Tuesday 17 November 2020

Bees, Bottlenecks and Classic Dom

Ave all. 

Here we go again. 

Last week the wind blew the rain fell and several arboreal leviathans toppled to the ground. All in the wood, two of them ash that had been on the cusp of cashing in their chips for a few summers, the third a golden willow that had been dead for a while. The first ash we chopped up provided four pallets of logs. 

The trunk was a little too big for the 28in Husqi and will lie in state in the wood, providing habitat for all manner of bugs beasties and funghi. We are encouraged to be a little less tidy in our management of woods water and gardens in order to promote biodiversity. 

This arboreal leviathan had been a popular stopping off point for woodpeckers, and a bunch of bees had taken up residence in a hole half way up the main trunk. 

Not very good at identifying bees and who knew there were over two hundred and fifty varieties in the UK alone. They looked and behaved similarly to the mason bees that enjoy the thatch on the cricket pavilion, although the abdomen may be a little darker. 

 They didn’t seem too bothered by the chainsaw disturbance and went about their business on the three days it took to deal with the tree. 

The large golden willow trunk has also been left to the bugs and beasties. 

This substantial ash fell over fifteen years ago and continues to play host to all manner of life, decomposers mostly slowly returning it to the earth. 

The rain has been hard, heavy and provided a welcome early winter fillip to the river. The hatch on the mill stream is already open (it remained closed from August 2013 to January 2019 due to low water) and the main river is carrying colour and close to being bank high. It doesn’t make for easy grayling fishing but a few are booked in to have a go as quite rightly, fishing with one other buddy is a permitted activity in these bizarre times. Today, on the way to deliver barley to the flight pond, I paused to question The English about his movements and my eye was drawn to a couple of dozen olives dancing above our heads. It had been a mild day and in clearer water they may well have drawn the eye of the grayling as they broke free of the water.  

This honeysuckle in the hedge is clearly confused by the mild conditions and is throwing flowers again

There are plenty of duck about, mostly mallard but some widgeon are whistling their way up and down the valley in the evening. It couldn’t be anything else and it’s a bit of a surprise as, like teal, they don’t usually turn up until the weather gets very cold. 

Strange times.

Buried deep in today’s edition of The Times is the news that flea treatments harm “river life” . The insecticide Fiprinol was detected in 98% of water samples taken with the average concentration five times the safe limit. The River Test was singled out as one of the worst affected rivers in England & Wales, The highest concentrations of Fiprinol, a nerve agent, were immediately downstream from water treatment works, suggesting that the Fiprinol is entering the river via domestic waste water following the washing of pets or their bedding. In tests high levels of Fiprinol have been shown to impact upon aquatic invertebrates and there are calls for Fiprinol to be banned.

Good news! approval has been granted for a tunnel beneath Stonehenge.

Two miles long it will begin at the Amesbury roundabout and end the other side of Winterbourne Stoke. The proposal has been mooted for over thirty five years. A bugger of a bottleneck, the dual carriageway drops from two lanes to one as it passes the stones. Any movements to the west during our time here, be it for business, sport or travel, have always had to factor in Stonehenge. The pressure put on the surrounding lanes and villages as people have a light bulb moment and head off piste is immense. 

Why they built the thing so close to the road in the first place is beyond me, and at this point can we all remember that a lot of it was  taken down and moved around in the early 1900s. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is a tremendous thing. The year that the farmer who has the field on the other side of the road built a replica henge out of straw bales increased the traffic further and I have visited in the middle of the night as a student drinking beer with mates sitting on stones trying to tune in to the vibe.

It could be done so much better and taking the traffic away and putting it underground will only enhance the piece. Great play will be made of the engineering miracle of the tunnel but Madam and myself have travelled through numerous tunnels in Europe of far greater length. Many times we have sat stuck in traffic near Solstice park trying to head west and one of us has sighed and muttered, “when are they going to dig that bloody tunnel???” 

Just get on with it.

It will not come as a surprise to most visitors to this house that when at work my addled mind is not always on the job and prone to drift. Irked the other day by the internet and some dimbulb troll who thinks that because he/she is online, all filters are off and comments can be abusive, unkind, ill informed or just plain false

Which led me to ponder what would have happened if we’d just stuck to landlines, dial up internet connections and the post. 

It took a bit of effort to make an abusive phone call, any unkind or abusive comments made on a dial up connection would have to pass through a period of buffering during which the red mist may recede, and I don’t member any abusive or unkind letters dropping through my post box. The internet and mobile connectivity have undoubtedly changed how we live our lives in a very short space of time, but, and I’m looking at you here Tim Berners-Lee, when the internet was invented and Tim first piped up with his initial “Ahem, attention everyone, I think I’ve got something” he could have added the rider “I’ve called it The Internet, it could be a tremendous thing……but it might not be for everyone”

In today’s ding dong news,   

Ding Dong the Dom has gone!

Here's his ebullient cousin Lyle in The Simpsons. 


A staged exit from the front door of No.10 with a cardboard box full of contempt for the common man and a mobile eye testing kit,

Classic Dom

Antagonist and Duper in Chief 

He should have gone in April. Our own MP who does good things from the back benches said as much in her reply to an email I penned in mid April. 

 “ I have no doubt as to the immense damage the PM has done by refusing to sack Cummings.  He is seldom so out of step with public opinion, and I assume is hoping people have short memories.  It is awful.”


Monday 9 November 2020

Exmoor and Feature Status for an Excavator

Not for the first time ,we must open this latest chunk of guff with an apology.


It has been noted by several visitors to this site that I have once again drifted into tardiness with regard to chucking up guff. 


Ok the fug, 


I have got an allotment and also a long list of decorating jobs seems to have presented itself.


Apologies, I’ll try and keep up.



We also went away at half term. 

A week on Exmoor with the dogs and very few other people. 

Unable and unwilling to fly away, we decided to do something different so took a house by a river for the week.  Withypool was the place and a perfect base for walking. The moors border the village and five minutes walk saw us climbing steadily past free range ponies. 

Moss did most of Exmoor in the first morning, Otis was a little more staid in his progress but covered every mile that we did, which ain't bad for an old dog. 

The house sat on the banks of the river Barle. Our first walk was curtailed by stepping stones that were underwater. Our drive to a walk starting at the Tarr steps was doomed due to the height of the water of a ford on the Barle. Five days into our stay, and after quite a bit of rain the Barle was half way up the garden and heading for the house.  It’s a pretty river the Barle but it has few manners, unlike a pretty chalkstream. 


We saw plenty of red deer and a couple of hen harriers but no sign of the beast of Exmoor, although we did see a black goat. The mythical beast has been roaming the moors for decades ( beast of Exmoor, not the black goat) and how long before Jeremy Wade rocks up having exhausted all avenues when it comes to frightening people about fish. 



the internet in Withypool, a forty minute ride away from petrol stations, secondary schools and supermarkets, was ……..superb!


The mobile signal in Withypool is non existant. 


This can present unique challenges. 


Particularly with online security.

Midway through our stay the penny dropped  that we had forgotten to transfer some money from our savings account before our departure.  

Our online savings account required a PIN to be generated and delivered to our mobile phones. 

The PIN self destructs in five minutes. 

Our attempt to transfer money required a dash to the highest point on Exmoor to get the PIN followed by a careering journey down the lanes to the laptop to enter the thing in the box. 


It couldn’t be done. 


Here I am on the highest point on Exmoor explaining my predicament to the bank. 


Lynton and Lynmouth were the only urban areas that we visited. 

There were a hundred crazy fools in the sea with surf boards on a day when it hammered down for hours. The river rose quickly, but the culverts and levees coped easily with what must have been a fraction of the flow on the August day of the disaster.


We rode the funicular and sang our songs. 

All the windows and doors were open and numbers were limited. It’s powered by water which is plentiful in these parts . Ballast tanks beneath the cars are filled with water at the summit and emptied at base camp, the increased weight of the car at the top pulls the lighter car at the bottom up the slope. 

Top chips by the harbour and sausages for the dogs before returning to the isolation of the moors. 


By the end of the week, the Barle remained in a fine bate. The colour of cocoa, the Tarr steps were almost submerged. 


At home, the Dever was also on the rise but remained well within her banks. The first pair of grayling anglers had a great day, with clear water allowing sight fishing for grayling to two pound. Triploid trout were a pain, with some huge lumps taking time out of their day. No sign of any fish kicking up redds yet, but there is still plenty of time. 


Over on the Itchen, this happened. 


Seems the campaign by the fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes brigade to replant the river has switched from ranunculus to Kubota. 

It has been there all week and they are struggling to get the thing out. This part of the Itchen is a SAC, A designated special area of conservation, higher than an SSSI.  The form filling and risk assessments that are required to carry out this work are extensive, if you knock your cup of coffee over you have to stump up an explanation. 


I don’t know how it happened and best wishes to the digger driver, I hope you’re ok.

 It could be a while before the thing is hauled out and it may well acquire “feature status” with catch records next season reporting the location of capture as “just behind the Kubota. 


Poor Geoffrey Palmer. A keen angler, I met him once. 

Not here on the Dever but at some nearby lakes.  

A sudden shower sent most sane people scurrying for cover and I ended up underneath an oak  tree with Geoffrey Palmer.  As lugubrious as you would expect, we chatted for five minutes about fishing before the sun came out and we went our separate ways, he to the lake, me to the fishery office. To touch base with a mate. He was quite a good fisherman by all accounts. 


A second sad loss this month was Jim Glasspool. 

During his tenure as secretary of the Test & Itchen Association he gave a great deal of time promoting the cause of the two chalk streams and sat on many committees representing the interests of the two rivers. A chemist by trade, who worked high up in the petro chemical field, he promoted the use of phosphate test kits that have been used so successfully in holding the feet of water companies and bagged salad producers to the fire. 


His predecessor was Peggy Baring. 

Scion of the banking family, and Christine Hamilton times ten, she is fondly remembered by many keepers and owners alike. 

In the late eighties I was undertaking eleven weeks work experience with the EA’ s predecessor the Nationl Rivers Association. 

As part of my remit I was given a company car, an unlimited “Overdrive” card to buy petrol and dispatched to the county in order to ascertain who actually owned which bit of river, because, 

yes, they really didn’t know.  

First stop was Peggy Baring, who invited me up to her big pile of bricks just outside Basingstoke.

Presented with coffee and biscuits I sat down on the sofa with Peggy and we pored over maps. She couldn’t have been more helpful, she had a soft spot for keepers and prospective ones and was very generous with her time.  I was twenty-one years old at the time and was unnerved by Peggy’s flatulence.  It was not mentioned throughout our two hour meeting, but it was regular event and seemed to coincide with the chiming of the grandfather clock at the end of the room. Two hours with Peggy and I had eighty percent of the task in the bag. 


Ding dong The Donald’s gone,


And a predictably petulant departure with echoes of The Duce.

The man who made America grate again

Please can we all agree to resume stepping forwards rather than backwards.