Thursday, October 20, 2011

Putting the river to bed

Much of the past two weeks has been spent knocking the fringe off, edging in and cutting weed. The thin line of marginal reeds is key to effective management of the river channel. If water is low it can be allowed to encroach and squeeze the channel helping to maintain speed of flow which is vital for Ranunculus and all the bugs that live in her. If water is high the fringe can be edged in hard to maximise the channel weed and reduce water height. If the fringe is deprived of light by overhanging trees it thins or disappears and the bank is open to erosion, over-widening of the river can occur resulting in a slowing of the flow, silt deposition and dead Ranunculus. Cutting the fringe down to a height of around eight to ten inches and cutting it back to a foot or two thickness and a clean line between water’s edge and marginal reeds gives enough fringe for the coming season that can be edged in hard or allowed to grow out depending on water conditions as well as providing cover for the angler.

I am half way through stripping the weed right out of the river. The amount of blanket weed is causing problems as it rolls up into huge immovable balls that sit midstream despite the bombardment of flow; the river has dropped markedly on the stretches that I have already cut. And with the weed gone, all is revealed; loads of silt and loads of fish. Stretches that appeared barren through August and September housed a surprising number of fish, a lunker of around five or six pounds is holed up below the bridge over to the fishing hut and the pool below the weir is home to many Brown Trout from five ounces to five pounds, Grayling, Roach, Perch and a Pike. The silt poses problems that will be easily solved by a wet winter and increased flow. Olives continue to hatch throughout the afternoon with a trickle of Pale Wateries and BWOs hatching around me as I cut my way downstream.

The results of water samples taken following a slug of dirty water were returned, BOD and ammoniacal readings were a little higher than expected, but not too high as to cause concern all else was ok. Something went into the river, what it was, we shall never know.

The Ducks are proving to be as enigmatic as recent winters. Some nights they turn up, buckets of barley disappear and the pond is awash with feathers, other nights they don’t. There are a few flighting the millstream most nights, currently overgrown following a waterless summer the cover may be an important factor.

The Pheasants look fantastic and are currently enjoying some of the tallest maize this part of Hampshire has ever seen, bolting in the late summer rain to a height of 8ft. Otis and I spend an hour most mornings chasing back any birds that aren’t too keen on sweetcorn and are heading off to the Little Chef for an “early starter” but most make a beeline for the maize after falling from their roost when the sun comes up. We have some natty new Pheasant feeders made from lidded green buckets mounted on the unused laths from the mill house roof that are proving to be quite popular. I have cut down on the hand feeding as this current crop of Pheasants were starting to become a tad friendly.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you?

The last day of a difficult season. Beautifully clear water and a hint of late season sparkle tainted by prolific blanket weed. Fly life this week has been good with Olives hatching throughout the day, a smattering of them blue winged, plus a few sedges. All the small stuff rise but most of the bigger lumps still sulk. A few fish have been caught but nothing like the sport of previous Septembers, after a fantastic first eight weeks the season has ended as one of the least productive in recent memory. There are plenty of fish in the river, but sport has been hampered by the lack of water and the need to let the river “grow in” to preserve water levels. In a week’s time I shall cut all the weed out and I expect it will drop the level by eight to ten inches pushing fish into the deeper holes. There are good numbers of Grayling and large numbers of fry in the millstream following the intensive spawning on the shallows by the ford in April.

A week ago, at 5pm I received a phone call from the factor of the local put and take big fish water, he had just been out and about cleaning screens and glad-handing the anglers and had had his attention drawn to the colour of the river, which was dirty grey and cloudy. A call was made to the Environment Agency pollution hotline, a sample of water taken and a phone call made to the bloke downstream, alerting me to the dirty slug of water. Three years ago we were issued with sterile bottles and a glossy book of pull out postcards on which we could record the details of such incidents and send in to Environment agency central.

After ten minutes scrabbling around in the garage the bottles and book were located, the bottle steam sterilised and a sample taken of the offending slug of water that tainted two hundred yards of river. I then made the phone call to an Environment Agency man a long way away. The opening exchanges revolved around my own personal details: name, address occupation, general fitness and what ethnic group I would put myself in. There followed some questions that didn’t seem to apply to chalkstreams before I interrupted the “checklist” to explain that the slug of dirty water was currently at this location, was moving downstream and if the Environment Agency wanted to come out and get some samples of their own they had better get out her “ tout de suite” which may well have sent them scurrying off towards Winchester, having previously had two section 30 stocking applications turned down for our location in a sensitive part of the upper Itchen.

I was informed by “ central control” that the information would be passed on to the relevant authority who may be in touch soon. Twenty minutes later I was called by team leader of the “dirty water squad” and was asked if the water smelt of anything and could I see any fish in distress,

to which I replied no.

I informed team leader that I had taken a sample and was in the process of sending him a postcard but team leader said that he could not take samples from Joe Public citing poor sampling technique and not to worry about the postcard.

Having given bloody battle with BT for several hours that morning over matters various I returned to my tent to prepare for the following day.

The next morning, there was foam on the river, blocks of it at the end of broken water.

Photos were taken and the enemy engaged.

A decline in chalkstream water quality has been of major concern for some years and is often overshadowed by the Wild Trout crusade and much more besides.
Contact was made with the Test and Itchen association who represent the Riparian owners who were suitably aghast at the EA’s inaction and made enquiries on our behalf. A few days later EA central made contact and asked for water samples. The clumsy factor of the local big fish water had spilt his (a not too uncommon occurrence where liquid is concerned} mine was in the fridge marked “do not drink”
A week after the pollution incident occurred, the sample was collected and we await results.

Nobody died, no fish were found belly up and everything seems to have returned to normal but something went into the river that shouldn’t have. Currently there are roughly three miles of river between here and the source. With the spirit of Scooby Doo, investigations could have been made and the identity of “The Phantom” revealed providing good publicity for a cash starved agency and "The Phantom" suitably punished/admonished.

At the very least a quick tour of the valley with a man in a van may have deterred the culprit from a repeat performance.