Monday 22 December 2014

Fallen Trees I Have Known

Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of "Fallen Trees I have known"

Mercifully abridged.

Aspen and ash this week as it didn't seem very festive to be subjecting Christmas trees to the shock and awe of my big orange saw and a denouement by the medium of fire.

Next week the arboreal holy trinity of oak, beech and willow, don't miss it!

Coming soon - Fallen Trees I have known TV

A thirty minute feature on a tree that has fallen over, with accompanying sound track by Keith Helt who always gets a little down when the days draw in and plays that tune that accompanied the Hamlet ads back in the day, over and over ad nauseam,

You could be forgiven for thinking that I have gone a little chainsaw crazy, no that doesn't sound right and wasn't that phrase used in the promotional blurb for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

What I am clumsily trying to say is that I will be looking forward to a break from dealing with chuffin trees that have fallen over.

The aspen and the ash were of a substantial size and much of the wood has been retained. They lined a ride that accommodates three guns on a shoot day and now it is opened up a little, should provide a wider field of fire. The oak and the beech that I must attend to in the New Year are enormous trees, and will provide a couple of winters' wood. The oak is particularly sad loss, an irregularly shaped leviathan it had three huge boughs that I would walk under regularly to feed the pheasants and was the kind of tree that a royalist king would choose to hide out in.

The ground's a bit sticky and charging around with a chainsaw or feeding fires cuts the surface up a tad, and much of the wood is a muddy morass but spring will heal all, gaps will be replanted with ash oak and beech and the pheasant pen will rise from the ashes.

Crack willow has had a high old time of it, brim full of schadenfreude at the plight of its near neighbour's, its time will come, and will duly be attended to by my terrific tangerine wood cutting machine.

Much of the field maple that fell on our home on Valentine's day has been burnt and its ashes scattered on the vegetable garden, we have a few months of burning balsam poplar and aspen before returning to another field maple. We seem to have a become a little log obsessed in recent months and a colleague of the woods has a magic moisture meter which can be a little distracting as it is pushed into various pieces of timber about the place. Results have been tabulated, and graphs produced, that demonstrate that our excellent field maple has a moisture content of 22%, some crack willow pushes 40%, a Christmas tree that lay prone for ten months is mostly water, our kitchen table recorded 10% while my own leg is void of moisture, completely withered, and the next item on the list for lopping off.

Enough about logs,

As predicted, ditches and drains have been attended to in fear of a winter like the last one, some done well, others driven at with diggers. It's an important annual job, a forgotten art, and boy does it show.

Of an evening, when the spirit of Terpsichire has failed to pay us a visit, the lady who sleeps on the left and myself like to take in the odd cookery show. Don't go much on Jamie and half an hour of Delia telling all how to cook an egg was perhaps not the best value for my licence fee. Mary Berry is a given, Gino's series in Italy was inspiring, and the Hairy Bikers are pretty good, if an updated version of Two Fat ladies, which was also very watchable, and one of whom used to haunt this place on a regular basis, but Keith Floyd remains a favourite.

Currently we are held rapt by the final of Masterchef - the professionals, and this week's final saw the contestants flown out to San Sebastian to cook in one of the top rated restaurants in the world. San Sebastian has become a mecca for foodies. We visited around ten years ago while camping and fishing a nine hundred acre lake near Biarritz. It's a beautiful place with back to back beaches and a bunch of locals who fish hard off the bridge over the river when the tide is on the turn. I forget where we took lunch, but I do remember it being very good, and it was not the restaurant visited by the finalists which was half way up the hill and akin to cooking with Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker. It was Sciencey stuff with much ambiguity over what was to be eaten and what was not. One dish featured a fork made from sugar, and at some point I am sure someone had tried to take a bite out of the table as there are appeared to be teeth marks in one corner. A peckish Madam swiftly raised the website and was on the cusp of booking a trip for the twenty course taster affair at Easter, before the price per head set her reaching for the delete key.

School is done for 2014 and as ever Madam returned laden with gifts from generous pupils. Thirty five years ago the bond between pupil and teacher was not so strong and nobody gave gifts, if they had they would have been eyed suspicously and held at arms length. With the climate of fear that pervaded in some classrooms thankfully long gone a friendlier relationship exists, and Madam will have spent much of the weeks preceding Christmas doing spelling tests with words like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Monty Bojangles Cocoa dusted truffles. Analysis of the hoard takes several hours and each gift is logged, and in the manner of marking, initial reactions noted,

Could do better,


See Me - Sauvignon Blanc is not red!

Child A and Child B have returned, having already conducted the opening skirmishes of Christmas food consumption. Child B's repast for a table of eight consisted of two nine pound turkeys, eight roast potatoes per head, three full size sausages each with a thick slice of back bacon wrapped around each one, a bucket of mulled wine and cider, many yule logs for pud, a selection of eight cheeses accompanied by a litre of port, before repairing to the tables and fleshpots of Cardiff for an evenings entertainment. High living for student, and we hold high hopes for the quality of Christmas gifts if these are the standard he is now setting himself. Child A and her pals did their perrennial £5 Iceland Christmas, we have no photos but imagine it was something like the adverts sans Kerry Katona.

With the two of them home again this year's Christmas message is don't touch the posh pork pie at the back of the fridge until the rest of the family have turned up, and if you read the label it says "extra large" and not "bite size" We have a hectic forty eight hours with family staying and visiting on both days, which is always fun, and then I'm going to chase some roach at the weekend by way of reflection, and contemplation particularly on Christmas's past and the madness that used to ensue in our house when we were growing up, a huge amount of fun with the principle protagonist my aged aunt, daft uncle and dad who would done the beards, hats and elf costumes for an afternoon of Christmas shenanigans that several of my mates would turn up to take in.

I also have a photo of the same aunt and uncle keeping wicket and standing at first slip as Child B set out on his cricket odyssey in the back garden, the combined age of the close in fielders nudged 165, which was quite remarkable considering there was only the one slip. Uncle Stan drew stumps a few years back but Aunty Joyce remains, but sadly no longer keeping wicket, dressing up as Father Christmas or dropping a burning Christmas pudding onto the carpet following a particlarly raucous welcome to the room. She's well into her nineties now, but flat out and full of morphine in a hospital in Yorkshire, which doesn't seem quite right for one of the best Father Christmases there can ever have been.

Thank you for all of the kind emails throughout 2014 and for reading this rubbish that I write,

Merry Christmas

Monday 8 December 2014

Sleep sound, for tomorrow we march on Elstree!

First real frost and the outdoor fuchsia that remained in flower into the first week of December finally gave up and went off to bed. Forty eight hours of frozen ground has provided a definitive full stop to 2014 for those elements of nature eager to prolongue the party. On a personal note the stingers that up until the cold snap maintained their midsummer heat and brought me out in wealds for much of the week will not be missed. Bumbling about the wood dealing with the arboreal carnage that resulted from last winter's weather, even Otis approached the end of his tether as each evening he scratched away at the coconut mat to sooth stung puddies, the ladybird may make a case for a nettle, but currently they are the devil's own weed.

Initial estimates of the number of felled trees to be attended to have been revised and the stump count of forty feet tall Christmas trees that have been dealt with so far is approaching three figures. It's a hairy business and requires a little thought as to where each cut must be made, root-balls of over a tonne in weight flip back into holes and trunks that are bent over and whose tension is concealed by the upper branches of a neighbour who lies perpendicular and prone across its midriff, spring back spectacularly when an ill considered cut is made.

I've a few bruises and a lump the size of an egg appeared on the back of my hand one afternoon following further skirmishes, but nothing can be done bar blast on and keep going bananas with the chainsaw. Access is solely on foot and softwood such as this won't last beyond another twelve months as it soaks up water like a sponge and quickly rots. We have enough wood stacked for the next two winters already so much of it is being burnt in the wood with a small percentage left for the bugs and fungi. The pheasant pen beneath the fallen trees is a complete right off and will have to be reconstructed from scratch but all the wire intermingled with roots and branches is an additional complication as it soon takes the edge off the saw if it comes into contact with the chain.


Pixie Lott, has just been voted out of Strictly at the quarter final stage.

NNNNOOOOOOOO! how did she ever come to be in the dance off? She is one of the best that has ever been on the programme,

Why Len, why?

Sleep sound, for tomorrow we march on Elstree.

Note to self: It is a TV programme proffered, and not a genuine dance contest,

and that's from a hoofer who has won in Blackpool, albeit it on a stage in a nightclub on a Saturday afternoon, after the wrestling with a new age routine that included a series of forward rolls and headstands, but that's for another day.

More news as we have it.

but now, a formative piece of Nordic Noir

See the genesis of Wallander

Having maintained that cormorants find fishing the Dever a tricky business, Graculus is now making a concerted effort to master the art. Three flushed from a tree on the island in the flight pond. Late evening perambulations confirmed that it is not being used as a roost, but I have seen Noggin the Nog's budgerigar flighting this valley most days in the last two weeks.

Currently the river level is ok, spring ditches have yet to break through but a glimpse down a well in the middle of a water meadow revealed a reasonable level of groundwater and springs would be expected to break early in the new year. Last winter shifted a lot of gravel in the river, over on the Itchen a substantial amount was thrown up and out of the back of the main pool and a large gravel bar that remained weed free throughout the season, here on the Dever the experience was similar but on a smaller scale and brown trout spawning this month have found digging their redd a relatively easy business and in some cases they have shifted twice as much gravel as would be expected.

And so to the perennial task of providing reports to various quarters on what has occurred in this valley during the past twelve months. The river's riparian owners association produce an annual report to which most keepers contribute and also serves as a bellwether to thinking on all things chalk stream. October 2013 saw this stretch of the Dever on its knees with record low flows and much guff being spouted by the complicated cabal laying claim to be saviours of the chalk streams, which led some who tread these banks to a state of despair. The "get out of jail" card was played and a wonderfully wet winter recharged aquifers and restored a sparkle to chalk rivers that had been absent for some years. In among the sogginess of last spring a damascene moment occurred and after a succession of visits from those up to their ears in promoting river restoration strategies a refreshing change of tone was all too evident. The pendulum had swung away from the extreme "rewilding" that some were vociferously promoting, and for man to step back and undertake a watching brief, and there was acknowledgement that management by man can be of benefit to the chalk stream environment. Keepering they used to call it, and provided it is done well, with a sympathetic eye to both flood defence and biodiversity, chalk rivers will continue to flourish. The winter floods may have been bad news for some but they had the added benefit of providing a little clarity to the thought processes of those charged with implementing habitat directive and river restoration strategies in the chalk stream environment.


Child A and some such thing she's written is now a feature on Google Scholar, which I'm sure was some form of 1980's canned lager. These long words which are beyond the comprehension of Madam or myself, are also to be published in some journal, which we will both read but not understand but clutch with maternal pride.

She's a day younger than George Ezra and all he can come up with is three chords and a rumbling bass baritone on the One Show, although I have heard say he has some ability........... but is he on Google scholar?

Not a bit of it,and he had a 24 hour head start, Well done Maisie!

Here's Chris with some news from the envrionment.

In 2015 for the first time, any brown trout stocked into this river must be triploid as the National Trout and Grayling strategy is implemented. Substantial reaches of the Test and its' tributaries have been stocked with triploid brown trout for some years now, others have a record of stocking with diploid trout for even longer. Surveys are regularly undertaken on this river to provide an assessment of fish populations for EU habitat directive. Included in that survey is an assessment of whether each brown trout in the sample is considered to be wild or stocked and numbers of each duly noted. Why is this counting of "wild" brown trout being undertaken, how accurate is a visual assessment of a brown trout's provenance and do the results of these surveys demonstrate that there is a significant difference in the numbers of brown trout receiving a "wild" classification between that stretch of this river that has been stocked solely with triploids and that stretch that has been stocked with diploid brown trout. If results for this river do support a successful strategy, why isn't it being shouted from the rooftops to nullify the naysayers?

Recently the Wild Trout Trust newsletter was thrust under my nose and I was held by the back of the head, threatened with woody debris, and ordered to read on

A few quotes jumped out,

"Wild broodstock schemes: fraught with issues and, in all probability not the solution to more fish in the river"

Maybe not always, but in my humble experience they can work, but success is site specific, influenced by habitat management plans and should not be discounted

"WTT is not against stocking - we recognise that many clubs would fold if they could not stock. WTT is not a pro triploid lobby"

The WTT may not be anti stocking but several of its members are, I have received the emails after the words "rearing fish" and "stocking" appeared amid this written rubbish a while back. Stocking is required in some rivers to provide income streams from angling in order to implement habitat directive.
The WTT have come across as a pro triploid lobby for a very long time and I have heard them make many noises to that effect.

"Triploids rise(if anything) slightly better than their diploid counterparts"

Apart from the supercilious nature of this statement, there are many who would dispute it and also attest that triploids have a tendency to shoal.

There's a National Strategy been formed on the back of this, which is perceived by some as a bit of a bugger's muddle, but I won't go on, and indeed can't, as upon my release, the newsletter was used to light the fire that evening, but suffice to say the vein on my temple threatened to throb and I almost repaired to my cave to shake my fist angrily at the outside world,

but refrained,

and sat down to read something a little more lucid (Prostate Years, Moley always serves as a restorative on such occasions) and make preparation for emails brim-full of internet enlightenment for this piece of impertinence regarding the WTT.