Rain: as good as money in the bank
Be careful what you wish for or so it is said and for those of you who recall some of my scribblings from the autumn you will know my greatest wish was for a wet winter. By now my wishes have been granted in spades and more than one person has suggested that is all my fault. Oh well, that may be a small price to pay for great chalkstream conditions this coming season.
This map, courtesy of the Environment Agency, shows how wet some of the region has been, though interestingly there are some huge variations within relatively short distances. The Isle of Wight and the tip of the Sussex coast can't be more that 50 miles but the 264% vs. 136% LTA (Long Term Average rainfall) is remarkable. All that said we are not quite out of the woods yet. The rain has to percolate into the the groundwater reserves. It is that water, absorbed into the chalk layer thousands of feet underground, from which the springs spring to sustain the rivers over the summer months.
Currently the December reports from the groundwater sites range from Below normal to Exceptionally high but I suspect by the end of this month it will be Exceptionally high everywhere. For those of you who fish or rely on reservoirs for your water like Ardingly, Bewl, Farnmoor, Powdermill or any others you care to name, capacity is at 100% or very close.
For this report in full or any of the other four regions in southern England visit the Environment Agency South East water situation reports web site.
For us chalkstream obsessive's the really interesting aspect of these wet periods is how the water meadows start to operate of their own free will. Hardly anyone manages them today, but much of the engineering of the carriers and ditches that transported the water across the flood plain remains. However, it takes a really wet winter for them to fill up and if you flew over any of the chalkstream valleys this week you would see a river with water filled off-shoots spilling out over the meadows to either side. If you think of it in terms of human anatomy with the spine as the main river and the channels as the ribs you will get the general idea. This photo of the Nether Wallop meadows, taken over the weekend, is an good illustration of a small scale system.
Though not operational in any meaningful sense the flooded meadows are performing a marvellous service and it is all the more extraordinary when you reckon that the engineering dates back at far as the 17th century. The most grateful (and that includes me here at Nether Wallop Mill) has to be us residents; without the flood plain which acts as a giant over-spill many of us would be flooded. In fact, very few houses in chalkstream catchments are damaged by flooding; the majority of the problems (excepting new developments with names like Meadow Close and Riverview) are from springheads that burst open under floors laid in drier times.
The River Test at Stockbridge on Friday, still within its banks.
Back in the river the flood is flushing the gravel beds clean, perfect for oxygenating the trout and salmon eggs that have
been laid in the past month. The ranunculus weed, caressed 24/7 by the fresh water is getting an early growth spurt but best of all the silt and river detritus is being washed out of the river to settle in the fields where it will act as fertilizer for the meadow grasses and plants in the spring. Out in the wet fields the herons are having the time of their lives as the hunting grounds expand many times over competing with the ducks who are in heaven, snagging worms and chomping on the sprigs of new grass that are growing on the edge of the water that remains a balmy 51F.
The only real drawback is for the river keepers who can't get on the banks for repairs; in the mud any job takes three times as long, machinery gets mired and at the end of it all the result is a Somme-like landscape. So for now it is clearing trees, sharpening scythes and painting jobs until the worst is past. But do we complain? Certainly not, this winter rain is as good as money in the bank.
NEW FOR 2014
Following up on the success of The Boathouse I am pleased to announce the very lovely Wherwell Studios, a granary barn bought back to life and lovingly restored by wildlife artist and painter Janet Marsh, which runs down to the River Test.
Right on the banks of Wherwell Priory beats and a one minute walk to the White Lion, the two twin bedded studios make an ideal place to stay. The package is for two nights with additional nights available on request, plus whatever fishing you wish to add. If you are not fishing the studios have a swimming pool, orchard garden and the village is picture postcard beautiful.
Rates are £75/night per studio. For more details ........
Have a good week.
Simon Cooper firstname.lastname@example.orgFounder & Managing Director