Wednesday, July 11, 2018

No Worries? Yeah Right!

Goodness it's warm. We have topped thirty degrees for the last nine afternoons, today it only reached twenty seven instigating a mad rush for coats cardigans and other clobber in order to stave off the chill.

It goes without saying that the river flow is reduced but prolific weed growth maintains a reasonable level. Soporific fish are increasingly feeding sub surface and nymph fishing has now begun, although a few rise to sedge in the last hour of the day as is often the way in a hot high summer.

More soon after this message from our sponsor:

Apologies we don't do sponsors, although Fishtec have been on after a plug and I feel duty bound to oblige as they do say kind words about this house on their website

In the absence of a sponsor (and with more travel planned and income from written stuff reduced we may have to rethink that one) Here's a couple of brief passages from the Test & Itchen Association newsletter (well done for that by the way)

"Diligent readers of Association newsletters will know that we have been working hard with like-minded organisations to support the efforts of the Environment Agency to restrict future abstraction of water from the Hampshire chalkstreams for public water consumption to more sustainable levels. We can report success! At a Public Inquiry in March, Southern Water agreed to all the changes to their abstraction licences proposed by the Environment Agency. This is a complicated issue and hard to summarise succinctly, but, in essence, the Inquiry outcome means that Southern Water will not be able to abstract more water from the rivers than they have in the past – and less than they have hitherto been licensed to. With the number of water customers growing, this means they are now required to develop the alternative water sources required to meet demand. In turn, this means that they are committed over the next ten years to investing in these alternative sources, the main ones being a new reservoir, a desalination plant and increased use of grey water by their industrial customers. They will also be working on demand reduction initiatives and doing more to fix leaks in the system."

Well done everyone, but can we all remember what a bunch of weasels private water companies are whose word is not their bond and are well versed in lip service and obfuscation.

And also this:

"Whilst the Association trumpet is out, I can also give it a small toot to mark the success we have had in prompting a change of heart from the Environment Agency on the swingeing increases they were planning in what they charge river owners to permit river restoration and maintenance projects. We made a strong case that by charging hundreds if not thousands of pounds for a licence to undertake projects to improve the environmental condition of the river and riverbank, they were penalising the very people they should be encouraging to undertake this essential work, with no obvious added benefit. The Environment Agency published the response to the consultation exercise in April. They accepted that the increased charges risked being counter-productive and introduced a new category of permit under which the price of a licence for work of environmental value remained unchanged from the past."

A complete climb down, well done to whoever it was who poked the bean counter at command centre central in the eye.

These kind of successes have a habit of occurring in threes so let's examine how that "Dream of Brexit is going"

No not that one.

How about the football?

I didn't think we'd play this well and I haven't enjoyed watching an England side play football as much as this since Euro 96 and it is modern day football, not the turgid default of the four. Our youngest squad for years going about their business on and off the field with a skip and a bounce previously unassociated with our national side, and well done the supporters, it may be a generational thing but no trouble and lots of fun sans the nationalistic songs and thuggery.

Returning to "The Dream of Brexit"

Why not let Gareth Southgate and his team lead negotiations on our exit from the European Union?

failing that let him run the country?

While we're on football, two weeks underground in a flooded cave is not the best preparation for a match, but if the Thai FA is anything like the English FA. There will have been a chap in a blue blazer replete with large pocket badge, beige stay press action slacks and faux leather shoes to greet the coach with an "ahem, I'm afraid we've had to deduct points for the two fixtures you failed to complete, there are fines to be paid and by the way you now have a rearranged cup game tomorrow morning."

Bert Millichip and Ted Croker live on

In other sports news. With the top ten seeds in the ladies side of the draw at Wimbledon failing to make the last eight shouldn't the seeding panel be held to account? Ok it's not an exact science but come on, failing to identify one of the last eight is poor punditry at best, balls out of hat at worst.

News just in from our travel correspondent.

Did I mention that we'd been to Australia?

Well, turns out that it was the trip that keeps on giving as a brace of speeding fines turned up last week. Which was quite a surprise as the bleached pantechnicon we were detailed to drive was by the far the most sluggish thing I have driven in recent times, and I include the tremendous orange tractor in that.
But hey. laws is laws and I broke em (four and a half miles an hour over the limit in the middle lane of a quiet motorway on the way out and on the way back) The sum demanded from government and the hire car people (dream on Hertz)
currently equates to a short break away for Madam and myself later this year. There is no speed awareness course offered and I have been awarded 2 demerit points.

A decision must be made.

Have we done with Down Under?

Should we risk the ire of Interpol?

Or shall we go to Italy again?

It's currently keeping me awake at night,

or that might be the heat,


"No worries ?"

Yeah right. Go well!

I don't mean to invoke the passage of time and all things Kylie but I'm sure Gareth Southgate was older than me when he missed that penalty at Euro 96,

Beginning of the end Gareth, beginning of the end.

Moss is growing up fast and has been introduced to the river and now he has completed his vaccinations, the world.

I was kindly invited for another evening fishing on the Upper Avon at East Chisenbury where the river was lush and low and mayfly continued to hatch as they do on the Avon throughout the summer.

Returning to aquifer levels and the fast diminishing Dever

here's a photo of the Mill House taken sometime in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Look to the left of the house right on the edge of the photo and you will see The Mill stream in full flow,
with fifty times as much water as today. I have seen another photograph from a similar period showing construction of a garden wall, it also shows the garden stream which is around six feet wide and very fast flowing. It has been a foot and a bit wide for the past thirty or so years and for the past fifteen has run dry by July.
The aquifers in the Dever valley are dropping at a remarkable rate. Here's the spring hole that we did so much work on last winter. It has been a great success and this pool of water contains half a dozen springs, which are slowly grinding to a halt.

Here's the main one in the middle, the white specks in the middle mark the spring and they should be bubbling up to the top and then falling back down again as the spring water rises up as they were in April. Today they lie dormant.

I shan't post the picture of the field called Spring Bottom that hasn't had a spring in it for five years, as it shouldn't have a spring in it in the middle of summer, but this spring has never stopped running in my time here.

Maisie and Callum have a small spring fed stream at the bottom of their garden, it retains a similar level and flow to that in April but then its valley is not subject to the level of groundwater abstraction that the Dever valley is.

It could not be clearer that chronic groundwater abstraction is impacting upon this chalk stream and we need to urgently alter the way we use the groundwater resource as our current method of use is increasingly unsustainable.

Monday, June 25, 2018

An Ungrateful Owl and Hurricane Moss

Apologies for the tardiness regarding regular posts on this site but for two weeks we have been battered and held fast in the grip of Hurricane Moss.

Currently around six square feet of wall paper is missing from the kitchen wall. I ventured out into the garden one day last week and found the precious Sky remote control teetering on the edge of the pond.

Sitting down in the kitchen for a fine lunchtime repast of Jacket potato corned beef and sauerkraut.

There I said it, I'm a big fan of European fermented cabbage, deal with it.

Anyway, mid cabbage, in marches Moss with my ipad in his mouth.

Called to the door to receive fish destined for the smoker, I returned to the kitchen to find half of the dirty cutlery removed from the dishwasher.

We receive regular quizzical glances from Otis that seem to say "Why this?"

Yesterday things took a piratical turn as Moss raided the dishwasher and put in a few laps of the sofa with a sharp knife between his teeth.

We have also broken new ground with regard to personal grooming and while some may enjoy having the dead skin nibbled from their feet by fish each evening I have the hair plucked from nasal and aural cavities by a labrador.

As I write, he has just finished forging new routes through our small garden and is now chewing the fridge door.

In Avian news the Owl has gone. We gave him his last piece of chicken fillet (This bird has enjoyed significantly better cuts of meat than I have during his two week sojourn chez de Cani) popped him in the hedge by the vegetable garden where he hung around for five minutes before taking flight without so much of a thank you, best wishes or chin chin.

Uncivil birds Owls.

We have many butterflies and bees

and hundreds of damsel flies dance about the fringe throughout the day.

The June weed cut was the heaviest it has been for some years. There can't be much weed left in the upper Dever and last weekend we had a bit of a moment when the hatch on the house became blocked and the millstream rose slowly as I gave battle with a cut willow limb that had become jammed in the culvert that passes under the road. Communication between keepers is key during a heavy weed cut and we were very grateful for the many "heads up" from upstream regarding weed on its way.

I've known heavier cuts, but with ranunculus in flower weed has been cut with an eye to possible low water conditions in July and August as once ranunculus flowers its rate of growth is reduced. We may need some bars of weed later in the summer to maintain depth. Fish are increasingly fickle now the business of mayfly is done with small and brown a reasonable guide to which fly to put on during the day with a few drawn to increasing numbers of sedge in the evening.

Oh yes, Bake off - The Professionals (Sunday night C4)

Why no Bodie and Doyle and that goto guy for "parsimonious Scot" whose name I forget off the Fine Fare advert?

This week I was once again required to give an account of my movements to a gathering of village elders. As ever, a difficult crowd who thankfully no longer throw fruit with the vigour that they once did. You know it's time to wrap up the show when they start talking among themselves which happened after around forty minutes this year.

Recent rumination while swishing a scythe centred around the current drive for further river restoration projects on the chalk streams, much of which centres around bank re profiling, making the river wiggle and riffle and tipping lots of gravel into deeper reaches.

All noble stuff and boy aren't some trumpets blown hard by some once the work is complete and brown trout are found to be present because that is the fish that is the chief driver behind the work.

I have a lot to thank Salmo Trutta for.

My principle source of income relies on Brer Brown Trout being on good form and present in numbers. But wasn't one of the main criticisms of chalk stream management in the last quarter of the 20th century that it all became to "troutcentric" Put simply, if it wasn't a trout it was coming out.

Now before any keyboard warriors brim full of internet enlightenment get in touch. I'm not knocking river restoration work, there is undoubtedly some good work going on at the moment, but what about other species of fish native to the chalk streams. A chap in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes once suggested that we heap a hundred tonnes of gravel into the hundred yards of deeper water upstream from the fishing hut to create a faster streamier stretch. The notion has some merit for the brown trout but the stretch also plays host to a number of big roach, perch and pike who may not be too enamoured with a shallower stream and would be displaced and biodiversity is reduced. We have an increasing number of anglers visit during the winter to target this species along with the grayling. If those species are displaced we lose those anglers who are stakeholders in the chalk stream environment and subsequently have an interest in its welfare.

Well done for the river restoration work, but let's not get carried away and throw hundreds of tonnes of gravel into every deep slow reach of this river system.

It's just a thought.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Justice, HLA 85 and Moss

A new medium for the Spinners this week. Ever the creatives they've branched out to the medium of pop art with this composition coincidentally titled "The Spinners"

Well Jury Service was a non event. Held in an ante chamber for six hours while legal types wrangled in the adjacent court only to be told that the trail had been cancelled and we could all go home for the two we that we had been summoned. I don't know what costs are incurred in the cancellation of a trail at crown court but it has happened forty seven times this year. Judge Judy returns home to tend her roses, and clerks, ushers and counsel repair to iron capes and buff up wigs. While we're on the formalities of court isn't the whole wig and cape thing a tad archaic? it's all a bit like George the third does batman. Surely in this day and age we could have some more contemporary garment possibly with a name and number on the back to signify their role in court.

It's just a thought.

The world of justice's loss was the world of wood's gain as the best machine of 2017 was put into action to split enough logs for next winter and part of the one after that.

You will note the Nordic method of log stacking employed on the stack on the left.

And the Bransbury method by our back door.

Mayfly fishing has been productive with over a hundred fish on the bank by the end of the month. Currently fish are preoccupied with spent mayfly and lie doggo for much of the day to feed after five. We have also experienced some heavy hatches of medium olives with sherry spinners falling on the water in the evening. Weed growth continues to be prolific and we have more ranunculus in flower than for some years although we have gradually tweaked the hatch on the Mill house closed as the small surplus of flow that we enjoyed at the beginning of the month recedes. Water clarity is very good with no sign of any foam and relatively little of the insidious brown algae that rises from the river bed in sunny conditions to break up in broken water and taint the river. An indication that the river had a reasonable "scrub behind the ears" over the winter.

Whisper it quietly but Command centre central have finally acknowledged that substantial numbers of swans are impacting upon the biodiversity of precious chalk streams. A trial scheme on the neighbouring Avon in which broods were limited to a pair of chicks under licence has proved so successful that it is to be rolled out to other rivers. Thirty swans on a beat will strip the river clean of weed, particularly ranunculus, causing a detrimental impact to the invertebrate population that calls ranunculus home and subsequently on the fish and bird populations that feast upon the invertebrates, This isn't supposition, it has happened all too often in recent decades particularly on several tributaries of the Avon. More licences are to be issued to limit the number of eggs a pair of swans can produce and yes it all sounds a bit Chairman Mao but swans f the requisite size to roll out such a scheme that maintains a stable population of an animal impacting upon biodiversity in the chalk stream. Effective fishery management,

or keepering as it was once known.

A week or so ago I received a call from Madam on her evening ritual of taking a walk in order to reintroduce herself to the outside world after the madness and stress of working in a Primary School that is severely financially stretched.

She had found a young owl sitting in the middle of the track so could I come and take a look. We live in a particularly owl rich part of the world and we've previous in this. It was a young tawny owl who had fallen out of its tree, Tawny owls are relatively good parents and will feed the chick on the ground or help it to a higher place. We undertook a watching brief for a few hours but with the light fading and Reynard on the prowl we took the decision to pop him in a pen and throw chicken at him each evening as the light faded. He was off his legs for twenty four hours but has gained in vigour with each passing day and is currently practising flapping his wings with an eye to possibly taking flight in a week or so.

It's been a while since we did any product placement so here goes. I was once a little sniffy regarding rechargeable equipment for use up the river. Battery life, build quality, the ability to carry out the task for which it has been designed. But all that has now changed. What was the cause of this damascene moment?

The recent purchase of the Stihl HLA 85 Pole Hedge cutter. With the Partridge upon me I'd like to espouse the two hours of battery life produced by the Ap 200 unit the tremendous build quality and maximum telescopic length of three metres.

That's the Stihl HLA 85 everyone

(Come on Stihl you can reciprocate accordingly for this plug)

No noisy engine so every word of Test Match Special can be heard

(Come on ECB no third test against Pakistan and over a month before the next Test Match - nuts!)

No exhaust fumes and the knowledge that with each trim of the fringe, planet earth is that little bit safer.

The Stihl HLA 85

Names currently under consideration for impending new puppy:

Stihl HLA 85
Judge Judy
The Defendant
Graeme Swann

Only all this careful consideration over names is not now required.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Moss!

Kennel name - Maurice Moss Have you tried turning it off and on again?

He's full on and goodness you forget how much work is involved with bringing up a pup. Otis has taken to him, although dips out of some of the more energetic activities which is only to be expected for a dog of such venerability.

Apologies but it's loin cloth, cave and shaking fist at outside world time again.

On three occasions this season, and we're only five weeks in, I have had anglers say to me that they had fished at such and such a place recently and had not seen a fish. Negotiating the banks had been a mission in itself and they were considering giving up their rod that they had held for some years. They were three separate stretches of chalk stream.

It is a worrying trend that some seem to have gone over big when exposing themselves to the cult of "re-wilding".

Call me a crank if you wish, but chalk streams must be managed if biodiversity is to be maximised.

How do I know this?

because in thirty two years that I have been falling in and out of this river I have been asked to look at several stretches of chalk stream that have not been managed for a number of years. One not far from here was a tree lined tunnel void of all weed with rudimentary aquatic life that was vastly improved after two weeks of going bananas with a chainsaw. It now has weed, an increased number of invertebrates and a population of trout and grayling that each year undertake the rigours of spawning.

Under management of chalk streams can be as detrimental as over management, the right balance must be sought if the habitat is to thrive and biodiversity maximised.

Keepering they used to call it - you've done that one - ed.

The principle source of income to fund this important work is derived from angling. Dressing up as Dickie the Damsel Fly to give guided tours of a broken chalk stream won't provide sufficient funds for the annual habitat management that must be undertaken if these rivers are to thrive.

I've said it on here before, but the work of a river keeper is now about providing safe and productive fishing in a manner that is sympathetic to the chalk stream environment.

Reports suggest that some stretches have become a right old shambles, and on a personal note if we look up rather than down, in five or ten years time there may be much needed work for the likes of myself restoring some order to some stretches that perhaps went in too deep with regard to the cult of re-wilding.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Vision On and The Wheel of Justice

Ladies and Gentleman our house band The Detroit Spinners,

Weren't they great everyone?

Just back from another fun trip to the Carron, where, after three weeks without rain, the heavens opened the river rose eighteen inches overnight and fish ran the river. Unfortunatey the only fish I hooked came off quite quickly and then all too soon it was time to come home.

Oh well, but thanks as ever for the invitation.

I've just been informed (many times) that in the cause of protecting data I am required to offer you the opportunity of looking elsewhere should this guff have been forced upon you. Please be assured that the door is open and anyone can leave at anytime should they so wish.

Back on the Carron, throughout our stay there were men clad in high viz working with no little fever in and around a building by the road bridge on the Amat estate. I made enquiries and it turns out the small cluster of dwellings nine miles up a single track road in one of the more remote corners of these Isles is to receive the gift of super fast full fibre broadband.

Which is great.

So why can't this small cluster of houses less than an hour drive from what some would have as the greatest city on earth have it as well?

We remember fondly the days of our quarter meg dial up connection and my employer who uses the hopeless landline broadband connection, spends most days in a fug of buffering while we are forced to rely on our expensive 3G mobile provider for a speed of not much north of half a megabyte.

Anyway I'll avoid kicking off about Open Reach and BT as it will only make my eyes go all twitchy again.
The mayfly is finally underway and fish are coming out in numbers. Late afternoon through to early evening is currently the best time for peak rise with fish continuing to be a little picky early in the day.

The river is incredibly clear and lush weed growth is causing some bits of bank to become decidedly mushy. We have swifts, swallows and martins and our resident pair of swans have given birth to their perennial sygnet. I have already disturbed several grass snakes and recent intense storms have caused many bankside trees to dip a branch towards the water. It is now all too apparent which ash trees must be attended to next winter and also the following winters. .It seems to take five or six years between this insidious disease progressing from the outer reaches of the crown to the death of the tree.

This one's in the early stages of the disease, the dead shoots in the outermost points of the crown area as brittle as breadsticks

After three years of suffering

Five or six years in

This ash tree shows no sign of the disease.

Nor this pair of trees

because they are oak trees.

Dutch Elm disease gets all the heat when it comes to arboreal genocide but ash die back will push it close.

Oh yes, further bonifides required please Mr Gove. This time on sandwich fillings. Last week, in the resumption of his quest for higher office he implored us all to eat more lamb sandwiches.

I'm not a fan of the lamb sarnie. Chicken, beef and pork, pulled or otherwise are fine as fillings for a sunday evening sandwich in front of Arthur Negus et al but all sensible people (northern folk in particular) agree that the best treatment for leftover lamb is several days of slow cooking in red wine and herbs with some shallots and carrots topped with sliced potatoes and a big dollop of pickled cabbage (or sauerkraut if the EU is upon you) later in the week

The cove Gove seems to have been hewn from the same rock as Mr Mandleson who once famously entered a northern fish and chip shop and requested some of the mashed avocado with his chips

"That'll be mushy peas then" came the reply.

Yes, Bonafides please Mr Gove, Bonafides. Not only with regard to sandwich fillings but also for the post which you currently hold.

While we're on meat. In the name of cutting down on red meat in order to attain a perfect cholesterol level of four point something, we've just devoured a very nice piece of Hampshire Bred top rump. It came to light during this fine repast that with four jars of horseradish and four jars of mustard I had fast become the Imelda Marcos of the condiment world.

It was a shame that the Chairman of the EA's warning last week regarding the need to preserve our water supply in the decades to come was met with such derision in the media. I don't know if Mr Chair visits this house but regular readers/sufferers will know that we have been banging on about this very subject for many years. Editorial comment in several of supposedly more enlightened news papers demonstrated that we have a long way to go in getting the message across that our current method of sourciing water in the South is unsustainable and precious aquatic environments, principally groundwater fed chalk rivers, (85% of planet earth's chalk streams) will be impacted upon.

Later this week I will be charged with spinning the wheel of the justice.

The welcome pack from the Courts of Justice states that I cannot take my clever idiot proof camera into court so with a nod to Tony Hart I've whipped out the pastels and crayons, eschewed the kodachrome.

The next chunk of guff may be a little "Vision On" when it comes to images to serve as a reminder of my time in the wig, tights and cape.

In dog news, Otis has sore feet again.

It happens every year when he is in malt (hair falling out, he's not a whisky drinker) Hair folicles become infected between his toes and he assumes a mincing tread. A course of antibiotics have him podding about again within a week but getting him to swallow the things are a bit of a trial. His Uncle Zebo could famously eat around any peas placed in his dinner and while a knob of cheese with a pill hidden discretely within used to work for Otis, he now rejects any cheap cheese offered, will suffer 36 month old Davidstow, but wolfs down a pill wrapped in half a slice of Prosciutto or Serrano.

He has become quite the gourmand in later life and the cost of the delivery method of each pill may soon exceed the cost of the pill itself!

Names Currently under consideration for impending puppy.

Boots McArther - Came to me in a dream,
Pontebodkin - Bridge based which seems apt
Karius - Noooooooooooo!
Uncle Peter - I may have got stuck on Vic & Bob while undertakimg research for a film earlier in the piece.
Lister - Ditto
Michael Gove - Hmmmm, bonafides for work as a Labrador required.