Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Angel of the North


Oedipus has gone, along with his miserable mother who this year declined to sojourn for a fast and loose fortnight with Greylags on the common, an outing that definitely lifted her mood last summer. She stuck around on this river to batter seven bells out of any ducks that dared to enter her space, the jolly Indian runners in the orchard came in for some particularly rough treatment which proved to be the last straw so Oedipus and Jocasta were bundled into the back of the jeep and transported to a neighbouring farm where they now wallow in their own misery with half a dozen other white geese. White geese box ticked, move on, sleep easy Indian runners you’re far more entertaining and your eggs ain’t bad either!


Talk has once again returned to water. We have plenty and in some quarters talk centres around an over-reaction earlier in the year when drought conditions were declared in these parts. In March we were undoubtedly in trouble, with average rainfall for spring and early summer I half expected to be moving fish from our stew ponds to goodness knows where. Successive dry winters had left this river on its knees, if anything drought orders should have been put in place months before they were. Many up and down this valley stated that we needed a winters worth of rain in the space of a few months to restore the chalkstreams and their aquifers to anything

like their normal level for the time of the year. Thankfully it has happened, three months of record rainfall and what had been termed “one in two hundred years” climatic conditions have restored the rivers in these parts to their seasonal average level, but no more, the cricketing equivalent of a number eleven hitting a hundred to draw a match, but not a win. A brief tour of the valley on a wet Saturday morning revealed the Upper Dever about where it should be at Western Colley,

in March it had all but dried up. A stretch of the upper Test above Overton that we used to stock in good order and the Bourne at St Marybourne flowing through the village but dry at Stoke, which is what one would expect for a normal mid summer.


Many rivers around the country have flooded and reservoirs are full which all give the visual lie that all is well where water supplies are concerned, for those who receive their water from such sources things may be ok but for those who take their water from the ground 70% in the South, 35% in England and Wales, things are not quite so rosy. It takes longer to fill up an aquifer than it does a reservoir and it takes even longer in the summer than it does the winter. The aquifers around here have undoubtedly risen but only to the extent that the drought order has only this week been withdrawn, the spring ditches that supply this river remain rather short. The issues raised in March over a need to become more “water wise” remain. The water butt may be full and puddles may cover the drive but there is still a need for a change in mindset and for us all to use our water as efficiently as possible, particularly in the South where it is fast becoming an ever more valuable resource.
Three miles from here 1200 homes are under construction as a neighbouring town inexorably sprawls our way. Their water supply will come from the ground, undergo treatment and be flushed back down the river system to the sea where we will rely on the water cycle to dump it back in the valley. Unfortunately Poseidon and his squalls have sent the South’s share of the black clouds scurrying elsewhere and someone else has been getting our rain, Wales most probably for the past two and a half years.
If these houses had been up and running five years ago and water pulled from the ground this river would have been in even worse shape during this March just gone. If water is to be taken from the ground why not put it back at or near to the point it was taken from? Each house has its own metered borehole and a septic tank and French drain in the garden. The tank collects the solids that can be removed and the grey water soaks away under the back lawn down into the aquifer. There would have to be a reduction in the number of houses per hectare because soakaways need space. Otis couldn't turn round without rubbing his backside on the fence of some of the houses already completed so there would have to be some trade off in plot size, but no main pipes to leak, each household is charged for what they use and is aware of where their water is coming from and the impact they have upon its supply, a good supply of organic compost and a nice green lawn to boot.

Several would suggest that I occupy a rung on Mdme evolutions’s ladder somewhere around plant life. Well if I must return to this life as a blade of grass I would hope that it is in times such as these. The grass around here whether on the river bank, back garden or cricket pitch has never had so much fun. Mowing and strimming has currently taken on Forth bridge proportions, and just when I think the job is jobbed the bit where I first started has grown a couple of inches; sit down on a bench to “take it all in” and you can see the bloody stuff grow. The wheat and barley in the fields behind our house are also decidedly tall and grains swollen to a large size that would suggest a bountiful harvest provided the slugs don’t do for it first, it doesn’t rot in the field and it stops raining long enough to get the combine through it.


With a top up of water the river is in sparkling form. Just about broaching the banks fish feed on Olives and Sedge from late morning on. Many rods have been rained off so it remains relatively lightly fished and we now have enough water to run the mill stream for the first time in a few seasons. Mowing the meadows is proving tricky with parts matching a venerable keeper’s classification of a water meadow in good nick “ do not venture forth even in a four by four” Two days of dry weather and I should be ok in the tractor.

Two clowns looked to take advantage of an exciting mens final at Wimbledon by sitting in the bushes surrounding the mill pool float fishing bread and maggots on a fly rod to the Brown Trout below. The roof closure on centre court didn’t do much for "Auld Andy’s" cause or the two clowns in the bushes as I took the opportunity to walk the dogs, Otis flushed them from cover before eating half their bait, the wobbly spaniel chased the muppets and their maggots with 3 AAA Wagglers on fly rods down the road.

We have also had a visit from the local Art society, not quite the bohemian set of Blommsbury or Chelsea, car parking was inspired by Picasso, before cagoules were donned to erect easels in the garden and its surrounds. Pencils were sharpened, a muse sought and then the heavens opened sending artists scurrying back to their cars. By way of a thank you they left behind an installation.

Similar in concept to Anthony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” it is highly visible, modern in design and stands next to the road. Like Gormleys other works it has been replicated several times countrywide. The work requires a title, the favourite so far:
“Another place.........for parking”

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