Rodent proof, rot proof, rust proof, wonderful things these aluminium feed sheds!!
Several thousand Starlings pretending to be a swarm of bees. They are still with us but numbers have reduced considerably and the birds have started to move back to the old roosts at Ibsley North. The state of the reeds has forced the roost into the surrounding willow and the Peregrines continue to harrass them every evening.
Out trying to reduce the number of geese in the valley. These had luck on their side being too high for a shot.
This young dog mink chose a bad time to come wandering up the middle of the track towards Jonathan our headkeeper.
The opportunity for a quiet day, Christmas with the family now over and the New Year yet to get under way an unscripted walk seemed like a good idea. The valley remains gloriously underwater with the river only fishable in the slacks and bays and then only if you are prepared for a long wade out across the fields with the water well over knee depth. Ditches and hollows are now too deep to safely cross in thigh waders so pick your swims carefully if you wish to avoid a ducking. I spent several hours yesterday afternoon wading the fields in an effort to reduce the number of geese that are currently in the valley and found the going very difficult so be warned, especially as more rain is forecast. Just what you might expect to catch if you do make the effort adds to the mystery. I have met anglers claiming one or two chub and one pike but the barbel you might hope to be active in such a flood seem to have avoided the anglers, at least to ones I have spoken to. On the barbel front I did learn the swim from which a recent 15.7 had been landed. It's probably the last swim on the estate I would have fished in the hope of such a fish. Eddying and boiling in such chaotic fashion its hard to believe any fish should live in such a pool. It does go to prove that almost any swim is worth investigating if you have the time. Whilst on the fishy front, the water has cleared sufficiently to allow me a peek into the carrier where I was told the salmon were cutting the other day. I could kick myself for missing that event, the size of a couple of the redds in the small pool are enormous. It was either a pair of extremely large hens or numerous hens over cutting each other, which considering the area of clean gravel available to them after the floods I think the latter is unlikely.
Alan Mannering with a nice double.
I spent an hour or two today cutting up three windblown trees that were preventing anglers reaching several areas of bank, without a protracted hike. It did give me the chance to chat to some of the anglers on Meadow and it would seem the lakes are being far more angler friendly with some good carp showing up. Rob Channing had landed a 30+ and a good 20 both in the daytime and young Ash had six carp when I spoke to them briefly at lunchtime. Complaints of bream where also very vocal so if you are of a bream frame of mind they might be worth a serious look on fine gear with worm or perhaps single maggot over reasonable feed.
"Out of the road dopey" Valley residents are still all out and about, some on the move to dryer quarters and others continuing to enjoy the floods. Kingfishers, Marsh harriers plus hundreds of Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall. The otter in question swam up the Trout stream and trundled along the middle of the track for several hundred metres as I walked just thirty metres behind him. The second is illustrating the layer of water that smooths the otters passage through the water which I referred to in previous entries, completely in harmony with its environment.The last pic is just a record shot of the first Bewick of the winter that arrived alone on the marsh yesterday.
Seasons greetings to all the diary readers, sixth night after the full moon of the solstice, I'm just off out with my golden sickle to cut the sacred mistletoe from the Red oak in the Park. In actual fact I'm off out to see if the thieving b*”*^*”s are out with their running dogs as I had a report of them earlier in the evening at Blashford. I'm afraid I have no such seasonal greeting to offer them as I'm sure neither do the deer.
Mistletoe on the Red Oak.
As for the river after our storms of recent days we are enjoying a full blown flood. Lots off blocked gates and jammed hatches to liven the day. As I'm sure I've said on here before, I find the river in this state an inspiring landscape. There is always the element of danger attached to high flows, the fear of a wrong footing bringing about a soaking, at best. That's not the sole reason for heightened senses, add the earthy smell of silt laden spate and valley wildlife forced into a change of residence. Otters, Kingfishers, wildfowl all actively enjoying the abundance of new pools and streams. Perhaps most exciting, the appearance of the salmon on the shallows in readiness for the imminent spawning season. Despite my frustrating time looking for the seatrout I did venture into the forest once more last week. Whilst seeking the seatrout I have been told I missed half a dozen salmon cutting in one of the carriers within a couple of feet of the bank. Never mind, at least the fish are here and cutting, perhaps if the river drops I'll get an opportunity to get some snaps yet.
The spillway in full flow and a broken hatch as a result of the weight of water and rubbish. A very poor shot of some of the dozen or so Mandarin Ducks on one of the lakes.
As for my second trip into the forest in search of the seatrout it was a wonderful hour or two despite the lack of success. Having only skimped the higher catchment on my first trip I was keen to look at the headwaters again in the hope I had missed them first time through. I parked up at Cadmans Pool, the acre pond responsible for the original stocking of many of the local carp waters. Down through Anses Wood toward Fritham Plain where the Dockens nestles in the valley bottom. The stream at this point runs east to west, criss-crossing between lawn and ancient forest, down from Fitham toward Holly Hatch. The heather and bracken of the plain rises towards Slodens Inclosure on the northern side of the valley in sharp contrast to the damp stillness of the woodland now enclosing the stream as we head through South and North Bentley toward the Royal Oak up within a mile of the source. I was not alone on my travels as the fresh imprint of a vibram sole told of a traveller on a similar path in very recent times. The exact same route, over fallen beech and mud filled hollow with every twist and turn of the stream pointing to a fellow angler seeking to reassure himself of the well-being of the trout. How far had they walked? How many trout had they discovered? It would have been good to have exchanged notes. My contributions to the exchange would have been minimal as apart from five possible redds and a further trout or two tucked up in the pools not the hoped for shoals turning the shallows into a jacuzzi of spray and froth. In reality I have been told of fish in the stream a fortnight earlier on the very first rise in water when they appeared in the middle reaches, below the High Corner Inn. I was also sent a pic by Ed Bennett from the Blashford Lakes of a seatrout that had fallen foul of one of our local otters, so the fish are in the system. The subsequent floods may have flattened out the redds or the remaining colour and depth concealed their efforts. I will return to the middle reaches once the water permits but as I write the forecast tells of a further two inches of rain in the coming day or two which will put pay to any such visit for several weeks.
From the Forest lawns into the ancient woods.
Clearing headwaters below the Fallow herd on Fritham Plain.
Almost at the source.
All change, the rivers full and the colour of tea. What was a desperately low river with very little opportunity for the salmon and seatrout to reach the redds a fortnight ago is now the perfect channel for them to reach the spawning grounds. Hopefully a week or two of high flows will shift the rubbish and provide the clean gravel they need.
A family weekend away, congratulations to Daf and Carly, a cracking time was had by all. A spaniel trial of which I failed to get any pix, as I was too busy shooting. Christmas preparations and other events making diary entries thin on the ground. Hopefully a day or two off over Christmas and New Year will see more time out and about and may even inspire a fishing trip to provide added content.
Today's seatrout hunt in the forest streams proved fruitless other than for a shot of a flock of bathing finches. Hopefully the water was too high for me to spot them today and by the weekend a further visit will allow me to spot the redds.
Starlings over the streams on the Estate and a shot of the flock arriving from the south over the spire of Ellingham Church. The central shot shows the regular arrival of one of the Peregrines that gives rise to chaos throughout the flock.
The result of Falco's arrival.
Starlings remain the centre of attraction at the moment.
We were out on the estate looking for holly for the church and couldn't find a single berry. I think this lot have eaten them all, yet the Forest trees remain laden??
I put this up as I thought today our old regular was starting to look his age with silt on his tail feathers and primaries. Perhaps he should take a break down on the Somerset levels and join the breeding population down there in the hope of finding a mate.
In actual fact not the ones in the photo they are the twenty six that call our house home and obligingly sit outside our front window when I need a pic. Its the murmurations up the road that are drawing the crowds and whether our birds join the masses in the evening I couldn't say. What I can say is happening is that people arriving to see the birds are becoming a pain. Tonight as I was rushing about looking for a poacher all I could find were birders parked just where they liked, irrespective of signs such as "Church and Hall Parking Only" or "Strictly Private no unauthorised entry - KEEP OUT". To the extent the main entrance to the estate was blocked at one stage. The problem arises as some of our dopey poachers that fish Ibsley Water and Ellingham Lake are known to arrive at dusk and park in the Hall car park in the hope they will go unnoticed. I must say they look the picture of innocence as they walk back along the road towards the lake in their camo gear and tatty hats. Unfortunately oddly clad camo wearing birders add to my confused state. Historically we just moved them on when our paths crossed. We are now becoming a little more proactive and should any poacher chose to continue parking in the Hall car park we will be taking a great deal closer look at his activities. As for the birders why do they not watch from the Blashford Lakes car park where the vast majority of sensible watchers position themselves?
The number of Starlings in the current roost is causing much debate.
The section shows the dotting process that drives Anne mad as I sound like some demented Deathwatch Beetle.
I have heard estimates as high as half a million which are somewhat optimistic I fear. This is a problem wherever you get these large roosts, be it Aberystwth or St Peters in Rome most estimates are purely guess work. The pic above is my current count that I have still to finish. It's a panoramic collage of the roost on the 7th and contains the greater part of the flock. After they go into roost each evening one or two thousand join them late, coming in low over the trees from the west but these must be added seperately. The technique is easy in that the vertical lines are purely to divide the mass. I have gridded other pix when I have been working purely on averages but for a total count the vertical lines are sufficient. Obviously the file size I work on is much larger than the pic above but putting up large MB files is not good for the storage etc. Within the vertical lines each colour block is 100 birds, see included section, at the bottom you can see a total for the column. Each end up to the red lines I have added up individually the columns between the red lines have been averaged based on the eighteen completed to give a current number of 50144 for the 41 columns. If anyone can tell me a simpler more accurate method I will be pleased to hear about it!
What sad news tonight in that I have just heard that that loveliest of men Dick King has lost his battle with illness. I haven't been in close contact with Dick for several years yet during our occasional meetings, usually on the river bank as he sought out barbel in some peaceful haven, it was as if we had seen each other just 24 hours earlier. Dick had an ease about him derived from his peaceful outlook on life and his laid back approach to all matters piscatorial. Which somewhat strangely was handsomely complimented by a wickedly dry sense of humour, providing all that had the pleasure of knowing him with endless hours of added enjoyment on the bank. I came to know Dick when he was heavily into the carp scene and a regular on Somerley Lakes in the early days of carp fishing in the Avon Valley. He was one of a group of carp men that stamped their unique character on the fishing at the lakes for many years. A time when good company and appreciation of their surroundings counted for a great deal, bringing a warmth and friendship to the waters rarely seen today. I miss such times and I'm sure many will miss Dick, my thoughts are with his family at this sad time.
The first shot is of Dick with his characteristic smile enjoying a 27. The middle pic shows Dick refusing to be put off by a little ice, especially when a boat and a rope can be brought into use to clear a swim. Finally a pic of Dick with close angling friend Alan McAvoy during the filming of the "Forty Minutes" documentary trying to look into the soul of angling. They picked a good pair to try and fathom out with Dick and Alan!! "Ditto" Those that watched it will know what I mean.
This evening layers of mist flowed up from the river to cover the meadows.
As I drove through the Lakes car park at about eight thirty this morning I spotted two of my favourite anglers, Eddie and Vic, unloading their gear for a day down on Vincents. I stopped for a natter, with five minutes reminiscing and putting the world to rights, we soon went our separate ways. Over the style and out across the side stream bridge, a quick glance down into the pool below failing to show the dace or chub that often dive for cover at our passing. A still mild morning greeted me in the valley and I was piped aboard by the Green sandpiper as it flew away upstream to the next exposed area of gravel the low water levels have to offer. Across the web draped field to the lair of my opponent and settle in well back from the reeds to avoid casting a shadow and prematurely ending the day. Rod unclipped and into the bag for a trace from the rig bin; that I now remembered is on the shelf in the garage where I took it out yesterday in an effort to stay concentrated on my circle trial ”*!!*'””^! Oh dear, botheration. Its not a total disaster I still have my spool of trace wire, swivels and crimps and in my bag I'm sure I can find a couple of trebles. Super stuff, two good trebles in with the beads answer my prayers. Before I make up the trace I arrange my seat, pour a cuppa and find the correct glasses. I'm now ready to settled down to five minutes of rig making and the calming of fraught nerves. Its amazing how forgetting just one little old thing like a fish hook could have buggered up a day! All prepared, functional trace clipped on and dead trout swung out into position exactly where my intended was laying; I hoped! What could be better, lovely mild morning, unlimited green tea and chilli con carne sandwiches in the lunch box. Add a couple of slices of sultana bread and this pike showing up actually risks upsetting the Karma again!
Half an hour and I was beginning to believe my attentions of yesterday had upset the old girl. I'd already eaten half my lunch and it had only just turned nine thirty. Perhaps the brighter day had made her uncomfortable three rod lengths out where the float now sat motionless apart from the odd tug of the river. Keeping low I lifted the rod and drew the bait back towards me ten feet, to the shadow of the reeds. Back to my seat listening to the peel of St Peter and St Paul's bells across the meadows calling the virtuous to account and watching the rhythmic pull of the river against the line gently pulsing the float. Bob, bob, bob, bob, BOB, definitely not the river, something has found that trout. Nothing happened for ten seconds then slowly the float began to move across the flow. That'll do nicely, a steady lift finds a solid resistance and a firm pull to set the hooks bringing an immediate response in the form of a deep dive downstream and into the flow. There goes the Karma! Across the flow and back into the slack, certainly no Jack, it just has to be her. Two more powerful runs and we arrived at the same point as yesterday where she came cruising by just under the surface. Its her, what a sight, streamlined perfection, just stay on. Into the slack and over she rolls and straight into the waiting net. You beauty, just hang on there in the margins whilst we get our breath back and I summon up the strength to get you up the bank without popping another disc.
Up she comes and the top hook can be seen neatly tucked in the scissors with the bottom treble now out in the net. Thankfully barbless hooks present little difficulty to remove and with a couple of quick pix she's back in the margins ready to be released over the front of the net. Brooding menace now as she is obviously ready to go and with a great boil, lifting a swirl of mud from the bed, she's back in her element hopefully none the worse for her experience.
The rod now lays on the reeds having finished its job for the moment, a cup of tea and a sandwich seem to be called for as I decide the next move. As a light shower of rain falls from a single grey cloud that has floated up from nowhere, Geoffrey’s clay shoot starts in the woods on the far side of the river with a barrage of shots shattering the quiet, I think I've had the best of today's magic, time for home me thinks, back over the field with the rasping call of the Egyptian geese scolding me for the brief intrusion.
The river showing its bones with St Peter and St Paul's on the skyline as I arrived this morning. Success, I would normally have a grin like the Cheshire Cat having landed such a lovely fish but the expression is one of questioning whether that camera is actually going to go off and capture the event for me.
If you are one of those "specimen hunters" that reads blogs such as this and studies the fishing weeklies in the minutest detail in order to add a further specimen to your impressive list I hope our paths fail to cross. If on the other hand you just love the Avon valley and each and every visit continues to amaze, then I look forward to our next meeting.
My day started with the backdrop of St Peters and St Pauls on the Ringwood skyline behind me, this evening it was St Mary and All Saints at Ellingham taking centre stage as we stood in the meadows to watch the Starlings.
Strange day today in that I actually took the rod off the wall and headed out to the river. The one and only benefit I can think of with my tweaked back is that I am avoiding heavy lifting or stretching allowing me time to try for a fish or two. Today with the river so low and clear I decided that the pike were probably the most likely to oblige and as such grabbed a bag of rainbow escapees from the freezer and the trace tub off the shelf. At this point I had my annual twinge of conscience about the use of fish friendly circle hooks and replaced the rigs, digging out a box of mixed circles, a spool of trace and sufficient crimps and swivels to meet my needs. When I say this is an annual twinge its because each year for about the last half dozen I have decided to evaluate the claims made for circles for pike myself. What could be simpler, I use the things for sea fishing without apparent lowering of catch rate and certainly species such as Black bream are easier to unhook and return. Twelve foot Drennan carp rod, bait runner loaded with twelve pound line and a slider above my barrel lead and circle of choice. Lip hooked the first eight inch trout and a gentle underarm swing over to the slack on the far bank. Fishing with the float set over depth allowed me to place the rod high in the rest to keep a tight line on proceedings. The float cocked and slide straight under! It bobbed back to the surface and began running slowly upstream, stopped after a couple of yards and slide under once more. Had this been one of my conventional traces, which generally consist of a single to hold the snout and a barbless treble at the base of the dorsal, I would have hit the run far earlier probably on the first dip. I hate deep hooking pike, I'd rather miss them than risk a gut or gill hooked fish. As it was I decided that what ever was on the other end had certainly had sufficient time to turn and get hold of the bait properly so I tightened into it. No hurried strike, just wound down and lifted into it. Lovely, fish on and heading towards me into the near-side flow. A determined dive right under my feet and away down the pool for fifteen or twenty yards before crossing back to its home slack and running upstream on the far bank. All seemed under control and apparently a good hook hold for as the fish came to the end of its run up she came to the surface and the bait could be seen a foot up the trace. Not huge, probably a low double and giving a good account of itself. A couple more half hearted runs in the slack and I lifted the fish to the surface and began to work her back towards me for netting. As she swung around in the flow just below me she gently rolled, the hook came adrift and I watched her right herself and disappear back into the depths whence she had come. Sod it, never mind good fun whilst it lasted and I'd had the best of the fight.
The bait looked untouched so a fresh hook hold in the lip and out again, just twenty feet down the pool. Twenty minutes and off we go again, fish on! This was much smaller, six or seven pounds and the scrap was high in the water and very splashy, one such splashy leap sending bait and hook in a separate direction to that of the fish. Hmm, never mind, the lively little sod would probably bitten me when I tried to unhook it.
Time for a new pool and a cup of tea, so off downstream to a favourite slack on my side of the river this time. Fresh bait, larger circle, up to a 4/0 now, if there's any cod about I should be okay and a cup of tea to calm the nerves. Tea duly polished off and now sat back, at one with the world watching my red topped float sitting alongside the reeds in the most Crabtree-esk swim you could imagine. Right on cue down and away in a most graceful dive just below the surface to the crease between main flow and slack. After two or three seconds the float gently surfaced and moved slowly back into the slack where upon I lifted into a good lump. Deep, slow and powerful up and down the slack and once a boil showing me a good fish comfortably twenty plus. This is where I began doubting the wisdom of choosing today to trial circles again. Two fish lost and now a good fish that I would very much like to land. The runs became shallower and as she passed I could see the hook-hold, an inch back from her nose, somewhere in that bony/toothy top jaw. What's all this b'**''^ks about always in the scissors?? You guessed it, next pass gone.
I wont bore you with further tales of woe suffice to say I lost one more single figure fish and landed a single after having left him on the bait so long I feared he'd be hooked up the arse. As it was the circle was in the gut valve, requiring some delicate work with the side cutters to ensure nothing was left down there to do any harm. As for my trial what can I say other than I must be doing something wrong as each year I lose confidence and end up back with what I know. By way of a further test I intend to go out and catch that twenty tomorrow on a conventional trace. I'll let you know if I'm successful.
The one that didn't get away!!
If you're not a political animal read no further as the next section is my submission related to the "Challenges and Choices" consultation that the EA are currently undertaking. Luckily it was submitted before I attended a meeting on Friday where I sat in gob-smacked amazement as the EA and English Nature both stated they would have no problem consenting a return to mechanical weed cutting on the Lower Avon as long as they didn't have to pay for it!!!!! This despite the direct damage to the EU designated Ranunculus moraine from the cutters, the destruction of the flow regime on which any remaining Ranunculus is dependent and the devastation caused to the invertebrate and juvenile salmonid populations dependent on the associated shallow that would be drained. This after having heard that control structures operated by the water company downstream gave rise to the flooding problems experienced this year. Its amazing how our forebears ever managed to farm these meadows for the two and a half centuries before the advent of the mechanical cutter!!! Anyway below is the submission and if you're so inclined you have until the 22nd of December to get you views in before the consultation closes.
First and foremost I must state that this submission is the personal view of Mr J E Levell (me) and in no way reflects the views or opinions of my employers or any organisations or bodies with which I may be associated. The following submission does not fit neatly into the format as included in the Consultation document. My response to questions one and two are listed in order, three forming the background and included within the aforementioned answers. A further area I would wish to see expanded would be monitoring and perhaps more importantly evaluation. Dare I say it, the identification of the issues under "Challenges and Choices" is the easy part, the resolution of the recognised problems is where the difficult decisions have to be made. I believe it better to investigate and resolve one or two issues rather than a blanket approach diluting resources and failing to eliminate problems from the depressingly long list. Without good monitoring, evaluation and planning structures the ecological worth of the catchment we will continue to decline.
1/. Significant issues and challenges;
Without sufficient funding enacted legislation and existing administrative and regulatory structures become a burden as opposed to a benefit on the riverine economy. Under the current funding and issue prioritisation regime this situation is close to, if not already a reality. Without a significant rethink on funding alternative management structures need to be investigated as the top priority. Whilst partnership and devolved project management might be seen as a means to achieve this end it risks purely adding a further layer of bureaucracy that will do further harm to the riverine economy. Through recent rounds of funding cuts within the EA staff numbers have been severely reduced. Along with the staff reductions there has been a corresponding reduction in experience and expertise in the associated fields. Without this expertise and experience a disproportionate number of consultants have appeared on the ground to plan and evaluate policy. Money initially intended for "on the ground" delivery is being absorbed by the multiple tiers of reports and papers designed to safeguard the decision makers and insulate them from their responsibilities and accountability. In the event the current EA structure further degenerates, purely becoming a middle man to pay the consultants and contractor partners, the funding would be better delivered direct to the end user service provider. Statutory regulatory roles similarly being attached to the service providers with direct funding from Defra. The challenge would then be for the owners, managers and users to put their houses in order, with the assistance of the regulatory officers, on a catchment by catchment basis. This would provide the necessary impetus and change of priorities, independent of the cosy relationship established between the current administrative departments within the EA. Able to challenge existing hierarchical priorities, environmental threat and ill advised change, under existing national or European environmental legislation.
Whilst funding is not an issue raised by "Challenges and Choices" we are asked to consider resources and without meaningful consideration of the future means to fund the agency, or alternative riverine administrators and regulators, the entire exercise is futile. It is essential the user/polluter pays. If that is society so be it, the hidden cost of cheap potable water and the UK agricultural policy must be recognised and no longer born by the rivers but passed on to the consumer. To do otherwise is simply putting off the inevitable destruction of our riverine environment and private asset. Conservation levies on water use, agricultural chemicals, highways and similar social demands that ultimately have a detrimental impact of the environment, requiring cleaning up, must be recognised and brought to task. We are currently faced with the most active conservation NGOs having to go cap in hand to the major polluters and industrial users of the environment for funding. An untenable, conflicted system open to cynical abuse and flawed compromise.
The paragraph immediately above gives rise to the need for active promotion of the environmental cause in political circles. It is essential that government is forced to recognise that knee jerk gerrymandering is not an acceptable means to develop environmental policy. It is essential to prioritise the protection of the environment over the potentially damaging demands of society if we are talking seriously of protecting our rivers for future generations. The guardians and regulators need to be in a position to publicly challenge and actively lobby national government a situation difficult under the current government agency regime. The WFD is a positive step along this route but without adequate funding or teeth purely window dressing.
Contained in the current planning legislation are many admirable and successful environmental policies that go some way to improve the environment. The element that is missing is the dispersement of any accruals at the very fundamental level of the river catchment. There appears to be a distinct detachment between the EA and local authority policy. Whilst behind the scenes statutory consultees may exchange views the development and promotion of the reasoning needs to become second nature within the communities living and dependent on the catchments surrounding them. It is all too easy for those of us immersed in the daily running of the countryside and environment to believe there is a universal understanding of the delicate balances of Nature and the consequences of getting it wrong. That is not so, the vast majority of the general public still have no idea about the management of the riverine environment. Perhaps more frighteningly many do not care beyond their private agendas and self interest, a failing of others beyond the scope of the EA. Whilst the LA officers may not be of the opinion that most river users are harmless old duffers who bob about in boats and wave fluff and feathers attached on fancy sticks, this is an all too common a perception held by the general public. I believe a much closer liaison between the EA and the local Authorities would be beneficial for the long term understanding and protection of the rivers. Similarly since the attachment of considerable funding from Defra to riverine issues the Wildlife Trusts have done a laudable job of raising the profile of rivers and river life. Under the current funding restrictions there is the risk that this good work undertaken will cease. There is a very real need for this educational work to be expanded, to become the basis of as wide an educational strategy as possible within the schools framework. This will only happen if government is pressed by concerned agencies.
Conflicting Interests. (Loosely in order of priority)
1. Regulators/enforcement; Political/funding.
2. NGO's; Wildlife trusts/River Trusts - environmental/funding.
3. Industry; Water companies/aggregate extraction/landfill/waste disposal/ energy industry - investment/profit.
4. Society - public access/disturbance/responsibilities.
1. Low flow - temperature/eutrophication.
2. Flood events - scouring/flushing/erosion/H&S.
1. Phosphates - algal bloom.
2. Nitrates - excessive weed growth/algal bloom.
3. Highways - oil/heavy metals.
4. Detritus - biological demand (Aquaculture)
3. Mineral abstraction;
Introduction and proliferation of invasives/biological change.
Ground water levels.
1. Barriers to fish passage.
2. Changes in established regime - impoundments or increased gradient.
3. Mechanical weed cutting (See No 2, below)
1. Himalayan balsam.
2. Signal crayfish
3. Crassula helmsii
2/. Description of issues and challenges:
Without delving into the minutiae of each issue such as encouragement of non-indigenous species at a local level and conflicted legislation related to predation, the only real omission I recognise from a Hampshire Avon standpoint is included below.
It is recognised that physical modifications within the river channel and surrounding floodplain impact on the natural environment, not all such impacts may necessarily be harmful. Where such modifications have provided a wider habitat range the subsequent ecological development of these new habitats offer an increase in biodiversity that may benefit the catchment as a whole. This is particularly relevant in catchments such as the Hampshire Avon which are historically modified and subsequent conservation designations recognise the artificial regime and protect such diversity. Similarly in the case of the Hampshire Avon significant archaeological importance may be attached to such structures requiring alternatives to removal to be considered if proven to pose a threat to designated species.
I perceive the greatest threat from physical modifications in recent years to be the loss of flood plain through the rush to exclude water from properties built within the flood plain. The narrowing of flood plains through bunded flood defence schemes and straightening of channels to divert water have introduced many miles of physically altered flow regimes.
A further physical modification suffered by the Hants Avon, over the past five decades, has been the damage to the natural regime as a result of mechanical weed cutting. Whilst the involvement of the EA has significantly reduced the potentially devastating impact of altered flow regimes and water levels on juvenile invertebrates and fish should be recognised. It is necessary to evaluate the impact the secession of the mechanical weed cutting has had before further knee jerk easy option changes are undertaken with regard to removal of structures.
I write this as some one who has fished under most disciplines for over fifty years across the length and breadth of the country. On the Hampshire Avon I have managed one of the largest and most diverse fisheries in the country for in excess of twenty five years. My remit also includes direct liaison with the agricultural community and Natural England related to several hundred hectares of water meadows and flood marshes within the Hampshire Avon flood plain. My contact with the agency is minimal, other than to comply with the added burden of many ill devised statutory requirements. I am also involved with the riverine trust movement and have been active in this field since 1991.
There appears to be a basic flaw in the approach adopted by the agency in that it makes the assumption all rivers are in public ownership. This in many instances is inevitable brought about through the weight of existing environmental legislation that owners are obligated to adhere to and the agencies oversee. Whilst the aspirations of the WFD would seem to be admirable the risk of it becoming a further underfunded tier of legislation the owners, managers and users have to comply with risks it being seen as just one more step down the road to the nationalisation of the land as well as the rivers. From an owners standpoint, without the permission of the government in the form of the agencies, they are unable to add or remove fish, graze livestock, carry out basic repairs and improvements or simply develop their asset in any unique or entrepreneurial fashion. Jumping through hoops to meet the minutiae of the agency regimes cost time and money. This under a regime that in the last three decades has overseen the disastrous ecological and financial asset decline in many river systems that we currently experience.
The current role of the Agency is derived from political and funding motives from the top determine policy as opposed to riverine and user requirements on the ground. Flood defence, potable water supply and energy generation being clear examples. The river remains in a ratcheted decline with no policy introduced from within the agency being seen to ease the situation on the ground. Fishery and agricultural asset values continue to tumble on all fronts with few policies capable of evaluation implemented to stem the financial stress involved for those dependent on them. The clouding of the ownership issue I believe to be a deliberate policy to avoid the potential of compensation claims under the various legislation enacted to maintain, improve and develop the fisheries.
If government is to shirk its environmental responsibilities and renege on its funding commitments, much of the existing legislation becomes unworkable. Perhaps the change in management we require is for the EA to become the enforcer of the existing legislation with outside NGO's being responsible for the improvement, maintenance and development of the catchments. The huge lumbering legislatively overburdened bureaucracy the EA has become over the last three decades would immediately shrink by a considerable percentage. The EA enforcement officers in their new role would be attached to the catchment NGO's in a local capacity, able to consent minor legislative requirements in-house through advising the executive boards as in the example of planning officers and LA planning committees. Many other existing EA staff would be absorbed into the NGO service providers, monitoring, evaluating and planning. Where conflicts arose between the enforcing EA and the implementing NGO's the suitability and reality of the legislation would have to be reviewed. As stated in my initial statement related to funding what ever route taken is dependent on funding. Be it through government or levies on the users and polluters.
What an awful lot of Starlings look like when they are asleep. If you consider the Somerset roosts we visit each year can be twenty times greater than this flock it puts it in a strange perspective. I do now have a panoramic photo that will allow me to get a digital count of the flock as of tonight which will prove interesting as I heard of estimates varying from fifty to two hundred thousand. I'll put the number up when I finish colour dotting them onto file.
I know I've been predicting the departure of the Starlings to Somerset for some weeks now but if you wish to see them I feel their leaving just has to be imminent, solely due to the destruction of their reedbed roost. The weight of numbers has flattened the reeds and the volume of droppings has reached a stinking state where something just has to give. The numbers have now passed beyond the state where I can get digital counts as the flock is never in a position to be captured on one exposure. Tonight the flock divided in two with one half heading out over Ibsley water looking for a change of roost and the other half heading out over the Park and the river. They may go back into the willow and reeds over on the east side of Ibsley water or possibly the beds on Mockbeggar. Just how many its hard to judge but I would hazard a guess in the region of 55-60000. Should they decide to move locally I wouldn't imagine it will be long before such numbers destroy the small areas available to them. It seems that the best viewing area is from the car park on the Blashford Lakes reserve in front of Tern Hide between 3:30 and 04:15 well worth a visit if your in the area.
Just an entry to confirm I still exist!!! Unfortunately I've been busy until earlier this week when I tweaked my back dealing with one more of our recent wind blown trees. This one was a huge common lime that had provided nest sites for the Little owls, stockdoves various ducks and the Egyptian geese. Add in the bats and the bugs and we have lost a wonderful habitat that will take over a hundred years to replace. A day or two without any physical jerks seems to have settled things down hopefully bringing a return to normal service in the near future.
My aches and pains may have prevented lifting and bending for a day or two but not my ability to walk affording me the opportunity to visit the reedbeds to assess the extent of the willow regrowth that will require clearing before next spring. The first shows an artificial reedbed dependent on circulated washing water in the gravel cleaning process and is as such not sustainable. The second is a natural reedbed on wet ground beside the river recently cleared and will require further clearing until the density of the reeds out competes the willow. It also catches in flight one of the Bittern that were active beside the river today and of course the Starlings are still with us despite now having flattened the greater part of the reeds in their chosen roost.
For ID purposes so I can get it on my phone. I'll remove it when I have it clarified.
I've decided not to remove the pix and because I have developed a particular fondness for this little chap I have added three more. I originally recorded this chap on my WeBS survey on Sunday as a Dunlin but when I spoke to one or two other "birders" doubts began to surface. Mention of Curlew sandpiper and even Broad billed threw this landlocked amature into disarray. Luckily I have oracles on hand from whom I can seek advice and they assured me it is a Dunlin and its similarity to other small grey jobbies can safely be ignored. Thats all fine and my original WeBS online addition can stand but it doesn't end there as he's still up there on his gravel bar, accompanied by a couple of Green sandpipers, continuing to behave like an old farmyard hen looking for feed within feet of me. Does this mean we are about to see a change in behaviour of our coastal waders as the river runs with its bones exposed providing new beach feeding opportunities miles inland? If that is the case it is the one and only benefit of the dramatically low water we are currently experiencing in the valley. Perhaps its the fact I am not familair with these little beach chappies as the visiting Dunlin I usually see up here are as flighty as the Lapwing and Godwits they often associate with but his confiding behaviour of the last few days puts him high on my favourite bird list.
The north wind doth blow and has brought with it the first real taste of winter as the day time temperature remains in its boots and the cold, bright air making fishing all but impossible. I did at least get the opportunity to get down to check the hatches and whilst there rigged up the block and tackle to remove the wretched willow limb that has been blocking the trot above the Eel Pool hatches for the past three months. I shouldn't really be spending time clearing swims as that is not my role but that branch had been bothering me since it fell in the finest dace swims on the estate. Despite there being some excellent bags of dace landed trotting inside the snag the dip where the better fish usually are to be found has been blocked. With the river dropping and clearing I expect the dace to be back in the deep water above the hatches any day now, it will be interesting to see how the cleared swim produces.
The last of the Autumn colour as the recent frost has speeded the leaf fall.
removing a snag from one of the finest dace swims on the river.
One of the few anglers I have spoken to in recent days was Kenny Parsons a regular visitor to Somerley from those distant northern rivers of the Bristol Avon and The Kennet. I first bumped into Kenny about seven or eight days ago on the evening of his first of a five day visit. I was heading up from Ellingham to watch the Starlings and being ten minutes early took a detour along the river where I happened upon Kenny playing a good solid looking fish. Unfortunately this particular fish came adrift which was a pity not only for Kenny but myself as I would very much have liked a few shots for the diary. During our ten minute chat he told me he hoped to get down to the river for a few hours each afternoon looking for our chub and barbel. As he was what I describe as a traditional Avon angler, trotting over heavy maggot feed, I very much hoped I would meet up with him again to find out how his visits were progressing. Unfortunately work got in the way again and I failed to find him during the remainder of his time down with us. I did see him in the distance one bright day after what was most definitely the hardest frost to date, in light of which I didn't hold out much hope for his success. So it was with some surprise and delight that a day or two ago I received an email from Kenny to update me on his southern hol. The photo is just one of several very large chub he landed, the story of his adventures and lots of other super pix can be found at the link below, Well done Kenny such fish under what can only be described as despicable conditions is a brilliant result.
Thanks to Kenny Parsons for this photo of a 6.10 chub. See the link below for the full story.
What of my Starling visit? Well it wasn't that successful in that a Peregrine turned up and sent the birds hurtling into the reed beds to escape him. It would seem that whilst Buzzards, Sparrow Hawks and Harriers often add to the occasion, forcing the birds into putting on their most dramatic murmurisation displays, the arrival of a Peregrine sends them straight into cover. The problem with this is that once one flock has dived for cover flocks subsequently arriving sense a problem and immediately dive into the reeds alongside the first arrivals. This same Peregrine has succeeded in messing up the last three visits I have made to the roost this evenings being no exception. With about a third of the birds gently circling and displaying, which I believe they do as a signal to approaching flocks as to the whereabouts of the roost, our neighbourhood falcon arrived, signalling the end of displays for the evening. All was not lost as I did at least learn a new ornithological phrase to do with the Peregrine as Anne spotted him first and for a Welsh speaking girl she perfectly captured the mood with a very succinct Anglo Saxon phrase that perfectly captured the moment. I fear that falcon has found a supper menu that he will continue to exploit until our birds move on which is a great pity. The other note of interest this evening was a late departing Swallow circling over the reed beds in a most relaxed and unconcerned fashion. It would be nice to think he might know of a warm spell ahead not requiring his hasty departure to join his more cautious brethren. I don't think I will be making any plans on the strength of that theory as the temperature outside as I write this is already below zero.
I wasn't our day for the birds as the Starlings pile into the reed bed to avoid the falcon and I missed the opportunity of four herons in one photo as the Great white egret, a Grey heron, a Bittern and a Little egret were all sat within ten feet of each other until the dopey heron drove the egrets off and the Bittern into hiding.
This weekend a man who has done more to highlight the plight and protect the Rivers of Wessex than any other person in the last thirty years, very sadly passed away. Brian Marshall was unique in his commitment and determination to promote the interests of his beloved rivers, in particular that of the Hampshire Avon.
Immersed in farming and agriculture from an early age, having trained in the Somerset levels, his interest and understanding of the rural scene was boundless. The intervening years, with wife Pat at his side and the distractions of a young family, Brian's love of the rivers and countryside remained constant. A later career that involved considerable travelling meant he first made the acquaintance of the Hampshire Avon in the early 60's. His travels brought him to Downton and an overnight stop at the Bull Hotel, the centre of the Avon angling world at the time, a fated path. At the Bull he met regular Tom Williams water bailiff on the famous Longford fishery and became a member of that august syndicate, enjoying the Avon coarse and salmon fishing at its height and subsequent decline of the next two decades. Such a grounding ensured Brian had first hand experience of what the Avon was capable and more importantly what was missing. It was the decline of the fishing and the failure of the authorities to firstly recognise and secondly implement measures to stem or reverse the situation that brought about Brian's involvement.
The formation and more importantly the continuance of the Wessex Salmon Association came about through his efforts. Fund raiser, publisher, educationalist, project manager, all under the guise of his role of chairman, what ever was required he ensured it happened. He became the representative voice that carried the concerns of the owners, managers and fishermen to those charged by government with protecting our rivers. A formidable opponent, should you have been across the table from him, his reasoned and detailed argument was redoubtable. Ever professional, never allowing personal issues to influence debate, many one time adversaries becoming close friends. The Association grew into the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust with its charitable status determining the path subsequent riverine trusts the length and breadth of the land would follow.
Brian came up with the idea of using EU legislation to force the Irish Government into recognising the unacceptable damage the drift net fishery was doing; intercepting salmon destined for our and other SAC rivers. Finding time to travel all over Europe to promote the cause and gain allies from FISSTA in Ireland through our close neighbours in the South West, where Brian was a council member of the SWRA, to the Rhine Commissioners on the continent. Working closely with Orri Vigfusson and the NASF international team he gave a presentation to the EU Parliamentary Fisheries Committee in Brussels to refuted the Irish government counter argument. After a four year struggle the persistence and determination so characteristic of him won the day and the Irish Government closed the drift net fishery.
Whilst many will know of Brian through his efforts over the drift nets we have a great deal more than the Irish issue for which to thank him. His legacy is the very nature of riverine representation that is now beyond its first faltering footsteps and becoming the route recognised by all in the field. The WSRT gave rise to the current format in the guise of the Wessex Chalk Streams and River Trust, now with full time employees and leading the catchment based management strategy on the Avon. For those of us that profess to have the interests of the rivers at heart Brian has set the bar at a very high level, he has provided the example we now need to rise to the challenge.
Brian returning a kelt from the hatchery in the early days of the Salmon Association.
Having spoken of Brian's example as a guardian of our rivers perhaps one other attribute and possibly his greatest strength was that of being a true humanitarian, he believed in people. He understood the importance of our rivers to society and never lost sight of ensuring future generations understood that importance. I have lost a close friend and mentor, his passing has left a gaping hole in our riverine world I doubt will ever be filled, I have been privileged to have known him.
Removing one more wind blown willow from above the hatches. Had the tree fallen downstream of the hatches I would probably have left it in position to afford cover from future floods and avian predation.
Busy little ol' place, Ringwood this morning; 12,000 gulls fog bound on Ibsley water, 30,000 starlings fog bound at North Somerley and 20,000 Wood pigeons overhead, above the fog, flying west - presumably off to the cork oak forests of Spain.
I'm afraid my absence from the lakes and river means you'll have to suffer my latest Starling shots for a day or two. If your luck holds they'll all clear off to Somerset any time soon!!
If you ever wanted to know, that is what twenty thousand Starlings look like.
After yet another hectic morning clearing dangerously perched trees I decided on a quite walk at lunchtime to rebalance the equilibrium. Yesterday, whilst driving the truck through the paddocks beside one of the lakes, I had crested a brow and surprised a couple of dozen of the local fallow deer. They do not pay a great deal of attention to my truck if it keeps moving, just their heads swivelling in unison to follow my progress thirty metres away. Sat in the middle of the group were the white buck and the white doe which had I been able to stop would have provided a perfect photo opportunity, especially with the amber autumnal leaves as a backdrop. I had the camera with me today so the route of my lunchtime walk was set.
I arrived at the lakes and parked a hundred metres short of the paddock allowing a quiet approach through the woods. Fifty metres short of the paddock I was spotted by a doe and kid sat in cover away from the main group. The warning was given and the herd up and trotted off into the woods without offering so much as a chance of a photo of the white buck. With no photograph I walked back toward the truck stopping only to take a few pix of the Shovelers busy doing what ever it is Shovelers do in their tight little groups. Almost back at the truck and stood right in the middle of the track was a buck, looking for all the world if he wasn't quite sure whether to run or ignore me. He thought discretion the better part of valour and hopped the bank into the wood but not before I had time for a pic.
Not the colour I was expecting, a bonus shot of one of the bucks. A photo of the lake where over 200 Shoveler are enjoying the shelter of the islands from our recent storms. A further pic of a flock involved in the communal feeding exercise. To finish just one more photo of the Starlings as they came over the river to roost this evening. If we have a clear evening I will hopefully be able get some pix from the valley with the murmurations taking place above the river.
I have just heard of a splendid second hand tale illustrating the mean and doubting spirit of mankind. Yet again highlighting the scepticism that pervades the angling world. Its a difficult tale to tell as discretion dictates I refrain from giving locations or naming those involved. Suffice to say it takes place on a lake in the Ringwood area involving an angler with thirty or forty years of experience. Our leading man was happily catching roach on his light gear beside our tranquil lake when on the retrieve he had one seized by what he thought must be a large pike. Steady pressure began to win the day when suddenly the opponent dropped the prize. Discovering the roach was still hooked our hero landed the fish and on inspection discovering several deep parallel slashes down either side of the fish. Something didn't quite fit the bill with pike attack damage but was considered the only possible explanation. On returning the fish to the water our hero looked up and spotted a sight that took his breath away. Just feet in front of him lay a crocodile. To be precise, described as a Gharial, the long snouted Asian fish eating croc. The angling world has dismissed our heroes tale as a misidentified pike encounter which just shows what a miserable, mealy mouthed, small minded lot we are. Why be so negative when we could have such a new exciting dimension added to our sport. If your going to have invasive aliens in your waters Gharials would seem the perfect answer. I'm not suggesting Salties or Muggers but night fishing would take on a semi-extreme element. In the dead of a moonless night the sound of cracking and splitting as your bait bucket is eaten whole would certainly raise a few hairs on the back of your neck!!
I for one would certainly like to get a pic of the creature but its more likely to be one of the night lads who get to see it as that's when they are most active. Should you be out for the night and hear your cooker being dragged into the lake or get the reflected glare of two green eyes about a foot apart in your headlamp beam, you could be in luck. Alternatively I suppose you could be on the menu but lets keep this positive. Get the camera out and try for the shot of the season, should the thing pick your bait up it might even put you in the frame for the Drennan Cup, careful as you unhook it mind! I'd love a copy of the pic, I don't want any shots of beady eyed Roland’s peeping under the bivvy flap and I certainly don't want any of missing body parts, some readers might be a little squeamish. Good luck all you night lads, I'll await your calls with baited breath.
It seems one of my starling pix made the TV this evening, in viewers weather photos. Odd as I didn't send it in! I'm not in the least concerned as any pix on the diary, taken by me, are in the public domain as far as I'm concerned and may be used as seen fit. In the time I have been writing the diary I have been contacted by people from the far corners of the globe requesting permission, which is always freely given. Its nice when they are for charitable of non-profit uses but what the heck if the message is getting out there so be it. The only regret I have about the pic that was used is that I have several others that would have been much better representations of the scene. Not to worry, I've included them anyway as way of celebrating their continued presence.
I not sure just how it came about but in the small wee hours of Sunday morning I found myself watching, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the astonishing story written by Jean-Dominique Bauby. I don't do much in the way of recommending films but if you have a couple of hours to sit back and watch this particular one I suggest you grab a stiff drink and fire up the iPlayer; plenty of food for thought. The sound track is also pretty amazing; the reason I write this with Lou Reed RIP filling the headphones.
The Starling roost is beginning to look the part as I estimate to be in excess of twenty thousand birds gather each evening in the reed beds north of Ringwood. In recent years each winter as the continental birds arrive on our shores we have enjoyed a transient roost in local reed beds. Three years ago I counted eleven thousand birds which has continued to increase over the past couple of winters to our present number. Unfortunately if the birds stay true to their previous habits they will only be with us for a week or two. What makes them move on I can't say for certain. It might be that our reed beds are not large enough and become fouled too quickly. It might be that they are simply only part way along their migration route and are heading for the million strong roost down in the Somerset levels. The first pic shows my digital count of approximately two thirds of the flock. The second, the start of some weak murmurations and the third is a small flock finally dropping into the reeds to roost.
I trust you all enjoyed your All Hallows' Eve.
I'm already reeling under the burden of spicy pumpkin soup and delicious pumpkin pie but what else do we do with fifty pounds of chiselled out pumpkin flesh? I guess that's why Renee's were invented. The children of Poulner must now be full of various chocolate body parts to the extent Anne had to make a mid-evening dash to the local supermarket for more supplies. Forcing me to break from salting down slipper limpet bass bait and man the dwindling goodies bucket, appearing child friendly and wreathed in smiles at the door. I never knew there were so many juveniles ghouls and skeletons about this part of the world.
After the storm the calm and this morning there wasn't a breath of wind across the Lower Park to chase the mist from the river. Signs of the first frost of the winter can still be seen in the shade of the trees where the morning sun has yet to reach. The Park shows the scars of the storm with the lime below, left of centre, laying in a crumpled heap awaiting our attention.
One of the rarest and perhaps the most pleasing sights I have seen on the river in a long while. To meet a young man who enjoys dace fishing as opposed to putting in the long hours in pursuit of the barbel which in his own words he finds boring. When I happened on Frankie this morning he was an hour into his session and busy landing dace number twelve from a tricky swim with low overhead branches making rod control difficult. After checking the hatches and chatting for ten minutes he was on sixteen when I left, including the one dad Jamie was on hand to net. Jamie is a Somerley regular targeting the big barbel and it was good to see he was prepared to take time out to ensure Frankie gets a sound grounding in our noble art. Long may you both enjoy tightlines on your future Somerley visits.
No prizes for guessing what I've been up to for the last couple of days. Unfortunately the storm brought the expected damage entailing days of cutting and clearing to return us to some form of normality. We have been particularly busy in that young Phil left us last Friday, at the beginning of his twelve month farm exchange scheme to New Zealand and we have yet to take on a replacement. The scheme offers a wonderful opportunity for young people within the farming world to spread their wings, getting paid to see the world can't be a bad thing.
The first priority has been to clear the roads, tracks and access to peoples homes. We can now start to look at the woods and park land where sights such as the larch plantation above will take some time to sort out. A further impact of the storm, not the wind but the rain, has been to fill the river with coloured water making the Cormorants concentrate their feeding on the lakes. Not a bad thing in this instance as they are staying within the confines of the nature reserve where there is no shortage of roach, perch and rudd to keep them occupied.
I did mention this brace a day or two back when James Squire landed them and at the time I said I'd put the pix up when they arrived, for which many thanks James. Apart from the obvious fact they are a cracking brace of fish which were in absolutely mint condition, they both came out in the middle of the day. Add in the fact that Alan's 38 pounder was also a day caught fish arriving at four thirty in the afternoon, Meadow seems to be bucking the night only trend common on so many carp lakes these days.
WeBS day found the Gadwall out in the meadows enjoying the splashes.
Some encouragement for the river anglers with the arrival of the autumn river in the shape of this lovely specimen. I bumped into John McGough the other day, when clearing the weed rack, as he arrived at Ibsley to try his luck. One of our most accomplished and successful river anglers, with a list of Avon specimens to his credit that most of us can only dream about. He subsequently told me that with his first cast he added the beauty above to his list of captures. The rest of the session was uneventful but with such a fish landed anything else could only have been a bonus. Each season as the river takes on the colour and smell of the autumn floods I promise myself more time out with the rods. Such photos only add to my determination to make a greater effort to find such a fish this year. Thanks for the photo John, great fish, well done.
There you are, a Simo special. At 38.12 I believe that's the largest fish out of Meadow, very many congratualtions Alan. I should perhaps add it was Alan's second 30 with two twenties to make up the numbers, super session well done. Thanks to Head bailiff Graham Moss for the pic.
Whilst stood talking to Alan this afternoon the beech tree that can be seen in the background of Alan's photo was coverd in Wood pigeons feeding on the beech mast. With the mast opening on the tree they were not waiting for them to fall. Further on around the lakes and I came upon Jim Foster enjoying some roach fishing just about where we left off last week. He was also losing another carp in a further scene from last weeks replay. The final photo is a very poor shot of some of the 120 odd Shovelers that are currently on one of the lakes. I include this in an effort to explain some of the strange behaviour these ducks display when feeding. They seem to feed in tight, busy groups, presumably to stir up the settled-out diatoms they seek, they also appear to add elements of courtship display in breaks between feeding. I'll have to ask one of my birder contacts when I have the opportunity to see if I can discover just what exactly is going on.
Cleared weed rack.
At first glance not the most inspiring photos but each forms part of a much larger and more involved story. The first is simply the weed rack at Ibsley, a photo of which I included a day or two back when it was well and truly blocked with accumulated weed from surface to riverbed. The week or two of my absence from the daily task of keeping the weed on the move had allowed this stinking mass to accumulate. Unfortunately, without doing considerable damage to the banks, our long reach digger is unable to reach the channel at this point alas leaving only one option. Removing tons of weed by hand is nothing but a hard slog with much sweat and tears. As such the last day or two has seen much muttering, cursing and grunting as raft after raft has been cut free and sent on its way. I had deliberately taken several days to free the rack not only to avoid doing myself a serious injury but to ensure the dace that have had taken up residence downstream of the blockage had an area of sanctuary close at hand in the event of avian attention. Last week the water in the river remained depressingly clear and to have removed the mass in one day would certainly have placed the fish at considerable risk. To achieve the desired outcome of unhindered flow and cover for the fish I had removed approximately ninety percent of the mass leaving a chunk several feet thick covering sixty percent of the river width immediately upstream of the rack. The dace photo included the other day was taken at this revised stage showing part of this shoal still making use of the remaining obstruction. Bringing us back to the above photo that shows the rack completely clear of its stinking dead rainbows, upstream detritus and rotting weed. How were we able to achieve this without risk to the dace wasn't in fact down to us but Mother Nature as she has coloured the water and increased the flow sufficiently for the dace to feel safe back in the main channel swims allowing us to complete the clearing of the rack without worry.
The second photo shows minnows jumping at the concrete foundations of one of the lake discharge channels. Why do they do this we don't know. We can surmise it is in answer to Nature's command to always swim upstream to negate the effect of downstream flushing of larval juveniles and fry. How many other species feel this urge remains uncertain. What we do know is that most of our fish both salmonids and cyprinids seem to feel this urge to a greater or lesser degree. Studies from rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Volga record massive upstream movements of fish such as Barbel, Roach and Naze at spawning time. We do know our salmon, seatrout and brown trout respond to this urge and their upstream migration is protected under the law. Our cyprinids, dace, chub, barbel etc whilst responding to the same urges, do not enjoy the same protection under the law. It is this strange anomaly that we are attempting to correct at Ibsley with the construction of an all species friendly fish pass. The construction of this pass is proving somewhat troublesome in that we are aiming to provide friendly passage for ALL species. The problem with that is that each species and year class need slightly different conditions to migrate successfully. Meeting the depth, flow, gradient and seasonal requirements of the intended species is proving extremely difficult. I feel for those minnows in the photo, they are attempting to achieve the impossible at the point they have chosen to attempt upstream progress. I only hope our efforts to provide them with a more benign route meet with greater success.
It would seem the rains have well and truly arrived as we now experience the second consecutive day of real autumn weather. The main river has taken on a tinge of colour and come up about six inches. The Forest streams have yet to respond which would point to the majority of the rain falling to the north of us around Salisbury. Apart from the slight rise in levels we are beginning to see the weed scoured from the channel with rafts arriving all too frequently to block gates and hatches. One other visible effect of the rain has been the increasing number of birds out on the flood plain, the most obvious being hundreds of Black-headed gulls. Along with the gulls flocks of Starlings, Rooks and Jackdaws busy worming or making the most of the drowning voles and invertebrates. Wildfowl and geese arriving on the freshly flooded splashes to enjoy grazing at their ease.
Flooded splashes with; Lapwing, Mallard, Teal, Snipe, Canada, Greylag and Egyptian geese all enjoying the weather for ducks. Starlings gathering for roost after a day gleaning bugs and worms from the water logged fields. Finally a pair of Buzzards showing they will happily take smaller prey and worms than might normally be expected of them.
There have been more anglers out on the river as the colour makes conditions far more favourable to finding a barbel or two. Unfortunately I've not managed to stop to speak to any of them to see how they have got on. Hopefully an opportunity to have a walk along the bank will arise in the next day or two. I did have occasion to call in at the lakes and it would appear the carp are still on their autumn binge. A catch of fifteen fish to one rod I spoke to over the weekend and a common of thirty plus to another, certainly one or two happy soles on the carp front. If the rain continues and the Forest streams do respond we may see the first of the seatrout running up into the headwaters to spawn. A little early perhaps but always worth keeping an eye on the streams as the fish seem to know which floods offer the best chance to successfully reach the redds.
One of the opportunist pair.
I have to admit to being very worried about Defra and it has nothing to do with my rant re the dredging of our rivers from the other day. My current concerns were raised on hearing news I received just today; news I should add from a completely reliable source. I am concerned that not only is Xenophobia rife within the corridors of power at Defra HO, as they plot the final downfall of the American interloper previously covered in this blog, it now seems the charge of racism might be justified. My suspicions were raised when the UK Mandarin Duck population was declared a desirable alien due to the wild population in China now being deemed at risk. During all this period of anti-American sentiment and pro Chinese rhetoric the neighbouring Canada Goose population has exploded, with barely a whimper from Nobel House. I fear today's news comes as further corroboration of my suspicions in that Defra are now compiling, via GCHQ (Goose Census and Habitat Questionnaire) information on the whereabouts and habits of the local Egyptian Goose population. Is this anti-Arab sentiment now coming to the fore, or could it be that Egyptian Geese, along with the poor old American Ruddy, are about as easy to shoot as dazzled owls? I can see the Defra logic here in that in such financially restricted times, with Bismuth the legally required load for wildfowl, at two pounds a cartridge every shot must count! You do have to hand it to those Mandarins up at Nobel House, the civil servants not the ducks, the diversionary badger cull is a master stroke!
I did indeed take time out and go fishing today. I'm not sure it can be claimed as a serious attempt at fish catching, more an exercise of a bite being the order of the day, any fish purely a bonus. Fishing between ten in the morning and three in the afternoon is not the ideal time slot. What the heck, the sun shone, the conversation was convivial and the fish did bite. Not monsters but plenty of roach and rudd to keep the float on the move. I shared a swim with Jim Foster who managed to loose the fish of the day in the form of a carp, pity as it would have made a nice pic for the diary. Never mind, there's always another day and the objective of a relaxing and enjoyable hour or two was very comfortably achieved.
This one made the heart flutter for a second or two amid the six ounce roach.
Just to put a little meat on the bones of my gripe yesterday, today saw the release of the latest official figures related to the Farmland Bird Index. The index is based on 19 species reliant on the farmed countryside and has seen a five year decline of a further eight percent. Depressingly that brings the decline, looking back over the last forty years, to fifty percent. If that writing on the wall isn't sufficiently clear I don't know what is - over to you Defra and of course the shadowy figures of UK TAG!
Good morning. After a very late night, stroke early morning on the beach chasing bass I have decided to take the day off. True to form on my days off, it has duly decided to chuck it down providing me with the unsought opportunity to catch up on company returns and other outstanding administrative duties. Also perhaps the opportunity to add an entry or two to the diary. Just what has been absorbing so much of my time that the diary has been so woefully neglected? The autumn demands of the forestry and perhaps what's best described as sustainable conservation.
Trees have been occupying much of my time. Frighteningly the Monterey Pine on the left and a Wellingtonia on the right I grew from seed, planted three decades ago.
I have spent days removing dangerous trees, strimming scrub, removing rhododendron, trashing willow and self set alder and mostly in the name of conservation. Much of the area that have required my attention forms part of the fishery and it is the surrounding land that is being maintained with valley wildlife in mind. These days I find this element of my work perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of my very varied role. Not only the fact I can't hear my mobile ringing but at the end of the day I can look back and see physical change bringing the conservation policy we adopt into reality. Why has this prevented diary updates? Purely because after eight hours strimming or driving a chainsaw my buzzing brain refuses to grapple with html. As for the work it can basically be categorised as light, flow and access control. Sounds simple and it actually is, unfortunately it requires a considerable input of labour and that is where the sustainability comes in. As I'm sure you appreciate its the cost of labour that is the restricting factor on maintenance of such habitat. The dilapidation of the Avon valley as we know it has occurred over the last half century due to the fact labour is no longer a cheap commodity. The large rural work force that created and maintained the valley from its inception in the late seventeenth to the middle of the twentieth century has disappeared due to mechanisation and efficiency. The measure of that efficiency is the critical element. The driving force has been the accountant and the bottom line of the annual balance sheets. The days of surplus labour and long term planning and investment in the rural community are rare things indeed; everything has to pay its way. How then do we break the cycle of lack of investment and dilapidation and find funds to safeguard our environment without it having to show a measurable annual return. Recent years have seen the use of public money to support farm payment schemes linked to an element of environmental responsibility on the part of those accepting the Queens shilling. My entry of several years back entitled nationalisation by stealth covered this funding regime and its control. Unfortunately after multiple rounds of government public spending cuts the work of the regulators, ensuring those responsibilities have been met, has become spread remarkably thinly. Almost to the extent of being transparent due to it stretching to breaking point. If the doling out of public funds is to be curtailed as is the current threat how then will the environment be protected. Are we to join the growing line of begging organisations cap in hand as we seek the shrinking pot of grants and sponsorships. Or do we work with those that have the interests of the environment at heart and develop working practices that afford commercial income alongside environmental responsibility. It is the income we derive from the fishery, farming and shooting that has to have contained within it a realistic element of investment that permits time to be spent creating and maintaining suitable habitat on a sustainable basis. Why should any owner wish to invest hard won cash in looking after the environment is the key question. The simple and perhaps idealistic answer is personal responsibility. With human nature as it is probably the only way forward will be via legislation. My old chestnuts of 142, agri-chemical, abstraction and discharge levies, whilst perhaps politically hot potatoes need to be grasped and enacted if we are to save our remaining wildlife for the next generations.
Clearing self sets to let the light in. The winter visitors are now arriving already Shoveler, Teal and the regular Great White egret have taken up residence for the months ahead.
Just to add to this depressing state of affairs I see that Defra are trialling the dredging, or should that read destruction, of the rivers by the farming community in an effort to rid itself of its responsibilities and costs associated with the environment. I note that the EA are overseeing the seven pilots that are scheduled. I will be intrigued to see how quickly they arrive at a decision related to the schemes efficacy when each seasons weather will influence the results requiring a decade or more to reach a relevant conclusion if the past decade or two are an example. I can save all these years of trials and expense in recommending they look at the legacy of years of farming influenced dredging has had on the other rivers in the country. The single mandate of the farming community is to get the water as far and as fast from their land as possible, straightened, over dredged and over widened channels and ditches are a given. I wonder if we can expect the same consideration and fate as the song birds and pollinators sacrificed on the alter of intensive agriculture by the NFU and the agricultural community. The riverine invertebrate populations and juvenile fish are not their concerns, they will be the concern of the regulators. Have you faith that our thinly stretched regulators are up to the job of standing up to the NFU? This is the same farming community that has ignored best practice and where ever you look in the land you will see maize, wheat, barley, potatoes and rape being grown in flood plains. Its the same mentality of those that chose to build and live in a flood plain and expect the river to be used as a flood water drain to preserve their fitted carpets. If this isn't a cynical buck passing exercise by Defra why cannot teams of specialist operators be established within catchments to ensure a considered and uniform approach is followed; in close cooperation with the regulators? The reality is that government cannot rid itself of the responsibilities of managing our environment quick enough. We are seeing the return of the countryside to the private sector after the years of nationalisation by stealth. Wherever you stand politically the real risk with such a policy is that the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. For those of us that live and work in the rural environment it has been a frustrating exercise to watch politicians, scientists, administrators, consultants and bureaucrats determine the direction of public funding. Perhaps the days of the aforementioned are limited but before we send them to the recycling bin we have to make sure we have a sufficiently robust alternative. We must ensure a safety net is in place to protect and safeguard our wildlife.
’strewth, who's been winding him up?
Sorry about that but that's the other effect of long tedious days strimming or cutting, you have time to ponder the ails and goings on in the valley. Basically just like everything else it comes down to personal responsibility, If you own, manage, fish, walk, shoot, cycle, birdwatch or anything else in the countryside its ultimately in your and your children’s interest to preserve it. I did mention cycling in that list and I've been watching the cycling debate in the forest with interest. I must admit I estimate that ninety percent of those that block the roads in the forest might as well be on top of the wardrobe on a cycling machine. They have absolutely no interest or concern for their surroundings, heads down, wheezing, gasping and pumping. The forest is purely a promenade for the latest lycra and spandex that can be modelled on a bike and take my word for it there are some truly dodgy sights to be seen out there. Pig in a sack springs to mind! Sorry, sorry, I still suffer from miserable old git syndrome; each to his own, live and let live and all that.
A mast year as all the trees are laden with fruit, nuts and berries. Conference Pears, Coxes Orange Pippins, hips and holly berries the trees are loaded hopefully providing plenty of winter reserves for the wildlife.
How about the real goings on when it comes to the rivers and lakes? You'll be pleased to hear the arrival of autumn has given the fishing a boost with several good barbel and chub being landed on the river despite the low clear water. It is still very much a game of location and patience as there is considerably more water devoid of fish than occupied by them. Dace are perhaps the exception with good shoals to be found in most sections. Trotted maggot to find them and caster and pellet sorting out the better stamp of fish. The Barbel Society and Roach Group match actually produced a barbel or two this year with a fourteen pound barbel and an eleven being landed along with one or two other mid range fish. I was told it was the same angler who had the fourteen and the eleven if so he had a remarkable day under such conditions. I will have to check with Pete Reading if that were the case. Pleasingly one or two rods did some trotting and along with the dace a few small roach showed up which is the current pattern on the middle and lower river. I have been told that good bags of roach with fish over a pound have been showing up down at Winkton, which is certainly news to gladden the heart.
A return to time on the river greeted with blocked hatches and weed racks.
The lakes continue to produce with James Squire getting himself brace of twenty eight pound plus, scale perfect commons. James has promised me a photo of one of the fish as it was such a stunner. I'll look forward to receiving it and put it up for you all to enjoy. The pits are also continuing to provide roach and bream sport and if my luck hold I've promised myself a day after the roach tomorrow. All being well tomorrow will see a further entry recording my success, or otherwise.
Just part of one of the numerous dace shoals dotted about the estate at present. The larger dace and roach tend to be below the main shoal fish, just how you get a bait through the upper layers poses quite a challenge.
Continuing the fungi fest with parasols beside the shallow north east bay at Mockbeggar.
The carp appear to have decided that the winter is on its way and have got their heads down in a serious fashion in Meadow Lake. There have been some memorable catches of fish with anglers landing seven or eight twenties in a weekend session. Commons and mirrors to thirty plus dotted in with the multiple twenty bags, one fortunate guy managing two thirty plus fish to add to half a dozen twenties. Its odd that lakes develop their own character in Meadow fish have consistently provided this autumn bonanza since the early 80's whilst neighbouring lakes fail to switch-on. Why this should be I have no idea. I do know that it has provided some superb fishing in the intervening thirty years which many carp anglers have been fortunate enough to enjoy.
The recent warm nights after last weeks damp spell has seen a mushroom and fungi explosion in the woods and meadows across the entire estate. Over the years I have enjoyed numerous wonderful feeds of mushrooms and the more exotic toadstools that can be safely consumed. This years however I fear I risk mushroom poisoning. Not from mixing up my Pigs Ear Gomphus with my Agarics but purely through over indulgence of garlic mushrooms.
A bumper year for mushrooms.
The reason I have been making the most of the fungi bounty is that recent days have involved visiting several meadows that have provided the opportunity to collect a hat full without too much effort. One of the tasks taking me out into the meadows has been removing miles of old stock and forestry fencing. At a time when the fishery world seems intent on erecting miles of hideous stock and electric fence alongside every stream and encircling every pond and lake, we are attempting to rid our lakes of the ugly stuff. I personally find fly fishing beside a stream enclosed in stock fence about as attractive as fishing in Tesco's car park. The fly fishing mantra at present embraces the "wild trout" and the natural environment which somehow seems at odds with stock fence, barbed wire and ticking fencing units. If concerns about cattle poaching the banks is the justification for this blot on the landscape then I would suggest that those that represent the fishery world persuade Defra that rewarding low stock densities alongside watercourses might be the way forward. The other rush to enclose our world in wire has been brought about by the fear of the dreaded otter. Miles of otter fencing is appearing around lakes and ponds the length and breadth of the land creating islands of land and water sterilised and cleansed of our larger mammals. I suppose we're fortunate in having a huge surplus of carp and haven't seen the predation that has occurred in other areas of the country. We do have a healthy otter population, that spend a great deal of their time in our carp fisheries, yet I don't find many large fish casualties. Luckily it would seem they prefer crayfish, eels and small fish and long may this situation exist. The prospect of sitting beside a lake devoid of badgers, foxes, rabbits and deer, with its Stalag security perimeter holds little appeal.
Removing barriers to passage in the mammal world. Where boundary fences are unavoidable we have added badger gates and deer leaps .
Just a further stop-gap illustrating the continued presence of Migrant hawkers, seen here coupled starting the next generation.
Sunrise over the slumbering angler in No Carp Corner. I've been out early and put this up when I was home for breakfast.
This morning signalled a bonus walk beside the river as what was forecast to be a wet and windswept morning turned out to be flat calm, clearing mist and weak sunshine. As I followed the Hucklesbrook stream down to its confluence with the main river the first thing that caught my eye were the number of birds in the scrub and bushes beside the stream. Overhead literally hundreds of Martins and Swallows that were also making their way south down the river valley. As the mist lifted from the valley floor the scrub cleared of its birds as they similarly appeared to go on their way south. The majority of the temporary occupants of the scrub appeared to be warblers and they moved off in small groups of between eight and a dozen, firstly moving along the top of the low canopy before heading out into open country across the marsh. I can only imagine they had been grounded by last nights mist obscuring whatever means of navigation they use, forcing them to wait for daylight and clear skies.
A shot downstream that doesn't do justice to the thousands of Martins and Swallows moving through between eight and nine this morning. I called at the lakes on the way home and found Vic and Eddie trying for the bream. They were one a piece when I left them to it.
I wonder if the graffiti artist who scrawled all over the old control tower knew just how close he was to the truth with his sign writing directly beneath the hornets nest!
The fruits of the season as the fig tree delivers up to three dozen figs a day. Just what you do with three dozen figs is proving testing, especially with the associated syrupy side effects! Anne also decided on a colour statement when it came the allotment shed which certainly works.
Not the best photo in the world but it does record one of today's visitors.
Interesting photo in that it shows a one time breeding bird of the Avon Valley that alas no longer nests with us. Its not that its a rare sight in the valley during the autumn migration, as was the case today with the one in the photo being one of a flock of fifteen. Each year as they appear on their way south I always ask the same question; why did they leave the valley? To add to my quandary the marsh also contained a dozen Common Snipe hiding in the muddy ditches. The snipe left the valley as a breeding bird at almost the same time as the Yellow Wagtail seen in the photo; coincidence or is there more to it? Others have come and gone to a greater or lesser extent; Redshank, Lapwing, roach and salmon, all have the one thing in common; we don't know why. We do of course have many new additions with the geese, egrets etc and there are even some that went and came back; otters, Peregrine falcon, yet we continue to bask in glorious ignorance about the whys and wherefores of most of the population swings. A recent Lapwing study by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust points to predation being the significant contributing factor for Lapwing. The dramatic decline in Lapwing at the same time as a dramatic rise in corvid numbers as gamekeepers disappear from the rural scene. Was that the major factor in the decline of the Wagtail, I don't think so; as would anyone else who has tried to locate the nest of a Yellow Wagtail in a hayfield. Changes in the agricultural regime with the disappearance of the diary herds and the monoculture of black bag silage? That doesn't seem to fit either, unless less cows equates to less dung and less dung means less invertebrates for juvenile food. Climate change? I don't know and I fear I will be asking the same questions when I see them moving through next autumn.
I noticed that the Cormorant numbers are starting to build again as the birds return from the coastal breeding colonies with this years offspring. I will be interested to see how numbers behave during the WeBS count of the next six months. I was looking through some old literature about Cormorants in the Avon Valley and what their diet consisted of in days gone by. I'd give my eye teeth to know what the 35 recorded at Fordingbridge in 1957 and the 40 at Woodgreen in 63 were eating. I will have to be satisfied with what's in the diet today, I look forward to the publication of the ongoing Cormorant diet work currently being undertaken by the EA and the WCSRT.
Talking of fish, I did drop in on Vincent's Lake on the way home this evening and managed to have a chat with the last angler of the day as he packed away his gear. It seems if you stick to the basics you can still enjoy a great days angling even on popular waters such as Vincents. Using a bait that I hold dear to my heart he managed to land a dozen bream to four pounds, tench to a similar weight and a couple of carp. If all you want from your pastime is a pleasant day watching a float or a rod tip it still takes some beating.
Changing the subject, whilst out and about the lakes this evening I heard a cryptic comment from a disgruntled angler who was forced to drive around the lake to a further loo after discovering the grim state of the nearest one to his swim.
"Some people don't even have the basic skills to use the toilet properly, that's frightening when you consider we let them loose on our fish"
How telling is that? Is that a comment on anglers or is it just a reflection of society today? We have a supposedly civilised society elements of which behave in a fashion far below that found in the animal kingdom. I suppose I should be grateful, in that they did at least confine their filthy habits to the loo, which is contract cleaned, as opposed to the bank beside their swim. It must be at least a week since I found some retard has crapped in the bushes!
One or two more spotting photos. The first showing an extremely large chub that spends it day under an overhanging oak with a shoal of twenty or so other chub and half a dozen barbel. I would estimate the chub in front to be about three and a half pounds! The middle shot shows one of the many dace shoals that have now moved into the sidestreams and finally a photo of minnows, just because I like them.
Not a great deal to add as I am still tied up on work away from the river. The salmon season has gone out with a whimper with low, clear, warm water meaning we didn't see a great deal of decent fishing after June. There were certainly one or two highlights with Steve Hutchinson's thirty one pound fish and Paul Greenacre's six fish from Somerley it shows the Avon still has the ability to produce the magic day. With the salmon season over we did have the distraction of the goose shooting getting underway. With the goose population now of an order of seven or eight hundred having quite detrimental effect on some of the lakes and meadows we are keen to reduce numbers by ten or fifteen percent at least. Unfortunately geese soon become extremely good at avoiding persons armed with shotguns, the first shoot or two are generally quite successful, our first morning flight producing two dozen, however numbers usually tail off very quickly. At least our success on the first day has necessitated the sausage machine being readied for action.
One other snippet is that I can confirm two Ospreys have been with us for the last week. I am told they are usually to be seen together with one biding its time sat in a tree whilst its mate seem to do the fishing. Only when the hunting bird has been successful does the other bird join in to enjoy the meal. Roach seem to be the favoured fish at the moment and before anyone starts whinging about avian predation they are most welcome to some of the millions of roach and rudd that inhabit these particular lakes, in fact the more they eat the better it might stop the shoals becoming stunted.
Just a pic or two to keep in touch. The first shows the low water allowing the stock to cross and re-cross the main channel at will, giving rise to all sorts of confusion and problems. The margins are still looking full of colour attracting butterflies and nectar drinkers from the drier meadows outside the valley. The third shows one advantage of low, clear water allowing hours of pleasure just fish spotting. As well as barbel and chub under the trees and weed tresses I found the larger dace in the side streams.
A change from butterflies as the dragonflies are now enjoying the warm weather. We have also added a further bird of prey to the recent sightings as at least one and possibly two Ospreys have broken their southward migration and spent a week at Mockbeggar. I had an email from Kevin Drew telling me of the presence of an Osprey feeding on the southern lake at Mockbeggar on both Saturday and Sunday and yesterday I was lucky enough to get my first sighting of the year of a bird sat up a skeletal old alder on the northern lake.
I've enjoyed an extremely pleasant weekend, considering the fact it was a hot bank holiday weekend that's quite remarkable. I haven't seen a trespasser, canoe, poacher or traveller in the entire three days. It may have had something to do with not having spent a great deal of time on the river due to distractions such as the beer festival, recovery from the beer festival, family visitors and catching up with Anne's allotment. It's been a good weekend. My absence from the river didn't mean the undesirable elements didn't show up and I know a neighbouring fishery had three separate run-ins with canoeist. An understandably frustrated owner is very much of the same opinion as myself in that its long past time when something must be done about protecting the rights of owners and users.
Total disregard for the rights of others, ignorance, lack of respect, stupidity, whatever tag you hang it under its getting beyond a joke.
I decided to round my weekend off walking the perimeter track of Mockbeggar, thinking over ideas to decide the next incarnation of the site. Conservation versus diversification, whatever the route I see lots of politics and cost. One advantage or perhaps disadvantage of living and working in an environment such as the Avon Valley is that there are multiple distractions to alter the outcome of any plan. Even as I arrived on site and approached the car park the first of these distractions, in the form of our regular hen Peregrine, caught my eye as she sat on the top of the old control tower. Unusual that she should allow me to approach so close, she's usually gone before I get within a hundred metres but today she was obviously distracted with goings-on in the car park below. I rounded the corner of the building and she emerged from her reveries and drifted out over the lake scattering Lapwings and gulls from the gravel bars and the reason for her distraction became obvious. Sat on the edge of the car park was a juvenile Goshawk with a half grown rabbit, firmly nailed in its talons. Begrudgingly the rabbit was dropped as in a flurry feathers and claws the bird left, heading south down the track toward the nearby Douglas plantation. After parking and heading south down the same route as the departing hawk I could still hear the squirrels grunting their warnings and the Yaffles cackling their alarm as this ultimate woodland predator went its way. I'm not sure how Peregrines and Goshawks interact in the wild as I imagine they do not regularly meet having differing life styles. Artificial habitats such as these disused gravel pits appear to be the meeting of the ways as the wildfowl and waders, that attract the Peregrine, also provide unlimited meals in the form of rabbits and squirrels to satisfy the Goshawk in the woodland clearings. However they divide up the turf they do make for a dramatic sight at close quarters so I hope they manage to tolerate each other. Oddly I also had a report of a Honey Buzzard further over on the estate making it quite a weekend for the birds of prey.
Back to my walk and as I cleared the woodland and entered the recently cut meadows the number of dragonflies hunting the woodland fringe was staggering. Mostly Hawkers and Darters I managed to count over thirty in a little over two hundred metres before their zig-zagging flight became too confusing to add more. The evening light made photography impossible to capture the sight but did not prevent my enjoyment of their efforts to feed on the passing flies before retiring for the night. Further along the green road runs down beside the shallow bay at the northern end of the lake. The surface of the bay was covered in the rings of the dimpling fry that brought the lake to life. At least three Kingfishers were making the most of the bounty and the exposed gravel bars were providing safe havens for flocks of Lapwing with two Green sandpipers picking through the shallows. A Shoveler duck and three Mandarin ducks splashed and flapped their way out to the cover of the islands as a Raven cronked his message to his mate on their homeward flight from the New Forest plateau to the pylons of Ringwood Forest. The rabbits and the roe deer feeding on the northern meadows raised their heads to watch me pass before resuming their grazing as the mangiest fox I have ever seen, with just one or two grey tufts of fur clinging to its scrawny frame, crossed the road twenty metres ahead.
Dragonflies, such as this Common darter, in all directions and fry topping in the Northern Bay, a pattern repeated across fifty acres of lake.
Back at the car park two anglers were packing their vehicles having enjoyed a day with plenty of roach and rudd to keep them occupied. Nothing monstrous but all day action under perfect skies it can't be bad. As I stopped to lock the gate on my way out the clamour of three hundred geese arriving to roost provided food for thought in that the shooting season is about to open. The goose population in the valley is now well out of control, just how we get them back to manageable numbers remains a problem; time will tell of our success.
Another seasonal image on the face of my year clock as my chrysanthemums come into bloom.
With the National Airsoft gathering and the Beer Festival now behind us hopefully life will soon resume a more natural pattern .
This is whats occupying our time at present as the stage is set, the seats are out and most importantly the beer has its towels on in readiness for the weekend beer and music festival.
Laden blackberry bushes and the results of Anne's efforts that along with her allotment have our freezers at bursting point. The darter in the third pic seems to be pretty pleased with the blackberries if her smile is anything to go by!!
The water levels are dropping dramatically with the gulls and waders enjoying the newly exposed gravel bars.
Keith landing roach one a cast and losing something very large whilst I was chatting.
Jim Haskell not landing a roach despite having a good session last time he fished with roach, perch and tench.
A very pleasant hour walking around Crowe and Tomkins lunchtime today provided plenty to see and enjoy. It is without doudt one of my favourite areas on the estate with the Hemp Agrimony and Burdock still abuzz, butterflies, bees, hoverflies, Damsels and Dragonflies, insects of every shape and hue . There are still plenty of warblers in the reedbeds to the extent we have managed to persuade one of the more experienced valley birders to do the odd count in an effort to record and quantify the magic that we all too often overlook and take for granted. On my travels I came across two anglers I always enjoy meeting as they fish in a fashion more akin to my own interpretation of our pastime. The only problem with meeting Keith Baker and Jim Haskell is that they usually fish the float and I find the hypnotic opportunity to watch invariably manages to make me late for previously promised liaisons; never mind lunch will keep!
There appears to be a wonderful crop of very sweet blackberries this year.
(I've placed several more butterfly photos in the Birds and Bees gallery)
With the caravan rally now in full swing and our preparation for the event over, I have at last juggled tasks enabling us to spend a little extra time on the fishery. I'm afraid clearing up after the caravans and getting ready for the beer festival next weekend will mean visits will be all too brief.
About a tenth of the caravans on site today, its a pity the weather has turned wet but with the size of the big top I don't expect a little rain will worry them. The river remains clear and the dace fishing is superb with Jim Haskell landing one that he estimated at around the pound having to repeatedly check it wasn't a chub it was so impresssive. Other than the dace, the chub continue to provide the bulk of the sport with specimens to high six being landed on several beats. One other angler enjoying success, I bumped into Saturday afternoon as I was out chasing poachers, was Ron Davy out with his fly rod; grayling, dace and trout all succumbing to his efforts.
One of the first jobs I wished to get on with was clearing up over at Mockbeggar in readiness for the arrival of the overwintering wildfowl. I needed to get the next section of green road cleared, strim out the margins, brash the regrowth on the one island we have managed to clear and top the remainder of the paddocks. We made an excellent start with the road well under-way, the topping finished and about half the margins strimmed, unfortunately this left several days work and little likelihood of time in the near future.
The margins along the west bank green road on Mockbeggar strimmed and clean. Brashing up the island Saturday morning, on my day-off, don't ask its a long and complicated tale!! Finally a family of Common terns that sat not thirty metres from me as I waded out to the island. The adult refused to feed the two juveniles just taunting them with the perch before eating it itself.
I actually managed to visit the river today and was shocked at the change that has occurred in the few days I have been distracted. The flow has dropped off noticeably and the water has finally cleared, allowing us the opportunity to spot those all too illusive fish we wish to target. Plenty of dace downstream of Ibsley and the Bridge Pool has at least four salmon tucked up in it awaiting a rise in water sufficient to permit them to push on toward the headwaters. Pleasingly in the hour I was looking I found three small shoals of roach, nothing dramatic probably three quarters of a pound at best but the sight of a dozen Avon roach was heartening to say the least. Similarly juvenile barbel seem to be present in reasonable numbers, hopefully boding well for the future.
The water has cleared at long last allowing some fish spotting. At least four salmon are tucked up below Ibsley Bridge. Finally if you look to the distance you will see a stand of Himalayan balsam that very nearly made it to seed.
If you look closely at the last photo of the first three above you will see a similar sized bed of Orange balsam just in front of the more obvious Himalayan balsam. As I strimmed along the bank toward the stand of Himalayan Iwas also getting rid of the dense stand of Orange balsam. Amid the racket of the strimmer and the bizarre dance to avoid the falling ten foot stinging nettles I spotted several Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars. Odd in that I hadn't seen one for several years and only a couple of days ago Alan Bashford, from up on the Wye, sent me a pic of one sprinting across his dorostep. Now I had at least five on my door step, immediately giving rise to the question; should I leave the Orange balsam in that whilst undoudtedly an invasive alien it was also a food source for the caterpillars. Very similar to the Buddleia debate, both being invasive aliens but with obvious benefits for our indigenous wildlife. I decided to hedge my bets and clear most of the balsam leaving just sufficient to see the caterpillars through to pupation that should be any day now.
Today brought sad news in that CAC fishery Manager, Steve Gibson, passed away suddenly last night. My condolences to his partner and family, he will be sadly missed.
A perfect day for the show.
I fear I am very busy at present with several shows on the estate in quick succession throughout August but for those who have an interest in butterflies I have added several more photographs to Gallery 2 (Birds and Bees)
The Ellingham Show team have arrived in force to set up for this coming Saturday’s extravaganza and we needed to be clear of the Park with the toppers to enable them a clear run with the miles of fencing that has to be erected. We always leave it as late as possible to cut the grass as under warm damp conditions, such as we are currently experiencing, if we cut too early the grass will be a foot long before the show. True to form this weekend the tractor decided to play up costing us a day so we really are having to play catch-up at the moment. The other sign of things to come is the path north of Ibsley Bridge which affords Ringwood & District members access to North-end Fishery has been cut and trimmed for the second time in readiness for the opening next month. The first sightings of hirundines may signal the arrival of Summer but Ellingham Show and the arrival of North-end anglers signals Autumn is not far away; I'm sure my body clock runs faster every year!
Signs of things to come.
I lied. My preoccupation with grass has kept me from the rivers and lakes of late so despite saying I wouldn't I thought I'd put up the pix below illustrating the finesse and delicacy of Nature. They are lovely photos showing the beauty of nature in the form of the Silver-washed Fritillary yet there is more in the photos to provide food for thought. The top pic is of a male and the two lower pix females, the right-hand one being of the form Valesina but exactly the same species as the more usual female on the left. If you look closely at the fore wing of the male in the top photo you will see the four thick dark veins of scent scales. The male showers potential mates with these scales to attract her attention and gain his wicked way. Once you are made aware of this vital element of these delicate creatures it is easily understood and recognised. If however I were to ask what such mechanisms of scent or pheromone are deployed by our waterborne invertebrates there is a huge gap in our knowledge. If our Iron Blues and Yellow May Duns have similar characteristics, vital to there reproduction, just what is the effect of all the road drainage, STW discharge and agricultural leaching tons of which pour into our rivers every day?
Male Silver-washed Fritillary.
Female Silver-washed Fritillaries.
I'm sure most readers will have heard tell of the miles of water meadow carriers that in bygone days provided the nursery areas for the nationally famous Hampshire Avon fishery. In a physical sense it is true many hundreds of miles of ditches and drains that supported the floated meadows and water meadows have long since silted up or been filled and ploughed as they were no longer considered efficient use of the land. At Somerley whilst we have nine and a half miles of main channel bank we still have a considerably greater distance of working carriers and drains, probably in the region of fifteen miles; dependent on how the bank side habitat is categorised. To this remaining fifteen miles of prime habitat I certainly know of a further fifteen or twenty miles of drains that have disappeared. They are now simply slight depressions in the meadows or dry, reed filled ditches. I had the opportunity to give this missing system a little consideration recently as I spent a very pleasant hour or two clearing weed and rubbish that had accumulated in one of these hidden channels. The rubbish was preventing the use of the controls at the head of the system that needed to operate efficiently if the drain wasn't to go the way of many similar systems throughout the valley. That has been the all too familiar fate of so many miles of this famous system; without sufficient flow weed builds up, trapping silt and forming root mass further preventing flow. Phragmites in particular is incredibly efficient at blocking drains. It doesn't depend on seed to expand it has a root system that has evolved to spread along the bed of the ditch thereby providing a firm anchorage in any available slack water. The parent plant dries out and falls into the water creating dense mats acting as coffers slowing flow and collecting silt. The rate at which ditches are lost is extremely swift, if left untended closing three or four metre wide channels within a year or two. This provides us with something of a dilemma in that as sanctuary for both fish and fowl phragmites beds are an extremely beneficial habitat; a balance somehow has to be struck.
Carriers become all too quickly overgrown and silted if flow is not maintained. The hatch ways become clogged preventing the flow from doing its work. Swan mussels in profusion living in the silted channels. Interestingly the eels were running in both directions with elvers arriving and adults silvering up and heading downstream.
Maintenance of these channels and their associated marginal habitat is vitally important. Unfortunately in the case of anglers getting swims and paths clear is proving difficult in many instances. The ability of angling clubs and associations to maintain these nursery areas is almost nil. If anglers aren't capable of safeguarding these habitats then who is? Riparian owners reluctant to invest in anything that doesn't show an immediate and measurable profit at the bottom of a yearly balance sheet. EA? No money and why should they pay to develop a private asset? NE do have some money and where it can be shown that there is a benefit to the ecology, or the designated species of a protected area, will at least give a sympathetic hearing to capital schemes. River and Wildlife trusts? They could do it but it will require funding from somewhere, this is the dilemma we face. I personally still believe that a conservation levy on water abstraction and discharge, or perhaps a similar levy on agri-chemicals that find their way into the rivers. The funds raised to be directed by those that live and work in the catchments involved. A further look at 142 might be worthy of consideration. I can hear the water companies, agri-chem companies and riparian interests groaning at the very thought of it but at the end of the day society gets a better environment and the riparian interests stand to gain sustainable fisheries.
Bright and sunny not ideal conditions yet Nigel nets another good roach amid dozens of rudd. The second shot shows the valley traverse north of Ellingham completely devoid of weed this season.
Whilst the loss of carriers and drains is often cited as a possible reason for the decline of elements of the Avon fishery we do not actually have any hard evidence to confirm this belief. There is no baseline data that we can refer to to establish the extent of the channel loss. Similarly there is no baseline data to tell us the changing agricultural patterns, as dairy is replaced by mono-culture black bag silage. Is there more willow car? Less phragmites, more sedge, we don't know. Wouldn't it be nice to have an interactive map, not unlike Google Earth, that we could examine layers related to change. Wouldn't it be helpful to have such an interactive map that was linked to species populations, discharge, abstraction and the myriad of other factors that just might have impact on our rivers. What would be really nice might be if that map and all its associated links and layers, were available, free, on the web and not buried in the archive of some institution or pay as you go scientific journal.
An unashamed plug for Adam Ellis and his colleagues seen here getting their drone ready to fly a section of the valley to determine vegetation cover.
I have one other habitat that is large in my life at present and that is the estate grassland. The hundred odd acres of the park is having to be topped, twice; the Ellingham Show and a further private event the week after. The valley meadows that have been grazed are in need of topping before the docks and thistles seed. The first cut silage and hay is hopefully by now all gathered in and thoughts are turning toward a second cut. This year the meadows have been bone dry and not a sound from the farming community re the weed in need of decimating. The grassland surrounding the lakes is also in need of staged cutting to get rid of the densest stands of ragwort yet leaving sufficient natural flower rich grassland to meet the needs of the invertebrates and small mammal population.
Topping the lake meadows to get rid of the ragwort and clean them ready for the wintering wildfowl. Sections have been left that over the coming years will be encouraged to grow into bramble screens. The margin strips containing the last remnants of the nectar rich flowers will be strimmed at a later date once the flowering is over and the seed scattered. The green roads are beginning o look as we intended. Areas left standing with just paths for the anglers to reach their swims.
The first shows a very tired and battered Comma sharing the reduced ragwort supply. The second by contrast is a newly emerged Clouded yellow. The first I've seen of the locally hatched late summer population the result of the spring migrants from the continent that laid the eggs earlier in the year.
Three of the gems that are making the most of the remaining grassland, Common blue, Brown argus and Small copper. Last of the butterfly shots, promise, unless of course I get a good one!!
One of those days again as the head gasket on one of the mowers has blown and the gearbox on the brand new topper has parted company with the drive shaft. After months of the ground too soft to take the weight of the machines it has now set like concrete and we can't drive stakes into it. Add a call from an angler to tell me he thought we had poachers on one of the lakes and it had all the makings of a day I wished I'd gone fishing.
In reality mechanical failures are unavoidable and inevitable when the machines are working flat out for long periods of time and there is never a good time for them to happen. With replacements and repairs set in motion and the work schedules juggled a lunchtime walk around Mockbeggar to look for our trespassers seemed a useful way to spend an hour.
As it transpired our visitors had made good their escape which was fine by me leaving me time for a pleasant walk around the lake. The damp start to the day was by lunchtime a distant memory and the heat was building once more towards the highs of recent days. The difference today was the air seemed cleaner and there was a stiff breeze that was producing a constant ripple on the windward shore of the lakes. In the lee of the trees the fish were up and cruising in all directions. The anglers trying to interest them in their baits were all struggling with bottom baits being ignored and surface baits eaten by seagulls.
The first photo shows a Great white egret that was on Mockbeggar and flew over onto the nearby silt lagoon. Not the best shot but I think I can just make out the red of a the leg rings which might indicate its Old faithfull back for the winter. The second shot shows a dead salmon that shows the signs of otter attention. It wasn't otters that killed this fish as I had seen it 24 hours earlier without the damage. I imagine it was our pack of juniors that live in the area and had tried the dead fish as part of their growing-up experience. Judging by the small amount eaten the taste wasn't to their liking! The third shot is of our latest fly-tipping incident on the SSSI at Ibsley. I have included it as it shows the quite distinctive windmill that readers might recognise; give me a ring if you do.
What was immediately apparent was that all around the lake the meadows were alive with butterflies. I don't think we have many rare species present but the numbers were heartening; Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blues, Skippers, Silver-washed Fritillary, Commas, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Marbled Whites, Ringlets, Large and Green veined Whites. A delight to watch hundreds and hundreds feeding on the bramble patches beside the meadows. The brambles are now perhaps the most important food source available as the deeper rooted briars are able to reach the water keep the flow of nectar to the flowers.
Butterflies in all directions and that Marbled White was definately watching me.
I've been otherwise engaged as the saying goes, hence my lack of entries. In actual fact I've been sat in the middle of a very flinty field with my head in a book for the best part of five days. Not a river, canoeist, fisherman, subsiding road, falling tree or acres of grass in need of mowing to concern me. That's not to say such events have not been happening in my absence and I must thank those that care sufficiently to take an interest in the river whilst I've been away and dealt with several issues that have arisen. The canoes, trespassers and their ilk have been out with the sunshine and despite the padlocks and chains even the main hatches were closed by one lot of clowns.
What could be better and Van Morison actually played a great set of the old favourites in the evening.
Perhaps the crowning glory were the events we happened upon actually on our way home after our short break. As I drove past Ibsley I spotted two fine examples of British youth blowing up an inflatable in readiness for launch in the weirpool. I apologised to Anne for having to stop and explained to the pair that the river was unfortunately unnavigable and private property. This obviously caused great confusion and the inability to grasp the situation answered by asking why two other guys were stood down by the weir pool.
"I'm not sure lads but I'm just about to find out and if they're not supposed to be there I will ask them to leave and that still doesn't alter the fact you are not to put that inflatable in the river, especially anywhere near the hatches"
This looked like becoming long winded, which is always the problem with just stopping to deal with the obvious. The two down by the pool by this time had wandered back towards the road and were clambering over the barbed wire encrusted gate immediately behind me.
"Hello lads, what clue does that chained and barb wire encrusted gate you're clambering over give you?"
"Fair cop govn'r but my mate from London is down and I just wanted to show him this blinding bit of river. We wouldn't disturb anyone or do any harm, we just love the place. We knew it was private but we could see someone has burnt your private signs down the bank there, so we thought five minutes wouldn't be asking too much"
Great, it looks like the low-life who burnt the kissing gate have been back and used my four by four oak sign posts as their latest fire lighters. Anyway back to the immediate and its hard to be bolshie with someone who obviously just loves the place, especially when they hold their hands up and promise not to be a further nuisance.
"Okay lads, I appreciate the candour but you can see what I have to deal with when you have others about to turn the place into a boating lake and probably drown themselves in the process."
"What? Do you mean those two? Were they about to launch that thing? Oi you two, what the hell you thinking about. There's a beach ten miles down the road covered in bikini clad women why don't you push off down there?"
You just couldn't write this stuff, I was now concerned the trespassers were about to set about the boaters!! Time to get back in the car and head for home; the problems will all still be there in the morning.
Two very polite and apologetic Eastern European lads happily on their way taking care not to upset the swan family.
Talking of festivals, as I was earlier, we have our own Somerley Beer and Music Festival in the offing on August 24th. Not quite at the scale of our break but generally a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and evening, listening to good music and slurping numerous varieties of local brew. I seem to have inherited the role of stage builder in chief and log seat provider so I better get the chainsaw out and make a start on a table or two.
Somerley Beer and Music Festival
My time spent lazying in the sun has seen a similar crisping of the meadows surrounding the lakes with the grass now dried to polished standing hay. The clover has all burnt to a crisp and bar the ragwort and the plants at the very margins of the water, the nectar flow is almost at a standstill, .
Scorched meadows beside the lakes making it a struggle for the nectar feeders.
The bird world seems to have enjoyed the warmth with fledglings of every creed and colour making the presence known as they go about discovering their new world. Pleasingly its some of the commoner species that appear to have done exceptionally well. Blackbirds and Song thrushes are present in greater numbers than I have seen for years. I have also seen two broods of Bullfinches something I haven't seen for years, fingers crossed all the local breeding populations has fared equally well.
Whilst on the bird world I'm pleased to see that Defra have published the findings of the Cormorant Review process that has been ongoing since 2011. For those of you with a little time on your hands I can recommend the reading at the links below.
Cormorant Evidence Review
Cormorant Review Document
I must say after all the hype that has been produced related to Cormorants and their impact on fisheries the evidence review and the review itself are well balanced and considered documents. As for the recommendations I'm not surprised to find that the existing approach is recognised as a workable means to control and regulate the situation and should remain. The rest leave a somewhat confusing picture. It looks as if we will have a further Project Group talking shop. To oversee three trial catchments and some new advisers to tell us if we have a problem and what we should do about it! I presume these new advisors will be in addition to the officers attached to the Wildlife Licensing Unit that have always been more than willing to advise aned assist if asked. I suppose its at least pleasing to see that funding can still be found at a time of such severe cuts across the agencies. Further research and an accreditation scheme to provide more work for those promoting institutional protection. Interesting to see a catchment based approach being trialled; in line with CaBA perhaps? Which would seem to make sense. There are one or two other bits but I'll let you read them and make your own mind up about the outcome.
I did notice that there are a couple of sentences in the report that relate to the fact some countries have a compensation payment scheme. Its a pity that direction wasn't given greater consideration but I can see why this would not be a popular route with the Treasury!
Summers now in full swing as events line up to occupy the Lower Park to experience the thrill of the great outdoors. To manicure two hundred acres of parkland in readiness for the summer season now becomes our highest priority. Apart from the obvious benefits of dry weather for these alfresco events the soaring temperatures of recent days have scorched the grass to a standstill making our job easier in that we no longer have to have some one sat in a tractor cutting grass on an almost continuous basis for two months. There are of course downsides in that grazing becomes pinched but hopefully sufficient shaded areas and lower valley sections will remain sufficiently green to see the animals through to the return of normal rainy services.
Events in the Lower Park are now in full swing where the young lady singing in this private function recommended packing up your troubles in your old kit bag and throwing them in the sea. An excellent philosophy but its far easier to just take an hour or two out to go fishing.
The heat has also seen the salmon fishing remain at a standstill. With such conditions as we are now enjoying I see little hope of any return to sensible salmon fishing this season. Brave statement, it will now rain for a week and the river will fill up with fresh fish!
With the salmon fishing at a halt at least the coarse fishing has picked up with some fine catches gracing the banks. The dace fishing is superb with the lack of weed making trotting a delight. The chub have spawned and are now ravenously looking for food to get back in condition and the evenings are seeing barbel showing. The warm water also appears to be to the liking of the carp and bream which are providing constant sport particularly for those fishing early and late. For those of you like me looking for a pleasant way to spend a bijou couple of hours, as opposed to a ten hour session, conditions are spot. Sat under a shady tree running a stick down a lazy glide, lovely stuff. It may only produce a dozen or so dace and a handful of chublets but what more could you ask. Of course, being the Avon, it may produce a lunking great chub or bottom hugging barbel that's the beauty of it, you just never know. If all that running water is too frantic and you are looking for those couple of hours where a fish is almost a distraction chose a quiet swim on one of the lakes. A pound and a half test curve rod, pin loaded with eight pound line, a size eight hook and a loaf of Tesco's finest and you have perfection. Don't forget a landing net and an unhooking mat to sit on and your away. Don't rush down to the water, a leisurely dinner or tea what ever your routine and arrive at the water two hours before dark. Chose a swim that suits your outlook and fish the margins no more than a rods length out. A handful of pellets and I mean bread pellets or a couple of slices mushed up in the net go in whilst your tying on your size eight. Pinch on a lump of flake that ju.....st sinks, stick the rod in the reeds and sit back and watch the line. The problem being of course if its been a hard day, making sure you don't nod off. Being woken by a departing fellow angler prodding you with his landing net handle to test your state of health somewhat shatters the mood.
Those smoking carp just clambering over each other to reach your bait. The second shot shows the shoals of minnow fry that pack the margins of the rivers at present. Alan Bashford a regular reader from over on the Wye tells me the rivers over his part of the world are also full of fry so fingers crossed there's more than minnows finding the warm water to their liking. The third is a better shot of the cray burrows and if you look closely in the righthand one you can see why the signal crayfish gets his name.
A final couple of photos in that I am still attempting and failing miserably to capture the swift as they orbit our house which is a result of them being aptly named swifts. We now have at least six pairs trying to establish territories for next year which whilst extremely pleasing means I have to build a further four boxes to prevent inter species warfare next spring. The second shot is of Barbara the racing pigeon that I found holding up taffic on the A338 as she attempted to walk home. Stoppng and throwing my hat over her allowed me to get her out of the way but it means I now have a pigeon that when frigtened runs under the seat in our back garden. I'm not sure that's a very practical escape policy to adopt when or neighbours bloody moggy shows up! I will catch her up and send her ring details off to the help line at some point but I'm not sure of what welcome a pedestrian racing pigeon will get on her return home! Probably better off chancing the moggy!!
In the last day or two I have been contacted by "Dave from Andover", an angler who fishes Somerley concerned at the large number of signal crayfish now present in our river. In my reply to Dave's email I told him of my frustrations at being unable to take any measures to stem the plague as the EA had refused us permission to trap them on the grounds we might spread the population! I'm sure regular readers will remember the piece I did about the patronising response I received from the EA two or three years ago when I applied to set our traps. I also did an interim piece about my request for an update on measures the EA were taking to prevent the spread of the wretched things in the Avon. Quite coincidently on the day Dave had emailed I had been out on the bank photographing crayfish burrows that had been exposed by the present low flows. What my walk had shown and even more starkly what Dave's attached photograph illustrated was that we are now way beyond any chance of controlling them. I can now assure the EA that without any help from me or anyone else, as far as I'm aware, the population has exploded - no doubt the EA monitoring has shown the same increase whilst we all sat and twiddled our thumbs.
The first, taken with the mobile I fear, shows a section of bank and a close inspection shows over twenty five burrows in the short section shown. The middle photo was taken by Dave who managed to scoop that lot out of the margins of his swim clearly illustrating the problem. The final shot is the business end so be careful if you should have to deal with any of them as they will draw blood.
Should you have looked in yesterday and read my notes attached to the photos I posted you would have seen a reference to Ron's otters. That resulted from Ron Davy phoning to say he had seen one of the most wonderful sights he had ever witnessed whilst fishing. A bitch otter had caught a fish in the river in front of him and proceeded to swim upstream past him and climb out on the far bank where she was joined by four pups. The pups were almost as large as their parent so it would seem we have yet another large litter up at Ibsley. Ron had seen them beside Tizards Pool, which is of course just over the bank from Crowe and Tomkins, so today I decided to drop in at the lakes to try and assess the likelihood of any impact of having an otter family on site.
The water level is down as the main gates remain open at Ibsley keeping the inlet level below that currently set on the outlet boards. The lack of flow has seen the water clear in Tomkins and even crowe had a foot or two visibility, an ideal opportunity to make an assessment of fish stock in the pools. Bright sunshine and little wind made for near perfect spotting conditions and as soon as I stuck my head over the reeds and brambles beside the inlet the surface rippled into life as shoals of fry rushed for cover. I progressed along the northern bank and every swim was full of fry tens of thousands of roach, perch and bream. The same in Tomkins but with clear water the huge numbers were even more obvious. Every now and then larger fish drifted into view, tench carp and bream. Closer examination of the deeper water showed larger shoals of older roach deep under the fry shoals, nothing massive but thousands of fish up to six inches. The stock likely to suffer from our family are obviously the larger specimens the carp, tench and bream. Personally if they ate the bream I believe the would be doing the fishery a favour as the small ponds are not suited to bream and there is always the risk of them hybridising with the roach and with free access to the Avon that might give rise to all sorts of problems. Unfortunately otters rarely behave as one might wish and the chance of them favouring bream over the carp, perch and tench is not much of a fishery management tool. Lets hope the high number of dace and chub currently in the river act as a distraction and our family stay away from the ponds until they move location.
Tens of thousands of fry in both Crowe and Tomkins. Perch, roach and bream, by far and away the majority are roach which is amazing considering some believe the pools to be devoid of them?
Also seen today and likely to be at risk from the otter family, the odd tench, a dozen or so carp and too many bream. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next six months
Its difficult to give a full account of events during the time I've failed to add entries, its just been chaotic. I will pick one or two highlights that spring to mind starting with the chub that at long last appeared on the shallows last week in an effort to get on with their spawning. In line with virtually everything else in the natural world, in the South of England at least, spawning is almost a month behind when I would have expected to have seen them. The barbel usually arrive on the shallows a week after the chub and with the warm spell we are currently enjoying I will keep an eye out for their appearance any day.
The salmon fishing has been halted as the water temperature down at Knappmill has reached 19.0 degrees C, which is the critical cut-off point the anglers all voluntarily agreed salmon fishing should cease for the welfare of the fish. before the finish we had a couple of days rain which sent a freshet down the river attracting several fish through and Martin Loydon managed to open his salmon fishing account with a bright summer fish from Dog-Kennel. Pleasingly this is the second fish from the recently cleared lie at Dog Kennel that had been silted up by the sallow that had fallen in a year or two back. Its removal had attracted one or two Luddite comments related to change etc so it's pleasing to see clean gravel, between fresh ranunculus, attracting fish once more.
As for ranunculus it seems that along with everything else its a month late. The main channel remains remarkably clear with only the shallows showing any sign of heavy growth. Even with the shallows weeded the freeboard remains greater than I have ever seen in July. The start of the mowing on the first of July has seen the hay meadows bone dry and the heavy black silage bags and hay bales removed from the valley without leaving a dent in the sward. With the long wet winter and the cold spring I wasn't expecting to see such a heavy clean grass crop but Nature never fails to surprise and the bales seem lined up as close together as I've seen in several years.
Interestingly I attended a meeting at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust up at Burgate last week regarding breeding of waders in these valley meadows. Actually the subject of the meeting was the valley Lapwing population but basically what's good for the Lapwing is good for the Redshank and the Snipe. The GWCT have been conducting research into the Lapwings for several years and the estate has been one of the areas where the perils that the birds face in rearing their broods have been studied. After many years and hundreds of nests a picture of the problems has slowly emerged. To those of us that work in the valley and have watched the decline of these iconic birds the findings didn't come as a surprise. By far and away the greatest problem facing these birds has proven to be predation. I can't remember the exact figures or the impact of each dastardly species that preys on the eggs and young but the result is the continuing decline of the species. Be they Crows, jackdaws, Foxes or many of the other creatures that enjoy Lapwing eggs, of the broods destroyed they accounted for well over seventy percent. One other factor was the impact of flooding, despite being in single figures the NFU representative and one or two local farmers turned the meeting into a lobby session for a return to weed cutting in the main channel. I find it amazing that the presentation of facts can be ignored when it suites vested interests, it was a re-run of the neonicotinoids debate once again. Totally frustrating, all I hope is that as our knowledge of just what our waders require, in the way of habitat and protection, schemes can be put in place to halt the decline and aid their recovery before its too late. I also hope that the NFU lobbying doesn't see a return to the destructive weed cuts that had devastated our river for almost half a century, a period that saw the decline the Avon as Britain's premier fishery - coincidence?
We may not have our portmanteau salmon or our three pound roach but the Avon Valley is still a pretty amazing place if you know where to look. Even if you don't know where to look you only have to sit still and many of the valley inhabitants will come to you.
Long trotting providing excellent dace fishing and even the odd roach. Its been a long time since roach have appeared in the catches, lets hope its the start of a resurgence in numbers. The second photo is of Martin returning his first salmon. Many congratulations lets also hope the freshet has seen one or two more fish have arrived with us over the last day or two.
The warm weather has seen the annual hatch of the Stag beetles droning around the skies, stuttering back to earth like clockwork toys running out of coiled springs. The female in the photo collided with a parked car in the drive as I returned from a late round of the lakes. Day time sees the damsel flies such as this Banded demoiselle, emerging in their hundreds to dance and display beside the paths.
Ranunculus covered shallows yet the clear freeboard offers dry meadows to remove the hay crop. I included the second shot with the geese and swans to give scale to the extent of the freeboard and the third shot showing the mowing and baling in full swing. I wonder if we will still hear demands for the weed to be cut this year after the grass has been cut.
The roe buck was laying up in the reedbeds at Coomer. I have put his photo up as a reminder to take precautions against picking up ticks particularly problematic in areas with a high deer population.It may seem odd that I wear wellies during this hot weather but on water such as Mockbeggar where I've counted over forty fallow deer, they seem to cut down the number of tick bites.
Finally three shots that seem to capture the mood at the Terns pick minnows from the shallows to feed ther broods back on the lakes. Some of the goosander juveniles now looking well feathered and more Egyptians in the news.
Sorry about the disappearance I have had a broadband problem that has stopped play for two days. I will try and catch up with news and events in the next day or two.
Thanks to Paul G I believe I now know who's net I have found and will be contacting them in a day or two hopefully to get them reunited. Paul himself is still out and about chasing salmon. I'm not sure where we are with regard to his adventures I think the last I heard having landed a thirty plus from the Royalty he had hooked a very much larger fish a day or two later which had thrown the hooks. Plenty of clips on YouTube if you do a search for his name.
At least my new camera arrived distracting me from the lack of internet - back to muddling my way through shutter speeds and apertures gain. Fortunately out in the back garden I had the perfect models in the shape of my Swifts with eight or nine screaming around the house as they inspect prospective new boxes. From the pix above you see I have some way to go!!!
I've picked up a Gye Net at Somerley, should the owner be looking in give me a call and I'll arrange to reunite you.
Its certainly all going on, start of the coarse season, salmon shrimp and trout fishing now permitted on the main channel and that's just the fishery front. The bird world continues to defy or perhaps more accurately adapt to the elements and is whirring with the staccato wing beats of fledglings. I've now finished with most of my bird surveys and must get them uploaded as soon as I can find time. From the lack of entries you will have guessed I am also extremely busy about other estate business so this is a stop-gap measure to keep ticking over.
Yet another brood of Egyptian geese adding to the every growing presence. The orchid is undoubtedly a beautiful flower but the important flower in the second shot is the nectar rich white clover - the field was absolutely buzzing with insects.
The coarse fishing on the river has opened and the arriving anglers have found spawning and weed growth well behind where it might normally expected to be. The water temperatures have remained low failing to set in motion even any pre-spawning gatherings on the gravel shallows from the chub or barbel. With the fish still to spawn it does mean there should be some extremely large fish landed. Surprisingly I have not seen the number of anglers I would have expected to be out looking for a monster under such conditions. Is this respect for gravid fish or lack of confidence in being able to locate them; the next fortnight might answer that.
The weed growth would normally be almost solid across the shallows remains relatively clear, permitting great conditions for trotting. Make sure you take advantage of them as nature will catch up eventually. The one or two I have seen with the float rods are catching mixed bags mostly consisting of small chub and dace. Not perhaps the Avon specimen the target of so many but great fun and lovely fishing when you get it right.
One other aspect of the lack of weed is that its giving rise to record free-boards for this time of year. With the meadows as hard as concrete access for the silage and hay cut should hopefully be considerably easier than last year. Not that it would be hard to achieve that with virtually nothing being cut in 2012. I hope the farmers and Natural England are in daily contact ensuring the most is made of any dry weather window that arrives in the next week.
Our still-water complex that adheres to the traditional close season has opened well with carp showing for those in pursuit. Bream also showing up but I have not spoken to anyone with a bag of tench. just the odd fish. A complete review of fishery strategy and planning is in the offing, stocking and population dynamics being high on the agenda. The interaction between carp and other species in the stillwaters is in need of a serious look, as I have long suggested is the possibly similar interaction of a buoyant chub and barbel population in relation to other species in a riverine environment.
Other highlight of the week was that Jonathan, my eldest, came over after work on the 17th to start his coarse season in traditional fashion.
Other fishy happenings include the Mockbeggar complex that we fish in accordance with NE conservation designated status has continued to provide excellent roach catches and plenty of carp. Still too many carp in fact but we have hit a glitch with NE about stock management requiring a rethink. The beauty of that complex is that a good percentage of the fifty odd acres of water is very shallow and spawning has not been overly delayed. Roach and rudd fry now populate the margins in a grey soup made up of millions of fish. At least the perch seem to be making the most of it as spraying fry mark the progress of raiders as they rush up from beneath the shoals if they venture into deep water away from the shallow margins. The three or four days of carp spawning is showing variable results as small groups of what looks like carp fry drift in and out of the weed. Spawning elsewhere has obviously taken place in one or two waters with shoals of pin fry dimpling the surface in Crowe and Tomkins with last years fry, which are not meant to be there now travelling in tight shoals below this years progeny. I'm uncertain what has happened with the bream in Meadow which I would have expected to have spawned by this time. I haven't been onsite when any have been on the bank to have a look and haven't spent sufficient time on the banks to spot and resultant fry but fingers crossed they have got their activities finished with.
I did bump into Ron Davy out on the main river with his trout fly rod which is always a meeting I look forward to. As usual Ron had managed a mixed bag including trout, chub, grayling and dace, not huge fish but caught in the true spirit of wild fly fishing. I do envy Ron his mastery of that little rod and his relaxed visits to enjoy the river - note to self; take day off to go fly fishing.
Ron landing a half pound chub taken on the fly from the Ellingham Carrier.
As for the salmon the low water has seen a slow down of action and despite the prawn now being in the armoury and considerable effort on the part of the two Paul's and several other rods, we have little to show for it. One or two fish have been lost and moved bu as far as I have heard nothing on the bank. Paul Greenacre hasn't been deterred and he an d Bod Windsor headed off down to the Royalty to try their luck. In true PG style on his first visit in over six years he latched into a 30 pound plus fish which is I believe the largest fish from the Royalty for several years. Also in Paul's inimitable style he has produced a further home video epic. I haven't found time to view the result yet but for those keen to follow his progress it can be found on YouTube with his many other splendid videos. Be warned you will need a great deal of time on your hands if you are to enjoy the full catalogue.
Speaking of the Royalty I had Mr Lewis of Southern Fisheries on the phone to the office complaining about my comments related to the disgraceful state of affairs down at the tidal limit. It seems that Southern fisheries want it to be clearly known that they are not responsible for the operation of the weir they simply exploit the fishery stock on Sembcorp property. I'll just remind Mr Lewis that my blog is a personal viewpoint and if he has reason to be offended or displeased perhaps he should give me a call, I''d be more than happy to discuss it with him. I don't think many people labour under the illusion it is anyone other than the private water company Sembcorp who manipulate the water height at Knapp mill for their own ends to assist in the abstraction of potable water. If there are people under the illusion that the weirs are set and run by Southern Fisheries there is very little hope of them grasping the implications of delaying the natural migration of fish into the river and I would advise they not bother reading any further. I said at the time I made the comment I wouldn't bore you with reiterating my views related to the Great Weir and the Turbine House, the man made barriers just above the tidal limit delaying the passage of migrating salmon into the Avon. Well it seems several anglers, other than Mr Lewis, would like me to explain my thinking which is quite simple being a continuation of the argument that has gone on since the construction of the present potable water abstraction regime in 1954 I believe. Oddly coincident with the recorded decline in MSW in the Avon and I do mean that as coincidental. I have an excellent article from the Field that shows the level of debate in 1958 and as far as I can see little or nothing has changed. Its well worth a read and if the publishers allow me I will put up a link asap.
We have the lunatic situation where-by we have the Avon Restoration Strategy with the objective of returning the river to a more naturally sustainable regime yet a barrier close to the tidal limit is deemed acceptable with regard to the EU designated Atlantic salmon. I can't imagine any other rivers in the world would tolerate such a situation other than our southern chalkstreams. This same strategy was suggesting the removal of weirs that have never given rise to a barrier to passage yet have elemental importance for the biodiversity and history of the Hampshire Avon.
The European approach.
I suppose it might be claimed that the history of the Royalty is similarly linked with the Great Weir and the Parlour Pool. The difference being the impact of the structures in question should perhaps quite correctly be the determining factor related to its fate. The fact it exists is not a reason for it to be allowed to continue if the impact is detrimental. As an example of impact we are currently engaged in developing a cyprinid friendly fish pass at Ibsley to ensure there is absolutely no barrier to the movement of any species of fish particularly at spawning time. This is on a control structure that has not seen a salmon landed immediately downstream in the weir-pool for at least twenty five years. The run off from the Great weir has provided the bulk of the Royalty salmon catch for decades as far back as can be remembered. I have one article on the subject quoting 75% in 1957 and this has been a similar pattern to the current day. What's the difference you might say its all catch and release. Considering the recent buy out of the nets was undertaken on the basis that it would prevent stress through handling, a process many times less stressful than rod caught catch and release, this is a tenuous argument to say the least. If that argument is taken to its logical conclusion, assuming the regulators are serious about the protection of the species and the net buy out wasn't some hypocritical WFD box ticking exercise, we would now be seeing a buy out of the rod fisheries. That doesn't seem very likely until further method and season restriction reduce the value of the rod fishery asset to affordable levels, enabling a further box to be ticked.
I usually see about half a dozen dead salmon a year at the hatches at Ibsley, three to date this season, most showing obvious hook or line damage. The reason I see them at Ibsley is that I am there on a daily basis, not that they die there or they are washed down to us from upstream. Having for several years attempted to keep both rod and net caught salmon alive in an effort to provide broodstock I know the impact of both methods of capture on the species. The reason I say these fish may not have died above or near the hatches is that one of the most common causes of loss we suffered was as a result of secondary infection, often up to a fortnight after capture. In the fortnight between injury, infection and death they could have travelled miles. For reasons I have also previously commented on, the Avon is an excellent river for fishy pathogens and their culture. Our warm water, close to the tolerance levels of salmonids, combined with the aquaculture intensity of the Avon provides ideal conditions for salmon to die!
It should be remembered that early MSW fish have a considerably higher rod exploitation rate than summer fish and grilse and it is the MSW element of the Hampshire Avon run that has crashed so significantly. Some estimates put rod exploitation of Spring fish as high as 60 or 70%, if that is the case I would suggest it is close to being unsustainable and further protection will be required.
I can't claim to have been a supporter of the net buy out. The nets hadn't killed a salmon for twenty odd years and the seatrout catch was insignificant even if compared with the stated rod catch of the lower river. The seatrout run experienced record levels in recent years with considerably more nets, than the two that were recently bought out, working the beach. I personally considered the working of traditional seine nets at the mouth of the river a heritage fishery that should have been preserved and protected in its own right. Certainly a great deal more preferable than the miles and miles of nylon mono-filament gill net that now surrounds our coast. Legal netting operations provided a vital eye on the beach with regard to illegal practices that judging by the recent reports of nets in the box would appear to no longer exist. I suppose it did remove the annual need to raise the money to compensate the nets for returning salmon so there were benefits. To further stray I have yet to get to the bottom of just who does regulate the box?? The EA say its SIFCA (Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) and SIFCA say that bye-law the EA currently operate under is obsolete - clear as harbour mud - SIFCA are looking into it. The state of regulation - not the harbour mud.
It is well known that in low flow conditions seatrout and salmon remain in the harbour and Lower Stour. It is thought many of the Avon fish lay in the Lower Stour awaiting suitable conditions to run the river. Why? Why do these fish not lay in the Lower Avon as they do on the Stour and the Frome? There are plenty of deep slow sections through Winkton and Tyrell that would seem to provide similar conditions. It might be the water temperature, possibly the taste of the Avon is unpalatable or perhaps its the fact there is a large barrier across the Lower Avon as opposed to the Frome and Stour.
I'm sure our eminent guardians of our fisheries in the form of EA fisheries will tell us salmon do run the Avon as they do in other rivers. I don't dispute that fact, what I dispute is the fact they run in a natural fashion and are not unnaturally delayed and exploited at these lower barriers. Salmon will ultimately run in a puddle if they think they will achieve their life’s objective and reach the redds. I'm sure every salmon angler familiar with spate rivers and low flow years has stood on the shallows with desperate fish splashing sideways past their waders. They run because their life depends on it, not only their life but the survival of the very species. Mother Nature has instilled some basic instincts within the species that not even EA fisheries and the private water companies can subdue. I warned you it would be boring!
Back to my daily activities and as way of compensation for the lousy weather messing up my minutely planned seasons fishing and flattening our allotment, I have just purchased myself a new camera. That's the problem with online shopping, when things start to get to you, retail therapy is an all too easy option. In reality I don't think I can actually justify such a purchase by blaming the weather but my faithful point and shoot and in latter years the mobile do have short coming when trying to capture some of the scenes I meet during the course of my day. The final straw was trying to capture the pix below. Before I say more just have a look and I'm sure you will agree a further opportunity missed.
Not an LED, can you pick out the culprit in the full pic.
With the wonders of modern DSLR's I think an upgrade to be justified. Particularly when the Gurus at the Met Office now tell me I have at least the next ten years of miserable bloody summers to look forward to due to the warming of the North Atlantic. I'm sure you caught that item on the news last week in that the weather experts got together in a huddle to come up with that gem. I really didn't want to know that, I would have been quite happy to have continued to make the most of this rubbish weather in that along with Sam Cooke I believed "A Change Is Gonna Come" I suppose I can console myself in the knowledge that the five day forecast is usually beyond the capabilities of the weather experts so what likelihood of ten years hence!
Turned out to be more than a stop gap, never mind, if you're going to plough through it you'll have to read it in instalments. At least I got to follow the first Test whilst I clatterd my way through it - thank God for the Welsh - that should get me a few brownie points!!!!
Ten thirty and Anne and I have just got in from an evening walk around Mockbeggar Lake. After a very wet and windy day this evening cleared sufficiently to allow us to risk a walk unfettered by layers of water-proofs and wellies. Walks these days seem to be a series of set routes to count birds or check on hatches so the opportunity to walk without any predetermined objective was quite a pleasant change. The meadows surrounding the lake are currently a blaze of wild flowers which seemed as good a starting point as any. The weather had driven the anglers from the banks leaving the meadows to the deer, rabbits, foxes, badgers and of course Anne and myself. The wind had dropped but remained sufficiently brisk to rattle the tree tops and ripple the water but couldn't deter columns of midge smoke from spiralling into the sky in the lee of the trees. Midges and mosquitoes that provided food in unquantifiable volume for the bats and birds that circled ceaselessly through the swaying clouds. Each insect of these vast columns of flies, that created an almost continuous curtain for over a mile beside the woods, had hatched from a buzzer in the lakes. The millions of these Chironomid insects were what remained after the fish had had their fill of bloodworm and buzzers, the water borne stage of the life cycle. As they emerge they are picked from the surface by the Martins and Swallows, nowadays the several hundred Black-headed Gulls that nest on the lakes also join in. The surface of the lake in the quiet bays dimples as if raining as the Chironomidae continue to pour from the lakes. As they dry their wings and rise into the air the bats join in the feast and zig-zag through the clearings in the trees. Higher and higher and Swifts, literally by the hundred, stream through the living clouds. The importance of this immense hatch of insects can be easily overlooked as we layer on the bug repellent to avoid the very small proportion that will dine on our blood. Without this natural event our fish would struggle to survive in many of these deep, habitat poor, disused gravel pits. The sight of four, five even six hundred Swifts belies the rapid decline that has overtaken these amazing birds. The flocks that gather at Ibsley must travel considerable distances to enjoy the bounty as we do not have such numbers nesting locally. I'm sure the pair from the nestbox on the back wall of our house are up there somewhere circling high above our heads, stocking-up in readiness for the hatching of their eggs and the weeks of feeding insatiable young.
The old control tower surrounded in a sea of Ox-eyes.
From that you will realise our pair did get here and successfully manage to get safely into the box after the earlier reported traumas. Most evening we enjoy their presence as they scream the affirmation of their lifetime pairing and ownership of the nestbox just feet above our heads in the back garden. On occasions four others have joined them, hopefully soon to occupy the new boxes alongside the original.
Ten months ago we cleared the willow scrub and now the scars are fast fading.
Our walk continued beside the lake where new beds of phragmites and yellow flag have sprung up where we cleared out the dense sallow that had been allowed to block the light from the shallow margins. When we were involved in the task of clearing the scrub last autumn I commented on this diary that I would like to create our own starling roost to enjoy the spectacle of their murmurations locally. I must admit I made that comment a little tongue in cheek and the sudden whoosh of a thousands Starlings just feet overhead came as quite a surprise. They circled the northern bay of the lake where they were joined by a flock of similar size and along with several smaller groups twisted and turned before collapsing into the newly cleared reed bed out on the island. Not perhaps the millions associated with our visits to the Somerset levels but a delightful sight none the less and one I will most definitely encourage. For such a gathering to be present so early in the year is a little surprising. The majority appeared to have the dull brown plumage of juveniles, hopefully the six broods that have recently fledged from our nest boxes are with them.
The objective of rich margins that will die down each winter making access to the lakeside meadows suitable for the wintering wildfowl.
The bird world remain busy with the next generation, Kingfishers broods are now piping and whistling constantly in several parts of the Estate. Three pairs of Little Ringed Plover are brooding somewhere on the gravel decks. Their nests will be in the open but almost impossible to spot as they sit motionless in an effort not to attract the attention of the ever present Crows. The warbler fest continues in the reed beds as Reed, Cettis, Sedge, Garden warblers with added Blackcaps, Dunnock and Wrens make the fenland perhaps my favourite place of all.
Just a quick entry to put up the link to Paul Greenacre's latest salmon. This is a superb example of catch and realease and at the end has a clip for the coarse anglers in the form of a large pike and for the birders some excellent footage of a Goosander brood.
Lovely fish, further exemplary catch and release, brilliant promotion for barbless hooks and a piece for the coarse anglers and birders not forgetting of course this is very much a live clip showing Paul's genuine excitement and enthusiasm for salmon fishing. Congratulations Paul.
I now can't find the pic of the pike on the film so the photograph below Paul sent me of his 24 pound fish that took his Mepp.
A lean looking summer pike of 24 pounds she'll be several pounds heavier come the winter.
I've spent the better part of the weekend giving the salmon pools their final cut of the season before the coarse season gets under way and the weed puts an end to any sensible salmon fishing. This weeks actual salmon fishing has been made difficult by the bright sunshine and low water. The low water is holding the fish up as we enter the period when they begin to delay their run below the Great weir. You all know my views on the disgraceful situation down there so I wont bore you all with that again but all the same it never ceases to frustrate. Despite this the two Pauls have managed a fish apiece, Paul Shutler managed the first grilse of the season and we wont talk about the fish that he lost! Paul Greenacre managed a bright summer fish from Dog Kennel and you can see Paul's latest video epic at the link below. The catch and release is exemplary and well worth a watch, my appearance lowers the tone and I have assurances in triplicate from Paul he will not video me again without my knowledge. Secret filming is a definite a no, no, you can't have me making defamatory remarks about the resident agent or the various goings-on on the river and getting myself into hot water!!
Paul's excellent Catch and Release
Looking downstream from Cabbage Garden across to Middle Cabbage. The second photo is taken looking upstream on the opposite bank from the first. It is interesting in that it is a long time since the Tail of Provost has been clear so if you get a chance give it a go, you never know that might be the favoured lie of that Avon thirty.
I could blame the lack of entries on the workload, which still seems never ending but in reality its the sunshine that has occupied my time. The arrival of genuine summer weather has made being out from dawn to dusk a delight. Catching up with the breeding bird surveys in the mornings and Woodcock surveys in the evenings has made for very long days. The mornings retain a chill in the fresh winds requiring a couple of layers to ward off the cold. The chill is more than compensated for by Nature's headlong rush to get the next generation under way with feeding activity and territorial displays at all points of the compass. The evenings have a drawback hard to come to terms with in the midge clouds of the woods that seem more akin to the Scottish highlands. I smothered myself in pure Neem Oil, Jungle Formula, Boots own brand bug repellent and Avon's Skin so Soft, it made not one jot of difference, they were determined to make up for their lost feeding time brought about by this coldest recorded Spring. One other blood sucking bug that is always present these days is the tick. With so many deer around the lakes the number of people picking them up seems to be very much on the increase. I'm sure you don't need me to further remind you of the risks in the form of Lymes disease but it is worth thinking about where you sit and your clothing if you intend to go pushing your way through tall vegetation.
Anne decided to join me for an evening walk in the New Forest to count Woodcock. When the midges arrived I'm not sure she was overley pleased with her decision.
I have also been very keen to look in on the spawning carp in an effort to assess numbers but that cold northerly wind has persisted along side the sunshine making predicting the active times difficult. The carp have managed at least three days spawning in one of the shallow lakes and judging by the vast volume of fry in the margins the rudd and roach have long finished. Spawning in the deeper lakes has yet to start and it is the inhabitants of these lakes that I have a need to locate so time is still on my side.
Thanks to Ray Walton for sending me a couple of pix of Darrel Hughes, both taken Sunday afternoon and evening, clearly illustrating that some carp have and some haven't finished spawning.
On the salmon front the sun has slowed the sport and encouraged the weed. The only fish of recent days was landed by Michael Stead down at Ashley. Michael managed to find a fresh run 18 pound cock fish making all those hours in search of an Avon salmon seem worthwhile; congratulations on a job well done. With the weed growth now in full swing the start of the shrimp fishing in a weeks time will become the most effective way of getting to grips with an Avon salmon.
It needs no description from me if you are an Avon salmon aficionado. Suffice to say Mr Consistent, Steve Hutchinson has done it again in the shape of this magnificent 42 inch cock fish. What does 42 inches make it? At least 31 pounds and I wouldn't mind betting looking at the shoulder on that beastie that weight is probably erring on the low side. Superb Steve, heartiest of congratulations.
On a more mundane front I have included the above pic to illustrate the effect of not checking the culverts on a regular basis. This is a shot of the North Marsh at Hucklesbrook that whilst interesting at this time should be dry. The fifty four swans in the northern non-breeding flock appreciated the ease of grazing, along with a large number of Gadwall, Tufted duck and Mallard but I'm not sure the cows did!
Speaking of Colin Morgan, as I was with the pic of him fishing Ibsley Bridge Pool the other day, here's another photo of him returning the results of his labours in the form of a classic Avon summer fish;congratulations Colin.
We enjoyed the company of grand daughter Katie Megan for a stop-over at the weekend where during a walk beside the lakes she discovered the pleasure of daisies.
They say that it is a wicked man that curses the wind, in which case it looks as if I am to spend some considerable time in purgatory. This weather is driving me up the wall. What ever happened to our temperate climate? Where are our seasons? How can life's clock be set to the chaos we have been living with for four years. Droughts, floods and now more trees blown down and nests destroyed scattering their precious contents in all directions, what absolute bloody misery. I have been out strimming pools and clearing banks, wondering as I go about my work if there is some higher power with a personal vendetta against me. Why is the sea temperature, which determines my sea fishing, two degrees below the long term average. Breeding bird and woodcock surveys almost impossible. My bees remain in lock down, every day I set aside to go through them wind and rain appear as if by magic. No Turbot through April and no Sting rays in May. The Mayfly hatch blown flat on the water without chance of dancing in the lea of the willows. My chrysanthemums wont need stopping, they will all be snapped off. Bonsai blown in the pond and too windy for our Swifts to get into their nest boxes. If I so much as look at a fishing rod the temperature drops and the wind reaches hurricane force, surely we are due for a break?
Spent before they had even lifted from the water.
Those of sterner stuff than I have been out searching for our elusive fish and finding more rainbow trout than salmon; it seems we have suffered another escape. I had what must be considered the brace of the week when I had my second soundly impaled finger to deal with. The moral of this particular tale is to ensure you pinch down the barbs before tying it on and tightening the knots. They come out a great deal easier without the barb!
Tales of health and safety on the river bank. I mentioned earlier that I was out strimming the salmon pools and whilst clearing the path alongside the southern weir-pool a hidden danger of the countryside made itself clear. The path had been flooded for several months and an accumulation of various flotsam had been deposited in the undergrowth and in recent weeks had become well grown in. Assorted plastic bottles, single shoes, tennis balls and aluminium cans galore, a snapshot of upstream life. An eight toothed blade makes light work of digging this rubbish out and clearing the brash. I progressed in automatic mode, pace swing, pace swing, thoughts miles away on the next task when a loud explosion and I was immediately engulfed in a cloud of vapour. Brought back to sudden reality as the fog cleared the culprit in the form of a decapitated aerosol appeared. Lynx for men, I went off down the bank smelling like a tarts boudoir, a pleasant change from mud and desiccated toad I suppose.
It appears we have suffered another rainbow escape and another Sunblest tray acting as a giant strainer which I had better remove before Sunblest prosecute me for having it!!!
Poignant moment of the week came later in the day as I cleared up in front of the Lodge. I progressed along the bank under the idle gaze of fourteen Egyptian geese sat on the far side of the river. As I came to the turn I glanced up stream, through Dog Kennel Pool as far as the corner 200 metres away , where appeared a small black dot in the middle of the stream. It came toward me at the pace of the flow and it was obviously something alive, at the centre of a ring of ripples. On it came and as it swept by ten meters away, in mid stream, I realised it was a day old Moorhen chick. How and why it came to be there is of little consequence, its fate was inevitable but whether the vulnerability of young life or I'm just getting soft in my old age I found it a tragic scene.
The bluebells will soon be over under the hazel coppice.
The subject of Paul's seatrout/salmon came up again today when I was emailed the views of two very well respected and experienced salmon anglers from over on the Test. They were of the opinion that Paul's fish was a farmed escapee. It certainly answers several of the questions in that size and the spotted nature of the fish could fit the bill. I don't suppose we will ever know for certain but I would be quite happy with that explanation.
All sorts going on, all I have to do is remember it, particularly as I spent this morning strimming at Ibsley a couple of hours of which seems to jellify the old grey matter.
Colin Morgan fishing through the Bridge Pool as I clean up the banks.
Firstly Paul's seatrout is giving rise to a great deal of debate as to whether it is actually a seatrout or a salmon, possibly even a seatrout salmon hybrid. I think I favour the salmon side of the argument but it is always very difficult to be sure from photos. If it is a salmon just what is an eight pound salmon doing in the Avon in May, particularly one that has a tinge of colour is difficult to explain. If it were a grilse it would be probably no more than five or six pounds at this time of the year and 2SW fish are generally larger. Perhaps a Test or Frome fish, a result of inter-catchment drift which is thought to be Mother Nature's way of ensuring a variable genetic code. Eye position, heavily spotted operculum, flat tail nothing definitive so I guess the debate will continue.
Whilst speaking of Paul one other thing he hooked this week was his finger when he tried to throw a Flying "C", recovered from a snag, back into the river whilst the line remained under tension. Tricky little situation and for a time with Paul feeling very light headed it looked as if a spell in A&E might be required. On the lighter side of the incident when Paul's fishing companion phoned to request assistance to get Paul to hospital on my asking where he was came the immortal response, "Laying on the ground beside me" That narrowed their whereabouts down to about five miles. As it transpired hospital wasn't necessary as I have long experience in taking fish hooks out of various pieces of human anatomy. The deft flick of the wrist with my trusty long-nosed pliers soon had the offending hook removed and both continued their pursuit of a fish little the worse for wear.
I have a similar mystery to that of the seatrout v salmon over Bob Kay's 30, in that I haven't been able to contact Bob and I can find no reference in the returns book. We most definitely picked up a 31.6 salmon dead in the Trout Stream, just where this fish had arrived from we don't know but if Bob didn't catch one it will remain a further fishy mystery that will probably remain unsolved.
On the subject of large fish I hear that famed Avon salmon angler Fred Whitlock has been at it again. Those of you who have read the diary for several years will be familiar with past adventures with Fred. It seems he hooked a very large salmon, estimated between thirty five and forty pounds, down at the Royalty that led him a merry dance. As I hear it the fish ran downstream requiring the assistance of the boat and crew to regain contact and at the crucial point of getting it in the net the hook hold failed. Never mind Fred hopefully even with our currently low water levels that fish will make it through the Great Weir and we will see it up here in the middle river.
As for making it upstream this is where the EA salmon counter set in the middle of the structure will come into play. The reason we are not seeing the counter up dated, as we would wish, is that it is deemed not a tool for encouraging anglers but a scientific means to count salmon. The problem with that is that despite being less than ten years old it requires updating. To that end we are to see the EA spend a further fifty thousand pounds of public money updating various aspects of hardware etc. Its at this point we have to wonder if a further 50K on top of the hundreds of thousand s of pounds previously spent is likely to see a return on investment capable of evaluation. It will undoubtedly allow the various WFD and PSA agreements to be ticked but will it put one more salmon back in the river? If along side the update of hardware we are to see an update on strategy perhaps the EA might like to set out and publish the trigger points they have to implement restorative projects. A run of six hundred might we see a meaningful consultation with those that own and use the river taking heed of their concerns and fears. If the run should diminish to five hundred fish a year will we see further habitat improvement, four hundred perhaps reduced abstraction or discharge consents tightened. Three hundred perhaps more habitat work, two hundred a hatchery, one hundred the removal of the Great Weir. Extinction, that's easy, all the higher consents and conditions imposed on a salmonid river to protect the species can be relaxed!!
Even without the aid of the counter we are seeing one or two fish with both Steve Hutchinson and Brian Marshall managing to bank fish this week. Steve Hutchinson managed a twelve pounder from Ashley which he seems to do on an annual basis each May. I was delighted to hear that Brian had found a seventeen pound hen fish in Park Pool and a more well deserved fish is hard to imagine. Congratulations to both of you, whilst it remains hard work to find these fish a salmon from the Hampshire Avon in May is a very hard act to follow.
Steve releasing his twelve pounder at Ashley.
I see that the RSPB has published a State of Nature Report making pretty dire reading for the future of our wildlife and as such a condemnation of those charged with its protection. What also makes for disappointing reading is the fact that no fishery interest was represented as a partner in the report. I assume some well meaning 9 to 5 conservationist or weekend naturalist spoke on behalf of our rivers!
What has been happening in the working environment today is that the river is probably at its lowest level for the year. The channel has been scoured through the winter floods, the flow is dropping back and there is as yet no weed to coffer back the flow. We are fast approaching the second and largest Spring tide of May that will hopefully produce the best run of salmon into the river we are likely to see this season. Coinciding with forecast overcast weather we might just get a decent fortnights fishing. The low river means the freeboard is at its greatest and the meadows are probably as dry as they are likely to get this summer. All except the lower section of the water meadows that I have managed to flood whilst resetting the gates; which I had better sort out tomorrow! The reed beds in the oxbows are now cut-off from the main channel. The reeds are alive with the song of warblers and home to moorhens, swans and reed bunting safe in their isolated pools. Bolder in their mastery of the river we have our second brood of Goosander making the total number of ducklings to date a round score. A few events that I bumped into whilst out resetting gates but just scratching the surface of the valley's busy life.
Fingers crossed for a good run of fish in the coming week or two. Should you come across a salmon angler chattering away to himself in the middle of the river fear not, its just Paul G making his next video. The splash looks well and is popular with the birdworld but not what we wish to see at this time of year in the meadows. The freeboard at its greatest with dry meadows reducing the risk of poaching.
The brood south of the drive have seven cygnets the pair to the north have six, just how many have arrived in the other dozen or so nests we have I have yet to discover. Finally spot the Moorhen its the natural self defence technique of the juveniles.
I'm sure you all know that feeling that you have forgotten to do something, or there is something missing that gives rise to a feeling of unease. You can't quite put your finger on the reason but something is amiss. It was at eight o’clock this evening that the reason for this weekends disquiet materialised. I received a call to let me know we had a tent in the meadow beside the weirpool at Ibsley and it was then I realised, it was campers that had been missing from my sunny weekend. As you will have read in yesterdays entry I had most other distractions but I was short of a camper or two for a full house. Tonight's was a classic, slap bang in the middle of the SSSI in this seasons new grown grass. On asking his intentions and informing him of the private nature of the environmentally sensitive area he bawled that he wasn't going to move until he had seen my identification and written grounds for moving him on. Judging by the number of empty beer cans, none of which were his of course, his intake of alcohol was nearing full so reasoning was going to be difficult. As everyone else on the estate seemed to have taken the precautionary measure of switching off their mobiles this was shaping up as a long haul. Particularly as our camper had retreated inside his Vango and was refusing to take part in further discussion. Its at moments like this when it would be enormously helpful if the cattle were in easy reach in a nearby field. The prospect of twenty head of frisky light stores, newly on the grass, discovering a tent in their fresh grazing would have made for an interesting spectacle. Alas it wasn't to be and just as I was about to insist on our visitor at least hearing what I had to say one of the salmon rods arrived on the scene. Having fished the valley for many years he had long experience of such incidents and in resigned tones we stood beside our cocooned neighbour discussing events of the day on the river and my next step in resolving my problem. Just as it began to look like the minimum of required force was going to be required there was movement from within and our man surfaced to admit defeat and strike camp. Full house, time for a cuppa, yet I still had that nagging doubt, was I missing something after all I hadn't had an off-roader!!
As for the river I can report that Paul G has added to his tally with a fresh fifteen pounder from Woodside, which Paul has also captured on his third eye and will hopefully share his exploits with us in the near future.
I have been out balancing the watermeadow carriers that will mean a day or two getting the levels correct so please bear with me if you find your way wetter than expected. It does mean I will have the excuse to spend a little more time than usual in the valley so hopefully I'll catch up with day to day events in our riverine world so watch this space.
Summers here, hooray. The cuckoo is in full cry, the farm gates are all blocked with walkers cars and the road to work at the weekend is a slalom of the lycra clad legions. Oddly I do have some sympathy with them at the moment as the council have tar and chipped the Gorley road before they filled the potholes, so now they're camouflaged, making a pleasant cycle ride quite a challenge on some stretches. Tar and fresh Basalt chips play havoc with the old lycra. Not only the potholes the newly painted white lines, of just a fortnight, were also covered making the side ditches an even greater challenge. I wouldn't mind but its my council tax that pays for those incompetents; thinking about it in today's litigious society I'm probably personally responsible should an accident occur.
Back to the river and the picnickers are out in force with kids and dogs in profusion. I suppose that was also my fault as I have been willing the weather to change for months. Having said that, this weekend seemed worse than many. I suppose everyone has rushed out to make the most of the warmth before it disappears again. I have been offered free swimming lessons and the option of being turned upside down by the local running dog fraternity that where out enjoying the dry ground. I was similarly offered help with rearranging my face should I require it by a group of what I can only assume were walkers as I couldn't see any of the normal paraphernalia associated with "visitors" in that part of the estate. I shouldn't complain because now the forest enjoys national park status the countryside is officially the playground of the urban masses as I was informed in no uncertain fashion by two separate groups; miles from the National Park. A conversation with what I interestingly heard described as the local feral children puts an interesting slant on today's educational establishments. Add the outbuildings belonging to three small local businesses broken into, by I'm reliably informed a separate group of "feral" yobs and you can see the appeal of summer is likely to wane quicker than the floods!
The pièce de résistance was the group of European visitors reported to be fishing the main river at Ringwood; smack on Sunday lunchtime of course. By the time I reached them they had travelled a mile up stream in the hope of avoiding detection. On my approach an immediate language barrier was apparent, with lots of no speaky English and waving of arms and beer cans. Ten minutes of attempted translation had failed to move them when I quite unexpectedly came upon the phrase that can empower people to understand English with instant effect. The magic phrase?
"Oh F**k it, the police can sort this out" Amazing, perfect English and no communication problems what-so-ever from there on. They were happily on their way inside ten minutes, once they had walked back to their car that they had tucked away in the town car park!
Add in a call at 11:30 last night to let me know the gate to one of the lakes had been left open by some dopey angler and the complex was full of Forest ponies andyou have the perfect end to the weekend. Luckily the call was from young Phil, on his way home and he managed to get them out and lock-up without too much bother.
Sorry about the unschedule disappearance, the mysteries of the internet I fear. In the absence the river has coloured and risen slightly just in time for the start of the spinning. It didn't need the spinner for Bob Kay to add to his account with a superb fish in excess of 30 pounds which is his third of the year and at 30 pounds plus the fish of a lifetime. Well done Bob, congratulations, hopefully you took a snap that I can get a copy of for the diary.
Paul has now taken to catching seatrout for the camera. The stills camera man was obviously highly skilled with the old digital, it would be nice to see him on the other side of the lens tomorrow. That's a great looking trout.
Frighteningly professional, watch and enjoy.
I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear I managed to text Paul to get the info on his latest capture. He did indeed land a 22 pound fish, the only problem was it was a pike so I'm afraid that one doesn't count.
Still on the fishy front I must thank James Squire for sending me the photo of his fishing buddy Keith Dimmock with a roach of 2lb 7ozs from Mockbeggar. Nice to see that there are large roach still to be found in the complex, which should give encouragement to the stalwarts who are coming to grips with the challenges of the new water.
At 2lb 7ozs a new PB for Keith, well done.
What complicated webs we weave! A couple of entries back I commented on the lack of Swifts and my efforts and problems associated with keeping their nest free from squatters as we awaited their return. Tonight events combined to add further complications to what one would imagine a simple project of sticking up a nest-box and letting nature take its course.
This evenings events began when I was out with the rod and received a call on the mobile from a very breathless Anne telling me that on hearing a thump at the back of the house she looked out to see a Swift spread-eagled in the pond like a great Mayfly spinner. Had it hit a window or the redesigned nest-boxes? No net available and at four feet deep paddling was not an option, she had watched helplessly as the bird struggled to the Ivy that covers one corner of the pool where it lay motionless in the water. I suggested she scoop up the bird and keep it out of harms way until I could get home and check it over. The thought of water-logging and being chilled so late in the day would not bode well. If it had the strength to make it to the edge of the pond unaided it hopefully was not too badly injured.
I had thrown the rod in the back of the car and ten minutes later arrived home to find Anne in the alleyway rubbing antiseptic cream into a series of puncture wounds in her fingers, received on rescuing a less than grateful Swift. At least if it had the strength in its feet to cause such punctures things were looking positive for our bird, although I'm not so sure Anne shared my pleasure in seeing the damage. She pointed out the bucket covered with a towel where our visitor lay quietly awaiting inspection. This had to be one of our returning adults, probably our hen and any serious injury would be a tragic setback to our Swift colony.
On reaching beneath the towel and locating head and tail I was delighted to feel the claws take a firm grip of my fingers as I lifted her out. Bright clear eyes greeted me and neatly folded wings, if somewhat damp, showed no sign of damage. A lovely firm heart beat and quick movements of her head showed she was in as good a condition as we could have hoped. Her spell in the towels and five minutes walking over to the park, to provide clear airspace for a trial flight, allowed sufficient time for her feathers to dry and separate. Fingers crossed for the launch. I opened my hands and an instant take off followed by few wobbly flaps saw her slowly gain height and clear nearby trees, firmer wing beats and more controlled flight as she disappeared high in the evening sky. Fingers crossed her experience will not deter her from returning to her nest-box.
What a disproportionate feeling of relief, Anne and I both stood in the middle of a field grinning like a pair of fools at an empty sky!
Just who's watching who?
On more earthly matters I have heard that Paul has landed his third salmon a fish of 22 pounds, I look forward to getting the details.
Blue skies, temperatures in the 20's and carp spawning in the shallows. Someone must have moved, twenty four hours later and my old Sportex rods need lashing to the indicators!!
Spring is sprung, the grass is ris.
I wonders where the birdies is.
It would seem whoever the scribe that penned those immortal words he had suffered a delayed Spring such as that we are currently enjoying. There is much debate in the bird-world as to the whereabouts of our Swifts. I also have yet to see the return of our pair that nest on the house, I have all my fingers and toes firmly crossed that they are delayed by the northerly wind and nothing more serious has befallen them. I am convinced I have found the reason for the huge reduction in Swift numbers in the fact all the suitable nest sites are occupied by starlings and Sparrows long before the Swifts arrive. I have made the mistake of using the oblong entrance hole as opposed to the semi-circular design which is at least Starling proof, if not Sparrow resistant. I have to keep the oblong entrance hole to the swift boxes blocked with foam rubber in an effort to deter our resident hoards. I currently have three broods of Starlings and four broods of Sparrows about to leave the boxes so I think they are doing quite well enough without commandeering the swift boxes.
We may not have our Swifts but Spring has most definitely arrived with the flush of delicate green now well established on the trees. The sun has actually sufficient warmth to bring fish of all sizes to the surface to bask in its glory. Its seems a desperately long time since we similarly enjoyed the warmth of her rays, it comes not a minute too soon.
The first green flush of Spring and cowslips in profusion. Over two hundred carp were present in that one area and three inch roach by the tens of thousand all enjoying the warmth.
As for events in the valley it, along with the fish, seems to be in temporary limbo. The return of warm days and nights above freezing seems almost too good to be true and any sudden movements or actions will break the spell and send us back to floods and cold. Whilst Paul Greenacre did manage a salmon over the weekend there do not appear to be many in the system. Unfortunately only my gut feeling tells me the run is not that large, its a pity the EA continue to fail to appreciate the benefit of up to date counter information might have on encouraging the rods. I'm afraid the EA see their role as only protecting the species, the fate of the rods and fisheries is no concern of theirs. Despite the statutory requirements of the S&FF Act!!!
On the bright side the sun has brought the carp out and Mockbeggar is now producing the goods. I'm sure news of the 33.2 has spread far and wide and I'm also sure there are bigger fish to come. Perhaps equally impressive was the catch by Steve Moore with twenty two fish with six over twenty, including you'll be pleased to hear a 20+ mirror.
Not his 33+ but Matt Sherman with a good looking 20+ common and Steve Moore, ably assisted by son Nathan, landing one of his twenty two fish caught over the weekend including six over twenty.
Just what is that? It thinks its a Canada Goose and has chosen a mate that is currently sitting, I hate to think what the off-spring will look like.
No time for more, I'll be back as soon as I find time.
Lots of news, no time to post it!!
I just had to add the link below, its Paul G up to his tricks again.
PAUL'S Second SALMON
He's getting into this filming game big-time.
Thanks to club headbailiff, Graham Moss for this photo of Keith Cherry with a Mockbeggar "twenty".
This entry is just a pointer to the salmon rods that most of the pools are now clear. With no weed and we are still enjoying a reasonable flow, make the most of the next month. The Grannom are hatching and the valley is coming alive with the arrival of the Summer visitors the Avon valley in May is a good place to be.
"Mama told me, there'd be days like this!" Having decided the final clearing of the lake margins would have to wait and to avoid churning up the meadows we thought we'd try with the Turfer to remove the last willows from the salmon pools. Big mistake, after broken chains, sheared shear bolts and snapped strops we decided make way for the machine. As luck would have it we didn't sink, the meadows survived and apart from some lost limbs (branches) the last of the big willows in the form of the tree at the bottom of the Break-through are clear.
Ashley straight, Ashley Bends and Dockens looking well. Make the most of the Straight and Dockens beforethe weed arrives.
I've just heard from Rod Cutler that he landed a good seatrout of between four and five pounds today. Well done Rod, fingers crossed we may find one or two more such fish if the flows continue for a week of two.
As the temperatures continue to stutter toward normality life in the valley parallels the change into its Spring garb. The first flush of green is showing on the willows heralding the arrival of much needed fresh new food after the long, hard winter. April always sees the wild creatures at their lowest ebb as everyday the temperature remains below four degrees C prolongs the search for the exhausted grazing. Thankfully the grass and hardier plants have now started into life and all but the weakest creatures, that have succumbed to the elements and lost the struggle, will soon respond to Dr Greengrass.
The delicate highlights provided by Wood Anemones taking over from the daffodils in the woodlands.
The river is looking in good order and with two salmon off the estate today certainly showing positive signs for my fast approaching favourite month in the valley. The first call was from Paul Greenacre, he of the third eye, letting me know of a summer fish just landed from Ibsley with the entire episode captured on the ever watchful camera. I'll look forward to seeing the efforts of our budding Scorsese and as soon as Paul supplies a link I will post it for your enjoyment. The second call was from Bob Kay, who had already managed to grass a fish down at Bisterne this season, telling me he had taken a similar summer fish from the pool at the top of North-end Island. Two Avon salmon this season is quite a result and to have taken them in such lightly fished areas is remarkable. It clearly illustrates that the fish are with us, Bob's confidence in getting out and trying some of the less popular beats has been handsomely rewarded. Congratulations to both rods, certainly encouragement for us faint hearts to get out and try our luck, I'll look forward to seeing you on the bank!!
Here's Pauls video, you've just got to watch this!!
Isn't that just brilliant. Congratulations not only on the fish but the one man epic. Who needs Scorsese!!
Island Run looking a picture in the fading light Friday evening.
Elsewhere on the fishery front the warmer weather has at last stirred the Mockbeggar fish into life with some good catches of carp and even the roach are at last putting in an appearance. Nothing huge to report but carp to low twenties and roach to the pound is definitely encouraging. Multiple catches are now on the cards with one rod landing eight fish through Saturday night and Sunday morning. The bird front is getting more complicated by the day as more Canada geese appear to be taking up residence along with two pairs of Mute swans leading to continual battles for squatters rights on the cleared island. One apparent by product of the continual clamour of honking geese and warring swans has been the sudden abandonment of the island by the Black headed gulls. Overnight the seventeen pairs that seemed to have established territories and nest sites appear to have up sticks and disappeared. I must say I'm none too upset at their departure as their aerial interception of bait was fast becoming tiresome.
Recent events at Mockbeggar as Mick lands a half pound roach, the first brood of Canada Geese appear and I think that's Jack photographing a seventeen pounder for Mike. It could be Mike photographing a seventeen for Jack, the result of a failing memory and insufficient information on the Dictaphone!!
I attach the photo of the Rolls Royce of bumble bee homes that complete with moss and dry grass I have just installed at the top of my garden as a reminder that our humble bumbles are suffering along with all our other pollinators. I am lucky in becoming old and creaky and receiving such a splendid gift as reward but it doesn't have to be such a beautiful edifice, its relatively easy to lend a helping hand. Providing suitable housing and habitat is the key, just click on one of the Bumble Bee websites and it will provide all the info you need and every little helps.
One other piece of news that has relevance for the Avon are the goings on down at the coast. On Sunday I had somehow got myself involved with the "Litter Pick" down at Steamer Point. Beach picking is purely an exercise in clearing a selected beach of litter and surveying the result to identify the contributors, organised on this occasion by the Dorset Countryside Service and supported by the Angling Trust. Prior to the 10:30 start I was idly leaning on a suitably positioned rail doing a little sea watching, hoping for a Skua or perhaps an Arctic Tern. During my scanning of the sea I couldn't but help notice the number of buoys set along that section and commented to a fellow angler about the number and pondered their purpose. Bearing in mind there is an area of sea outside the Mudeford Run known as the BOX approximately half a KM wide that runs down toward Highcliffe Castle where the setting of any nets is strictly prohibited at this time of year in an effort to protect the salmon and seatrout from poachers. With my companion we mused as to the number of probable store pots, and possible whelk or cuttle pots as we tried to remember the seasons of the various runs. Trying to decide which were inside and which were outside the box was also extremely difficult from our vantage point and we reached the conclusion it was beyond us to fathom out and hoped that between the EA and the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority regular checks and inspections took place. On getting home that evening, purely by coincidence, I received an email from Ray Walton wondering if I'd seen a report in the Bournemouth Echo. The link Ray sent took me to a report about a speed boat that had become entangled in a net exactly in the spot we were discussing earlier in the day!!
Perhaps slightly more regular checks and inspection might be a good idea!!!
Now you see it, now you don't, the Trout Stream thankfully cleared of its willow.
Spring flowers after what seems a very long cold winter.
A further every day tale of common country folk. Let me begin my story with my daily commute to work that takes me through the Blashford Lake complex betwix house and estate. Not an early morning trip to deal with the necessary tasks required prior to the arrival of the tenants and staff but my regular after breakfast work run. Even on this slightly later run, usually just before eight, I still enjoy the sight of the deer, the foxes, the badgers, the poachers cars, the rabbits and the squirrels making their way back into cover to retire for the day. Also the multitude of birds that frequent the lakes having enjoyed their early breakfast heading for the lakes to sit and digest their meal. I'm sure you spotted it, the reference to poachers cars dropped in there as unfortunately they are an all too regular aspect of my commutes. When I believe the persons in question are not on Estate property I leave it to those directly involved to deal with the matter. Unfortunately when I am informed in the local tackle shop that the persons in question are stealing large carp from our waters to distribute in lakes not controlled by the estate, or worse still to sell on the carp black market, it does impinge on our assets. Hence I take an interest. The value of fish stock quickly runs into tens of thousands of pounds so the crime involves considerable sums of money and as such taken very seriously.
Hands up all those involved who wish to let it be known now that they are doing no harm and only sat on the bank catching a few fish which they all put straight back in, "'onest injun gov'ner". Excellent, may I suggest you now all troop off down the local police station and supply your details to the desk sergeant so that when they get a call from the estate concerned that we have fish thieves active on our waters the police can quickly scan the list or those "doing no harm" and alley us of our fears!! The police can then let us know we can return to our homes and our loved ones as there is no need to traipse around half the estate looking for some thieving scuzz-bucket.
Unfortunately it doesn't work like that, apart from a less than impressed desk sergeant who has more than enough work to keep him or her occupied, we just might not believe you. God forbid, shock, horror, what ever next but just try it from our perspective. We have the word of a person that shows absolutely no respect for English common Law and no regard for the rights of other individuals and you expect us to take your word. Asking a lot I fear. Initially I just take pix of the cars involved on the mobile as it saves lots of writing and remembering. I also let it be known to the persons involved that if they are stealing fish they are guilty of theft and the romantic idea of the village lad with bent pin and cane enjoying his clandestine adventure quickly loses its credibility. The fact such poachers show scant respect for common English law or the rights of others is only to be expected as that is the nature of the sad individuals involved. The claim they are only fishing and not moving fish just further illustrates their total failure to grasp the implications of their actions. They disregard private property rights and others amenities, are too stupid or selfish to realise the potential implications related to the reputation of angling such actions have. They fail to see that they could be having any detrimental impact on such issues as conservation, security and the time and cost involved in chasing them about to discover their intent. They denigrate their fellow anglers as Noddies because they stick to the rules and play the game. The fact is it is the vast majority of anglers that play by the rules and pay to support the fisheries, it is only the very small percentage of selfish Noddies that create the problems. The romantic idea of the carping “Guest” as portrayed in much of the earlier carping literature is actually a self serving common thief. Viewed from that perspective it isn't quite so easy, hence I say that anyone seen carrying fishing tackle on the estate without estate permission to be there will be considered as going equipped to steal.
I know but that's how I derive my pleasure in life!! You have been warned.
Saturday was definitely a day of two halves, in that the weather forecast managed to get things spot on; dry before ten chucking it down there-after. All was not lost, as I had decided the river looked so good and as I was now the proud owner of a EA rod licence, permitting me to fish for salmon in England and Wales. In celebration I decided to forgo the pleasure of digging allotments and putting in new drives and make an early start on the river. Early was in fact closer to eight thirty by the time I'd managed to dig out my salmon tackle. A seasons lay-up had done nothing for the state of my line of choice in that it came off the reel more akin to a slinky requiring some persuasion to relax and flow through the rings in acceptable fashion. Despite my efforts in clearing the pools during the week I started at "Hoodies" in that I had not been there this season and the water was now at a level that enabled reasonable safe passage through the muddy section between the weirs. I call this section the triangle, the piece of bank including "Hoodies" and the left bank of "Ibsley Pool" although it remains far too muddy to strim and tidy but fishable with care and most definitely worth a visit. An inch and a half, copper tube, Garry Dog fished on a DT Wet cel 2 with five feet of 20 pound fluorocarbon ensuring a neat presentation. I didn't take long to get back into the old routine with pace, cast, pace, cast, no line in or out just the relentless searching of the glides. The set-up seemed to be working well with the occasional bump of the line on the bed hopefully ensuring the fly was down where the fish might be expected in the still cold water hard on the bottom. The water visibility was a good so any fish in front of me should see the fly, just if and how far it would be prepared to chase in this cold water remained to be seen. Quickly through Hoodies which is always difficult with the fly as any fish tend to lie right at the head of the pool, above where a fly can be effectively presented. On down the run toward the head of Ibsley Pool, through the shallows beneath the spreading willow and into the deep water at the top of the pool. Nothing to get excited about but the fly continued to swing through beautifully giving confidence that if there is a fish out there we will be in business. The belly of Ibsley pool is always difficult, being deep and overly boilie, confidence returns as we reach the tail and the glassy glide that is the favourite lie of moving fish as they approach the weirs looks inviting. Amazingly nothing has shown to such a well presented fly, next cast perhaps? Push on through the mud to reach the top of Tizard's Pool where I have had early fish in the past, concentration and anticipation remain high. There can't have been a fish there as I'm sure I would have found it, perhaps it hasn't reached Tizard's yet. Having only taken forty minutes to work through that 150 meters and the rain still holding off, I had time to look at another Pool. Cabbage Garden has to be where that fish is waiting and having cleaned the bank earlier in the week I knew fishing would be easier that the triangles mud. Five minutes walk along the path between Crowe and Tompkins Pools allowed time to appreciate the arrival of the Willow warblers the first I had heard this year, competing with the resident Cetti's and Chiffchaffs the far more numerous summer arrivals. A little more exposed than the Triangle but the upstream wind slightly of my left shoulder assisted casting, making unhurried progress down the pool a delight. This has to be what the Avon valley is all about, the river in great condition and absolutely wonderful surroundings; a fish would be nice but I can manage this without too much regret! As I reached the large, spreading willow at the tail of the pool the forecast rain began to blow in on a miserable wind, time for home after a couple of most enjoyable hours.
This morning I had an Avon Salmon Group meeting over at Blandford which I felt I should attend in an effort to promote the cause of the beleaguered salmon angler and hear of the ongoing efforts to improve the lot of the species. I had Brain Marshall with me as I drove over Ibsley bridge heading for Blandford and commented that the river looked in tip top condition and should produce today, should any rods make the effort. During the meeting my mobile Mrs Brown'd in my pocket on several occasions. On calling the numbers back after the meeting one turned out to be Colin Morgan letting me know he had landed our third fish of the year. It seems there are fish in the system, fingers crossed many more are on their way.
As for the meeting itself it was very positive if somewhat frustrating. There is no quick fix. As I've said before on the blog for the most part we simply do not know what ails our salmon. There's certainly no shortage of good intention, what we desperately need is evaluation of our efforts with a good helping of inspiration.
I've included the link below as I felt it was such an enjoyable read, I'm sure the tree lovers amongst you will enjoy it.
A true woodsman
I'm pleased to say that we managed to remove the poplars from Dog Kennel this morning. Everything looks ideal for a fish to be laying in the traditional lies head and tail of the pool. On the strength of that I have now purchased a rod licence and will be heading for the bank at the earliest opportunity. I refuse to believe there are not one or two salmon in the river at present it just remains for me to find one!
Dog Kennel, now fishable off both banks and looking just perfect.
The link below might be of interest to readers who are concerned about the environment
Please pass it on and send our environment minister a clear message.
I did manage to drop in at Ashley yesterday and peculiar as it may seem spent an enjoyable couple of hours strimming off Below the Break-through and the run under the power line above Ashley Pool. Both lies looked spot on and I would be amazed if we don't see fish out of them in the next week or two. Always assuming some of you rods get out on the bank looking for them. To that end after I put this up on the diary I must go on line and purchase my rod licence. An hour of an evening going through one or two of those pools is high on my "must do" list so fingers crossed the promised change in the weather materialises and the fish put in an appearance.
Below the Breakthrough and the run into Ashley Pool Looking well. A word of warning in that the prolonged flooding has left the banks precarious in one or two places so please take care and pay attention to where you place your feet.
On the subject of salmon I believe we may have had a further salmon landed on the estate a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately I haven't got the details but I am on the case so watch this space!! I'm not sure if Paul Simpson reads the diary but should anyone know Paul would you ask him to ring me on my mobile the number is on the contacts page.
The pool clearing is going well with only two or three that still require a little attention. I still have the tree on the right bank Above the Breakthrough, the large oak at Ellingham and the poplar at Dog kennel. The poplar may well be hauled out tomorrow, if I can attach a cable, unfortunately the other two still require the meadows to dry out a little more to allow access for the machines. Progress may be slow but its definitely progress so it has to be an improvement.
Not only difficult to get to across the soft meadows but almost impossible to attach a cable until the river drops further.
Whilst at Ibsley today I met Paul Greenacre in pursuit of a fish or more accurately in pursuit of an owl. Those of you that have run into Paul recently will be aware of his third eye in the form of a video camera strapped to the side of his head. This gadget, originally employed to film Paul's salmonid adventures, has now become a distraction from fishing in that Paul now spends half the day filming the valley wildlife. Whilst I don't condone this reduction of fishing effort I quite sympathise as the valley is a wonderful place to be as Spring struggles into being. The distraction today in the form of a fine barn owl out feeding through the middle of the day I had seen earlier down at Provost's Hole. I mentioned to Paul I had seen it hunting a late breakfast, presuming it to be making up for time lost during last nights rain and storms. We also had a Pipistrelle feeding around the Top Garden mid afternoon of the same mind set, making the most of the flies and midges brought out by the warmer weather. Paul text me later to say the Barn owl had turned up at the bridge after I left and the camera was duly employed in capturing the scene, a link to which can be found below;
I'll finish on a cautionary note thanks to John Lorford who tipped me off to this from Salisbury Journal.
"A LARGE amount of stolen fishing equipment has been seized by Wiltshire Police.
Officers are appealing to anyone who may have lost or had any fishing equipment stolen to contact criminal justice investigator Leonie Calland at Salisbury Police Station on 101."
If you've suffered the misfortune of having your gear stolen might be worth a call to see if its turned up in Salisbury.
For those who have very kindly inquired of my health in relation to the absence of entries, I thank you warmly. I wish I were able to tell you that the prolonged silence has been due to travels to far flung exotic countries, where unbroken sunshine and welcoming natives made floods and unbearable cold seem but a distant memory. Alas that is not the case. Cancelled horse events, craft fayres, new roads, even more dangerous trees, new fisheries and particularly Anne's allotment have taken their toll. On getting home of an evening writing has little immediate appeal. I must also apologise for the backlog of unanswered emails, I will get around to them and I do appreciate the updates, all I need is a little more time.
The Old Man and the Twins at Gorley almost have dry feet after months of standing in the floods.
Apart from my tales of woe related to my work what else has actually been happening in the valley? To be quite frank, not a lot! I don't want to become the harbinger of doom but with the weather playing the major role in our lives there has not been a great deal to look forward to. When we all thought the river was finally back in the banks and the salmon fishing might take a turn for the better, up it came again. All but the hardiest hung the rods back in the racks and the tackle bags to the back of the garage door. As you will have guessed we have seen no further salmon but at least the river has once more decided to retreat back into the channel and run clear hopefully making a salmon or two n the near future a realistic option. I have been out and about clearing some of the salmon pools and to date; Ibsley pool, Tizzards, Cabbage Garden and Middle Gabbage, Harbridge Bend, Lake run and Woodside have all had a trim and brush up. Much at Ellingham remains fishable leaving Ashley Bends in need of a visit which hopefully will be sorted out in the near future. Whilst out with the strimmer I have at last managed to clear the area of habitat restoration at Ibsley of willow regrowth. The high water has put us weeks behind with these maintenance jobs so to get this one out of the way is extremely satisfying.
Cabbage Garden from Middle Cabbage and looking downstream at Harbridge Bend. Damian's seats must surely be the best positioned in the Avon valley. After having strimmed Woodside, Harbridge Bend and Middle Cabbage, ten minutes watching life in the valley go by must be the ultimate in relaxation. Chiff-chaffs, Cetti's, water rails an endless procession of coming and going what more could be asked on such a day.
Mockbeggar has opened its doors to the hardy, those prepared to brave the Siberian blast that has held water temperatures at rock bottom. Whilst the majority have struggled, as only to be expected in such harsh conditions, there have been one or two high spots. One of the new generation of carp anglers managed to land carp of 25, 22 and 19 pounds. Whilst his friend fishing alongside had three smaller doubles. Perhaps the most surprising catch has been a Crucian of three and a half pounds. Whilst I did put Crucians in back in the 80's I had not seen one landed in the intervening thirty years. I suppose it could have been an original but I would have thought it more likely a second generation survivor, lets hope we see more of the same stamp.
On the bird front over at mockbeggar, the island I cleared last autumn has been taken over by a colony of Black-headed gulls. I didn't have their interests in mind when I cleared the island and they will no doubt quickly learn that anglers are the providers of a free meal in the form of boilies!! The Egyptian geese have hatched seven goslings proving that even this cold can't completely put a brake on Spring. A more worrying sign has been the discovery of two dead buzzards in recent days. Both birds were very thin to the extent of appearing wasted. Perhaps the problems have stemmed from the demise of the local rabbit population that appear to have succumbed to the latest plague that afflicts them, haemorrhagic disease. The local rabbits seemed to have suffered to a far greater extent than the yearly arrival of Myxomatosis that we have become accustomed to. With the staple diet missing Buzzards have experienced a lean time along with many of our other valley residents. Thankfully all the dozen or so territories that we have on the estate appear to be occupied, hopefully my two casualties are just natural wastage.
One other little aside that has occupied some of my time are my bees. The last week or two has seen one or two sunny days when they have been able to fly and get on with gathering new season supplies of pollen. My three hives appear to have come through the winter successfully, lets hope they continue in good health avoiding the potential perils of the Neonicotinoid insecticides that now pollute almost the entire British isles. Our government has taken a different stance to that of the EU and the States in not restricting the use of these chemicals. I find it horrifying that despite the concerns expressed by our neighbours we continue to allow the use of these poisons; whatever happened to the precautionary principle as enshrined within the Habitats Directive. We now have to wait until our bees and pollinators reach a desperate level before the NFU and Defra will act and even then there's no guarantee. In the name of agriculture we've managed to wipe out most of the farmland birds, wild flowers and the fishy population of many of our rivers, we might as well add the insect world to the list of wanton destruction!!
Why is it that certain bread trays and pallets I find jammed in our hatches proudly announce that they are the property of certain companies and possession of them might be construed as illegal yet I can be found in possession of reams of McDonalds paper packing and it becomes mine? I appreciate trying to educate the retarded moron who dumped it in our lake entrance is a non-starter but perhaps McDonalds might be asked to bear the cost of tidying up after their customers? If it comes to that perhaps the pallet and the bread tray companies might like to bear the cost of extracting their property from out hatches???
It has come as a shock to many in the valley to hear of the news that John has passed away. At such a sad time our thoughts are naturally very much with Viv and his family. John's mastery of the arts combined with his love of his angling came to epitomise the very best of what many of us seek in the natural world that was so dear to him. The funeral service will be on Thursday 28th March at 02:00pm at St James Church, Alderholt. John and his wonderful Art of Angling that brought so much colour and pleasure to huge numbers of anglers will be very sadly missed.
Thrice joy, more rain, I think my tongue in cheek relief at seeing the rain the other day has now been taken a little too seriously and it now needs to clear off for a month or two. Whilst the coarse anglers may be gone and no longer struggling with the mud and high water, the salmon anglers are keen to get on the banks. The weekends rain has seen the river immediately head back out into the fields making the dropping water of the previous ten days nothing but a distant memory. When Kevin landed his fish Thursday evening the river was in as near perfect condition for the salmon fly as one could wish; six inches of free-board, water visibility of five or six feet and a water temperature struggling back up towards double figures. We then had the weekends rain to spoil the party. The only words of encouragement I have to offer to the frustrated salmon rods is that the river is dropping back as quickly as it came up so fingers firmly crossed conditions should be back in trim by the end of the week.
With a fortnight left of March we are becoming very pinched for time to finish the tree work before the birds get into full nesting gear. This does not include the great list of fallen trees that litter the estate after the winter of wet ground and gales. It is the annual maintenance that takes place on the forestry and conservation front that is running late. One job that is in urgent need of completion is clearing the reed beds of willow and alder self-sets that if left to their own devices will soon return the desirable fen habitat back to a dark uninviting willow car.
The floods are back along with sixteen hundred or so Black-tailed Godwits. Tree contractors taking down some of our dangerous trees beside the main road before the Rooks get underway with their nesting.
Re-establishing the reed beds, where the old willow car was cleared a couple of years ago, is one of the jobs I find enormously satisfying. Not solely the sight of the valley species of birds and mammals taking up their new territories but the physical work involved in the annual maintenance of the site. The new reed beds are not sufficiently established to withstand burning and with the over wintering reed buntings and at least two Bittern still with us there are added difficulties to this approach. The most efficient means to rid the beds of willow and alder is with the strimmer fitted with an eight toothed blade, a task I must admit to a slightly masochistic pleasure in a getting to grips with. Looking back over several acres of reed beds cleared and ready for the imminent arrival of Spring makes all the aching muscles seem worthwhile. Whilst strimming out the reeds I quickly become absorbed in the task to the extent time becomes an irrelevance. Add to this the subterfuge of my yellow "Bono" safety glasses lulling me into the belief the sun is shining and all is well with the world. It is only when the rain reduces vision to less than ten feet and the thunder clap shouts down the strimmer I snap back into the real world. There are other distractions that bring me out of my preoccupied state and today it was the sudden appearance of that newly evolved winter visitor Botaurus cervicula better known as the Little-necked Bittern. In actual fact both the birds I flushed today were Botaurus stellaris the common or garden, everyday Bittern but if the second one had sat any tighter he would definitely have had a severely reduced neck. I'm sure the stupid thing actually came up between the blade and my feet, how I missed him I'll never know but happily he flopped off down to Lower Cabbage reed bed none the worse for his experience. Having said that he did leave his lunch behind, three half digested pike. I'm not sure at what point he huked his dinner up but it is interesting to see the part pike play in keeping our visitors fed. Its clearly illustrates the point that its all very well providing reserves and reed beds for Bitterns, Herons and Egrets to occupy but without food in the form of fish you most definitely will not have the birds. The real lesson here is that the health of the river and its fishy occupants is essential for the well-being of many of our valley birds and mammals. Make the riverine environment the top priority and everything else will start to click into place. Its not quite that easy but its a good starting point.
The sun is out, all is well with the world; I believe rose tinted ones are also available. The remnants of one of the Bitterns dinner.
I may have failed miserably in my final fling to get a chub but others fared better with their last trip or two as a recent email from Neil Hurren shows.
"Sorry to hear of your abortive final attempt for a chub.Thoroughly fed up with slogging through mud and water on the river. My sunbathing on Vincents produced three tench, including a lovely looking male of five pounds and four bream up to five pounds. A pleasant lazy experience after the hectic previous Sunday afternoons fourteen bream up to 6.4. The bream are also in fine condition and already displaying their white spawning tubercules."
Thanks for the feedback Neil - I knew I should have fished the lake!!
Did I get out on the river and If so how did I get on? Well I did get out and in keeping with the earlier events of the day it proved a frustrating visit. I had an inkling I was on a loser from the off, the first job of the day when an inspection of the hatches found a large log firmly jammed in one of the gates. No ordinary log, this was a serious sized log that had made it through the gate but had become stuck on the downstream staging. It was obviously too large to go under the stage and most definitely too large for me to lift out. Help was needed to hold it in position as I chopped lumps off it until it would fit under the staging. A call to Phil and between us, much to my relief, succeeded in sending the offending lump of wood on its way.
Thanks, who ever sent me that one I hope your appendages turn square and fester at the corners!
Things didn't get much better through out the day, the load of concrete for a tank base wasn't arriving until four o'clock and a birch had come down across one of the roads requiring urgent attention. The water leak was still refusing to make its whereabouts known and the digger bottomed out in the soft ground, sinking down to its belly requiring serious amounts of horse power and jiggery pokery to get it out.
The concrete did arrive just ten minutes late and with much grunting and sloshing the base was laid and covered for the night to avoid any frost damage; now where did I put those rods! In fact I had already thrown almost the entire lot of my coarse gear in the back of the truck at lunchtime. I hadn't had time to sort out my weapon of choice so took the belt and braces approach taking enough for virtually any situation that might arise. I decided the inside of Harbridge Corner was where that chub was waiting requiring a risky drive across the water meadow if I were to get there with any chance of time to set up and relax into the session. I bumped into Jim Foster, out chasing a salmon, as I followed the Ellingham Carrier north. We enjoyed a chat as I rummaged through my rucksack seeking reels and hooks amid the old crusts and dubious green and slimy substances in aromatic bait boxes. Jim went on his way and I made my first cast at five thirty. I never got to make the second as the mobile informed me Kevin Styles had landed our first salmon of the season. The fish was resting in the net recovering from its exertions and if I was quick I could get across to him for a pic or two as it went back.
Five minutes and I was on the bank watching Kevin nurse a tired cock fish of about eighteen pounds back to full health. Lovely looking fish which had taken a black, yellow and orange conehead on the second time through the pool. Lovely fish to open the account, well done Kevin, congratulations.
I got to Kevin in time to see the release of the first Somerley salmon of the season in the form of an eighteen pound cock fish.
I got my pix and I cut short my visit in an effort to return to my hoped for chub. I got back to my abandoned swim at six allowing me an hour of rolling a pinch of flake through the tail of the pool until darkness chased me off home for dinner. Not the most productive chub session but I enjoyed my chat with Jim and got to see Kevin produce our first salmon of the season. I enjoyed the witching hour as the squelching call of the Snipe drifted back as they passed overhead and the Teal flicked over the river piping to each other as they headed out into the meadows to feed. The geese honked and clanked and I squelched, sloshed and slid my way fishless back to the car in the dark.
Wednesday evening, just approaching eleven o’clock, and I have just twenty five hours left if I intend to catch that chub I've been promising myself. As per usual my best laid plans to empty the river of its mega specimens has come to nought once again this season. If I do get out tomorrow for a final fling it will be with a loaf of bread and the minimum of tackle as I flick lumps of flake and crust into likely looking slacks and glides. My pound and a quarter Avon will be my weapon of choice, fitted with a pin loaded with six pound line. Add a net, a flask, half a dozen size tens and a dozen heavy shot for the link ledger and that'll do me. A couple of hours will suffice and should a chub oblige what more could I ask.
Thanks to Terry Moody for this pic showing a chub with attitude that took a fancy to his whole mackerel. That's the sort of chub I need to find tomorrow if I get out, not the single maggot on a 18 to two pound bottom for this chap.
A cautionary tale for any other mole that might feel attracted to our allotment in light of the lesson today's trespasser received. We have endured the attention of Kingston's rabbits and Bisterne's red legged partridges, our resident blackbirds and the flocks of pigeons from the leylandii hedge that bordered the adjoining soccer pitches. We have erected nets, buried wire-netting and felled countless Leylandii and we felt we were making progress. Having gone to such lengths I could have warned our interloper that sticking your head out in front of Anne, particularly when she was armed with a spade as she dug the plot, was a serious misjudgement. I wouldn't go so far as to say she was a women on the edge but his reception seemed to indicate the release of considerable pent up emotion - poor little bugger, he wont be doing that again!
Definately a mistake!!
Thank goodness for that, rain again, just in the nick of time. Nothing to do with the need for more water in the river, purely to allow us to take a breather from trying to catch up with six months work in as many days. With roads to build, grade and repair; trees to plant, clear and fell plus the everyday ongoing regime we have been struggling to find sufficient time in the day. Those every day jobs include resetting hatches and looking for water leaks that at least had the advantage of taking me down to the river for the odd hour for a natter with those on the bank. Perhaps I should start by clarifying the apparent lack of water in one or two of the channels that several anglers have mentioned to me in recent days. The Harbridge Stream and the Woodside and Ellingham Carriers look very low yet the current flow through the gates at the inceptions are at maximum level if I am not to flood our northern neighbours. The low levels are a result of a scoured channel, rid of its accumulated sand and silt with margins stripped bare of reeds and cress exposing a muddy free-board. I must admit to being similarly convinced of the low levels and complete with twenty pound spanner, splashed my way across several thousand metres of mud and slush to visit what I expected to be blocked hatches only to find everything in order. Never mind as I did get to spend several hours on the banks! Pleasingly with the end of the season in sight and the weather taking a definite upturn earlier in the week there where a few more anglers out on the banks. Catches were patchy with no record breaking bags with even the chub proving very difficult to locate with just ones and twos from random swims with no real pattern. Barbel have continued to show if a little slower than I recent weeks but very much still on the cards. Bream seem to have been the only other species to have put in an appearance on a regular basis. River bream are fine looking fish, with a fine bronze eight pound plus fish from Ibsley pool a pleasing sight on any line.
A deceptively low looking Harbridge Stream and Colin out on a perfect height Ibsley Pool looking for an early salmon.
I did come across Jason landing a double figure pike for Karen on my visit to the hatches.
Karen manageing to keep her second double figure pike of the day up out of the mud.
Events on Nature's calendar have seen the winter visitors begin to disappear from the feeders and the summer migrants arrive with the first Martins being reported this week. The toads have started their spawning migration toward the ponds and lakes with one very fortunate pair rescued from a turn off valve chamber when I opened it up whilst looking for our disappearing water. Suffice to say being trapped at the bottom of a sheer sided pit hadn't deter him from spreading his genetic code; the last I saw of them was sinking into the nearby ditch with him still clamped grimly in position. One event not so welcome was the discovery of a pile of feathers that obviously indicated the fate of one of our local Barn Owls.
Every picture tells a story.
Along with our Kestrels, the Barn Owls that depend for a great deal of their diet on the grassland voles and insects have had a particularly hard time through the period of the floods. As the meadows flooded the glut of drowned out voles and worms were quickly consumed by the hoards of gulls that now frequent the valley. The reed beds and rough meadows remained underwater and the food supply quickly became exhausted. Anyone familiar with the antics of the Kestrels at Ibsley, as they watch the road for worms trying to escape the floods, will realise how desperate they have become in recent weeks. They have become scruffy and take greater and greater risks with the traffic to snatch any morsel that shows itself. It was whilst considering the plight of the Ketrels and Barn owls that I began to wonder how our fish had fared during the floods and if their food supply had been similarly washed away? To help answer that Saturday morning I collected the bug sampling kit and headed for Ibsley to have a look in the margins and the shallows. The first site that came to mind was the scour hole where the water has been overflowing the bank between the road bridge and the weir. The water has been pouring over this bank for weeks and the now isolated pool might prove an interesting pointer to what might now be in similar pools the length and breadth of the valley. Astonishingly the pool was absolutely full of every aquatic bug and fish you might expect to find in the Avon under more benign conditions. How such numbers had managed to become stranded or for that matter had been attracted to what was in fact a waterfall is just another question to be answered at a future date. Amazed at the quantity of potential food in the pool I wondered if the river was devoid of life, everything having been washed out into the meadows. Fifty metres away in the weir pool, I scooped the net through the scant marginal weed that remains, as three minute kick samples in eight feet of water would probably infringe the riverine H&S policy, and found this was similarly packed with life. Above the weir was also thriving and even the fontinalis growing on and immediately in front of the hatch gates in the full force of the flow was teeming with life; the Hampshire Avon never ceases to amaze.
The floods that have given rise to the scour holes and inbalances in the food chains.
Fish and aquatic insects stranded in the fields. The sections of grass in the middle shot form the cases of thousands of caddis fly.
The weir pool still contains seemingly inexhaustible supplies of fish food. Even the hatch gates provide a habitat occupied by creatures with sticky tail ends that it will take a reader of the diary to identify as its beyond me. Thanks to Steve Hutchinson for educating me as to the nature of the mystery creatures; Simuliidae larvae (blackflies). Having now done a Wickipedia search I find they're the little sods that spend their day attempting to fly into your eye and it seems the female of the species is the one that brings you out in lumps as she sucks your blood, whilst the male is content with nectar! I could make a totally inappropriate and chauvinistic comment here but will refrain.
Whilst recording Mother Nature's seasonal events, a classic example of her being "red in tooth and claw" was brought very firmly home right outside our living room window. It began with one of our resident male Starlings on his usual perch in the crab-apple tree in our front garden. I have a particular fondness for this bird as he has whistled and sung his heart out just three or four feet above my head each morning as I get in my car for the last couple of years. Alas he is no more. The local bloody Sparrow Hawk turned up and beat him unceremoniously off his perch. Despite Anne's best efforts with the broom it ended in disaster for our avian Pavarotti. I suppose a pragmatic approach would accept the way of nature but I'm afraid I enjoyed the company of our friendly Starling; I also very much doubt if that murderous shite hawk is going to serenade me off to work each morning, so I remain aggrieved!!
Alas, our Starling is no more.
I've been busy with matters as diverse as the ballet and the blues making entries scarce I'm afraid. Add in the long overdue dry weather and we are rushed off our feet trying to catch up on six months of rain delayed work. With the end of the coarse season looming large I will do my best to get a few entries into the system in the next few days.
With the receding water allowing access to the valley I have been making the most of the weather and slip-sliding my way to areas I haven't seen for months. With the water clear after the prolonged flood my visits very quickly established the extent to which the channels have been scoured of silt and accumulated rubbish. Whilst it is good to see the clean gravel and the margins cleared of last years growth it has left the channel devoid of any cover for the inhabitants. Where deep sections have slowed the speed of the flow allowing margins and woody debris to remain inviting sanctuaries exist, hopefully affording the fish the safe havens they require.
Getting to the salmon pools is becoming a realistic proposition and I am told a salmon of ten pounds has been landed from the Severals south of Ringwood. If there is one in the system its a pretty good bet that there will be others. If getting to the pools is achievable getting a fly down to the fish will need a little thought. Quick sinking lines, lead core and plenty of mending in an effort to get down to them, with the channel brim full it will take a considerable effort to present a good fly. Take comfort in the fact that the water is reasonably clear and the fish will see the fly even if it remains high in the water. Whether they feel inclined to chase it in this cold water is another question.
At last the water is no longer by-passing the controls. A Goosander drake fishing in a carrier and the head of Park Pool that whilst accessible remains a challenge to fish effectively
At this point perhaps a little food for thought. The Avon salmon anglers have to put up with the most severe method and season restrictions of any river in the country. These have been in place for almost a decade and a half yet we see no improvement in the state of the Avon salmon or more importantly the salmon FISHERY. The restrictions have been put in place in an effort to reduce rod exploitation and improve the lot of the species, not I hasten to add the lot of the fishery. I know. I know, you can't have a fishery without a fish but that equally applies to fisherman as one is complimentary to the other. The Avon led the way in introducing voluntary method and season restrictions, it was the first to voluntarily introduce one hundred percent catch and release yet we see no improvement in the run and more worryingly we are seeing a reduction in rod effort. This reduction in effort, hence less exploitation is obviously the intended result of the restriction but it should be remembered that the maintenance, improvement and development of the FISHERY, as enshrined in the law does not specifically apply to the species. Such a policy to purely protect the fish could be viewed as being in direct conflict with that particular section of the S&FF Act. What am I getting at you might reasonably inquire? I am asking for a review of the effectiveness of the current bye-laws and possible changes that might actually encourage one or two more rods to venture out on the bank when the going is tough. Bearing in mind that ALL salmon landed are immediately returned to the water with the minimum of delay; what I ask will not change that simple fact but actually aid in survival of the released fish. What this change may do is offer a realistic opportunity for a salmon angler to catch a salmon when faced with a river in full flow, a freezing gale and dangerously flooded margins. A method that was designed and refined to meet the unique conditions of the Avon and was an important historic element of the FISHERY. So what is this revolutionary idea that aids in catch and release survival, will not give rise to the loss of a single salmon from the Avon but most importantly encourages rods to get out on the bank and act to maintain, improve and develop the FISHERY.
I would suggest that serious consideration is given to allowing spinning to return to the Avon for the first six weeks of the season, up until March 15th. It will be at this time that high flows and foul weather are generally encountered and fly fishing is at its most difficult, dare I say dangerous. The option for the rods to put up a wooden Devon and bump an ounce of lead through some of the deeper water will give the FISHERY a much needed boost. The more powerful rods will allow any fish hooked to be landed far quicker than with fifteen foot fly rods, causing less stress and potential exhaustion. There is an even greater anomaly in that I can put up a spinning rod during this period quite legally as long as I only target the pike. The only reason the bye-law hasn't been abused in such a fashion is that the fishery owners on the Avon have insisted that the spirit of the bye-law is adhered to and any spinning in areas where salmon are likely to be encountered is frowned upon. I think the rods and owners have acted in good faith in working with the EA for over a decade to evaluate the effectiveness of the restrictions. Perhaps its now time the EA evaluate just how driving anglers from the bank fits in with the legal obligation they have to maintain, improve and develop the fisheries?
What else did my time out beside the river produce? The sight of the cleaned gravel and washed out margins pointed the way to areas where the height of the river had by-passed some of the controls and has seen the river gain access areas normally protected from the ravages of prolonged flooding. The water in the river having now dropped back the controls are once more becoming effective. I must get around all the gates and reset them to accommodate the dropping levels and avoid putting stresses and strains on banks that have endured enough of a battering over recent months before we suffer a breach at this eleventh hour. Resetting the gates will hopefully not be overly arduous, the problems usually arise when I have to remove the accumulated detritus of the flood. Just how many trees, dead animals and plastic bakers trays await my arrival only tomorrow will tell.
The exposed mud and grass has reached a level when the waterfowl and waders are finding much to their liking and being concentrated in smaller and smaller areas. The Godwits returned a day or two ago and today at both Ellingham and Blashford Snipe were present for the first time in months. Its not all about feeding as I notice that we have two pairs of Egyptian geese already at established nest sites, one bird would already appear to be sitting if the gander on continuous guard duty at the base of the tree is any indication. Odd to see such colourful birds, they look out of context beneath the parkland trees but definitely a sign of the times, Add the Oystercatchers that returned a couple of days ago unusual visitors are becoming the norm.
My point and shoot hardly does justice to this scene. Just how many water fowl are in this shot would take an hour or so with the scope to establish especially when you consider this was only about a quarter of the favoured area of the marsh.
The lakes continue to produce in the shape of large carp and pleasingly many seem to be coming out during the middle of the day. As I drove along the back bank of Meadow Lake today I had to stop as a set of scale lay in the middle of the track. Always a clue to a happy angler so I stuck my head out of the window to suggest to a beaming young man he picks up his scales and ask how he was faring;
"Twenty seven and a half in the daylight. Can't be bad can it?"
I had to agree and drove on leaving a very content young angler fishing confidently with a real expectation of a second fish. The river is still producing chub and barbel for those brave enough to splash their way to the bank. Yet there is a glimmer of hope for those of us who do not have the courage to face the floods, it had to happen, the water is actually starting to receded. All it needs to do now is to continue to do so until we can actually get back on the banks without a full expedition force operation.
In the entry for the 12th the photo of the salmon angler out in the flood, I speculated that it might have been Paul Greenacre which has subsequently proven correct. Paul contacted me to say he'd been out and about trying for a Springer and whilst he has yet to find a fish he was having an interesting time. Not much on the fishy front apart from a seatrout kelt but he did have five otters join him on the bank down at Ringwood. What ever your views on otters they make a wonderfull site when in their natural watery element, the sight of one is amazing, five simply spell binding.
Dave Lester with a 13.6 making a good match for Jay's 13.9 the other day.
Mud, silt and algae covering the meadows where the water is finally dropping. The Godwits have arrived as I thought they might once they could get their feet on the bottom. It remains to be seen if we will see the huge flocks of a few weeks ago as they will soon be breaking up to make their journeys to the breeding grounds in Iceland. A view of Harbridge Church across the floods with some of the thousands of wildfowl that continue to enjoy the valley.
We've been down at Glastonbury again Starling hunting. Not Avon valley but worthy of recording as it remains one of the greatest natural spectacles in the world and on our doorstep. With numbers now at there peak and very shortly to return to their homes in Eastern Europe our last chance for this winter. I'm told there are over two million birds present but just how they manage that estimate defeats me. The sky was totally covered for fifteen minutes as birds poured into the reedbeds in the evening and away at first light.
The fist job was to find out where they are roosting. The next to hope they don't decide to move during the 48 hours you're chasing them about.
The dark trees are totally covered in starlings, every reed and branch weighed down.
1999999, 2000000, 200001, 2000002 - obviously inherited my interest in bird counting from my mother.
Until the next time.
I had a dual purpose in walking the valley yesterday, firstly I hoped I would be able to find areas accessible to the anglers and point the way on the diary. Second reason was the need to complete a rained off WeBS count in an effort discover the whereabouts of our bird population.
How did I get on? Well I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that accessing the river for any but the extremely well equipped and confident is still a no-no. The rivers remains in the meadows and resolutely refuses to return to its channel and no amount of stamping and cussing is going to have any bearing on its future habits. There remain half a dozen spots that can be safely reached with a realistic chance of a chub, perch, pike or barbel; any more would be overly optimistic. As for the salmon rods, reaching the river is just the first step, getting a fly down to the lie and then persuading any hooked fish to remain in the pool and not disappear downstream and around the next bend with the flow will be the real test. Despite the difficulties there are one or two anglers out on the bank most days. If it were up to me you would all land the fish of a lifetime as reward for endure such conditions; unfortunately all I can offer are words of encouragement.
Spot the angler - access to the river remains difficult, I think that looks like Paul Greenacre but as I didn't venture over there to find out I can't be certain! The middle photo is of Ken trotting the sidestream where he at least could get to the river, unfortunately there were no fish in that section. The right pic shows some of the nine hundred plus Wigeon and other assorted duck that are currently enjoying the Floods at Hucklesbrook.
As for the bird count it provided a pleasingly diverse scattering of waders and wildfowl with one or two added bonus sightings. It has to be remembered this is a wader and wildfowl count so valley and wetlands only, the higher meadows, woodlands and farmland are not included. The list below records the sightings with such highlights as the Marsh harrier included for interest. I believe there was also a Merlin recorded at Harbridge yesterday which is the second occasion in recent weeks someone has spotted one but not me, so not in the count.
|Great crested grebe||2|
|Black tailed godwit||337|
Valley birds mainly waders and wildfowl are the count, other birds are not recorded on WeBS. They have to wait until the breeding bird survey or tetrad counts. When the fish refuse to join in there's always plenty to see if you take the time to look.
Thankfully, as yesterday's entry recorded, it was Jay's account of his Somerley adventure that brought me out of my self pitying state of mind to appreciate just how lucky I am to have the Avon valley as my office. There was a little more to my absence from the valley at the weekend than my fit of the sulks in that I had managed to rub a mixture of ragworm blood and vermiculite into my eyes, ensuring a great deal of discomfort. Despite repeated gargling of Optrex and applications of Annusol, that well known make-up tip to reduce bags under the eyes, I sadly took on the appearance of a myxi rabbit. As a result I had decided to remain house bound over the weekend, a decision made easier of course by the start of the Six Nations. One consequence of my confinement was that I failed to make the CAC Salmon Day over at the Lodge at Ellingham on Sunday. From reports I have received it would appear there were many salmon rods of a far hardier nature than myself with over fifty turning up on the day to enjoy the demonstrations and catchup with news of the river.
Thanks to Ray Walton for the photo that shows Charles Jardine demonstrating the art of casting the salmon fly to the gathered ranks in the middle of a flooded Lodge Meadow. Ray also tells me that a kelt was grassed by one of the rods trying his hand with the fly just downstream of Ellingham Bridge later in the day. Always a heart stopping moment for the second or two the line tightens and the fish moves off, you just never know; it might be that dreamt of Avon Springer.
Perhaps an explanation of the ragworm and vermiculite incident in that it was the end result of a flattie session down in Poole Harbour. It came about through baiting up down wind of a three hook flapper, any one who has got the green ragworm blood in a cut will know of its potency. As for the flounders it wasn't a complete disaster as I was into double figures at the time I had to call it a night before my eyes closed up preventing me from driving home.
On and on and on and on we go, floods, mud and misery. If, as we are frequently threatened, this is the weather of the future and we have to get used to it as climate change exerts its ever greater influence; I will spend my winters abroad.
You've guessed, I'm still struggling with this muck and can see the attraction of being in some foreign field that is not for ever this wet and soggy England. The simplest fishing trip becomes a major expedition, to ensure waterproofs, waders, brolly or bivvie, are packed, tackle and bait are watertight and sufficient food is onboard in the event you become marooned on some distant sand bar. Never forgetting to pack the nebuliser to aid recovery from the collapse brought on by the yomp to the swim through the cloying mud and waist deep water. I have had enough, I wish for nothing but the end of this watery purgatory. I can only hope that this state of suffering and torment is as transient as heaven's antechamber and we will eventually achieve our purified state in our beatific Avon valley. A little over dramatic I agree but trying to work in this is impossible giving rise to enormous frustration as work lists run off the bottom of several pages and I even consider taking up golf. I didn't really mean that last bit. I have to add that as I have an agreement with Acker that he is to clout me with a piece of two by two in the event he ever sees me with a golf club in my hand. The reason behind that arrangement is overly complicated so I wont go into it now.
Just as I stagger toward the lip of depressions abyss and the black dog is about to bite I get in my inbox a simple pic that puts everything back in perspective with the wonder of this valley rising above the flood. Someone has accepted the challenge of finding the river and has been duly rewarded; well done Jay Moore, believe me you did well on more than one front. As for the fish in question, a great looking barbel of 13.09; Jay having had a cast in Dave Lester's swim after Dave had just released a double of his own; brilliant such a fish was most definitely fated. I'm sure Dave, having landed a double and a most enviable list of large barbel already to his name, doesn't begrudge you that cast!
Thanks Jay, lovely fish.
Perhaps a lighter note from my lecture of yesterday. Today during a warm and sunny lunchtime I enjoyed a very pleasant walk with neighbour and long time fellow trustee of various trusts, Brian Marshall. Despite living within a few hundred metres it is rare we have the opportunity for a simple chat. We exchange emails about various topical riverine issues on a regular basis but just catching up on everyday and family events is a rare pleasure. We splashed our way along a very spongy track, beside a very full river, allowing time to let the Avon valley form a wonderful backdrop to our nattering.
After half a mile we chanced on yet another fellow trustee and Avon advocate in the form of Pete Reading. Pete was doing what Pete does, he was making catching fish in the Avon look remarkably simple. Having landed a good chub and a barbel before our arrival I was hopeful I might get a shot of him in action for the diary as this saves me from having to get the gear out for a further day or two. Pete's confident prediction of a fish in twenty minutes seemed sufficient reason to delay our passage, to enjoy his company and test his potential as a seer. Fish or no fish our twenty minutes of exchanging news further added to our day; our common interest in the Avon valley makes for endless discussion and long may it continue to be the case.
Fish! - almost to the minute.
I have to say Pete isn't the only one catching as the lakes have been producing some wonderful carp. One in particular being a thirty three pound lump to a young angler fishing his first ever night session. It will be interesting to see what effect that has on his fishing. Will he become a dedicated regular or disappear completely believing this carp fishing lark is a piece of cake?
Back to normal, the rain is drumming down on our extension roof as the blocked downpipe causes the guttering to overflow. Those blackguards up at Blandford must have been doing their rain dance again - the thought of various Rivers House residents festooned in feathers and bells dancing in the car park would make a good "You tube" video to raise my dampened spirits. Why we are suffering this prolonged period of wet weather, at this point perhaps I should stress that unlike some in the press I do not actually hold the EA responsible, makes little difference; we have to live with it. We have reached the point where, other than for emergencies, we have abandoned the valley to nature; just at the point where the salmon season is to get under-way. I have said I will fish for salmon this year to assess just where we are in respect of the health of the fishery but this will not happen before the first of April as I do not intend to shell out for a migratory licence before that. Until such time I will do my best to get out and enjoy the coarse fishing that I always seem to put off until the last week or two of the coarse season. I could always fish the lakes that continue to produce carp at a reasonable rate. They must also offer the chance of a few bream and possibly a tench or two but for reasons that are beyond me fishing the floods has some strange appeal. If all goes according to plan I will put a few river pix in the not too distant future.
Darren and Phil looking less than impressed with the mud as apart from emergencies ground work has almost ground to a halt.
Unfortunately there are not many river anglers out and about to keep me company but at least the twitchers are out in force searching every marsh and meadow for the latest celebrity their pager has told them exists in the valley; Bean goose, Bewicks swan, Ruff, Knot or Smew there's plenty going on. It is odd how closely some elements of the bird world mirror that of the angling fraternity in some respects. If you take the list creating twitcher that rushes from one pager call to the next, just to collect his "tick", with no groundwork and very little involvement in the habitat that provided their sighting. Our twitcher is not that different to many in the specimen world of angling. They comb the angling mags, study the internet and every possible photo in the minutest detail to locate the whereabouts of the next specimen for their list. Very little input into the targets original location or habitat sustainability, not for them the many blanks on unproductive water, its the tick and the mug shot in the papers that drives the game; each to his own. Whilst there are similarities between the birders and the anglers there are also some odd differences. Why is it that the bird world can compile accurate distribution maps for almost every species of bird in the land, including breeding successes and failures yet the majority of the angling world can't even tell you what’s in the puddle at the bottom of the garden! Why is the bird world able to organise national WeBS (Wetland Bird Surveys) BBS (Breeding Bird Surveys) and many other scientifically based surveys and programmes, at a National level, manned almost entirely by volunteers? All this information is made readily available simply by becoming involved with the organising bodies and local groups and clubs. It even extends to International cooperation in that should I wish to follow the progress of one of my favourite species in the form of the Black tailed godwit its all there, compiled by volunteers. I can not only find information related the numbers in almost every estuary and wetland they frequent across Britain but also the breeding sites in Iceland and the areas visited on the continent during their winter migrations. The commitment and involvement of the birders puts us to shame in the angling world. Or is it slightly more complicated than that? Perhaps its the very fact there is not a Government Agency dedicated to Maintenance, Improvement and Development of birds and their habitat as we have in the fishery world with EA fisheries. Natural England have a broad remit to act as guardian and regulator but not with any specific responsibility towards specific habitats. Similarly the Forestry Authority have a regulatory role in the care of our native species but not with any specific remit to improve, maintain and develop. They simply do not have the infrastructure or the funding as the birdwatchers and environmentalists do not pay in the form of a rod licence for the privilege of their existence. Perhaps we have become complacent expecting the EA to provide us with all this necessary population and spawning information, as we do pay some thirty million pounds annually for our fishery service? The bird world do not pay directly and have been forced to create a management structure and volunteer network capable of providing any information they require. Certainly food for thought for those of us claiming to have the best interest of rivers in their remit within a pastime that has very similar participant numbers.
Expanding on the above thinking. Why are fishermen so keen to moan and whinge about perceived intrusions into their sacrosanct world of angling without trying to look at all possible elements and factors impacting on our rivers in a holistic fashion. Take possibly two of the most controversial topics in angling today in the form of cormorants and otters. I say possibly as many would put abstraction, canoes and discharge as higher priorities and they are certainly equally controversial. With cormorants I see the wheel is being reinvented again as the figures related to population and diet are rehashed once more; as they have been for the last couple of decades at least. Certainly since cormorant failed to appear in chapter 69, schedule 2, part (ii) of the W&C Act 81 having fallen foul of the EU Habitats Directive. We know all too well what a cormorant can potentially eat and to keep on bleating about it is nothing short of a distraction from discovering just where the real problems with our rivers lie. What we don't know is what a riverine cormorant is actually eating and whilst such gaps in our knowledge exist changes to the law and compensation claims are virtually impossible to substantiate in the event they are eating livelihoods. We can continue to shoot a few in an effort to re-educate them but that doesn't answer the question what is happening to our first, second and third year year classes of fish such as the roach, eels and salmon. Cormorant find it difficult, if not impossible, to catch and eat juveniles between two and perhaps eight centimetres when they gather in large shoals. So where are they? Why are roach populations in lakes immediately alongside the river healthy to the extent their numbers are causing diet imbalances and stunting. Sway Lakes have proven effective in netting out the small fish each year to allow the chosen few to attain specimen proportion. A policy that would work with many of the pits in the valley if a proper management strategy was adopted. In many instances these still water roach are not the desirable species that attracts the paying angler. The money appears to be in pursuit of the huge carp and anything that takes valuable food from the desirable stock is deemed a pest. The best policy is to net and remove undesirable species to provide a further source of income. One other use of these fish might be to feed the avian predators and distract them from the river where they can do harm targeting mature roach and other threatened species. Or as I have mentioned before, take them from the lakes and put them in the river if they are indigenous species. If you are a carp angler watching cormorants feeding on silver fish on your water they are probably doing you a service - now that does take some thinking about but trust me, over stocking is a problem. Obviously there are mixed fisheries and juvenile ponds where the attention of cormorants is undesirable hence the Defra licences but its not quite so clear cut as many might have us believe. As for the river roach, fecundity would appear fine and we know the eggs are viable due to the work of such people as Mike Trowbridge and latterly the Roach Group. In a protected environment such as the Stanlynch ponds and the Roach Project tanks the larval stages grow on well into mature specimens without problems. The problem appears when you try and find those juveniles in the riverine environment. We can find juvenile dace, chub and barbel; juvenile roach, salmon and elvers are as rare as hens teeth; why? Many who have studied the problem professionally for decades look to factors such as, pathogens and possibly changes in delicate life cycles and food chains brought about by habitat change or algal blooms triggered by enrichment. Common factors such as migration also need expansion. You may believe roach do not migrate and in most instances adults are fairly loyal to a favoured area or impoundment in the case of the Avon. However juvenile and in particular larval stages are thought to migrate considerable distances; certainly if they follow the pattern of roach in continental rivers. Work on the Danube and Volga would seem to point to downstream drift of larval stages over distances as great as thirty or forty kilometres. That would have roach spawned up at Salisbury potentially washed out to sea! Populations at Salisbury possibly originating high in the Nadder, Wylye or Upper Avon. I have my doubts about flushing due to the considerable number of fry sanctuaries that form naturally as the main channel floods, causing lateral ditches and drains to back-up and create large still areas that have always existed in such circumstances. It does no harm to create more but work to assess their effectiveness is required. Population dynamics where a very large and buoyant chub population might adversely impact on the roach fry? Always concerns about barbel digging up the salmon redds in rivers such as the Wye, Severn and Avon, a further area requiring work to clarify and hopefully remove such concerns from the equation. Similarly escaped rainbows give rise to concern but I don't believe the rate of escape would be sufficient to adversely impact on a healthy piscine population. Again more work required to allay or prove such fears. There is also considerable concern with regard to entrapment at trout farms, we don't know how many juveniles end up being washed through the stews and devoured by the hungry hoards. By-pass channels are incorporated in an effort to minimise impact but what percentage of attractant flow is directed down those channels. It has to be remembered that cyprinid larval stages hatch at periods of maximum free board when high percentages of flow are directed through the farms. Larval drift has been shown to be a nocturnal event taking place mid flume and very difficult to measure. Eels or more correctly elvers heading in the opposite direction, also at the time of greatest free board, following low gradient attractant flows, may potentially end up swimming through the grills at the bottom end of the stews. Take a look at the choices at such sites as Bickton and decide for yourself which route an elver might choose to get up river. Back to the Cormorant problem and what steps next? I mentioned before that the WCSRT (Wessex Chalk Stream & Rivers Trust) now have a full time project officer in the shape of Dr Nick Giles who is eminently qualified to discover just what our riverine cormorant population are targeting. We can always supply one or two specimens for analysis from Somerley, perhaps more importantly with the riparian support the trust enjoys we can get access to the roosts where pellets can be collected on an ongoing basis ensuring an up to date, relevant study. The problem with looking at the stomach content of shot birds are the many variables that come into play. If the birds are shot when they arrive on the fisheries in the morning their gut will be empty. If they are shot in the evening as they leave we cannot be certain that their feeding activity for the day in question is typical of the entire population. As an instance the majority of significant feeding counts in the valley over recent years have been made in the vicinity of trout farms. Where protective netting is inadequate the birds gather at first light on their upstream passage and feed until disturbed by the staff arriving at six or seven in the morning. Once disturbed the birds distribute themselves along the river in quiet reaches. To shoot these birds and analyse gut content is going to give a completely false record of the diet of undisturbed birds feeding naturally on the river. Lots of food for thought, if you really want to know find a sponsor for such a pellet project. I'm not sure what it would take but four or five K would certainly go a long way in resolving one question once and for all and I'm sure Nick would love to get to grips with it - once he's sorted all the other chalk stream problems already on his list!! You never know you may even get the pleasure of saying "I told you so" but at least we'll know.
We can always provide a few of our licenced specimens if gut analysis might help throw some light on such a contentious issue as Cormorant predation. In the long run pellet analysis will give a greater degree of confidence in the outcome as a far larger material base would be available.
What of our otters? Now that is certainly a thorny problem and they certainly eat fish. We have an otter population that has probably reached its natural level with possibly as many as fifteen being in the valley between Ringwood and Fordingbridge at various times. We have a legislative framework that provides them with complete protection so we will have to live with them - face it! The A338 does a reasonably job of keeping a balance but not at a level that will impact on the population. Once we accept the otters are here to stay and if you are a big fish man they will at times have an impact on your sport what hope for the future have we? Well hopefully a little diverse research may help in at least partially resolving the problem. If our otter population has reached its natural peak we know how many we have to feed. If we recognise that some of out larger barbel and river carp have co-existed alongside this population for at least the last decade the problem is not insurmountable. The main factor that will determine our continued ability to run our river fisheries for large fish will be the food available for the otters. Research and personal observation tells us that otters prefer eels and small fish over larger specimens. I have witnessed more otters stuck in the reed beds chewing rudd, small perch and chasing gudgeon on the shallows than any other species. Perhaps I should qualify that with their love of crayfish. They spend hours some evening scratching about in the roots and reeds in the lake margins seeking these apparent delicacies. Don't get me wrong, I have an archive of photographs showing every species I can think of well and truly "ottered" but still large groups of fish such as the Ibsley river carp continue to exist. If in an effort to reduce otter predation the thrust of future effort was to help resolve the disappearing eel quandary it would certainly go some way in distracting the otters. To undertake the restoration to abundance of the eel is a big ask but if we start with little steps they will hopefully give us a significant stride along the path. That is part of the thinking behind the WCSRT push to provide eel and cyprinid friendly fish by-passes at the Avon controls as we hope to demonstrate at Ibsley. Elvers are pretty tenacious blighters when it comes to by-passing barriers to passage as anyone who has seen them crawling through the fontinalis beside West Country waterfalls or up the control surrounds of the Turbine house hatches at the bottom of the Avon. Whilst they may eventually overcome almost any structure, even resorting to passage over land, making their life easier and encouraging their efforts just has to be the way to go. Similarly when considering fry sanctuaries do not forget the benefits for the eels. They may take a few fry but in the great balancing act we need to support not a significant percentage. Look on it as wetland restoration, undoing the damage inflicted on the areas of marsh and fen by MAFF in the 70's when the farming community was encouraged and paid handsomely to drain ever patch of damp ground over the size of a fag packet. It would be an interesting exercise to discover just how many hectares of wetlands were drained in such a short sighted fashion.
You can tell the weather is keeping me in but it does no harm to go over the problems and issues that effect our valley. It may be that this weather is the primary factor in the changes we are facing, climate change is certainly high on the agenda. It has certainly flattened my fruit cage and made my autumn sown onions look pretty miserable. On the other hand if my ramblings point the way to resolving just one question it has to be a worthwhile exercise and if nothing else it may get the problems discussed in a rational fashion.
Whilst thinking of the up and coming salmon season there is a day in the offing that will get you out on the river bank. Christchurch Angling Club are holding their annual Salmon Day at the Lodge at Somerley on Sunday 3rd February. I'm not sure if a salmon is on the cards, although you never know, but its a good chance to meet kindred spirits and share the excitement of the chance of an Avon Springer to come.
Somerley Salmon Day
The track to the marsh.
The Hucklesbrook, beside the marsh
It would be hypocracy on my part to claim such scenes bring much pleasure with them as far as I'm concerned. I of course can appreciate the superficial beauty of the scene and I similarly appreciate that if you have time to spare the New Forest looks wonderful. If you have to keep people actively employed, or have stock that requires feeding and just getting to work is a trial, the stuff is a curse. It also blankets the land covering the food for not only the domestic stock, that we struggle to feed, also the wildlife that is dependent on our valley for its food. This winter has the snow coming on top of months of flooding, that has kept us off the land, making it doubly unwelcome.
Having just read through the first paragraph again it seems I most definitely have my grumpy old git head on, unfortunately that's the reality of the working environment; its been a dreadful twelve months. The grass remained in the meadows, not in the barns for winter fodder. Fisheries unable to attract anglers, income falls. Income that is the sole source of funding for the hundreds of thousands of pounds of necessary infra-structure repairs. It is an extremely frustrating time for those that work in the valley.
Clearing up after the storms remains impossible in the valley, fortunately the higher ground of the gravel scarp allows a little progress. One other sight, made obvious in the snow, is the scale of the otter population we currently support. Luckily we still have relatively abundant fish stocks but if species decline continues at the current level increased conflict is inevitable in the fishery world. What is being done to unravel the population dynamics of the Avon? What has happened to the eels? Why has the salmon population collapsed with the knock-on financial implications? Where are the roach? I'm told its definately the Cormorants and the otters by one faction of the debate, trout farms by another, STW's another and a further band blame agricultural leaching; I think we need a plan!! The third shot is slightly odd in that it shows the brand spanking new reedbed where we removed the willow car at Ibsley, before the snow. Since the snow the reedbed has been flattened. The first year stems didn't have the strength to support the weight of the snow that has flattened the lot. Where the Bittern and the Water rails have moved to remains to be seen, hopefully not too far and the nearby bramble and sedge beds will afford sufficient cover and more importantly attainable food.
Having got some of the moans out of my system perhaps a ray of hope to act as encouragement in that the river is actually dropping. Its still well out in the fields in many places but I can now see the top of the taller dry grass and dock stems. It didn't take the wildfowl long to realise they could now reach the grazing and the marsh today was covered in birds of every description. If I add the large corvid flock in the game crop and the field fares on the higher ground at the edge of the valley the numbers were well in excess of ten thousand birds; quite an astonishing sight.
The marsh now becoming more attractive to the wildfowl and gulls.
Don't forget to keep the feeders full as the snow and cold is hard felt by the garden bird population as well as the valley residents. The rewards for a few bob on seed are easy to enjoy as this feeder ten feet from my sitting room window clearly shows.
I've been away again, this time only for a day or two. Unfortunately events elsewhere have occupied my time preventing much in the way of updates. I spent my time away on our annual trip to the Somerset levels at Glastonbury in an effort to watch the Starlings. Deciding against braving long cold nights under canvas this year we forced ourselves to book into that glorious George & Pilgrim; oldest pub in the South West and reputedly the most haunted in Glastonbury. I can certainly vouch for the presence of a considerable number of spirits, just how many were of a spectral nature I couldn't say but it beat roughing it in the tent. As for the Starlings we watched over a million birds arrive for the roost which is a staggering sight in itself. The hoped for murmurations failed to materialise as the hawks and harriers seem to have had a surfeit of Starling and failed to show. Several Bittern quickly followed the flocks into the reeds, showing they had a little room left for a further "Sturnidae" or two which brought about a little low level movement as darkness approached but not the aerial displays we always hope for. Never mind, always next year and the prospect of more ghost hunting adds further incentive.
What of events in my absence? I unfortunately missed the CAC agm which I'm sure was an interesting evening. I am also reliably informed in the press that the floods we are currently experiencing are as a result of the EA deliberately maintaining the groundwater in the Ringwood area at an artificially high level. Also the floods we experienced in the valley this summer were as a direct result of the EA not cutting the weed in the river. Its certainly good to know I'm not responsible for the entire state of the flooding of the valley. Unless of course I'm in league with the EA!!! I could go on and name the individuals within the Agency that I consider to be the perpetrators of these dastardly acts but I will refrain from naming and shaming them. The river is not the only thing in the valley full to the brim; the valley grapevine is similarly awash with such tales concerning riverine topics of every shape and hue. What this clearly illustrates is the Ibsen quote "The majority is always wrong; the minority is rarely right." I wait with baited breath for the next revelation. If it weren't so sad it would be laughable.
I did have a WeBS count on my return which provided the usual suspects one would expect with the valley flooded to such a depth. Lots of ducks, very few waders as their legs aren't long enough and one Bewick's which I am told was later joined by a second. All in all it remains a very difficult period for the valley from an access perspective. Whilst on the bird front I had a email from Brian Marshall, who lives just around the corner, letting me know he had a Hawfinch on his feeders today. Whilst they regularly roost in the tall Douglas firs up in the forest at Bolderwood, certainly a scarce visitor to the garden and one I hope makes the trip along the road to my place at some point.
Bracken, nearest the camera, in her seventeenth year passed on to join sister Bramble, a sad week in the Levell household.
Dominic Longley with a good looking 26 pound pike. Even more notable was that Dominic caught this fish whilst targeting pike on the fly; with a fly he had tied himself. Very pleasing to see such a good looking fish and dominic was pleased to say the floods helped return the fish with the minimum of stress and fuss. The photo looks a little odd as I have removed the background for obvious reasons.
This is the reward for perseverance, Matt Day's latest barbel capture in the shape of a 14.6. This is Matt's second fourteen pounder to add to his earlier fifteen plus and "Loadsadoubles" Great stuff and thanks for the photo Matt.
The wind had dropped, leaving the valley in the strange grey light of drifting mist, as I set out to have perhaps my final search for salmon redds in the Trout Stream. The fish that do cut down with us in the lower river have been as regular as clockwork in getting the bulk of the spawning activity under way between Christmas and the New year. This year the Trout stream is the only frequently used area that can be reached safely and is sufficiently shallow to see the bed of the stream across the entire width. Despite four or five visits the total salmon seen amounts to zero; until today that is, when a small cock fish appeared on the bank obviously as a result of an otter kill. What was left of the fish showed no sign of any milt so I assume this fish had concluded his business upstream and was a kelt dropping back down river. It would seem the perfect solution to the otter concerns if they eat the kelt as their work is done. As a spent cock fish it was about to die as is the fate of all cock salmon. They often spend a week or two sitting about on the redds fighting with any other cock fish that appear, hoping perhaps for a further hen to carry his genetic code before they become exhausted, diseased and drift away to die. At this point many predators and carrion eaters; foxes, crows, Greater black backed gulls all get to enjoy the bounty of the stranded carcasses. We even have a cast of a very large pike in the office that was discovered dead, having appeared to have choked on a seven or eight pound kelt. Mother Nature at her best ensuring nothing is wasted in the delicately balanced world of the river.
The perfect otter meal.
My walk did provide me with the opportunity to chat with several anglers who had braved the conditions, determined to get out come hell or high water after the denial of Christmas and New year. The first angler I spoke to at the weir had manage a six plus chub so good fish were to be had but the peace and quiet of the bank was equally appreciated by several with whom I exchanged pleasantries. I did speak with one angler who told me of his recent success in the shape of a fine brace of double figure barbel. Two, eleven pound barbel after a walk of over twenty five minutes through the floods to reach his preferred swim. Seclusion, peace and quiet is almost guaranteed after such gargantuan effort, to add a pair of eleven pound fish is certainly just reward; good to hear of such results.
It didn't take long for canoes to turn up in 2013. Unfortunately it is inevitable that such people will continue to disregard the law of the land, sadly its all too frequently part of rural life today; I'm sure Travellers and Cag Mags wont be far behind. This group took to the fields, scattering wildfowl and waders, to avoid us and the police today. We would still like to contact them to explain the legal position related to their activities as it may possibly have been a case of genuine ignorance on their part. I know I have several conoeists who regularly drop in on the diary, should any of you recognise the individuals involved perhaps you might ask them to contact the estate office so we may explain our position. Alternatively just let me know who they are and we or the police will drop them a line.
What will be the lasting memories and perhaps more importantly what legacy will 2012 have for the Avon Valley? Will it be the Spring, with its drought that almost brought the water companies and the government to recognise the potential harm aquifer abstraction may inflict on our chalk streams. We were all convinced we were about to enter a cataclysmic dehydration of our system with untold consequences for the unique ecology of our rivers when on the 25th April the rains arrived and saved the day. Or did they? We will, without any doubt, one day face a drought where the rain doesn't arrive and we will then witness the extent of the damage we so nearly suffered this summer. Then perhaps we will have to seriously rethink the sustainability of aquifer abstraction if governments are serious about the survival of our rivers. My concern is that this Spring I believe we had the political will within government circles to put in place that sustainable regime. I think we will be remarkably lucky if that political will survives to coincide with the arrival of that next inevitable drought. What will be required to assist in the maintenance of that political will, as such perhaps the most important issue to face the chalk rivers today, are influential champions of the sustainable cause. To that end the Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust came into being and 2012 has seen the trust establish its credentials and enter the struggle for hearts and minds. Its been a good year for the trust in seeing the first full time professional officer appointed. Most people involved with the politics of our rivers realise that the array of demands on our rivers can no longer be met and in many cases countered by amateur and voluntary organisations and individuals. To see the trust take a further step toward that professional goal is extremely pleasing. The promise of exciting times ahead, I certainly hope the trust now goes from strength to strength and 2013 we see further development for the WCSRT and more importantly greater protection for the chalk streams of Wessex.
What of the fishing in 2012? The salmon season has to be viewed in two distinct parts. Before the 25th of April, during the period of drought,which was disastrous and amounted to nought. Second half, after the 25th, with the onset of the floods, as overnight we went from one extreme to the other with summer floods allowing the salmon free access to the higher river, quickly by-passing through the lower sporting beats. It all amounted to the worse season ever on the Avon for salmon rod catches. I should add the caveat that Peter Dexter not only accounted for the first fish he went on to account for the greater part of our rod catch. During his annual late summer, early autumn, shrimping sabbatical Peter took his tally for the season to five fish which under the circumstances is remarkable; there again he does know the lies and is expert at extracting any residents in double quick time. Well done Peter a exceptional effort. The future is somewhat like holding ones breath, we stand completely unable to stem the decline, fingers and everything else crossed, hoping and praying nature deems to intervene before they all disappear. After our floods at least the salmon currently up on the redds should find the gravel cleaner than at any time in history. That hoary old chestnut of compacted gravel will have been laid to rest, even what little credibility it ever had washed away in the flood. The redds will be constructed with clean gravel and one would imagine the water that flows over and through them will be as pure as at any time in history. If we still have pollutants in the water of sufficient strength to destroy this years eggs we are indeed in desperate trouble. With our clean sheet on the water quality front it only remains to ensure what is subsequently dumped in our rivers is of sufficiently high quality to prevent setting back the clock and wiping out our pristine egg batch. I see a further job for the WCSRT to watch the watchers and chase the villains in an area I personally believe to have consequences more far reaching than even that of abstraction. If anyone knows of another organisation with the welfare of the river as their first priority and the experience to combat the commercial designs on our water I would very much appreciate them letting me in on the secret. As for the seatrout, now that the nets have been bought off, we once more had a record season in so much as I never heard of a single seatrout off the estate and very few from elsewhere on the river - that just has to be a record! I shall put that down to the conditions and await next season before I say more. I admit I failed to buy a salmon licence last year, conditions as they were I saw little benefit in throwing a further fifty quid down the drain. What ever the elements throw our way this year I have decided I will buy a licence, dig out my coiled and hardened lines and doggedly fish on a regular basis to ensure I have first hand knowledge of events on the salmon front.
The coarse season on the river follows very much the pattern of the salmon, or more correctly I should say the salmon reflect the pattern of the coarse season. BA (Before April) which in reality means before March 14th was low, clear and cold. Chub occupied their by now accepted role of being the saving grace with reasonable bags being taken by those who took the time to locate the shoals that tended to be very closely grouped near deep water and cover. Massive chub with seven pound plus fish putting in regular appearances makes for chub fishing of a quality hard to equal anywhere in the land. The Barbel didn't relish the cold, clear end to the season and for the most part maintained a very low profile. It wasn't until AA (After April) June 16th to be exact, they made the most of the high water with regular flushes of colour. Barbel fishing has been consistent, providing catches throughout the summer and autumn, right up to the last few weeks. Fish over fifteen pounds with thirteen and fourteen pound fish from at least four different areas of the estate. The trigger was definitely coloured water. Given a rise of water carrying only a tinge the barbel came on the feed. As with all matters fishy, location was the secret as many of the usual barbel swims were abandoned in the high flows with fish turning up in areas that in previous years would have barely covered their backs. What of that other Avon mainstay the roach? Well they are still like hens teeth. I could probably count the number I have seen landed on my fingers and toes and I'm not sure I would need my toes. I certainly didn't see a fish anywhere approaching two pounds in the net. What few I saw were at least in mint condition so lets hope they will go on to help re-establish the once famed shoals. Bream, Perch, Pike all showed at various times but never in the quantity or quality we would hope for, all in all 2012 must go down as the third year in succession where the elements proved to be the major player on the rivers.
The lakes have produced in the fashion we have come to expect but once more the dreadful weather made many trips far from the bijou summer sessions we hoped for. The dedicated few continue to catch at a rate beyond imagination under almost any conditions. It would seem that many others have limited their trips to the days the sun shone, which meant on many days this summer numbers on the bank seemed down on recent years. Whilst reviewing the still waters I should mention one other issue that at very long last has been resolved. It is that the matter of the estate's fishing on Mockbeggar that has now been clarified. The fishing the estate had enjoyed, under its reserved sporting rights since the early 80's, all became mired in legal discord when the now Sembcorp purchased the freehold in the 90's. I must say if 2012 is remembered for nothing else on the fishing front it is good to have got the fishing on Mockbeggar sorted out at long last. The estate now owns the freehold of the Mockbeggar complex, being the three eastern areas of water, in its entirety. We have a great deal of work to do in catching up with the stock and conservation management and undoing years of neglect but we are well on the way with our plans. Unfortunately the weather has once more stopped us completing the work, all agreed with Natural England I hasten to add, as quickly as we would have wished. Never daunted, it has to stop raining some when and when it does we will be playing catchup all over the estate but Mockbeggar is high on the priority list.
Interestingly much of the management planning that has involved Natural England is for the protection of the conservation value of the complex as designated under the SSSI. Pleasingly it is now dawning on even the most Luddite of the angling world that we cannot exist in isolation. Fisheries in the UK cover some of the most valuable ecology and habitat in the country and we have a responsibility to ensure our activities have the minimum of adverse impact on other species and there often delicate habitats. This is where the working environment has to be shown to be “working”. The farming practices of today have shamefully wiped many once common species off the face of the planet. We just have to ensure we are not seen to behave in such a cavalier fashion with the wildlife associated with our fisheries. It may mean more flexible seasons and greater areas of undisturbed habitat and wildlife corridors. It has to come, it would be better if we were determining where and when as opposed to having those decision taken by others; others perhaps without the basic understanding of all the elements at work in the rural economy.
Our wildlife currently seems to be at least holding its own. There are areas that are failing in the shape of the breeding waders but I think that will eventually be recognised as a change of the farming and keepering regimes beyond the remedy of environmental payments. It comes back to the working environment as opposed to the theoretical plan. The species that have adapted to the conditions found in the valley today appear for the most part to be thriving. Geese, swans, otters, bittern, warblers, godwits are all increasing dramatically. Others have localised fluctuations, the herons and egrets of Bickton have suffered in recent years for unaccountable reasons. Possibly as simple as the trout-farm putting up new nets to keep them out. Removing the seemingly inexhaustible supply of rainbow trout on which they had previously reared their broods. Frogs also seemed to have been in short supply last year so perhaps a combination of local factors has given rise to a blip. The valley environment is always in a state of flux requiring species to adapt or fail and that is how it will always be. As for the 2012 highlight on the bird front its difficult as my personal feelings may not reflect the highlights in the valley. It could have been the appearance of the Marsh warbler or the two Bittern at Ibsley or perhaps the Glossy Ibis that is currently down on Bickerley. Whilst it is very gratifying to see the recovery of the habitat around Ibsley Ponds producing the promised results, or the rare visitors, it is the success of my Swift box on the side of my house producing its first brood that does it for me. The Avon valley is a very important migration route for our Swifts and adding to the great flocks that gather to feed on the aquatic insects from the lakes and river was an immense thrill for me. Fingers crossed for their safe return from their amazing travels in 2013.
As for a final memory it will have to be triggered by the number of large mature trees that have fallen foul of the waterlogged ground and high winds that have blown throughout the year. It will be many month before we get the tons of timber cleared and tidied away. It certainly brings home the transient nature of our environment when we see such massive trees falling like skittles. Replacing them will take time and in the intervening period new habitats will develop in the clearings and under the piles of rotting timber. New species will arrive and old familiar friends may well go, that is the name of the game. 2012 will for me be remembered as the year that a major rethink in the angling community was shown to be urgently required if angling is to be one of the survivors to retain its rightful place and fit in with the ever changing face of the valley.
This daf was out on the last day of 2012 proving that I'm not the only one confused by the weather we have been suffering this year.
Please bear with me for a day or two as I have to remember all my html and rewrite the headers etc for 2013 - it may take some time!!
The solstice, with its shortest day, behind us we can now at least claim to have survived the first half of the winter. The remainder may well be three months of misery in the form of floods and ice but we no longer have the prospect of five months to endure. That is always assuming the weather returns to a normal seasonal cycle!
Just what is a normal seasonal cycle? How long does an atypical pattern have to endure before it becomes the norm? The idea of seasons following the pattern we expect seems to be long gone. If our wettest summer, following on the heals of last Spring's drought and record rainfalls of recent weeks were to now return to what I think of as January and February chill we would still have six or eight weeks of high water at the very least; it would just be frozen, making the land no use for man nor beast. At least the winter wildfowl are having a ball out on the flooded meadows. East winds, freezing the rutted tracks, turning water meadows into skating rinks, perhaps necessary to kill off the over wintering bugs and diseases but in reality if you have to work out in it about as welcome as a turd in the bath; if you'll excuse the naval terminology. Even with the latest thermal gear that allows me to venture out in the harshest of weather its doesn't help if you have to work in the stuff. I have no desire to go from frying pan into fire and so lets all cross our fingers and hope for a gentle unseasonally warm end to the winter. Lets hope we see the river return to its channel and the fish begin a frenzied feeding session that lasts until March 14th just as we so often have dreamt - don't hold your breath!
What of the seasonal delights we might expect at the beginning of the new year? I have been out two or three times recently trying to see if we have any salmon on the shallows. Two snags with that idea in that I hope the salmon have made the most of all this water and are now cutting high up in the Upper Avon, Wylye and Nadder. Secondly I can't find any shallows! As the water clears once more, after the colour introduced by the recent heavy rain, and we return to the clear ground water flow I can see down into four or five feet of water but have yet to see any sign of cutting fish. No flashing flanks of the hens or the bow waves of the fighting cocks, not a sign so lets be positive and wish them luck in their efforts upstream.
The flooded track down to Edwards Pool with the new hut in the background. The hut appears to be the chosen home of one of the local owls judging by the number of pellets below the central beam. The apex of the roof, with a six inch entrance just above the clock, would make an ideal place for an owl box. The Barn owls will need all the help they can get in the next few months now their preferred diet of field voles has been eaten by the gulls. The righthand photo shows the fate of one of the large oaks that grew beside the concrete platform upstream of Ellingham Bridge - it'll be a while before I get around to clearing that one.
The walks themselves are always interesting with so many dispossessed creatures seeking new homes and others busy trying to eat them. The gulls must very nearly have exhausted the supply of drowned-out worms and field voles as the numbers have dwindled in recent days. The herons are still enjoying the bounty of food in places usually reserved for grazing geese and swans at this time of year. Along with the herons, Bittern, Little egret, Great white egret and even a Glossy ibis has taken up residence in recent weeks in the valley just to the south of Ringwood. Ten Mandarins and in hushed tones so as not to bring the Defra gunboats down on us, four Ruddy duck turned up for a day or two. Perhaps the most interesting of all on the bird front, from a county perspective at least, was a sighting of Dipper up at Bickton today. These delightful little birds so numerous in the west are very seldom seen down here on the Avon and any sightings would be appreciated. The last time I saw the Great white egret he was huddled up behind the stunted willow on the corner of Blashford pool. I can't be certain but from his hunched shoulders and sullen indifference to my presence as I splashed by I'd swear he was as fed up with this flood as I am. From what I hear the otters are so bored with the whole thing they have taken to sitting in the trees watching the anglers - if you're reading this Rob a pic for the diary would be good.
The driest place for some very damp beaters during Saturday's very wet shoot was the Lodge at lunchtime and the driest place to watch the local birdlife is out of my sitting room window where fifty or sixty Siskin and Goldfinch are making the most of the free niger seed. Add my twenty five local sparrows and twenty Starlings and our front garden is getting very busy at times.