Friday 26 July 2019

Forty degree heat, Plagues of Insects and a New Pharaoh

And so it came to pass that a plague of peacocks, admirals and fritillaries was cast down, covering the face of the earth.

Damsel flies too,

but they have a more Arthurian feel about them and don't fit in with the current biblical tone of the piece.

Yes we are butterfly rich.

The aforementioned trio are joined by many meadow browns and much more besides.

The place is alive with the things along with several different species of damsel fly. Walk along the bank and the neighbouring piece of fen or meadow erupts with colourful winged insects. There are also several broods of very young pheasant chicks that scurry into the long stuff as we approach.

It is very hot and while I make my way up the bank in the morning Moss and Otis mostly chart a route up the middle of the river. For much of the two days of clearing down at the end of the weed cut, Moss ran up and down the river with weed in his mouth

while Otis adopted a static position midstream and had to be cleared of cut weed every few minutes.

For three days it has been very hot.

Tuesday saw a high of 39.2 Celsius under the parasol in our garden and I watered the greenhouse in just my shorts.

Thursday peaked at 40. 8 Celsius and I briefly considered watering the pots in one garment less.

Heathrow makes great play of its "record temperatures" which often seem to be several degrees down on measurements taken in our sheltered sun trap of a garden.

I've no reason to doubt the clever digital machine.

If GCSE physics serves, measuring air temperature is a fairly simple science that invokes the power of seaweed and pine cones so in your face Heathrow airport and Cambridge Botanists,

our back garden was the hottest place in these Isles the other day.

Or was the seaweed pine cone thing about rainfall?

No matter, we've had a little bit of that too. Spectacular thunderstorms in the night triggered by the heat. The showers have been fairly intense and have done nothing for the river but my broad beans did swell a little.

It will come as no surprise that fishing in these conditions can be a tricky business particularly from late morning to early evening.

There is fly about, but in bright light and low clear water fish get a very good look at what is a natural offering and what is an artificial.

Fish have been caught, including some considerable lumps,but one fish in the bag at this time of the year is the equivalent of four in late May.

Fish are at their most active first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but most lie dogo on the bed of the river for much of the day.

If you are on the river in the afternoon, linger over lunch, perhaps have a zizz and conserve energy for coming off the final bend in the manner of Coe and Ovett to take the line later in the evening.

We also have a few of these. Small pods of grayling around four inches in length. Two year old fish at a guess when spawning must have gone well. It certainly didn't three years ago as there is a dearth of fish in that age group.

The local news wallahs have just reported that our local water company and command centre central are warning of the possible implementation of restrictions on water use.

Come on the Weasels and Dunderheads, this was all too obvious at the start of summer.

Which is probably why they were petitioned in April by twenty trusts and organisations over concerns about water supply following a sixth dry winter in succession.

To recap, The Weasel's response fifty days ago was

"We do not expect hosepipe bans this summer"

The Dunderheads chipped in with:

"We are taking action to minimise the environmental impacts should we have a repeat of last summer's weather"

Once again,

Weasels! Dunderheads! Numbskulls!

Zero replenishment of the aquifers in the past fifty days was not the most difficult prediction to make.

Our aquifers and groundwater deserve better than shady dividend obsessed private water companies and an underfunded environmental protection (because that's what their remit is) agency.

For the allegorical among you it's a Sher Khan and Mowgli situation. With Sher Khan the private water companies, Mowgli the beleaguered Environment Agency and Man's Great Fire the Groundwater of the South East of England.

Who will be our Baloo?

Come on Baggy, get with the beat.

Once again, our precious groundwater supply is in the hands of Weasels, Dunderheads and Numbskulls.

And on that note.

The age of the Johnson is upon us and this particular member has been picking his team.

The Pharaoh has banished the cove Gove to the plains of Lancaster and his place as Environment Secretary filled by a fruit farmer from Cornwall. The newly appointed Viceroy for India, formerly the right honourable member for the 19th century has called for a return to imperial measurement. Jake has also distributed a list of words that he doesn't want people to use, called for the return of 2 star petrol and for all members to promote the many uses of a dead whale.

Prig was not on the list,

and if you're reading this Jake, the temperatures listed earlier in the piece come in at around four pecks and a bushel shy of a perch.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Weed, a Kaleidoscope of Colours and The Munchies

Hell's Horses it's hot.

The air temperature may hang around the mid twenties but the temperature inside my neoprene waders as I thrash away at verdant weed growth with my scythe must be double that. For the supporters of the sous vide cooking method, a slice of sirloin steak in a plastic bag secreted in my shorts should achieve medium rare status in a little over two and a half hours.

It's one of the more challenging weed cuts I can remember. There is plenty of weed but no water. Blanket weed is also having a high old time of it. A filamentous algae, it likes low warm water and phosphates and can swamp weed like ranunculus and water celery. It will also quickly occupy any areas of dead water. Raking down early next week will be an interminable business. Twenty five years ago I would rise at six and have much of the business done by mid morning (there is no data or graph to confirm this only anecdotal evidence) Next week it may take the best part of a day and a half. Graphs and data don't demonstrate a decline in the discharge of the Dever but anecdotal evidence suggests that the principle reason it will take me this much longer to clear weed down next week is that there is less water flowing down this river than there was twenty five years ago.

But like I said, EA and Water company monitoring of groundwater levels in this valley do not reflect this chronic decline.

Which remains a worry.

Over on the Itchen ribbon weed is very much king and last week I went bananas with the scythe in order to keep it in check. Water levels over there are also low.

Back on the Dever the meadows remain unmown as orchids continue to appear. I don't like to fire up the topper until they have finished.

The top fen is a kaleidascope of colours and the place is alive with butterflies, damsel flies and many other critters with the munchies that fizz about the agrimony, meadowsweet, loostrife, willow herb, comfrey and further flora.

Our garden continues to play host to the mother of all hedgehogs. Each evening she crashes her way through the undergrowth like a miniature boar to seek liquid sustenance at our pond. I am told that in prolonged dry spells nursing hedgehogs can sometimes abandon their hoglets to source some of the old eau. A self preservation instinct as a certain amount of water must be taken on board in order to prevent dehydration when producing a ready supply of milk for her brood.
While scraping our current crop of second earlies at the sink the other day, a harvest that is frequently described as "failed" I caught sight of an adult grass snake easing her way around the pond. Regular readers will know that we often entertain grass snakes in our garden and our crap cat will occasionally bring a baby wriggler in through the patio doors of an evening.

Last winter, or was it the one before, memory wise one does seem to blend into the other of late,

where was I,

Oh yes,

Tidying the workshop I disturbed an adult grass snake around 30 inches in length hibernating under the work bench, which made me start a little.

Anyway the reason for all this spiny shrew and reptile talk is that hedgehogs and snakes are quite tolerant of each other. Hedgehogs have some inbuilt immunity to snake venom. (You may want to have a look at that one Pfizer) Ok the snakes in our garden are of the harmless variety but brer hedgehog hasn't read the I spy book of snakes so how is she to know that the Bransbury Nagini is not about to give forth of the old venom.

A splash of water in a garden will provide succour to all manner of beasts not just those of the aquatic variety.

Yes garden ponds are a good thing, the more unkempt the better.

Ours was hewn from solid rock by minors,

not miners


Years ago when children were small and Madam worked some weekends in a retail emporia in return for a discount card and entry to a company share scheme (The shares financed the deposit for a house purchase) Time had to be filled while mother was away so I came up with the idea of a couple of small ponds in the garden. Two fibre glass models were bought on the local black market for just over ten pounds and the project was up and running.
It's a small garden but sites were decided upon and spades were put in the ground. Ten inches down we hit the chalk. The fibre glass ponds were just under three feet deep so it was out with the peck, shovel and the metal beach spades from Fowey and at the chalk we went. I the foreman, the two primary school children the workforce chipping away at the bedrock. We were against the clock as candles and canaries were out of the question as it would mean a breaking of the bedtime curfew, but by four in the afternoon we'd chipped enough chalk away for both the ponds to be fitted.

That was twenty years ago and one of the ponds remains valid and teems with life. The other sprung a leak after I fell off a ladder standing on frozen ground while cleaning windows, but that's another story with echoes of Buster Keaton.

Referring back to canaries we've the odd parakeet about at the moment. They pop in now and again and are easily identified as a flying "T" with an irksome screech. Fishing is hard work, even for July. Most fish are soporific during the day feeding occasionally. Concentrating their efforts on a sub surface repast they will occasionally be drawn to a well presented parachute or klinkhammer. They are easily spooked in low clear water and perfect presentation is key.

Well the cricket ended well.

We didn't attend, we've tickets for the Test later in the year, but goodness England have got the hang of the fifty over format.

Fitbits will confirm that Madam and myself trod over twenty thousand steps on the day of the final, most of them pacing around the settee and in and out of the kitchen in order to get both TV and radio coverage.

The 2005 Ashes series has a huge impact on a generation of junior cricketers, It certainly did on the junior cricketer who lived in our house.

Fingers crossed this world cup success has a similar effect. The football season is nearly upon us and I fully expect a Pardew moment when, after the roaring success of the 2012 Olympics, Pardew spouted in a TV interview

"yes, yes the Olympics were a great success with some tremendous sporting behaviour but let's not forget the noble game of football and its great sporting tradition"

Only to be sent to the stands three week into the season for headbutting a player on the touchline.

Thursday 4 July 2019

Trespassing with Jim Kerr and The Alabama 3

Ave all,

Herewith further guff on my movements about the parish in recent times.

But first a message from our sponsors:

if anyone is concerned about groundwater and river levels in the Dever Valley please direct your concerns to the following email address:

Feel free to offload,

I have.

Now where were we?

Oh yes,

A tree fell down,

two trees actually.

A brace of healthy beech trees lay prone across the road.

I don't think we made the traffic news but it was a narrow stretch of the lane and the things had to be cut into lumps and dragged up the road to the paddock for processing.

The trunks will be cut into six foot lengths for planking in eighteen months time.

Grass is growing well and we have a good show of orchids. Water parsnip and ranunculus currently grow at an incredible rate and both now push clear of the water throughout much of this stretch. The insidious onset of blanket weed has begun which to this simple mind, and I have been mistaken for Jim Kerr, seems a little premature. Fuelled by phosphates it can smother healthy weed in a matter of weeks

Blanket weed, not Jim Kerr.

If memory serves Jim Kerr categorically denied being a weed smotherer on The Tube (google it kids, it was very much the "Being N-Dubz" of its day) sometime in the eighties, although Jim was non committal when questioned on being fuelled by phosphates.

Hatches of sedge are on the up and most mornings it is possible to pick out a carpet of shed caddis shucks on some of the slower stretches of the river. Olives of all varieties pop out most afternoons although not in great numbers and an increasing number of fish refuse to look up concentrating instead on a sub surface repast.

The river is bursting with a million minnows. I don't know why our two pairs of kingfishers see fit to fight over them as there is plenty for all, some slow bends are teaming with the things

Over on the Itchen, ribbon weed is abundant and must be cut hard later this week, hatches of fly have been ok but there are fewer fish looking to feed on the surface than recent years.

The raised beds constructed last winter have proved to be incredibly productive. Today's harvest included strawberries, potatoes, carrots, broad beans, spring onions, lettuce and an odd shaped cucumber. The same potatoes planted in my vegetable patch yielded less than half of what came out of the raised beds.

Hot weather has made Moss mad.

Here he is running up the middle of the river,

an activity he undertakes most mornings.

The photo was taken with my idiot proof camera. I'd accidentally hit the special effects button. Turns out it's not idiot proof after all. I'd taken over a hundred photos of subjects various before the penny dropped.

If anyone needs a psychedelic photo of a grayling, muntjac or minnow don't be a stranger.

Hitting the road I bumbled about a bit on the Avon and the Kennet.

I received a kind invitation to return once again to the Upper Avon, a skip and a giggle upstream from where Frank Sawyer came up with his pheasant tails, killer bugs and grey geese.

It's always an enjoyable afternoon that starts with lunch in an excellent village pub in Enford and ends after slowly creeping up several beats of winding chalk stream a little bigger than the stretch of the Dever at home. I don't fish very hard these days and the number of times I cast a line probably came in at less than thirty, but it is always a pleasure to walk along a riverbank just having a look and trying to work out what is going on and why.

The Kennet was a different matter and rods were not on board. We had been issued with a safety recall for our clever car that continues to furnish me with speeding tickets. With a fair wind and the moon in the right phase electrical forces could combine to suddenly put the old jalopy into "get me home mode" a condition that means speed is limited to forty miles per hour or less.

Only certain people are qualified to administer the remedy and our local medicine man happened to reside in Hungerford.

Anyway what was supposed to be an hour long operation turned into three hours so to fill time I bumbled along the banks of the Kennet and the Dun. This stretch of the Kennet was subject to an "invisible pollution incident" after something particularly nasty was tipped down a drain upstream. The incident was picked up through invertebrate monitoring by the local fishing club (Command Centre Central monitoring didn't pick it up ) One of the invertebrate monitors at the club fishes here each year as guest. For many months no flies hatched from this stretch of the Kennet and all beasts that rely on their presence and other sub surface critters started to suffer.

The incident occurred six years ago and during my stumblings it was great to see olives and sedge popping out from a river that appears to have made a full recovery, and at this point I'd like to take the opportunity to apologise to the Hungerford Fishery for tramping up and down significant stretches of your fishery.

It is a beautiful piece of water that I hope to fish one day.

And so to the weasels that are private water companies.

I know, I know it's become a bit of a standard for this house, but really.

Yes the dodgy data, yes the failure to invest, and yes the largesse of the dividends dished out but can we just have a chat about leaky pipes.

In some parts of the country leaky pipes are undoubtedly a problem, those areas that receive their supply from reservoirs mostly.

In a region where the supply comes from a groundwater source a leaky pipe is not quite such an issue.

Water leaking from a buried supply pipe is not subject to evaporation, the principle course it can take is back down into the aquifer from whence it came to be once again abstracted.

In a region that relies on ground water supply for its domestic eau an issue arises over which length of pipe the water is leaking from.

Some houses in this parish have water meters situated a few yards from the front door under the pavement. If a leak occurs in the length of pipe between the meter and the house more water passes through the meter than actually makes the journey from tap to pug inside the house.

Much of the leaked water returns to the aquifer from where it was pumped. The water company charges for the water that passes through the meter not what comes out of the tap.

For sweet shop aficionados it's the equivalent of the good Mr Catherwood reaching for the sweet jar of fondant bananas charging you for three while putting only two in the bag.

For the unallegorical, The good Mr Catherwood is the water company, the fondant bananas are domestic water supply, the sweet jar is the aquifer and the charge is, well the charge is the charge, the bill if you will.

I think that's it

Financially it is not in the private water company's interest to detect leaks between the meter and a property. Several water companies make great play of their efforts to reduce leakages. I leave it to you to decide which side of the meter they target their efforts with regard to water leaking from a pipe.

I increasingly develop an Alabama 3 earworm when the subject of private water companies is raised?