I am beginning to think the bird kingdom might be in some
sort of avian lockdown centred around The Mill; I have never known anything
like it. From the near constant circling of the Red Kite to the incessant
pursuit chatter of the Kingfishers we seem to be living in some sort of
Take the ducks: as the old music hall joke goes, please do!
Though that said someone seems to have done it in part. We have a permanent
population of discontented adolescents whose sole purpose in life, beyond
bickering with each other, is waiting for fish feeding time. I’m pretty
certain they have some sort of social media alert; the moment I appear two
dozen or more gather from far and wide to the lake. As for the ducklings
they are very much the disappeared. I’d estimate we’ve seen at least a
hundred cute, yellow little fluffy feather balls since the spring,
sometimes in family groups as large as fifteen. But the attrition is
fast: 10, 6, 2 then none. Or any countdown numbers you care to pick. In the
space of a week every paddle is reduced to zero. As to the assassin, I have
And then there were three ....
A similar fate was to befall the pair of Canada Geese. Actually,
these are relatively unusual stayovers, though that is most likely because
we have no swans who have chosen to corral themselves for the past two
years on our downstream neighbour’s ornamental lake. They usually do for
any colonial interlopers; swan/geese wars are always short and vicious and
always have the same outcome. Rather bizarrely these particular geese chose
to nest amongst the young wheat shoots high in the field that looks down on
the Brook; all we could see for some weeks were a pair of heads turning
like periscopes above the corn.
Then one morning Mum and Dad appeared at the lake with three
newly hatched goslings who they inculcated in the ways of water. But for
two of them they might just as well not bothered for the following day there
was just one. What of the other two? Again, I have no definitive
explanation. It seems unlikely it would be a double natural death and geese
are highly protective of their offspring, so no great likelihood of the
patricide exhibited by ducks. My bet is on Mr Fox, but he has been unable
to account for the third who has grown from a grey, downy bundle to a 2/3rdfacsimile of his (or could be her) parents
in short order. Apparently geese, though they don’t reach sexual maturity
until 2 or 3 years of age, reach full adult size faster than any other bird
in the world. Quite what evolutionary quirk has determined this I can’t
imagine as geese seem to be an unlikely candidate for such a global
After the death of our long-time resident heron, shot by
some unknown hand, we went a while without a grey stalker but we now have
two who compete fiercely for the best spot on the lake, barking like dogs
and squawking at each other whilst under the dismissive gaze of the
white egret who has made the uppermost branch of the ash tree on the
island his regular perch. Such is the scale of the competition between the
three I worry less for my fish now as to when there was just the one.
Talking of turf wars, the kingfishers are forever at it. We
have one resident pair but I’m guessing there must be another somewhere
close by because, quite suddenly at random times of day, two Exocets of
blue will jink and weave, one pursuing the other above the water
accompanied by a fierce high-pitched chatter, the noise and sight
disappearing as fast as it appears.
As so it goes on, moorhens. Coots. Red kites. Buzzards.
Crows. Swifts. Swallows. And don’t get me started on wood pigeons who treat
us as the local drinking haunt and shagging palace having gorged on the
peas in the field adjacent to the wheat.
The only birds we really miss out on are our native
songbirds but maybe they have headed elsewhere for a quieter life. I
wouldn’t entirely blame them.
Freedom to fish
Sea angling has always been the most free-wheeling of the
angling disciplines – no cost to the fishing. No licence required. Barely
any regulations to speak of. But this is under threat by virtue of
We all know how endangered fish stocks have become in the
coastal waters around Britain. The reasons? Well, overfishing, pollution
and coastal development. The government recognises this so recently
commissioned the Benyon Review that reported in June recommending the
creation of Highly Protected Marina Areas (HPMA) identifying 46 sites
around England, five of which would be selected for a pilot scheme that
would lead to a blanket ban on all sea fishing, including recreational
You may or may not be surprised to hear that angling had no
seat at the table for this review so we got lumped in with the detrimental
e.g. commercial trawling whilst being excluded from the apparently
beneficial e.g. recreational powerboating or scuba diving.
It is hard to criticise the concept of the HPMAs; the ending
of dredging, drilling, mineral extraction and commercial fishing makes
eminent sense. But recreational angling? Chichester and Langstone harbour,
one of the best locations in the UK for sea bass and mullet on the fly, is
on the list. Does anyone really think the demise of Hampshire’s sea fish
stock can be laid at the door of those who fish for fun?
The ban is clearly arrant nonsense so hopefully the reasoned
response made by the Angling Trust and others to the Environment Secretary
will allow a bit of common sense to prevail as least as far as us anglers
are concerned. That said the Benyon Review has run into a tidal wave of
opposition from the fishing industry. The National Federation of
Fishermen’s Associations said on Wednesday that it “has been driven by
politically well-connected, socially privileged, environmental zealots,
with an agenda that bulldozes aside the fears and legitimate concerns of
those who depend on fishing for their livelihood.” No holding back there
If you want to have your say there is still time as the
decision will not be made until the run up to World Ocean Day on 8thJune 2021 which tells you this is as much
about perception as practicality.
In the news
If you happen to be flicking through back issues of Country
Life in a doctors surgery or some such keep an eye out for the March 29th2020 edition which
features Shawford Park on the River Itchen, one of our most beautiful
Shawford Park, Hampshire
Wherwell Priory was on the cover of the August edition of Trout & Salmon
with a great feature Don Stazicker with photographer Richard Faulks which
really captured the best of the Test.
Trout & Salmon, August 2020
Frankel is out
(well, almost ....)
After a couple of false starts my latest book Frankel:
The Greatest Racehorse of All Time and the Sport That Made Him is
published this coming Thursday, August 6th.
It will be available in all bookshops, via Amazon in Hardcover, Kindle Edition or Audiobook.
For a signed copy visit the Fishing Breaks web site.
I’ll take no credit for finding this clip. It was sent to me
with the simple tag: ‘grayling having sex’. In the field of fish
procreation the expression of one of the participants would be worthy of
winning an Oscar at the annual Adult Video News awards.
Watch it here You'll have to get almost to the end of
the 92 seconds but it is worth seeing Jack Perks doing his stuff in anticipation.
A newsletter topic theme this week but
as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the
1)What is the largest UK native bird
measured by wingspan?
2)What is the smallest UK native bird
measured by weight?
3)Who was the jockey that rode Frankel
in all his races?