Wednesday 24 April 2019

Mappa Mundi, An Aged Tortoise and Entente Cordiale

By way of an amouse bouche, here's one of Micheldever Wood on Easter Sunday at 8.00am.

Stunning, quite stunning,

before Moss ran amok

And we're off.

The trout fishing season for 2019 is now underway in Bransbury. There isn't a lot of weed, the early splutters of the hawthorn hatch are underway and the water is low. There are plenty of trout about that have over wintered well and several big fish have already been caught.

We've opened earlier this year to make up for the increasingly difficult midsummer conditions. A response to a changing climate if you will.

Further evidence of the dehydration of this corner of the country came my way last week. The National Library of Scotland has made many old maps available online.

A kind gent forwarded a map of this valley in 1894.

The map was drawn in 1894, the email wasn't forwarded in 1894.

They didn't have the internet then, although some of us still don't enjoy the internet experience via the medium of cables, high speed or otherwise, an hour away from one of the biggest cities on planet earth.

The map shows an awful lot of water being moved around the valley floor and writ large across the centre is "Liable to Floods". For those who know this stretch of river you will note that the Mill Stream takes the bulk of the water with several streams spilling over into streams that feed down into what we now call "the main river" Management of the water meadow was all about turning a wheel at the Mill, flooding the meadow in late winter to stimulate grass growth for early grazing and flood prevention.

Clever stuff and a wealth of lost knowledge about how to manage water in a chalk stream valley.

Aged tortoises that live out their years in far flung corners of empire get all the heat when it comes to antiquity, but the cast iron sluice on the house that has a big part to play in the management of water valley was installed in 1847, continues to be relevant and is still in use today.

For a few years now there has not been sufficient flow to run the Mill Stream, let alone spill a surplus across the meadow via a series of hatches and ditches to the river.

I was once shown a photograph of the Mill House in the early 1900's. It is winter and a group of men are working on a ground floor bay window, the stream through the garden was of sufficient size to merit inspection with a fly. This stream is now much diminished and dries up each summer.

Look closely at the map and you will see the pub that is now a house and whose ground borders our bottom bends. I have it on authority of his late wife Renee, that Ted, a river keeper in this parish for many years from the mid nineteen hundreds, would sometimes arrive home from the Crook & Shears soaking wet having fallen off the duck board walk that traversed the decidedly spongy ground that surrounded the spring holes. Today,Ted could totter home from the pub in Renee's highest heels without fear of sinking in or getting a soaking.

Regular readers will be well versed in the saga of Spring Bottom and concerns that groundwater data collected does not reflect the mountain of anecdotal evidence for the chronic depletion of this valley's aquifers.

Further revelations from this second Mappa Mundi include: the pasture on the non fishing bank - the wood's not as old as it appears.

The absence of the flight pond and the farm buildings by the entrance to Bransbury Manor. The dairy moved across the road around the turn of the century with the one-time cart shed now converted to a holiday let, all that remains of the original farm.

The demise of the mill as a functioning producer of flour probably led to the construction of the hatch at the top of this beat. With no wheel to turn, the water could be taken away from the mill stream and its mission to turn a wheel to boost flow in what we now call the main river.

For several hundred years the mill stream carried the bulk of the valley's water. What is now the main river existed as a side stream that wandered about a bit receiving sustenance from sluice streams throughout the length of the mill stream. These small sluiced streams also served as a means of getting rid of water in times of high flow, preventing the flooding of the mill.

The industrial revolution led to a reduced reliance on water mills and with the increasing popularity of sport fishing for trout with a fly, more water was sent down the natural course of the river and away from the half mile man-made mill stream.

Paperwork from several sales of the mill illustrate that the fishery has been a significant asset of the property for some time, principally for eels and trout as a source of food. The advent of dry fly fishing for trout in the late 19th century saw the value of a yard of chalk stream bank rise rapidly beyond the value as a source of turning a mill wheel.

In a reversal of roles, the mill stream is now used to move on any surplus of water (an event that hasn't happened since 2013) with the flow of what is now the main river controlled with an eye to providing sport fishing.

In other news,

The tragic fire in Notre Dame recently brought to mind our own recent travails with the medium of fire, and at this point I'd like to show solidarity with Messieur Macron and promise that our own little shed will be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Vive l'entente cordiale! Vive La Difference!

With an eye to the shortages, we've purchased a wood fired oven.

We have plenty of wood and we like cooking in ovens so it seemed the natural course to take.

When the lights dim and the plugs fade on whatever date is now scheduled, we shall seek succour and sustenance from "adequate food" ranging from wood fired oven chips to wood fired reheated pie.

To counterbalance this increase in our own personal carbon footprint I'd like to point out that the smoke produced from our oven is offset by that fact that mine and madam's exhalation weakens with each passing year.

Although other gases produced may be on the rise, which I attribute entirely to an increase in pulses in our diet

We wobbled over to another water meadow this week. A trip to Salisbury for a cup of tea and a walk around the meadows where Constable picked up his brushes to paint the tallest spire in Blighty.

The Cathedral of first choice for the Russian Bear, the city is bearing up remarkably well following recent events and is a great place for a day out.

The Avon is not quite as polite as the Test or the Itchen and can rise and fall at some speed. The water meadow complex upstream of the city also stand as testament to lost knowledge as to how to manage chalk river water meadows in order to both retain and get rid of water. I believe this kind of caper is current:


I could hazard a guess at some of it, but at one time there would have been a gang of guys bumbling about the Salisbury meadows with an eye as to what to do with the water and where it should go who really knew their stuff about how their water meadow worked.

Friday 5 April 2019

Gambit, Barwick and Command Centre Central


I'll pause there because I've come over all nostalgic with regard to all things Fred Dinenage.

Is he still with us?

Google confirms that Fred still retains a pulse although the work has dried up a tad. Plans are afoot for a revival of Anglia TV's quiz show "Gambit"

Apologies, bit of a false start there. I do find myself being easily distracted of late.

Negotiations over the furnishings in the executive washroom at Command Centre Central are ongoing with Jimmy Bevan speaking out again regarding a precarious water supply in these Isles.

The general consensus of the public response on a phone in I caught one lunch time, appeared to be that there was plenty of water and it was a public right to leave the tap running when attending daily to the canines and molars.

Which was a bit depressing so come on Sir Jim, there's a message that needs to be made many times in order to make a few pennies start dropping.

While we're on Command Centre Central, an underfunded and over stretched Government department, our local "Big Fish Water" have been on to say that they have received a request to fit expensive screens to all of their rearing ponds to prevent any interference with the passage of salmon and sea trout.

You may add Sturgeon and Shad to that list, as neither of the four species run this river.

Any producer of fish is subject to rigorous checks over what they do with their water and fish and costs are subsequently incurred.

There are some who hold the view that there is a policy of making smaller fish producing units economically unviable, as a few larger producers are easier and cheaper to monitor.

It flies in the face of a push for localism,

there would be revolution if this theory were applied to cheese.

Years ago fish were reared in smaller units to supply a neighbouring stretch of river. The fish were reared from adult fish taken from the neighbouring stretch of river and stocked at a smaller size, because fish food technology had not advanced to the stage that it is at today along with fish transportation.

Again I find myself saying "Well, we are where we are"

and I'll add a "You couldn't make it up",

but it's symptomatic of the first years of Command Centre's centralisation when our annual application to introduce a small number of brown trout to this stretch of the River Dever was declined due to Bransbury being sited on a sensitive stretch of the Upper Itchen.

Spookily this has just dropped through the door.

A request for monthly returns for the abstraction licence for our fish rearing ponds.

Fish rearing ponds that we mothballed in 2013 and an Abstraction Licence and Consent to Discharge that were subsequently revoked the same year.

News just in: Brian Barwick has resigned the post of Chairman of the RFL.

An old adversary of mine, we once shared a urinal in the top tier of the Warner stand during a Lords Test Match.

He was CEO at the FA at the time, while I sat on the Committee of Barton Stacey Football Club. I had a long list of questions for El Capitano, top of which was why a hoard of money accrued by my local county FA from fines issued in the grass roots game was not reinvested in the game at grass roots level.

I posed the question and Bri responded by zipping his solid gold zipper and exiting stage left.

I think I made my point, the chap on my left sniggered and said "well done" which seemed like a kind of an endorsement.

The Loos in the top tier of the Warner Stand by the way, some of the best in these isles. You can take your ease while keeping up with the cricket through a long thin window at eye level.

They think of everything at Lords, it's one of our favourite days out of the year.

In other Capital News, we popped up to the smoke the other day for lunch at William and Rosie's, before jostling our way across Leicester Square to the Prince of Wales Theatre to take in The Book of Mormon.

A tremendous romp with an awful lot of effing and jeffing, I don't know why we were so late coming to the piece.

Last weekend the regular rods turned up for lunch and a walk up the river. Always an enjoyable day and a nod to an impending season, they all seemed reasonably pleased with work undertaken over the winter. Some have fished here for over thirty years and have seen the valley go through quite a period of change.

On completing the task of stacking next winter's logs I received the gift of lumbago. Connoisseurs of the wood pile will note the Flemish method employed in the pile on the left.

Currently we have King Cups in flower along with inky black sedge. We've had a few frosts this week and the Wisteria has gone into "shall I or shan't I mode" I've seen several large female pike nosing up sprung ditches and hoorah for the small number of grayling that are charging around on the top shallows and below the ford across the Mill Stream.

The mower's been out for its first outing of the year and will now be employed every week through to the end of October. I may have made mention, but for the fifth spring in succession we've no spring in spring bottom.

Everything is waking up now and making preparations to take a restorative tot of water, so we'll have to go with the current level of groundwater, which isn't great.

It remains a bit of a worry that data collected and presented by government agencies and private companies doesn't demonstrate the actual state of play in the field with regard to groundwater levels in this valley.

Oft dismissed as a crank by those who purport to know better, the loin cloth, beard and life of a cave dweller once again appeals; with the occasional appearance to shake a fist at an outside world in which we continue to be increasingly led by loons.