Monday, December 2, 2013

Time, Motion and the Dingleberry

Twenty odd years of time and motion study on how to minimise the number of times I pick up a piece of wood between it falling in the wood and passing through the doors of my wood burner have reached fruition. A study necessitated by a brace of hernias has revealed that stacking last winter’s willow (that is cropped on a rotational basis) on the non fishing bank in manageable lengths to dry through the summer, before flinging it in the river pre Christmas and dashing two hundred yards downstream to some shallows where it is plucked from the drink and chucked in the back of the truck before heading back to base and the saw bench and preparations for its day in the spotlight/wood burner. It’s ain't the best wood for burning, but piled high and a year in the sun puts some heat into the room, but the process of getting it from A to B has revolutionised my loins that are subsequently in mid season form.

Still on chain sawing, cracked Aspen were felled in almost the intended place. One had to go in the river to avoid taking out a bridge or getting lodged up against a neighbouring ash, the top of the other one tickled up a post and rail fence but no damage was caused, both were hollow from the base up to a height of twelve feet and were well on the way out. Around fifty years old, only one remains where five stood only a few years ago and it isn't showing signs of great health and may have to come down sometime soon. A new chain was purchased for the job which always speeds things along and all the wood is stacked for next winter. A nearby stump plays host to several substantial bracket fungus, the ones that look like a toilet pan from below, and I have left eighteen inches of the Aspen stumps proud of the ground to encourage more. A walk through the woods revealed a substantial beech had given up the ghost and is the next target for the shock and awe of my big orange saw.

The Fen that we fire annually along with the spear bed around the pond continue to provide superb cover for all a manner of wildlife, plenty of Pheasant, and what look like some probings by snipe in some mushy spots along the periphery. Trout continue to spawn, and egret continue to stab away, there is only one heron about but four Little Egret climbed up off the middle shallows one afternoon last week; bright white against the blue sky like seagulls pushed off a bag of chips at the seaside. Further carnage was caused in the stew ponds when the first sharp frost deposited a blanket of leaves across the electric fence rendering it ineffective, in no time (I check the fence daily) the otters were in and twenty half eaten fish were dead on the bank in the morning. The very same day I was contacted by a photographer who had been snapping away at the cute little critters downstream from here, fantastic images and far better than the blurred guff that gets put up on here, but boy did those otters look full up. It was only twenty 4lb Rainbows that were probably destined for the smoker but with each fish worth a tenner it was a fairly “high end” meal for two/three that they enjoyed, and they didn’t finish any of it. Otters are fast becoming the “elephant in the room” where the aquatic environment is concerned.

On these beats grayling fishing is in hiatus as the bulk of the Brown Trout go about their business on the redds, at which point I would like to issue a reminder that this stretch of river has been stocked with diploid Brown Trout for over thirty years. The most recent survey of its middle reaches classified over half of the Brown Trout as “wild”...... whatever that is. From 2015 we will be required to stock with sterile triploid fish, a pointless exercise on this stretch of river, and one that I predict will be scuppered by the EU sometime in the next ten years, bringing about a ban on stocking Brown Trout that certain quarters have pushed for and others have predicted since the turn of the century. A substantial stretch of the middle river has been stocked soley with triploids for quite a few years now, if survey results on that stretch of river demonstrated a substantial increase in spawning Brown Trout it would be broadcast from the roof tops.

Returning to the grayling fishing the final rod to cast a line, an innovator at the fly tying vice, produced a pattern based on something he had found online that was banging out fish on some creek across the pond. Provisionally titled the “dingleberry” it was fished on the surface with half a skimpily dressed fly on a hook with the bend and barb removed, attached by what many coarse fishers would call a hair rig. If you have a dog and it has spent the day eating too much grass you will know the look, as you will if you have a camper van that drags a smart car behind. It seemed to represent something on the surface as it fooled a couple of grayling.

Woodcock are in the woods and a few snipe spring from the banks of ditches when flushed by Otis’s bumbling. He is still off his legs, and despite fifty days of posh pink pills his sore feet remain. He looks a million dollars with a shiny coat and sunny disposition, but five minutes on hard ground and he is limping on three legs. The pink pills have stopped and next week he goes under the knife to run some tests on the peculiar lumps that keep cropping up between his toes.

Europe’s premium washer and packer of bagged salad and leading grower of watercress, who last year sent oodles of diesel down the neighbouring Bourne, for which they received a derisory fine, held their annual meeting on what to do about saving the chalkstreams. Several attended and the oodles of publicity that graced both national and local press pointed the finger of the chalkstream’s travails and increased levels of phosphates at those using dishwasher tablets that drained into a septic tank and soakaway . There were some big names in the house and call me a cynic but there didn’t seem to be mention made in the minutes of any discussion on the contribution to the phosphate loads of the river caused by the production of watercress. Maybe the biscuits are good.

The report earlier this year by a company of international repute following a two year survey of the Test and Itchen river systems, is now unavailable. Its publication online in March drew howls from some quarters at inaccuracy and error. It is now being rewritten by those who commissioned it, the company were paid close to six figures. After some quarters have spent much of the past decade discrediting those who have been in long term employment on the chalkstreams it wouldn’t be too difficult to chuck together a thousand words discrediting those currently making policy in theses valleys. But I don’t think that would contribute much to the argument, another time perhaps

In the next few years the chalkstreams face an increased threat from further groundwater abstraction as the potential for shale gas exploration is explored. The recent publication of the HS2 report stated that water supply from an already depleted groundwater reserve in the Chilterns would be impacted upon, potentially well into the 2060’s an environmental impact that must be tolerated in order to forge closer links between the north and south. Environmental impact does not seem to overly concern our current governors, if push comes to shove the trashing of a chalkstream will be a price worth paying if it aids the economy. For the Dever, Anton and Bourne in the Test Valley, read the Chess, Misbourne and Beane in the Chilterns.

It may be time for the plethora of interested parties who claim interest in the chalkstreams to face up to the real threat facing these rivers and stop worrying about length of grass, genetic purity or the "Godhead" Victor Vole and focus on the the threat of increased abstraction, else the next generation of policy makers may not have much of a river left on which to issue their lofty edicts.

If you are a fishermen or have an interest in the Aquatic Environment, get on and join The Angling Trust, they are a beacon of light that has emerged from the maelstrom of confusion and obfuscation during past twelve months and are doing great things.

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