Friday, 20 May 2022

Give us this day our daily otter




Until very recently I used to tell visiting otter spotters that the chances of a daytime sighting were, at best, remote. Not so any longer.


Over the winter we have had a mother otter and three pups. At that sort of age, four months to a year, it is nigh on impossible to tell the sex of the pups, but it turns out to be two females and a male. How do I know? Well, there comes a point in the life of juvenile otters when the mother forcibly evicts them from the family group, when it is time for them to live life alone. And, as you might expect, it is the males that depart first.


The split is no gradual affair – it is a proper schism and once the young male is gone, he is effectively an enemy of what was his family group, the two competing for territory and food. Being still physically inferior to his mother, and yet to find his truly aggressive nature, the young male will steer well clear of any interactions. So, here at Nether Wallop Mill we now have daytime and night time otter cohorts.


As usual, the mother and two pups appear at night, accompanied by the usual cacophony of eeks and splashing around. But by day we have our juvenile male who, having worked out that our lake belongs to his former family group by night, arrives by day. He now lives upstream of The Mill whilst his former family downstream – never the twain shall meet. He apparently has no fear of people, swimming whilst we fish, sitting on the porch of the fishing cabin or even taking a lunchtime snack from fish we’ve caught left cooling in the stream leading to a memorable tug of war between Mark our instructor on one end of the net and the otter on the other.


Last Sunday was fairly typical as he appeared soon after nine, captured by Angus swimming around the edge of the lake on his morning perambulation. How long this day/night accommodation will continue I have no idea but once the mother casts her female pups asunder I can see a few mighty bust ups between the young otters who were, not so long ago, a playful, cohesive family group.


Daytime otter at Nether Wallop Mill




Make your own turd poster


Earlier in the week I gave a talk to the Old Basing Parish Council, once, and still in parts, a beautiful village on the banks of the River Loddon, where both the village and the river live in the shadow of the ever increasing urban and commercial sprawl of Basingstoke.


In the Q&A time afterwards the question most asked was what could be done to save the Loddon, a chalkstream that shares the same initial catchment to the River Test before it heads 28 miles north to join the River Thames at Wargrave.


We all agreed that it is becoming increasingly clear that winning the battle against sewage pollution is going to take more than polite lobbying of government. Not many of us were very keen on Extinction Rebellion style direct action, gluing ourselves to sewage outflows or some such, but we do need to explain to as wider an audience as possible how the very thing we should be able to take for granted – clean rivers – is an increasingly distant prospect. Enter the turd poster.


We’ve called it the turd poster because phosphate pollution is often mistaken as such and this particular example was created by river campaigner, and fly fisher, Sue Bramall, to alert those who live in and around Stafford as to the sheer volume of sewage being pumped into her local rivers the Sow and Trent. I spoke to Sue about her mission to inform and she had some useful tips.




Firstly, all the data she displays is available online via web site. Just put in your postcode to pull up the river near you. The online map will mark all sewage discharge points in your area with graphics to show the nature, frequency and volume of discharges in 2021. It works for any areas or river catchment in England and Wales.


Armed with that data creating a hard-hitting poster or A4 flyers should be relatively easy. Not included in Sue’s current iteration is the logo of her local water company (Severn Trent) but that’s something you absolutely have to do, writ large. All corporations invest millions into the company logo to make it memorable and visible – use their kryptonite against them so nobody is in any doubt as to who is the culprit.


Finally, how to spread the word? Local newspapers are very alert to this sort of issue; send them a copy or even better stage a group photo with the poster by an offending outlet. Likewise get a copy to any local parish magazines, clubs or societies especially those who might have an interest in the great outdoors. Finally, a bit of fly posting never does any harm especially if you are able to target dog walkers, ramblers or anybody who uses the footpaths that follow the river.


Let’s face it, on the basis of that Wessex Water poster I bought you last week, there is a propaganda war to be fought.



Crumbs from the table


Last week the Environment Agency sent out a press release trumpeting the £3.5m spent on fishery improvements as part of their Fisheries Improvement Programme over the past 12 months, which brings the total to £6m since 2015.


Now, even I, an avowed sceptic of the EA, cannot criticise this work that goes direct to angling communities though I did wonder whether paying for new signage on the salmon and trout fisheries of Devon’s River Lyn really gets to the heart of our problems. And I did also wonder if that is on a national press release, whether the EA might be running out of things to shout about.


The same day I saw the government have found new funding of £200m for cycling. What? Now, I have no beef with cyclists, but I do wonder why we should be so pathetically grateful for our few crumbs that represents just 15% of 2020/21 rod licence income which prompted me to investigate whether we have more roads than rivers. Maybe, proportionately, we are doing as well as we should reasonably expect?


The answer is no – we are being short changed. There are 247,500 miles of roads in the UK and 127,500 miles of river, so essentially half. Should I expect a £100m government cheque for our rivers anytime soon?



Perfect symbiosis?



Weekend Chalkstream School


For many years Alan Middleton ran the very popular one day chalkstream course at Bullington Manor but on his retirement, he pondered whether we should have, in hindsight, made it a weekend thing.


It was a fair ponder. It is a lot to cram into a single day, not to mention the vagaries of trout, the vicissitudes of the weather and the idiosyncrasies of chalkstreams. So it was that Alan has downloaded all his considerable knowledge to Ian, Malcolm and Ray who have already successfully run our first two Weekend Chalkstream Schools at Bullington Manor this season.


The next is coming up on June 25/26 for which we have seven places left. More details here



The May Weekend School, plus swan!




The normal random collection of questions inspired by the date, events or topics in the Newsletter.


It is just for fun with answers at the bottom of the page.


1)     What innovation in footwear occurred on this day in 1310?


2)     The ‘dandy horse’ was the term first used to describe what 19th century invention?


3)     Iain Coucher has been appointed the new head of water regulator Ofwat. What was his previous position?


Iain Coucher - our saviour?



Have a good weekend.


Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing




Quiz answers:


1)     Shoes were made for both right and left feet

2)     The bicycle

3)     He was CEO of the Atomic Weapons Establishment and before that Network Rail. But he’s a keen birdwatcher so we can breathe easy …….

Friday, 6 May 2022

How Natural England are selling our rivers down the swanee




Did you see the headline in The Times on Monday? ‘Ban on building work puts up to 100,000 new homes on hold’ due to a decision by Natural England, the government's adviser for the natural environment, who are seeking to reduce phosphate and nitrate pollution as a result of, amongst other things, housing development.


Now I’m sure, plenty of you, like me, think this is a good thing. For too long, too many houses have been in built in all the wrong places contributing more in the space of a few decades to the destruction of our wildlife, rivers and countryside than a thousand years of climate change. But there is a sting in the tail for Natural England are not quite the guardians of the natural environment they purport to be. As you will see the key words in that headline are ‘on hold’. 



Let me start by explaining exactly what it is they call nutrient pollution. As an angler you will have surely seen it, mostly from March-May as a horrible, brown sludge which floats to the surface on rivers and lakes having the appearance of a thousand of dissolving turds.


More scientifically Natural England describe it as occurring,


“In freshwater habitats and estuaries, increased levels of nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) can speed up the growth of certain plants, disrupting natural processes and impacting wildlife. This process (called eutrophication) [aka the turds] damages these water dependent sites and harms the plants and wildlife that are meant to be there. The sources of excess nutrients are very site specific but include sewage treatment works, septic tanks, livestock, arable farming and industrial processes.”


This quote is garnered from (the things I have to read ….) the Natural England summary guide to Nutrient Neutrality at a mercifully short five pages in length which contains the Get Out of Jail card for developers. It is not exactly a free Get Out of Jail card, but it will be enough to explain why the words ‘on hold’ are so important and that any gains for our rivers will end up being illusory as the houses will surely be built on the back of events that should have reduced nutrient pollution.



Nether Wallop Mill mill pond on Thursday morning showing a typical amount of overnight phosphate eutrophication


So, how do you get around the construction moratorium if you are a house builder? Well, Natural England gives you three options: build additional mitigation into your plans onsite e.g. create some new wetland. Work with the local planners to arrange for mitigation offsite e.g. create some new wetland elsewhere. Or purchase nutrient credits via a nutrient trading scheme where other landowners in the catchment have taken action to reduce their nutrient load.


It is this final option that is a true no-win for our rivers because essentially all it does is move the nutrient pollution from once source to another. And I know this to be true. I’ve heard tell of a large fish farm on a chalkstream marked for closure that will be selling its nutrient credit to developers. So, ultimately, we’ll be no better off with the dissolving turds appearing in the same lakes and the same river simply the product of people rather than fish. Which makes me think how long it will take the water companies to get in on the act by selling credits ‘earnt’ with say the installation of a new sewage processing plant. Or even the cessation of sewage spills they should not have been allowed in the first place.


This, frankly, is a bloody mess. Natural England, despite 2,000 employees and an annual budget of hundreds of millions from DEFRA, has long struggled to find its purpose, famous for offering bureaucratic solutions to practical problems. The nutrient credit scheme is just one such unwise bit of advice to government. As Aesop wrote, “Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties”.




Going solo?


I feel a bit like a dating service (Finder instead of Tinder?) as we have opened up a few of our Mayfly dates to single Rods that might have been otherwise reserved for small groups.


The beats and dates are:


Breach Farm (Itchen)                 May 10, 11 & 16. June 1, 4 & 5

Broadlands House (Test)           May 25. June 1 & 7

Bullington Manor (Upper Test)    May 15. June 2, 3, 5 & 7

Wherwell Priory (Test)                May 15 & 22. June 2, 3, 4 & 5


As you will notice, if you are not already booked for a street party or some such, there are slots over the Platinum Jubilee celebration holiday June 2-5.



Bullington Manor



More fishing for sale


I’m having a bout of déjà vu having written about this fishing for sale on the River Itchen at Brambridge in this Newsletter before. That time around one of my readers thought ”I like the look of that” and promptly bought it but now, a decade on with age and travel considerations, it is time to sell up.


It is on the Itchen Navigation, effectively an extension of the River Itchen proper, but since no barge has plied the route from Southampton to Andover for over two centuries it has become a river all of its own. For those of you who have fished our beats on the River Itchen downstream of Winchester it is sandwiched between Qing Ya Xi and Breach Farm, running parallel to Kanara. More details here.



Itchen Navigation, Brambridge, Hampshire


Just an update on the Abbots Worthy Fishery that I mentioned last time around. Many expressed a 10%+ interest which left me initially oversubscribed but, as is natural evolution, the field has winnowed to leave a solid group with enough heft to make an offer shortly.


If you would like to be kept abreast of this, or future fisheries for sale, I’m creating a separate mailing list so email me with your email.



Photo of the Week


When is not sewage not sewage? When it is Wessex Water sewage!


At least according to this notice erected beside rivers in the Wessex Water region. Oh, and by the way, it is all the fault of climate change. So, that’s alright then.





The normal random collection of questions inspired by the date, events or topics in the Newsletter.


It is just for fun with answers at the bottom of the page.


1)     Which TV sitcom aired its season finale in the 10th and final season in US on this day in 2004?


2)     In what century/centuries did Aesop, of Fables fame, live?


3)   To the nearest thousand, how many miles of navigable canals and rivers are there throughout the United Kingdom?


Caen Hill Locks, Wiltshire



Have a good weekend.


Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing




Quiz answers:


1)     Friends with 52.5 million viewers

2)     620–564 BC though there is some doubt whether he really existed

3)     4,700 miles