Sunday, 4 July 2021

Water, Water every where




For decades water companies in the chalkstream regions have sucked the life from beneath our rivers. The despair of perfectly good drinking water making its way to the ocean in the winter months of plenty, whilst in high summer once pristine headwaters are reduced to nothing, has always put me in mind of Coleridge’s Ancyent Marinere “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.”.


Well, finally, after 20 years of discussion, in June it was announced that planning permission had been granted for the Havant Thicket Reservoir. There is no reason why you should know where this is but if you have ever headed south on the A3 towards the coast it is on the edge of the northeast sprawl of Portsmouth just south of the ancient Buster Hill where the A3 becomes the A3(M).



Artists impression of Havant Thicket Reservoir 2030


Albeit on the edge of the South Downs, it is a pretty undistinguished few hundred acres of land, bounded by the motorway and not very notable housing developments (sorry if you live there ..) that have happened piecemeal since the 1960’s when Leigh Park and Waterlooville became overspill dormitories for Portsmouth. In fact, the chances are, had not this land been earmarked for a reservoir all those years ago, it would have long since become housing. However, it does include 35 acres of ancient woodland which has exercised the minds of locals, environmentalists and planners in a Rousseau-like stand off as to what provided the greater good: a reservoir to supply 160,000 homes or preserving the ancient woodland?


Now recently, for reasons entirely unconnected with anything to do with fishing or chalkstreams or even Havant Thicket Reservoir, I was doing some research into ancient woodland, which is not all it seems. The definition of an ancient woodland is an area of land that has been in constant use for tree growing for 400 years or more. However, that doesn’t mean it is a forest of trees that are 400 years old. It is perfectly possible, and in most cases this is the case, that it is actively managed woodland where the trees are harvested and replaced for commercial, visual or recreational purposes on a regular basis.


In the end it was decided that trees trumped rivers, not a decision I’d argue with in this case. Work will start on the Havant Thicket Reservoir this year with the first water supply coming on stream in 2029. For those of you who like a few facts it will be 1.5 miles long and 1 mile wide. The water surface area will be a shade under 400 hundred acres, to a depth of 55 feet. It will hold, when full, nearly 2 billion gallons of water that will be supplied from the chalk downland which in turn will supply daily 5 million gallons of water to those 160,000 homes. The cost is £120m, which is almost exactly the same amount as Southern Water, who are building it in association with Portsmouth Water, were fined last year for systematic pollution of rivers and coastal waters.


Should we rejoice? Undoubtedly so, especially if you love chalkstreams. Read any of the news associated with the announcement and you’ll see preserving the chalkstreams as the no.1 reason cited for the project. This would never have been on anyone’s radar back in 1989, the last time a reservoir was built in England, coincidentally (?) the year the water industry was privatised. As I have written here before, it is no coincidence that if you overlay a map of the distribution of reservoirs over a map of the chalkstream region you will see next to no reservoirs. Water companies haven’t built them because they haven’t had to. Now they have to and that has to be a good thing.


However, I would add one note of caution. That 160,000 homes more or less represents the number of new homes built in the region in the past 25 years. We are just starting to play catch up.



Ash to ashes


Fishing on the Itchen at Abbots Worthy on Sunday I paused in the river fiddling with my fly to pass the time until the next fish rose. Yes, I am still good to my 2021 dry fly only pledge; I enter July without a cast nymph to my name.


Above me stood the huge ash tree that has been a prominent feature of the beat, leaning out as it does over the water, for a hundred years or more. But I fear this tree, with a girth that two men with outstretched arms could not encircle, will not be a feature for much longer. It shows all the signs of ash dieback.


Ash trees are wonderful for rivers; along with oak and a few others they are the most insect rich of our native species. I forget the exact number but an oak is home to something like 350 different insect species, with the ash tree not far behind. By comparison some non-native conifers will barely get into double digits. That is why you’ll see we plant, or husband self-grown, Fraxinus along the river.



Abbots Worthy - River Itchen


Until now I’d hoped the more mature of our ash trees would be resilient to ash dieback; since I saw the first dieback victim 7 or so years ago most of the affected trees seemed to be those in the 15-30 year age class. But the Abbots Worthy ash is way beyond that, by far the most elderly I have seen on the way out.


Ash dieback is a fungus that originated in Asia, crossed to Europe in the early 1990’s with the first reported UK case in 2012. Our native ash has no tolerance to the fungus which moves from tree to tree carried on spores that can be blown for many miles, possibly even across the Channel. Once the spores have attached themselves to leaves, they will eventually find their way into the main stem of the tree where they grow, blocking the water transport system within the tree. For a while most trees are able to fight back but eventually as more and more of the tree is affected it will be weakened to the point of death.


Is there any hope? Well, for 80% of ash trees probably not but the remaining 20% will survive and in fifty years the ash will recover with a tolerance to the dieback fungus. It is, of course, immensely sad and I can see our river keepers spending many months over every winter for the next ten years clearing dead ash. Anyone want any firewood?


But we’ve been here before with the elm. The Dutch Elm disease 1826-60 wiped out most of Britain’s elm trees, which recovered to then be all wiped out again in the 1970’s and to be now recovering yet again in this century.



That was the month that was: June


June utterly flummoxed me. On the middle Monday of the month I hosted a River Walk in 30C degrees of sun-blazed heat. On the Friday of the same week we returned from another River Walk cold, drenched and huddling round the pub log burner to dry out.


The rivers were alternately some of the most fantastic I have ever seen in June, to wretched brown with water as high as you might see it in winter. To an extent this delighted the river keepers doing the hardest weed cut of the year who were able to complete and clear down with time to spare.


So, as you might imagine I have June feedback forms from delight to despair. One such in the former category was Alasdair Ritchie, a Fishing Breaks newbie, who fished at Benham Estate on the River Kennet. The Daddy Long-Legs bubbly is in the post.



Benham Estate - River Kennet



Kids Summer Fish Camp


Last call out for the KIds Summer Camp which is two days at Nether Wallop Mill and one at Bullington Manor.


8-11 years         19-21 July          One place left

12-15 years       26-28 July          Two places left


10% discount for siblings or groups. Book online or call.




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)     On this day in 1982 truck driver Larry Walters suspended a deck chair beneath a cluster of balloons and took off from his home in Long Beach, California. What height did he reach?


2)     How many species of trees are native to Britain?


3)     Name the director of Reservoir Dogs, the violent 1992 American crime film


And finally, last night Charles and I debated with Instgrammer Beaky Allesch-Taylor and Trout & Salmon editor Andrew Flitcroft whether social media is a good thing for fly fishing, especially in relation to the targetting of large wild fish.


The debate also includes some fascinating Tweed Foundation research on how often brown trout are caught in a season, recorded by way of photo-tagging software orginally created to monitor basking sharks.


Listen, watch and read the Tweed Foundation research that features the now famous 3lb #R63 wild brown trout caught five times in the space of six weeks by different anglers.


Go England!



Best wishes,

Heron vs. Villain. Social media. Good or bad for fly fishing



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing




Quiz answers:


1)     15,000ft. On landing he was arrested and fined $1,500 for violating commercial airspace

2)     Hard to be precise but around 60, with only 35 regarded as widespread

3)     Quentin Tarantino


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