Tuesday 30 July 2013

The parable of The Simpsons, series 4, episode 12

Well the weather broke and we have experienced some incredibly intense showers with gutters struggling to cope and water running down the sides of the lane, but the river has hardly responded bar a generally fresher feel and a tinge of colour. This past week has seen two of the biggest fish of the year put on the bank, the first a fish of four pound, was taken on the surface in the middle of the afternoon with the mercury moving well past the thirty mark. The second a fish of six pound was taken on a Caddis nymph around lunch time, both fish had been in the river at least two years or more and were in superb condition, it’s surprising that they made their mistake in the middle of the day having got their eye in over a few seasons, the cricketing equivalent of slapping a full toss to midwicket when well into three figures.
The river is stuffed with minnows, the shallow streams through the garden the deep glides on the bends, the shallows in front of the hut all play host to thousands of the things. The Kingfishers nesting at the top of the river are filling their boots and the young are now fledged and feeding hard on a menu of minnows, although a pond full of silver fish fry provides an alternative meal.
The Millstream is now shut off with all water pushing down the main river to maintain a decent flow, heavily weeded in its lower stretches it sits like a pond but still plays host to fish and quite a few duck have taken advantage of its thick fringe that will now be left for the remainder of the season.
Over on the Itchen an Otter has been about, the signs are there in the fringe along with a few half eaten fish on the bank and tell tale spraints, there are also several broods of Pheasant who occasionally break cover from thick fen to scamper along the cut paths, particularly if I am approaching with my strimmer. Now that the Orchids have finished I am setting about topping the water meadows, a few weeks later than normal which means it is a steady old job.

Oh frack it!

Most of my mental energy is consumed by all things shale gas at the moment. Questions on the phone, emails offering text for perusal, even a call from TV for a quote. The Government (who I did vote for, so it’s my own fault) have gone into overdrive with the pro fracking message, the country will slip back into recession if we do not frack and everyone who signs up can have free lollipops and oodles of cash, have we forgotten the parable of the Simpsons, season four episode 12, and how long before some local government splurges the fracking bunce on a monorail?

Picture the scene:

A nuclear family of Mum, Dad and two point four children sit down for tea in the middle of the week, on two point four chairs to eat four point four pork chops, with vegetables various and some bisto gravy.

Dad: Sit still son, and stop wobbling the table

Child A: it’s not me Dad it’s my sister.

Child B: Not me, we did deportment at school today, I is still!

Dad: You may have done deportment but your grammar isn’t the best, I am still

Child B: Whatever,

Dad: It must be you 0.4, can you sit still please?

Child 0.4: I’m doing my best, but I’ve barely got two legs on this 0.4 of a chair so it’s going to wobble a bit

Mum: You silly beggars, it’ll be them frackers, now eat your chops, we’re going on the monorail later.

Anyone who protests is an ideological extremist, but the line peddled by oil companies and government is almost as extreme.

The answer, must lie somewhere on middle ground, Professional protestors in Prada bring nothing to the party, and neither does the government line that fracking is the panacea to all energy problems and let the lights shine forever. Shale gas may have helped turn the American economy around but they have a little more space and water than we do and the impact will not be felt as acutely as over here. There is a price to pay for the extraction of shale gas, an environmental trade off that few on high will acknowledge. Fracking on this crowded island is a far riskier operation, particularly with regard to precious groundwater supply and environmental impact, the seismic activity I could live with, anytime the earth moves at this stage of life is a welcome event.

Currently we are all being urged to “think of the money” and how posh our plasmas could be when we start pulling gas out from the shale but just over a year ago this corner of England was in a drought, there was not enough water to go around, and we were all warned that the situation was only likely to get worse in the decades to come,particularly in the south east so start using your water wisely.

Fracking is a thirsty business and water abstracted for fracking is, for those interested in the bottom line, the equivalent of living off your capital. It’s withdrawn from the ground, spent on fracking and that’s it gone; waste water that cannot be treated or returned from whence it came, so the rivers and all that live in them miss out. Just over a year ago this river was down to its bare bones (these photos were taken in April 2012) it was rescued by record summer rainfall, if that record rainfall had not fallen and Frackers were fracking freely in this valley pulling water from the ground, we would have been hosting a TV programme titled “Fish rescue”

I have written to my local MP expressing concern over the source of water plus a few others with interests in fishing. To date only one has replied. The others, all in government (that I voted for, I know, I know) have, a month or more later, yet to reply: But then why should they respond to the ravings of an addled crank worried about the river upon which he works?
Two years ago, water supply to the South East of England was a key issue; we were all encouraged to become more water wise. The extraction of shale gas is not water wise, if we are to waste water in this way, the H2O needs to be sourced from somewhere where it is abundant, and then a little thought given as to where it is disposed off, because where the aquatic environment is concerned it is not the most agreeable liquid.

Constant banging on about the possible economic benefits of fracking with a disregard to all else may be symptomatic of the times in which we live, but twenty years down the line, those in the south who took the fracker’s salt may be bemoaning the fact that the unit price of the water in their kettle surpasses the cost of warming the stuff up, and why does the river no longer run at the bottom of the garden?

How about a little transparency over who has a portfolio full of fracking shares?

Sunday 21 July 2013

David Gower to host Strictly

Well, where did the river go? I have a vague memory that a few years ago I expressed concern over the speed at which the river level fell following a reasonable winter of rain. It’s happening again, conditions may have been exceptional over the past fortnight with sticky heat and high temperatures, but while carrying out the July weedcut it is apparent that the river is hardly pushing through at all. There is still a taint to the water which is frustrating, although over on the Itchen the water has cleared for the first time this season.
Day time fishing has become particularly fruitless although one fish of four pound that had been skulking on a bend for a few years went silly in the sun and snatched at Klinkhammer at the hottest part of the day. Most activity occurs in the last hour of the day with fish abandoning the bottom of the river to slash at sedges. There are currently some very large grayling laying low on some of the bends, large for this river is two pound plus, and I am confident that several will be caught when we start sub surface fishing at the end of the month. There are also grayling fry on the shallows by the ford in the millstream which is a popular site for “the lady of the stream” to kick up her redd if a little hazardous in the traffic. Fewer shoals of roach are in evidence, although there are some large solitary fish well in excess of two pound, that are immaculate and unmarked. Hatches of fly in the past few weeks have been fairly good, Olives and BWO if not pour of the water, hatch regularly and the evening has seen some reasonable falls of spinners. There seem to be plenty of duck about, when the river is falling it pays not to be too tidy with the fringe and the marginal growth, allowing it to creep out into the river squeezes what flow remains and keeps the weed and gravel in reasonable order and reduces the settling of suspended solids, the ducks have enjoyed this extra cover, plus a Waterrail that flushed from cover on the middle bends when Otis’s made investigations as to the identity of the bird that his nose had betrayed. Away from the river, we have never had a year like it for butterflies and bees, reports in the press suggest that they are having a hard time of it of late, but that is certainly not the case around here. The water meadows that I would normally top in late June have been left a little longer because the orchids were late to put in an appearance, a few strides through the long grass shifts a plethora of butterflies while the bees buzz contentedly on the verdant fen that is now a riot of colour. I will have to top the meadows in a few weeks once the orchid seed has set, but the fringe will be in full flower by then and Loostrife, monkey flower and much more besides will provide an equal attraction.

Disaster occurred on the Kennet recently when organo phosphates leaked into the stream and did for most of the invertebrates in ten miles of the stream, the use of the particular organo phosphate is banned in many countries, an appalling incident occurred in India recently where school dinners were cooked in mustard oil contaminated with such chemicals wiping out an entire class. Anglers have been advised to wash their hands and not consume any of their catch, all that feed on aquatic invertebrates, mostly fish and birds, will go hungry for quite some while and the aquatic environment will be impacted upon. The pollution incident came to light, not through government agency testing, but through Invertebrate “kick sampling” by interested angling bodies on the river. A long, long time ago when I was a hungry student on the middle river, one of our regular stocking trips was to Frensham Fly Fishers on the River Wey. Always on a Saturday morning, many members would turn out to assist with the stocking, before taking us to the pub on the green for a ploughmans and pint (a welcome meal for a starving student) where I would earwig the headkeeper for who I worked, in discussion with Dr Cyril Bennet, Frensham Fly fishing club member who expressed concern over the decline of the Blue Winged Olive. Dr Bennet went on to develop a method of assessing aquatic invertebrate populations by means of a simple and inexpensive kick sample. A few minutes of shuffling around in the river with a fine net followed by a visual assessment of beasties caught and in what numbers. Dr Bennet and his team secured funding for equipment to be given to interested parties, encouragement was given by Governement Agencies and for many years Dr Bennet and his gang held workshops to demonstrate the technique and dish out free sampling equipment. I attended a refresher course with Dr Bennet a few years ago and briefly shared a petri dish with Jeremey Paxman which was a bit of a worry at the end when questions were called for.
The serious pollution incident on the Kennet came to light through the kick sampling developed by Dr Bennet and his team. Gammarus Pulex, the freshwater shrimp, are the first to cash in their chips should anything nasty enter the waterway, a typical kick sample on a chalkstream will turn over hundreds of the wee beasties, an angler who fished here a few days ago, carried out one of the kick samples that raised the alarm, his sample showed one groggy Gammarus. Once the alarm was raised Government agencies acted fast, and the publicity machine moved into action, with furrowed brows very much to the fore when “action” was called, but without Dr Bennet’s kick sampling, this “invisible pollution” event may have gone unnoticed. I don’t know the fella, I was just the lad on the trailer netting out the fish years ago, but Dr Bennet received a thoroughly deserved MBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours list.

left to the Blue Winged Olives, they’d have made him a Saint.

The Angling Trust, an independant body formed to take cohesive action on behalf of all forms of angling , achieved considerable success following pressure put on command centre central to address the burgeoning population of inland cormorants. Flying in the face of an IFM report that suggested that cormorants were ok, the Angling Trust have secured a catchment by catchment deal that will asses local populations of cormorants and issue predator licences accordingly, a sensible modification to the current beaurocatic licensing system. If you are not a member, get on and join. The Angling Trust are doing good things.

The future of lights and power is fracking, the message is writ large everyday by loons in power who have been sold the story of a friendly source of gas. Those who object are deemed idealogical weird beards and yurt dwellers. Myself, a seething mass of testosterone, who laughs in the face of tofu and granola, want to know where the water is coming from because it will impact on the river that I have looked after for lots of my life. I can take the seismic activity, at this age it may provide a welcome jump start, but am uneasy by the oily sales pitch from on high that promises hundreds of thousands of pounds to local communities who agree to frack. Today for the first time, concern was raised in the papers about the sourcing and disposal of water in the south east, I am too modest to say...

ok I’m not

here’s the link


you heard it here first, an unlikely alliance with the water companies, but if it helps preserve this river I’d do the spoons with Genghis Khan.

With Child B occasionally in residence, cricket still takes up a large part of our life, a recent Sunday friendly in the Bourne Valley featured an unjust early dismissal for yours truly resulting in a tour of a nearby lake, eutrophic and spewing its guts into the precious river below, which didn’t ease my mood. Above the outfall of the nutrient rich lake where hundreds of ducks and geese are fed daily by joe public, the river ran clear, below the outfall filamentous algae abound. It’s a no brainer, online lakes in the upper reaches of this river system need proper management plans to prevent their impacting on the river below.

Cricket again, Andrew Strauss is causing concern in this household, his summary during play is the equivalent of “Say what you see” Alan Shearer on Match of the Day, I have mushrooms in the fridge that could pass more pertinent comment, and recent ramblings by David Gower suggest that he has entered a delicious period of later life enlightenment. He may be the president of our cricket club, but I am not required to put a positive spin on all that he utters. Recently he has suggested that all raised in town be given countryside classes and vin rouge prescribed free on the NHS,

Hear, hear says I, (and not because he is El Presidente)

A louche Peter West?

what price David Gower the next host of Strictly Come Dancing albeit with the lights turned low and the show screened after eleven?

A plea:

This column is soon to start a petition to force supermarkets to introduce a dress code during hot weather, It is beyond belief what the cream of local town society deem suitable attire for the purchase of frozen peas on a hot saturday morning.

Please show the petition your support

Monday 1 July 2013

A mobility scooter ride to Eutrophia

For the purposes of maintaining an acceptable pressure of blood and all things anger management I have put off chucking this piece of rubbish together for forty eight hours, in the hope that the vein on the side of my forehead would not start to pulse three paragraphs in. But first, here’s Bob with the weather.

A dry week and fishing has toughened up a touch but not to the degree that we have experienced post mayfly for some years, the odd fish will still snap at a mayfly but most have been taken on olive patterns at all times of the day, there are a few sedge about and there are fewer fish in the book with DDL written next to their name than recent seasons past. Water colour was an issue a few days after the weed cut ended, and the river still maintains a milky hue. Many have commented on it but no one has a definitive reason other than it was a heavy weed cut. On this river spring ditches that had remained dry for over two and a half years collected organic crud that was washed into the river during last winter’s flows. It may be that some of this material lay beneath weed that has now been cut and the crud is exposed to the flow. As weed grows and also when it is cut, water is pushed into areas where it wouldn’t normally flow where sediment and organic matter may have collected.

It’s just a guess,

A painful experience was averted earlier this week, while whirling around with my strimmer, plugged into appropriate music to maintain my rate of work, I inadvertently barged into a swarm of bees, a passive bunch they had massed on a branch of an apple tree and didn’t seem to mind my buzzing about them. I haven’t seen one here for a few years and normally you hear them before you see them but this lot were quiet and content and hung around for a couple of hours before pushing off..

In a further attempt to stave off my pulsing vein, I am writing this while watching a pleasant Sunday game of village cricket in bright sunshine and a gentle zephyr, flying above are a pair of Kites. Most cricket grounds in the Hampshire league currently play host to a Kite or two, they are becoming as much a part of match day as bats, bails and tea, their reintroduction over a decade ago has certainly proved successful, an electrician who fiddled with our fuse box two years back and is housed near the site of the original release said he looked skyward while picking some beans one summer and counted eleven in the air.

And that’s it, the vein is starting to pulse and I can put it off no more.

Earlier this week I was required to spend several hours mixing with the cream of town society while a man with oil on his hands and golden spanners set fire to many of my twenty pound notes in an attempt to fix our car. Wandering the high street I mused on the need for so many coffee shops and mobile phone emporia, and why do we have three mobility scooter hire shops in the Shopping centre? a Para Olympic legacy, or a direct result of the high st McDonalds closing down and moving to a "drive through" operation on the edge of town. I know for some the acquisition of their first mobility scooter can be a life changing moment, and provides valuable independence and freedom. But some people in this town are now using them as a recreational vehicle. Driving into town, parking the car and if the second “all day breakfast" is sitting a bit heavy then lets hire a mobility scooter at £3.50 an hour to tootle about town. Are we turning into a generation of daleks?

Fed up with the unsatisfactory retail experience on the high st, I wandered out of town pausing briefly to furnish the oily handed one with a fresh pile of twenty pound notes with which to stoke his fire. On the outskirts of town is a nature reserve. Previously a put and take trout fishery with small fish farm it was purchased by the borough in order that the town’s population should receive an environmental experience. There are a few hundred yards of river which has had much work carried out on it, with woody debris very much to the fore and a plethora of signs from the media and communications department informing joe public of what they are about to experience and trumpeting the return of the cormorant and otter, and then there are the lakes.

The larger of the two contains a small population of fish and the proletariat are permitted to fish, the other I am sure would reverentially be termed a “sanctuary” by a man made from muesli clad in the finest fleece and cutting edge walking shoes. It's a skip and a giggle away from eutrophia, and to compound the problem upwards of a million gallons a day of the river’s water is being pushed through it. A Eutrophic Lake is a body of nutrient rich water in which simple plants thrive, algae to be precise. On the sunny afternoon that I visited I circumnavigated the lake accompanied by the obligatory mobility scooters (one parked up, before clambering down the bank to feed some ducks) Algae covered much of the lake bed and blobbed up to the surface in the sunshine before making its way to the exit and out into the river. A few days prior to my lake visit I had been asked to accompany some anglers to a beat a few hundred yards downstream from the lake, and had been surprised to see blanket weed coming down the river and hanging up on amongst other things “woody debris”. I took the following video on my complicated phone before returning home in a half fixed car via the garage.

An email was fired off to command centre central along with the video complementing them on their stretch of river and enquiring as to why this lake had a million gallons a day of river water passing through it. I was informed that following lengthy discussion between the relevant agencies and the council over whether the lake should be kept “off line” or “ on line” it had been decided that they would plump for the latter, a decision I suggested they should revisit.
Taken “offline” the lake would have a funny few months with algae blooming and crashing but a balance would eventually be reached, we took exactly the same course of action here with the flight pond around fifteen years ago. But an offline lake would not provide the ready supply of blanket weed that was bowling on down the stream. Now this is not to say that all online lakes are bad, I can name half a dozen “online lakes” that are not eutrophic are well managed and have little effect on the river that they feed but there are many that need looking at. Apparently Alresford Pond at the top of the Itchen has its Eutrophic status listed on its SSSI citation which is bonkers, the lake in our neighbouring town is impacting on the river below and needs taking “off line” it’s a no brainer. If it was happening upstream from here on the Dever, the faeces would be flying towards the fan.

And then I read the paper,

Not a day goes by without mention of fracking in the paper. The media wing of the pro fracking lobby have given battle, we are told that the risk of possible blackouts has risen if we don’t find some fuel and the rewards for pro fracking towns will be many. Earlier this week a Government minister, a right Cnut by the sound of it, decreed that “earthquakes would not be allowed” (his precise words) well that's plate tectonics taken care of, now for the waves and tides. This weekend another MP wrote that the risks posed by fracking have been ramped up by “ideologically driven environmental activists”

that would be me then, although I’d have gone for “addled middle aged crank”

I don’t think I am the former, although I'd own up to the latter. I like electricity, and if fracking can be carried out safely and risk free then It makes sense to explore this possible source of fossil fuel, but recent events in my narrow field of life suggest that decision makers at many levels are not quite up to the job and engender little confidence that correct conclusions will be drawn from evidence presented.
I live and work in a chalkstream valley that relies on groundwater to survive, I have genuine concerns over the source of water for Fracking and its subsequent disposal once used, particularly if it takes place within a few miles of this river. If things don't go to plan, for large parts of the South of England this could be the equivalent of pissing in a fast dimishing well.
I don’t expect this MP is a fisherman or has any understanding of chalkstreams and their ground water supply but I expect he lunches a lot with the other metrosexual tit (coming to a bird table near you) who suggested that we build houses on fields that are deemed to be uninteresting, what with the Generalissimo at Command Centre Central preaching about the wrong rain and the DEFRA minister declaring that the principle purpose of water ways is to get rid of water and they must be managed as such, whatever your political persuasion, we don’t seem to be blessed with the most gifted governers on either side of our elected house at the moment,and a self appointed pay rise of ten thousand pounds per annum doesn't seem like great value for Joe Public in these austere times. It’s a hermit's life in a loin cloth in a cave for me until someone sensible comes along.

Boris the Bold perhaps? Whose huge physical strength and sharp wit always kept him one step ahead of the evil emperor in his pursuit of Mariana

I have omitted to mention the list of suggested best practice from command centre central on chalkstream management out of fear for my throbbing vein, although I may come back to it in times more peaceable.

And then there is the BBC,

One hundred and fifty senior managers who were deemed to be not providing value for money to the tax payer have been laid off, each one received an average pay off of £164,000.

Twenty five million pounds on “golden goodbyes” Well that’s value for money then.

If some of this happened in a failed state it would be condemned as corrupt.

We are increasingly led by loons!!