Monday 25 June 2018

An Ungrateful Owl and Hurricane Moss

Apologies for the tardiness regarding regular posts on this site but for two weeks we have been battered and held fast in the grip of Hurricane Moss.

Currently around six square feet of wall paper is missing from the kitchen wall. I ventured out into the garden one day last week and found the precious Sky remote control teetering on the edge of the pond.

Sitting down in the kitchen for a fine lunchtime repast of Jacket potato corned beef and sauerkraut.

There I said it, I'm a big fan of European fermented cabbage, deal with it.

Anyway, mid cabbage, in marches Moss with my ipad in his mouth.

Called to the door to receive fish destined for the smoker, I returned to the kitchen to find half of the dirty cutlery removed from the dishwasher.

We receive regular quizzical glances from Otis that seem to say "Why this?"

Yesterday things took a piratical turn as Moss raided the dishwasher and put in a few laps of the sofa with a sharp knife between his teeth.

We have also broken new ground with regard to personal grooming and while some may enjoy having the dead skin nibbled from their feet by fish each evening I have the hair plucked from nasal and aural cavities by a labrador.

As I write, he has just finished forging new routes through our small garden and is now chewing the fridge door.

In Avian news the Owl has gone. We gave him his last piece of chicken fillet (This bird has enjoyed significantly better cuts of meat than I have during his two week sojourn chez de Cani) popped him in the hedge by the vegetable garden where he hung around for five minutes before taking flight without so much of a thank you, best wishes or chin chin.

Uncivil birds Owls.

We have many butterflies and bees

and hundreds of damsel flies dance about the fringe throughout the day.

The June weed cut was the heaviest it has been for some years. There can't be much weed left in the upper Dever and last weekend we had a bit of a moment when the hatch on the house became blocked and the millstream rose slowly as I gave battle with a cut willow limb that had become jammed in the culvert that passes under the road. Communication between keepers is key during a heavy weed cut and we were very grateful for the many "heads up" from upstream regarding weed on its way.

I've known heavier cuts, but with ranunculus in flower weed has been cut with an eye to possible low water conditions in July and August as once ranunculus flowers its rate of growth is reduced. We may need some bars of weed later in the summer to maintain depth. Fish are increasingly fickle now the business of mayfly is done with small and brown a reasonable guide to which fly to put on during the day with a few drawn to increasing numbers of sedge in the evening.

Oh yes, Bake off - The Professionals (Sunday night C4)

Why no Bodie and Doyle and that goto guy for "parsimonious Scot" whose name I forget off the Fine Fare advert?

This week I was once again required to give an account of my movements to a gathering of village elders. As ever, a difficult crowd who thankfully no longer throw fruit with the vigour that they once did. You know it's time to wrap up the show when they start talking among themselves which happened after around forty minutes this year.

Recent rumination while swishing a scythe centred around the current drive for further river restoration projects on the chalk streams, much of which centres around bank re profiling, making the river wiggle and riffle and tipping lots of gravel into deeper reaches.

All noble stuff and boy aren't some trumpets blown hard by some once the work is complete and brown trout are found to be present because that is the fish that is the chief driver behind the work.

I have a lot to thank Salmo Trutta for.

My principle source of income relies on Brer Brown Trout being on good form and present in numbers. But wasn't one of the main criticisms of chalk stream management in the last quarter of the 20th century that it all became to "troutcentric" Put simply, if it wasn't a trout it was coming out.

Now before any keyboard warriors brim full of internet enlightenment get in touch. I'm not knocking river restoration work, there is undoubtedly some good work going on at the moment, but what about other species of fish native to the chalk streams. A chap in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes once suggested that we heap a hundred tonnes of gravel into the hundred yards of deeper water upstream from the fishing hut to create a faster streamier stretch. The notion has some merit for the brown trout but the stretch also plays host to a number of big roach, perch and pike who may not be too enamoured with a shallower stream and would be displaced and biodiversity is reduced. We have an increasing number of anglers visit during the winter to target this species along with the grayling. If those species are displaced we lose those anglers who are stakeholders in the chalk stream environment and subsequently have an interest in its welfare.

Well done for the river restoration work, but let's not get carried away and throw hundreds of tonnes of gravel into every deep slow reach of this river system.

It's just a thought.

Saturday 9 June 2018

Justice, HLA 85 and Moss

A new medium for the Spinners this week. Ever the creatives they've branched out to the medium of pop art with this composition coincidentally titled "The Spinners"

Well Jury Service was a non event. Held in an ante chamber for six hours while legal types wrangled in the adjacent court only to be told that the trail had been cancelled and we could all go home for the two we that we had been summoned. I don't know what costs are incurred in the cancellation of a trail at crown court but it has happened forty seven times this year. Judge Judy returns home to tend her roses, and clerks, ushers and counsel repair to iron capes and buff up wigs. While we're on the formalities of court isn't the whole wig and cape thing a tad archaic? it's all a bit like George the third does batman. Surely in this day and age we could have some more contemporary garment possibly with a name and number on the back to signify their role in court.

It's just a thought.

The world of justice's loss was the world of wood's gain as the best machine of 2017 was put into action to split enough logs for next winter and part of the one after that.

You will note the Nordic method of log stacking employed on the stack on the left.

And the Bransbury method by our back door.

Mayfly fishing has been productive with over a hundred fish on the bank by the end of the month. Currently fish are preoccupied with spent mayfly and lie doggo for much of the day to feed after five. We have also experienced some heavy hatches of medium olives with sherry spinners falling on the water in the evening. Weed growth continues to be prolific and we have more ranunculus in flower than for some years although we have gradually tweaked the hatch on the Mill house closed as the small surplus of flow that we enjoyed at the beginning of the month recedes. Water clarity is very good with no sign of any foam and relatively little of the insidious brown algae that rises from the river bed in sunny conditions to break up in broken water and taint the river. An indication that the river had a reasonable "scrub behind the ears" over the winter.

Whisper it quietly but Command centre central have finally acknowledged that substantial numbers of swans are impacting upon the biodiversity of precious chalk streams. A trial scheme on the neighbouring Avon in which broods were limited to a pair of chicks under licence has proved so successful that it is to be rolled out to other rivers. Thirty swans on a beat will strip the river clean of weed, particularly ranunculus, causing a detrimental impact to the invertebrate population that calls ranunculus home and subsequently on the fish and bird populations that feast upon the invertebrates, This isn't supposition, it has happened all too often in recent decades particularly on several tributaries of the Avon. More licences are to be issued to limit the number of eggs a pair of swans can produce and yes it all sounds a bit Chairman Mao but swans f the requisite size to roll out such a scheme that maintains a stable population of an animal impacting upon biodiversity in the chalk stream. Effective fishery management,

or keepering as it was once known.

A week or so ago I received a call from Madam on her evening ritual of taking a walk in order to reintroduce herself to the outside world after the madness and stress of working in a Primary School that is severely financially stretched.

She had found a young owl sitting in the middle of the track so could I come and take a look. We live in a particularly owl rich part of the world and we've previous in this. It was a young tawny owl who had fallen out of its tree, Tawny owls are relatively good parents and will feed the chick on the ground or help it to a higher place. We undertook a watching brief for a few hours but with the light fading and Reynard on the prowl we took the decision to pop him in a pen and throw chicken at him each evening as the light faded. He was off his legs for twenty four hours but has gained in vigour with each passing day and is currently practising flapping his wings with an eye to possibly taking flight in a week or so.

It's been a while since we did any product placement so here goes. I was once a little sniffy regarding rechargeable equipment for use up the river. Battery life, build quality, the ability to carry out the task for which it has been designed. But all that has now changed. What was the cause of this damascene moment?

The recent purchase of the Stihl HLA 85 Pole Hedge cutter. With the Partridge upon me I'd like to espouse the two hours of battery life produced by the Ap 200 unit the tremendous build quality and maximum telescopic length of three metres.

That's the Stihl HLA 85 everyone

(Come on Stihl you can reciprocate accordingly for this plug)

No noisy engine so every word of Test Match Special can be heard

(Come on ECB no third test against Pakistan and over a month before the next Test Match - nuts!)

No exhaust fumes and the knowledge that with each trim of the fringe, planet earth is that little bit safer.

The Stihl HLA 85

Names currently under consideration for impending new puppy:

Stihl HLA 85
Judge Judy
The Defendant
Graeme Swann

Only all this careful consideration over names is not now required.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Moss!

Kennel name - Maurice Moss Have you tried turning it off and on again?

He's full on and goodness you forget how much work is involved with bringing up a pup. Otis has taken to him, although dips out of some of the more energetic activities which is only to be expected for a dog of such venerability.

Apologies but it's loin cloth, cave and shaking fist at outside world time again.

On three occasions this season, and we're only five weeks in, I have had anglers say to me that they had fished at such and such a place recently and had not seen a fish. Negotiating the banks had been a mission in itself and they were considering giving up their rod that they had held for some years. They were three separate stretches of chalk stream.

It is a worrying trend that some seem to have gone over big when exposing themselves to the cult of "re-wilding".

Call me a crank if you wish, but chalk streams must be managed if biodiversity is to be maximised.

How do I know this?

because in thirty two years that I have been falling in and out of this river I have been asked to look at several stretches of chalk stream that have not been managed for a number of years. One not far from here was a tree lined tunnel void of all weed with rudimentary aquatic life that was vastly improved after two weeks of going bananas with a chainsaw. It now has weed, an increased number of invertebrates and a population of trout and grayling that each year undertake the rigours of spawning.

Under management of chalk streams can be as detrimental as over management, the right balance must be sought if the habitat is to thrive and biodiversity maximised.

Keepering they used to call it - you've done that one - ed.

The principle source of income to fund this important work is derived from angling. Dressing up as Dickie the Damsel Fly to give guided tours of a broken chalk stream won't provide sufficient funds for the annual habitat management that must be undertaken if these rivers are to thrive.

I've said it on here before, but the work of a river keeper is now about providing safe and productive fishing in a manner that is sympathetic to the chalk stream environment.

Reports suggest that some stretches have become a right old shambles, and on a personal note if we look up rather than down, in five or ten years time there may be much needed work for the likes of myself restoring some order to some stretches that perhaps went in too deep with regard to the cult of re-wilding.