14th January

I attended the CAC EGM last week, or I should say I attended half the CAC EGM. I had gone along as I was expecting the committee to update the membership as to the state of play regarding CAC's continued fishing at Somerley. I was somewhat surprised that not a word was forthcoming regarding Somerley during the updates from club officials as I would have considered this the most significant news for some considerable time to effect the club. I had an inkling that this might be the case as I had broached the subject with a committee member a day or two before hand and at that time was informed no decision about releasing the news had been taken. I had attended the early part of the meeting to answer any questions that the committee felt unable to clarify. I didn't remain for the open floor section, not wishing to compromise the committee should a question be directed to me that required I made the current, then unannounced, situation clear. I can understand the thinking that little was to be gained in opening up the debate about the future of Somerley other than to let members vent there frustrations. I'm sure the committee and I can assure you that I am fully aware of most of the negative views that were likely to be aired at such a time. I do appreciate that the membership has not been involved during the previous three years of negotiations and what appears a sudden decision must come as a shock to many of you. This unfortunately is the nature of confidentiality that obviously surrounds club leases to avoid competition for prime waters. I similarly appreciate that the club has had a pretty miserable time over the last few years, in many instances through no fault of its own has lost eight major waters. Through this period, despite offers from other organisations, we had remained with the club and offered rent freezes and real term reductions in the hope of seeing them through a sticky patch. What I should stress at this point is that I am not employed to look after CAC's interests, the estate is not a charity and is part of the very real world. Part of my role at the estate is to advise on the development and improvement of the fishery asset and for several years, for various reasons, this has not been an easy task. To see the income that is generated from carp syndicates it is often difficult to equate this to the reality of nine and a half miles of main Hampshire Avon river bank, plus a further eight and a half of carrier. Plus of course at least six large lakes, several smaller ponds and more fish than I can shake a stick at. When in the mid 90's, at my recommendation, the club under Colin Bungay became our sole tenant, encompassing all the angling disciplines the estate contains, we had a clear understanding of our roles. The club was to maintain the fishery asset of the landlord and to look after all aspects of fishery pertinent to the members; paths, litter, stock levels, signs, angling car parks yada, yada, yada. The estate was to be responsible for the areas outside of this that interact with the river; agricultural liaison, shooting, hatch operation, large timber, conservation, major river bank repairs etc. The club was to operate under a mutually agreed fishery management plan, all pretty clear and simple it would seem.

Unfortunately it hasn't been the case and as committees come and go this has only become more difficult. Bar on one or two occasions it has remained the estate that has cut the salmon pool banks, cleared the paths, erected styles and bridges, picked up all too much litter and through embarrassment cut the weed for fishery purposes in the Trout stream. We have also cleared the annual regrowth of vegetation from the stillwaters that permits swims to be accessed and remain fishable; preventing banks reverting into an unfishable jungle of willow and alder car. I personally drew up fishery management plans, marked areas to be cleared and gave demonstrations of what was needed, alongside cutting miles of bank. Barring the efforts of one or two dedicated individuals and despite repeated requests for this work to be undertaken it continually failed to be dealt with, falling back on the estate year after year. It has become blatantly obvious that the maintenance of such a large fishery has been beyond the capabilities of voluntarily arranged means. This had become apparent several years ago when I suggested full time professionals were taken on along the lines of neighbouring clubs or professional contractors were used. Neither course of action has been followed and we have seen the sad decline of the fishery to the extent we feel a change is required.

I can confirm that despite three years of negotiations we have failed to reach a satisfactory agreement with the club; resulting in the estate serving notice for the club to quit the waters in a years time. This will apply to all elements of the fishery with the exception of the three small pools at Ibsley; Crowe, Tomkins and Edwards plus the west bank of the Trout Stream, which are fished by the club under a separate agreement. The east bank of the main river behind the Ibsley Pools is not part of this lease and will revert to the estate in a years time. The future of the Somerley fishery will probably involve establishing four syndicates to cover the main disciplines that Somerley supports. Each syndicate will have a restricted number of members, who will have direct contact with the estate, ensuring a close working relationship.

The salmon syndicate will numerically be along the lines of the old rod list that previously enjoyed the Somerley water. The season will be exclusive for the duration of the coarse close season March 15 to June 15, shared access outside of this period for the remainder of the season along the current lines. For the salmon rods it will probably mean an actual reduction on the current amount they are paying. Having said that we have yet to finalise the exact nature of the future groups, prices, conditions etc. Issues such as beat restrictions, starting times etc will be driven by the views of syndicate members. Should the syndicate feel that two or three sections of river might operate under a beat system perhaps until 12 noon each day such simple conditions can be taken on board, or not as the case may be. The opportunity of a 30 pound salmon in the hallowed Hampshire Avon does remain a very real option, as so admirably and ably demonstrated by Mr consistent, Steve Hutchinson last season. We don't see as many but we still see great fish each season so we hope and envisage such a syndicate, so assessable from the Home counties, will retain a considerable appeal.

The river coarse syndicate will numerically be similar to that of the salmon syndicate. We will be looking for rods that wish to participate in the unique angling experience offered by Somerley Estate. Not a romantic regression but a step forward to be part of the new environment of our rivers today. Our rods will be part of that environment, enjoying their sport within one of the most diverse and unique habitats to be found anywhere in the world. The lowland chalk streams of Southern England have been likened to the European Rainforests in their level of unique ecology and biodiversity. Somerley can offer huge specimens of most species found in Britain's lowland rivers. In recent years barbel over sixteen pounds, chub eight plus, perch to nearly four pounds, double figure bream, twenty plus carp, huge bags of dace and legendary roach. The roach are struggling at the moment for reasons we do not understand, the catches of two pound and even three pound fish are not seen today. This year has seen an encouraging upsurge in the number of small roach caught and we hope to increase the population by stocking with fish from Avon stock that now abound in our stillwaters. As for the other species, I have fished the Avon since 1963 and I can honestly say that the opportunity for a huge specimen has never been so good. If I had said I was going to fish for fifteen pound barbel or seven pound chub when I first fished the Avon in 1963 people would have said I'd gone mad. That option is a reality today to the extent that many take it for granted. Going forward we wish to see angling fit naturally into the ecology of the valley, not be at odds with the surrounding environment. A day in wonderful surroundings shared with the natural inhabitants of the valley yet offering the chance of a fish of a lifetime. For want of a better description, we intend to pull up the drawbridge, to become a self contained microcosm of the best that angling has to offer.

In the case of the river syndicates the fishery will be centred on the Lodge as a focal point for the exchange of information. The reduced number of members will permit us to enable vehicular access through Dog Kennel Wood, north of the Lodge, to Hayricks and Fools Corner. Also south via East Terrace through the Park to re-open the car park at Penmeade and on through Sunderton wood to Ashley. This will allow access to roughly five miles of riverbank from behind the locked gates of the estate.

As for the trout I'm not sure what we are going to do there yet and judging by recent activity perhaps I should emphasise at this point that the club have a years grace and there is no unseemly rush to get ahead of the field.

The stillwater syndicate will include all the current Somerley Lakes; Meadow, Kings-Vincents and all three Mockbeggar lakes. We have an enormous workload to sort out the banks and stock levels so nothing is as yet written in stone. Most have far too many fish in them and added to that we have the ongoing fish removal from Ibsley water to complicate matters. Hopefully syndicate members will be able to help remove the Ibsley Water fish which I can't see will be too great an ask!!. This will all take some time to get organised but in the mean time there remains some superb fishing that will be on offer.

Obviously at this stage we are not allocating syndicate positions. However if you wish to express a totally unconditional and without prejudice “Expression of Interest” you can email the estate office whom I'm sure will keep a file of contacts for future use.

Sydney seat Coomber fry sanctuary Redd spotting

Damian's seats beside Sydney Pool with the flood out in the fields towards Penmeade. The Coomber Oxbowfry sanctuary, created by the WSRT, providing a superb safe haven, protected by the reeds. The third is a shot of Jim Foster looking at the large redds in the by-pass channel where a hen was still cutting at the tail of the pool.

Hope that clears up any doubts and misunderstandings now back to the river which continues to run high, well out in the fields but has cleared. The new visibility has given the opportunity for a first glimpse of the salmon spawning sites, so what did I do on my day off Friday? Spent the day walking about on the estate looking for redds!!

With the aid of a very stout wading stick I walked miles of the flooded meadows with an average depth of about two feet with the ditches and hollows remaining quite a challenge. The vast majority of the main river sites remain out of reach or at least remain too deep to get sufficiently close to see down to the gravel. The carriers were a different matter and the Trout Stream was visible throughout its length. Amazingly salmon were still on the redds with at least two pairs cutting earlier in the week. Perhaps even more of a surprise were the number of redds in the stream a minimum of eleven and possibly as many as fifteen pairs could have used the 500m of the Trout stream. With cutting taking place for well over four weeks there may have been an element of over cutting. To counter this possible under counting hens may have cut more than one redd, making the science of redd counting somewhat prone to inaccuracy. Whatever the true figure the reason so many fish should have remained down with us, under what should have been perfect conditions to reach the traditional spawning grounds in the headwaters, is a mystery. Hopefully the headwaters have seen a similarly high density of redds which bodes extremely well for the future. One could similarly speculate that the high flows may have washed out many redds in the higher catchment reducing the recruitment efficiency. This would not apply to the Trout stream as I control the flow down the stream allowing ideal conditions to exist throughout the year. I'm sure the salmon aren't aware of my role in all of this but perhaps evolution has developed them to recognise suitable flows hence the streams popularity. There is one other possibility and that is the fish spawning in the stream are progeny of fish that were from redds cut in the controlled channel in previous low flow years when the run was unable to reach the headwaters. It is claimed in the scientific community that salmon return to their natal gravels if that is the case the last hypothesis adds up. One other point of interest is that one historic spawning site that had been "gravel cleaned" about a decade ago and not seen a redd since, had three redds on it. Just what brought about the return I can't say but we're certainly very glad to see them back.

From Lakerun looking south Otter holt Impounded drains

Looking south from Lake Run with the wildfowl and waders beginning to find the shallows and islands. A holt where a large dog with romantic intention was pursuing a bitch along the bank below; just seconds before I missed the shot!! The last shot shows the backing up effect of the raised water level on the drains and carriers with controlled flow. Hopefully the juveniles cyprinids make use of these slacks and reed beds as with the Coomber sanctuary above.

7th January

I see the Defra Cow-persons (PC non gender specific) appeared in the valley again today to plan their next phase of the Ruddy Duck fiasco.

The extension of Defra's hit squad funding at public expense is beginning to wear on me. Particularly at a time when cuts are being made to EA services in all directions. Especially annoying as funding refusals to answer the multitude of long standing questions we have in the name of fishery interests are second nature to those same Defra mandarins behind the current cunning plan to eliminate the dopey duck. Defra remain committed to spending millions on eradicating the Ruddy Duck in the name of Spanish conservation whilst local conservation issues are flushed out with the floods. Is this because the mandarins at the head of Defra are an urbanised elite that are cocooned and insulated from the real rural world; totally out of touch with feelings on the ground. Or are they just sufficiently arrogant as to continue with their predetermined plans regardless of the views of dispirited rural folk. Ah, I'm forgetting the current Defra mantra that the voluntary sector can be signed up in partnership to run the countryside. All those retired baby boomers of Middle England will deal with those nasty muddy rivers, fields and woods. Leaving our mandarins to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of their centralised ivory towers. Ruddy ducks down, next the Egyptians!!

If they want to eradicate the Ruddy Duck why don't they just stick it on the quarry list and donate the price of a box of bismuth four shot, about twenty five quid, to anyone turning up at the local EA Office with a Deceased Duck; as was the case with the lower mandible of the Cormorant before the powers that be awarded it statutory protection. I think there were about eight hundred of those dear old ducks at one point that have cost the tax payer about six million quid, give or take a nought. My scheme would have cost 20K max always assuming the guns bothered to claim their ill gotten swag. Alternatively bung the Spanish a few grand and when our rakish ducks turn up over there they can do their own dirty work!! Both options save the exchequer millions, which could be redirected to answer our questions.

The spillway in full flow The by-pass hatch

The main spillway remains in full flow showing little inclination to drop at present. The second small by-pass hatch pool has been the scene of a great deal of salmon spawning activity in recent weeks.

Floating flood debris More rainbow escapes

Some of the flotsam the flood brings us trapped in front of one of the gates. I notice that one of our one legged Salisbury tribe have lost a further shoe amidst the trash of humanity. The second shot would point to a further escape of rainbow trout from the upstream trout farm.

2nd January

The lack of a tractor driver with the necessary insurance cover meant I had to drive the beaters trailer on Saturday when I had intended to be out counting for the WeBS; changed from Sunday due to an unfavourable weather forecast. As it turned out Saturday's weather was foul and Sunday morning dawned icy and clear allowing me a count even if not coordinated with the other counters. As a further consequence of Saturday's foul weather the valley has even more water in it making my count a very marginal affair. I could reach the edge of the flood from half dozen sites affording me views across the valley with the scope, the river bank remains well beyond reach. The river was continuing to rise as I made my way down through the estate from Bickton to Ringwood avoiding the Harbridge road, closed by the council due to the depth of water. The increasing depth made our water meadows too deep for the dabbling ducks and waders which presumably have moved south of Ringwood where the valley widens and the water shallows permitting ideal conditions. We retained our resident such as the Mute swans, Moorhens etc unfortunately other than the single Bewicks Swan that arrived a week ago, very little else of note. Unless you consider the storm driven inland increase of Cormorants as noteworthy. I can see I will be busy scaring them from vulnerable sites for the foreseeable future. Perhaps as the flood subsides we will see the wildfowl move back north to the estate and bring the valley back to life. Just over what time span the flood recedes will be interesting as on a recent trip up to the headwaters the Bourne at Collingbourne remains dry the springs up on the edge of the chalk not having broken as yet. If that remains the situation this flood may get back within the banks very quickly. If they break in the near future it might take weeks. In the later case goodness knows when I'll get to try out that new rod!

Clear over the flooded marsh The niger feeder House Sparrows on millet

Greeted by an icy, clear morning with the rain arriving mid-day. Home to enjoy the birds in the garden, some rather cloudy shots taken through the rain spattered front room window of our visiting Goldfinch, Siskin and Redpoll on the feeders. Not forgetting my favourite residents, our House Sparrows.

2nd January

The wind and rain of the previous day or two has seen the floods spread out across the valley again and with a further bout to come at the weekend I predict fishing will remain difficult on the river for the next week! I also got up to Ibsley to check the hatches and can confirm that there is an awful lot of water going through the gates at present. Who needs a crystal ball!!

Sunrise over Blashford water meadows Blocked culverts

This mornings view south from the Park over the Blashford water meadows. I just knew I was in for a day of blocked culverts and fallen trees.

Whilst at Ibsley I checked the outlets from Crowe and Tomkins Pools which looked well within limits requiring no resetting or adjusting. Considering the length of time I have been up to my armpits in water and and considerably worse in recent days I was delighted to find it so. The reeds now standing in two feet of water and looking more as reed beds should at this time of year. A Bittern flapped up from the bank at the side of the path and dropped back onto one of the small islets that the odd high spot has created out in the reeds. I expect he's looking for the pike-lets that seek sanctuary from the high flows in the reeds if its the same bird as used this section last year. A little further along the bank and I came across one of the mannequin scarecrows looking decidedly worse for ware. The three mannequins around the pools are supposed to keep the Cormorants off, unfortunately they ceased to be effective about six months ago. We used to have similar mannequins around the main lakes down at Somerley about twenty five years ago where we tried them in every possible array. Whilst they are effective for a week or two if they are not moved at least once a week they are worse than useless, scaring away desirable EU designated species such as the wintering wildfowl rather than deterring the now habituated couple of Cormorants that visit the ponds these days. I think its time the club either moved the mannequins on a regular basis or took them away.

Mid afternoon I drove around Meadow Lake to check there were no further trees down that required my attention, which again proved pleasingly clear. To add to my new found state of ease, resulting from the lack of fallen trees and clear hatches, I came across Mark Wylie playing a good fish on his roach gear. It turned out that what ever was on the end of his line had hoovered up his double maggot and set sail for the middle of the lake. I enjoyed the spectacle of the fight, which Mark won, producing a good looking fifteen and a half pound common. He had previously landed a bream which considering we are in the first week of January points to the lakes once more being the saving grace should anyone wish to have a day out with the rods.

Scarecrow Carp on roach gear

One of the mannequins at Crowe which would appear to have had their day. Mark Wylie playing a fifteen and a half pound carp which he hooked whilst roach fishing in Vincents.

31st December

Feed shed

Rodent proof, rot proof, rust proof, wonderful things these aluminium feed sheds!!

Please indulge me whilst I re-jig the diary for 2014. With the river remaining out in the fields and the weather forecast best described as crap for the coming days I don't think you'll be missing much. In anticipation of the river returning to the channel and the weather turning mild from the south west I have invested in Drennan 15'Ultralight. I have also asked Jim Foster to put the handles back on one of my old "Swallows" not perhaps the outfit for the Avon but for fun with the dace, chub and you never know peraps a roach or two it is just a delight to handle. I must admit to trying a couple of my closed faced reels on it and the balance with my Daiwa 125M feels spot on, if that's not sufficient incentive to get me out to face the elements I don't know what it will take. It will also test my belief that even the thought of me picking up a rod is sufficient reason for the weather to turn foul. or in this case remain foul but you never know so watch this space.

29th December

Starling murmuration

Several thousand Starlings pretending to be a swarm of bees. They are still with us but numbers have reduced considerably and the birds have started to move back to the old roosts at Ibsley North. The state of the reeds has forced the roost into the surrounding willow and the Peregrines continue to harrass them every evening.

28th December

Out trying to reduce the number of geese in the valley. These had luck on their side being too high for a shot.
Dead mink
This young dog mink chose a bad time to come wandering up the middle of the track towards Jonathan our headkeeper.

The opportunity for a quiet day, Christmas with the family now over and the New Year yet to get under way an unscripted walk seemed like a good idea. The valley remains gloriously underwater with the river only fishable in the slacks and bays and then only if you are prepared for a long wade out across the fields with the water well over knee depth. Ditches and hollows are now too deep to safely cross in thigh waders so pick your swims carefully if you wish to avoid a ducking. I spent several hours yesterday afternoon wading the fields in an effort to reduce the number of geese that are currently in the valley and found the going very difficult so be warned, especially as more rain is forecast. Just what you might expect to catch if you do make the effort adds to the mystery. I have met anglers claiming one or two chub and one pike but the barbel you might hope to be active in such a flood seem to have avoided the anglers, at least to ones I have spoken to. On the barbel front I did learn the swim from which a recent 15.7 had been landed. It's probably the last swim on the estate I would have fished in the hope of such a fish. Eddying and boiling in such chaotic fashion its hard to believe any fish should live in such a pool. It does go to prove that almost any swim is worth investigating if you have the time. Whilst on the fishy front, the water has cleared sufficiently to allow me a peek into the carrier where I was told the salmon were cutting the other day. I could kick myself for missing that event, the size of a couple of the redds in the small pool are enormous. It was either a pair of extremely large hens or numerous hens over cutting each other, which considering the area of clean gravel available to them after the floods I think the latter is unlikely.

Nice common

Alan Mannering with a nice double.

I spent an hour or two today cutting up three windblown trees that were preventing anglers reaching several areas of bank, without a protracted hike. It did give me the chance to chat to some of the anglers on Meadow and it would seem the lakes are being far more angler friendly with some good carp showing up. Rob Channing had landed a 30+ and a good 20 both in the daytime and young Ash had six carp when I spoke to them briefly at lunchtime. Complaints of bream where also very vocal so if you are of a bream frame of mind they might be worth a serious look on fine gear with worm or perhaps single maggot over reasonable feed.

Dog otter Diving otter First Bewicks swan of the winter

"Out of the road dopey" Valley residents are still all out and about, some on the move to dryer quarters and others continuing to enjoy the floods. Kingfishers, Marsh harriers plus hundreds of Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall. The otter in question swam up the Trout stream and trundled along the middle of the track for several hundred metres as I walked just thirty metres behind him. The second is illustrating the layer of water that smooths the otters passage through the water which I referred to in previous entries, completely in harmony with its environment.The last pic is just a record shot of the first Bewick of the winter that arrived alone on the marsh yesterday.