Monday, December 31, 2007

The River Hipper (not the Rother)

I got the name of the river wrong! The river in question is the River Hipper. It’s confluence with the Rother is ½ a mile away.

After 20 minutes on the phone I finally got hold of the EA Environment Officer who is responsible for the river. He explained that the rubbish in the river was a sign of the times and for a while I didn’t think I was going to get anywhere with him. I asked him why then was the River Itchen running through Winchester, immaculate... and then we started to agree that the situation was unacceptable. It even turned out that he had taken small steps to stop the rubbish entering the river.

My plan is to release to the press (Derbyshire Times and Peak 107 Radio) a request for members of the public to turn out on a litter pick. We will all meet in the retail park on a Sunday morning to be taken through a short health and safety brief. I will ask the council to donate black bin bags and collect the bags once they are full of rubbish from designated pick up points. Local fishermen and members of my staff (and perhaps members of the EA) will have waders and life jackets. They will be responsible for in-stream rubbish.

To follow up the effort I will suggest the council pay particular attention to litter removal from the area. The Environment Officer will be asked to go to the retail park tenants bordering the river and ensure that their refuse is properly stored and removed.

Over the next week I will walk the entire river from its confluence with the R. Rother to its source and detail the worst areas and potential solutions. I will post again with further details of the clean up and the results of the walk. Perhaps some of you local enough would like to turn up to help.

Of course there are thousands of rivers across the country with the same problem. If a scheme can be implemented here and it works, there is no reason why the same system cannot be used on those rivers; a kind of national clean up. Lets see how this goes first though.

HNY

The River Hipper in very much happier and cleaner times

High and Lows of 2007

3 Lows
1) Looking over a bridge in and seeing only half of the usual residents in the pool below. Line dangling from the overhanging tree gave us a clue as to the people responsible. I met them 3 weeks later after ‘we sat out until we got them’. In the half an hour it took from them arriving to getting the Police into position, they killed a lot more as the photograph shows. The largest fish was six pounds. Remember these aren't stockies and can't be just replaced with another net of fish.


2) Rolling a big bale of hay onto my Dads convertible.

3) Having to deal with our local Environment Agency’s Inspector of Pollution on behalf of the rivers. Heartbreaking to finally realise that the rivers have no friend in that position.

3 Highs

Setting up The Peacock Fly Fishing Club
This is a good thing for the river. The limit of rods per day on the main day ticket water on the Wye is 12. I wanted to continue to sell day tickets to the public so I have offered the club six rods/day and the public six rods/day. The Club fish on their chosen days.
1) It offers everyone the opportunity to have a go at river fly fishing for wild trout, without being put off by committing to a full years subs. 2) We have been selling day tickets on the Wye since the early part of the 1800’s. 3) Anglers with a club attitude spend more time enjoying the river and less time getting their monies worth. Surprisingly they catch more fish but flog the water far less.

Removing 380 meters of some of the worse limestone dry stone wall that has ever been thrown up in the Peak District was a high point. It was the product of a group of teenagers without the skill to build it and a Foreman without the skills to teach them. 2 JCB’s and 4 tractor/trailers shifted it in a day, freeing up 750 tonnes of stone for river projects. We will plant the old wall line with 5 to metre in a double row of Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Holly and the occasion specimen Ash tree. The eventual laid hedge will make a cracking wildlife corridor, right down the valley.

24hrs of rain beginning on the night of Monday June 25th. I was carp fishing at a local reservoir and had to move my camp three times during the night to higher ground. It wasn’t possible to even get home in the morning by the usually route because the little River Amber had filled its flood plane. When I arrived back home at breakfast time two of my rivers were beginning to come up and I knew then that levels could be counted upon for the rest of the summer, helping weed to grow, flies to hatch and algae to be chased off.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Glad to be average


In an average year 36 inches of rain fills the Head Gardeners rain gauge in the grounds of Haddon Hall. By November 30th we were so far below this average it was highly unlikely we would make it up. Thanks to a very wet December and ½ inch of rain that has fallen over the last 36 hours, we have just exceeded the average by a fraction. Metcheck report no more until 2008 so it looks like that’s it.

We will be making ourselves unpopular this coming year by hoping for a wet May and a wet August. Rain in these two months really makes a difference to the levels of underground water and means we can survive the summer. Getting enough rain is never far from your mind when you keep the Lathkill, Bradford and Wye.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Travellers

It could be worse.
It could be far worse.
We cross swords occasionally with the men from the travelling community and the testimony of these upfront and ugly daylight raids, is a huge collection of rubbish telescopic fibreglass, in my garage.

The first indication is either a phone call from a bailiff, or a personal sighting of a group of men, swarming over parts of river that don’t normally get poached. Fish are being caught and smacked against trees, rocks, anything. This is whistlestop thievery with attitude.

If you are lucky the mode of transport has its nose in a field gateway. You will recognise it as the vehicle that brought the men out to the country that day because it will say ‘Groundwork’or ‘Tarmacing’ on the side, with the cheerful advice that if you call the mobile number, your drive will be as flat as a bowling green in deep, rich tarmac...at almost no cost to you at all.

Over the years I have learnt the only way to get any result here is to block in the white pick-up Transit so it can’t reverse. Then roll up the windows, lock the doors and call the police. You may as well tell them now that there are men climbing all over your car trying to kill you because that will be happening shortly. Police Control tell you a car is on its way. Over the next 15 minutes you will refer, many times to this car, in your mind and wish for it to arrive very soon indeed.

Up the hill they come, no rods now, or fish, just a bunch of six bronzed men with pot bellies and the look of absolute innocence. The smallest comes to my window and knocks on it.
“Can you move your landrover Sir”, This is not a question.
“Sorry mate, you are going to have to wait for a while please, the police are on their way to talk to you about taking fish from private waters. They wont be long.”
“Now why would you want to call the Police, Sir? We are only out for a walk and we didn’t know it was private fishing anyway”
Experience has taught me that by now I have said my piece and nothing else I say will make the slightest difference.
He tries the landrover door. His mate tries the passenger door. Someone jumps onto the back to try the back windows. The swearing starts, then the threats, followed by the desperate threats, leading up to the promise that my family will be damaged and the river poisoned.

This behaviour reaffirms the low opinion I have for these ‘gentlemen of the road’ and now no amount of banging my windows to near breaking point, spitting or screaming is going to shift me, although my heart will be in my mouth when they try and roll the Landy over on to its roof.

They have taken a chance on not being caught, knowing they can fall back on intimidation and threats when they are sometimes caught. The last line of defence will soon surface but I am constantly surprised by it when itdoes.

I can hear the ‘blue light’ in the distance… and so can they. This is it; one final massive effort to throw the landrover on its roof, then a torrent of abuse and threats to kill my family and me.

The Police car arrives and I unlock and jump out. The first job is to talk to the Police and explain who I am, why I have blocked these people in and what I want from the Police.

Now the last line of defence; butter wouldn’t melt.

“This Gentleman has blocked us in Officer and held us up on our journey. We were only taking a little walk along the river bank. Please Sir, we aren’t doing any harm and don’t wish any harm on the Gentleman’s fishes.”

Another Police car turns up as I caution the group.

Then I’m off down the bank with an Officer to find the fish and the rods. They are never hard to find though; under a tree root or rusty tin sheet. We find the fish. The rods are collected from the river margins and the long grass. Last summer I walked up the bank with 23 wild brown trout from 5 inches to 2 pounds, some of which I knew and had been watching grow. Half an hour later, after they have sworn [on the lives of their children] that there were no fish in the van, the Police discovered another 14 from behind the drivers seat.

The Police do their best to find addresses for our Solicitor to post summons to but an envelope addressed to The Caravan, Stoke-on –Trent, is not going to speed to its mark. What we do get are the rods, the fish, a list of names and a registration number that will be known to all the other Keepers within the hour.

This time everyone loses. The Police lose their time, the Public lose their Police, the River loses its fish, the Travellers lose their rods and I lose the afternoon. This time is the key phrase because next time our travelling community hope that only the River and me miss out.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

River Rother

Rather than parking in the regulation carpark to the retail shopping experience today, Melissa and I avoided the gridlock and shoved the Landy up a side street and walked in.

We crossed over a small river bridge and I just couldn’t believe my eyes. The litter in the river was unbelievable and the riparian strip was just as bad until you looked about 20 metres back from the banks and the land magically became clean again. It was like the river was being neglected while everything else was kept tidy. Obviously I’m going to get it cleaned up but what message is being given out every time anyone crosses that bridge? Rivers are allowed to be polluted with trade and domestic waste because no one cares. What does our local Environment Agency Technical Officer think about it; the person who is paid to be on the side of the rivers? The person allowing it to happen, the person, it would seem,with the lowest respect for the River Rother?

Stand by…You are going to find out.

All Change

The period of high pressure has ended, becoming much softer with the wind coming from the south west. The herons are fishing at night under the full moon, spending their days standing out in the middle of the big meadow, in a group. They really look like little old women and seem to me to be gossiping.

I remember standing in the river one afternoon, picking out tufa, when a brown trout of
around 1 ½ pounds dropped through the sky and landed in the river, splashing me. It was quite dead. A heron had been gently drifting upstream at tree level, came across me, panicked and choked it up.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dreaming

This is our first real crack at editing some HD film we took last summer. The editor is actually asleep in his hammock, not acting.

It makes me think of summer.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Lower Lathkill

Our October rainfall average is just over 2 ½ inches. Over a 24hr period in early October 2000, we received almost twice that and a strange thing happened underground. One of the main underground soughs, 4 ½ miles long and many fathoms below the surface, fell in and blocked about 1/3rd of the way up.

Water that had been channelled from the upper levels came against this blockage, backed up and out through fissures. Lakes were formed in the valley bottom, feeding the lower river with volumes of cold, clear groundwater. This is a photo of one such artesian spring, on the opposite side of the river to the sough.
However all is not well, down on the lower river.

'Why is the river always blue on Mondays?'

This was the fair question asked to the fish farm keeper, by a downstream riverside resident. The answer was simple. Mondays were treatment day in the Alport Mill fish farm and the blue colour was that effective prophylactic against fungus on the table rainbows; Malachite Green. Only a few drops were ever added to the water but such was the concentration, it used to leak out and colour the river blue through its full length to the Wye.

Being on its own in a secluded valley, the fish in the mill were often a target for thieves. They would smash in the windows and doors and even take off the roof in attempts to reach the fish. I remember we would enter the mill sometimes and notice signs of theft but couldn’t find any point of entry. After a while it was decided that they were coming under the water wheel, some 20 feet below the floor level and squeezing through the hole used for the wheel drive shaft. A plan was hatched involving a 3 litre tub of Malachite Green, balanced on a board, designed to cover the crook when he pushed through.

Next Sunday morning a trail of blue footprints leaving the farm told of a night time visit and a very miserable thief. Even small spots of this industrial dye would take days of scrubbing to remove.

We didn’t have anymore trouble at the mill.

Middle Lathkill

From Coalpit the river has been pushed back, under the wood. Weirs were built in the new river, with severe walls on either side. Sometimes it spills over into its old channel during flood and forms the lake that it once was. The water meadow in the picture requires no fertiliser of any kind and no spray. The wild flowers are a delight and the hay is full of herbs. Head loss is minimal above another blockage, this time a village is built on the tufa mound, Alport.


The Lathkill joins the Bradford in the village, as it looses 80 feet of head in only a few hundred yards. It is customary for the large river to retain the name following a confluence. Not so in Alport. It receives a new name, The Dakin and then looses it to regain the Lathkill tag for the rest of its journey.

Alport Mill, another redundant fish farm stands on more Tufa.



Monday, December 24, 2007

Upper Lathkill

Lathkill…from the Norse, Hlatha-gyll, meaning 'barn in a narrow valley'.

The winter river comes out of the Head Cave below Monyash. It rises through limestone and runs through a limestone gorge, making it calcium rich with a high pH. Every 15-20 years the ground is so full of water, another cave runs from the opposite side of the Dale. I’ve seen this happen just once.


The river leaves the grassed valley floor, with its sheer sided, scree cliffs and enters Palmaston Wood where becomes restricted between two walled banks and doesn’t break free from over five miles. You can really sense and see the history here as men lived and died in the search of lead. The water must have been hated, as it stopped the men following the rich seams into the earth; chasing them back when the autumn rains came. So they tunnelled underground and put the river into a subterranean channel called a ‘sough’, draining the ground. Today, when the flows recede in the summer, the river only runs underground.


The traditional spawning beds are situated in Palmaston, so the EA have agreed to electrofish the two generations ( brood fish parents and their offspring) of stranded trout and remove them to the safety of the summer river downstream. Cattle were once driven over the spawning beds to break up the stones; not gravel, because the river isn’t allowed to erode the banks, but tufa. Tufa is created when bacteria fix calcium and excrete a pellet of CaCo3. These tiny pellets gather on moss and weed and set together like volcanic pumice stone. Thankfully it also forms into small, round balls called onchoids. They roll along the bed and provide the only spawning medium available to the trout of the Lathkill. Without these strange spheres, it’s difficult to see how trout could exist here.

On and out of the wood, picking up the tail of the sough at the bottom of a tufa fall called Bubble Springs. Enter The Psalm Pool where Queen Victoria fished.


Deep water, aquamarine, fish hanging like birds in the sky, the water is so clear. Duffers and on and out of the Dale onto Haddon land. The river dips under Conksbury bridge, giving reference to a time of 'conks', or cranes. Down to Mill Green Dam; a natural tufa barrage that held back a marsh, with the river braided through it. Now the river is formal and ordered. It tumbles over mossy tufa into the Dukes Pool and under Coalpit Bridge. A famous Lord gave a enormous diamond to his fiancé, from who’s finger the ring fell into the silty pool whilst she fished. Mr Mclatchy was Head Keeper at the time.
“Clatchy,Clatchy, let the dam off Clatchy!” cried His Lordship.
“Ney” said the Scot, knowing the silt would shift and it would be gone. Putting his arm into the silt where the ring fell, he felt it and became a hero... until the fishing commenced and it was forgotten.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Haddon

A little about the Estate I work on.

Haddon is owned by Lord Edward, who was handed the Estate by his Father, Charles Duke of Rutland. Previously the two Estates belonging to The Duke have been passed onto the new Duke but with His Grace having two sons he passed Belvoir to David, Marquis of Granby and Haddon to Lord Edward, his youngest son.

We have Maintenance and Woods teams, Gardeners and Gamekeepers, some office staff and a house keeper called Whitty. The Agent comes once a week to iron out problems. Haddon is all about self discipline. There are no whips driving you on this estate, with the only formal commitment being the Heads of Department Meeting once a month. I attend as head of the Fisheries Department and enter the Hall up the steps shown below.

The Last of the Mohicans waterfall scene.

While on the subject of poachers, last year we had a couple of men poaching fish under the weir at Rowsley. I saw them from a vantage point and walked in with a couple of Police Officers. It was November and I was particularly narked because the trout were out of season. When the first man saw us he shouted to the other and threw his fish and rod straight into the river. This made a pathetic sight because the rod stuck into a silt bar like a javelin and the fish just sank at his feet in clear water. However the younger of the two walked into the freezing river up to his waist and then scaled the waterfall with the river crashing over his head. The huge undershot sluice was slightly open leaving a lethal jet of water firing out from underneath. He set foot into this and was immediately knocked off his feet, into the foaming violent water below. He emerged spitting water and looking dazed. Climbing onto the far bank he sat for a moment and then began to walk off. We were all speechless. It sounds funny now but we all thought he was a goner when he went over and we could only imagine how cold he was. A Police Officer went around to pick him up while I cautioned the other man, having him climb in to fetch the rod and the fish.

After a while it was clear from the radio traffic that ‘Last of the Mohicans’ couldn’t be found. I pulled everyone off to the carpark and sent for a dog team. The trainer and the dog searched the area without success. It appeared that the man had given us the slip until the dog lead the trainer into the male toilets of Caudwells Mill Visitor Centre. A full set of clothes were found on the toilet seat including undercrackers and shoes! We kept the other man for at least an hour while we waited for his young companion to surface. This man confirmed that his apprentice had no phone and no spare change of clothes. We had a naked poacher somewhere in the area; I suspected in the upper floors of the mill. We searched the building and posted watch well into the evening but as no-one surfaced so we pulled off and went home to write up the afternoons events in the form of statements.

I often wonder where he disappeared to and how he made it home, wrapped in hessian sacks and twenty miles across country.

Inside help from CW12

We are going back to the 1970’s now to a time when all country estates in the area were being done by a gang of poachers from Congleton. They were professional, making their livings from what they could steal in game but were only ever caught and had up before the bench by an old Haddon River Keeper, and he had them three times. This is how:

The first 'collar' involved a large amount of luck for Fred and no luck at all for the gang. After completing his Sunday morning pre-dawn trip to check the rivers, it occurred to him that he hadn’t ever checked a small quarry carpark, well away from the river. Sure enough, tucked behind a Cortina on bricks, was a scruffy but solid car of the type and condition to arise his concern, with the bonnet still warm! He drove over to Bakewell and collected a couple of Police Officers and set watch on the car. Sure enough the driver came for the car soon after, and headed to collect the gang as they waited to be picked up at various points on the estate. It was then possible to pull the car over and arrest all its inhabitants as it headed home.

When the case came to court a gang member shuffled over to Fred and asked for a word. He pleaded that he was only the driver and was being bullied by the rest of the gang, who he hated. If Fred could go easy on him and reduce his fine, he would him tip off when the gang came again. Fred explained that the statements were already in and there was nothing he could do, but the young man, who’s girlfriend had just given birth, said that anything he could do to help would be repaid.

The court sitting took place with the magistrates coming down exceptionally heavily on the gang. As they left the young man looked up and winked at Fred.

Two weeks later while he was settling down to tea, the phone rang. A young male voice thanked Fred for his help in court and explained that the gang would be fishing his waters to make up the fine money. He gave a full description of their plan. Fred wasn’t stupid and posted bailiffs at opposite ends of the estate but sure enough the gang operated as described, so were easily caught. As they were being led off, one of the group shouted to Fred that he knew something funny was going off to which Fred replied that they were daft enough to leave their calling cards where ever they went!

A season elapsed until the voice came on the phone again with times, places and movements. This time Fred poured all his resources into the operation and cleaned up! The same poacher now knew that something was amiss and said as much but to Freds knowledge, they never came back.

Switch banks











I love this time
lapse photography.

This is 2 years on. The willow at the downstream end of the fence is 12- 15 feet tall. Fishing is now practised from the opposite bank, with the trout using the living fence so much because of the cover. You can make out a large cleaned off area of gravel with a hen fish unwilling to give up her spot and braving it out until we’ve finished mucking about and left her to it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Definitions

Interview- a bi-directional conversation held for the benefit of filling a vacant position.

River walk- An opportunity for a prospective syndicate member to evaluate the river, the fishing and the management regime in the presence of the River Keeper and become familiar with the rules and requirements of the syndicate. It also happens to be a chance for the River Keeper to asses if the candidate is likely to be an asset to the syndicate or not and if he is to be offered a rod…or not.

Today’s river walk was for a position that didn’t exist. My two syndicates are full with only one rod leaving this year, with that vacancy promised sometime ago. We were out walking the banks today because I wanted to meet the gentleman who phoned and wrote in, at my request, to apply for a position on the waiting list. A note will now be put on file with some simple comments and the word Recommended at the top. It has been a successful morning for all parties concerned including the river, for it is only likely to recieve moderate fishing pressure and careful handling of it's pisciverous residents from this future member. The gentleman will receive our invitation through the post when he is required to take up a rod.

But despite all this preparation, even the river walk system is flawed. I was duped a few years ago by a cheat. He was very pleasant and asked all the right questions when we walked the river together following his application. He talked about the appreciation of the countryside and how one needs to fit in, to study to be quiet. Not long after I was frog marching him to his car by the most direct route with a warning that if he ever set foot…it was all very unpleasant.

Waiting List- A list of people who have expressed an interest in acquiring fishing rights in a syndicate, with those most suitable for the river... at the top.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Silt filters

Thank you for buying a Haddon Christmas Tree. When you have finished with it please return it to the Haddon Hall carpark. We will use it to improve our rivers and provide habitat for animals, birds, insects and plants. Happy Christmas.

Everyone buying a tree from the carpark at Haddon will have recieved one of these requests.

We have pinned 80 metres of willow faggots to the river bed, following a nice curve. They are an average of 4 metres out from a badly eroded far bank, crucially on the outside of a bend. This means we have an area of almost dead water behind the faggot line that needs to be filled in and as this is a non fishing bank, what better silt filters to use than second hand Christmas trees. I'm hoping we will get 600 trees back to carefully fit in the space so that they will slowly encourage silt deposition followed by emergent plants and one day in the future...dry land with trailing willow fronds gently touching the water.

The area to be filled with trees in the top photo is on the left of the faggots. The river is now restricted to its new channel width, which can be seen in the ariel photo, taken from the cliff above. We have also engineered a new spit of land on the end of the peninsula to replace what has been lost over the years, thanks to pheasants of all things!

The shortest Day

All downhill from here. It's usually about three weeks before I notice any real difference in day length but from then on we will have enough light to be working after tea and by then it's practically spring!

Our trout use day length as a trigger to spawn. Sure enough the activities on the redd are peaking. Its all digging for her and chasing for him as the moment she releases her eggs get nearer. You can tell when she’s close to laying her eggs by the sudden rise in aggression amongst the cock fish. They become frantic in chasing away other males if they are in pole position alongside the hen or they become desperate is they are on the outside trying to get in. Somewhere amongst all the fuss are the precocious males, hanging off and waiting for that split second chance. We even noticed a young cock fish once who had flown under the radar and was sitting under the hen in the redd itself.

The males will use strength, aggression, speed, persistence and cunning in order to get their girl.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ray

When I first began to baliff as a young man of 21, I was very keen to catch as many poachers as I could. This meant very many early mornings and late nights.

The Estate has a considerable length of town water. Those who know the urban river trout will know they adapt to a diet of bread, often thrown in for the ducks. Bakewell has a magnificent show of trout and grayling but I am afraid to say, some people just can’t leave them alone.

One early evening in summer I was in Bakewell as part of my duties (this is beginning to sound like an official statement so I’ll change tack quickly)…I was having a look around. There were still about a hundred tourists on the concrete walk way by the side of the river, all interested in bread, ducks and fish. I didn’t know what attracted me to Ray at the time, but I certainly know now. He was looking for me. He seemed much more interested in scanning the crowd and this made him different from everyone else and this was plain to see, even at 200 yards and through a crowd.

There were so many people about I didn’t think for a second that he would try to poach fish but he had two out as quick as a flash! His tactic was clever. Bread on hook in pocket, very many looks around until he was sure the coast was clear of bailiffs, swing the short length of line, hook a fish, hand over hand it in, whack with a stick at his feet for the purpose, fish in game pocket of Barbour and then relax and take a few paces back from the river. Even people standing next to him didn’t notice anything untoward.

I sprinted to a phone box nearby (no mobile phones back then) with my heart racing. My Boss was in and he told me how the Police and another Baliff would be closing him down from either side. I returned to my position to wait. Ray was sideling up to groups of people feeding bread to the ducks and fish and using them as ground baiters.

Then everything in his posture changed. I couldn’t see the Police or any other Baliffs but Ray was suddenly on edge over something. He leant against the low wall at the back of the river walk and suddenly was gone. Seconds later the trap shut as two Police Officers and a Baliff came from each end, only to find the trap empty! My Boss shrugged to me as if to say, ‘Where is he then?’.

There was no way he was getting away with this. I flew round and through the crowd, past the Baliffs and the Police and leapt over the wall, through some gardens and out onto the street. Looking about frantically I spotted Ray, who was ambling through the town centre. He clocked me, saw the fire in my eyes and ran. After a very short chase I had him in a shop doorway but he wasn’t coming without a fight and swung for my head. The Police arrived on a blue light in seconds and restrained us both. Ray was handcuffed and forced into a car for the brief drive to Bakewell Nick. I walked round with my Boss who was asking for explanations. The only thing on my mind was the contents of Ray’s pockets when he was finally searched.

Had he dumped the fish and the line when he became suspicious? It didn’t take long to find out as the Barbour spewed up six little wild rainbows and a short length of handline. Bingo.

Ray is an old man now. When I drive past him in the street I always check my rear view mirror to see him standing, watching me go until I am clear out of sight. I get the feeling there might be one last fling in Ray before he hangs up his handline for good.

OVER!

You can’t beat a bit of urban duck shooting. Well, erm actually you can. Being the proud owner of a two man Zodiac and having ultimate charge of the rivers, gives me the unenviable responsibility on two counts. So it was up to me to drive the ducks and geese from their cushy urban existence in Bakewell, over the waiting guns someway downstream. It’s not the early start that bothers me, having to make sure all the usual jobs are completed to leave time for the drive. It’s not the hanging around waiting to get started either although I can never understand why it takes so long to put two cartridges into two barrels. It certainly isn’t all the questions from the public as we put over 400 mixed race ducks and mallard crosses into the sky.

No what bothers me is who is attached to those two white terriers with those two leads. The women with the Westies!

As I accompany Jan (who has the apprentices role of boat man) along the concrete promenade with my stick I can hear the pops of the gun line in the distance through the fog. I can also make out the two white dots in the distance at the bottom of the Recreation Ground. Most of the people who walk the river in the morning with their dogs offer brief words of encouragement and understanding that the huge numbers of birds need their numbers cropped. They see ten or more drakes raping a single mother duck when she returns to the river with her brood in the early summer and they know the river is vastly overstocked thanks to the additional feeding by tourists.

The WWTW and I have developed a habit of glowering and frowning at each other throughout the year as we go about our separate businesses, although we never speak. We save the speaking for these few days in the year when "I shoot all her ducks!". Well it isn’t really speaking, more apoplectic spitting fury!

A lady came past me this morning as we made our way down and said “She’s waiting for you” and gestured to the little huddle of septuagenarian females with a deep red mist hanging over one particular member.

Just as I get to the group she sees me and breaks off. My timing is terrible as another flush of mallard picks up. My toes curl in my wellies as I hear very many more pops from downstream.

“What do you think you are doing!” she screams.
“I am sorry”, I reply, “we would like to get round much more often to control the numbers but we are simply too busy”.
“Mur…”
“Look at that road cone in the river, I’ll have to go in for that.” And I’m off into the river and out of the other side, giving her the slip with the added bonus of not hearing a word she was shouting due to the noisy weir.

Off she goes upstream. She knows there is usually a man in a boat on these operations and I pity Jan who is still sculling on the flat above the weir.

I counted the birds before the drive on the river. There were 115 Canada Geese 412 Mixed Duck 395 Black Headed Gulls and 6 Swans. That equates to one bird on one snooker table sized area of water. Our total bag from all this fuss was 6 Canada Geese and 17 ducks. I’ve got to think of a better idea than this.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The men who planted trees

Elzéard Bouffier was a shepherd. Every night, by the light of his fire he selected good acorns from bad ones. The next day when he was out with his flock he would prod a metal spike into the ground and place the good seed in the bottom of a hole. The story goes he transformed a landscape and its economy, its weather and its wildlife over a period of many years.

Today Jan and I started to plant a wood. There can be few things more satisfying than planting trees. A few years ago the sheep were excluded from an oxbow peninsula on the Lower Lathkill. Alder trees were able to grow without being nibbled off and how they have grown! The idea today was to dig some up and move them to a wet field. Here a hole would be dug to receive the tree with its root sod still in tact. When the trees are brought out of their hibernation by the mild spring afternoons, they would be able to settle their roots for their first drink for 5 months.

We aim to build an alder/ash/willow and hawthorn spinney from self set trees, grown on the Estate. The closer to the new site the better as I don’t like moving trees very far in case I spread disease. Anyway 26 alder, up to six feet in height, now have a new home and will act as a screen between river paradise and busy B road. We will lift and move another 200 alder before my target of 5pm Saturday.

Flood plane musing

Jan and I have been chasing around the flock of cormorants this morning. The A6 runs adjacent to the river so it is possible to follow them around until they land and then try and get them off. It’s taken about 2 hours to clear the river, nothing dead just passing the problem off to someone else downstream this time as that was the direction they went. I’m very flattered that they would prefer to feed on my fishery but I cannot extend a welcome to these winter visitors who would happily clear me out.

Jan was right when he said that somewhere was going to get hammered this morning by the hungry flock. They fly over from their night roost on Carsington Reservoir and feed twice a day as far as I can tell; once in the morning and once again before making the short trip back before dark. Although I’m very sad for the recipients of the problem, it is a problem of their own making. Cheap tickets on the Derwent towards Matlock and below leave no budget for keepers. So if you are a member of a club on the middle Derwent, you are losing fish today to a flock of nine cormorants. Still, you might have enough in the kitty to get another flash rod in the January sales.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From this... to this



Same river but two years later with the weirs out and all that thinking well and truely behind us. Now we have two bad backs (slide hammer...) and a working river of the correct size for its daily flow. It has a resident kingfisher, spawning trout, water voles and dippers. Amazing isn't it.





Inspiration from Germany


Whatever you can do, or dream you can…begin it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Gareth and I used this as our mantra during our times of river restoration. The quote was the first line in a Ranulph Fiennnes book, given to me as a present. I haven't read the rest of the book yet but it takes pride of place in my bookcase, just for that one line.

The change over from stocking to wild didn't just come about by halting the introductions and closing the fish farms, we had to completely redesign these man made rivers. Each job was started by moving one stone or a spade full of soil or planting one small carrot of ryizome... and was often completed weeks later when hundreds of metres of newly bank were formed.
You see we had to build a river that would be home to fish for the whole year rather just for the duration of time it took for the stockies to go on the hunt for the contents of the food bucket. We had to build in spawning redds where the river bed was silt. We had to give homes to the trout fry so they wouldn't be swept away or eaten. The yearlings needed faster pocket water and the adults; ariel cover. Each section of restored river recieved places for all ages and sizes, through careful study of the movement of water and a consideration of what was already in place.


We had a landrover and any amount of hand tools but the most used piece of kit was a medieval instrument of torture…the slide hammer. All the living willow posts needed to be driven into the river bed, a river bed often of the same density as concrete and this heavy green metal tube fitted over the top of each one as the post was bashed down. The posts would often take twenty belts and there were thousands of things. We learnt to cut them as thin as possible to help their entry into the tufa (I’ll talk about this later). One good thing about the slide hammer work was we were directly defining a new bank line; one which would be here for many years to come. Have you ever made a new river? There can’t be many things as rewarding. We all need creative expression and this gave it to us spades. You get people jumping off bridges because they lack this single item of the seven basic needs, when some simple water colour painting could have saved their life.

Cormorant vigil this morning; got to run.

Peep

Well you might have guessed this isn’t a happy scene. Kingfishers, like most birds and mammals are terrified of humans and for this bird to be bobbing its head up and down so close to me, took either immense courage or desperation. I fear it was the latter. Evening was coming on and the little thing was starving. We hadn't considered it in our plans to build a river that was dammed and sheer sided, with a little hatchery alongside. Such a system couldn’t feed a kingfisher, there were no small fish because all the fish were stocked as adults. As I was dropping the level and moving stones that late afternoon in January, the kingfisher was watching me and waiting for a chance. I gave it that chance when I gave it that perch. It’s looking down now, into the newly turned clean stones, into the shallow river and with a big splash a bull head is in its beak and off to the hawthorn to turn and swallow…straight back, head bobbing…splash…off downstream into the halflight and gone.

That night was really cold. When I went to the log shed at 9pm to restock the fireside basket, I thought of the kingfisher with its belly of fresh fish and hoped it had found somewhere out of the wind, somewhere sheltered.

Next morning-Peep, peep, peep. Here it comes..I can hear it but can’t see it…round the bend and past me in a blaze of blue. It's made it and is now hunting the newly lowered section with extra hope.

A few months later, during early summer, I was standing in the river talking to a group on one of my riverwalks. I was in the same place that bar became so useful on a January afternoon, . As the story neared it's end…you've guessed it...peep, peep, peep. A lady from the front of the crowd joked that my mate must have let it from a cage at just the right moment! It couldn’t have be planned better but she was wrong; the bird was a common sight now, catching small fish for the brood in the earth bank hole a mile downstream. Still, it was good timing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Incredible occurence

Time: 15.30hrs
Date: Jan 3rd 2006
Location: Centre of the R.Lathkill
Job Description: Removing stone flags that had formed the base of a weir
Air Temp: -1 degree Celsius
Water Temp: 4 degrees Celsius

We have very little head loss over an extended length of the upper river. Basically the river used to be dammed and take the form of a lake or at least braided channels through marsh. It was pretty flat. As you know a river was built here. Previous regimes had used board weirs to hold back the water into long ponds. As part of our natural restructuring the boards had to come out and the stones they sat on too, so the water could flow.

A milky sun had set and it was beginning to feel really cold, despite being thoroughly wrapped up in neoprene. The 5’ crow bar was being used to pry the stones apart, all the time dropping the levels above. Just five more minutes I thought.
Bang-Bang-Pry-Bang-Bang-Pry
I stuck the bar into the river bed by my side and looked upstream to a reed stem that was acting as a as depth gauge. It was a very cold afternoon with dusk only minutes away. Then one of the most unusual events occurred and it will stay with me till I die. It also turned out to be hugely significant in our planning process.

I looked back. A kingfisher had perched on top of my bar about 20 inches from my face.

Please can you close your eyes, project yourself to the scene and think for a moment.

Hatching the plot

So as we were sitting in Gareths kitchen one spring
afternoon, looking up the Wye valley, over the Bakewell roof tops and into the Peak District when I asked him a question.
‘You’ve been here a while now Gareth, what would you like to see happen?
‘It would be great if we could stop stocking some of the rivers’
‘OK’, I said.
Gareth was clearly passionate about the project. I needed to see if it would be possible. The economics of such a change must be looked into but during the afternoon we hatched a plan together.
We had recently done experiments with stock browns (local strain, stripped from adults taken from the redds) where yellow yarn was threaded through their dorsals. They were easy to spot from above when released into a small transparent river so their impact on the resident wild trout was equally clear.
The next couple of months see us putting together a business plan to present to His Lordship. Fish farming had taken place at Haddon since the 1800’s. We had finally defeated endemic parasites, droughts and poisonings and had reached the stage where we could raise a couple of thousand A1 local strain brownies of stock size and plenty of yearlings for next year too. Now the plan was to sell off the fish, turn in our abstraction licenses, stop using fish pellets and rear/ranch English Crayfish instead.

Our case was built around stockies being unnecessary, harmful to global marine protein stocks, damaging to our native population and almost entirely transient in their winter habits. In other words they bugger off after buggering off the wildies and buggering off the sand eels. However, looking further into it, what use is a 2lb stock brown to a kingfisher or even a heron? It hasn’t been the lottery winner in a game of chance where all its siblings have provided food for starving winter birds

Our budget would now be needed to pay for materials for restoring the river system in different ways. The Lathkill would be reshaped, having been originally created by two almost parallel dry stone walls, one hundred of years ago (see The Anglers Outlook talking about 1890ish). Thing was, we now had less water than then due to lead miners draining the water table. So we would set aside an area of wet ground to grow willow wands, suitable for building new river banks inside the existing channel. Our local quarry would supply the 20mm clean limestone chatter that would be our new spawning beds and a large selection of large stones were procured for instream enhancement. We were moving out of fish farming, into habitat improvement with a commitment to provide all of the trout needs in every section of river worked on.

You see I was beginning to believe that our stocked trout (even as progeny of the natives) were ‘driving’ away their wild parents. The research I was reading was telling me the stock trout don’t stay through the winter. So by stocking, we were empting our rivers…

On the red carpet then, our caps in hands with our hopes carefully penned out and put together in a short report which was now in the Lord Edwards hands.
‘OK’ says he. ‘Go ahead and make it work’.

It is impossible to convey just how much hard work was put in during the autumn and winter of 03/04. Looking back though we both enjoyed the creative expression needed to effectively redesign a new river. It has to rate as the second most satisfying things I’ve ever done, eclipsed only by the following winter, when we really got stuck in! An onlooker out walking their dog would have seen and sometimes heard the decision making process that was necessary to bring about thoughtful and intelligent restructuring of the river. It usually consisted of Gareth and I spending hours on the bank and in the river, using that first rule of chess ‘think of a move and then think of a better one.’

A five kilometer fence from Rowsley to Haddon Hall was erected to fence out agriculture on main river and tributary. We own the land but tenant farmers with strong leases would need to be won over into agreeing to give up a standard width of eight meters back from the river. Twenty huge willows would be pollarded before construction of the fence.

When we opened for business on April 1st 2004 we did so as a wild trout/ catch & release Estate. It was a nervous time. We were taking flak from all sides. One retired keeper said I would be stocking again within three years or be sacked as a failure. Another said we were too soon and the angling world wasn’t ready.

Haddon has 147 year old rule of dry fly only. This means the fish can’t be pursued from the surface with nymphs or wets. As the mayfly brought the relic fish population within reach of our paying customers, things started to become positive. Once the corner was turned and the anglers started to spend more time fishing rather than reminiscing over past years of catching 2lb wild brownies by the boot load, we were became more confident with our change.
I hold myself responsible for part of the problem. In the past we’ve stocked with some of the best fish in the country. Anglers have perceived these fish to be wild and their captures worthy of merit. I haven’t argued. It’s been good for business. Now we were in the much more subtle business of growing ranunculus and creating habitat, it isn’t possible or desirable to lash in some more stockies because a member had a bad day.

This may seem strange but the change has really taken the pressure off me. I am now no longer responsible for the head of fish, nature is. Our work now includes thinking of ways to increase habitat and reduce bottlenecks in the trout population, jealously guarding our water quality and protecting the stocks of fish against poaching. Now nature is the real gaffer at Haddon and we have laid our trust in the rivers.

Cormarans

Natural England has granted us our second two year license to shoot cormorants ( or Cormarans as a neighbouring keeper calls them) on the rivers. Last year we weren’t allowed to shoot more than 12, this year the limit is 10. I understand this is because the national flock has decreased in number. We have three big reservoirs within easy flying distance (as most places have) and each one has its resident flock of cormorants. We only really get them flying over and feeding on our rivers around Christmas time, when the water temperatures are at their lowest. I believe the food of choice for these birds is the trout, in relatively shallow water. Once the fish drop down through the water when it gets really cold, the cormorants can’t follow so they move onto the rivers or stave.

They don’t tend to fish the more pool/riffle water on the Estate, preferring the long glides on the middle and lower beats on the Wye. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at how regular their arrival is every morning now, but you could honestly set your clock by them as they come crashing in to feed.

Another thing that struck me has been the effect shooting to kill has on the rest of the flock. Before we applied for a license, we thought we could shift the forty or so that were visiting during the mid winter by popping away with the shotgun. This just didn’t work and they often would pick up and land 200 metres away. Now if we knock one of their mates off, they don’t come back for a while. The license isn’t in place for us to destroy the whole visiting flock so 10/year is plenty.

The older I get, the less I want to kill things. I prefer to be more tolerant with ‘pest species’. We have to make exceptions for mink and cormorants though. This is sad really because they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, thanks human intervention.

We've had nine on the river this morning but managed to push them off without any kills.

A Heracleum Task

I wish I could meet the fisherman who filled in his rod return many years ago after he fished the day ticket Wye. He politely drew my attention towards ‘a few Giant Hogweed plants growing near the Fishermans Car Park below Bakewell'. I'd shake him by the hand and thank him profusely. When I investigated the next day they were rightwhere he said they were. It wasn’t possible to just google information on GH and find out all about it’s dangers so I went to the library and read up on Heracleum mantegazzianum! Next day I was on the phone to the EA and a lady called Val Holt. She used to run the IFM in the area and I knew her as someone who liked to act rather than look for every opportunity to do nothing. She told me latter that she humoured me on the phone, thinking I was seeing ordinary hogweed (H.sphondylium). She really didn’t believe GH was in the area, let alone on her patch. I asked her to drop by and sure enough she confirmed it’s presence. So what was to be done about this very unwelcome member of the carrot family?

All the interested parties gathered for a meeting in the Peak Park Offices in Bakewell. It was agreed that the upstream limit of the plants range should be found. Apparently the original plant (or seeds) had been brought to a ‘big house’ garden only a few years before. Haddon committed to an annual spraying campaign, throughout its length (more had been found once we knew what to look for) and riparian owners would either spray or pay into a kitty. A few days later I got word that a trifid bed had been found. Upwards of two hundred flowering plants been left to establish in an old lake bed; the water drained as a result of the reservoir act and its stipulations.

A contractor was found and more money was tipped in to have it sprayed. I can’t remember when all this took place but I seem to remember it being roughly 12 years ago. Each year we still have four or five plants somewhere on the river and at least a dozen still in the lake bed but we are certainly on top of it. Apparently the seeds lie dormant in the ground for many years so may be a few more years yet before we spray the last one in the Wye Valley but we will get there.

This progamme has been an example of good organisation, cooperation and downright determination winning the day.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Balsam Women

Two of my river valley's are free from the big three invasive plants. We do not have Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam or Japanese Knotweed on two catchments, let alone the river valleys. Apart from, that is, in a retired game keepers garden at the top of one river system. His wife has brought a Balsam plant from elsewhere and a colony of the stuff grows up the front of their house by the side of the road.

The Parish Council have been informed, I’ve asked for support from The Environment Agency and Natural England, The Police don’t want to know and it’s even been sprayed in the dead of night. I have visited the house on a number of occasions to ask for permission to remove the stuff and burn it. But..'she likes it' and has now dug her heals in. The closest I have come to sorting the problem out is a promise from her that if I find it in the Nature Reserve at the bottom of the hill she will let me remove it all. I don't believe her.
You would have thought that those who bring such a horrible plant into a nature reserve and allow it to populate their gardens could be forced to have it removed when it is a clear threat to the surrounding area. But no laws exist to force owners to remove it, so it’s down to me to try and persuade her to get rid.



On reflection the gamekeepers wife is just part of the problem. Her attitude to keep the dam stuff has highlighted a weakness in a system that is powerless to protect our country against invasive aliens.

CSO and Nat' Geo' Trav'

I shot a round of clays this morning at Tansley Joes but just scored for the team during the second round as I couldn't shoot for toffee, although they were really tough today.

We are in the middle of a cold dry spell, weather for getting up to date with reports and statements for Haddon/ACA v STW /EA (sic) in relation to the Bowers Halls Combined Sewage Outfall and Haddon's claim against STW for damage to a road caused by the many previous bursts from the 10" main above Pickoring Corner.

Also National Goegraphic Traveler are running an article on Haddon and The Peacock in the new year and I want to make sure they have all the correct information before the December 20th deadline.

Back to work...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Eligible, self contained, gentlemans residence, very unique.

We have something like 95 houses on the Estate but when Gareth was appointed as river keeper, everything we had was full. One place was in-between tenants. It was a huge house looking up the Wye Valley from one end of the Estate to the other. The Agents would choose it above all other for its excellent vista, interior grandeur and extensive gardens.

Only a minute down the road was a protest camp, in place for the previous 4 years to prevent quarrying on nearby land. The protesters lived in swampy style homes and turned the area into a tip. Ironically the stone circle they were trying to protect was disturbed somewhat when one of their number reversed a transit van into the 4,000 year old bronze age ‘king stone’; snapping it off at ground level.
So it was decided that Gareth would house sit, for the duration of the refit and while a tenant was found, in the most spectacular property in the area (excluding Chatsworth, perhaps).

Ochre & 901

Following on from the Ochre incident earlier in the week a deposit has appeared on the river bed, quite thick and sandy. This is 15 miles from where the ochre entered the river at Buxton. In a voice mail message from the EA a lady says it was a natural, harmless and simple discolouration. It doesn’t cause any bother and there is nothing they can do about it. Well if you were a brown trout egg having been neatly deposited in a gravel redd, the last thing you would want is your breathing snorkel blocked by a fine sediment, leaving you to suffocate. In turn if you were a fishery manager relying on natural recruitment, wouldn't you want more reassurances from those charged with the protecting water quality?
Another voice mail message came through from an upstream keeper after I had called him several times after I discovered the sediment. He was much more suspicious and was surprised that we should have ochre, so long after any significant rain. He spoke of precedents where the problem has been dealt with and past meetings with those who make it their job to care. It seems that reed beds, planted in the right place can filter out a lot of the particles. Anyway Richard has offered to contact others who have had some success in stopping the ochre reaching the river.

I don't mind admitting I'm a little worried by it all.

Pollution record


NIRS 00551307
11.15am
10” water main adjacent to the B5056 burst in the night.
STW turned off water at 9am. Lower Lathkill and Wye from confluence to Derwent confluence discoloured due to eroded soil around pipe and from field bank. Main repaired and site cleared by 4pm.

Enter Gareth.

When getting towards a critical point in a seine netting operation with Oly one day, a young lad appeared on the top of the pond wall and peered down to us. It may have been the Manchester United parker, the fact that he had entered our fish farm without permission or because I was angry that the stock browns were streaming to freedom under the lead line. I can’t recall what was said but I do remember b*ll*cking him to the tune of ‘what are you doing in here!’

He stammered that he had come on a ride along with his father who had my permission to be sampling the local flood plane for tufa near by. The lad must have been only 13 and said his name was Gareth. By the end of the afternoon he had really got stuck in to help, carrying netfulls of fish to the Landy and helping with more successful pulls with the net. I remember being impressed and probably offered him some flyfishing; he was just learning ‘how to’ on the Bolin near his Granny’s house. Gareth always seemed to be around over the next few years and I watched a smashing young lad grow up to do Countryside Management at Bishops Burton college. He used to come and stay but had the misfortune of always bringing with him the single most unfortunate example of weather that would make fly fishing impossible; high winds! The sky would be blue with only flat bottomed, fair weather cumulous floating by. Then Gareths Dads car would arrive in the yard (Young Gareth would often disembark before the vehicle stopped so wasting no time before making his way to the river). A slight breeze would spring up from nowhere turning the leaves the wrong way round. It would build and build until it became the usual raging hoolie! Invariably he would still venture out, only to have his casting reduced to windknots and his theoretical creel, theoretically dry. It wasn’t hard to like him especially as he thought so much for himself and questioned everything. Nothing was true in Gareth Land until it was tested by himself. This often yielded surprising results and sometimes put you on the back foot.
I remember Gareth’s Dad; Martin and the Boy Wonder, as he became known, standing in my kitchen. Martin asked me if Gareth was learning anything from me. I replied. No. What on earth could I teach Gareth, having only 14 years experience in riverkeeping!
One thing that struck me early on was when the wind dropped for a second and he got his fly in the right place he had no need to prove the capture by producing a corpse. All his fish went back.

Anyway off he went to Sparsholt Fishery College in Hampshire and after three years and a nine month trip round the world I rang him up to ask if he would come to work with me following Oly’s departure. OK he said and so began an exciting and turbulent era, one that would really put Haddon’s Fishery Department even more firmly on the map.

Floating faggots at Conksbury

Richard and I spent the day together, breaking things and putting the world to rights.

If you look halfway along the stretch on the left bank of the picture you can see an outcrop of sedge. The river is really wide at this part with very little cover. We cut some of our precious willow rods from the willow plantation and by using ratchet straps, tightened them together to form faggots. They could then be easily wired up tight together. I’d found a large block of polystyrene on the showground after the raft race and had it put to one side. Three blocks twice the size of a shoe box and wrapped in a Hessian, were put into the middle of the faggot to make it float. Then two such faggots were positioned 3 metres from the left-hand margin, in a line and wired in place. The water behind was backfilled with some willow pollard brash from very local little trees.

The effect I wanted to create was an ‘undercut’, which isn’t possible in any of our rivers, so the trout have very secure ariel cover off the non fishing bank. By using the back fill and expecting it to plim up with flotsam it would narrow the very wide channel. The moorhens seem to enjoy it and spent all day either on the floating faggots or never far away. When I was putting the second one in place today I noticed how clean the river bed was in that area, showing that a pinched flow was doing some scouring.

While filming spawning brownies on Thursday I watched a hatch of flies take place. It was very cold and foggy and I immediately assumed they were LDO (Large Dark Olives). But when wading back to the bank this afternoon I caught one up…BWO! Three tails were confirmed by Richard, who was shivering slightly less than me. These really are our bread, butter and evening meal flies.
What would we ever do without them!


We've got 80 more meters of non floating faggots made up and ready to create a new bank line further downstream.


Oly

Robert came and went. A mutual friend recommended a quiet, strong lad from Cromford. Oly came next, making the 20 mile round trip over the next 5 years in a succesion of land rovers, each better than the last.

We achieved a huge amount between us. The summers were taken up with bank maintenance and the winter were times of pollarding, coppicing and felling the riverside trees to let in plenty of light. The fish farming was going from strength to strength and we were consolidating our position as a profitable department; going places. We had by this time improved Duck Holds Wood, now leased by Richard, from an impenetrable wilderness to a nice little bit of fishing. This took most of one close season with at least one fire burning throughout the winter. The following winter we removed 66 alder trees from a shaded part of the Wye to allow sunlight penetration to the river bed and the ranunculus. Oly and I were a team that really achieved things through hard work and long hours. We had to do those 5 years of graft to be in the position to make the most of what followed. Things were going to be very different with the appointment of Gareth.

Friday, December 14, 2007

You’re on your own

No other job exists like a head river keeper. It is unlike the opposite position in the game department or any other estate worker. You don’t acquire many friends and are looked at as an oddball by those who you meet, having a foot still in the 18th century as well as modern times. You aren’t even allowed kinship with fellow estate workers really because when push comes to shove; you do a job that singles you out.
The Guides are glad to be walking away from it all, back to normal life at the end of the day and the Agent isn't really ever sure what you're up to.


Your customers are just that. The fishermen who fish the syndicates and day ticket water here will know me as a strangely separate and distant figure, not at all willing to make close friendships. In fact upon the river banks, you can count my friends on one hand.

Why is this so? Because you live such a strange life, I guess. The job requires operations such as night watching where vigils take place for weeks on end, sleeping by the side of the river, with one eye open (or at least an infra-red sensor alarm). Dinner appointments are missed because it’s just impossible to leave the river during the weed cut or a thousand other reasons. Friends mistakenly take it personally and soon get fed up. Then on the other hand those who you thought to be friends end up breaking the rules and it is almost impossible for you not to take this personally! An old keeper I worked with watched a very enthusiastic angler treat me like a dear old friend (when in fact I regarded him as just an acquaintance). The sage advice was to ‘keep an eye on him’. Sure enough, he was up to no good. Woe betides you if you take a tenner when you haven't earnt it. I've heard stories of it ending the careers of keepers once they found themselves in someones pocket.

Gamekeepers seem to have any amount of hangers on. Pickers up, Line Men and Loaders all hang around the gun room during a shoot day. They are employed as squirrel shooters, rabbit men, and fox boys but on the river the river keeper prefers to do the work himself. Funny how it can so different.

Then there’s the discretion required. I came across a book the other day where the author was recalling fishing with a number of famous people. It wasn’t clear at first why it struck me as being so vulgar until the penny dropped. You shouldn’t talk about those who you fish with, especially if they are famous. Nor should you chatter about the indiscretions of your customers, unless you get a real problem; then everyone should know in all the surrounding valleys and stillwaters, for their sake. The advice I was given in my late teens has stood me in good stead.

I prefer to do good business with customers hiring the right to fish for a period of time (within clearly defined rules put in place to safeguard the well being of the future of the river), knowing their money ends up back in the system they have come to love and respect. My friends? Well they know who they are.

The Virgin and The Gypsy, Sluices and Frost.

Despite the recent heavy and prolonged rain the rivers are dropping fast. High pressure is over the Peak District and in December that means frost. I guess some of the recent water has been locked in the ground by the frost and this is making the rivers drop quickly. We have 16 sluice gates that have been opened to allow free passage to trout migrating upstream to breed, to keep flood water in the river channels and to allow self cleaning of all the build up of dying organic matter. The first and third points are more important. The trout need to reach the traditional spawning beds but all the impoundments created for mills and fishing halt their progress. When there is enough water around it is possible to lift the gates by winding a key and still maintain a water level. We need to close them after floods so that levels don’t drop so low that silt is mobilised from the river bed to such an extent that it kills the river below. There is a balance between helping the river and causing it harm. This afternoon has been taken up with closing gates in the fog.

In the 1970 film The Virgin & The Gypsy (which was partly filmed at the house we live in) one of the sluice gates was used to flush water to symbolise the start of a flood. If you watch it I am sure you can hear the old head keeper turning the key to open the sluice, just out of shot. But don’t let me ruin for you such an already terrible film.




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Pollution Record

Pollution record;

NIRS 00551153
Reported 10.57 14/12/2007
R.Wye Lumford Bridge
Abnormal discolouration during high pressure/dry period.
EA report ochre from mine workings causing colour.
EA "No action needed. No potential harm to fish/insects"

First Post

We have had such an interesting time over the last few years with so many changes, breaking the unbreakable tradition of a country estate, home to the same family for 400 years, it was time a diary of it all was created.

Welcome to the blog of Warren Slaney, Head River Keeper for Haddon Estate, Derbyshire.

Head keepers are never been given job descriptions. I suppose it’s difficult for the employer to draw up a list of duties when he had little idea what his last head keeper got up to. They are sometimes head hunted but usually appointed as a result of excellent references with an understanding that they are ‘sound’. I got a six month trial period to show I could yield the correct results. This took place as I moved from being an underkeeper of six years to head keeper, 11 years and 2 days ago, today. The owners and Agent (term used for the man in charge of the estate) are fully aware of what the correct results are. Profit? Certainly! The owner must draw a revenue from the business for all sorts of reasons. Improvement? Possibly. As long as it is done with plenty of research. Maintenance? Yes. Very important that the place looks cared for.
All of these things can only be assessed when a full year has taken place. So I suppose Charles, 10th Duke of Rutland wanted a look at ‘Young Slaney’ before committing his rivers to this young mans control.

My first few years were a continuation of previous regimes. A local lad came to help out and proved to be excellent behind a mower, often cutting the river banks well into the long summer evenings. Some of the things I learnt at fishery college could be implemented in our two fish farms so with Robert and I keeping everything looking grand as well as producing some smashing fish, we were on the up and I passed the test.

The house in the picture is home for Melissa, now my wife, and I. The angler is Guido Vink from Belgium. The river is the Lathkill.

About Me

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Derby Uni LL.B.yr4 Birmingham Uni (field lecturer)