Thursday 20 February 2020

A Beached Digger, Floods and Lanes

Okay, okay, we could do with a break from this rain.

Storm Dennis dumped several inches of the stuff on us last weekend and later in the week the river rose several inches, a lag in time typical of rapidly rising aquifers.

Water now lies in the four fields higher up the shallow valley from the field known as “Spring Bottom.

I have only seen this happen on three previous occasions, the last in 2014.

The ditch through the village that caused so much trouble in 2014 has been studiously cleared each Autumn and currently it reasonable well behaved although we’ve a long way to go this winter with groundwater levels likely to rise for many weeks yet.

At Bransbury some water is taking short cuts across some of the meanders and bridges are in danger of becoming submerged.

The river is quite quick to clear following rain. Another indicator that groundwater is making a significant contribution to the total discharge.

There should be some super fit fish about for the first few months of the season.

The water meadow upstream from here is holding water, which is what it should be doing at this time of the year, and plays host to many duck and geese.

Trees remain vulnerable in saturated ground and a few days back a substantial Aspen wobbled over on the far banks of the bottom bends. It seems quite bizarre that almost a year ago to the day the ground was so dry that a large part of fen caught fire and an old fishing hut went up in flames (it’s on here somewhere) I don’t expect to be burning any reed beds in what remains of this winter.

We’ve a digger on hire for a few weeks. There are a few well worn stretches of bank that need patching up and the stream that flows from the ford in the Mill Stream to the main river opposite the flight pond needs a bit of a clear out, particularly as it is currently carrying quite a lot of water.

There are other spring ditches in the parish that are also having an “out of bank experience” and spring water runs along several of the roads in this area as it makes its way to the main river.

My allotment that will feed this house in the coming year has assumed pond status and, with a nod to our friends in the east,

plans are afoot to branch out into polyculture and stock it with carp and rear chickens on rafts.

It’s far too wet for carrots, because yes we are experiencing flooding.

Not in the manner of the Wye, Severn and Ouse.

They are different types of river that respond in a different way to heavy rain than the Test and Itchen. The sage of Longparish the one time cricket correspondent for The Thunderer always insists that the Test is too much of a lady to flood. Which has some truth in it, but when she does flood she tends to sulk for quite a period and is reluctant to return to what the sage would have as “mid season form”

The Wye, Severn and Ouse rise very quickly and can fall at an equally rapid rate. I have fished the Wye, Dee (a similar river) and Severn in rising conditions and have had to move my fishing basket back up the bank throughout the day. A true chalk river creeps up and any flooding comes from rising groundwater which takes quite a while to go away.

A venerable and newly retired keeper on the middle river (he put me forward for my current position when he was in his prime) always insisted that you knew you’d had enough winter rain for the impending summer if you had to think twice about taking your 4x4 into the meadows for fear of getting stuck.

Here’s one of the digger beached in the woods.

I’d tried to stick to route that kept me as close to tree trunks and their associated tangle of roots by way of finding firmer ground. In conditions such as this, once you go through the top crust and there is no root system to provide support you just keep going down into the sodden peat. I’ve taken to putting sheets of tin down to drive and dig on, which seems to work.

Today we received word that the proposal for an enormous incinerator on a site two fields away from this stretch of the Dever has been withdrawn. The announcement came quite out of the blue and was taken in order for the once American based now Antipodean based company to concentrate on other projects, which all sounds a bit woolly but well done all the same and I doubt we’ll ever find out the real reasons why they suddenly pulled out and went away. Thanks to everyone who made representation during the consultation process.

Half term this week. No foreign trip but a couple of days in Brighton. We haven’t visited for around twenty years and we travelled by train. It was slightly disturbing to see the construction of a large tranche of houses somewhere around the M25 halted by flooding, clearly not the right site for houses.

We arrived in time for lunch, a fine repast of chips, curry sauce and beer on the beach before heading out into the lanes,

or possibly laines,

not sure which, there were signs to both.

It’s tremendously trendy and hip, not how I remembered it,

When the heavens opened we headed for the Pavilion which I had not visited before. Madam had frequented the place several times as a child. Mostly on school trips to draw palm trees. It’s completely crackers with all manner of stylistic influences.

More walking the following day and some spectacular Italian food somewhere in the Lanes/Laines before catching the choo choo home.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Storm Kia-ora, Tree Fail and Avenue 5

Well what a windy weekend that was.

Nothing to do with the high pulse count that we currently maintain in order to keep our bowels spick and span, but a storm with a name that I have seen spelt at least three different ways in a matter of days. Fortunately the next storm to sweep in from the west has been assigned the moniker “Dennis” which may be a little less confusing for the spelling departments.

For fifteen minutes on Sunday the rain was reminiscent of Niagara. A wall of water so intense we lost sight of the mill house across the road and many trees fell over,

all thanks to Rita's sis - Storm Kia-ora

The wind blew all day and five o’clock in the evening found me attending to a sycamore in fading light with wine on board, that had toppled into the lane.

Around a dozen other trees joined in this arboreal Hari Kari, or "Tree Fail" as our Antipodean friends would have it

Two ash trees fell into the mill stream,

a large Field Maple fell out of the wood at the bottom of the Andyke,

four firs assumed an angle of forty five degrees

and three large ash trees infected with die back broke off at the base.

With my tree triage hat on, the sycamore on the road is a priority followed by the two ash trees in the mill stream and the field maple across the track at the bottom of the Andyke.

A length of the field maple has made passage from the Andyke to the plank processing pile, where it will season for some time before assuming another guise via the medium of chainsaw mill.

The Christmas trees and ash in the woods may have to wait for attention as the start of the trout fishing season is racing towards us and there are many tasks still to be completed. I also anticipate having to cut weed in April for the first time in a long time.

The luxuriant ranunculus is entirely due to a reasonable rate of flow. The Dever remains principally between its banks and it has been higher, but my goodness the rain we have received this winter has had a tremendously rejuvenating effect on the river. Ranunculus is stimulated by flow, gravel is scoured and cleaned by increased discharge, nutrient levels are diluted in the extra water. Rain is everything to this river and its aquifers, the contrast between the low levels of the last six or so years is stark. With a decent recharge of the aquifers summer fishing should be a very different experience this year with wellies the footwear of first choice.

There may even be fish caught from the mill stream for the first time in many years. It’s one of the few places I have seen redds this winter and there should be water flowing throughout its length for much of the summer.

It has been as still as a pond for the last six summers and was built to drive the wheel at the mill. Bread would be plentiful this summer if the wheel were still turning and grinding grain.

Before storm Kia-ora arrived Madam, myself and the dogs headed for the upper Itchen to undertake some left foot, right foot in further efforts to extend life.

It’s a walk we’ve completed several times and it crosses the valley floor on numerous occasions.

There wasn't much water lying in the meadows and the main river was impeccably behaved and squeezed snugly between her banks.

On the short stretch of the Itchen that I fall in and out of, the gravel bank at the back end of the pool that has been proud of the water for much of last year is now submerged. I’ve been laying waste to some bramble and thorn and I bear substantial scars on any flesh that became exposed. The ranunculus in this stretch of the Itchen is a little behind the Dever and may not need cutting in April, the ribbon weed however will need attending to once a month throughout the summer.

A brace of great egret have rocked up on the water meadow above here.

Little egret are numerous in number in this valley, but great egret are a reasonably rare visitor.

The few times that I have seen great egret here, there have been heron nearby trying to run them out of town. The two species don’t seem to get on and this pair were being watched carefully by three of Jack Ern’s best.

I don’t know if referring to a heron as “Jack Ern” is a Hampshire thing.

Mary Gunn who lived downstream next door always called them that, although it may have been a Mary Gunn thing. She was a one off was Mary.

Great Egret by the way, couldn’t be anything else, even to these failing eyes. Twice the size of Little Egret and a little bit more between the ears.

While we’re on ears, I am now trialling a brace of solid gold trumpets that speak to each other through the centre of my head.

Decibels harvested in the bad ear are transported by sound pixies across my bonce to the good ear which then assesses them on the bad ear’s behalf – I think that’s what she said. Reading between the lines my good ear is now bionic, or possibly functioning as a super ear.

I've been on to Marvel comics to pitch a new feature "The addled adventures of Super Ear Man" and a pattern has been commissioned for the costume.

I await their reply.

Anyway, I’ve bought cars for less than the purchase price, and it’s a bit odd when you scratch one ear and you hear it in the other, but it seems to help.

Oh yes, Avenue 5

A Dickens of a show and a parody of our times.

Top TV, well done Armando Iannuucci.