Thursday 30 January 2014

South Today, Watercress and Phillip the Phosphate

Well done to the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Trust for speaking out on BBC’s South Today on Watercress farming introducing excess phosphates into chalkstreams. The Salmon and Trout association who are rarely off the target also chipped in. H&IOWT have received mixed reviews in these parts over the years but they did get this one right and resisted the temptation to illustrate their point by dressing a minion up as Phillip the Phosphate ion chasing Charlie Chalkstream around with a stick

The big surprise was the CEO of a leading producer of watercress admitting that his business was part of the problem, A remarkable "mea culpa" by the bagged salad supremo on tea time TV that left me chocking on my chicken,

although there was a promise to solve the problematic phosphate pollution in the future through recirculation (phosphate strippers anyone, do they work?)

A genuine effort from the watercress boys? in which case well done!or something akin to Hannibal Lecter promising to chew his liver a little longer,the jury’s out, on an industry that,in these parts, has nothing to fear but the sky falling on its head.

It was widely reported in local and national press that at a recent foundation meeting hosted by Europe's leading grower and packer of bagged salad, all who attended concluded that Dishwasher tablets were the problem, I don’t wish to repeat myself

Well ok then

Monday 2nd December

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. I didn’t expect an invite , but 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 much discussion in the minutes on contribution to the phosphate loads of the river caused by the production of watercress.”

Worryingly the South Today report, while initially talking of chalkstreams only mentioned the river Itchen and not the Test, on which many principle watercress production sites sit.

They are a major employer in the area and have made significant contributions to the local community but if a market leader admits to causing problems it must take a lead in the sorting those problems out. I like Watercress, I like that the fact that watercress production has a rich heritage in this area, but in modern times sustainability is everything and to send too many phosphates down a SSSI is, like Crimplene trousers, the Melatron and Manhatten Transfer, a little bit Sixties and Seventies and not quite what is required by big business in modern times.

But well done for fessing up on TV and to The H&IOWT and The S&TA for highlighting the problem.

Will a prosecution for chronic phosphate pollution follow?

Monday 27 January 2014

The Amoco Cadiz, an Oily Shag and Further Flooding

Ok, Ok, we have had enough rain for the time being , a week or two break would be nice to allow what’s fallen in recent weeks to work its way down into the ground, where, despite recent reports, there is still plenty of room. At the end of October these aquifers were at the lowest level they have been for many years, for the second time in three years (the first was the wet summer of 2012 which started with most spring fed rivers down to their bare bones following successive dry winters) the “get out of jail” card has been flourished by the chalkstream environment.

As ever verbal guff over current conditions is very much to the fore, highlighting the fact that we in the South of England no longer “get” water. Groundwater flooding has become an increasing threat in these environs. A brief bumble along the spring ditch that runs through the neighbouring village revealed all manner of obstacles in the channel with fingers pointed back and forth as to who was causing the road to flood. Chicken wire strung across the water course didn’t help, or the bonfire that had been constructed in the channel bed in drier times, the builder’s rubble ,broken branches and pallets played their part along with the decaying vegetation from last summer. The bore of the pipes that take the ditch under the road always seem a little undergunned during times such as these and then the new bridge that has been set too low and covered with wire came into play, several large willows that now grow in the stream and another bridge that was now acting as a weir added their two penneth before the water made its way away from the village and down into the meadows. On at least four occasions in the past week I have heard people whose properties border the ditch say that it is nothing to do with them, and perhaps it isn’t, but cut back all the branches and vegetation, clear out all the crud and re-site the two bridges and the profile of a ditch will be revealed that has carried water through and away from the village for many hundreds of years. At the moment it is not being given the chance to demonstrate what it is capable of. It is a collective responsibility that is not aided by denial and finger pointing, and until all buy into that idea, the water will continue to flow across the road and creep its way across several gardens. Ditch maintenance seems to have become a forgotten task in many parts of the country but in a chalk valley it really is a “no brainer”.

Some years ago I was charged with looking after the local football pitch. I once reached the heady heights of Hants FA's groundsman of the year before I was done for by google earth when it became apparent that the picture I painted on a verdant canvas in the medium of white wash and pitch marker wasn’t quite the shape it should have been and may have had an influence over home team tactics and results. I would clear out the ditch as a matter of course in order to get games on, Following the high water of 2000/2001 I widened the ditch downstream from the pitch and raised an offending bridge by a foot as it had slumped in time and was holding water up, raised a foot in subsequent winters we never missed a fixture, A century ago there would have been a gang of blokes charged with clearing the village ditches out in the autumn We may have the internet, digital watches and washing machines that have replaced the mangle but our understanding and management of water at a local level is vastly inferior to that of our forefathers.

Sitting over the road is a house built without foundations straight onto the gravel in a flood plain, despite current conditions it is under no threat of flooding, the installation of a series of hatches gives full control of the river, and yes it is possible to operate a set of hatches in a way that does not impact on the biodiversity of the river valley, (EN and EA take note, it may worth a go at the environmental experience in the neighbouring urban environs) Chalkstreams must be managed and the ditches that feed them maintained else puddles appear on the carpet.

Weird weather this weekend including what is being describes as a mini tornado, saw several more trees tumble down, causing my chainsaw to emit an audible “bloody hell” I also ventured into the river midweek and was nearly caught out by the force of the water, In the wading Olympics I’d back myself as a medal prospect, having had extensive experience of jumping in and out of rivers but the speed of flow and the looseness of the gravel underfoot sent me shuffling for dry land. I jumped in to pull out several large branches that were begin to cause problems upstream and at this point I would like to ask “Flood Defence” their opinion of “woody debris” and two thousand word articles in the angling press urging all and sundry to fling as much wood into the river channel as possible (I will never let this one go) earlier in the week I had cause to enter the river to remove a prime piece of “woody debris” that had blocked the main hatch on the mill house, a natural process over which a man in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes would encourage us to take a watching brief and see what happened, which I did for five minutes before spending much of the afternoon pulling it out from the mouth of culvert.

While preparations were being made for the "The Voice" on Saturday night I received a text saying that someone had dumped some oil just downstream close to the river. With immediate thoughts of The Amoco Cadiz, I swung into action,there'd be no oily shags on my watch, so I dashed outside rolled across the bonnet of my car before steaming off down the lane only to come across the top of a substantial ash tree that blocked the lane, the saw was fired up and the errant ash soon succumbed. Half an hour later in fading light it was possible to make out ten yards of ditch filled with a black liquid that looked to be sump oil. A call was made to The pollution hotline at Command Centre central where a very nice lady whose name I forget took my personal details, postcode, address and political persuasion before asking me what the problem was and were the voles ok? There had been a major incident somewhere in the country over a spillage of bubble bath that was causing some remarkable foaming below a weir on a river I do not know the location of, It’s a National Hotline the river could have been anywhere. I was awarded a reference number and invited to call back in a few days.

The following day we had an inch of rain and the level in the ditch lifted and threatened to flow out into a neighbouring spring hole that fed into the river. A man had visited the site and during a follow up phone call a few days later I was informed that it wasn’t really their “thing" but they would put some mats down to soak up the oil and did I know that oil floated?

at which point I raised my voice,

which probably wasn’t what was required, because he was only doing his job.

I was aware that oil floated and shouldn't have objected to a tone that implied they were required at all times to cater for the lowest common denominator.

Now I don’t expect to be giving up my bath to any oiled up water birds at any point this week, and the amount of water running through the main river would undoubtedly help dilute any pollution incident, but there was a significant amount of oil tipped into this ditch which feeds into a spring hole and then into the river all of which form part of the SSSI. I wouldn’t want to overplay the seriousness of the incident, but it was a crass act implemented by mogadons and out of kilter with modern times. It wouldn’t have taken much of a lift in water for the oil to enter the spring hole and subsequently the river.

Upstream from here the river continues to make its way out of the main channel and across the meadows to a spring ditch that feeds into our top bends. A still ditch for much of the past few years it now runs like a river and has thrown up new gravel bars on a right angled bend that always holds fish. It will be interesting to see how this affects lies in the coming season. All fish are holed up in different holes than where the summer angler would expect to find them but with a few months of high flows there will be some fit fish around at the start of the season along with a few escapees from the local big fish water who have literally swam and swam right over the dam.

Flooding in other parts of the country is currently front page news. Many have called for rivers to be dredged to put an end to all this nonsense, while a chap in Oxfordshire was fined £30000 for digging out a ditch that was home to Victor Vole, which once again illustrates the dichotomy that exists within the Environment Agency.

The Somerset levels behave in a different way to a chalkstream so who I am I to offer a solution, but they have flooded for hundreds of years and a network of ditches and culverts That may once have existed to help cope with the problem now no longer exist or are, for whatever reason, not maintained or managed in the way that they once were. The appearance of large pumps on the levels suggests that internal wrangling at the EA between flood defence who would get rid of the water and the “conservationists” who would retain the water, has gone the way of flood defence.

Why has the campaign to reintroduce the beaver gone quiet?

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Flash for Fracking!

I am loathe to mention it, but Fracking has been in the news for much of this week. Flashy has trumpeted increased handouts for local communities who sign up with free monorails for all and a statue/oil painting of himself by a leading portrait painter of their choice.

I am a little uneasy over the way that this is being rammed home by Government, with pressure put on agencies who are there to regulate and licence any fracking operation. Anyone who objects is painted as an ideological Neanderthal. I may be a neanderthal and do occasionally drag my knuckles along the floor, but I continue to fly in the face of tofu, vegans and all those with hair made of muesli who promote pan pipe music and would have us return to the dark ages.
I understand that it makes sense to explore a source of cheap fuel to aid a recovering economy, a little seismic activity would add a certain frisson to the day but consideration towards an increasingly valuable water supply particularly in the south east must be paramount.

I have said it before and I will say it again, we just don’t understand the “water” thing in this country. There has been talk of a looming “energy crisis” for a few years, well it may be difficult to comprehend given current conditions, but the South East of England is sleep walking into a “water crisis”

Currently, EU law offers more protection to our groundwater supply than our own laws. Flashy repeatedly churns out the mantra that the relevant safeguards are in place to ensure protection to the environment from any fracking operation. As I stated a few weeks ago the agency charged with regulating and licensing groundwater abstraction is, on many levels, a dichotomy that also extends to departmental performance. Some departments are thoroughly efficient and carry out great work, while others, if subject to inspection, like a school or hospital, would be classified as failing. The agencies who stood by while a water company pumped filtered sewage for months on end down a SSSI and allowed a derisory fine for Europe’s leading packer and bagger of salad for sending a thousand litres of diesel down the same stream will be asked if they think it’s ok to frack in this valley, while Flashy looms, stick in hand, invoking the economy.

I have little confidence that they will demonstrate sufficient fortitude to offer any real resistance to bully boy tactics and the fracking juggernaut.

A Fracking company are already embedded, deep cover, on at least three sites in the catchment area of this river. Igas the funky fracking company (anything with the prefix “i” is pushed as the way forward these days, it used to be “organic” or “wild”) from the north have three CBM sites that could be used for fracking in the future. If it can be carried out sustainably in this valley with no use of local groundwater, get on and have a look, if groundwater levels are measured with a fracking friendly ruler and large scale abstraction is licensed, the river will be impacted upon and this ideological neanderthal will do his addled nut.

Friday 10 January 2014

Singing in the rain


and welcome to a New Year flood special which, in the grand manner of Hello magazine, Ok, Nuts and Top Tits (I think that’s correct) is picture based with little real content.

The river is now higher than it was in the winter of 2000/2001 which was sold as a “one in one hundred years” flood,

So that’s one in the eye for the statisticians.....or else time has really flown.

It may not provide much succour if you currently have a brace of barbel picking dainties from your living room carpet and you are forced to live in the loft, but conditions such as these give the river environment a huge fillip. At home, Twenty four hours after the last band of rain, the water has fined down a tad to reveal gleaming gravels on most reaches.

Groundwater ditches are now running strongly and will lift the river further in the coming days. Some in the neighbouring village have been caught out and ditches that should have been cleared in the autumn hold all manner of detritus that prevents water from getting away. The football pitch is unplayable and will remain so for the remainder of the season, an event that has not occurred for some years, and once dry fields have become valleys conveying groundwater across ruined crops to the river.

For those who take in this written rubbish and have also fished here, the bottom bends are completely underwater, the water level is just about getting under the bridge above Wells Ride, the whole of the fishing bank around The rutlet is underwater and the spring ditch that feeds into Flash Hole is a raging torrent as the river has burst its banks on the meadows above and makes its way fifty yards across the meadow to the top of the spring ditch to rattle back to the Dever. In the summer of 2001 the Dever never looked so good with sparkling gravel and luxuriant weed growth, particularly ranunculus, and a wizened keeper remarked that after a winter like that, even the most incompetent keeper would look good. This summer could well be the same. To say most keepers are singing in the rain is an understatement.

Mention must be made of the Environment Agency Live Flood warning map. It’s really good! updated on a regular basis, and lists in fine detail at three different levels of severity river flooding and also groundwater flooding, take a look it’s really interesting, but then I am a bit of a flood nerd.

During conditions such as these the dichotomy that exists within the Environment Agency becomes apparent. One department maintain and construct coastal flood defences while another department would tear them down, one department would have the river channel cleared of all obstructions and would rail at the suggestion of “woody debris” another department would have us fling as much wood into the river as possible. It must make for some interesting meetings and an internal power struggle developing over certain issues.

It was announced on the news today that a delegation within the building and property development industry have beseeched government to ease restrictions on the disposal of waste water on substantial new development. Currently for developers to earn the highest possible “eco” rating and subsequently receive favourable treatment they are required to dispose of waste water locally, somewhere near the development by soak-away or ponds in order to return the water from whence it came rather than pipe it away in a main sewer,

hear hear says I

but No, No says the developer,

who cite expense and problems with system functionality,

what if it bungs up and starts to smell?

What if it overflows?

As one who suffered with dodgy drains and an iffy soak-away for quite some years, if you are aware of the problem it doesn’t half focus the mind as to how often you flush the loo, how deep you run the bath, or how many downpipes could take a water butt, in order to prevent a plethora of tomato seedlings developing in a particular flowerbed each spring. Currently many are oblivious as to where their water comes from, where it goes to, or how precious a commodity it is, a community soak-away with fancy reedbed and pond would not only raise awareness of what water does, where it come s from and where it goes but also help offset environmental impact of any development.

On a similar note, despite sustained social engagement and completely missing most mornings, Child B has managed to complete his second assignment; several thousand words on a housing development in Wales, that I was asked to read through for mistakes (he obviously hasn’t read this) It concerned an urban housing development in what would have been described as a deprived area. The successful bidder for the development had pitched a "high eco" set up with solar panels very much to the fore and a big boiler at the centre of the piece, run on wood chips. On completion it received a five star rating, energy bills for each household would be £10 a week compared to the national average of £30 -£40 per week and gongs were duly dished out. Three years on things had gone somewhat awry. The wood chip boiler suffered from supply problems and many of the occupants of the houses when presented with cheaper energy bills chose to leave the heating on for a few more hours, purchased an extensive range of exterior Christmas lights and furnished every room with a forty inch plasma and an electrically powered massage chair.

They were accustomed to paying a particular amount for power, so used their cheaper power accordingly. Education is everything and if the message doesn’t get across the desired effect does not result, The development retained its High Eco rating, because there is no requirement for it to be reassessed at a later date.

Educate on water, particularly in the South East of England, because at the moment too many people just don't get it.

And I mean that most sincerely folks!

Wasn't too bad was it Dr Li?

didn't get too grumpy?

I know I had a wobbly moment somewhere around the middle bit but I feel the visualisation technique that you taught me directed me to calmer waters.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Keep the lows coming across the pond

First day of 2014 and some are entertaining thoughts of a dry January.

Not in this valley,

Well not in a "let's give the liver a lift" kind of a way.

This river is bank high and having a brilliant time of it. The rain that we have had in this past week is having a fantastic impact on a river that only three months ago was down to its bare bones. For the past forty eight hours I have been slowly tweaking open the hatch on the house to let spare water go and prevent any flooding from the Millstream.

In the winter of 2000/2001 we experienced river levels that were deemed to occur once in every hundred years. The fishing hut was surrounded by several inches of water and the island at the bottom of this beat was submerged. In April 2001 the hatch on the house was opened thirty two notches, fully open is forty notches (the chaps who built and installed the hatch in the 1840’s knew what they were about) and as I speak the hatch is open seven notches, a dry twenty four hours will see it closed by two notches while a wet forty eight hours will see it opened by another two. The low pressure systems across the Atlantic can continue to line up and sweep this way for much of January and February. As long as we get a few breaks, and the water is allowed to seep down into the aquifers, all should be well. Problems may occur if the top few feet become saturated leading to an increase in the amount of direct run off, but so far so good.

With a dry January not on the radar in these parts, and encouraged by the lady charged with soothing my pulsing cranial vein, I resolved to make efforts to change in other parts of my life during 2014. This year I am sure that all parties with interests in the chalkstreams will unite to provide these rivers with the protection that they deserve, and all conclusions drawn will be correct on evidence presented,

But then again.

I promise not to get too cross, question the motives of government, the fortitude of their agencies, or the wisdom of those clad in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes.

Just stick to the river and its workings, and vastly improve my punctuation. (there's no clever sub-editors here)

This will be the seventh year that I have been chucking out this tosh. What started as a twelve month exercise to remind an addled mind as to what it should be focusing, morphed into a more effective opportunity than angry letters in the angling press to counter some of the flim flam and guff that was being proposed, unopposed on chalkstream management.

I am very grateful to those who have tweeted, facebooked, emailed or conveyed by magical means this written rubbish. Thanks for the messages and comments, both online and off, life is still a mulligatawny, and everyone is entitled to their opinion and thank the stars this river doesn't run through North Korea, as I'd be dust!

Having flunked statistics at A level, numbers are not really my bag, but I am informed by the analytics department that the average number of visits per month to this corner of the interweb in 2013 saw a fifty fold increase on 2008's figure of just over a hundred a month. Which to my mushy mind, is more than we started with....I think

I never knew I had so many relatives,

Happy New Year and thanks again for reading the rubbish that I write.