Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Refreshing Change in Tone

Well the Cettis warblers have turned up, a small bird with a big voice they are the ornithological equivalent of Katherine Jenkins. Walking up the river one morning, both Otis and I were roused from our early morning fug by a bird issuing its call to partners within six feet of our ears with a decibel count that could be close to a car alarm.

Recent weeks have seen a reduction in the amount of chain sawing, the carnage in the wood will wait until autumn as final preparations must be made for the impending arrival of the Trout anglers. Our regulars arrived for lunch a few weeks ago, tide marks on trees betrayed the highest winter water level which occurred around Valentine’s Day, and several expressed surprise at the river’s current level having retreated well within its banks. Last week I trundled around with the tractor and mower, last year at the same time of year I did the same and repeatedly got the tractor stuck and had to resort to a winch and the full gamut of swear words to extract it from the mire. This year the banks have dried out to such an extent that I hardly made a skid mark. I have said it on several occasions in recent years but during periods when it is unsustained by rain this river seems to drop at a far quicker rate than it did ten years ago. Water quality remains a problem in this river during the spring months with a large amount of brown gunk present that lifts from the river bed in the sunshine, before breaking up in broken water to add a milky hue to what should be a gin clear river.

Weed has been cut here in April for the first time in a few years, particularly on the top shallows where the ranunculus grew clear of the water by the second week of April. It was the same during the last “once in a hundred years” conditions in 2001 when ranunculus flourished throughout the summer, unfortunately it failed the following summer in the kind of “Boom and bust” scenario that Gordon assured us he had abolished, I won’t mention the brainless sale of a nations’s gold at a giveaway price and a vindictive raid on personal pensions.

Sorry, mustn’t do politics,

back to the aquatic environment.

The meadows are greening up, willows have gone furry and day by day the canvas is coloured in as spring moves into the valley. Swallows turned up around the fourteenth of the month although I have yet to see any swifts. Birds busy themselves with nesting including two pairs of Kingfishers at the top and bottom of the millstream, and we have a nuthatch with an eye to home improvement that bangs away at the back wall of a bird box. As expected the Trout are in fairly fine form, toned and torpedo shaped after a winter battling the current, and the grayling, after a brief period of spawning, are once again finding their fins, with the exception of one seriously senior fish that popped its clogs and came to rest on the weed rack in front of the house, 45cm in length it is the size of fish I would expect to find in the Itchen and is the biggest grayling I have seen here for a very long time.

Kingcups are having the time of their life following a prolonged soaking and the inky black flowers of sedge are putting in an appearance in the fringe. On our bottom bends, during last summer’s low flows we allowed the marginal growth to grow out a third of the way across the river in order to pinch the channel and mantain flow. In November as the river rose, it was cut back with a scythe in an old fashioned process called edging in, The marginal growth has sailed its way through the winter floods, and if the river’s discharge disappears again this summer it will once again be allowed to grow out across the river.

Unfortunately this can make fishing for our paying punters a little difficult and as a result we have installed two short platforms in the marginal growth to aid casting and landing fish. Twenty years ago there was no marginal growth on these bottom bends, mainly due to grazing. The remains of a large willow that toppled nearly ten years ago along with a few faggots and extensive replanting have restored the marginal growth which is now managed and as we found out during the construction of the platforms, brim full of brook lampreys. The bridge that crumbled in the floods has now been replaced, and clearer water reveals loose gravel that has shifted significantly around the river bed during the winter months.

Upstream from here the water meadow has dried out and once again plays host to this season’s lambs. The grazing is patchy in parts with significant deposits of silt killing off grass but will be all the more fertile in springs to come. On the same piece of water, plans are afoot to tackle the stretch of river that left unmanaged for a significant number of years, restricted the river’s flow to such an extent that it caused the local Put and Take Trout Fishery to flood releasing many large Rainbow Trout into the river, one with a penchant for free jazz is featured on here somewhere, but there is a report of a twelve pound fish being hoiked out in March by a Pike angler a quarter of a mile downstream from here.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a group in Romsey, who as part of The Romsey Festival are aiming to raise awareness of the chalkstream environment through a series of workshops and a piece of environmental artwork by Trudi Lloyd Williams in the town’s municipal park. Last week I met up with Trudi and group co- ordiantaor Mavis, in Romsey to answer a few questions about all things chalkstream, but not art, The lady who sleeps on my left may have skills with pencils and pens and a shed full of stuff to implement her talents, but I am missing the drawing and painting gene, as was frequently pointed out by my secondary school art teacher Mr Jones. Arriving at the town's memorial park behind the Abbey, it took me a moment to get over the colour of the river water, but was soon distracted by clouds of grannom on both the carrier streams that pass through the park. Contact was made at the bandstand, Mavis demonstrating particular magnanimity to a chalkstream environment that had driven her from her home sometime around Christmas,

She had yet to return to her home.

The idea is to raise awareness of this special river that runs through the town and demonstrate how the way that people lead their lives in and around the town can impact upon it. There is a fine line to be drawn between informing and preaching, but anything that aims to make people more “water wise” gets my vote, just don’t ask me to draw a fish.

If you are in Romsey during the festival get on down to the Memorial Park and show your support.

This week I took the first step of twelve on the road to recovery from a surfeit of shenanigans in the chalkstream environment. My exasperation may have become apparent over the past two years, and on occasion even bubbled over into despair. It seems trite to compare this process to a recovery from addiction, but forgive me if I suggest that this winter saw rock bottom reached and a corner turned. Twice in the past fortnight we have been visited by significant “others” from the complicated cabal charged with restoring the chalkstream environment and attaining the standard required by EU Habitat directive.

In a refreshing shift in position, the supercilious tone that emanated on occasion from other quarters of the cabal seems somewhat diminished and successive afternoons of sensible discussion on chalkstream management were a welcome surprise.

River Restoration Strategies are a good thing, but this river was let down to the tune of nearly six figures, by a two year report that cannot be relied upon to recommend a course of action for significant stretches of this river. A strong report would have provided the strategy team with a substantial tool with which to persuade riparian owners and keepers of particular restorative courses of action.

On a personal note I was particularly upset by the reports findings as for the two stretches of river that I look after it intimated that I had not been doing my job properly. On the second of recent visits the conclusion was reached that the report's findings were wrong, all is well on this stretch of river and we had in fact been doing some good things.

Not that any endorsement was needed, press on regardless was tattooed across this arse at a young age.

River Restoration isn’t all about Victor Vole, Dickie the Damsel Fly or preserving genetic purity, it’s about the whole kit caboodle. Man is a part of the chalkstream environment and has been for thousands of years, he has an important role to play in it, so long as he takes care to do so in a sympathetic way.

Thanks for coming out, and the refreshing change in mindset and tone is most welcome and encouraging, but lets just take it one step at a time.

On a lighter note, I was contacted by somebody who enquired as to why Trout liked Olives, and did it matter if they were soaked in oil, brine or stuffed with a Jalapeno. Images of green and black olives bobbing downstream sprung to mind and I will now take a closer eye as to what the anglers are using on the end of their line when they record their catch as falling to an olive.


anincorrigible said...

Always a good read, and great to hear of potential big steps

Test Valley River Keeper said...

Thanks for your kind words and for reading the rubbish that I write,

fingers crossed for the future

colin solman said...

River keeper - If my ageing brain is still working at it should, you are one and the same as article writer in a well know weekly Outdoor activity mag which I also read. Love the blog, have been reading for a couple of years. Keep up the Good Fight.

Test Valley River Keeper said...

Thanks for your kind comments.

Yes I do write regulalry for an outdoor pursuits magazine.

Not "Nuts and Naturism" a monthly guide to foraging the hedgerows and wodds of England in the buff,

but The Shooting Times magazine