Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shiplap Sheds and Teutonic Tat...Christmas?


Why does the run up to Christmas now require sections of every High Street to be lined with a succession of shiplap sheds peddling overpriced Teutonic Tat and an ice rink? A Germanic invasion by the Weihnachtsmarkt that crept in under the radar, and a wave of retro winter Olympic legacy whipped up by Torville and Dean on dancing on Ice.

While we’re on Olympic legacy, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s announcement of their impending arrival must count as one of the recent Olympiad’s most lasting legacies. The dynamic royal duo appeared a tad hot under the collar during the cycling, or was it Super Saturday? The name of their first born could provide a clue. Prince Bradley or Princess Laura? Princess Jessica or Prince Mo? or perhaps they will follow the Beckham’s example and take a name from a site memorable to conception, such as Prince Stratford or Princess Velodrome, HRH Lee Valley has a certain ring to it, but Prince Phillips Idowu must be a very very long shot.

Putting Christmas aside for a moment we have had Tom Cruise in town for much of the past month. buzzing about in a helicopter making a film about earth’s alien invasion. A cast of thousands in hundreds of vehicles have been filming car chases and much frantic running around under floodlights on the old army camp over the road. Two years ago I bumped into the Top gear crew filming in the service station that borders, what used to be our top cover strip (Oh for a jolly farmer). They were driving cars that had been converted into camping vans for comic effect and were heading for Cornwall, A large crew were filming James May by the air and water, while Jeremy Clarkson looked on, idly having a smoke next to the petrol pumps. Nobody seemed to mind, perhaps the proprietor who asked me not to use my mobile phone the previous day for fear of sending the whole shebang up in flames was not in attendance.
At home the river looks just as it should for this time of year, waves of low pressure line up across the atlantic bringing belts of rain interspersed by several days of cold dry weather, in the words of Pa Larkin....Perfick. Direct run off is limited and the aquifers currently receive a reasonable recharge. All bodes well for next season, and the intermittent cold snaps let deciduous flora and fauna know that it is time to hunker down and sleep before next year, as opposed to the chronic broken bedtime of recent mild winters. The river is bank high, and spring ditches are starting to flow but on the radio a metrosexual tit tweeted of an impending flood crisis. The Environment agency have issued warnings of the danger of some cellars suffering groundwater flooding but this should be expected in these environs at this time of the year. The river is full of fish, taking welcome respite in the voluminous flow from the Heron and Egret that made the most of recent low flows to stab away at any fish on the shallows. We remain woefully short of ducks flighting the pond although a few pay interest to the sexy Indian Runners in the paddock by the Mill House. Under a revised schedule our first bumble around the water meadows is imminent, we have a few of somebody else’s Pheasant about and there are some Snipe on the top water meadow but nobody knows what the day will bring, bar a fun day out.

The Chalk Stream summit held earlier in the month was well attended, a useful exercise, and should receive much publicity. Paul Knight spoke well on behalf of the Salmon and Trout Association with regard to their use of EU law in holding UK government agencies to task over their failure to provide adequate protection under EU habitat directive to the Chalk Stream environment, with particular reference to the Atlantic Salmon running the river Avon. Hugh Miles chucked up a couple of thought provoking films about the plight of the Chalk streams, Martin Salter labour MP for Reading, keen trotter and chronic user of hemp called for a chalk stream charter, which was backed by Summit Chair George Hollingberry Cons MP for Meon Valley and I sat next to Caroline Nokes Con MP who asked several relevant questions sotto voce in my ear while the film was on. I could drop further names and noises but enough toadying, the bottom line is that if the Chalkstream environment , of which the Uk retains 90% of the world wide resource, is not to be impacted upon, protection needs to be provided to the groundwater supply that feeds these rivers......simples.

At home, I fell off the roof. Flicking leaves from the gutter to prevent a drip that had disturbed sleep through several rainy nights something gave way and I plummeted to the floor. In my “Bruce Lee” days a switch of the hips would have landed me on my feet ready to receive intruders, but this time I landed flat on my back on the concrete floor. I have fallen twice as far from trees up the river with a chainsaw in my hand and knives in my pocket and just bounced, but landing on concrete I had a funny five seconds before stumbling nausiously towards home. Child B was in residence, and assumed my cry and raging was continued railings at BT Open Reach regarding rural broadband service provided, but thankfully realised that the attention of the medico or at the very least his mother was required. The call was made and the lady who sleeps on my left threw down her school issue pencils and raced to the side of her Hercules.

A trip to A&E followed, where, after two hours my befuddlement eased, the fantastic junior doctor who led me through the many checks, including assault by the roll over team, was not very old, I’d guess at 15, and the juvenile bunch in the radiography department were as mad as a box of frogs, think Chucklevisiomn with added radiation and you won’t go far wrong. Thanks to all at the Winchester County hospital who strapped me to the bed and put orange blocks on my ears, and to the lady who sleeps on my left for doing what she does. As predicted the black bits and bruises continue to appear and each day a different bit hurts. I have not miraculously developed a feel for foreign languages as happens to some who suffer a bump on the head, I do feel lucky to have survived an event that did for Rod Hull and Emu and my fear of heights greater than six feet is confirmed.

Photos to follow at a later date

Friday, November 30, 2012

Henry the Green Engine


Winter has now begun and birds various have flocked to the valley. Hundreds of Pigeons are hammering the rape in the adjoining fields and the jolly farmer has deemed it necessary to scatter pigeon bangers across the parish, which won’t do much for the neighbouring Partridge shoot. Fifty odd Greylags make regular sorties along the river line and the afternoon trees play host to hundreds of Finches and Siskin. On the radio the perennial Metro Sexual Tit has put in an appearance, garnered with an O level in hyperbola he declared on the lunch time news that the country was in the grip of a nationwide flood crisis, implying that survival was not a “given”. After retrieving my sandwiches from where they had been thrown an “angry from Bransbury” email was fired off to the radio station concerned.

Pictures on the left should countenance any fears of impending doom. This river is barely flooding, there is plenty of space in the aquifer for many more weeks of rain, The amount of rain that we have received during November is nothing special and far from being the wettest winter month on record.
Some rivers have flooded, but some rivers are meant to flood. The Ouse will always break its banks as it passes through York, The Severn and upper Thames jump at the chance of letting it all hang out on pasture in the flood plain.


Up close and personal, the force of a river in flood is an impressive sight. Further forays in the name of further education, found child B and myself heading West on what used to be the Great Western Railway. Departing from Swindon to Cardiff on a cattle truck of a train we stood in the buffet car taking in the flooded fields and swollen rivers that passed by. After ten minutes Driver McGhyver announced that we would be taking a detour, there were puddles ahead and our journey would now take in the sights of Bristol and beyond. Ten minutes later we stopped in a tunnel. The “screaming oojahs” had passed through our house during the week and child B, already nervous at projected delays to his arrival for his interview was now going green and looking like he was about to redistribute his breakfast amongst the occupants of the crowded carriage. Further complications arose as we recalled Rev Awdry’s fable of Henry the Green engine who was bricked up because he didn’t want to come out in the rain, mental plans were made to abandon a day that was going from bad to worse, but thankfully after fifteen minutes our journey resumed, a direct result of a sound thrashing from the Fat Controller or puddles that had been mopped up, we shall never know, but we rattled into Cardiff to be met by torrential rain, eighty thousand rugby fans and a very impressive University.

On our return a day of rain had added colour to the river which had risen an inch and the puddles on the road were of a substantial size. Forty eight hours later the river had dropped an inch and had cleared enough to reveal trout spawning hard in the increased flow

and weed that was cut in October resuming its growth. A few dry frosty days and the river has crept up a tad as the latest deluge has worked its way down into the aquifer to increase the groundwater flow. Puddles lie through the wood and footprints and prod holes betray a few Woodcock that have moved into the woods in recent weeks. There are also a few Snipe about on the top water meadow making the most of the flashes and splashes and the Egret has returned to mooch about in the streams through the Mill house garden.



When the water is on the rise it becomes apparent that the folk who built and laid out this mill knew what they were about. A puddled channel, half a mile long and gun barrel straight bar a kink near the top, maintains a height of water in front of the house four feet above the natural level of the river to spin the wheel. It was dug by hand hundreds of years to drive a Mill that has stood in the water meadows on no foundations and not flooded in recent memory. The hatch in front of the house, installed in 1846 and a hatch at the top where the mill stream leaves the main riverl gives complete control over water levels and flow down the river and mill stream. The EU’s Water Framework Directive will recommend the removal of some hatches up and down the river, and in some cases the river will benefit, on this stretch of the Dever the removal of these two hatches would have a detrimental effect on the main river as most of the water would trundle down the man made channel. For ninety percent of the time we leave the hatch at the top open, with any surplus water pushing down the Mill stream, subsequently for much of the year the man made channel is too wide for the amount of water flowing down it, and deposition of silt occurs.

Over the years we have done our best to improve the Mill stream through the planting of marginals on both banks cutting back hedges and trees to allow light into the channel and introducing a few sexy wiggles on the way along with a series of casting platforms. This has speeded up the flow in the top two thirds of the channel, improved weed growth, fish habitat and biodiversity as a whole. Ducks in particular enjoy the sanctuary of the overgrown far bank.

The bottom third in front of the Mill is a typical piece of impounded stream, slow with silt, but not void of life. This is the only section that would benefit from the removal of the hatch in front of the house, it is man made and half of it has a concrete bottom, it never will be a classic piece of chalkstream so does it merit the attention of the chalkstream restoration squad? it is an impounded piece of water and has been for hundreds of years, alongside the need to maintain and improve chalkstream biodiversity runs a requirement to recognise the historical status of some of the sites on the chalkstreams, used correctly these two hatches give control over the water in the valley in the half mile immediately upstream, as they have done for hundreds of years.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Get a grip Dave!





More mire for the BBC to beat its brow over as Dave Arch suffers a dodgy orchestral performance at Wembley, particularly during Denise’s Charleston. Will Bruce be issuing an apology after next week’s dance number two as opposed to the usual eulogy to the ear muffled maestro?

Fishing on the Frome was fun. A substantial stretch just below Dorchester and a little larger than the Dever, it was dropping after rain three days prior and had just about got itself back within its banks. Trotted maggot accounted for sixteen grayling including a fish 47cm long that I estimated to weigh around two and a half pounds.



Even the smallest fish gave considerable battle on a stick float fished on two and a bit pound line and the big fish tail walked twice before succumbing to the net; hook a big grayling on the Dever and they are more inclined to chug around on the bottom . My host hooked a six pound salmon on double maggot on a size eighteen hook that leapt twice before throwing the hook quashing the myth that salmon do not feed in fresh water, the water was coloured and I can’t imagine that a red and white maggot drifting slowly by would invoke Salmo Salar’s aggressive instincts. I picked up a couple of trout, but grayling predominate and it would be no surprise if a British record fish is caught from this river this year or next.

The Water Framework Directive meeting was interesting, well presented and informative. Further meetings/summits are promised from various parties over the coming months and for one not used to sitting down indoor under electric light for any length of time, I can feel a serious case of “meeting fatigue” coming on.
In essence, previous surveys conducted in the name of the WFD have deemed the Test and Itchen to be in a “failing state” reports will be issued to relevant parties as to the work that is required to bring the rivers up to an “improving state” in the coming months. Compliance is currently voluntary, and the whole shemozzle relies heavily on keepers and riparian owners buying into the idea. In terms of Fishery Management, there are some very sound principles proposed, with a dusting of the daft, “black and white” thinking that needs to be a little more grey, although not fifty shades, and to use current parliamentary parlance, those who walk each bend of the chalkstreams each and every day in the name of riverkeeping are still viewed in some quarters as “a bunch of plebs” whose opinion counts for nought. The Directive is EU derived, and fines are promised to those countries who have not reached the required standard by 2015, but it remains to be seen how the failing economies of the southern EU meet the criteria of the Directive when their coffers contain five eighths of f*** a**.

The Lanes around here are regularly clogged with those seeking to have their photo taken hugging an Ash tree before the lot are wiped out by Christmas, and my mate Ash continues to lament the fact that little concern was shown over his fungal infected feet that he has had to bear for several years, and will not now meet the medico for fear of being prescribed a course of burning at the stake.
We now have a couple of baskets of eggs in the hatching troughs, a little later than most years and the fish in the river have started kicking up their redds. Invasion by Swans is imminent and thirty plus make forays upstream from the common, causing consternation amongst the Indian Runners who had claimed this domain as their own.
On the Itchen, some large Grayling have been taken from the top pool on some super fast sinking nymphs that may also have drawn the eye of a few Salmon that also currently reside in the pool.


The week was finished at Cheltenham with the Countryside race day the warm up to Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup. For several years we took Greyhounds and run them behind a lure on the finishing straight around lunchtime as one of many pre race country sport demonstrations. The long wet grass sometimes caused problems and on more than one occasion I was reduced to chasing a Greyhound with a lure in its mouth trailing a hundred yards of string back down the straight in front of a cast of thousands, while my employer tried to explain where it had all gone wrong from the commentary box high in the stand. For the past few years a parade of hounds and other demonstrations has sufficed

Friday saw clouds on Cleeve Hill and drizzle on the wind. Racing seems to be fairly recession proof as a large crowd turned out for a Friday afternoon over the jumps. Two races in, neither of the horses that I backed finished as the going proved to be quite heavy, the second ridden by teak tough Tony McCoy who was recently kicked in the face by one of his steeds receiving thirty stitches in his fizz and a touch of plastic surgery, the very next day he rode two winners.



At the height of the cold war there was a myth that if the bomb ever went off, from the resulting rubble and dust the indestructible Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones would rise to exclaim:

“I saw the lights and I thought we were on”

to the list of indestructible survivors I would add my wobbly Spaniel who would wobble from the fall out held on a lead by Tony McCoy.


Before the start of the third race I was standing next to the parade ring taking in the next lot of horses and earwigging an interesting debate between a man and his wife over bets placed on the next race. Sir had been dispatched to the Tote to place Madam's bets, drink had been taken on board and during the short walk from parade ring to bookie he completely forgot his beloved's selection. The money was placed on the wrong horse and five minutes before the start of the race she was berating him for his uselessnes.

In a triumph for drunken blundering a tense race ensued in which the horse that the husband had mistakenly chosen beat his wife's initial selection by a head.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pictures that move in a U shaped tube


Last Sunday we experienced continuous rain from two in the morning until midday, a dog bowl left outside indicated that around two inches had fallen. Within twenty four hours the media was awash with advice on the highest hill to head for and plans to build an ark. The river here rose a few inches and for the first time in several years I had to monitor the hatch in front of the house at intervals throughout the morning, tweaking it open inch by inch to let excess water go while maintaining a regular river level. Twenty four hours later the river had returned to the level it was at on Saturday and was of sufficient clarity for a trio of Frenchmen to bang out a dozen Grayling.

The water meadows are spongy and there are puddles, but the aquifers and springs are not so excessively full that it is time to start pairing up animals and heading for the hills. Rain from now through to March does the chalkstreams the world of good. The flush through of water that this stretch received on Sunday is the equivalent of a long overdue scrub behind the ears by an enthusiastic aunt. For two and a bit years this river has gone unwashed with diminishing winter flows leading to a build up of all sorts of gunk in the river channel. The foam on the water at the end of broken water the equivalent of the tide mark on the side of the bath and a sign that some of the nutrients and organic matter built up in the river in the past few years have been washed away. The weed will love it, ranunculus in particular, and with a few wet months there may well be weed to cut in April for the first time in many years.


A couple of sharp frosts have sent leaves a tumbling, the large Mulberry ditched its duds in one night, and a line of leaves flows steadily down the river, the bugs and beetles that fell with them providing an exotic meal for both Grayling and Trout who still show little sign of moving onto the shallows to spawn. The Oaks cling onto their leaves and maintain a weak shade of green, and the Amber opposite the fishing hut is spectacular in the right light.

There are plenty of Pheasants in the wood along the river and the field behind our house seems to be holding a lot of French Partridge. The jolly folk on the neighbouring estate drove it “en echelon” for the first time while we were in Lisbon, not sure how they got on but there still seem to be plenty about for the next time through.


All the funny fungi are up, I haven’t picked many mushrooms this year but some of the other fungal oddities that put in an appearance each autumn seem to have done quite well. I am hopeless at identifying anything but an edible mushroom and I have a “Fungal App” for my phone, that the youth of today seem to find quite amusing, although I am still in the dark over most.

My favourite is a bracket fungus that appears each year on the stump of an immense ash tree that was felled a decade ago at an age of one hundred and seventy years plus. It doesn’t look much from above, but from below, to my eye, it resembles an Armitage Shanks toilet pan.

Concern was shown in a recent newspaper article over birds in the garden exceeding their recommended daily alcohol intake of four units and “giving it large” on fermenting Rowan berries. With the failure of the grape crop in our garden, the blackbirds around here are having a fairly abstemious time of it. Normally at this time of year we can expect an almighty row to break out in the garden as wobbly blackbirds kick off after a morning gorging on grapes brim full of grog.

It has taken a while, roughly seven months, but with the spirit of John Logie Birdie I have finally managed to add moving colour pictures to this rubbish that I write. They may be fuzzy and squinting undoubtedly helps, but they are definitely pictures that move, with just a hint of colour; further channels to follow after consultation with Lord Reith. Meanwhile a few minutes of Grayling spawning on the shallows by the fishing hut. The following film has been clasiifed 12 by WH Smith and the people who do Harry Potter.



3D next, so get some funny glasses.

On the subject of Lord Reith and the travails of the BBC, why are they kicking Danny Baker? He may be irritating to some, but to many he is the best broadcaster in Britain, his Saturday morning show is a brilliant and breathless two hour show that features no music, just irreverent chat with Lindsey and listeners. My personal favourite of recent weeks the randy dog who fathered several litters of puppies in his neighbourhood and was identified as the sower of seed by his propensity to wear a hat.

Brilliant, the best broadcaster about.

Why BBC, why?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Frank Bough and further failing economies


Half term, and the lady who sleeps on my left and myself continue our tour of failing economies of the European union.


Lisbon this time, four days in a Portuguese city situated on an important corner of Europe that seems to be have been ruled by all bar the moonies. For a couple who live several miles from the nearest streetlight and for whom a noisy night is an owl hooting on the roof, Lisbon gives a great change of pace for a few days. Noisy, vibrant and with loads to see and do we walked miles and collapsed into our seat on the plane home.


Like Greece, it’s cheap, welcoming and a lesson in how far things can quickly go wrong under a government guilty of hubris and high on cheap euros
A capital city hosting a failing economy can be a dicey place to spend a few days, we avoided Athens, Bogata and Mogadishu for that very reason. But in Lisbon a resigned air to the economic situation hangs heavy amongst all but the students who rioted gloriously on the third day of our stay. The screw has been tightened by the government and the senor on the street faces a hefty bill for the profligacies of those who held power in the past. Several Lisboeta that we spoke to bemoaned a government that raised taxes on a monthly basis while continuing to live a gilded life funded by the state, no sign of the futile nationalist movement that is currently gaining ground in Greece, just students and a few others chucking pies at the politicos who don’t appear to be joining in where the austerity measures are concerned.


Of great interest during our stay was the Portuguese plod, our first encounter was with the parking department on our opening skirmishes into the heart of the city where we came across thousands of pounds worth of Bentley Continental being towed away by the vehicle removal department, it may well have belonged to a prominent MP, but it became a recurring theme throughout our stay as we bumped into the same team wrapping a chain around the chassis of an executive Mercedes or Lexus before hauling it away.
At other times Porto plod were indifferent to what was happening all around.

I have never received so many offers of drugs (hard and soft, day and night) on the street as I was during our stay, but in the last twelve months I have felt more threatened in parts of London and Paris than I have in Lisbon.

There was comedy, Chief Wigham style, when police tumbled out of their den on a blue lighter only for their steed to fail on a flat battery, and an electric police car designed for use in the pedestrianised commercial district assumed “interesting feature” status for several hours as it too lost all power.

Every supermarket checkout is manned by armed police who are not there to help with packing and several have been issued with segways with flashing lights that they leave leaning against the nearest wall prefering to smoke and walk. If all hell did break loose over the state of the economy I am not convinced the police are motivated enough to restore order.

Apart from the much maligned Lisbon treaty, Port is synonomous with the country but having spent four days shuffling round the streets of its capital I would suggest that with a little organisation they could grout their way out of most tight corners. One row of tiles behind the sink is the tiling equivalent of the Gordian knot for this correspondant, but this lot think nothing of tiling a whole five storey house! All tiles level and set in place for decades. If I was having a fancy bathroom fitted I would make sure that the tiles were stuck on the wall by a man from Portugal.


There were many other highlights. Trams are undoubtedly the future of transport and I shall be looking to trade our car in for the latest model soon after Christmas, one female tram driver multi tasked beatifully as she managed to eat a yoghurt, place bids on ebay while transporting fifty bleary eyed passengers across rush hour roads.

The Spar with a bar and hooker was an interesting twist on the local corner shop and like home the newsagents had no copies of the Shooting Times at eye level but plenty of Teta, Penthouse and Playboy on offer at counter level.

During our trip to the castle we watched a primary school production re enact the Jesuits being driven from the site in the middle ages, great fun with swords and spikey helmets very much to the fore, no blood was spilt but an awful lot of history learnt.


The fishing rod made the trip, but the size of the Tagus and constraints of time resulted in only a few hours feeding mullet in the marina. The locals fish with hefty tackle for all manner of species, and I was seriously undergunned with my travel rod and waggler, although further up the lagoon I would have fancied my chances if time had allowed.

Throughout our stay Cruise ships stopped by, disgorging several thousand much needed visitors to the town.

No corner is complete without a bi-toothed beggar rattling a superbock glass in your face but leave your cruising trainers on deck and rock up in your leather shoes and ask one of the many street shoe shiners to buff up your bumpers if you want to help out.

On our return, the Dever had risen several inches and there was standing water in the meadows. We have had several inches of rain and it looks like the river could receive a much needed scrub behind the ears this winter. The BBC was twisting its knickers further over what it may or may not have done over the last forty years. Does no one remember Frank Bough and a scandal that scarred a generation of Grandstand fans and ruined fond tea time meories of Nationwide, Alan Clark MP who first took up with his future wife when he was 26 and she 12, or 13yr old Mandy Smith who started a sexual relationship with a man 34 years her senior,but because it was good old Bill Wyman was given a positive spin by the tabloids of the day. As Miss Smith said in a recent interview "if it happened today, he would have gone to jail" which is just how far things have moved on, and with my optomistic head on the circumstances in which sexual predators like Sir Savile thrive, no longer prevail.

I, along with a cast of thousands, have received invitations to discussions on a “Chalkstream Restoration programme” which seems a fairly sensible idea. There was an attempt to draw up a list of best practice for the chalkstreams over a decade ago, which fizzled out as too many failed to buy into the advice it offered.
An invite has also arrived to a “summit meeting” on the plight of our chalkstreams chaired by the chairman of the “cross party committee for angling” in Stockbridge which I can only assume will be on the roof of The Grosvenor Hotel, it being the highest point on the high street. Oh yes, and a very kind call to chase some super sized grayling on the Frome.

Ash Trees are getting a lot of press of late and why was there a need to import ash trees in the first place? The woods around here are full of self set seedlings and the last time we planted any ash trees we visited a neighbouring copse and thinned out a few saplings for transplanting elsewhere. I am not convinced that disinfecting wellies and wiping our dog's feet will have much effect and neither will a mass programme of burning, some trees appear to be resitant so the solution may come from mother nature rather than man, who is often guilty of bigging up his part in this kind of caper.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Otters by Chris de Cani

The following article features in the current issue of The Shooting Times and has been classified a 14 by the WH Smith age classification board.



Otters have been present in the British Isles since the Ice age, an oversized weasel with a paddle for a tail and a talent for sub-surface swimming, their numbers took a rapid decline from the 1950s to the 1970s with populations restricted to parts of Scotland, Wales and south West England. The decline was closely linked to insecticides such as dieldrin used on seed dressings. When first used these chemicals proved to be persistent organic pollutants and caused large scale mortalities in several species, the impact the greatest among top predators because of the of the build up of the chemicals in the food chain and numbers of birds of prey and mammals such as the otter experienced a rapid decline. Once dieldren and related chemicals were withdrawn from use, isolated populations of otters that had survived in areas with low intensity agriculture responded and along with a series of introductions of captive bred otters during the 1980s and 1990s spread to every county in England and Wales.

Adaptable and opportunistic they will inhabit any body of water that is unpolluted and contains a population of fish. With a lifespan of up to five years, an adult otter can weigh between fifteen and twenty five pound and requires around 3lb of fish a day to keep it in trim. Fish make up 95% of its diet and they do not just eat eels as has been suggested in some quarters. All fish are targets and this has raised problems for inland fisheries across the UK as otters are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside act and EC Habitats directive. It is an offence to kill an Otter or to disturb its habitat.

A resident otter will have a clearly defined territory that may extend to twenty miles depending on the amount of food available. On the southern chalkstream where I work, the territories are considerably smaller due to the high density of food available. Within this territory the otter will have several above ground resting sites, these are generally in undisturbed areas such as dense scrub or reedbeds, the territory will also included a number of underground holts that can be any hole in the bank that is of sufficient size, one of which will be used by the female to raise her offspring which can occur at any time of the year. On this river the largest litter that I have seen is two but there are reports of Otters raising four young.

The most obvious sign that an otter is in town is half eaten fish on the bank, be it the back end of an eel, half a roach or a double figure carp with a chunk out of his shoulder. Adult otter footprints are relatively easy to identify and are around five centimetres across with five digits, larger than a mink with a greater area of webbing. Otter apologists will often cite mink as the reason for dead fish on the bank, but as well as the difference in footprints the otter spraint is easily distinguished from a mink scat. The spraint is more cylindrical in shape, black through to green with a slightly sweet scent; the mink scat is squiggly and does not smell at all pleasant. Ten years ago if evidence suggested that an otter was about it was rare to actually see the animal, the slightest hint of human activity sent them scuttling off to a quieter part of their territory. Today, as numbers have increased, it is not that uncommon to see them in daylight. The otters on this river have become more accustomed to human activity, I have stood on the riverbank with my two dogs and had a female otter and her two full grown pups stop and stare at me for over a minute. An angler trotting for grayling one winter afternoon on the beats above had a single otter bumble along the bank towards him making its way to some fish rearing ponds a little further upriver, it turned back at the sight of the angler but made three attempts in the following hour to get past.

To commercial fisheries, fishing clubs and fish farms the impact of otter predation is significant. A fishery in the south of England recently lost a carp of over forty pounds to an otter, one fish that would cost in excess of £5000 to replace. In 2008 the British record barbel was found dead on the bank of the Ouse with a bite out of its underbelly. These big fish deaths are particularly galling amongst anglers as little of a fish that has reached such a great age and size is actually eaten. Large carp in lakes are particularly susceptible during the winter months when they are sedentary creatures and easy targets. Big barbel in rivers can take on a similar torpor in low water temperatures and are also easy pickings for a hungry otter. When otters returned to this stretch of river a decade ago we lost two hundred one and a half pound brown trout from our fish rearing ponds in the space of one winter month. All of our ponds are now protected by fencing which is the only effective means of keeping the otter out. In the neighbouring river the fish must take their chance as it is impossible to exclude otters and all species, trout, grayling, roach, chub, perch and pike must take their chance.

Fencing ponds and lakes is an expensive business; an effective fence of metal mesh with several strands of electric can cost around £5 a metre to install. The cost of protecting stock from predators has been part of the fish farmer’s budget for years, but the cost of protecting a lake of a few acres or more can prove prohibitive to fishing clubs and syndicates and stock is subsequently lost. Money has been made available through the environment agency to those in need of help, but the national annual budget of £100,000 to help fisheries protect their stock against otters is a token gesture at best to the angling world whose contribution to the UK economy estimates put at between four and six billion pounds a year.

Most keepers on the chalkstreams with fish rearing ponds have fenced their stock ponds, metal mesh up to five feet high with a few strands of electric are the minimum requirement. Otters are persistent creatures and will repeatedly test a pond’s defences, a keeper on the middle Test was asked to produce twenty four hours of video footage of the “mother of all” electric fences protecting a pond, the night time footage revealed regular sparks of light as electricity arced towards the wet nose of Tarka who despite the shocks, kept coming back for more. A heavy fall of snow reduced the efficiency of the electric defences surrounding one of our own ponds; several trails that resembled a small canoe being dragged through the snow betrayed three otters who swiftly took full advantage of an easy evening meal.

The revival of the otter is one of the biggest conservation success stories in recent times and whether we like it or not, the otter is here to stay. A lake that I used to fish with my son not far from my home contained a balanced population of coarse fish with most species present in various sizes in clear water to a depth of eight feet, it was a perfect place to teach youngsters to fish and provided an introduction to angling for many in the surrounding area. Two winters of twenty cormorants paying it a visit did for all the fish up to two pound in weight and last year a family of otters dined for several months on the remainder of the fish that were predominantly carp aged thirty years or more up to a weight of twenty pounds. The pond is now unfished, dead water that is financially not worth restocking. The impact of cormorants is slowly being addressed across the UK, but the otter’s impact on inland fisheries in the coming years must be closely monitored. There are extremes of view on either side of the otter debate but a middle way must be found that meets the needs of a balanced population of otters and the angling world in the UK.

Chris de Cani is a middle aged riverkeeper in Hampshire a role he has carried out for 26 years. Knees click and ache when he runs but can still manage stairs. Hair grows where it shouldn’t and is missing where it should. Struggles with teenagers but dog still finds him reasonable company. Still believes that he is good enough to play football for Liverpool, cricket for Hampshire and would have been great at the javelin if Fatima Whitbread hadn’t kept jumping the queue
He writes regularly online at www.testvalleyriverkeeper.blogspot.com and is open to invitations to fish anywhere for anythimg.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Branded by my cheating bloke!


A few frosts in the week caused the first leaves to fall to the floor; disregarding a whitebeam in the garden that always goes too early, the sycamores are the first to discard their foliage closely followed by the ash, the oak is always the last, clinging on to memories of summer. Currently the fish show little sign of doing anything about spawning, the last couple of weeks of fishing saw everyone who turned up take fish, and we still have fish rising around the middle of the day. I have started to put the river to bed, knocking off the fringe and edging in where required before stripping the weed out in the coming weeks. I have also tackled the hedges, that have enjoyed prolific growth this year, if it weren’t for the huge range of “biodiversities” that live in and around hedges I would readily promote brick walls and fences as the future of boundary markation. Conkers, acorns and hazelnuts abound a portly Muntjac feeds every evening under the Horse Chestnut near the fishing hut and squirrels are busy dashing around burying their bounty.

Yes, we have no bananas today...... and take it as read that we have no apples but the two grape vines that grow up around our house are also pitifully short of fruit. A leading grower of award winning fizzy wine in the South of England has abandoned his 2012 crop because of poor quality after a wet summer, and there are similar reports from the many vines that have been planted along this river valley in the past few years, not quite on the scale of the Garonne or Lot but several have got carried along on the “we’re all getting warmer” wave and have marked their fields out for vines.


As has been the case for the past few years we have few ducks visiting the pond despite seeing good numbers during the summer, cold weather could yet bring them flighting up the valley but currently very little barley is being eaten overnight. The pond has also seen a bloom of duckweed which should also prove attractive to the quackers when they deign to put in an appearance.


Today’s paper pronounced that WH Smith had restricted the sale of The Shooting Times. Under pressure from “Animal Aid” who earlier this year published a report that claimed the “lurid pro-violence content” of country sports magazines could have a “corrosive, long lasting effect on impressionable young minds” the magazine will now sit on the top shelf, side by side with Readers Wives, Top Tits and Boobs and Bum and will not be available to anyone under the age of fourteen. Now I must declare an interest here because now and again I submit poorly written pieces for publication in The Shooting Times. Occasionally I also get other requests for written rubbish and around a year ago was invited to submit three thousand words of erotic fiction for an online magazine. An offer I declined, not on grounds of morality or decency, but because after two attempts that amounted to one and a half shades of grey the denoument was delivered after about two hundred words; I couldn’t do it. If I am required to “sex up” my pieces to compete with magazines on the same shelf I may struggle, but I am sure it won’t come to that. The magazine covers a range of countryside issues, and bar the florid faced cove who rambles on about rivers ad neuseam, is well written, balanced and serves as an introduction to many youngsters keen on country pursuits. It is hard enough getting some youngsters to read so why deny them reading material on a legal pursuit in which they have some interest.

A Fourteen year old can walk into WH Smith and buy magazines written in the spirit of Jeremy Kyle in which Shaz proudly displays the cosmetic surgery that she bought her daughter for her sixteenth birthday, or Kanye who introduces us to his wife and sister who turn out to be one and the same person. Two headlines in the current issue of one such magazine, priced at less than a pound proclaim “Mum forced me to marry a rapist and “Branded by my cheating bloke” a lurid tale involving a wayward partner and a hot iron. This magazine and many others of its ilk carry no age restriction on purchase.

Corrosive effect on impressionable young minds?

A Fourteen year old can buy a magazine on cars, lorries, planes and many more pursuits that he has yet to reach the age of consent, so why shooting? Pigeon Pete, and Richard Faulds both won Olympic Golds and I am sure neither were averse to a quick flick through the pages of ST in their youth, Mr Faulds lives near here and I have heard no tales of a corroded mind.

The current badger cull is being portrayed as some new form of hunting in some quarters and both this and the restricted sale of Shooting Times display a lack of knowledge of the countryside and rural pursuits. The Badger Cull is neccessary countryside management carried out under government legislation and not a new sport, the restrictions of sale of The Shooting Times by WH Smith is just plain daft and if it has any impact on the minds of the youth of today, then in the words of the great Hugh Falkus super salmon and sea trout fisher, writer and keeper of chickens,

“My Cock’s a Lobster”

Copy and paste the following link to your address bar if you feel inclined to sign a petition asking WH Smith to lift the age restriction on the sale of Shooting Times magazine


http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/whsmiths-retract-policy-on-sale-of-shooting-magazines


Monday, October 8, 2012

This is the age of the train, more lies from Jimmy Saville


End of the season and fishing finished with a flourish, several caught their limit between heavy showers and mostly around the middle of the day. Water levels are good for the time of year although cutting the weed and fringe in the coming weeks will drop it by at least 8 inches. Despite us not shooting as we normally would this year, I have put the feeders out in the wood along the river which are drawing a few Pheasants. We are also inundated with Jays. Some have suggested that this is due in part to the failure of the acorn crop in mainland Europe, we always get a few squawking through the wood and shoot a few each winter.

The trip to the lower reaches of the Itchen was a great day out despite variable weather. Half the width of the stretch I look after on the middle river but twice the depth, there had been reports of plenty of fish present. Unfortunately heavy rain during the preceding 24 hours coloured the water and they were difficult to spot. A chalkstream is managed differently forSalmon than it is for Trout, bar cutting of weed is out, small groynes are used to flick the flow out from the bank to provide an easy lie for fish, and the weed cut with a mind to getting the flow onto the groyne. My first forays were with a flying C, I then switched to a single handed 9ft, 7wt fly rod, casting a super heavy nymph on the end of a super fast sinking leader across the stream allowing it fish round before raising the rod when the fly had reached the bank, the fly lifts and, if you are lucky the salmon can be seen rising from the riverbed to take the fly. My host for the day had a salmon and I had a big Trout, there were many fish present and, despite my feeble efforts, the beat on which I fished is heading for a bumper year. Over lunch we mused on the aircraft with propellers that were skimming the hedgerows as they departed Eastleigh for the Channel Islands, I remarked that surely the jet engine was the future of aviation and I wouldn’t fancy going up in one of those.

Four days later I was strapping myself in to the "Tail end Charlie" seat on the same runway alongside child B on a trip to Newcastle for a University open day. Up close and personal the plane is patently too long, the wings too short and the bits of twig and branch picked up from the hedge at the end of the runway do not suggest safe aviation. Take off had a “shit or bust” feel about it, but as we climbed the fear was assuaged by the view as we followed the river valley north, picking out different beats and cricket grounds as we thankfully climbed higher. Landing was another “seat of your pants” experience, the flooding that we could see out of the window provided some distraction but it was with huge relief that we wobbled off the plane and into Toon. The University was great; the herd of cows in Leazes Park slap bang in the middle of the city a surprise and the walk along the Tyne impressive. On return we boarded a plane with two jet engines and a jolly bunch of saga aged stewards keen to give out free drinks. The two flights were much cheaper than the train and the journey time four hours quicker. "This is the age.... of the train!" more lies and deceit from Jimmy Saville in the seventies and eighties.


At home the weather is getting cooler, although quite barmy after a day on Tyneside. Much of the past week has been spent filling up the woodshed with logs. We have piles of wood littered around the place cut into four foot lengths that have been drying out all summer. I used to log them up in the wood with a chainsaw but a “time and motion” piece of enlightenment has led me to leave them in lengths and bring them back to the woodshed to be cut up on a saw bench powered by my tractor, if calculations are correct the logs are lifted up fewer times than logging in the wood which counts for a lot with the amount that must be cut and moved with my creaky joints. It’s a mixture of Ash, Oak Alder and Willow and the saw bench is straight out of Tom and Jerry.

In this valley two weeks ago, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, anglers were enjoying the last knockings of a topsy turvy season, With the roast beef and red wine duly punished my wife was ensconced in her shed making things out of paper and card, after football in the morning my son was ploughing through homework and I had popped over to the Itchen to talk about winter work. Mid afternoon we assembled in front of the television to take in the exciting climax of the Ryder Cup. One mile behind our house at the bottom of The Common where we often walk, a father and his two young children parked their car after a lunchtime visit to see Grandad in the neighbouring town. The father, an ex soldier then took out a knife and stabbed his two children and himself to death, an act of incomprehensible brutal savagery with echoes of ancient Rome. The bodies were found at 6pm by a dog walker and the emergency services called by an ex parish councillor who lived in his cottage nearby. For a whole week Police have been conspicuous across the parish as understanding is sought as to what happened and why, the media made merry across the parish for twenty four hours putting Newton Stacey in the nation’s consciousness.

As a freakish aside, neighbouring Barton Stacey was also put in the spotlight. The previous week, the team in green, Barton Stacey FC were playing an important league game against a side from Andover. My wife and I, always keen to mix with the cream of Andover society, donned our wellies and sallied forth to take in child B’s exertions on the wing. The first half was a tense affair and remained goalless at half time, several of the opposition supporters and crew had been spoken to by the referee for their actions and quotations throughout the first half. During the second half Barton Stacey took control with two early goals with child B very much to the fore. A penalty for Barton Stacey was missed but a second was awarded soon after leaving the opposition linesman apoplectic. His ravings drew the attention of the referee who was left with no choice but to send him from the field. Now I have long held the view that ninety minutes is too long to play for adult football. As boys progress through the age groups the game is lengthened until they reach U17 when they play the full ninety minutes of football. Once they pass twenty five they should start taking time off. Many of these games start well with all involved having a good time but once past the hour mark many get tired and it all turns a bit grumpy and spiteful. On this occasion the referee had his hands full throughout the game and had no option to send the linesman home because he was providing no support whatsoever.
Somehow the story ended up on the front cover of The Sunday Telegraph and in the London Metro. A journalist down to cover the gruesome events of the previous week must have picked up on the story and submitted an “amuse bouche” to fill a small gap.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Trott, 2012 Not Out!




Much of this week has been spent in palls of smoke as the neighbouring estate burns unharvested fields of linseed. It all went a bit flat in the early summer rain and would have been a slow job with the combine, but if they had needed it, they would have got it in somehow, Linseed fetches between £300 and £400 a tonne through the winter and up until a few years ago there was a substantial subsidy for growing the stuff. I guess the sums were done by a Barley Baron in a land far far away and an assessment made of the potential yield, the thumb pointed down and the field set alight, modern farming, it’s a funny old game! Linseed is an odd grain , pretty blue flowers on thin spindly stalks that occasionally catch fire during harvest turn into flat shiny grains that, sans spectacles, look like an undernourished tick. As a student I worked the corn cart for four summers on an estate on the middle river. For two summers they grew a few hundred acres of linseed that cut beautifully in the sunshine but was a bugger to cut on an overcast day. The trailer load of linseed acts more like water than wheat, slopping around on every corner and refusing to go up in a heap., jump in a bin full of wheat or barley and you will sink in to your ankle, jump in bin full of linseed and you just keep on going down.


On the river fishing has tailed off a tad, a few fish are entertaining carnal thoughts but a significant number give the impression that they may be vaguely interested in surface food. The influx of extra water early in the summer has kept the river in good condition for much of the season and the fish have responded accordingly, far fewer Brown Trout have sulked and skulked during recent weeks compared to the low flows of the last two seasons when most Browns in the river have tucked themselves away from mid July onwards, fewer fish have been caught on a nymph this season and most rods have found a rising fish somewhere, but many of these late season fish have been around the block and in cricketing terms with the end of season approaching are looking to protect their average with a few “not outs” . One fish, twenty yards below the fishing hut I have named Trott. An idiosyncratic fish she has remained on the same station since early April unfussed by the Grayling Roach, Pike and Perch that occupy the same hole. There is nothing flashy about her rise but it gets the job done, returning religiously to the same station, scratching her crease to prepare for the next fly that the river will deliver be it in one minute or one hour. She has had all manner of things thrown at her throughout the summer all of which have been met with a dead bat, she has got bigger and bigger and after a couple of seasons in the river is now around five pounds. Earlier in the season she had a partner of similar seniority on a neighbouring station who I shall call Kevin, after a promising start to the season in which he showed great discipline through a surfeit of Hawthorn and Mayfly he fell to the first flashy nymph that was twitched past his nose; Kevin is now exploring new career opportunities at the smoker. Barring injury during the close season Trott will be in the same spot next year, bigger wiser and a prize catch/wicket for someone cute enough to catch him out. There’s also a fish I call Ian who is the best looking fish in the river who plucks flies from the surface with perfect timing but has been hooked and lost a few times when concentration has been lost.

Chalk stream Brown Trout are batsmen and once their eye is in, they often stay in. The angler is the bowler, some days rewarded by a consistent line on off stump with the fiftieth ball/cast finding success, on other days variety is the key, mixing up deliveries or going through the fly box in order to achieve success. On other days the bowler is removed from the attack only for the next bowler/angler to reap the rewards, often with their first ball/cast.


Hatches of medium Olives from late morning on have been reasonable as have the numbers of Blue Winged Olive who continue to take five in various parts of our house. As is often the case at this time of year a cool zephyr results in a procession of micro flotsam and jetsam taking the racing line through the river, much of which has blown off fading bankside trees, caught in amongst are small terrestrial bugs and beasties that draw the interest of feeding trout, look in a Yankee fly box and there will be all manner of patterns to cover such a situation and much more besides, but here small and black normally suffice.

The two parliamentary figures enjoyed their day, the outgoing chairman of the cross party committee for angling was indeed a keen coarse angler and duly swooned at our Roach, the present incumbent of the position proved a more than competent fisher with oodles of fly fishing experience and will undoubtedly go far in the house.


The evenings are now turning cooler and one morning this week we had a few small patches of frost in pockets up the river.
I have had some very kind invitations to fish in various places, a weekend on the Wye, bothering Barbel with a twenty four hour bankside festival of meat was declined due to a University open day for child B, and work commitments prevented a trip with a fly rod to the Kennet. I am however looking forward to day on the lower Itchen in pursuit of autumn Salmon. I haven’t visited the stretch of river for many years but do remember seeing almost every freshwater fish under the sun bar a Salmon the last time I was down there.


Unfortunately, for reasons beyond our control we will not be having our usual shooting days this year. The “circumstances beyond our control” bit was a tad surprising as the whole shebang was always under threat from inept keepering. It’s been a bit like an episode of Dallas in tweed but following “circumstances etc” we no longer have the ground on which we used to shoot. We will still have a few bumbles up and down the valley with the usual suspects in line to worry the local wildlife, but the jolly days of driving Partridge and Pheasant from our strips of maize and an Iron Age defence ditch will not be happening this year, which is a shame.

Returning to cricket, the club with which I and other members of my family are involved received the most votes in the Lloyds Bank Community fund awards and the 1st prize of £5000 has been splurged on an artificial wicket, which will be installed at the end of the month. If you were able to cast a vote in our direction, thank you very much!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Plenty of Pears, but where are the Apples?


A quick scan of the fishing records past and present reveal that August fishing on this river was the most productive for many years. Last year and the year before that, most Brown Trout took on a dark torpor and remained soporific, sulking on the bottom refusing to budge. This past month many fish have been up on the fin and fewer anglers have found it necessary to resort to a nymph. This week the evenings have a fresher feel and most fish have been caught during the afternoon when there has been a trickle of all sorts of Olives coming off the water with the number of sedges flittimg about increasing as the afternoon progresses. Lying in the bath the other night with the window open, as is my wont, I was joined by two types of voyeuristic sedge and a Blue Winged Olive, that took five on the wall by the loo.

The river has dropped a little during the past few weeks and there is very little water flowing down the Millstream, all the water is flowing down the main river in an attempt to limit the impact of the blanket weed that has bloomed in the past fortnight,

smothering water celery and ranunculus in some places. The water is crystal clear and the Grayling and Roach are fat and in peak condition, both have been feeding hard sub surface, the Roach in particular taking advantage of the cover of ribbon weed to pick dainties from the bed of the river. On the Itchen the weed growth is prolific and spikes of ribbon weed have once again broken the surface, fish have been caught throughout the month and seem to show at similar times of the day to the Dever, every month it has been necessary to hit the weed hard in an attempt to get the river back within its banks but there are still some squashy places on the fishing bank and wellies remain

the footwear of first choice for the September angler. While cutting weed in the top pool of the stretch of the Itchen I saw half a dozen enormous Grayling, long and chunky, they looked well over three pound and are possibly the big fish I saw spawning above the bridge earlier in the year. On the Dever we have few fish over two pound but nothing like these monsters in the Itchen. The Brown Trout are showing few signs of their minds turning to all things carnal and the majority continue to feed happily at some point or other during the day.

We have a few ducks coming in to the pond, but not huge numbers. The Phragmites in and around the pond has experienced a bumper year for growth, and is almost impenetrable, there could be anything lurking amongst the leggy stems and the Bittern will certainly enjoy the cover should he return this winter. Some of the Phragmites will have to be cut back early to aid picking up following duck flighting. Most of the reed beds that were burnt off in March are in a similar state of luxuriance following the summer rain and provide thick cover for the Pheasants along the river valley that will provide a stiff challenge for the best Spaniel on shoot day.

Fruit’s a bit of a worry and the neighbourhood is almost void of apples, plenty of pears and plums, but the apple trees around here are almost bare. Even the two megalithic Bramleys that could have tempted Eve aeons ago, that regularly yield trailer loads of big shiny apples have only a few dozen fruit. The vine in my garden is in a similar state and we shall miss a garden full of inebriated birds at the end of October. Drunk on over-ripe grapes,Blackbird wars have often broken out mid afternoon once the clocks have gone back, this year abstinence will probably do them good.

I have received several kind invitations to fish this past week and have a day on the lower Itchen and the Kennet lined up for later this month. I did have another offer of a day on the Kennet but had to decline as the arrival of the past and present chairman of the "all party parliamentary group for angling" is imminent plus I had a holiday’s worth of grass cutting and strimming to catch up on. The past Chairman purports to be a keen Coarse angler so it will be interesting to see if he has head turned by our Roach and Perch.

One invitation I did take up was a visit to some lakes on the middle river for some fishing with friends and fellow keepers. I completely forgot to take any tackle but remembered the all important beer. A jolly day, in great surroundings, food and company were excellent, even the rice, which chef worried over for hours.