. The removal of large woody debris and the overhanging vegetation that offers cover and sanctuary from predation will be preserved. Natural England has a legal obligation to bring the SSSIís back into favourable or improving condition by 2015. We have entered into Agri/environment agreements with Natural England that dictate what we must undertake to correct the neglect the valley has been subject to and bring the land back into a managed regime. Thousands of meters of ditches have been cleaned and cleared in an ongoing strategy to reproduce the lattice of channels that the water meadows afforded during the heyday of this river. The water level management teams involved with this work have water control as their primary objective but each section of ditch and drain affords habitat for juvenile coarse fish when we are enduring floods as we are experiencing at present. The woodlands that block flight paths are being cleared, in a policy I fully endorse, to ensure waders and wildfowl find habitat to their liking. They require open sites where predators cannot approach easily without being seen, photos of the valley in the early part of the last century, when both fish and fowl were at there height show a much clearer more open aspect. It is all too easy to accept dereliction as the status quo to hide away and ignore the reality of the situation, trees do not look after themselves they have to be managed just like any other plant.

Recent legislation that has come into being requires all landowners to have surveys of ALL trees where the public have access. All the roads, footpaths, parkland, anywhere a member of the public might find themselves has to be assessed. As I have said before the willows beside the A338 at Ibsley will be felled; the mature oaks, chestnuts limes and dozens of others in the parks are proving a nightmare. The problem arises when these ancient trees that naturally carry a proportion of dead wood become the focus of a consultantís scrutiny. Thereís not a consultant in the land thatís going to give a tree with even the remotest possibility of dropping a branch or falling a clean bill of health. To deadwood the major parkland trees requires a climber and colleague to spend days swinging through the tops at a cost that makes you wince when the hundreds of trees we have in such situations are considered. The large coral bark, crack willow hybrids around Crowe are lethal in that they were never pollarded and have been allowed to reach frightening heights. We have had at least seven fall in the last two years, the most recent since I did the drawings for the forestry consent can be seen laying along the bank at the back of Crowe. They have to go, there is no option. It is better I take them out at this stage under the auspices of the NE scheme than let the task fall back on the fishing club who have a responsibility to their members under the maintenance of marginal trees. Where possible I will lower the canopy and try and pollard the tree as per the drawings in the earlier entry. This will be difficult as the age of these old willows struggle to survive such drastic attention. We will leave them to see what survives and those that donít will be replaced to provide shelter and screening where appropriate. One advantage of willow is the speed it grows. The lines of pollards along the bottom spit I planted twenty years ago when I first arrived at Somerley as a soft engineering exercise to prevent the bank breaching and forming an oxbow on Harbridge Bend. Left to its own devices the river would have cut through the narrow section just below the disabled swim a decade ago. At the time, having spoken to the EA and English Nature as they were then, it was deemed the correct policy to follow. Similarly when the weirpool was dredged in the 80ís and Crowe and Thompkinís were dug even earlier, tree planting regimes were considered desirable. Subsequent rethinks have come down on the side of a more open aspect to the valley and the natural occurrence of oxbows seen as a definite benefit to the river, especially the coarse fish population. Efforts to strengthen banks will no longer be undertaken where structural damage isnít threatened and we have cleaned out the two oxbows at Park and Coomber with plans for at least two others. Structural projects such as the Crowe and Cabbage Garden revetments, where the river was threatening to break into Crowe and the Trout Stream, will continue to be undertaken. I now find it difficult to believe we used over two thousand tons of inert concrete infill to secure those two sections.

I hope the explanation above and the earlier, entries forewarning of our thinking, has gone some way to allay some of those fears. It will most definitely look very different when we have finished but remember we are not doing this for our benefit but that of generations to follow. If we do not get to grips with the decline of many of the valley species we will have been negligent in our responsibility.

15th January 2011

The past twenty years have seen a dramatic rise in the inland Cormorant population and a corresponding rise in the adverse impact on fisheries and livelihoods. The mention of Cormorants in the angling world brings people out in a rash, they change colour and spit, splutter and dribble at the very thought of our piscivorous visitors. The frustration on the part of the anglers can be understood as they see yet one more nail in the lid of their fisheries coffin. The reason behind the increase of inland Cormorants can be attributed in the main to three factors.

Obviously the change in the birds status under the Countryside and Wildlife legislation that removed the bird from the quarry list , where it had a bounty on its head or beak to be precise, giving it protection under the law. Times gone by when netsmen paid their netting licence with the income from the Cormorant bounty are most definitely a thing of the past.

This period of change has coincided with the huge increase in disused gravel pits that have been flooded after the aggregates, clay etcetera have been removed. The after-use of these pits has for the most part hugely benefited society in providing areas for waste disposal, energy generation, relaxation and recreation. They have also provided many areas to the benefit of wildlife and the natural environment. It is this second area that I believe to be cynically exploited by many of the huge industries involved as they abandon pits under the guise of wetland habitats saving millions on restoration and after-use commitments; all too often leaving an alien landscape populated by alien species.

This increase in water bodies from the aggregate industry has coincided with the increase demand for potable water and the demands of the population making for the construction of new reservoirs across the land. Quite rightly these water bodies have been managed to maximise their benefit to society and wildlife and for the most part the balance is well met. In both instances there have been increasing frequencies, due to the financially difficult times we are in, for many of these waters to be managed to maximise their financial income stream. The result is we are seeing reserves and wetland sites becoming theme parks to drag in the public rather than a link with the local flora and fauna they are becoming stark islands of alien habitats and species.

In an effort to attract more birds, mammals and plants to bring in the every curious Joe Public we see every effort to encourage marine species to move inland; Tern rafts, artificial island for gulls and Cormorants, shingle beaches for Plovers and the list goes on and on. If you add to these the list of alien plants that have originated and find shelter in these pits many are now a far greater threat to the local environment than an enhancement. We will not see the aggregate industry rushing forward to correct any of these imbalances; they operate in the private sector and exist to make money. To abandon a pit under the wetland habitat banner is good news, itís a get out of jail free card, green wash is easier than expensive restoration. It is the planners in the minerals and waste departments of your county councils that need to be made aware of all the implications of this apparent bonus for flora and fauna. Itís no good prior to giving planning demanding every kind of ecological survey imaginable, bats, birds, bugs, reptiles and plants to ensure they donít run over a toad as they remove millions of tons of material and then ignoring the fact the after-use of the site is completely at odds with the surrounding eco-system.

Culled Cormorant
Culled Cormorant shown to have been feeding on trout.
Cormorant barbel
and feeding on barbel.

The third factor that has added to the inland numbers has been the colonisation of the continental sub-species sinensis. This bird is recognised as an inland nesting bird on mainland Europe and has quickly moved in to exploit the habitat provided by the newly created water bodies. This is not always the case as good old carbo is more than happy to spend as much time as he can snaffling roach miles up river if heís left to his own devices and undisturbed; accounting for the majority of our visitors.

The undeniable concerns of the fishery owners and anglers have been recognised by Defra with the introduction of the licensed cull where birds are proven to be causing damage. The cull is a national policy and the percentage of the population that is to be culled spread across the entire country. It is this very national element of the policy that in itself gives rise to the most significant problems. If for simplicities sake we work on the Cormorant population being 20,000 birds and the percentage to be culled is ten percent, giving rise to a figure of 2000. Defra then receive 500 applications to shoot Cormorants, it would then appear the culled number is divided by the number of licenses giving rise to four per licence. The more licences, the fewer birds each licence will be allocated. That is a very simplistic way to look at it but not that far from reality. My four licenses allowed me to shoot nine birds and with a population of over 250 currently on the river I will have to simply resorted to shoot to scare as itís not worth me doing the paper work. To keep this number of birds on the move is almost a full time job and the more people up and downstream chasing them back to me as I chase them off means hourly visits are needed when they locate the dace shoals. Shoot to scare does work it will scare Cormorants off along with the Bewicks, Widgeon, Black-tailed godwit, Lapwing and the remnants of the White-fronted goose population. It will also take two or three hours a day and cost a fortune as we have to use Bismuth at FORTY POUNDS a box, lead being banned within the SSSI/SAC. Youíre quite right, that would be bloody ridiculous better we get half a dozen gas guns and move them about the river. The end result is the same; no Cormorants, no Bewicks, no Smew, no Ruff.......enter the Avon valley desert.

To understand how this huge local imbalance has been created we have to add a fourth factor to our previous three. That factor is Natural England and some wildlife NGOís deliberately encouraging these non-indigenous species as previously mentioned but in this instance immediately alongside an SSSI/SAC where the impact of these birds is to have enormous impact on EU designated species. In some instances locally Natural England has given these isolated artificial theme parks a similar conservation status as the entire internationally important eco-systems of the Hampshire Avon River SSSI/SAC and the Hampshire Avon Flood Plain SSSI/SAC. Muddled thinking does not adequately cover this nonsensical thinking - I will not even consider cosy funding relationships - give me a day or two and Iíll think up terms to cover it!!

Having shown the ridiculous situation that has arisen how do we get ourselves out of it? Not easy I fear. Placing the Cormorant back on the quarry list would be one way but that would require legislation through the EU and I would be very surprised if anyone in Defra is going to support that. Cormorants above the NTL (Normal Tidal Limit as shown on OS maps) could be culled to a far greater extent. Difficult to monitor and regulate so it would appear unlikely. That leaves those living and working in the valley and the current regulatory agencies to do their job and get the situation rectified.

Natural England must get on and implement the existing legislation that is in place to ensure changes of regime on and neighbouring SSSI/SACs do not encourage species that adversely impact on the SSSI/SAC designated species. IE Those that actively encourage Cormorants and other species such as Sawbill ducks onto artificially created habitats, such as disused gravel pits, that eat thousands of EU designated species salmon, bullheads, lamprey etc on SSSI are acting illegally. NE is legally obliged to protect these designated species and they must be seen to actively and more importantly effectively implement this legislation.

Environment Agency fisheries division must actively put pressure on NE to control this situation. They must monitor NEís strategy and ensure it works. It would be a good idea to make this policy transparent to the thousands of frustrated anglers who pay £24,000,000.00 (twenty four Million pounds) annually to have their fisheries protected. In fact itís more than that as we also contribute through our taxes to the meagre GIA that the EA fisheries receive; we are one of the very few pastimes that pay the government twice for our privilege to enjoy our sport. It must not be left to individuals to chase those we pay in the agencies through the hoops of Europe with complaints to the European Commissioner for the Environment.

Both NE and EA fisheries must impress on the waste and mineral planning authorities that the mineral extraction companies and the water companiesí after-use plans do not put existing eco-system in danger. The current rush from the mineral extractors to leave a wetland void must have attendant responsibilities attached to this form of after-use for a minimum of a decade. Where islands are considered desirable they must ensure they do not afford sanctuary to potentially damaging species, many aspects of the current regime are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Mineral, water companies and all major land owners and managers must ensure their policies are thoroughly thought through and their actions do not give rise to subsequent problems. Encouraging every duck, goose and brown tweetie to come and take up residence, irrespective of what or whom they adversely impact upon is definitely not a good policy. That applies to species other than Cormorants, the equally obvious Goosander roosts and the valley goose population that now approaches a thousands birds. Canada and Greylags are not indigenous to the valley, the wintering White-fronts that we used to see now winter elsewhere. Itís not really surprising when the greylags and Canadaís have already had the best of the grazing. On the old country reckoning of four geese to a sheep, four sheep to a cow we have a flock of 200 sheep or fifty cows flying up and down the valley. I bet if you looked out of your window and saw 50 of your neighbourís cows come into land on your grazing youíd have something to say about it!!

Now the role of the fishery owners and the angling community, itís no good shrieking about the "bloody cormorants" if you are not prepared to help resolve the issue. By that I donít mean dusting off the blunderbuss and heading for the river blasting anything black with feathers to kingdom come. Not only will that be illegal but you along with the irresponsible dog walkers, canoeists, ramblers and fishery managers, shooting to scare, will do more harm than good; disturbing the wildfowl and waders we are trying to encourage. Where we must change our ways is that we must take a look at this situation from the viewpoint of Phalacrocorax carbo. Why is he steadfastly determined to head inland when he should be down at the coast eating flatties, eels and sprats? It means the harbour and estuary do not offer feeding of sufficient quality to sustain his or the populations needs. Alternatively the area has been over developed and disturbance drives the birds up the rivers to find undisturbed feeding.

If we assume that NE and the EA fisheries division has played its part and the planners will prevent further sanctuaries and inland roosts being developed. To add to this we must ensure the areas of feeding down at the coast as attractive to carbo as are our parr, dace and roach. To that end we must actively support and get involved with the efforts of others to create and extend marine reserves. We must become actively involved and support the efforts of others to minimise disturbance in the harbours. At the current rate we are adding moorings and increasing access on the water and land of our remote and wild places it can only end in disturbance and disaster. Fishery owners, angling clubs and organisations must work with the planners to ensure the needs of the river are recognised and reflected in the planning decisions. If you donít inform the plannersí decisions miles away down at the coast can reflect on your fishery and livelihood no one else will.

Having said all that itís a good idea to start the process at home and ensure our actions are not contributing to disturbance or damage to delicate eco-systems. Changes to the established regime might be difficult but only through looking through the eyes of others do we sometimes see the obvious.

14th January 2011

The end of the long freeze has given the valley a lease of life as the still-waters begin to fish once more with bags of roach, bream and the odd tench and the river has at long last taken on the look of a winter stream. The high water has provided the much needed scouring of the mud, leaves and detritus collected over the long summer; I only hope the recently deposited salmon eggs are safe in their newly constructed redds. The newly flooded meadows are providing unlimited feeding for the wildfowl and waders throughout the valley. The large areas of new feeding have enabled me to drain the marsh at Hucklesbrook to give the sward a much needed chance to drain after its unseasonably long period of flooding. Should the freeze return or the high water disappear as quickly as it arrived I will have to flood the marsh once more before the next scheduled time in early February.

Flooded marsh
The flooded marsh.
The marsh drained
Drained.

I have posted below two plans of the Ibsley section of valley where we are about to undertake considerable work in an effort to get the valley SSSI back into favourable condition. The plans are self explanatory for the most part and formed part of the consent procedure with Natural England, the Forestry Authority and New Forest District Council, due to a small part of the area being a local authority conservation area. It will involve the felling of most of the very large trees that we have become accustomed to, which will inevitably bring about considerable change to the long accustomed views we treasure. Many of the largest willows have to be felled for health and safety reasons as I am sure you are aware of their disturbing habit of falling over which they have adopted of late. I understand the concerns this will give rise to and will ensure our work will not only be in the best interests of the valley but that of the river. The cover will not be removed from the channel as it has in other areas where this work has been undertaken, we will retain many pollards to provide the character and beauty of the valley.

Ibsley felling plan Ibsley felling plan

The Ibsley felling plans.

In recent years the valley has in many areas been left to its own devices with this uncontrolled growth of willow car creating impenetrable thickets with little habitat value for the creatures of the valley we wish to encourage. These self set willow and alders have encroached and closed down the open nature of the floated meadows from Bickton to the sea. Photos of the valley taken during the early and middle part of the last century show a valley with clear lines from Ringwood to Ibsley. This was the period when the Avon was considered to be at its zenith for both coarse and game fishing so we have a very well defined target to meet.

Initially the area will look devastated but have patience, within a surprisingly short time we will see the scars disappear and the river return to its magical best. I will record our progress and answer concerns that will inevitably arise

6th January 2011

Iíve been busy looking for spawning salmon and unfortunately getting very wet in the process. Todayís rain and low light levels meant spotting was almost impossible and fishing blind in the hope of contacting with the fish we wanted, futile. Apart from the virtual impossibility of catching what we wanted I do not get satisfaction from thrashing the water to froth in such a forlorn hope so I spent what time I had walking in the hope of spotting the bow waves of fighting cock fish. Iím not sure whether the fish felt this flush of dirty water coming and went into hiding, running mode and disappeared upstream or whether they have simply finished down here with us. I havenít spoken to Jon Bass to discover if the targeted number of eggs has been achieved but I hope theyíre close as I donít see much else happening down here in the middle river to add to the numbers. I have to admit the time I have spent wandering the river I have enjoyed immensely, even today in the pouring rain, itís never a hardship to walk the banks of the Avon. I have also gained much needed encouragement from the size of the fish cutting the twenty or so good redds I have spotted during my travels. I would estimate ninety percent were multi-sea winter fish with several very big fish indeed busy with their procreative activities. I know that similarly large fish have been seen up on the higher river so all we need to do now is copy Stewart Allumís success up on North-end last May and find them when they arrive on the beats. I have seen some wonderful sights and met some good people; itís been a well spent week.

On the bird front there are several species about that itís well worth keeping an eye open for. The Bitterns are still about as is the Great-white egret even that White-tailed eagle is somewhere close at hand it gets spotted every couple of days but no one appears to know just where itís spending the majority of its time so definitely keep a sky watch if you are out in the Burley, Sway direction. The Black-tailed godwits are back on the floated meadow at Hucklesbrook, along with the Widgeon and Teal that still appear to appreciate my efforts in keeping it flooded. The Kingfishers seem to have survived the record low temperatures of December but I fear the Cettiís are very quiet. I only hope the remaining three months of winter are kind to us and we donít go back into the freezer mode.

The cold spell has given rise to several interesting questions or possibilities? Following on from last years return to the more recognisable winters of old we have enjoyed a remarkable increase in parr numbers on the estate. Might we hope for a repeat occurrence this summer and could it be the cold water, we have recorded temperatures just above two degrees C, helps kill off many organisms and bacteria harmful to parr? Conversely I have a concern about the impact of the freeze on the lakes in that it has to be remembered the carp are not used to the low temperatures and might suffer. I havenít seen any losses or signs of distress yet but the fingers are firmly crossed we have come through the first prolonged cold spell without ill effect. It wont be for several months, as the water warms, that gas filled carcasses would start appearing so we have an anxious month or two ahead. I take heart from the fish or two that have been landed since the freeze at least proving some of them have come through unscathed and hungry.

Finally I just had to post the photo below, sent to me by John Beckett, long-time colleague on the WSRT committee. The photo was sent to him by Janet Fitzjohn, taken whilst out walking on Harnham Water Meadows when she spotted this ambitious chap.


Heron eating a large pike

Definately a case of the "biter bit" despite the size of this pike I'm told the Heron managed to get it down, flying off afterwards proved somewhat difficult but I'm not really surprised at that!!

4th January 2011

Well the photos of the chub have arrived and I must thank Richie Martin for sending them through, brilliant fish I'll let the photos taken on Richie's mobile do the talking.

Richie Martin 7.4 chub Mick Milborrow

Firstly congratulations to Richie 7.4 (on the left) and Mick Milborrow 8.2 for a pair of cracking fish. Richie also tells me that he along with Mick, Tom Sampson and Mike Fuget have had fifteen big chub in the last day or two with six going over six pounds; I reckon under any conditions thats great fishing.

I did managed a pair of salmon for the hatchery scheme and the shots below show some of the techniques involved for Jon Bass in safely stripping the eggs ensuring non are lost.

Stripping a hen salmon Prep'ing the cock fish Taking his details Milt and eggs mixed
The stages up until the anaesthetised hen is stripped of her eggs are relatively straight forward, the most important part ensuring no water mixes with the eggs. Once the eggs are in the container collecting the milt from the cock fish gets underway. Once more the fish is anaesthetised and dried to minimise the risk from water starting the hardening process of the eggs and spoiling fertilisation. After the milt is collected and the details of the fish are recorded the fish is returned and the milt and ova are mixed. Given fifteen or twenty minutes to ensure fertilisation the eggs are rinsed and left to hydrate and harden for a couple of hours to enable them to be safely moved to the hatchery.

3rd January 2011

I've been out and about today looking in on the salmon to see how they are progressing and I think we have sufficient fish now cutting with us to ensure that our suitable shallows are seeded with the next generation of salmon. I think I have found about twenty pairs of fish either cutting or completed their spawning which will hopefully equate to a number of eggs in the region 100,000. I'd like to think that the gravel we have on the estate is of a sufficiently good order to allow those eggs to hatch and the fry and parr to get their first fin-hold on life. If numbers surviving from last year that were present during the autumn are any indication it certainly suits a good number of them.

As with yesterday there have been good numbers of anglers out again who have for the most part struggled in the low clear river with odd chub and grayling making up the bulk of the catch. I did hear of one or two roach and dace and I was also informed of some super catches from earlier in the week. I have seen the pix on a mobile of some huge chub and when, as promised, they are emailed through I will put them up on these pages; fish in excess of eight pounds so magic stuff.

Large dead pike Salmon killed by otter

The first shot is self explanatory in that it is obviously a very dead,very large pike. There was no obvious cause of death, no chunks missing etc, lets hope it was just plain old age and not a handling error. The second shot is also obviously a very dead salmon, an otter casualty from last night I fear. If you look very closely you can just see the clean gravel of the redd he was taken from, its inevitable that we will loose one or two to otters but lets hope enough remain to sustain the stocks through this very challenging period.

2nd January 2011

I have returned from celebrating the arrival of the New Year in Wales which for me was a trip down memory lane; to the 70ís and internationals at Cardiff Arms Park. It wasnít the rugby or the now Millennium Stadium but the disproportionate volume of alcohol that Cardiff seems to have available!

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

Cutting salmon

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

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

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

Tufted duck on the river

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