Monday 23 February 2009

Week 59

Week 59

Little rain this week, and much warmer. The river has cleared a little each day while maintaining a good level. Driving children to various parts of the County for various football, cricket or social events it is clear that many of the spring fed streams that dry up through the summer are currently running very well. It is incredible how these streams whose beds are grassed over through the summer can, within a few weeks, turn into a stream alive with aquatic flora and fauna. It is this groundwater and spring flow that makes the Chalk streams so special, gin clear water full of food that supports big fat Trout! The warmer weather has instigated a hatch of fly around midday, The Grayling taking fly from the surface for a final feed before preparing to spawn.

The trout and fish in general have come in for a bit of a hammering this week. An Otter persists with its attempts to get at the fish in the stew ponds, a half tame Egret stabs away in the streams through the garden, while a pair of Heron do the same on the river. Six Cormorants circled the flight pond preparing to pitch in and feast on the Roach and Rudd, while half term guests at the neighbouring holiday cottage tempt the Trout with Kingsmill and Hovis.

We are inundated with pigeons; there are several hundred acres of Rape on one side of the valley that is proving a pigeon magnet. The estate have put a gas gun up there this week that keeps them on the move, numbers of them dropping onto our rolled maize for a snack. Last weekend my employer’s son shot over fifty in a couple of hours in a morning, keepers on the downstream estate filling their boots at the same time.

The tinning in the river is progressing well. I have also started work on some of the Willows on the non-fishing bank that have become a little too intrusive. Some of them needed doing last winter but I was unable to get at them because of the weeks spent cutting up trees that had fallen over in the wind. Some of the Willows while a challenging cast for the angler have started to limit the amount of light getting onto the water and subsequently the weed. More light, more weed, more food. The fringe also suffers when a Tree leans over a little too far; with thinner marginal growth the shaded stretch of bank is open to erosion. It will take a few weeks to get it all done and no doubt a favourite spot of some angler will be irrevocably changed, but the work should pay dividends in seasons to come.

Some areas of bank that come in for heavy use such as at the end of bridges and around the fishing hut are also in need of some care and attention. I have ordered several tonnes of chalk for this purpose. The last time I had some chalk delivered the driver inadvertently tipped it on the end of the much-vaunted Iron age defence ditch. The English Heritage Spy Satellite picking the misdemeanour up within days instigating some frenzied shovelling on my part.

Week 58

Week 58

Snow melt and heavy rain brought the river bank high for the first time this year, which is just what it needs at this time of the year. The terminal hatch on the millstream having to be cranked open a few notches to release the excess water. The hatch is cast Iron and nearly two hundred years old. In my time here I have come close on only one occasion to having it fully open for several weeks to release spare water. This was during the heavy flooding around seven or eight winters ago. The fishing hut was surrounded by water, the island at the bottom of the garden submerged, as were two of the wooden bridges. The Mill house, with walls built directly onto gravel was never in danger of flooding, the house sitting on a small raised plateaux, the water coming only half way up the lawn. A house built several hundred years ago directly onto a flood plain that doesn’t flood even under what is sexily termed a “one in a hundred years event” An incredible amount of thought had gone into the siting of the house and the calculations for the size of hatch needed to control the water level was spot on.

The tinning in the river is going well, the extra water making the job much easier and quicker. Green shoots of weed are showing, ranunculus in particular responds well to increased winter flows, and it appears that it will be necessary to cut weed in late April. The fry in the hatchery are feeding well, after last years success I have given up the automatic feeder and am hand feeding whenever I can. The fish are now around two centimetres long and take around twenty minutes to clean in the morning.

With the woodshed emptying fast, I have spent most of the week picking up and chopping up all of the wood from the tress that came down this time last year and had stacked by the river. It is not completely dry but will keep my employer’s house and my house going until middle of next winter.
The Iron Age defence ditch that we use as or main drive on a shooting day is to be clear felled, with only the ancient yew trees and a few large ash remaining. The decision has been taken by English Heritage who administer the site and the work will be undertaken in the summer. It will cause disruption to the shoot, although we will still have a strip of gamecover alongside the ditch. The plan is to make the site more accessible to the public and show that there is an Iron Age defence ditch in the village. A lot of wildlife inhabit and use the ditch and its environs. It remains to be seen what effect clear felling will have on them.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Week 57

Week 57

A week of snow, proper snow, and just what you would expect in early February. Schools closed for three days of the week, fifty plus kids chucking snow at each other on the recreation ground, abundant opportunities to sledge and slide and a hard time for the creatures of the parish. Our bird feeders in the garden are emptying at an incredible rate. The feeders in the wood are hammered by all and sundry, while the flattened Maize is a hive of activity. It is a hard time for flora and fauna but all will feel the benefit of “proper winter conditions in winter time” later in the year.

The highlight of the week? The midweek presentation by the leader of The National Trout and Grayling Strategy group at Sparsholt College. After getting lost in a college that I attended over twenty years ago and is now unrecognisable having tripled in size I eventually found my way to a free glass of wine and a sixty minute PowerPoint presentation, stating “The Facts” behind the proposed Brown Trout stocking policy. As well as a few humble keepers and riparian owners there was a sprinkling of Sparsholt students, and some particularly “Big Noises” from the Environment Agency and Institute of Fishery Management. The letter that I will be posting to various attendees follows:

Thank you for your kind invitation to attend the IFM meeting on the 4th February to hear Dr Shields explain the Scientific thinking on which future Brown Trout Stocking Policy is to be decided. PI recently attended a meeting of the Southern branch of the IFM where Dr Brian Shields was to explain “The Facts” behind the Trout & Grayling strategy. I attended with an open mind but am sorry to say that I remain unconvinced that it is the best way forward for the stretch of river that I am responsible for. The EA require full compliance by 2015 when all Brown Trout stocked must be triploid, or diploid raised under a “suitable” rearing scheme from a distinct indigenous stock, the second option having more merit than the first, although it was intimated that this was not to be encouraged.

During the presentation, a spokesman for the Wild Trout lobby stated that a twelve mile stretch of the middle Test had been stocked with triploids for some years, Inexplicably, no investigation into the impact of this stocking policy on fish populations in that stretch of river has been carried out.

I am not anti triploid and recognise that in some situations there is merit to them being used, but concerns remain about the public perception of a National Strategy that hangs its hat on the use of an engineered fish that has been banned in Germany on grounds of its GM status, and flies in the face of current thinking on animal production, where all things organic and natural are king.

Concerns were also raised that the Strategy had deflected from real issues of concern in the Test Valley, namely the decline in the Grayling population in the middle river, deterioration in water quality, rampant avian predation and a drop off in some habitat management practices.

Brief mention was made of a recent three-year study by The Game Conservancy on forty-eight sites on seven rivers that concluded:

“There was no statistically significant drop in abundance, biomass or growth of wild Brown Trout in upland and lowland rivers when stocking took place.”

“Stocking did not cause displacement of wild Brown Trout in upland and lowland rivers.”

Studies in America have produced similar results with wild populations of Rainbow Trout in Oregon alongside a prolonged history of stocking with hatchery reared Rainbows. As have studies by The Danish Institute for Fisheries research that found that genetic introgression by hatchery trout had occurred in only two of the five wild fish populations studied.

Scientific study backs up both sides of the debate, plus the bit in the middle, and around the edge. Proof positive that, what is the best strategy for one river and it’s population of fish, may not be the best strategy for another. Regional policies would far better serve the Brown Trout of these Isles, than the National Strategy that the EA is currently ramming home and hopes to have in place by 2015.

Several people at the presentation raised the question of how an under funded and overstretched EA hope to enforce this National Strategy, For compliance to be achieved by 2015 the EA needs the cooperation of people managing the fisheries to make the strategy work, everyone has to believe that it is the way forward and buy into the strategy. For the stretch of river that I am responsible for, much of the current strategy is akin to a crackpot expedition to hunt Yeti and Unicorn.

Show me the Yeti, and not just a few indistinct footprints in the snow and I may buy in. lease pass on my thanks to Dr Shields for braving the weather to give us an informative presentation.

Week 56

Week 56

Beaters shoot at the start of the week, good fun day although a few regulars unavoidably absent. Shooting of mixed quality. On the first drive I ran down the water meadow upstream of us in an attempt to put some Canada Geese over the guns. The Geese got up, flew out the side of the drive and settled on a nearby lake, a little further on down the meadow several Snipe flushed from a flash and skittered out the other side of the drive. A couple of dozen Mallard rose from the river zoomed into the stratosphere way too high for the guns and shortly afterwards a Woodcock doubled back away from the line. It would have made for a fantastic ten-minute walked up drive, along with the Pheasant and Partridge, six species in one short drive.
In the last drive of the day another flush of Ducks, a friend dropping one straight into next-door’s garden. A weekend/holiday let cottage, the factotum who lives in the garage???? was in the garden and a little stunned when a dead duck dropped from the heavens to his feet. I retrieved the stone dead Duck and apologised. Previous incumbents of the cottage, a friendly family with children the same age as my own and a lady who lived there for thirty years would not have batted an eyelid, but having already received a solicitor’s letter from the current owners over some perfectly legal weedcutting I anticipate a letter from a legal representative of the owners, or the Duck.
Otis improves with every day shooting, on this day? three retrieves, a pigeon from the pond, and a Pheasant and a Moorhen from the final few drives. The end bag wasn’t huge but varied, with Pheasant, Partridge, Pigeon, Mallard and Moorhen, a hugely happy day finished off with a Bacchanalian lunch around my employer’s dining table, capped by a brief visit from the local Constabulary who were no doubt summoned to investigate the suspicious death of a Duck.

The weather this week has been wet, the river is at a good level and getting a thorough flush through. The fish in the hatchery are feeding hard now, last season I hand fed the fish throughout the hatchery stage, as opposed to using an automatic clockwork feeder and was surprised at the results. Far less food was wasted and growth rates seemed to be greater. Currently I hand feed the one and a half centimetre fry four times during the day, and spend twenty minutes each morning cleaning the tank out with a siphon tube.

I have now rolled all of the maize in the gamecover, what Pheasants that remain are feeding on it along with a few hundred pigeons that hit it hard most mornings. The forecast for next week is for snow and a cold snap so the one and a half acre strip will become a magnet for many hungry species.
This week we have booked a spring fishing trip to the river Ebro in Spain, Carp and Catfish fishing on a huge river with huge fish, no guides or packages, just dropping in on the place to “have a go” The logistics of getting us all down there with all of our tackle will take a while to sort out but will hopefully be worth it. Some sacrifices may have to be made by the girls on the clothes front if all that we need for fishing is to be transported.