Friday, 23 April 2021

When bright waters turn grey

 

Greetings!

 

I seem to be living in a bird battle zone. The swans persecute the geese. The geese persecute the ducks. The ducks persecute the moorhens. And when the ducks get bored with the moorhens, they turn on each other. But last night there was a twist as the otters got into the ring.

 

Recently I bought a pair of night vision binoculars – they are utterly amazing – I can see our latest otter family, the mother (daughter of The Otters’ Tale Kuschta and her three pups approaching a year old) as they arrive nearly every night in glorious blue tinged black and white.

 

Now, as you well know any family of otters arrive and remain causing great commotion, but the geese have, until last night, treated them with considerable aplomb. Mrs. Goose had wisely set up her nest on the island; apparently a considerable improvement to the rapeseed field last year which lasted a full two days. Mr. Goose paddles around during the day roosting himself on the bank at night. And when the otters appear, he ignores them and they ignore him. He remains rooted to his roost whilst they run within a foot or two of him, moving in, out and around the lake as they hunt and play. Until last night.

 

I don’t know why - maybe it is a coming of age thing – but after two weeks of ignoring the island nest the otters performed a pincer movement. At the darkest part of the night around 2am they struck. I was woken by the geese calling out in protest as Mrs. Goose was driven from her nest whilst Mr. Goose vainly flapped up and down the bank. Within a few minutes it was all over. I can’t imagine a clutch of maybe a dozen goose eggs go far between four otters.

 

This morning the otters are, of course, long gone but I have two disconsolate geese paddling around the lake. I’m sure they will try for another family as they did last year; life in the natural world is rarely easy.

 

 

Goose vs. Otter: the battlefield

 

 

When bright waters turn grey

 

You will be forgiven if you’d never heard of the Pillhill Brook. It is, after all, one of our shorter chalkstreams at just 6 miles long, a tributary of the River Anton, which is in turn a tributary of the River Test.

 

In truth, it is not a stream many fly fishers head to though I would hazard that a vast majority of you have driven over it numerous times without ever knowing of its existence; it passes under the A303 near Thruxton race circuit. It is tiny, prone to being reduced to almost a trickle in the height of dry summers. But it has been a feature of north Hampshire life for thousands of years as villages have grown up along the life source that water provides. Indeed, despite its brevity, there used to be four working water mills one of which powered the Tasker Ironworks at the height of the Victorian era which produced the mighty cast iron waterwheel we have here at Nether Wallop Mill.

 

Today the Pillhill Brook is not really what you would call a working river. It is largely a perfect wildlife corridor, home to a rare colony of native White-Clawed Crayfish, and the defining backdrop to higgledy-piggledy villages where thatch is the predominate roofing material. But this is under threat.

 

 

Pillhill Brook at Fyfield

 

If you watched the recent BBC Panorama programme on 12/April (catch up on iPlayer) you will have seen the investigation by Joe Crowley into the discharge of raw sewage into our rivers nationwide. As you well know 6 out of 7 of British rivers are failing the pollution test and Crowley’s investigation focussed on how the 403,000 separate discharges last year, that accounted for 3.1m hours of sewage pumping time, are contributing to this.

 

I will not recite the entire programme but the bottom line is that under the guise of permitted emergency sewage pumping water companies are playing fast and loose with the regulations by pumping when they should not be, essentially using our rivers to dump sewage instead of going to the expense of treating it. Independent data analysis proved this with such ease it seems incredible that the Environment Agency (EA) are not all over the water companies like a rash. I can’t offer you an explanation why they are not; they refused to be interviewed for the programme and in 2020 only bought four (!) prosecutions.

 

I tell you all this because the Pillhill Brook is about to become another water company storm drain. In the past few decades, the population of the Pillhill/Anton catchment, which takes in Andover, has rocketed with tens of thousands of new homes. But the simple truth is that the Southern Water treatment capacity has failed to keep up with demand, so much so that tankers are parked 24/7 by local sewage works to pump the waste to take it elsewhere and in a recent development Southern Water were granted a licence under emergency conditions, to discharge sewage to alleviate tanker use.

 

The local residents are, understandably, alarmed. Not only was the permitting allowed without any formal application but no local businesses, including a trout fishery, parish councils or villagers were consulted prior, or told afterwards and the EA have subsequently failed (unsurprisingly) to respond to any enquiries. To be fair to Southern Water the outflow does go through a drum filter prior to discharge to remove solids, plus a UV filter but ultimately the tiny Pillhill Brook is being topped up with grey, odorous untreated sewage.

 

Now, I’m not expert enough to tell you what constitutes an emergency, but it has barely rained here in six weeks; we are on course for a record dry April. So, despite Pillhill Brook being at typical spring levels, Southern Water began pumping into the Pillhill Brook two weeks ago. You can watch the video (just 8 seconds) where the grey sewage water meets bright water.

 

Notes: if you wish to sign a UK Parliament petition inspired by the Panorama programme click here

 

 

Photo and video courtesy of Monxton & Amport Villages Facebook page

 

 

Grape for the river

 

Us fly fishers are rarely boring. Our lives take different twists and turns. Take wine dealer Pete Goss. Years ago, when he was a Georgian furniture expert at London auction house Christie’s, he went on a fishing trip to Austria and met, by random chance, an Austrian winemaker. Years later, having morphed into the wine department at Christie’s and then struck out on his own, he is the sole UK importer for that self-same winery.

 

Pete trades under the name of Mayfly Wines, and true to his other passion beyond the grape, he has just launched a special half case range of wines for the river with labels painted by his father-in-law. We are going to be giving away a bottle of the Daddy Longlegs champagne each month for the Feedback Draw.

 

But if you can’t wait that long, or don’t trust to chance, the Mayfly Fishing Half Case is available direct from Pete. In short, it is a selection of six beautiful wines from artisan growers, presented in a wooden gift case lined with straw, with a hand drawn fly on each label. It makes a magnificent gift or will wow your guests at any fishing lunch.

 

1. Daddy Longlegs - 1er Cru Carte Blanche, Champagne Benard Pitois

2. Green Machine - Gruner Veltliner 'Fumberg 2019, Weingut Wimmer-Czerny

3. Silver Doctor - Bourgogne Chardonnay 2018, Domaine Alain Chavy

4. Cascade - Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2018, Domaine Hudelot-Baillet

5. Grey Wulff - St. Joseph 'Bergerie' 2019, Domaine de la Roche Paradis

6. Red Francis - Cotes du Bourg Malbec 2014, Ch√Ęteau Civrac, Bordeaux wines

 

The cost is £165, including UK delivery. To order call Pete 07940 404018 or email him pete@mayflywine.co.uk

 

 

That's lunch sorted!

 

 

Graham Mole

 

I am sad to report that Graham Mole, a long-time friend of mine, Fishing Breaks and all the Wessex rivers, died 27th February aged 83 years.

 

Graham started in journalism the classic way – as a junior reporter on a local weekly paper, then moving into TV and eventually ending up as a producer on investigative programmes for the national ITV network. He then switched to covering the south of England, freelancing for national papers and magazines, running a local TV station and, along the way, bumped into the Forestry Journal for which he wrote extensively in his retirement years.

 

However, you will more likely know him as the man who wrote the Wessex Rivers report for Trout & Salmon for a great many years. True to his investigative roots Graham was not afraid of telling it how it was; I suspect the editors’ desk received a few inflamed missives as a result.

 

I’ll miss exchanging gossip with Graham but if he’s able to catch the next edition of Trout & Salmon I’m sure he will be pleased to see his successor is Tony King, recently retired chairman of GAIA and Fishing Breaks guide, has taken up his pen a person who I suspect will follow in his footsteps in every respect.

 

Media vita in morte sumus "In the midst of life we are in death"

 

 

What's on your playlist?

 

Charles Jardine caused a little, but good, stir on Twitter one recent Saturday when he told us which Mozart symphony inspired him most whilst painting. Which got me thinking: do you listen to music whilst fishing?

 

I’m sure for most, like me, the very thought of earbuds is an abomination. In fact, I ‘m sure it would diminish my success rate – I often hear rises as much as I see them. But if you do fish to music tell me your chosen band, singer or maybe the most appropriate choice! simon@fishingbreaks.co.uk

 

I’ll publish our Top of the Streamers next time.

 

 

When is a fly not a fly? International edition

 

In the continuing monthly series of Hero vs. Villain last night Charles and I debated the international truth of when a fly is truly a fly. And at a new day and time which bought in a whole new audience, with over a hundred joining our Zoom call.

 

Does fly fishing mean different things to different nationalities? Does the term ‘fly’ get lost in translation? Are techniques and practices being exported across borders? And if so, is this always a good thing? Are we remaining true to the founding fathers of fly fishing like Halford & Skues? Is the Fulling Mill fly catalogue a work of great fiction?

 

We covered all this and more. You can watch or listen at your leisure here

 

 

Quiz

This week questions loosely based on today's topics to confound, dismay or delight.

 

1)     What British coins were first issued on this day in 1968?

 

2)     Legend has it that in 387 BC an ancient city was saved from invasion when the geese gave the alarm. What was that city? Goose family 2020

 

3)     The English Premier Football League began in what year?

 

 

Have a good weekend.

 

 

Best wishes,

 

 

Simon Cooper simon@fishingbreaks.co.uk

Founder & Managing Directorwww.fishingbreaks.co.uk

 

 

 

Quiz answers:

 

1)     First decimal coins the 5 and 10 new pence, replacing the shilling and two-shilling pieces.

2)     Rome

3)     1992

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