and what jollier evenings they are as with each passing day the day light lengthens and we tick off the days. February can now nearly do one and we’ll march through March to a sunlit release in mid April.
What a start to 2021 it has been.
In river news the release of the annual report as to how things went in 2020 was delayed but following great effort and no little industry is with us now.
Compiled by the Riparian owners association it is a compendium of the mutterings of keepers, managers and owners on the Test and Itchen and serves as a useful bellwether as to the state of play on the two rivers. Understandably the pandemic featured highly in most reports. Fishing proved to be a safe activity to undertake and helped with both mental and physical health. There are plans for fishing to be more widely prescribed.
Noises regarding the introduction of Beavers to southern rivers are increasing in volume.
I’ve a little knowledge of brer beaver and I don’t think he’s quite the thing required for our precious chalk streams. There are rivers in the British Isles where his presence could be of benefit but necessarily in a low rolling chalk valley.
Pickering beck and neighbouring becks prone to flooding when it rains a lot on the North York Moors are flooding less following introduction of schemes in the headwater that aim to delay the entrance of heavy rain into the river system. Wood and brash is piled up in feeder streams as rudimentary dams to hold water back. This is the role suggested by the man in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes that brer beaver could undertake.
Chalk streams behave in a very different way.
Human beings realised a long time ago that groundwater fed rivers had particular characteristics. Too polite to flash flood they are more benign in nature. Hatches and sluices have long been built to control river flow, manage levels and move water around the valley floor. Some sets of hatches are hundreds of years old. The current hatch on the mill house here on the Dever was installed in 1842 (I have seen the receipt) and it still works.
Fifteen or so years ago more people in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes started appearing in the valley advising owners to rip all these hatches out. Where water was held back by a hatch a a short section of perched stream resulted which was not quite the fast free flowing stream that people in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes dreamt about.
Today the argument for the release of Brer Beaver centres around its propensity to build dams and hold water back and create perched stretches of stream.
I have said it on here before, but wouldn’t it have been more sensible to assess each hatch and sluice, work out what can be achieved by its use in different levels of flow and use it in a way to benefit the chalk stream habitat rather than rip the thing out and let the beavers have a go. There is a wealth of lost knowledge on how chalk streams were worked, managed, and water held up, let go and moved around the valley floor. There was also a lot more water to cope with hundreds of years ago when these hatches and sluices were first introduced.
Out in Canadia (where we last travelled to when we were able) they are well acquainted with the beaver. Stuck in a bar one afternoon while Madam shopped for craft goods I got talking to Chip and Dale (I think that was their names although I had a burst ear drum at the time. Beer helped) Chip or possibly Dale worked in a park we had caught the train out to earlier in the week where a river ran through it and there were beavers. I mentioned to Chip or possibly Dale that we had not seen sign of them in the park (beavers, not Chip or possibly Dale) and Chip, yes definitely Chip informed me that wrapping two feet of heavy gauge wire around bankside trees moved brer beaver on to easier gnawings and anyway, they didn’t go a lot on human activity.
I’m not sure letting them go (beavers not Chip and Dale) on the Frome as was reported in the Thunderer last week is such a good idea and would question whether the Frome’s characteristics are suitable for the work of a beaver.
The battle with the forces of willow and thorn continue over on the Itchen. A bramble rich section of the valley has been brought into line following several sessions of going bananas with a chainsaw. There are a few olives hatching over there but the weed growth is a long way behind what we have on the Dever.
I’ve also been at the golden willow that I pollard each year and also the big bank of red dogwood. Both provide colour each winter if cut back before the buds break.
The stream that runs from Spring Bottom to the Dever just above our top boundary continues to creep up. It runs through the allotments and I have a measuring stick by the bridge which I check each day when I make my way up there to encourage my broad beans.
We’ve had a few dry days in the valley this week but there is still a substantial amount of water still making its way down into the aquifers. There is a high chalk bank in our garden and if you put your ear to it (I do have one perfectly good ear) following a day of gentle steady rain you can hear the faint sound of water.
Colour is on the increase with daffodils, aconites, catkins, red elf caps and much more besides heralding a brighter future.
The wild garlic in our garden has also popped up. We use the leaves a lot in the kitchen, Spaghetti Trapanese being a particular favourite. A Sicilian dish it comprises a pesto made with skinned almonds, basil, garlic and olive oil. Substituting a handful of wild garlic leaves for a garlic bulb imparts a more delicate flavour. Mix the pesto through the pasta with some high end olive oil, add in some chopped up and seasoned cherry tomatoes that have been warmed for five minutes in the oven and top off with grated pecorino cheese.
Spaghetti Trapanese, done!
Next week, winning ways with mushy peas.
Last week I pondered the possibility of a “Confessions of the world’s worst tractor driver piece” as a break from the usual guff.
I wish I hadn’t.
During the recent workshop purge I undertook an audit of all my digital photographs on my photo PC in my office. They start in 2003 and I have over one hundred thousand. Many thousand cricket photos have been handed over to our local club and are currently appearing on their facebook page in small tranches. The rest have been transferred to a very big hard drive storage thing that I don’t understand.
I fully expect to live to over a hundred because I walk a lot further than Captain Tom did, but that may not now be enough time to go through and look at all of these photos.
My four summers working on the farm occurred in the late eighties.
The internet had not been invented, digital cameras were promised for the new millennium along with hover shoes. I was encouraged to take photographs from a very early age,
it’s a family thing.
Early on with kids’ kodaks, through a nifty little Ricoh and a multi lensed Parktica to a Pentax ME super.
We have a large chest in our bedroom that contains every photo I ever took on film. On my quest to source photos for the “tractor piece” I resolved to catalogue this haphazard jumble of evidence. I don’t know how many there are but our bedroom floor has disappeared. I have been on the job for over a week now and I’m only half way through the trunk.
Apologies, almost forgot the quest to catalogue all forms of tinnitus.
Here's Sven on his giant Paiste gong: