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
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
impression of Havant Thicket Reservoir 2030
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Worthy - River Itchen
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.
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.
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?
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.
the month that was: 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.
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.
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.
Estate - River Kennet
Kids Summer Fish Camp
call out for the KIds Summer Camp which is two days at Nether
Wallop Mill and one at Bullington Manor.
discount for siblings or groups. Book online or
normal random collection of questions inspired by the date,
events or topics in the Newsletter.
is just for fun with answers at the bottom of the page.
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?
many species of trees are native to Britain?
the director of Reservoir Dogs, the violent 1992
American crime film
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.
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