26th January 2020
Wet weekend activities. So, just what are we being asked to contribute if we respond to the, Water Challenges and Choices Consultation, currently being run by the EA? Looks as if it may well be a rainbow horizon, aspirational wish list to answer all the ails of our rivers. That's a great idea, all our problems should be solved within the next few year! There was I thinking it was already an accepted truth that it is too many people, using too much water, creating too much waste and none of them wanting to pay for it!
Before I consider responding I always knock together my thoughts and ideas based on my three or four decades of fishery and conservation involvement. I have attached that thinking below to give an idea of just what I believe to be the distillation of my thoughts if we are to have any hope of saving our rivers.
Whether or not I decide to actually put in a response will depend on believing if it will have genuine relevance. Or is it just a further exercise in producing hot air and rubber stamping the existing practices, thereby letting the real culprits off the hook yet again.
Only “16% of England's groundwater, rivers, lakes, estuaries and seas are close to their natural state”
“90% of the UK's wetland habitats have been lost in the last 100 years”
“56% of sampled sites exceeded two or more biota Environmental Quality Standards in freshwater fish between 2014 and 2018”
“18% of chalk river water bodies are impacted by abstraction” I think that might be dependent on how you define impacted and on whose assessment!
“Over 10% of our freshwater and wetland species are threatened with extinction and two thirds are in decline”
“40% of water bodies impacted by pollution from rural areas”
The above list, be it depressing or encouraging reading, depending on your perspective I suppose, was taken from the consultation document and is by no means exhaustive. If nothing else this document goes a long way in letting us know that the protection we have afforded our rivers over the last one hundred years, under the guise of; Catchment Boards, River Boards, River Authorities and Regional Water Authorities, is failing dramatically. To continue as we are will ensure the continued ratcheting of the downward spiral eventually totally destroying the water environment. We may slow it a little but the decline will remain as abstraction, discharge, agri, industrial and household chemicals plus the myriad of other factors associated with increasing population will undoubtedly add to the pressure on water.. Generations that follow us will have forgotten, or never have know pristine water ways. The diminished ecology will be accepted as the norm and used as the baseline measure on which success or failure will be measured. Repeated over successive generations the self congratulatory back patting becomes the norm and our rivers and wetlands die.
A further question this begs is what percentage of the improvements claimed are attributable to the WFD, Water Framework Directive, European law that we are shortly to abandon? Recent years under the WFD have seen considerable improvements in many issues that adversely impact water quality. We are about to lose the umbrella of the WFD and the necessity for the UK government to comply with EU directives, as we leave Europe. UK legislation to replace the WFD needs to be given more statutory powers to ensure the environment receives the priority status it requires if we are to avoid further decline. We do have the current UK governments guarantees of no reduction in the environmental standards. Unfortunately, as that is currently written I believe it contains the caveat, to be at the discretion of the minister concerned; so effectively worthless.
We need immediate and ambitious action to introduce dynamic change in the way society values and treats its water. If we do nothing the consequences for ourselves, future generations and for wildlife will be catastrophic. Far reaching and innovative change is required if we are not to suffer a further period of the inefficient regulators hamstrung by fiscal restraint. Since the formation of the NRA in 1989 (EA forerunner) with the privatisation and separating off the water companies, thus funding source, the environment (Agency) has been at the mercy of commercial interests and cynical political agendas. Going cap in hand to Water Companies asking they investigate their own activities seems a little naive to say the least.
Irrespective of the current state of our water bodies to make progress and bring a greater percentage of these habitats back into favourable and good condition will require serious commitment and most importantly serious and sustainable funding. To plan requires certainty as to the funding that will be available. If the funding of our regulators is at the whim of political colour and expediency the future will remain bleak.
Having briefly looked at the background to our current plight, or more properly our current situation, one or two questions related to the consultation itself arise. Who is the consultation aimed at? General public or bodies directly involved managing the water framework? Are we to believe all responses will be treated equally? If the latter is the case, how and by whom will the submissions be assessed? Do we assume the layman (Mr J Bloggs and Mrs Tiggywinkle) will be afforded the same consideration as the river owners and managers? Will private commercial exploiters such as water companies and agriculture be provided with an enhanced platform to sway the arguments in their favour? Similarly those recognised as acting in the best interest of the environment, with hands on experience, such as Wildlife trusts, be given an enhanced hearing? Is there a written procedure with regard to assessing merit and weighting allocated to each response and by whom will that operation be implemented?
Independent, unbiased assessment of responses in essential to ensure established EA agendas or preferred outcomes are not promoted. Such as with the case at the time of the establishing of the RBDs, required under the WFD in 2009 and to be established along geologically similar catchment areas. Not to suit EA regional area borders, that has given rise to half the chalk streams being lumped in with the rock and gravel rivers of the south west. The other half, the clay and alluvial rivers of the south east.
Do away with OFWAT with its protection of the consumer as its primary objective. Alternatively provide the existing committee with clear priority guidelines highlighting water use and the environment. Where this clashes with consumer interests, the precautionary principle and the polluter/user pays are the natural options. If the consumer has to pay more for water so be it, water must be considered at its true value not a commercial commodity to be haggled and bartered to suit share holders and users at the expense of the environment.
Restructure EA board to include Independent, members elected from user group nominees to provide executive over sight of regulator activities to prevent repeats of policies such as; Defra/MAFF Land Drainage responsible for loss of wetlands, Defra/EA weed cut destruction of EU designated habitat and associated ecology and Defra/RB Canalisation policies that wreaked untold damage on the environment and exacerbated downstream flooding.
Discharge to be upstream of abstraction to provide incentive for water companies to ensure implementation of water quality objectives re chemical limits. Similarly encourage Water Companies to build infrastructure capable of dealing with flood water increased flow thereby preventing raw sewage discharge. To provide increased river flow above abstraction points, to slow impact of climate change and alleviate low flows created at the tidal limit at times of high abstraction. Draconian penalties imposed on discharge pollution incidents be they STW, agricultural or highways.
Restrict, or do away with, out of catchment supply. A simple measure to protect and maintain catchment flow and avoid transfer of chemically dissimilar volumes of water, with its associated adverse impact on sensitive biota and habitats.
Tidal limit, nocturnal or salmon run evaluated abstraction. To allow natural flows of both ground and surface water to complete its cycle within the river before the adverse impact of abstraction.
Tidal limit extraction points to be redesigned to remove barriers to passage, minimising disruption of migrating salmonid and CYPRINID fish species. This isn't rocket science, the designs already exist. It requires the commitment of the water companies to the environment as opposed to the easy option.
Funding: catchment based, on level of extraction levy per litre ring fenced for environmental protection. To be waived/dispensed with, through independent review/consent/agreement, to assist with development such as specific abstraction and discharge infrastructure undertaken to achieve compliance with the above recommendations by water companies..
Education re personal water use impact, backed by regulatory cut off; hosepipe bans etc, overseen by independent panel/committee. (EA, Wtr Co, Wildlife Trusts, landowners, LA, Ofwat)
SW RBD is not fit for purpose having been established to suit EA regional policy against the establishment guidelines provided. Under those guidelines river basins were to be established with geologically similar catchments. The R Frome, R Piddle, R Stour and Hampshire Avon chalk, green sand, clay and Bracklesham gravel bed catchments are atypical of the gravel and rock catchments of the majority of rivers in the South West. A new River Basin District including the rivers above plus the; R Test, R Itchen and R Meon should be established dedicated to the Internationally important chalk stream catchments.
The agriculture similarity of the majority of the SWRBD and sediment sources on the HA are not reflected in the data.
This consultation should be considered in the light of the Agricultural Act currently going before parliament, Natura 2000 (SAC & SPA) and the Governments 25 year environmental plan. To add a purely theoretical wish list to the equation at this time might be construed as shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted
Climate and Biodiversity.
As greater population demand is put on green field sites EA planning advice requires statutory teeth. To avoid Local Authorities and particularly the National Parks planning committees over ruling flood plain advice. This similarly applies to the advice coming from NE with regard to the riverine and wetland designated areas, their advice needs to be legally binding and have the environment as its top priority.
Increased water temperature will impact on ecological triggers such as; salmonid spawning, cyprinid spawning, invertebrate hatches with the associated link to seasonality hence food chains. Much closer monitoring of the riverine environment is required. We don't need to count fish we need to investigate the lowest biota building blocks within the system. The majority of this work should be undertaken at university level. All data arising from this work should be made available at no cost online.
If serious action is to be undertaken to protect wetland wader species such as the Curlew, used as the example of threatened wetland species, it must be done in conjunction with other regulatory bodies. The use of the Curlew as a measure of success or failure brings in a greater number of factors than covered by the scope of this consultation. Disturbance, predation, climate change, habitat destruction, all factors that need to be considered alongside wetland concerns. National Parks have been an ecological disaster through prioritisation of public recreation, poor planning decisions and bowing to unscientific public pressure groups. Wetland habitat restoration alone will not save the Curlew if it is to remain subject to the assault of; runners, riders, dogs and publicly subsidised destruction of the grasslands.
Wetland creation is not a problem if correct funding is made available through the Agricultural Act. The multi-agency involvement in river valleys, such as the delineation between main river and secondary water courses, wastes valuable funding and duplicates resources. Under the Catchment Management Plans all wetland and water courses throughout an entire catchment should come under the regulation of a single body. This would mean the movement of various agency and local authority staff into NGO bodies with the complication of new contracts and pension funding. An administratively daunting task but not insurmountable.
The statement contained in Para 9 under “Climate and biodiversity crisis” the sweeping statement; “We can do this by restoring rivers, wetlands and coasts to a more natural state, creating more wetland habitat, protecting and supporting wildlife recovery and changing the way we use some land.” This is a blatant simplification of an extremely complex area of potential benefit. It does not take into consideration existing ecology that has developed and adapted to the current regime. Many of the habitats that would be altered under such a policy are notified under conservation status designation and would require consenting as a change of regime. As an example changing the heavily modified Hampshire Avon Valley back into the braided channel, willow and alder car of pre-history, would change the ecological value of the valley dramatically. From being one, if not the most diverse river valley habitats in the country, it would return to a niche ecology existing in a completely different and more restrictive wet woodland habitat. Sweeping statements such as highlighted would appear to suggest a predetermined requirement of this consultation.
Changes to water levels and flows.
The determination of the criteria that indicates abstraction impacts needs to be reconsidered. If the precautionary principle is to be the principle factor determining the permission granted private companies to exploit a public asset for commercial gain, all possible detrimental impact require consideration. River life does not start at the top and work down, it is constructed from the base up. Its all very well protecting the iconic salmon as it is recognised by the general public as a wonderful creature with an astonishing life cycle. That salmon would not exist, which under the current regime we are doing our best to achieve, without the very basic forms of river life, diatoms, algal growth etc, that support the juvenile invertebrates that form the food for the first feed salmon fry as they emerge from their gravel incubation redds. If low flows created by abstraction, which involves rises in water temperature and increased nutrient concentrations, potentially give rise to adverse impacts, the precautionary principle should be invoked. If the habitat requirements of the Iron Blue Dun, which include the food its juvenile forms are dependent on, are potentially at risk ALL abstraction should cease in the aquifers and higher reaches of the catchment and moved to the tidal limit as recommended.
Clean gravel the signature of our rivers if they are in good health. Our Mayflies and other up-wings are in serious decline and need considerable research to understand their problems. A section of a heavily modified river that shows two water channels flowing in opposite directions.
The use of compensatory pumping, stream support, should cease immediately as a misuse of the aquifers involved. Robbing Peter to pay Paul and keeping ones fingers crossed we get the winter rain to refill the aquifers is the water equivalent of Russian roulette. At some point in the future with our changing climate we will suffer three consecutive low flow winters. Do we wait until we have destroyed the internationally important chalk stream habitat or take action now to guarantee its future existence.?
Chemicals in the water environment,
Environmental levy on all household and industrial chemicals found in water system, similar to the recommended agricultural chemicals and pesticides and abstraction levy. With the normal waiver to support infrastructure improvements.
The question arises just who sets the WFD EQSs (Environmental Quality Standards)? Similarly who sets the 0.1 ug/l threshold value for pesticides? Based on what research? Does that research include the impact on the food and life cycles of the lowest forms of naturally occurring life, upon which all life is based within the catchment? Fish, crayfish and blue mussels seem to be a little high in the food chain to be deriving biota risk. I suppose its better than humans being the baseline! Drinking water quality objectives are not designed, or suitable, to protect the more delicate elements of riverine ecology.
UK water quality standards are set in accordance with EU technical guidance. The precise values for standards have been set with advice from the UK Technical Advisory Group (UKTAG). I imagine it must be the same group that set the EQS
A significant increase in research work to establish the impact of not only the chemicals that are regularly monitored and sampled but also those many hundreds of chemicals and medicines that are currently entering our rivers under the radar. Research into the symbiotic relationship of these chemicals is also urgently required to fully understand the potential for harm. Much of this research should be undertaken by PhD thesis conditional on all future research being available FREE online. I just hate "pay to view" journals!
“Achieving further reductions will be neither easy nor straightforward.” Whilst the truth of that statement is undeniable if a genuine desire to achieve clean water and rivers exists within our regulators the funding must be found by central government or through the environmental levies as recommended above.
Lots of disjoined thinking that may form the basis of a response yet without a central government change of priority and commitment, plus adequate funding, the protection of the environment is impossible.
At risk, Avon Valley conservation designated water meadows.
25th January 2020
The close of the wildfowl season is fast approaching and the floods have made for perhaps the most difficult season for many years. The flight ponds have for the most part become just a small part of the water world that makes up the valley. Not only were the ponds impossible to feed, actually getting out to them risked life and limb. Wildfowl numbers have remained relatively low with just a few thousand about the valley. The only exception being the feral goose population that has got away very lightly this year. This will add to the problems of the meadows later in the summer when the increased number of broods risks destroying the grassland and wild flower meadows that we so carefully manage for the benefit of the insect world.
Despite the flow that washed many feathers away, numbers still remain on the emergent weed after the wildfowl have been grazing overnight. This used to be the way duck numbers were assessed when working out the amount of barley to put in the flight ponds. Nowadays the thermal imager takes all the guess work out of the process as a quick glance through the lens lets you see every bird in the valley. Numbers remained relatively low this year due to the mild weather. Our European visitors for the most part never had the need to travel to our warmer shores. It will be interesting to see which other elements of the valley wildlife will change as the mild winters we are promised with climate change impact our southern counties. I haven't seen a Bittern this year and the Heron down at the heronry are busy with their nests, a further sign of the times perhaps.
23rd January 2020
News that I only became aware of last week and I'm sure many salmon syndicate members will be equally sadden to hear that Julian Mahoney passed away several months ago. Julian epitomised all that was good to be found in our sport through his patient approach, his enjoyment when Lady luck smiled and his appreciation of his suroundings. I always looked forward to bumping into Julian on his visits to Somerley and I will miss our good natured conversations putting to right the woes of the fishery world. A great loss to the banks of Somerley.
20th January 2020
Today's update is of the reflected sky, looking north from Ibsley Bridge first thing this morning, over North-end towards North Hucklesbrook Marsh. Water remains in the fields, slowly dropping back at an inch or so a day. The second shot is of Ellingham oxbow, which hopefully is doing the job it was designed to do in high flows. It looks superb, with five feet of water steadily flowing as it drains the fields back into the main channel just upstream of the bridge. It looks absolutely perfect for roach but it would take a brave soul to spend the last hours of daylight searching the 400m of newly created channel for the elusive shoals. Lets hope they are there safely sheltering from the last five or six weeks of high flows. The only thing of note I spotted today, as I called in and parked in the flooded car park, was a Woodcock sat on the far bank enjoying the soft mud and dense cover.
19th January 2020
At last it looks as if we may have a break in the weather and we will see the river retreat to within its banks. If we are to believe the forecast there is no serious rain due for a week or so and with overnight frosts some of this excess water may get the chance to clear. I can't see it doing a great deal for the coarse angling as the water remains gin clear and the temperatures are going to tumble. Given a few days the chub, perch and pike will hopefully get acclimatised and come back on the feed, the barbel may take a little longer but you just never know.
Another of those silver linings as there are over thirty Little Egret and three or four Great Egrets about the valley at the moment enoying the flood.
17th January 2020
Water, water everywhere, just about sums it up today. The first shot is the road between Ibsley and Harbridge, up to the bottom strand of wire and pushing through. Definitely not the place to breakdown so best avoided if possible. Middle shot out to Blashford, don't even think about it! On a brighter note, a couple of the fifty odd Crossbill feeding on top of the larch today.
15th January 2020
Last night did nothing to ease our waterlogged situation with a further helping of rain and wind. Several trees succumbed to the blow but considering the strength of the wind yesterday evening we got away with just a few twigs. The height of the river is another issue as it's come back out into the fields with vengence. Nature will eventually allow the levels to drop but it will still be very high at the start of the salmon season next month, whatever the weather does now. On a positive note as I write this the Avon is sending its freshwater homing signal way out into the channel, it should at least mean any fish in the system will not be stuck down below the Great Weir in the harbour and come rattling up river to us.
Whilst on the subject of the salmon season could I request any syndicate members who have not renewed their membership, or let us know if they are not to rejoin, please email or phone the office. We have a list of rods on the waiting list who would appreciate knowing their fate in time for the new season.
In an effort to avoid further phone calls the fallen lime in the photo, by the ford at Moylescourt, is not one of the estate's. For the most part our problems begin the other side of the Dockens Water, as discussed in the entry just the other day. I believe the Parish council are responsible for the lime in question and they already know its down. The tree in question is the ivy covered specimen in the second photo, before it fell down of course!
12th January 2020
Its been an odd sort of weekend with very few anglers about and the high water remaining out in the fields. Despite the floods it hasn't put off the trespassers with canoes and even magnet fishermen out doing their thing, the latter of which I have to thank Jason from down at the Royalty for pointing out the error of their ways. On a more pleasant note it was also a WeBS weekend, which usually provides a few points of interest to look forward to. As it turned out the main point of note about the count was the almost total lack of ducks. With such floods one would normally expect the wildfowl to be making the most of it and appearing in their thousands. in reality I would be surprised if there were more than a couple of thousand in the entire valley. You have to have a theory and mine is that the mild weather has not forced the normal flocks of Wigeon, Pintail and Teal across Europe from the east. If that's not the reason I have no idea where they might be. Hopefully as the water levels drop and more of the meadow grass comes within reach numbers will increase. One surprise I had, as the daylight arrived and I could see across the valley, was that the trout farm have finally got around to netting all the stews, including the two main central ones that attracted all the Cormorants and Herons for their breakfast every morning. The difference to the Cormorant and Heron counts was astonishing with just twenty Cormorant and twelve Heron arriving and even those were unsuccessful in attempting to feed. That compares with counts over the previous decade of over two hundred Cormorants and one hundred plus Heron. My concern is that the displaced birds will spread out along the valley and increase the impact they have on the wild fish populations. This was partly born out by today's count with higher than normal numbers through out the rest of theh estate.
It was a bird day in more ways than one with the Starlings north of Ibsley providing their regular evening murmuration display. I haven't given much information about the Starlings as the parking at Ibsley Bridge was threatening to become a problem. My lack of entries doesn't seem to have dulled the interest in the birds and this evening there were over thirty cars parked at the bridge, or along the drove to Harbridge, as people arrived to enjoy the birds. There was an obliging Peregrine on station to provide the Starlings with incentive to put on a fine show that I imagine can't have failed to have pleased their human audience.
9th January 2020
Yesterday's arrival at Ibsley looks very similar to our single Bewick of recent years returning yet again.
8th January 2020
This afternoon I donned the waders and splashed my way out across the meadows from Fool's Corner to discover what the weeks of flooding has done to the right bank downstream of Ibsley Bridge. I was also hoping to see if the salmon had been cutting on the shallows at the tail of Harbridge Bend, visibility permitting. I'd only put the thigh waders on that in one or two spots only just kept the water at bay, certainly confirmation only the brave, or foolhardy, should attempt to fish at the moment. In reality the river looked absolutely wonderful, classic Avon scenes under grey, leaden skies, the river at its most raw and natural. In fact there is not a lot to see as the water is too deep for most of the bird world, lots of white blobs everwhere as the hundred plus swans between Ellingham and Hucklesbrook are joined by two or three Great Egret. Add geese, herons and gulls managing to master the elements a day to enjoy the scenery not the inhabitants. The first shot is the change of direction the river takes at Harbridge Bend and the over flow into the meadows. Its the area I discussed in the diary entry last month. As for the redds, impossible to say, lots of clean and disturbed gravel yet in five or six feet of water I was unable to be certain of salmon activity.
On a different subject I see the angling papers and even some of the daily papers have picked up on a story that the current Sea Trout record is being questioned. Well surprise, surprise, since that ugly brute was awarded the record it has made a mockery of the Record Rod Committee. At the time of its consideration several people, other than myself, simply dismissed the thing as a red old cock salmon. However the thing was given any credence as a sea trout just beggared belief. Any person who has handled these red old fish in either natural or hatchery conditions wouldn't give the beast a second glance as anything other than a cock salmon.
Perhaps of even greater concern is that the supposed experts of the record committee still do not have the experience to simply dismiss this creature for what it is. It seems they need the evidence of a DNA test to support their ditherings. Not the most inspiring advert for bothering to get a fish recognised on the list!
7th January 2020
The new year is well under way. Apart from the clump of daffodils that are in full flower in my front garden, the woods are starting into life with the Cuckoo Pint leaves beginning to push through the leaf layer and unfurl.
Despite the high water levels the work must go on and at this time of year tree management takes a high priority. Many readers will know the ancient lime in the first shot and several of you may have seen the large bough that came down in the road recently. Due to the proximity of the road and the popularity of the shallow section of the Dockens Water with local children, immediate action is required to minimise the risk of injury to the public.
A similar scene is developing with the massive Moylescourt Oak that stands a short distance away beside the road junction. As well as being one of the largest in the New Forest it may well be one of the oldest. Unfortunately its venerable old age, combined with the recent decades of hot weather, this tree is also struggling suffering considerable die back and fungal rot. The sandy soil has not done this tree any favours and its popularity with walkers and picnickers has seen the surrounding ground severely compacted. Any attempt at lifting and injecting the surrounding ground with a slow release fertilizer is complicated by the fact more than half the tree's root mass is under the tarmac of the Linwood Road. The massive weight of the boughs that hang threateningly over the road has to be reduced and after the necessary planning applications have run their course we will endeavour to remove as much of the dead wood as possible in an effort to permit a few more years existence for this magnificent tree.
A further complication in deciding the fate of the lime mentioned earlier is that it would appear to have quite a religious significance in the life of many people. If this tree did not have this unexpected role it would be a simple and clearly justified decision to remove the tree completely as it is so dangerous. In this case we will try and reduce the risk of further falling limbs by pollarding and reducing the height. One further complication that can be seen in the third shot is that the tree is completely hollow and rotted out, actually threatening to split asunder and fall in opposing directions. Oh the simple rural life!
Still in the fields and now running gin clear, with the river bed visible is six feet of water. With high flows over the period of the salmon cutting the fish will hopefully have found safe gravel runs, high in the river system. Spawning in such high flows will require the hens to select redds in the optimum position to supply safe, oxygenated water over the eggs. It would be exceptional for the flow in these areas to further increase, hopefully meaning good survival of the redds avoiding rising water scouring them off the bed.
3rd January 2020
2020 beginning as 2019 finished, Ringwood and Harbridge churches across the floods. I've been away for a week or so but will now get back to normal service as the New Year diary gets underway.
My morning commute, it may hide many problems but not a bad office!
The water level in the new lakes is also at its highest level, there are over 300 Lapwing enjoying the sanctuary of the newly created islands