Fine weather, frost and not a drop of rain all week. Early afternoon Olives have trickled off the water with a few fish putting their noses to the surface. Some of the fish in the river are looking a little thin, the hard weather through January and February limiting the supply of food plus the urge to feed. The Grayling look in reasonable nick and will soon be making their way to the shallows and begin thinking about spawning. A Large Pike skulks in the deep water of the Mill Stream ten yards in front of the house. The Carp in the pond have taken a real bashing from good old Tarka, five have been dragged out and partially eaten this week, all superbly conditioned fish of over ten pounds and between thirty and forty years old. Fishing the pond in the summer you are invariably bothered by Eels, the staple diet of the Otter according to Colin the Conservationist, yet this fickle beast chooses to nibble on double figure Carp. Who will stand up and draw attention to the fact that the Otter population is now at a level that is causing damage to inland fishery stocks and inland fishery businesses.
The Bittern is back, a gormless bird, it is plainly apparent why its numbers are so low. Not content with flying across a line of guns on our last shooting day, it has been “hiding” in the smallest bunches of Phragmites, head in the air pretending to be a reed. On two occasions this week I have taken advantage of the fine weather to burn off some of the reed beds, on each occasion Billy the Bittern has tried to defy fire by acting like a Norfolk Reed, before rising like a Phoenix clear of the flames with smoke trailing from his bum. He sits in the same tree and returns to the meadow to sit in the smallest clump of marginals. I am told that numbers of Bittern are higher than normal in the UK at the moment due to a cold couple of months in Europe.
The Merlin has returned, I have chased him up the road on several occasions this week; He swoops in front of the car a foot from the ground before veering off into the hedgerow. Sunshine has raised the friskiness level of many of the birds, songs of seduction play loudly on the air, while a Woodpecker, bangs away for much of the day with his “look at me, look at me” drum solo.
Daffodils did not front up for St David’s day, although the Snowdrops have been spectacular. Shoots of weed are showing in some parts of the river, but as is the case with much of the flora, it will be a while before they open an eye from a deep sleep induced by a “proper” winter.
Gordon and his gods on Olympus recently decreed that 95% of all SSSIs must be in a favourable condition. Why 95% and what constitutes favourable, is anyone’s guess. Minions were subsequently dispatched on this quest for 95% favourable status.
This week we had our first visit from the person responsible for the implementation of the decree. An intelligent and eloquent ecologist, we spent a couple of hours going over various aspects of chalkstream management, White wellied Scientists with stun guns and phasers are to be teleported to the river next week to make an assessment of the river’s condition, and recommendations will be made on future work. The chap in charge had some sound ideas, and a few odd ideas. There is a feeling among many on the river that those working on the rivers are seen as “hicks in the sticks” by many of these policy makers, and despite a wealth of experience and qualification, we do more harm than good to the chalkstream environs. There is a back up group of advisors in place, some respected figures plus a few with inflated status born on the back of a wild trout revolution who I would hesitate to entrust with the school Goldfish bowl at holiday time, let alone a prime piece of chalkstream for an extended period.
I remain open to new ideas, and learn new things about the stretch of river I am responsible for every year, I await their report; although I fear that all reccomendations will be scuppered by future cuts in government funding