Saturday 25 February 2012

A warm week, it can't last

A warm wettish week and most things around here are carrying on as if spring has sprung. The pond in our garden is a love filled puddle brim full of lust as any female frog who decides to take a dip is immediately mobbed by half a dozen potential paramours; one corner is already filled with large globs of spawn. On the river the Ducks have turned up, after wintering elsewhere. All paired up, they are mostly Mallard but a few Gadwall are trying out the pond. The valley has also filled up with Geese. About fifty Greylag fly over each day and a few Canadas are on the top water meadow. Lots of honking that a few years ago distracted our own domestic geese. The goose did a bunk one night, down to the Common, much to the Gander’s disgust, where she stayed for a fortnight, living it up fast and loose with a bunch of Greylags. She came back, but the current daily fly-past may bring out the Shirley Valentine in her once more. For a few years we had a small number of “lesser white fronts” visit, descendants from a brace held in a collection of Wildfowl in a pen that was here until fifteen years ago. It held a few different types of Tree Duck, Crested Pochard,

Carolina, Mandarin, Pintail, Shoveller, some funny little Teal with flashes of pale blue, and a few types of Goose. There were a gaggle of Lesser white fronts that got out and hung around for a while, and we would often see them while duck flighting, along with a Tree duck that unfortunately ended up in the bag one night. The collection of ducks dwindled in time, and the Duck pen was converted into stew ponds.

Every afternoon this week we have been surrounded by Siskins. Hundreds fill the Field Maple and two cherry trees in our garden and the next, flitting from tree to tree making a hell of a din. They turn up most years but this year there seem to be ten times as many.

Assault by Chainsaw continues along with the tinning which is becoming increasingly pedestrian as the water drops still further. The Brown Trout have enjoyed the trickle of Olives that have hatched in the early after noon although the Grayling look to be going off the feed with some very dark bodied and dark minded fish. The Pike are the same, with one big female (for this river) and a couple of males fatally drawn by hormonal urge to a favourite fishing spot below a spring hole.

As is always the case a few weeks after the close of play, our wood is full of Pheasants, clever ones, who “Cock up” carefully and quietly every night. There are also a plenty of Partridge about, still in coveys, and still flying beautifully. On a trip this week to fill feeders in our top piece of cover, more than thirty Frenchmen flew down the flattened maize to rise over a hedge and fan out over stands where once our guns stood.

On the Itchen, I have made a start on the “covered seat” at the bottom of the beat. The siting of seats for the upstream dryfly fisherman is a little like the positioning of his lordship's chair in the front room. A clear line of sight of what is to be viewed is paramount, along with a little warmth from one side and enough room on the other for drink and nourishment. Out of season, a comfy chair before the TV with fire to one side and tumbler to the other, in season, a comfortable seat with a clear view of the river and fish, the sun from side or back, but not in the face, and enough room for rod, sandwiches and Pop to be perched. This “seat with a lid” is in the shade of an Alder and doesn’t get the sun until late afternoon, facing upstream, the angler can sit and see fifty yards of water.

Otis and I made a start on its construction at the weekend, although he lost interest after a few hours and opted to bugger about, which is probably what most should be up to on Saturday afternoon so we made an executive decision and opted for beer and and a fantastic game of rugby between England and Wales.

In town, the Government met up and discussed a possible drought........................which was nice, but long overdue.

Water is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity in the South of England where more and more people are required to live. Perhaps the weight of the high density population in the South will cause Brittania to tip a tad and water will naturally flow from North to South, in which case "Debbie, lets do some doughnuts!" but I doubt that will be enough.

A long term strategy for water supply to the South of England is desperately needed, although if it starts raining next week it will fast become yesterday’s news.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Take it as read that we are short of water

Take it as read that we have no water, no sign of significant rain and we are heading for our third consecutive dry winter. There are continued murmurings in the national press about the return of drought conditions in the South and East and soon the flora and some fauna will be waking up and looking to quench their thirst. The buds on the willows that I am currently felling are quite swollen and ducks have paired up and the Drake’s minds moving to water borne rape and pillage.

I am still attacking the trees at the bottom of our stretch, there are some substantial Alders that I have left but if they fall will rip up the island on our bottom boundary. There are some nice fish in this bottom stretch and it can fish well, but it is very close to some overhead electric cables that would render an angler’s misplaced cast his last so we leave a protective barrier of unfishable water.

It has also been dry enough to burn off a few reed beds, a little wind has helped moved things along and the new growth in the spring will be much thicker but at the moment they all look a little black. A few Muntjac shot out of one reed bed including what looked like the runty beast that we saw on our final day shooting. The Pigeons are hammering what is left of the Maize and there is some shooting to be had at the top of one of our strips of Maize that borders the main road. I also flushed a Red Kite from the lane that rose slowly from the road with a flat hen Pheasant in its talons, up close and personal they are a very big bird!

The tinning is proving slow going in the low river flow and I am currently moving the sheets of tin every three or four days. The idea is to move the river flow into areas that it wouldn’t normally reach in order to move silt and clean gravel. Not so aggressive as to cause erosion but enough to tickle up the stones, I start at the top and work my way down. In times of high flow it is done in a flash and it is possible to do most of the river In low flows some of the silt in the deeper slower reaches proves immoveable. On the shallows it is also possible to face upstream and rest the sheet of tin on your toes and shuffle backwards downstream, the speeded up draught of water under the tin lightly cleans and loosens the surface gravel aiding weed growth and loosening spawning gravel with a far gentler action than the jet washers that some choose to use.

Over on the Itchen the familiar tale of low water continues. I am currently building a small fishing shelter at the bottom of the beat. Here on the Dever I can reach most bits of bank with my truck or tractor, the logistics on the stretch of the Itchen that I am working on are a little more complicated. With no vehicular access and the only way in at the top of the beat all tools and timber have been punted down the stream to the site of construction with an insurance policy for maritime cargo taken out should things get choppy on the way. When I arrived early in the morning to set sail there was an Otter fishing the top pool, the first I have seen for a while because they have been absent from our stretch of the Dever for some weeks now.

Much of this week has been spent at the vet. Firstly the world’s worst and wobbliest Spaniel had a stroke and for 48 hours was on one leg. Some magic pills have got him back to normal although the Vet’s warning that he may have suffered some mental deterioration fell on deaf ears as that already occurred many years ago. Secondly my employer’s Greyhound suffered a stress fracture of the leg while careering around an icy garden. Employer was away in New York so said Greyhound had to be carted to a vet then on to an Orthopaedic surgeon on the other side of Salisbury Plain for treatment. The surgeon is a bit of a whizz with hounds and has already got the dog up and about bouncing around the garden.

The Gates of Hell and those jolly Burghers of Calais

Still no water, but a freezing week with a bit of snow. The lady who sleeps on my left has taken the view that I have become as obsessed with lack of water as a Legionnaire in the North African desert and so with half term upon us we departed for a few days “en France” a quick drive to Lille to hitch a ride on a 200mph TGV which leant into the bends with the spirit of Barry Sheene. If at all possible I avoid the train in these parts, bar our annual trip to the Test match when parking is at a premium. Car or a plane is invariably quicker, three years ago I was kindly invited to fish for three days on the Tay at Murthly, Mdme needed the car so I rose early to feed fish and walk dogs before Catching a £50 flight at 7.30am from Southampton to Edinburgh where I was picked up and plonked on the bank by late morning and had banked a 7lb grilse by lunch time. The equivalent train would have cost three figures and by lunchtime I would only just have crossed the border.

Anyway, for a £25 return ticket from Lille, the TGV delivered us to the heart of Paris where we spent several hours circumnavigating the metro in search of our hotel, which was located five minutes walk from the Eifel tower. Over engineered in the grand manner of the time, it looks solid enough, but not enough to tempt us from terra firma. Stuck on the banks of the Seine, which harboured a handful of Cormorants fishing in the low clear water ( sorry low water thing again ) it was initially construed as a temporary structure, I am not sure if tenders are still out for its deconstruction but I for one would not know where to start although a thorough dousing in WD40 would be a good starting point for bolts and rivets that have been out in the open air for over a hundred years.

The Arc de Triomphe impressed, not for its intended trumpeting triumphalism, but for the view of Paris and the Parisians driving around its base. The vast expanses and lawless traffic of Place de Concorde were negotiated to gain access to The Louvre which was impressive, but shut. Back to the river (which was still low, void of swans and weed but still fished by Cormorants) where lunch on the hoof was taken in the company of a dishevelled lady and daughter who tried to pass off a polished Brass Olive off as a 22 carat gold ring: ours for 10 euro. She did however remind me that the day was dedicated to St Valenitine, so I whisked Mdme (the lady who sleeps on my left, not the Brass Olive seller) off to the nearby Rodin museum to take in “The Kiss” which was unfortunately closed for polishing, so it was “The Gates of hell” and the jolly “Burghers of Calais”

which didn’t lift the mood. “The Thinker” was impressive with very big feet and Mr Rodin’s collection of etching’s of his many female muses confused matters further. How he got away with “Madam if you remove all of your clothes and place one leg behind your ear while I sit here with my pencil and pad, it will undoubtedly help me in my work on “Ugolino and his brood” I don’t know, but he did, about a thousand times judging by his sketch book!

Notre Dame was spectacular, particularly the windows, the organ and the organist who managed to text at times throughout his recital. The Pompidou centre was keenly anticipated. A half hour queue initially led to a load of old tosh including videos that would have failed a media studies “A” level and a five minute film of a nubile nymph writhing naked in green oil that held a school party rapt, and then suddenly we were in a room surrounded by nine Picassos, a bonkers Salvador Dali that you couldn’t take your eyes off and at the end a triptych by Francis Bacon. In books I have found some of his work terrifying, but this wall filling work was both funny and sad; with a melancholic Bacon sandwiched between his lover on the loo to his left and his friend Lucian Freud disconnected away on the right looking on, well that’s how I saw it.

On our way back to the hotel we came across what, from the top of the arch, we had initially put down as a Grand Mosque but turned out to be Les Invalides a former hospital for old broken soldiers but now home to what remains of Napoleon Bonaparte and several other French heroes of war including Vauban, Foch and Canrobert.

Throughout our stay there was an obvious underclass who gathered in groups drinking special brew strength lager for much of the day, or leaned in, hooded and menacing, demanding money on the metro. We witnessed a dozen or more scrabbling over the contents of a wheelie bin outside a small grocer’s shop plus the lady and daughter pushing polished brass Olives on the banks of the Seine. Soldiers armed with machine guns walked the streets in groups of three and most trains on which we travelled had a Police presence; I have not felt as uneasy in a City since we went for a break in Madrid three days after the train bombings. It may be posturing by a President facing election keen to demonstrate that the streets are safe with him at the helm, or there may be a genuine threat. It left for an uneasy feeling at times and several of the Parisians to whom we spoke commented on problems not with Hugo’s Les Miserables but with invaders from the East. Some suggested solutions born from nationalistic ideals that would solve nothing and another lamented the loss of the Royal Family and cursing Madame Guillotine. It’s not something we have to deal with in the countryside.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Flouer O Scotland

We are currently in the grip of a high pressure system that has eased from the east over Russia and Scandinavia to do battle with a warm front from the west. An East v West battle that has produced a cold war of sorts. Snow has been dumped to the west of us and Dartmoor looks pretty in the papers. We currently lie some way behind the vanguard of the eastern invader, deep in the lines, and as a result no precipitation, just icy icy cold. For three days now the temperature has struggled to get above zero. The pond is covered in ice, anything avian is hammering the pheasant feeders, and the deer are searching the maize for the few remaining frozen cobs. The hares are in the wood because they can’t make a scrape in the field and the river remains low but beautifully clear.

Last Friday our local paper trumpeted the drought conditions on it's front page. It wasn't a slow week for news, There were tales of flashers in the park, Joe Smith's unusually shaped vegetable and a diamond wedding directly attributed to "a bit of give and take" yet there on the front page was the Head Honcho of the town angling club standing in the middle of a fast diminishing lake. Last weekend we travelled north on family business, abandoning the arid south for the verdant north. Once the black country had been conquered we encountered flooded field after flooded field, cocoa coloured rivers with busted banks, and tales of overflowing reservoirs and lakes. We brought a few bottles of the stuff back as an offering to the gods of our ailing stream but it doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect, perhaps plans for a national grid should be revisited. Last week we lost a game of cricket on a green field in a desert, and a journeyman golfer tamed a tiger over 18 holes of golf surrounded by miles of sand, a smattering of camels and the occasional Bedouin. The logistics of supplying water to turn either of these sites from barren desert to international sporting venue would leave our own water mandarins scratching their heads.
We perch on an island, so opportunities to desalinate sea water are there, or use the canal system (national grid?) to move water to the over populated south? The increased flow may cause the southbound narrow boats to push on a bit and the northbound may struggle to gain ground, but the canals would have to be maintained, jobs would be created and an aquatic environment preserved.
Water is a valuable commodity and if I were the King of Scotland I would bring forward the referendum on independence from 2014 to next week. Explain to subjects that after oil, the Scot's next most valuable asset is water. A hose is to be connected to the lochs and burns and, in times of plenty, water sent south through a large meter somewhere around Stirling and the recipient billed accordingly. Incessant rain will replenish stock, a new nation will be born and new “water inspired” lines will be added to “Flouer O Scotland”
I’d better stop; it was the sight of all that water lying on fields that set me off blabbering like a man in the desert falling on an oasis.
Our final shoot of the year yielded a few birds. Woodcock again, half a dozen Partridge, a few Duck, a dozen Pheasants, one Jay and one Rook. Despite the cold weather we saw few oddities; the Snipe have gone and now no Widgeon. We did however see a miniscule Muntjac about the size of a small Hare. Whisper it quietly, but on a day when we were decidedly short of dogs Otis played a blinder and picked up over half the bag!
On the river, assault by chainsaw continues, and I am currently decimating scrappy timber on the bottom shallows. Some has gone the wrong way and bounced off power lines causing sparks. A phone call instigated a quick response and a visit in high viz by the relevant authorities who dealt admirably with the errant electricity.

One chap had been this way before, a few years ago at 9.00am on a Sunday morning. Child B, who dabbles in cricket, had been out in the rain in the garden on his “ball on a string” hung from the cherry tree. An enthusiastic pull shot had detached the ball and string from the cherry tree sending the ball up over the house onto some overhead power lines leaving the wet rope dangling down around the metal flue from our wood burner, which started to get hot despite it being early June. A phone call was made and for half an hour we all stood outside and waited for two very visual chaps in their 4x4 cherry picker to turn up and retrieve the ball.