Another broken week with New Year’s Day slap bang in the middle and a marked change in the weather. Our reasonably accurate thermometer in the garden showing minus eight degrees on three consecutive nights, the ground remained frozen for much of the week putting the fish in the stew ponds and river right off the feed.
The last few days of the old year were spent removing the old netting and fencing from the stew ponds, some of it I can use again some if it is in the bin. The plan is to fence off the whole stew pond area with a six foot deer fence dug into the ground with a secure gate and wires stretched across the whole area to deter not only the Otter, but Herons and Cormorants as well as making it reasonably poacher proof.
The fish in the hatchery are all hatched out, the egg shells and unhatched eggs have all been hovered out with a siphon and the alevins lay on the bottom of the tank slowly absorbing their yolk sacs. All of these fish are destined to be stocked in this stretch of river, The National Trout and Grayling Strategy deeming them unsuitable to be stocked into waters that we have previously supplied for several years. As a result we will have a stew pond spare and in these credit-crunching times it is important that we replace the income lost from previous orders with new orders. This will mean stocking the pond with either Rainbow Trout (non indigenous) Triploid Brown Trout (a man made sterile, all female creation) or Carp (an alien species to this stretch of chalk stream) I have written it before and No doubt I will write it again, but for this river the National Trout and Grayling Strategy does not work!
The two strips of maize that act as game cover still have a lot of full cobs on them and to provide some food for the fauna of the parish in frozen times, I rolled down several rows of standing Maize. It may also entice some of our Pheasants back from neighbouring land where they have taken up residence since our last shoot. In the hard weather all manner of animals will munch up the corncobs, Roe deer, Badgers, Hares along with all the Pheasants and Partridge; for several weeks I will find munched cobs in unexpected places through the wood and along the river.
This week has seen a proliferation of moles in the water meadows, managing to push their hills up through several inches of frozen ground. I, or should I say the dogs, have also found several dead moles on the surface. A few years ago, while strimming the fringe I saw what I initially thought was a vole move slowly out from the riverbank, after a few seconds it registered that this creature was not the most accomplished of swimmers and was a mole. It made the far bank, not in record time and about twenty yards downstream from where it set off, but get there it did.
An New Years Day afternoon, my wife and I set off with the dogs across the Common, a Marsh Harrier lolloped his way about and something put up twenty to thirty tufted Duck off the main river. A friend and his wife who had been present at the previous night’s exertions rang as we approached home. In a croaky karaoke affected voice he explained that they were standing on the road bridge in Bransbury and beneath them was a fish that they were struggling to identify, an experienced fisherman he thought it may be a Barbel. We arrived and looked down at the fish that was difficult to see in the sun’s late afternoon glare. Eventually the fish dropped down a yard into two feet of water and it’s oversized dorsal fin became visible. Not a Barbel but a Grayling that was well over three pounds in weight, the biggest Grayling I have seen in this river, fat as a butterball and in tiptop condition. It was there the next day too. The bridge in question houses the flow monitoring equipment for the River Dever, two electro magnetic coils that are set in the river bed and measure the flow of the river’s flow at regular intervals. The whole schemozzle was installed at vast expense (seven figures) and vast inconvenience around twelve years ago. The whole bridge and its base rebuilt, the river diverted and the road closed for several months. Six months after installation I had a visit from a particularly big noise in the Water Resources department. They had repeated spikes in their hydrographs for the Dever, they had inspected their equipment and it seemed to be ok, had I any ideas? Initially I didn’t but after a while it dawned that every time I opened the hatch/sluice on the Mill to let weed through during the weed cut water would surge down the river and put a spike on the graph. The location of a Mill that had been in position for a thousand years or more had not been taken into account when deciding upon the location of the million pound plus River Flow monitoring station, although the magnetic fields produced below the bridge now seemed to be producing supersize Grayling.
This is not meant to turn into a “grumpy old man” rail against authority, but this week has also highlighted another flaw in the government authorities that are currently dictating fishery management policy in this country. The friend who questioned whether the fish he could see from the bridge was a Barbel was not a crank, drunk or attention seeker. The river is not known to have a population of Barbel, but there has been so much stocking of the southern chalk streams carried out “off radar” over the past years that it is not inconceivable that some have found there way into the river. While registered fish farms have their fish stocks monitored and stocking carried out under section 30 licences. Joe Public can buy a Barbel/Sturgeon/Catfish/Crocodile from his local pet shop after the briefest assurance that they will look after it and keep the tank topped up. Once pumped full of pet store fish food and too big for its tank, it is humanely released into the wild. The previous proprietor of the creature aglow that they have released their charge into the wild to roam free, and not flushed it down the loo or banged it on the head.
Many keepers in this valley can recall Orfe, Goldfish, or Koi Carp being caught in the river; principle species available for stocking garden ponds/tanks ten years ago. Today the range of fish available for the domestic pond is much greater, Catfish, Sturgeon, and many more are available to keep at home. Some of these fish will end up in rivers and ponds.
A few years ago a particular stretch of the middle river was affected by a population of pet shop terrapins, grown fat in their tanks on pepperoni pizza they were cast out and thrived in the wild. Aggressive and voracious they posed a far greater threat to the balance of nature than the practice of stocking the river with indigenous mixed sex Brown Trout that is now viewed as a threat to “fish population health” (not my words) of the river.
On the Sunday, my wife, Otis and I followed in Hawker’s footsteps and left this part of the Test Valley for Keyhaven and the salt marshes. The tide was out and much of the marshes were iced up, thousands of waders, geese, gulls and ducks were concentrated on the uniced flashes of water. Hawker and his punt guns would have had a field day, firing at this dense concentration of fowl, although the army of camo clad twitchers may have had some choice words to say to him when he got back to land.