Thankfully there are now one or two salmon in the system, with two or three being bumped off it was left to Mike Hornsby to put our second of the year on the bank in the shape of a bright sixteen pounder. Unfortunately I was not able to get down to assist in the landing but thankfully I wasn't required. Great result Mike, many congratulations, delighted to see it came to the fly and a just reward for your efforts. Thanks also to Paul Greenacre who sent through the shots above, taken from the far bank showing the full process of landing, releasing and the effect!
The quiet slacks and ditches are full of fry, most of which looks like minnow as it is a little early to see this years coarse fish juveniles showing up in the sanctuaries. The yellow background silhouetting the fry in the first shot is a large koi that has been present with the resident group of carp in this section for at least tens years. Along with this fish there was a yellow mirror carp the two of which always makes finding this shoal a great deal easier. The carp in the lake that have been spawning for three days seem to be nearing the end of their current efforts. I expect they will lay up and become a great deal harder to catch as they get over their exertions. The barbel have also been up on the shallows starting their spawning season. With the water temperature nearing 14 degrees if the warm weather continues the barbel and chub should have finished their spawning long before the start of the season.
Paul Shutler rang today to say he had landed a fish down at the Royalty and another fish had been landed the day before. Jon Bass was out installing his temperature loggers and also spotted a salmon in the weir pool at Ringwood. Fingers crossed they are the start of a run of 2SW Summer fish that are arriving on the building tides we are currently experiencing.
The yellow flags are looking fine in the margins as the carp get on with their spawning oblivious to the overhead beauty.
The carp were in full spawning mode in the bright sunshine this morning.
All the resident birds are now well into their breeding season with one of the Blackbirds in our back garden now with its second brood close to fledging. The Lapwing in the valley have several broods that are hatched and feeding in the water meadows. Tonight as I drove home across the park a Great White Egret was feeding beside Park Pool. Despite the disruptive late flood things look well in the valley at the moment.
Brenda of warbler fame has found several Reed Warblers already with eggs making a good start for their nesting season. At least three pairs of our established Swifts are back in the nest boxes and the first pair to inspect the Swift cabinet on the end of the house arrived this evening. As yet we have no Swifts in residence in the cabinet only a couple of Pipistrelle bats and a House Sparrow that can defy gravity and fly vertically. Tonight's inspecting pair also had to contend with one of our resident Starlings doing his best to intercept them when ever they attempted to gain access. Hopefully domestic issues will sort themselves out and they will all settle down to live alongside each other.
The first roe kid of the year that unusually the doe allowed to be seen in full view and not tucked away in the undergrowth. This doe is used to our coming and going about the estate and would appear to be relaxed about our presence.
Despite the over night frosts and cold wind that has blown for the last day or two the valley creeps toward summer. The first Brown Argus of the year that along with a couple Small Copper braved the elements to seek out the sheltered spots in the sunshine. The righthand pic is one of two Downy Emerald dragonfly that also appeared today settling just long enough for a poor record shot. More than can be said for the Hairy dragonflies that refused to land where I could find them. I guess its no accident that the earliest dragonflies are covered in hair and down, hence their names, evolutions definitely no mug with our current night time temperatures. The middle photo is a great shot of Chris Ball enjoying the results of his efforts with one of five fine commons in a recent short afternoon session. The lakes continue to produce some great fish if in a slightly more eratic fashion, which can probably be blamed on the sudden drop in temperature. Thanks for the report and photo Chris, good news always very much appreciated.
Long term readers will have seen this scene before as it constitutes what is probably my favourite pool, at my favourite time of year, in the Avon valley. If I could bottle the essence of this scene I would be a wealthy man beyond imagination. I didn't arrive this evening unto after eight o'clock and fished for little more than half an hour. I didn't even see a salmon let alone land one but the evening can only be described as wonderful. With the wind dropping and the emergence of myriads of hatching flies, standing with the sound of the bells of St Peter and St Paul's, travelling on the still air from the mile south, it was the perfect English summer evening in the water meadows. The Cuckoo calling over the warbler and Reed Bunting backing track just added to the magic.
One or two other goings-on worthy of recording, the first being a shot of some of the Mockbeggar commons lazing away the day. I always enjoy seeing the fish totally relaxed and stress free despite the season being well under way. The middle shot is one of several broods of Canada Geese that have appeared in recent days. Always a concern that they will over graze the wild flower meadows I will have to keep an eye on them to ensure they are not damaging the delicate balance that supports our butterfly population. The final shot of a beautiful, very pregnant Slow-worm that I moved out of harms way when the grass was being cut.
At last, for those of us that have almost forgotten what one looks like, this is the first salmon of the year at Somerley. If it were up to me I would have Stephen cannonized, I don't think I have ever been so pleased to see a salmon. Congratulations Stephen, without doubt the best news of the weekend.
A brave Green Veined White seeking shelter from Storm Hannah.
Despite the best efforts of the storm the lakes continue to fish well and the river continues its refusal to give up any of its salmon. As part of today's bird count I visited the marsh that is looking well now it has recovered from its unseasonal flood. The Lapwing have moved back in and appear to have re-established their territories whilst a pair of Little Ringed Plover are looking as if they are staking a claim to one of the exposed areas of drying mud. The cock bird alarm calling whilst the hen continued sitting tight as I walked within five meters of her. The lefthand photo shows the southern section of the northern marsh currently a blaze of colour with the Kingcups in full bloom. Whilst on the right, the middle section where we have several splashes continuing to provide rich feeding for the waders.
Not rare but unusual in this area is the Bogbean that can be found in profusion in the north marsh. A tea made from its leaves supposedly good for headaches, which has to be worth a try if it saves on my consumption of Anadin Extra!
Several of these shots are duplicates of earlier entries. I do this as I use this blog as a record of events and a week between photos at this time of year can record important differences to the subject. The Saxifrage is now at its peak and the photo better records the numbers without the confusion of daisies the earlier shot included. The Kingcups provide a closer view of the current growth.
A couple of odd shots, the first being a definitely dead, dehydrated frog. Frozen, or more accurately dried in time, not the most interesting you might think, unless of course it is a sign of things to come! The second is a shot of an invasive water fern, Azolla filiculoides that can be found about the Avon valley. Interesting plant with all sorts of claims made about it, fastest growing plant on the planet that derives all its nitrogen requirement directly from the atmosphere. Shades out light from large areas of water and draws down CO2 from the atmosphere thus helping prevent global warming. You never know, when the human population of the planet ends up looking like our frog this plant may thrive and clean up the planet for the era of the next species to dominate the earth!!
Our current lack of salmon has been giving me obvious cause for concern and I thought I might just have a peak at the records to see if this frustrating lack of fish has occurred before on the Avon. I didn't have to look that far to find we are yet to set any new records for latest date for the first fish of the year. I believe it was 2001 when the first fish came on the 3rd of May. I personally took our first fish on the 13th of April back in the mid 90's so late starts have been seen before. On both the mentioned years the final totals were pretty depressing in the region of a couple of dozen fish. I certainly have everything I can firmly crossed at the moment, in the hope of seeing a fish in the coming week to avoid entering new territory.
The sad fact about these late starts is that we are no wiser as to why they should occur, despite twenty five years to find answers. I have looked at the conditions that have brought about our current dearth of fish and can see little to provide firm answers but plenty of further questions. Up until this point in the season we would normally have expected to see the 3SW fish being caught. Just why they have failed to show may be linked to conditions at the time they were cut into the redds. Three sea winter fish that should be with us now would have been spawned in late 2014 early 2015, smolt in April 2016, grilse July 2017, 2SW summer fish May 2018, arriving as 3SW with us at the current time. The 2014 season wasn't one to write home about with just a couple of dozen fish being caught. Did this indicate a low adult return, insufficient to provide enough eggs to meet the conservation target and a support a sustainable population? January 2015, immediately on the completion of spawning saw floods spreading across the width of the valley. Did this sudden rise in water scour the loose gravel in the redds, that hadn't sufficient time to consolidate, sending the eggs swirling out into the flow? Did that rise in water bring with it the redd clogging accumulation of summer's silt and detritus? Depriving ova and alevin of sufficient flow and oxygen? The slightly concerning element of this is that the following winter also brought high water that might have effected the 2SW summer fish that should be with us any time soon. More crossing of digits in the hope of a change in our fortunes.
Spring in the birch woods is always a favourite time of year. That is of particular relevance this year as we thinned this wood a couple of years ago and its pleasing to see how well it has settled down since our activities. The extra light that has filtered down through the canopy has seen an explosion of honeysuckle understory to the extent that some areas are completely covered. It would be an added bonus should the White Admirals discover this abundant food source. The young rabbit is one of several dozen that can be seen about the place, hopefully indicating a recovering population after the devastation caused by the haemorrhagic disease and mxyi. The final shot is an interesting subject in that there is great debate about the burning of heather on the northern Grouse moors with the anti shooting lobby claiming huge ecological damage. That said we have the Forestry Commission and the National Trust adopting a similar scorched earth policy across the entire New Forest, I must have missed the public outcry down here!
The carp have been on form this weekend with some great catches and fine fish being landed. Thanks to Dave Watkins for the photo of the lovely mirror, good to see one or two on the bank at last. The Cuckoo Pint, or Lords and ladies, is one of the more bizarre plants to be found throughout the woodland at the moment. The Mandarin Drake is one of six that were sat about the lakes today. Many of the ducks are sitting on eggs at present leaving the drakes to gather in small flocks to await the arrival of the broods.
Bits and bobs from about the place as I spent a great deal of the day throwing people off both the river and the lakes. Its certainly a full blown, sunny, bank holiday weekend, the idiots are abroad in force. The first photo is another shot of what I now know to be the Alder Leaf Beetles, Tony was quite correct. I was a little unsure of the identification due to it being deemed extremely rare and only ten years ago considered extinct in the UK. As well as Tony, I would like to thank Bob Chapman of the Blashford reserve who confirmed the ID for me, also Mark Knight of the Surrey Wildlife Trust who emailed to point out its history. All I can say is that its made an extraordinary recovery, there are literally tens of thousands of them about the lakes. They are defoliating many of the alders and are flying by in such numbers you risk swallowing them if you open your mouth. The middle shot is the first Goosander brood of the year, out enjoying another huge Grannom hatch this evening. Finally a solitary bee with what must be one of the finest names in the animal world, its a female, Hairy-footed Flower Bee. Basically it looked like a jet propelled bumblebee as it zoomed about the cowslip flower heads.
My first Common Carder Bumblebee of the year was also on the wing today enjoying the sunshine.
Finally thanks to Kevin Styles for this lovely shot of this evenings grannom. It is one of Nature's wonders to stand amid the millions of insects as they head upstream in a constant stream to lay their eggs.
I'm always pleased to see the Wheatears as they return from the wintering migration. They always look well turned out, not a feather out of place a real smarty. The ploughing is Kevin preparing for the cover crops that always provide such vital winter feed for many of the finches that over winter with us. The final shot is a poor attempt at trying to capture the millions of Grannom that were pouring upstream this evening. The hatch has been building over recent days with vast numbers providing a fine spectacle this evening.
The Meadow Saxifrage is now in full bloom and looking well. The Valley meadows are starting to look their best with the kingcups out on mass, combined with the dead nettles and dandelions are providing a better nectar flow than the lakes at the moment.
Common Storksbill in bright patches around the lakes, a beautiful and often overlooked little flower. As for yesterday's beetle it would seem the clue was in the photo in that they are Alder Leaf Beetles and they are sat on an alder leaf in the shot. Thanks to Tony Crisp for enlightening me, having looked them up last year when they were out in force around Kings-Vincents.
Worthy of a further picture in that the cowslips are always a delight to see in the early spring and they are looking particularly well this year. The second photo is of a neighbouring piece of woodland that last week was a sea of bluebells about to flower. That was before the cattle broke in through the tatty Commission fence and stripped the wood of anything resembling grass. Recent weeks have seen hundreds of animals turned out on the forest for the grazing, unfortunately there's nothing out there for them to eat so they are pushing the boundaries in an effort to find food. The cattle involved in stripping the wood eventually pushed their way through to the adjoining school playing fields where the inch of mown grass looked like a banquet compared to the pickings available to them on the forest. Some of the ponies the knacker wouldn't buy, they look so rough, still they're all eligible for the subsidy! The beetles because they are! just what they are I wouldn't like to say for certain, Blue mint perhaps but whatever they are there are lots of them about at present. First Cuckoo and singing Reed Warbler today, if this wretched wind would get out of the north and back to a southerly direction it would almost seem like spring.
The first Egyptian Goose brood of the year and it looks as if she has ten to care for. If the dozen or so pairs we have currently nesting all have such large broods we will be over-run at the end of the summer. This particular pool is just a couple of acres and it has five pairs of Little Grebe, a couple of pairs of Coot plus Mallard, Gadwall and we still have six or seven Shoveler enjoying its isolation. The second shot shows some of the Little Ringed Plover that are also using the area and if you look in the background a Lapwing on her nest. Its little wonder they are having such a hard time of it at present, this bird is completely out in the open with not a stick of cover for twenty or thirty meters in any direction.
A couple of lovely shots of Mark Collins with a thirty plus and a great looking mid twenty. I have to admit to something of a paucity of fishy shots on here of late that hopefully these will go some way to make up for. Its not through lack of fish or photos as the end of the river coarse season and the opening of Mockbeggar couldn't have gone better. Quite the opposite in that I have some wonderful fish shots that one day I will put together as a measure of this amazing valley. Thanks to Mark for the pix of his latest captures, that's a great way to open your account on a difficult water, congratulations, well deserved.
The misty start on Tuesday and I called at the marsh first thing to check on the water levels. Whilst the water levels are fallling nicely it was the Great White Egret that proved the most notable. Getting late in the year for the egrets to still be with us, perhaps pointing to the day when they stay and breed.
We seem to have a healthy Grass Snake population about the lakes at the moment yet the adders seem to have disappeared. I didn't see a single adder last year, which is of concern as they are struggling in some parts of their range. I don't know why they might have declined, perhaps our Buzzards, who we see regularly carrying snakes although I can't say they were adders. Our badgers enjoy digging up the eco-piles where our reptiles may well spend their winter, or it may simply be climate or habitat. I would be disappointed if it were habitat as the areas of south facing clearings, with suitable cover has been increased quite dramatically. Whatever the reason should any of the syndicate spot one during their visits please let me know. Don't be concerned about their presence from a safety perspective they will hide as soon as they hear your approach. Even if bitten, for an adult, it's not overly dangerous if somewhat dramatic as the technicolour bruising is quite spectacular. Having said that I don't recommend sharing a bivvy with one, Geoff W will know the background to that!
The cold light of dawn, a beautiful time of day if a degree or two below what we might wish to see.
If you want a depressing day try looking after a private length of the Avon Valley. Out comes the sun and out come those that are above English Common Law and having to respect the rights of others, joggers, birdwatchers, cyclists are obviously covered by that description as they go where they wish 'cause, "They are doing no harm" It doesn't help the moral that despite the river being in perfect condition for salmon fishing with plenty of water, good viz, decent water temperature and a spring tide, we are not seeing any salmon. Why is that? What are the reasons why no fish? You might well ask, the questions to ask are exactly the same questions we were asking the regulators almost thirty years ago in the late eighties and early nineties. During the intervening thirty years there has been absolutely no conclusive evidence provided to point to the cause, as there has been no sound science undertaken to establish the facts. Lots of hypothesis and guess work, mostly aimed at fence sitting and protection of empires. Millions of public money and fishing licence fees expended and not one jot closer to understanding our problems. Its high seas mortality from food sources moving further north with the North Atlantic Thermocline, interbreeding with farmed fish, high seas exploitation, pick any three from ten. They'll tell us they know how many fish enter our river and spend hundreds of thousands collating that information to meet their own self set targets. Whilst they're busy working out the 'conservation target' the fisheries they have a statutory obligation to maintain, improve and develop are going down the pan. Despite public money and licence incoming funding the fish counter, stuck in the bloody weir at the bottom of the Avon, the EA will not release any information to the fisheries in case we over exploit the stock. Jesus Christ, what fucking one watt thought that idea up. The chance would be a fine thing, if we suddenly start catching dozens of fish as a result of EA fisheries actually trying to be helpful I'm sure we would act to control such massive exploitation. Its seems to be beyond the capabilities of the EA to provide live information despite counters around the world managing it. Its not validated I hear them cry. Well deary me, we'll just have to group together to amass sufficient intelligence to work that out for ourselves! I told you, its not been a good day!
My sea trip having been cancelled, due to bad weather off Portland, it provided me with the opportunity to take a closer look at the impact this week's rain has had on the breeding waders up on the north marsh. Despite the distraction of the blaze of yellow provided by the kingcups it didn't take long to realise the flood has been a total disaster for the early nesting Lapwing and Redshank. Where those kingcups are now in a foot of water had been dry with over twenty Lapwing establishing territories just four days ago. This morning, just four Lapwing looking less than impressed, sat out on the edge of the flood, it really is a case of fingers crossed the water level drops quickly enough for the birds to rear a second brood. On a brighter note the meadow saxifrage that covers one of the banks close to the marsh is beginning to flower, a few days of warmer weather and the bank will have a white cloak. The white death, in the form of the gulls, just send me back into the depths of despair when it comes to the protection of our rivers. The wretched things are breeding over on the nearby nature reserve, where they have been encouraged to establish a colony. Today they were destroying the up-wing fly hatch that was struggling to lift off the surface of the river. The same up-wing and invertebrates our EU designated species depend on for their food and survival. The press and the conservation world have just woken up to the fact our pollinators are in serious decline all getting themselves worked up about the latest science and seeking funds on the back of it to support their empires. If they had bothered to listen a decade ago they might have realised the decline of the riverine up-wings and invertebrate life was an early warning to the fate of the pollinators. The poisonous broth pumped into our rivers by the water companies and farming world proving too much for the delicate riverine life cycles. Add hugely increased levels of predation of the emerging adults just about signals the death knell for the few remaining upwings. What are our illustrious regulators doing about this change of regime on an SSSI? In the words of one internationally reknown fisheries expert, "Sitting with their thumbs up their arses"
After yesterday's downpour we awoke this morning with the north marsh flooded once more. After having drained the water off the marsh and drying it out a fortnight ago the waders had started their nesting and I'm afraid very few will have survived this unexpected flood. The water was already dropping by lunchtime and they will all try again when they are once more able to get back onto the fields.
Despite our Romney ewes being hardy and preferring to lamb outside, expecting them to deal with yesterday's weather was asking a little too much. Phil fitted the new arrivals with coats to fend off the worst of the rain and keep up their body warmth. I have to say that this was as good a use for plastic macs as I could imagine, they felt as warm as toast when you picked them up. The one use plastic will obviously be properly disposed of when no longer required, always assuming we can catch the little beggars that is! Just where this little beauty arrived from we don't know, she certainly fits the description of being the blacksheep of the family!
Whilst the weather of the last couple of days has been an absolute shocker April arrived in a far more civilised fashion. Lunchtime on the first saw warm sunshine and clear skies to welcome the start of the butterfly counting season. The Orange-tip was one of half a dozen flying about the lakes along with at least seven other species.
A few more shots from the more welcoming start of the week. The common dog violets are the food source of the beautiful fritillary butterflies and pleasingly their numbers are increasing around the lakes. The Long-tailed Tit is one of probably half a dozen pairs nesting in the brambles we so carefully cultivate at Mockbeggar and the ever popular primrose that along with the Cowslips are also doing well.
Pile Pool left bank, all we need now is for the fish to turn up!
Phil sent me the photo of our first lambs of the year this evening, making for a lovely end for the day. Earlier I had spotted this chap in the nettles, which I believe is the caterpillar of the Scarlet Tiger moth that we see in the river valley in June and July.
Below is the lower half of the Ibsley to Harbridge section I promised the other day. Fished steadily it will provide you with three and a half to four hours of fishing without having to cover the same piece of water twice.
We finished at Lower Cabbage in the entry on the 19th, from the tail of which you walk back to the point of the bend to fish down Harbridge Bend. A unique section of water running both north and south either side of the narrow peninsula that runs out to the head of the pool. Very close to breaking throughjust downstream of Lower Cabbage to form an oxbow and completely change the course of the river. Once around the tight bend at the head you will find a seat, which is the point to begin fishing down the pool. The first 50m is deep and turblent beneath your feet with a smooth glide on the far bank on the inside of the bend. The fish lie from mid stream to the far bank, in the smooth, shallower water. As the glide finishes you are still upstream of the fence that bisects the pool. Fish on down to the fence where fish have come from random spots with nothing proving very reliable. There is a lie mid river, fifteen to twenty meters downstream the fence. Presentation is difficult due to the fence, which is best described as inventive, incorporating a large pallet that proves awkward to pass. Take your time and cover this lie well before fishing on down the pool, where a fish may come from any point, particularly the deep water below your feet.
Walk on downstream from the tail of Harbridge Bend a couple of hundred meters until opposite the high bank, which is about halfway down Woodside Pool. The head of the pool is unfishable due to tree cover and woody debris that has slipped from the bank opposite. The middle section of the pool is difficult due to overhanging trees making accurate casting a must. The final ash tree overhanging just upstream of the hatch gates on the far bank is a home to a good lie. It requires considerable care to cover this lie without disaster in the form snagging the tree. Carefully under the tree and cover the water as it seperates and glides through the gates. On to the short tail which is probably the best chance of a fish with the fly.
The glide at the tail of Woodside is replaced by broken shallow water that runs down to Harbridge Corner. Not actually the head of the pool but fish do lie in the water and it is worth fishing. Unfortunately our tenant has a further example of his inventive fencing with a pallet and barbed wire making access and fishing a little tricky under the conditions we are experiencing at the moment. If you are feeling brave and have the time you can wade much of this run making presentation easier than the dealing with the fence stakes. Care must be taken if a fish is hooked and runs downstream to the corner as you will be unable to follow due to the trees on the bank. Once you have either fished or by-passed this run head on around the trees and over the stile, ignoring the first thirty or forty meters of eddying pool. Once the flow has settled and returned to its downstream passage begin fishing the short fifty meter tail. Difficult to get down to the fish deep on the inside but the tail, alongside the inception of the small stream regularly holds fish. Thats it tens pools all worth fishing for that elusive fish of a lifetime, good luck.
One other point of note today was the presence of a White Stork down at the bottom end of the estate at Lifelands. Unfortunately I failed to see it and should any reader be out and about and spot it in the next day or two please give me a call as I would like to catch up with it.
I make no apology for putting up more shots of the birdlife currently using the marsh. The marsh habitat is the result of twenty years of trial and error as we, filled, dug, drained and blocked ditches, along with scrapes and bunds we have at last something the bird world seems to appreciate. NE have been very much onside as we have played with stocking density, to eliminate sedge grass and try and get away from monoculture silage. It may look untidy when compared with a mown hay field but it has also remained a very productive livestock grazing area. Nature is naturally untidy in an effort to introduce diversity of cover and food for its creatures to survive. As a wildfowl and wader habitat I think you will have to go a long way to find better.
Starting top left with two of at least five Water Pipit that were finding plenty to keep them occupied in the shallows. A few of the thirty plus Black-tailed Godwit present and two of the three Little Ringed Plover. The swimming Snipe was part of a larger number, presumably passing through on their way north to their nest sites. There are six in that shot with well over fifty within twenty meters of that group. Fingers crossed some will stay with us to attempt nesting as they did last year. A general view north up the marsh, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, GWE, BTG, Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Gadwall, Shoveler and at least one Garganey drake, a wildfowl wonderland. Trying to work out just what is up there is remarkably difficult as I don't flush them and the largest area of splashes is hidden behind the standing vegetation. Just how successful they will be in getting their young to fledge remains to be seen. They exist in a far more hostile environment than in the valley's heyday when Crows, Jackdaws, foxes etc were controlled by the half dozen keepers that the estate employed. I put up the next shot of the Redshank as it is a ringed bird. Unfortunately too distant to read but I will make inquiries to see if anyone is ringing Redshank locally. Along the bottom and it looks as if we will be seeing more Oystercatchers juveniles about once again this year, they have been successful for several years over on the lakes. A Green Sandpiper, a pair of Gadwall and one of at least five pairs of Redshank that were present. A simply stunning show.
One other area where the habitat that has been created on the estate is proving highly successful is that which surrounds the lakes. This has been managed with the needs of pollinators and insects as the primary objective and after my trip up to the marsh I had a walk around one of the lakes, where I photographed the Red-tailed bumblebee queen above. In today's sunshine it was a delight to be out and I was obviously not alone judging by the number of butterflies and bumblebees out seeking the early pollen. Five species and over thirty individual butterflies with seventeen bumblebee queens also out seeking nests and nutrition. The Brambling are obviously moving back north to their nesting sites with several high in the trees being quite vocal. Definitely a good day to be outdoors enjoying the arrival of Spring. With the floated meadow marsh habitat and the surrounds of the lakes both are designed to meet the requirements of our wildlife and vitally importantly, they are both economically independent. Neither rely on charity or handouts to succeed, one is supported by the fishery the other by the hundred plus head of beef that graze the fields. They form a natural part of the everyday rural working environment.
A reminder to the salmon rods in that the weirpool at Ringwood is fishable again this year. I dropped in today and trimmed the reeds that had sprung back up now the flow has dropped and taken the pressure off them. The pool is only a shadow of its former glory due to the continued bungled management of the weir hatches but that said it is still worth fishing when the fish are running. The first twenty meter section from the gates is turbulent and dificult to fish on the inside. The middle has a reduced flow due to the fish counter, that never worked, drawing less water and worth fishing despite the difficulties. Once you get halfway to the small sycamore the water begins to sort itself out, smooths and presents well. Unfortunately the section between the sycamore and the croy is now very shallow and only with a floating line, or in the highest water is it fishable. The most promising section is mid river, out from the croy. It is important to start fishing at least twenty meters upstream of the croy to fish the drop off immediately inline with the leading edge. No longer a holding pool in conditions such as we are enjoying at present are probably your best chance of a fish. A 20+ fish was landed at Bisterne yesterday and a good fish lost with us, so there are fish in the system, good luck.
I have been draining the North Marsh over the last couple of days to enable a flush of grass to establish for the summer grazing. Plenty of water remains on the meadows keeping the wildfowl and waders happy, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Snipe, Lapwing with many more than I shall list here. The Lapwing are already nesting and hopefully the Redshank will soon join them, the Godwit will soon move back to the coast or fly north and the Curlew will also head for their nest sites that may well be close by in the New Forest. Unfortunately the Crow population will probably deal with the majority of the juveniles so fingers crossed the thicker soft rush on the east side of the marsh will provide them sufficient cover for one or two to hide away and survive.
I said I would put up another one of the beat descriptions and with the weather looking a little more user friendly I spent and hour looking at the top half of the walk from Ibsley down to Harbridge Corner. In actual fact I only made it half way down the beat before having to head off elsewhere but I will get the lower pools recorded in the near future. It totals over a thousand meters of fishing and about a dozen pools that take between three and a half and four hours to fish through.
To fish this section I strongly recommend you park within the estate in the Fool's Corner car park. Not only is the parking more secure it makes the walk back to the car at the end of the day less daunting. Over the Harbridge Stream and follow the path diagonally across the field to the head of Ibsley pool. For new members it is the first pool downstream of the main weir pool. Not as you may think the weir pool itself, remembering of course that the weir pool is out of bounds and not to be fished. Only a short pool of barely fifty meters but good running water when the water height is high. From the head of Ibsley Pool the first twenty or thirty meters are turbulent and deep on the inside. Fish do hold here but presenting a fly is extremely difficult off the right bank. Once the water begins to shallow up the glides toward the tail are where the fish are normally to be found. As the water height drops fish often drop back over the broken shallows at the tail, into the head of Tizard's pool, just upstream of the ninety degree bend.
Tizard's is a difficult pool, if the fish aren't in the shallow head water getting around the sharp bend and through the deep hole on the inside makes presentation tricky. Fish have historically come from the far bank run that is fast water, making it difficult to get down to the fish. The tail is short and fast where once the water clears summer fish can often be seen laying mid stream. For reasons best known to themselves they seem reluctant to take the fly in the fast water. I have seen fish taken on the Mepp and prawn but only follows and come short to the fly. It may just be the luck of the day and I always fish through this water in the hope that fish are there and today will prove the exception. Out of the tail and you will need to by-pass the fry bay before reaching the next pool just beyound the hedge. It doesn't have a name so for want of anything better we'll call it the 'Gate' as there is a rusting field gate stuck in the brambles at the head of the pool.
Deep on the inside, being continually eroded on the outside of the bend, before coming up into a long shallow tail. The most likely taking spot just downstream of where the trees end on the opposite bank but this long shallow run all the way down to Provost's Hole always looks good in high water. I did take a summer fish probably forty meters down the tail making a favourite spot always worth a cast if weed and flow permit. Once past the stile the run down to Provost, which is just beside the seat, is deep and boilie on the inside but the fly does lay naturally in the crease of the flow, some third of the way across the river. This water was traditionally fished with an ounce of lead with a paternostered wooden Devon Minnow. It ws deemed one of the most prolific pools on the Avon in its hey day but has struggled to live up to that reputation in recent years. Whether down to the fact the water is difficult with the fly or the fish no longer lay there remains to be proven but always fish it a deep and slowly as you can in the hope of finding the key to cracking this section.
Provost's Hole and the run down to Cabbage Garden on teh opposite bank. It all looks great at the moment but always tricky but worth covering as it does turn up good fish.
Middle and Lower Cabbage. The lower section and further text to follow.
The river coarse season is now behind us and the weather forecast for the day has said the wind is going to drop and the sun come out. Sounds perfect, I'll dig out the salmon rod and get the casting refreshed for an hour or two. The river looks well, in that it has plenty of water and a reasonable colour making it perfect for running fish. Hopefully the season will now get under way and we can find a fish or two and start to go through the pools with a little more confidence. That said, as I reached the river and reached for the rod bag the skies clouded over and a hail squall arrived of sufficient severity to force me back into the truck. With more dark clouds on the horizon my enthusiasm took a distinct downturn and fishing was suspended. As I was up at the top end of the estate I took the opportunity to visit the marsh, just to see what was about, having at the back of my mind the car park is within easy reach.
There were still plenty of birds about, Pintail, Great White Egret and fifty Coot. The Lapwing are now in full display mode busy protecting their claim.
It was pleasing to see the Curlew were still with us nine calling as they drifted about the marsh. For such a large bird their camouflage is remarkably effective with the dead grass a as a backdrop. The emerging Kingcups make for a glimpse of Spring ahead but do little to provide more cover.
A Marsh Harrier was quartering the marsh and reduced the Coot numbers by one as she drop onto one attempting to hide in the soft rush. I say she as I believe it was a female with quite prominent yellow plumage on the leading edge coverts on the wings. There have been two and possible a third here over the winter but today's single put on fine show.
I headed down to the bottom end of the estate at Lifelands at lunchtime in a last ditch effort to finish the river coarse season in style. Unfortunately I was blown off the bank, not even lasting an hour. Calling in at Ibsley this evening I was hoping to find a little shelter nowhere near any trees. I found the ideal spot, fishing in the shelter of the reeds in a perfect Mr Crabtree, Avon eddy. I did manage to finish the season with one of our magnificent chub and I couldn't be more delighted with the way the season has gone. I put the fact I look tired, battered and knackered down to trying to fish in a gale, I just hope I don't look that rough all the time!
Even when we lose such wonderful old trees all is not lost. We had several dozen trees down and amongst them were this ash and oak. The oak is a brown oak with considerable burring that gives it plenty of character. The chainsaw bar is 36" that gives an idea of the size of the ash stick. We now have a couple of sawmills on the estate that specialise in live edge table slabs so these two may find good homes yet.
Just one day to go with the river coarse season with the river high and coloured but producing some remarkable fish in recent days. Make sure you don't miss the last opportunity for three months to get the rods out. I wont reel of a great list of fish suffice to say I could not have dreamed it would have fished so well this season, simply amazing. There can be no other river in the country that can hold a candle to the Hampshire Avon and its purely magical valley.
The shots above just give a flavour of the last week amidst the torrential rain and gales. Despite the rubbish weather 'you can never hold back Spring', there's a song title there! I think Mr Waits came up with it first. The Bumblebee queens are out in force in any bit of shelter they can find. I counted over two dozen in a lunchtime walk yesterday, most were Buff tailed but there were one or two Tree queens seeking nest sites amongst the leaf litter. The Gorse in the middle shot is well out in bloom hopefully supplying sufficient nectar to keep these early emergers fed and fit. The shot of the first young rabbit of the year hopefully signals the start of the recovery.
How about this for a blast from the past. Thanks to Kelly Brocklehurst for the shot of his presentation with a junior trophy from the days when I used to run that section of the local club. Having gone off and made their way in the world both Kelly and Julian, standing immediately behind, have returned to become members of the syndicate. I obviously haven't changed a bit! Kelly believes I still have the same shirt, but they now have juniors of their own as old as they appear in the photo. Lovely memories, if more than a little stressful on occasions, 'happy days'. Thanks for sending it through Kelly.
We awoke to the forecast blow at its height and it wasn't long before news of its impact began to come in. This seems to have been an extremely variable and gusty front with almost continual changes of direction and intensity. We have have several roads blocked and where we can have been cutting up the resulting debris. The big polar will have to wait until the wind drops as there are several hangers waiting to fall caught up in the neighbouring trees. We have at least half a dozen breaks in the powerlines that also mean we can't go near them until they have been isolated. If you look at the first pic you will see a beehive sticking out of the top of another fallen tree. On the right the view from under that tree showing at least two more beehives that were directly under it when it fell. They will certainly add an element of excitement when it comes to clearing that up next week. Still it all keeps me occupied, I would only have been fishing, having bought a couple of pints of reds from Richard and two of Tesco's finest in readiness for a morning with the trotting rod!
Another little test. How do you bend a electricity pole like a bow? That'll do it! Certainly one to treat with care when you take the tree off.
A nice shot of the North Marsh where the Wigeon are still enjoying the high water. Great White Egret, Shoveler, Pintail, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew just to name a few others also out there finding it to there liking.
The second shot is a new one for me. As all syndicate members are aware I carry access to every vehicle registration that is permitted on the estate. One or two of you will also be aware yesterday I was looking for the owners of a Ford Fucus right down at the bottom of the lakes complex that I did not have the number for. An hours fruitless search and I was heading off elsewhere when Mike P. phoned to say there were two metal detectorists scratching about in the woods south of the lakes. Back I came and walked the two or three hundred meters over to where they were digging to ask if the car was theirs and had they spoken to the land owner. In broken pigeon eastern European I was told they had spoken to the owner and the car wasn't theirs as they had come via the bus. "That's okay then, I'll load this car we have found on a trailer and take it up the yard to lock in a building". Amazing! it turns out it was their car. "Okay, I suppose I'll just phone the farm to see when you spoke to them. Oh you hadn't done that either", shock, horror, even more surprise! At this point I explained to the lying Serbs/Turds whatever nationality they were, should trot along and leave the estate via what ever means and by which ever route they had come in. Thanks for the call Mike, saved me hours of fruitless searching.
I was particularly keen that they exit by the way they had arrived as I was confused how they had got past the locked gates. Well, off they set, up to the top car park and down the track behind the gravel plant and out onto the water meadows. I was surprised at this as I wouldn't even drive out there in my 4 x 4 and hope to make it across. I stopped at the gate and watched as they slowed to a crawl before realising they had made a wrong turn. Bit of Karma here, in trying to turn around and get back sure enough down they went. They were going to need more than a couple of detectorists spades to dig that out! Being of a soft hearted nature and feeling Bon Ami toward my fellow man, I sat and watched for ten minutes as they scrabbled about in the mud. Try as I would I couldn't just drive off and leave them, although sorely tempted, I drove out and snatched a cable on to them and dragged them out and set them on their way again.
Out through the wood, down the drive and over the main river bridge, across the park below the house and down toward Ashley where they had found and open gate. Despite several private signs they thought they'd have a drive about. Thrice joy, it just goes to prove its not only a British trait to show absolutely no respect for the property and rights of others.
A poor record shot of seven of the fourteen Curlew that were up on the marsh today. These will be the birds heading back to their nesting grounds that visit us every spring as they move back north.
Below is the lower half of the Penmeade to Dockens walk that I promised yesterday. As I write this the river is currently high, coloured and rising, to the extent it is currently over the trigger level for spinning. keep an eye on the East Mills flume levels as the levels will normally drop back fairly quickly at this time of year. Not that anything can be considered normal any longer where the weather is concerned.
Around Ashley Corner from the electric pole and at the tail of the pool Ashley straight begins. This run has produced fish at fairly regular intervals over the last seventy years yet it has never been kind to me. Its another of the shallow runs that succumb to the weed fairly early in the season so make the best of it in the early months. At the bottom of the straight two trees have collapsed into the water creating a great holding area for the coarse fish and adding to the depth of the scoured pool below them. The tail of this first of the Ashley Bends holds fish yet once again they have avoided me over the years.
Below the first of the bends a high voltage power line crosses the river. I have not strimmed beneath it and I would advise you avoid the wretched thing with the fly rods, believe me 15' of carbon shoved up amongst 11000 volts will make your eyeballs rotate. Spinning or bait rods are safer if you can't resist the urge to fish that bit. It used to have an intermediate pole between those that currently exist that held it well clear of those below. When the bank eroded and the pole was left hanging on the wires the SSE came along and removed the pole and just let the cable sag that much lower, under the well practiced SSE principle of not giving a bugger about anything other than their lines. I notice it now has several trees making contact, which might also be worth avoiding.
Once under the power line by the double pole you have the short length of the Middle Bend before you. Its a deep under cut bank beneath your feet that is difficult to get down to with the fly. From half way down the pool the tail is reachable and this historically held the fish available to the fly. There is a submerged tree three quarters the way across that requires caution with the cast but well worth making the effort. I will have another go at getting the thing out when the water drops back. Our first attempt met with disaster when the 1" diameter reinforcing bar grapnel straightened out under the load the tractor applied! Once the spinning and the shrimp are allowed this pool is always worth close inspection as fish like to hold up in the deep shaded water. Out of the tail and immediately into the bottom bend, which is simliar to the pool above in being a short length of fishable water. well worth fishing thoroughly as once again fish will hold under the protection of the undercut banks. A quiet, careful approach is recommended on these pools as the fish spook out very easily making them virtually uncatchable.
Out of the tail and around the bend to a shallow run that has no name but is worth attention whilst it remains clear of weed. The run on the far bank behind the submerged trees often conceals some massive seatrout. I did see a 24 pound salmon taken from this run many years ago which always encourages me to give it just one more cast. This run tails out on the shallows above the willow that I have taken the top off to enable rods to lift their rod over it in the event a fish takes off downstream. The shallows above the tree is a popular redd site for both salmon and sea trout, particularly in low flow years when they can't gain access to the upper catchment. Once below the tree you are in the riun down to Dockens Pool with the deep water on the inside under your feet. Opposite where the Dockens Water enters on the opposite bank the flow moves back into the centre of the river a favourite place for sea trout waiting to run the Dockens later in the year.
That's about it, twelve pools and well over 1000 meters of actual fishing, any bit of which is capable of producing the fish of a lifetime. I'll put this together in the correct order and add it to the members section asap. I'll also write up one or two of the other beats such as from Ibsley to Harbridge Corner another long length containing over ten pools.
February is now behind us and we rush toward the end of the river coarse season with the river rushing out into the fields to meet us. A week to go and we do need a quite spell of weather to get this lot bank into the channel if we are to enjoy a good end to the season. The last week or two has seen the astonishing Avon chub fishing continue with some wonderful fish and catches. One or two barbel have graced the bank but I'm sure if we get reasonable temperatures for the last week we will see more after this lift of coloured water.
I have the river in as good a state as I could ask for the salmon fishing with almost all the pools clipped out and ready for action. I appreciate that we have been underway on the salmon front for a month but in reality February has never been a prolific month and its zero return this year comes as no real surprise. I have had a dig through the last sixty or seventy years of catch returns and we have averaged at best two fish in February with a record catch of eight back in the sixties. That was at a time when we could through all sorts of junk and bait at them with worm, prawn, golden sprat and plugs being the weapons of choice. Two fish from lower fisheries and at least one good fish lost with us seems about parr for the course. Now we are entering the traditionally more productive months we will soon see if we are to enjoy a reasonable season as I expect fish to be with us in the near future, especially after this lift of water levels that will encourage anything out in the bay to run in and head upstream.
As an introduction to our new members I will put together some of the pools that provide linked fishing for a beat to enjoy if you have a full morning or afternoon. The first section I will look at is from Penmeade to the tail of Dockens on the right bank. There are twelve pools that provide over 1200m of fishing with a walk of about two and a half miles there and back, as it were.
Penmeade car park in the Lower Park under the House. Across the field to the log ring style with Penmeade Pool beyond.
Penmeade is a dificult, fast and turbulent pool, which is also narrow requiring accurate casting. It becomes weeded quite early in the season and is best fished from now until mid May with a sinking line and heavy fly. Historically the fish came from the head of the pool starting right back at the rail fence. The last twenty meters is yet to be strimmed out but I will get there in the next day or two enabling the entire pool to be covered. Out of Penmeade, around the clump of willow and reeds to the head of Swan Island, which is no longer an island having silted in to the left bank a decade or more ago. Its a good looking pool that along with Penmeade has not been productive or particularly fashionable in recent years. It deserves more attention as fish can always be seen under the bank when the water clears with good redds at the tail come spawning time that must attract fish to hold in the pool. From the tail of Swan Island it runs over shallows at the head of Blashford Island that if you are keen can be fished through to the tail of the island where the new pool has produced several fish in recent years. This pool shares fish with the left bank Island Run that can be seen moving between the two when the water clears or at spawning time. Both Swan Island and The tail of the island are relatively shallow making them easier to fish with more conventional early season tackle. Its worth remembering that when the left bank fields are flooded, as they are at the moment, this entire right bank beat remains dry and easy going.
After the tail of Blashford Island the walk downstream is beside the main Blashford Pool. The section fishes better from the left bank and the path has not been cleared along the riverbank but the side of the field. If you're feeling brave and have waders you can fish down this bank of Blashford but its not a pleasant section and in my view left until you are on the other side. Once you round the sharp right hand bend at the tail of Blashford you come to the head of Above the Breakthrough. This is a lovely pool that fished well until the weed drives us from the bank. Don't be tempted to start below the shallow, broken water at the head of the pool, it may look unattractive but has produced several fish in recent years including some extremely large ones. Around the deep boiie bend of Ashley Pool with its wonderful coarse fish population and on to Below the Break Through. Always a great holding area and has produced some very large fish in recent years. The first twenty meters is difficult with the fly but worth persevering as many fish are taken later in the year here on the Mepp. Once out of the difficult head the fishing is then comfortable right through to the electricity poles, through water that has always proven attractive to early fish.
At this point with the rain chucking it down I retreated to the car but I will add the remainder of the pools in this section asap. Once I have it all together I will also include it in the members only section to make finding it easier for those wishing to explore this intriguing water.
Taken yesterday when I was strimming higher up the fishery showing Mark Tutton praying/playing a good chub as Richard waits patiently to do the honours with the net. Mark with his reward in the shape of a classic Avon chub taken on trotted bread.
Some food for thought, on this wet and windy Sunday. I'm sure most of you will have already seen or read about this courageous and eloquent young lady but for those of you that have yet to hear what she has to say just take six minutes out and take a look at the link below.
We still have both the marshes flooded, making for an interesting place to visit mid morning today. The recent unseasonal warm weather wouldn't appear to have fooled the wildfowl with roughly the same number of Wigeon, Teal and Pintail enjoying the flood. There were several other bits and bobs in the form of, two Oyster catchers, a Great White Egret and several Little Egret, Shoveler, Green Sandpiper, Coot and the usual flocks of geese and swans. Perhaps of greatest interest the number of Lapwing that are calling in an attempt to establish their territories. It would seem the mild winter has also been good for the Kingfisher population as they were hurtling about in two's and three's similarly attempting to drive off interlopers.
One of the pluses of this odd February weather is that we are able to get on the watermeadows a month ahead of what we might expect. Many of you will be pleased to see the result of Kevin and Phil's efforts yesterday morning in the form of a fine new oak style on the approach to Harbridge Corner. The second shot is the tail of the bottom pool at Ashley Bends, a favourite spot for a fish. In the background the long run down to Dockens Pool, which before the weed gets up is great fly water.
I was down the bottom end of the estate today on the rightbank of Lifelands, above the weir. Below the Cut Through is now polished and looking spot on for when the fish arrive. The otter was there when I arrived at nine oclock and spent the best part of the morning in and out of the reed beds enjoying the sun on its back. It seemd to be preoccupied with something very small that I couldn't identify but the speed at which it ate them they seem very popular. The run above the weir has changed dramatically since the EA buggered up the weir settings and the holding water would appear to be further upstream by the pipe. Just a word of warning if you are going to fish that run, BEWARE OF THE OVERHEAD POWER LINES. The electric company don't seem to concerned about them as we have raised the issue of risk on several occasions. One lot of engineers telling us they are insulated and won't fry you. I'm no expert but they don't appear that well covered to me so don't stick fifteen feet of carbon fibre up amongst them. If you do hook a fish that takes off upstream remember to apply sidestrain and don't get over excited and hold the rod above your head.
Just why do they do that? I suppose its all to do with their strategy on life, which is looking for ways to die!
What an amazing February day, I can't ever remember such a day and just what the implications of such unseasonal weather will be remains to be seen. At least fifteen male Brimstones, they seemed to be everywhere you looked. Three Peacocks one seen to emerge from the old control tower where it had no doubt over wintered. As I mentioned yesterday I had been out looking at the state of the sward now we had removed the cattle and it looks as if we have the balance very nearly spot on. The rough sedge and course grass we were concerned about seems to have been hit back hard and the embryonic new growth seems to be well established. Its important to remember that whilst the mix of wild flowers is important the balance of the grasses that form their background also provide a vital food source for many of our meadow butterflies, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Marbled whites, Speckled Wood, Ringlet, the Skippers and Small Heath. Now we have the base for our larval food supply and the summer nectar its a case of fingers crossed that the weather is a little kinder to us this year than the prolonged drought we suffered last season.
The Common Dog Violet, almost invisible at this time of year yet but vital for some of our most beautiful and scarce woodland butterflies. The plant photos were taken today but butterfly shots are from the archive, except for the Peacock, which was one of three on the wing at Mockbeggar today.
Last season the White Admiral numbers were higher than for many years and we enjoyed their presence on the western side of the estate. As the woodlnds mature and Honeysuckle becomes established within outr newly planted woods we will hopefully see numbers spread across the entire estate. Common Sorrel is the food plant for Small Coppers that are present at Mockbeggar in good numbers. It is almost invisible at the moment but can be seen hidden beneath the more advanced growth.
Not only butterflies and plants our amphibeans and reptiles were also on show. The Toads are usually to be found under our herpetological tins but the Common Lizard are quite a rare occurance at Mockbeggar. What was so pleasing was this specimen was making use of one of our dry eco-piles. It looks as if it has lost its tail in some past adventure but looked well in today's sunshine, hopefully the foundation of a resident population..
Our mammal residents also do their bit for the overall picture of the Mockbeggar complex, some are more desirable than others. The worming of our resident badgers looks destructive but in actual fact aid the diversity of our floral patchwork. as they seek the worms and turn the turf over none of the grass is lost yet the seed bank that exists in the soil has an opportunity to germinate. The fallow deer are a different problem as they strip the understory and vegetation from around the lake. As they come in from the forest to graze every evening their tracks are becoming bare and well worn. We do our best to control their numbers but such an uncontrolled population surrounding us does not bode well for the future. The rabbit scrape is a more restrained exposure of the dormant seed store. Rabbit numbers are well down on recent years due to the Myxomatosis and haemorrhagic disease yet there were several out enjoying the sun, which will hopefully live up to their reputation and breed like rabbits to restore their numbers. The importance of the rabbit to the food chain is the mammalian equivalent of the stinging nettle being the basic food source for many of our local predators such as the fox and buzzard. If there's a healthy rabbit population breeding waders, your chicken and the keepers pheasants will get an easier time of things. I wouldn't put that to the test as no predator worth its salt is going to pass up a free meal if you leave the hens out!
A close look at the shots above will show, yarrow, ox eye daisy, hawk bit, dandelion, thistle, and ribbed plantain, if not larval food source nectar providers for the later adults. There are other food sources that are not fully exploited, cowslips, thistles and birds foot trefoil, possible plants that such species as the Duke of Burgundy and second brood Painted Ladies might utilise, fingers crossed they find us.
Perhaps the most under appreciated plant that we are all only too familiar with is the Stinging Nettle. It is such an important larval food plant for many of the species we all take for granted. The Peacock. Small tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, all are dependent on this plant for their young to feed.
22nd Feb 2019
Its that time of year when we have removed the winter grazing stock from around the lakes and await to see if we have maintained the delicate wild flower balance we require. We had deliberately allowed the cattle to graze the sward harder this year in an effort to prevent some of the rougher, less desirable grass and sedge from taking over. This has meant greater risk of the sward being damaged through poaching had the stock been left on a week or two longer than required to eat down this rough material but thankfully first inspection looks favourable. It will be some weeks before we know for certain but the number of different meadow flowers beginning to start their growth for the new season looks encouraging.
One area that did catch my eye today was out on the islands where we had removed the birch and willow regrowth a year or two ago to encourage the over wintering wildfowl. Dotted amongst the birch and scrub had been a few small patches of lichen that were loosing out to the more vigourous shady woodland. I was delighted to see that the patches of lichen had expanded and we once more had areas of lichen lawn appearing on the nutrient poor ground. Lichen lawn is quite a rare habitat with several species that require this delicate ecosystem to survive and hopefully will in years to come once more find our lichens to their liking.
18th Feb 2019
We still have the marsh up on the north of the estate flooded for the benefit of the wildfowl and waders. It will probably remain that way for a further five or six weeks before we lower the water level to allow the Lapwing, Redshanks and hopefully the Snipe that returned last year to select their territories and get on with nesting. Today there were the regular Mute Swans, Canada and Greylag Geese plus over 300 Lapwing, 150 Wigeon, 100 Teal, a couple of Green Sandpiper and pleasingly 20 Pintail and four Black-tailed Godwit. Out on the river there were Goosander, Coot and plenty of Tufted Duck, more geese and even more swans. All adding up to a well used, ideal habitat that we take great pleasure and pride in maintaining and improving.
17th Feb 2019
Not perhaps the fish I was looking for but a nice double that was ample reward for a couple of hours on such a wonderful February morning.
15th Feb 2019
I could get used to February days such as we have enjoyed over the last week. As someone who is beginning to feel the cold more and more each year I always feel growing apprehension as February arrives. Time yet for a freeze that could last until the end of March but I have my fingers firmly crossed we make it through without a return of the ice. My day started removing a tree from one of the surrounding lanes that required removing quickly, to avoid too long a road closure upsetting the morning comuters. All went well and we soon were on our way to less stressful tasks, myself heading for the right bank of Park pool to finish its spring clean in the welcome warm sunshine. Park clipped up and three quarters of a tank of fuel left in the chainsaw time to visit the lakes and coppice a stand of alder that is over grown and cutting light from the surrounding meadows. Three refilled fuel tanks later and a coppiced area that permitted the sunlit to once more progress across the adjoining grassland. The coppiced area looked a complete tangle of felled alder and willow, deliberately dropped in a random fashion to create a barrier to the forty odd fallow deer that strip every vestage of cover from under the trees.
I was not the only one enjoying the sunshine, the young cockerels were gleaming as the sunshine showed off their first capes. Whilst the heritage turkey Tom was strutting his stuff as he gathered his harem about him. He is usually out and about in the orchard but is in disgrace for going walk about with his wives and being punished by a couple of days in the pen.
14th Feb 2019
I'm sure most of you will be aware of the latest findings with regard to the state of the planet's insects. If we needed any more depressing news about what we are doing to this planet this certainly fits the bill. Just what it will take before we wake to the damage our misuse of the land is causing. Just when will we make the polluter pay and put a tax on the chemical soup we spray on our land everyday? Food may cost more but suck it up, its got to happen. On a brighter note today's sunshine brought out several early Buff-tailed bumblebee queens seeking nest sites, the honeybees were working the gorse and Peacock butterflies woke from the winter slumbers. Its our responsibility to ensure future generations can enjoy such a February day.
09th Feb 2019
The river, whilst high, is dropping back and remains below the spinning trigger level.
08th Feb 2019
If you fancy a shot at the river in its current high flow, coloured condition keep an eye on the East Mills Flume where the setting for the spinning cut off level for this season is at 1.18m. As I write the missive below it has not reached that point but it is still raining outside so you may get to use your Devon's once more.
Whilst on the subject of regulation we currently have the EA reviewing the future of the River Coarse Closed season, in all its outdated glorious isolation. I of course refer to the closed season legislation, not the EA!
I come to this as someone who manages both river and stillwater fisheries that are fished 365 days of the year. We also have the benefit of being large enough to impose our own management requirements in many instances. Fisheries that encompass salmon, trout, seatrout and the full coarse species list of the Hampshire Avon. Both riverine and stillwaters that retain a closed season yet provide all year round fishing. Added to this the demands of ESA, SPA, SSSI and Ramsar conservation designation and our very own conservation management requirements. Such requirements taking the form of up to 50% of voluntarily closed banks with no fishing or access, to avoid disturbance, Fishing from defined swims only, to prevent trampling and disturbance of vital habitat. All intrusive fishery maintenance work planned to consider the associated wildlife requirements related to cover and food. Large areas left undisturbed whilst other work is finished before growth and nesting commences. Deliberate management of many hundreds of acres of land surrounding fisheries to maximise feeding and breeding habitat of birds, mammals and invertebrates, as well as our fish.
It is the online response facility that provides the first clues as to the ill conceived methodology involved in this review. The restrictive response windows appear skewed toward preferred objectives, preventing consideration of localised issues. In fact it is the usual one size fits all EA approach to the management of our fisheries that will ensure we end up with an unsatisfactory outcome. Is the process to be considered on each individual topic or question, one fore, one against? She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, the closed season wins by one vote and will remain in place! Will the submission of Joe Bloggs, be given equal weight and consideration as that of Natural England? Just who determines the weight to be attributed to each submission. The demands of a mixed discipline river such as the Hants Avon or the Wye as compared to that of a coarse fishery such as the Lower Thames or Trent are worlds apart. Rivers under private ownership as opposed to public or commercial bodies have completely different requirements. Rivers in rural locations as opposed to urban or industrial environs require different consideration and management. The latitudes at which your river flows will have chronological implications for many natural functions triggered by temperature such as spawning, migration, feeding, all of which having triggers unique to your river. The water source and quality impacting differently, warm alkaline groundwater and acidic moorland run off making different demands. Barriers to spawning migrations creating unnatural barriers giving rise to enormously increased angling exploitation as opposed to a natural unmodified rivers allowing free passage of both salmonids and perhaps more importantly cyprinids that don't receive the protection of designated species conservation status.
Failure to enforce stillwater close season has seen the degradation of stillwater fisheries across the country, combined with their otter fences they are considered by many as barren wildlife deserts, environmental write-offs. to the extent angling is seen in many quarters as being totally at odds to conservation management. To further increase the perception of angling as a self absorbed, insular pastime needs to be seriously questioned. Anglers are all too frequently viewed as out dated pariahs in much of the conservation world. Disturbance and habitat destruction at critical times in the ecological calendar need to be rectified not added to, as the removal of the coarse river closed season will most certainly achieve.
Under the S&FWF Act 75 angling for gravid/unclean fish is illegal, yet this has been permitted by the EA through a dereliction of their statutory obligations on stillwaters across the entire country. When spawning shoals are located it is now down to individual fisheries and owners to close access to bays and lagoons where the fish wish to spawn. This puts such owners and fisheries at a distinct financial disadvantage, where other less scrupulous, ignorant or less caring organisations and individuals allow the continued exploitation of their stock. One very successful commercial fishery wrote off 50% of his pike to bad handling every year, replacing them with fresh stock annually. Financially brilliant, environmentally and in the view of some ethically disastrous.
The same can be witnessed on the rivers almost every season as spawning shoals gather outside the protection of the closed season, be it roach in early March or barbel and chub in late June. It then reflects the moral compass of the individual angler. Some will walk past the gathered shoals whilst others will ruthlessly exploit them freely writing and posting photos of their 'Red Letter Day'. The sight of female chub, barbel, roach, carp and tench bloated with spawn with extended ovipositor, heading national record lists and personal best shots, cock fish oozing milt, rudely dragged from the act of procreation, does little to portray caring angling. Should the protection of our wildlife and fish be left to a choice between ignorance and ethics as our regulators wash their hands of the situation?
On pristine or in undeveloped areas, disturbance and destruction of bankside vegetation, housing nests, food and cover, have seen bird populations on many stillwater fisheries crash. The scant consideration of the riverine habitat, as examined under this review, is ill conceived to the point of ignorance. Reference to seeking the views of wildlife trusts, Natural England etc will not meet the demands of modern fishery requirements. Whilst in most cases well meaning I have yet to meet very many members or staff within the conservation organisations that are equipped to look at the situation impartially. A great many in the conservation world first and foremost view fish as a diet item for fish eating birds. If we do have a duty of care towards our fish it is hardly enforced by weakening the scant protection they have at the moment. If anglers are to be allowed to access critically important habitats at crucial periods of the nesting calendar, I personally believe the vast majority of rivers are critically important habitats, obligations with regard to bankside maintenance need to be incorporated into any byelaw arising from this exercise. For instance; no clearing or cutting of mature bankside, or associated vegetation, to be undertaken after the end of February. Not as at present in all too many instances, with an unplanned, mass assault, on banks and swims a week before the season reopens.
I note the direction toward a mid April start to the closed season on rivers that would see the gathered spawning shoals of species such as roach deliberately targeted by anglers, as they are with the stillwater situation, risking loss of critical spawning windows and additional stress related damaged through retention of spawn. Our unpredictable weather may only provide one opportunity in any particular year to spawn successfully, permitting sufficient time for ova and fry to develop before the winter floods and cold weather. Once the trigger to absorb fluid into the ova is reached, stress and injury will inevitably result from disturbance and handling. Additional handling with the risk of infection due to the increased levels of pathogens currently found in our waterways would risk significant population damage at time of such close spawning shoals when the risk of transmission is increased. Such infections as saprolegnia can be witnessed by the frequency of diseased salmon, trout and coarse fish in areas of high angling pressure downstream of STWs and fish farms. The downstream incidences may be coincidental in the case of STWs and trout farms however under the Defra interpretation of the WFD the EA are obliged to adopt the precautionary principle until the cause of such high mortality and population collapse can be identified and eliminated.
Sea trout smolt shoal and leave the river earlier than those of salmon, in March and early April, as such adding any additional stress or injury through deep hooking or scale loss should be minimised. The potential risk of deep hooking and scale damage adding to existing pressure on the salmon smolt of our critically endangered salmon populations found in many of our rivers is incompatible with ethical or even best fishery management practices. The precautionary principle must apply.
At a time when our riverine environments have never faced such problems; micro plastics, barriers to passage, phosphorous, heavy metals, abstraction, an endless list, to even consider this exercise shows a complete lack of understanding of our rivers and angling. Any consideration of directing funds into this exercise is irresponsible, bordering on shameful.
Consultation risks being an easy management option to spread blame and responsibility. If it is to justify future funding to put sound science behind much of the conjecture it is a waste of valuable public funding That is always assuming funding will be made available from the public purse. As things are looking cash might be something of a scarce commodity in the coming years. Instead of creating 'jobs for the boys' to provide answers to hide behind why not get on and invest in issues that are known to be detrimental to the well being of our rivers. See above for a few pointers. If it is a cynical exercise in financial expediency on the part of the EA, as the cost of regulating the closed season would be reduced should it no longer exist. As many believe the removal of the stillwater closed season was just such an exercise. Hopefully it will be the final nail in the coffin for the EA fisheries departments ties to the over bearing bureaucracy that is the agency. Staff and regulation of our fisheries then might pass to the catchment partnerships and local representation.
07th Feb 2019
Its been an extremely busy couple of days that has seen the river take on the rise in water level and tinge of colour we had hoped for. If there are salmon in the system, with the river conditions as they are at the moment they have the perfect conditions to run upstream to us. Even in the hey day of the Avon Salmon fishing we never expected to see many fish in February but what did arrive tended to be good fish. I don't wish to raise false hopes but if a February fish is on your wish list now is as good an opportunity as you are likely to get. The rise in water level and the tinge of colour, combined with the rise in water temperature as it creeps back toward 8 degrees 'C' over the last 48 hours, will also see the barbel come back on the feed. There are several fish that could well be over 17 pounds so the fish of a lifetime is very much on the cards, make the most of the current conditions.
The finished pollard, significantly safer and hopefully fit for many more decades.
2nd Feb 2019
Just so members are aware we will be pollarding the huge, dangerous willow beside Hoodies Pool on Monday or Tuesday next week. If you see the team over there working please give them a wide berth and please do not attempt to fish Hoodies.
There were three or four rods out but our paths failed to cross on my travels about the estate today. Tizard's in the snow and the Lodge without a rod in sight, very picturesque but leaving me a little short on news. On the right the marsh up at Hucklesbrook remains frozen over with very few waders or wildfowl able to make use of it. Apart from the usual geese, couple of Green Sandpiper, fifty Lapwing and a dozen or so Snipe were all that was to be seen. The Swans, including the Bewicks that remains with us, had left for better grazing across the other side of the valley in the meadow behind the church at Harbridge. I believe there were a pair of whooper Swans lower in the valley but I also failed to cross their path in my travels.
1st Feb 2019
The difference a day makes as we wake on the opening day of the salmon season to a covering of snow more like a Scottish start, which at least made Largue feel at home. Its worth noting that the flow is still over the spillway, which would indicate plenty of flow to allow fish to make their way upstream to us. The vis is perfect so fingers crossed we find an early fish. I found half a dozen rods who had arrived to welcome the start of the season enjoying the fire in the Lodge at lunchtime, where the undoubted highlight of the day for me was the appearance of Ronnie with a supply of Val's most excellent sausage rolls that went down a treat. Very much appreciated Val, certainly hit the spot. There was a fish briefly hooked and lost, after three minutes of deep down head shaking, so we will never know if it was our opening day Springer, at least it gives us encouragement in the thought it just might have been!
31st January 2019
The last "One to watch" before the off, in the shape of Provosts Hole down down to the top of Cabbage Garden, on the right bank. The erosion of the previous year or two has smoothed the flow through this section of river. It is deep and narrow giving ample pace yet much of the flow has settled into smooth glides looking ideal for early fish to rest before their next push upstream. It is an early pool as the flow encourages weed growth to make fishing difficult after mid May and oddly the current low water may suit this pool as fish slow on their upstream passage. Whether I'm right, or raising false hopes, as of tomorrow we will begin to discover as we will be once more casting a fly on our hallowed waters. We could undoubtedly do with a flush of fresh water to raise the level six inches and a little colour wouldn't go amiss. Having said that there has been sufficient flow in recent weeks for the odd fish to creep into the system, so you just never know unless you have a fly in the water. Looking forward to seeing everyone on their return and especially looking forward to hearing of our first fish.
25th January 2019
At this time of year, weather permitting, I am usually to be found out and about preparing for the start of the salmon season. As I visit the pools I do my best to envisage where the fish are likely to be laying and making sure, as best I can, they are accessible. With over sixty salmon pools on the estate obviously many do not produce a fish from one year to the next. With that number of pools deciding which will provide the sport in the coming season becomes a bit of a guessing game. Trying to double guess the flow and size of the run makes such decisions even more difficult before the season even gets underway. I always like to pick a pool that has been under producing in recent years that I think is looking particularly well and that is likely to enjoy an upturn in its fortunes. I base my choice of pools likely to succeed on several factors, the flow I like to see is a strong but steady linear flow gently rising towards the tail of a pool. It doesn't have to be overly deep, perhaps between three and six feet, over clean gravel with some nearby cover in the form of either deep water or bankside vegetation. My choice of pool deserving of more attention this year would be Pile Pool, off the right bank. In reality its not strictly Pile Pool, its the section between the seat on the left bank and the tail of Pile sixty or seventy meters below the gate but fished from the true right bank. It looks just spot on and I can feel it in my water, there just has to be good fish using such a pool. The river could currently do with a flush of rain to give us a six inch lift and enciourage any early fish to venture upstream, even without that extra water it remains my favourite to throw up a surprise.
24th January 2019
Cabbage Garden and Lake Run looking the part and ready for the off.
Quite a dramatic start in the frost and warning sky, having said that its not too bad an office!
20th January 2019
That one certainly came out of left field, I think the forecast was cloud all day. It was also a WeBS day, which required an early start to be on site before first light. The valley remains quiet on the bird front with the mild weather failing to bring us the birds out of the east, its just as well we have an interesting local population. The walk in to the start of my area was accompanied by the waking flight of over 750 Jackdaws making a terrific din to welcome the day. The Magpie roost ejected 33 chattering birds, cross at my arrival getting them up five minutes early. The herons were heading for the trout stews as were over 150 Cormorants. The shattering explosion of the crow scarer came as the fuse slowly burnt away scattering the birds for a few minutes before they quickly resettled before a repeat performance on the next report. More reluctant to rise, it was a further five minutes before 31 Little Egret and one Great Egret headed out from the roost immediately dispersing up and down the valley. My move a mile south was timed to see the Mute swans, plus our one Bewicks, leaving the river where they roost and heading out into the meadows to feed. If its one thing we are not short of its Mute Swans, today's count was the first of the winter to reach over 200 with a total of 217. Lots of various geese plus odds and ends of ducks and waders but nothing that will set the twitcher world alight. The redd is in the usual place just short of the trout farm screens, blocking any further upstream migration, the cock fish was still in residence guarding his patch. The final shot just captures the finer points of being a cow on such a sunny winter day with a belly full of hay.
19th January 2019
A nice shot of Richie who was a guest on the estate today and had just a Jack to show for his efforts and a good soaking when I bumped into them this morning. Its been an okay week, considering the change in water temperature, which has produced a barbel a couple of ounces short of 14 for Darrel and a chub an ounce short of the magical seven for Tony. Well fished all, proving what ever the weather you just never know what is going to turn up.
17th January 2019
I spent a couple of hours today looking for a particular pike I would like to see on the bank this year, simply to see what size she is these days. I was looking in some of the less frequently visited slacks where I managed to find three nice doubles to about fifteen pounds yet, alas, the lady I was seeking managed to avoid me. Never mind always next time!
14th January 2019
The Bewicks Swan that has been about with the Mutes for several weeks.
9th January 2019
Talking of eagles, as I was recently, this isn't one! This is one of our many Buzzards that has found a decidedly dead goose, every cloud etc. The eagle is still close by so if you see it when out and about please text or call as I would love to get a closer look at our dramatic visitor. Talking of wildlife, as I was yesterday with our dead salmon, that most learned of members Tony Crisp has come to the aid of my speculative bear. Being also a compassionate man Tony was quick to point out that killing our salmon "must have been a point of 'last resort'. What else was a bear supposed to do, when someone has eaten all the porridge?"
A clear, frosty morning a perfect morning for cleaning up the salmon pools. 'Below the Break Through' one of sixty pools now cleaned and ready for the off in less than a month. All 'Gold' 'Salmon and Coarse River' and 'Salmon' syndicate members should have received their renewal notices. If you haven't please give the office a ring and they will sort it out.
Above the Break Through cleaned and ready, the tail of the pool is where the strimming finishes, please do not fish into the reedbeds. The reedbeds will be the nesting sites for many of our native bird population so please keep clear. Whilst fishing down such a pool, step, cast, step, cast, lost in a world of flies and huge 'Springers' make sure there is a piece of bank under your feet. Look down, step, cast, look down, step, cast, much of the bank will be soft and crumbling after the erosion of the recent high water. A dip this early in the season is not too be recommended.
7th January 2019
The heron have returned to their nests to proclaim the start of the nesting season with their raucous calls echoing about the valley. The otter kill is a little odd in that the hen should have spawned by now and usually the first thing the otter devours is the spawn. The usually bitten out throat has been replaced by a large section of bone and flesh ripped out of the back. Looks a little like a bear kill to me so keep your wits about you if your down the bottom end of the estate near the forestry!
3rd January 2019
The single dark bellied Brent Goose is still out with the Canada's and there was also a single White-front flying about with the Greylag plus a single Bewick up at Ibsley. I imagine the Harbridge Ibsley area will sound like a grandfather clock for the next few days with the sound of twitchers getting their year tick!
2nd January 2019
Hopefully, if my html is up to it, a click on the link below should open Brenda Cook's 2018 Report on her ongoing ringing study on Mockbeggar. It's a really interesting paper and already showing some intriguing findings about our warbler populations. In this day and age with so much negative news on the environmental front its pleasing to see such positive trends resulting from Brenda's hard work.
1st January 2019
To get the New Year under way I plucked up the courage and spent three hours trotting bread through the roach swims at Ibsley. In actual fact I trotted Botney pool as one or two members were up for the challenge and were having a go around the bridge. I have yet to hear if they met with any success but I have to say I didn't cover myself in glory by landing a huge roach, or any roach come to that. I did however see one or two encouraging fish move and as on the last visit a single chub saved the blank. Despite the lack of fish I enjoyed the time trotting immensely, a downstream wind and bright sunlight reflecting off the water made life tricky but failed to dampen the spirits. I fished the entire session without a tangle, quite an achievement for me and fished over a dozen glides to learn the lay of the land, or river in this case. Discovering where the weed remains and the flow plays tricks, the whereabouts of the shallows and holes, all vital if I'm to get to grips with this difficult section once more.
Wishing all Avon Diary readers a healthy and prosperous 2019.
31st December 2018
A great shot of a great fish to round off the year. Thanks to Bob Edwards for this photo of his simply stunning 15.14. Not a fish I recognise and certainly not one of the five recent 15's I have photos of. I have given up speculating on how many 15+ barbel and 7+ chub we have about the place, I just think its about time I had one or two on my rods.
30th December 2018