Wednesday 13 December 2023

Brain Fog, Risk Assessment and Brucie's GP

Crikes this one took a bit to get going, bit out of practice. 

Back in the day I could chuck this guff up in a matter of minutes (the clear evidence of rushed work is on here somewhere) follow it up with 850 words for the ST, a couple of football/cricket reports and update relevant websites regarding weekend sporting results before answering emails and responding to keyboard warriors and trolls various. 

Bit of a brain fog at the moment that I’ll attribute directly to the scientifically proved manopause. 

Oh yes, the river. 

Brim full of water, still within it’s banks but chugging along like a good un. I’ve bankside willows to attend to that must wait for drier conditions, the banks are super soft and I could currently do a lot of damage trundling about in the tractor. Hauling a few felled limbs from the river could quite easily result in the clever Kubota attaining “feature status” for a few weeks stuck in the meadows. 

At which point I’d like to mention that I currently spend a lot of time on my own about the place. I am quite aware that if anything went wrong while in the river on my own with a chainsaw or trundling along in the tractor on a soft riverbank, I’d be in a bit of a fix. 

The RNLI don’t operate this far up river and if my phone got wet or went down I’d be in a bit of a pickle. It may be an age thing but I have become increasingly aware of my capabilities and where once I would have climbed a tree in shorts and flip flops to nip off a limb of willow holding a chainsaw in one hand, I now proceed with caution.

We’ve had a few frosts and the beech and oak trees cling on to their final few leaves. Milder days have seen a few olives emerge with the odd grayling and triploid brown demonstrating interest. Trout are kicking up redds relatively untroubled by avian predators, the higher water carrying a little colour affords a relative degree of protection from “Jack Ern’s” indiscriminate stabbings. 

We continue to play host to a plethora of survey wallahs clad in the highest level of viz with regard to all manner of projects whose inception is planned for the next couple of years. This little lane could become quite crowded in the second half of this decade with machines of all shapes and sizes on manoeuvres. 

There is also river restoration work planned for the stretch up stream from here owned by the MOD. 

Back in the day the meadow and river was used regularly as a training ground associated with the now defunct Barton Stacey Camp. At some point it seems soldier boys got to drive some diggers and there are some very long deep stretches up stream of here. Folk in the finest fleece jackets and cutting edge walking shoes are keen for such stretches to be filled with many tonnes of gravel, raising the river bed before the addition of a few wiggles to flick the water about. 

Here at Bransbury the bottom and middle bends, which are the only deeper stretches would be a prime candidate for some, to receive the gift of gravel. My late employer and myself, always resisted the calls to do so citing the deeper stretches added some interest to the angling experience. We are being encouraged to maximise biodiversity and the deeper holes played host to fish and invertebrates that didn’t appreciate the faster flowing water: Roach, Perch, Pike, Chub and Eels to name a few, plus the odd leviathanic trout. 

Chalk stream management in the latter part of the last century had been accused of being too “Troutcentric” – if it wasn’t a trout, it was coming out! 

Aren’t we being similarly “troutcentric” if we remove any naturally occurring deeper stretches. 

Gravels laid down here, when Tyrannasaurus walked the wood, naturally lie at different levels, deposited by a much bigger and powerful braided stream. There are patches of alluvial gravel in this part of the valley that sit several feet above the current river level, there are parts of the valley where I can push a twelve foot punt pole down and not find gravel, there are also some serious deposits of sticky claggy light grey clay with overlying peat, 

that is for another day, this is all about the gravel. 

There is plenty of faster, shallower water at Bransbury that the river’s salmonids revel in, trout fishing may be the principle provider of income here, but a decade or so ago we had a burgeoning roach fishery here (until Tarka took hold) and some reasonable water for pike fishing with a spinner or fly (again……. well you can the fill the rest in yourself) Roach and Pike anglers who become stakeholders in the chalkstream habitat. 

In the current climate monitoring by trusts, associations, private individuals et al proves more effective at holding the feet to the fire of those that would do this precious habitat harm than that of the agencies charged with task by government of protecting the chalk stream habitat . The greater the number of stakeholders with an interest in the protection of chalk streams the better, all the deep bits don’t need to be filled in. 

I think that’s it, some sort of order seems to have been restored.

Seasons greetings everyone, here’s to a happy and peaceful 2024 and to channel the late great Bruce Forsyth (whose GP taught me to Spey Cast on the Carron, proper chap by the way Bruce and his GP Dr Loxton was a great guy and talented salmon angler) 

Keeeeeep Fishing!

Tuesday 7 November 2023


Still here, and as requests are being made for annual reports on the year just passed, I thought I should have a go at chucking up some guff by way of muscle memory and cranial stimulation. 

The river and house remain on the market and while there has been some interest throughout the summer, so far no takers. 

2023 was a Curate's egg of a trout fishing season on this stretch of the Dever. 

A super start with hawthorn and mayfly all that they should be. July and August were a little tricky, but then they always are, but September was particularly disappointing. Fishing here often picks up towards the end of the summer with some of the bigger fish put on the bank during the final few weeks of the season, but this year Salmo Trutta remained soporific throughout September. A dearth of late season fly may have been the cause but it was a similar story throughout the valley. 

The tale in The Times this morning of a chap who dipped his toe into the Kennet and contracted Sepsis with the accompanying lengthy stay in hospital was a bit of a worry. 

Unsurprisingly, the spot where he took the waters was downstream from a water treatment plant. While water levels remained good throughout the summer, it was a surprise to see such a proliferation of blanket weed in this stretch of the Dever from June onwards. It’s a sure sign of increased nitrates and phosphates, and I’m looking at you Southern Water and the efficiency of your Poo Poo plant a mile up stream from here. 

Public campaigns to call out the Weasels at Water Companies are both necessary and welcome. This house has been calling them out for some years. I first wrote about raw sewage being dumped into Plunket Greene’s Bright Waters fifteen or so years ago. It’s on here somewhere. I also wrote an article for the Shooting Times highlighting the river’s plight with an accompanying photo of a sign placed on several bridges warning the local populace of the dangers of allowing their pets to enter the temporarily fetid ditch. 

The editor of the ST at the time was a little disbelieving and it took a few emails to convince him that the article was based on fact and not the verbal ire of a disgruntled fisherman who hadn't caught anything that day.

Well done everybody for shouting about this matter and calling the water companies out for what they are and the impact they are having on precious aquatic environments in these Isles. 

Water quality done, I’ll move on to water quantity, and at the moment the Dever retains a good level, water is rising in spring ditches and it has been an encouraging start to the winter for rain in these parts, keep it coming. 

In other news the Suzuki Jimny blew up and now sits to the right of Odin in Jimny Valhalla. It was fourteen years old and had seen some service, only not the sort undertaken by a garage mechanic. An oil burning pig of a white van now sits in its place, which has proved to be very useful. 

Moss is still with us and we have also had the company of a semi tame Muntjac who has spent much of the summer alternating between looking in through the patios doors and standing on our small patch of grass staring at us while wine is taken on board early of a summer evening.

Out of the trout season I now seem to spend a lot of time on my own. I have started winter work with the chainsaw already up and buzzing, although Lord Ludg has gone wobbly with Parkinsons and can no longer be trusted with sharp saws.  The English has broken his leg following an incident somewhere in Oxfordshire. 

Madam’s departure just over a year ago has left quite a hole around here, a fact not lost on many of our anglers who have fished here for decades, just hope we get to do it all again next year. 

In travel news, it has been quite difficult to get away. 

We were due to fly to Nice at Easter, but on rising at 4.00 am to head to the airport we received a text from BA informing us that our flights had been cancelled. They had however offered us an alternative passage, albeit from a different airport two days later. The trip had already been curtailed to three nights as I had to be back to meet a potential buyer of this place, no other flights were available, so we cancelled the trip and went back to bed. 

Up a few hours later for breakfast to find that a fox had killed all the chickens and Moss was on three legs with what looked like an injured shoulder. It was quite a day, but hey, these things are sent to try us. 

No summer holiday, but we have just returned from a fantastic six day trip to Barcelona. 

We’d visited for the day when fishing the Ebro about fifteen years ago and always said we would like to come back, can’t think why it took us so long. 

We had a sixth floor Air BNB with roof terrace two minutes walk from the Dressandes metro station at the bottom of La Rambla, which proved to be a perfect base for exploring the Catalonian capital. 

Up the cable cars to the castle first to take in the view and marvel at the sheer size of the city. Olympic museum, Picasso Museum some other funky art museum whose name I forget (We had purchased five day “Barcelona cards which afforded free access to many attractions and also travel on the tube.) 

Lots of Guadi, who crops up all over the place, including Sagrada Familia a Leviathan that looms and manages to be both bonkers, breathtaking and also bizzare. 

Walked on the beach and briefly braved the sea (we had very good weather, above twenty degrees for much of our stay) 

Shopping was good (apparently) and food was excellent with some top tapas and super steak. 

I think I’ll leave it there. 

Brief break has restored no end of vim and vigor and I’ll try and get back to updating this a little more regularly, as there doesn’t seem to be any taker popping up for these parts anytime soon.

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Press on Regardless?

Hello, Hello, 

Apologies again for being away so long, not much has changed other than the demise of Dickie Davies, who we bumped into on many occasions, and a brief bought of covid 19 (Apparently it is still a thing) 

Rain today was very welcome as the river had dropped at a remarkable rate following an arid February, but weed is growing and all looks promising for the coming trout season. 

It is now apparent that the locale will be under new ownership sometime later this year. What this means for madam and myself is still a little unclear. We have both recently turned 55 which a plethora of junk mail, both actual and ethereal, inform us is a bit of a thing when it comes to stages of life. 

We’ve a three bed ex council house a little way up the valley all bought and paid for which we could live in if necessary, but are exploring the possibility of purchasing a “chez nook” somewhere else. 

I have worked for my deceased employer and her family for thirty one years and it has been a blast. Madam and myself both consider ourselves immensely fortunate to have lived, worked and raised a family in this parish, and if we do have to move on, it will be quite a wrench, with so many memories, friends and fishers.

New owners may require my services on the river or they may not, they may be happy for me to continue to chuck up guff such as this, or they may not want their river up and out there on the internet. 

We don’t know, 

But for a while until we know which land lies where, I’m going to muffle the oars and switch to radio silence. 

Feel free to stay in contact directly, deep cover, by email with further questions if necessary.  

I’m just a little concerned that any potential new owner could stumble across this guff and mark me out as a troublemaker/troubled/ addled or possibly just a loon who shouldn’t be allowed near sharp tools.

Of course six months down the line, it may be "press on regardless, Chris" from new owners and we can all sit down once again in a circle on the same familiar patch of grass and lace daisies into one another's hair, in which case see you back here later this year. 

Time will tell.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Scientific Discovery, MOTs and Surveys

Hello and Happy New Year, 

Oh, we’ve done that one.

No matter there is much to discuss, not least my latest condition. 

On me everyone, 

I have now attained a vintage that triggers a summons for both a health and financial MOT. 

While it’s best we move on from the fiscal visions of Mad Lizzie and the Uxbridge Berlusconi and the impact of their machinations on my pension pot. The health side went surprisingly well with normal cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and pucka prostate, blood pressure and heart rate. 

Ok I am carrying a little extra timber and yes the psoriasis, but inexplicably I have grown a centimetre in height since my last health check in 1992 (Clearly aged 24 I was still growing). 

Following further questioning, there was much admiration for my consumption of fruit and vegetables and fifteen thousand steps each day, countered with mild consternation over my determined and sustained consumption of red wine. All information was entered into the clever computer and we waited for my “body age” and percentage risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke and possibility of making it through the day. 

Turns out my body is 55 years old, which I knew anyway, and my chance of suffering heart failure or a stroke in the next few years is less than 5%. 

I'll take that.

Ok I could have the body age of a 45 year old if a smaller figure had been entered in the “number of glasses of red wine drunk each week” column, but statistics prove that I may well have been a centimetre shorter back then aged 45 and anyway, Madam is not drawn to a young, earnest and stumpy cove.

As I explained to the excellent nurse, and at this point Basketball people you may wish to take note, 

It is clear that science now teaches us that drinking red wine makes you grow taller. 

In other medical news, during the recent cold snap I slipped over on the ice and fractured my wrist.

I was informed by the lady tending to my injury that this is a more common occurrence with the elderly, so maybe I’m not 55 after all, or perhaps my left wrist is older than the rest of my body or possibly, in the manner of a new born giraffe, I am a little more ungainly now that I have achieved my full height. 

Whatever, after four weeks the splint is now off. 

For the record the incident happened at 11.30am well before any wine had been taken. I’d stopped on the road next to the ditch that carries water from the field known across the ages as “Spring Bottom” through the village and down into the Dever. It passes under the road via a trio of pipes that can often become blocked causing water to back up in the ditch. I often stop and check for blockages. On this occasion I stepped out of the jeep and went base over apex on the thick ice on the road. 

While we’re on Spring Bottom and its related ditch, the water level has fallen markedly through the past few weeks and Spring Bottom currently sits sans spring. We’re ready for some more rain now please. 

The river is running clear and weed is starting to grow. Ranunculus will always be stimulated by good winter flow and all of the unsightly gunk that built up in river during the low flow of last summer has been swept away. 

We have been subject to two surveys of late. 

One by wallahs from the Wessex Chalkstream Trust who are carrying out some restoration work on a stretch upstream and wanted to make an assessment of the Dever’s natural profile. 

The gravel drew rave reviews

The second by the weasels from the water company, who plan to put a pipe from a waterworks on the lower Test to a waterworks on the upper river in order to “relieve pressure on the aquifers” 

A Damascene moment perhaps with regard to a more sustainable provision of the old eau to society, although it seems a little out of character when they have been more than comfortable with their increasing over abstractions in recent decades, and is it finally a tacit admission that water is running short in these parts. 

If water entering the upper reaches of The Test system is increasingly of a "recycled" nature the river"s water quality will fall and the characteristic of the river will change.  No water treatment works can match a chalk aquifer for producing clean, clear and chemical free water. 

Grayling fishing has been disappointing. 

Despite the implementation of the flawed “Trout and Grayling Strategy” in 2015, numbers of grayling in this stretch have fallen off a cliff. 

Where a competent angler may have expected to catch 15 to 20 grayling in a day fishing here twenty years ago, today’s expected bag is below half a dozen. The grayling is very much the junior partner in this strategy, despite the number of anglers targeting them increasing over the years. Each grayling angler is a stakeholder in the health of a chalk stream and a supporter when it comes to protecting these precious rivers. I have not seen grayling spawning in numbers for a while. I put a video on the the “tube they call you” back in the day, of many adult grayling oblivious to my presence getting jiggy on the shallow in front of the Fishing Hut. Twenty years ago it was common place to find several seriously senior grayling dead on the weed rack in front of the Mill House in spring, exhausted by the process of spawning. I haven’t picked one off the rack for some years. The Dever doesn’t get bothered by Graculus in the way that the middle Test does and I know this type of thing can go in cycles, particularly with a true wild fish, but the lady of the stream’s plight needs a little more looking into than is currently being undertaken.

Looking ahead to the summer, we do seem to have a full book of rods ready to arrive to bother trout, with few free days available.

Which is a good thing. 

While out doing the left foot right foot thing in sustained efforts to prolong life. Madam, Moss and myself took in a dozen heron on the meadow upstream. 

Tightly formed up, although not in a Red Arrows kind of way, I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one spot. Away from the river but close to a spring ditch, they appeared to be holding parliament in the manner of the mad March hare. There’s a heap of greylag geese turned up as well and I’m sure that following the cold snap if I’d run Moss down the middle of the meadow there would have been a few snipe about. 

I think that’s all, 

Still in limbo here, working towards the impending trout season, but beyond that, who knows? 

Difficult to get away with no trips booked, which is a bit strange after Madam and myself had taken to gadding about and living for pleasure alone since the kids left home (it's on here somewhere).

Plans are slowly forming, but we are both very aware that in many respects there is a clock ticking with an increasingly voluble tick and a tock.

Thursday 19 January 2023

International Kidney, Fallow Deer and Brer Beaver

A belated Happy New Year everyone, 

sorry it’s taken so long but to quote Jack Lennon: 

Strange Days indeed, most peculiar mama. 

First morning of the year found Madam, Moss and myself once again bumbling about on the common. Puddles aplenty and a triptych of egret. The Great, the Little and The Cattle. 

Not seen a Cattle Egret before. A stumpy cousin of the other two, and who knows what shakras, portents and runes have been invoked regarding prospects for the new year following it’s presence in the valley on the first day of the new year, but we press on regardless through the month all the same. 

By the way, the Silver Birch pictured above stood and struggled in the centre of the common for many years. A favourite perch of the many avian oddities that dropped in, it was sad to see that it had succumbed to the wind, although it never looked like it was having a happy time of it despite it's array of exotic visitors. 

Muntjac currently mass in this part of the valley and our small garden currently plays host to a substantial, if slovenly male who nibbles daintily at any green shoots presented. Down on the common we took in the resident heard of twenty fallow deer. 

Out bumbling in Harewood Forest, Child A/Maisie (status - married and a few months shy of thirty years old – how did that happen) took in a group of fifty or more fallow.  

While we’re on the age of children and fallow deer, we recently had cause to travel up to the smoke for Child B/ William’s twenty eighth birthday (once again, how did that happen) Recently accustomed to living high on the hog we were directed to a michelin starred gastro pub to provide a celebratory lunch, where the star of the show was fallow deer, possibly from Hampshire served several ways, the centre piece of which was a piece of fillet. 

Anyway, enough social stuff, 

and that really is the sum of my social movements this past few weeks. 

There are days when the only communication I have is with Madam and Moss, Like Lord Ludg I’ve taken to popping into shops with little intention of making a purchase only to converse lightly with poorly paid orderlies on matters of the day. 

The river, yes the river. 

Well rain has done a lot of good. 

Not an exceptional amount as some would have us believe, but it is good to see spring ditches flowing and a bunch of big puddles in the field known across the ages as “Spring Bottom” 

There’s still no water on the football pitch and no flow down the road yet. 

If the new series of Dancing on Ice take the show out on tour I’d like to offer my allotment as a possible venue. It’s a serious frost pocket and digital equipment hanging from shed recorded several nights of minus ten degrees prior to the festive season. If anyone has a reliable source of International Kidney seed potatoes, don’t be a stranger, can’t find any anywhere and they seem to do quite well here as a first early. 

With all the rain I’ve held back on shifting silt as the river is doing a perfectly good job on it’s own. Most work has centred around planet chainsaw with several trees of all denominations cashing in their chips. The latest a couple of lanky Aspen that fell across the track at the bottom of the Andyke. 

News Just In: 

A tentative online order for International Kidney seed potatoes has delivered a surfeit of the things. Seems they got my order wrong and I now have half the UK supply of International Kidney seed potatoes. If any body needs any, don’t be a stranger, I’ve enough for several acres. 

Confusion reigned this week in the valley over a speech given by new EA chairman Alan Lovell in Hampshire. Years ago an Alan Lovell gave a presentation to keepers and owners regarding groundwater data and river flow in the region, in which hapless Alan stated that flows on the Wallop Brook had been particularly reasonable for the previous year only for a now retired and very venerable keeper on the middle river to stand up and reveal that the Wallop Brook had run underground throughout a significant length of it’s course during the period that Alan claimed all had been ok with regards to flow.

Several keeper’s remember the moment when the quality of Alan’s data was questioned. 

Seems there is more than one Alan Lovell. 

Fingers crossed the chap featured in The Thunderer this week is not the same said man, and the original Alan has taken a more creative course, as he seemed to be doing with regards to data presented. 

One thing that whichever Alan Lovell it was who gave the latest presentation got right was the need for anybody with an interest in the aquatic environment to lobby their MPs with regard to the dropping of EU standard environmental protections. Pre Brexit, EU law was used successfully to hold several to account over their trashing of the aquatic environment or a failure to adequately protect the aquatic environment.  

New son in law got in touch last week with a link to a newspaper article regarding Beavers in Hampshire, and he wasn’t referencing the scouting association. 

Apparently some misguided soul with far too much money and very little knowledge of the chalk stream environment has got themselves a couple of beavers and built a big pen on a water course not far from here. 

The aim is to promote them as the future of chalk stream management. 

At which point could I question all those trusts, associations and dimbulbs who promoted the removal of all hatches and sluices on the chalk streams in the quest to eliminate “perched streams”  Hatches and sluices that had for years done the job that can only be described as “Beaver Plus” and managed by an animal with a bigger brain and capable of more sympathetic management with regard to what water goes where. 

Beavers may be of benefit to the headwaters of river systems prone to high levels of direct run off following heavy rain, where their wooden dams delay the entrance of heavy rain to a river system, but in chalk valleys this is not a problem, 

So come on all you Trusts who purport to have great knowledge of the Chalk Rivers, who, over the years, have promoted the cause of letting water go rather than holding it up. Stand up and say that the UK’s rivers vary greatly in characteristic and Beavers may not be the answer for all.

Wouldn't it have been preferable to raise knowledge of how to use those hatches and sluices to promote the aquatic environment and biodiversity rather than rip the things out altogether.  There's a wealth of lost knowledge on how to manage water in a chalk valley, and those guys who built most of those hatches sluices had a lot more water to manage than we do today, 

but no, chances are it could be over to you Brer Beaver.