Friday, March 30, 2012

I counted them all out and I counted them all in

This week the river has dropped. We have had a mini heat wave in March which brought some butterflies out but is not the principle cause behind the river’s recession, the first effects of a dry winter are kicking in and as everything wakes up and reaches for the bedside glass of water, the demands on nature’s water reserves increase substantially. The roots of Alders that are normally submerged are out in the open and an old bank repair from well before my time sticks

out from the bank like the ribs of a dinosaur. An invitation has been received to a “low flows” workshop not “ indicators and effects of a dicky prostrate” (although there will be talk of interrupted streams of flow) but sensible action by the Test & Itchen Association to ensure riparian owners are doing all they can to preserve the aquatic environs in the arid months to come. Donning other sporting hats, advice has also been given on the watering of cricket squares and the preparation of football pitches, we hope the swimming pool community received similar advice.

On this river contingency plans mentally formed months ago, are fast “firming up”. The local “big fish water has snapped up extra aeration for lakes and ponds that diminish by the day and calls have been made to local eateries to push the trout on the menu in the coming months. Our own stew ponds are starved of water and I am not able to feed the fish hard to pack on weight in these growing months. Fish are on half rations and the inlet pipe that is twelve inches in diameter would normally be submerged at this time of year; currently we have half a pipe full pushing through the ponds and the river is only going to get lower.

We won’t dry up......I think. When the weed flourishes it will be possible to maintain a level, and early season fishing could be quite spectacular, we have high hopes for the Hawthorn, crystal clear water and a river full of fish, but by August the river’s source will be considerably closer to this parish than it has been for a very long while and we may have to move fish from our stew ponds if we are unable to get any more water through them, particularly when the water warms up.
I have given up on the tinning, there is insufficient flow to have any significant effect and have turned to titivating and tarting up in preparation for the new season. The Fishing hut has had a new coat of preservative as have fences gates and a bridge in the house garden. We have several Mallard sitting on eggs, tadpoles in the pond and the Coarse fish are very active, particularly in the afternoon. We are still inundated with Geese, and a Kestrel is slowly building a nest in a large beech tree near the bottom bends. I have been patiently scanning our back field for some weeks now to photograph hares at the frolic as they have out there most years, but have seen none. Only stunning Cock Pheasants in a crop that I have not come across, it may be some kind of Vetch or a “save the world” Biomass crop, the pigeons loved it early on as did the Pheasants but it doesn’t seem to float Hartley Hare’s boat

On the Itchen the leaky transformer continues to drip, not into the aquifer, but a cutting edge bucket; Lesley continues her quest for justice and has the electricity people firmly by the short and curlies.

Today the local school paid us a visit. Many wouldn’t, deterred by the Health & Safety and Risk assessment involved with walking ten year olds alongside a channel of water. They have visited every other year for quite some while now as part of their river studies and each time, in the words of Brian Hanrahan, “I counted them all out and I counted them all back” It’s all about erosion, deposition and ox bow lakes and every year eddies are a bit of a let down when it becomes clear that they are not the raging whirlpools that they were sold in the classroom. Chalkstreams don’t always to stick to the rules. We have bends where deposition occurs on the outside rather than the inside and the same with erosion which can take some explaining to a persistent ten year old, and inevitably turns to tales of overwidening caused by the devil’s own tree.

Midway through a satisfactory retail experience at our local countryside supplies emporium I bumped into a retired keeper who was employed on a stretch of the upper main river. After several years he had returned to the stretch and was dismayed at the condition of the river following a lengthy period of not being keepered and concerned that the new owners did not realise that a chalkstream must be managed, thoughts echoed by parents and pupils on the school trip who were unaware that the rich environment in which they were walking has been heavily influenced by man and his hand over many hundreds of years and is what it is because of that.

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