Thursday, November 6, 2008


These two interlopers are recent visitors to the watershed. Six years ago we saw our first Cormorant and the Mink have been here for about three. The Mink were brought to England and then released and the Cormorants have adapted to fishing inland rivers and lakes thanks to the over fishing and depletion of their preferred sea fish diet.

We are ready for the next invasion of opportunistic mammals, birds or plants that will undoubtedly find there way here thanks to Mans unbelievable and thoughtless blundering, what ever they may be.

It certainly isn't the fault of these creatures, that found themselves in completely the wrong place and are only trying to survive. That said this useful brace is again the product of Jans attention to detail and hard work. He's been after that female mink for some time now. As the clays have 'gone quiet' we think what remains of our Water Voles might be safe for the winter.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First frost

From the bedroom window, looking down the valley to the river in the bottom and away to the village of Alport.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's your favourite post?

As we climb towards the 10,000 views marker I was wondering, in an attempt to make this blog more bi-directional, if you readers had a favourite post? I liked this one; and the silly swark from the Jackdaw as the first fly is eaten :-)

Natural, seasonal narrowing

By excluding livestock from the left hand bank this large bed of watercress has been able to grow out. The bed was established as a direct result of the installation of a willow branch which acts as a toe. As a result the late season flow has almost doubled across a much narrower channel width. This has meant much more ranunculus through this quicker section and better holding water for the inject breathing resident brown trout.
When the really high water comes in a week or two and the frosts knock back the watercress, it will be ripped out as the river claims back its full channel width, but for now the peppery cress is present in almost every sandwich I make.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


We are completely intolerant of Mink. They are a non native, mammal predator who specialise in feeding on our native Water Vole population. The choice needs to be made between either Mink or Water Voles because the female Mink can easily bypass futile protection measures, put in place by ’Ratty’. Film exists of a female Mink slipping into a Water Vole family burrow while they slept and taking one each day until non survived. It made an impression on me; I like to see a fair fight. Jan caught this massive dog Mink this morning measuring 2 feet long. He is sure another, much smaller, is living on the same short stretch having marked his clay earlier in the week. When he catches it (as he surely will) that will make 9 in three weeks from 800 yards of river bank, smack in the middle of our fishing.
Otter’s somehow bring about the opposite feelings. We chatter away about the chances of seeing our resident and feel very proud that it has chosen the Wye as a place to live. There is no doubt that it will eat what it chooses and amongst that diet will invariably be Water Voles but Voles and Otters can exist together, as part of the balance of nature on a British river bank- haven't you read The Wind in the Willows...

Monday, October 20, 2008

More Otter prints

It looks like our Otter, having made impressions in a trap last month, is still around. Lets hope it stays for the winter and rears young here. We are taking advice on the construction of an artificial Otter holt to be built near by.

School visit

We were pleased to host a day grayling fishing for this group of children, keen to learn how to catch fish on a blustery October day. After a lesson on how to target grayling and not the trout they were shown how to handle the fish properly. It's nice to be able to throw open our doors and provide free river fishing to these boys.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Standards and understanding

Taking out another of the weirs, holding back the flow, has shown yet again the craftsmanship, and deep understanding of water that existed 100 years ago. A bolster run along the top face couldn’t reveal the joins between the gritstone lintels, they were so perfectly joined. Under these huge stones we found a wider, but no less thick base of flat slabs, lying exactly level. Downstream were diamond/cone shaped limestone wedges, fitted so their most part was underground by at least 20 inches and only their tops showed. Sloping away from the base they were set so tightly it took an hour with a bar to get the first one out. Then they could be taken out by hand. Above the weir were huge limestone slabs on a bed of very thick clay. This weir could easily withstand erosion from the falling water coming off the weir boards and the head of water upstream. Apart from a layer of tufa and moss, it could have been built yesterday and would have resisted the forces of nature for the next hundred year without the slightest problem.

Last week we rescued some coarse fish from a pond. It had been built 19 years ago by damming a valley stream with clay. This glacial valley is almost entirely clay so it should have remained water tight. Unfortunately no safeguards were installed to guard against the large amounts of silt, eroded from the valley sides, so it acted as a very efficient silt trap, filling it’s eight foot depths in as many years. These modern day constructers built a concrete spillway onto the clay, but the water soon cut from behind creating leaks. We found the level down and the fish huddled together in a puddle towards the centre, in water no deeper than a welly.

Why is it that the men who built their weir 100 years ago understood so much more than the men who built this dam wall and why also was the standard so much higher?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Page 5

Paid for by Anglers...

Front Page

I see that STW are blaming the building contractor. The building contractor is clear that when they cut into the pipe to feed in their sewage, the join was sound. They said the leak is coming from an area further up the main, which it is. I believe they have disturbed the main, causing a leak a few metres away. So who is right, STW or the contractors and who is going to get it mended and when? It's still leaking into my river..!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pass the problem

Damaged live sewer main leaking sewage. Continual flows of sewage and female sanitary products with a nasty chemical smell form a sludge on the footpath. People and their dogs are walking through this wetted, stinking area. The sludge runs away into the River Wye, 100 metres upstream of the main, five arched bridge in town.

I called The Environment Agency incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60. A very professional chap took the location and all the details of the pollution. He asked all the right questions and listened for the answers. I asked for the National Incident Recording System number and was given 00626065. I asked for a call back.
A lady walked towards the sludge, which had developed a tell tale white fungus, so had been running for some time. She saw and smelt the mess and asked;
“ What on earth is it?”
I replied:
“It’s sewage, please don’t come any nearer”
“Well get it cleaned up then!” she replied and turned around muttering to her self.
All the time dogs and people were walking through this sewage without knowing what it was. This lady was right of course. They shouldn’t have to walk through other peoples toilet waste. Should they?

I rang the District Council and spoke to the Environmental department. The women who answered my call said;
“Yes we know about the leak. Its been leaking for some time“.
I replied” Do you know people are walking through it?
She said “The sewage is coming from a building development who have been given 28 days to sort it out. Its not our responsibility, you need to talk to the town council”

My friend called the building development. Apparently, ‘the old pipe is fractured and needs replacing‘. It wasn’t the building development who were responsible at all, rather Severn Trent Water for not mending their leaking sewer.
We walked around to the Town hall and although it was 3.30 on Friday afternoon, no one answered our knock at their door. On the notice board next to the office was a sign saying ‘general enquiries could be made at a drop in clinic over at the Agricultural Business Centre. My colleague and I went to report it.

On entering the drop in clinic I introduced myself and began explaining the problem.

"People are walking through this foul smelling me…".She stopped me.

"It not our problem. Have you called the Environment Agency?"

I replied that I had and went on to say that we must fence off the sewage before 5pm, with the weekend ahead of us. She called the same lady I spoke to initially while I sat at her desk. It was clear the way the conversation was going that nothing was going to be done. I stood up and said I was going to the Police.
“Mr. Slaney has stood up and is now walking out of the office saying he is going to go to the Police!", she said to her very unhelpful boss.
The Environment Agency called me back. Jan took the call. He passed on the message that the EA would come out if there was any fish were seen in distress, otherwise it would be Monday morning before an inspector would visit.

The women at the desk in the Police Station began to brush me off. I had to stare straight into her eyes and say:

“People, children and their dogs are walking through raw sewage next to the river. I think we have a duty of care to protect them from it, don’t you!”
At once she saw my side and went to find someone in the station who could help. I heard a gentleman say from behind the screen “ Its nothing to do with us”. He appeared at the counter and began to pass responsibility to the town council. Again, I had to get him to understand the problem. When he did understand he offered to call the Mayor and went back behind the screen.
Returning a few minutes later he said that the Mayor said that they own the land, but do not own the pipe and would not be doing anything about it. It was now 4pm. After a brief, heated one sided exchange from me he agreed to ask the Peak National Park Authority to close the footpath. I thanked him and left the office. It seemed that the PNPA had declined to get involved either, though they are contributing to the sewer in a big way, so him and another PC were seen stretching barrier tape across the entrance to the field, affectively closing the footpath at 4.45pm.

If I wasn’t so persistent and determined, nothing would have been done and people would have to tramp through human shit and rags until the job reached the top of some priority list. No one, other than the Police could give a monkies. Its simply astonishing how, in an affluent area such as Bakewell paying huge rates and council taxes, the services do not exist to keep us safe. There wasn’t the will in any of the council or government agencies I spoke to, for anyone to stand up and act in a decent, public spirited way. As the conversation begins I hear them waiting for an chance to send me somewhere else and as soon as they have the slightest angle to get rid of the problem elsewhere, they grasp that chance with great enthusiasm.

Copy to Patrick Mcloughlin MP

Scott-Our Friday Help

Scott is a 1st year student at Rodbaston College, Staffordshire. He lives in Derby and makes the 25 mile, 100 minute journey every Friday to fulfil a work placement. We enjoy having him and he fits into our team very well. The placement will last for ten weeks with an option to have him for a further ten Fridays. Scott has an overwhelming affinity for water and fish, no question about that. His job last week was to remove the surface of a redd, compacted and useless, below a hen brownie. These gravels were broken up and kept separate because they may have a special smell. The solid bedrock of tufa was then taken out, making sure not to disturb any local stones on the river bed that might at as homing beacons to the fish, waiting out in the deep water downstream.

Scott was able to collect a couple of bucketfuls of gravel from downstream and pour them into the scrape he created. Then the original surface stone was blinded over the top to give the impression that nothing had been disturbed. We left her to it, hoping she would return.

Text to Scott the following Saturday morning;

She’s back! Well done…

Thursday, October 2, 2008

He knows I'm watching

Very few birds inspire so much hate as the Sparrow Hawk. Pigeon fanciers stand at their lofts and watch helplessly as the local ‘awk takes daily from their flock. The men seem incredulous that the audacious thief shows no respect and takes even the best birds. Those Fan Tails in the farm yard at home can be saved if you are quick. Dashing in, before the sparrow hawk mantles, it is possible to fend it off with a wellington boot although it often stands its ground for a few seconds, not willing to give up all that tasty breast meat without a fight. Taking the stunned dove and setting it between two bales just delays the inevitable. He is watching from the thorn tree and as soon as you turn your back, clumps of white feathers are being torn out.

Earlier generations of gamekeepers would exploit this ownership. Carrying a pouch from which a small amount of white powder would be dusted onto the corpse, turning these fantastic birds into stumbling, useless dizzy things, fighting desperately for a few more seconds of life, before they are dispatched with a kick. As a ten year old boy, impressionable and so keen to please my gamekeeper guide, I was shocked and ashamed to see the death of a hen sparrow hawk in this way, acutely aware that this wasn’t a fair fight.

These birds deserve respect. Respect that they can take down prey species of the same size or bigger and that they are so well adapted to human encroachment by simply hedge hopping through suburban gardens. Most of all they never kill more than they can eat and that kill is never wasted, even if they are initially scared off. Having worked hard in the chase, that pigeon is theirs.

Now they are tolerated and our birds, having fledged from a nest only yards from a release pen holding 900 poult pheasants, would prove themselves to be blameless if they were ever charged with trying to address such a ridiculous imbalance.

One of the boys from that nest makes a return to his home valley for a fat woody, its crop full of wheat from the hoppers. He knows he is being watched even though only the lense is showing from the window. Sorry about the camera shake, after waiting for quite a while and confident he would return, it was still exciting to see him back.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

STW: Your Water Safe in Our Hands

Written on the back doors of our local water authority vans, this is a claim that just doesn't stack up. They have been jetting slit from the main sewer under this road. This debris has been left in our countryside following their lunch today.

I wrote to them a year ago after they left this lot in exactly the
same place...

If their duty of care over our water extends to the same standard as our grass verges, I wouldn't drink that water...and don't.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Have we got a Price?

At the cost of over £1,000 our Irish Caravan Club were evicted. Soon after a chain fence was erected to stop them getting to the same area of ground again. Less than one week later the same group arrived back in Bakewell Showground and although initially put out that they couldn’t set up camp in the same spot they quickly found another patch, on a private car park and on the banks of the river.

Out came their rods and lines. During the following couple of days we had reports of them fishing along the river in town. On Sunday 28th September, Jan, in the presence of a Police Officer caught two pony tailed men fishing with a handline. When questioned, the eighteen year old said to his accomplice‘.. they cant do any thing anyway’.

We are arranging a summons for the two men to appear at Chesterfield Magistrates Court to answer charges of Fishing with an illegal instrument (Salmon and Fisheries Act 1975) and unlawfully fishing without permits. These summons will be served personally by us in the presence of Police Officers. If they do not attend the Court hearing which is listed, the court will order a warrant for their arrest. Upon arrest the Police will give them a second hearing to attend. If they fail to attend then, the court may find in their absence or may issue a warrant, not backed by bail, to ensure that on the second arrest the can be retained in custody before appearing in court.

Otter id

No one alive can remember seeing otters on this estate. We aren’t ideally suited, having no eels or coarse fish but this pad mark seems to indicate an otter putting its head and front paw into both ends of the clay raft. The smaller tracks are the fifth member of a family group of mink, the previous four having been already trapped in the area. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Weir Removal


It’s a full year since the EA survey team electro fished a short length of river. Among their recommendations were the import of small stones so the young fish would have something to sit amongst.
Going one step further we finally decide to remove the 100 year old weir sill, rear pitchings and front flag stones. This had a number of advantages;

  1. Remove the weir sill across two sections of the weir whist keeping the furthest bay fully boarded up. This would create a sharp turn in the river, increase its flow through the section and reduce the amount the river is held back

  2. The stone freed up will go into the river channel above as habitat for the young fish through this perfect yearling water.

  3. Use the large stone to widen the footpath so we can get the tractor through and to narrow the river channel, quickening the flow.

  4. 20mm gravel will be added to the newly created lift, so fish can now spawn here.

  5. On the left hand bank, below the weir, a nursery area of shallow water and brash cover will be built, so the babies have somewhere safe to go.

Only 30 more weirs left...

Hens sitting up

A few frames showing a number of hen fish beginning to mottle into their spawning garb.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Irish Travellers promise

“No Sir, you’ll have no trouble from the like of us. We promise we wont pinch your fishes Sir, and if we see anyone else after ‘em, we will tell you straight away“.

Later that morning Jan caught one of these temporary, Irish accented males spinning for our trout at the back of his caravan. We were advised by our Solicitors that it would take so long to serve the summons on a Gentleman ‘I now know as Mr. Cunningham‘, that he would quite likely have moved on. Far better for the Police, being not satisfied with the address he produces, to take him to the cells where the Custody Sergeant can release him under a bond, to appear later. Everyone thought this a great idea expect Mr. Cunningham… and the Custody Sergeant. And so Mr. Cunningham was free to go.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Caught it!

Tuesday September 9th 1900hrs


Following a shower of rain I rushed down to the CSO to catch the discharge on film. No rags this time but plenty of foul smelling pollution; all legal and above board. Surely there is a modern alternative to this...

Sunday, September 7, 2008



100mm of rain in a few hours on Friday night.

Spot the rising fish at 2:32 and 2:40

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September discharge

Nirs 00617780

If you are told by the EA that an automatic screen cleaning device on a CSO will reduce the amount of rags entering the doesn't. Ours hasn't worked since 2005 but nothing is being done to rectify it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Death in the afternooon

For the last few months the sparrow hawk nest has become progressively noisier. When the two young began to sit out on the branches they would call out for their mother, who always seemed to be on the hunt. As their breakfast thrush became a distant memory around noon, the two would become desperately hungry and call out incessantly. Then mother would arrive, low over the hedgerows, with an attendant ball of fluff in her undercarriage.

More recently, as the chicks became fully fledged and difficult to tell apart from mother in anything but colour and of course airborne alacrity, she would feed them by calling to them as she approached. Their fledging wood stands on the far side of the valley from home, they would wake us each morning. By listening out for her it would be possible to witness many of these ariel handovers. They took place over the hay meadow, her swooping right up in the sky, them coming out to meet her. When they were nearly upon her she would cast the dead bird, allowing it to tumble to the earth, unless either young would be quick enough to catch it. Win or lose the young were always disciplined to return to the sycamore canopy to wait for the next chance.

This morning she arrived as normal but without a talonful of feathers and warm meat that meant another dead starling. Her call was instantly recognisable but very different in tone. This family nest here every year but I have never been lucky enough to see this moment before. She was calling them to come out hunting with her and I knew the valley would become quiet for another year. With these three now on the wing, no small bird is safe.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Heron damage for the forum

For every fish I see on the bank I see five more that have been speared and left wounded. If you look carefully, the fish swimming off the redd has a heron hole in its back. video

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NIRS 00608776


Environment Agency:

"Regarding the more general water quality issue which you raised, the overflow does not have any significant impact on water quality, chemical or biological, of the Lathkill. "

Native crayfish amongst the sewage


After trapping for a couple of days with 5 traps, this little native crayfish turned up. The female sanitary products were from a recent discharge from the Bower Hall CSO, approximately 50 meters upstream from here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The countryside is a treasury we all can share


My Father told me the other day that when he was a boy out playing, Partridges were very common. The Grey Partridge is an indicator of balance between farming and nature. Since then the balance has swung towards an intensive style of farming, at the cost of our natural history. I am 39. Although I grew up on a lowland farm I have never seen barn owls. I began work on a country estate 20 years ago and have never seen them here either. Until two years ago when I caught one in the head lights late at night, they might as well have been as extinct as the Dodo.

Since then these fantastic creatures have been making a remarkable comeback. The most significant thing we have done to help is to provide boxes in barns and out-buildings. Of course the land needs to be right. Silage has a lot to answer for. The grass isn’t dried out like hay (which is turned at least three times). Hay is made by killing the grass under the heat of the sun. The constant turning and drying causes the seeds to fall and be left behind providing food for the short tailed vole. Barn Owls feed almost entirely on these small mammals and their numbers are directly linked. Thick, dark green rye grass, waving in the wind spells starvation for Barn Owls. Artificial fertiliser is spread onto the land to enable three and four cuts of silage during the growing season. All excess nutrients find their way into the water table and to our rivers.

Having spent a couple of fascinating hours with a licensed bird expert one thing became apparent. He must have handled hundreds of birds but couldn’t fail to be impressed by the colours and the markings on the face and head of this female. The Barn Owl is dressed in the most superb livery and seeing them bouncing along in the lessening light of dusk, dropping down occasionally into standing hay, is a spiritual reward of the highest order.

My friend put her back on her eggs and let her settle before we made our way off to check the other boxes.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Longest Day

The day started for me by the side of a reservoir, where I was night fishing for carp, when the sky began to turn grey in the east around 3.20am . It has just ended with a real treat; a Barn Owl quartering the meadow below the house in the half light of dusk after an absence of at least 25 years. All the work has paid off and another personal ambition has been achieved.

The little innocents

This is broad daylight, one late afternoon in the middle of town. A friend snapped these three as they tried to steal from the shoal below. To their left is a sign saying;

I would prosecute for fishing private waters without permission. He would be asked to produce an EA rod License. If he couldn't produce, a statement would be passed to the EA who would draw up papers for us to prosecute on their behalf. The tackle and fish would be seized as evidence. We would request compensation for the fish at £15/each.

Treat those two impostors just the same

Those of us who create a product that is purchased by the public will have had that product criticised and exulted. I learnt along time ago to trust my own judgement and nod politely at the praise while humouring the unfavourable comments. One person says the river should be concreted over, the other makes plans to spend every waking minute on its banks. Standing with each, it is evident why. The optimist and hunter is looking, looking where his experience tells him fish should be. All the time we are talking his eyes never leave the river and why should they? That fish under the far bush may only reveal itself with a small dimple at the surface a few times each day. It’s important to gather as much information as you can about it and its choice of food. In this way all the main hotspots in view can be scanned every few seconds. You can find that day ticket the Keeper is asking for by going in every ‘westcut’ pocket until it reveals itself in the last one.
The moaner will have his back to the river and wont have seen a fish rise all day. He will try to infect others. I remember two brothers ruining the whole weekend for anyone daft enough to listen to them. Negativity spread like cancer turning the river bank into a morgue. These people had been given freshly stocked fish in the past without having to think or work at it. When it comes to wild trout, that aren’t going to rise when they stand in full view and aren’t going to splash at a clumsy cast, it’s the river that’s at fault not them. Gareth and I met the two brothers and offered to spend our time and give up a few river secrets that we had taken the time to find out. They wouldn’t have it and left, never to return.
There is a short stretch of river that is almost empty of fish and I don’t know why. It is a tributary with all the characteristics appropriate to wild trout living. There are many tasty looking spots that should hold trout but don’t. It's below a Combined Sewage Outfall so we are having tests carried out to see if that is responsible before looking further into the problem. One thing is for certain, it will be sorted out and fish will rise there again in good numbers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bio- diversity

Diverse-biology. Different species of plants and animals.On this protected, small, rocky outcrop the following plants exist:

Monkey Flower Mimulus guttatus
Water Cress Nasturtium microphyllum
Water Speedwell Veronica anagallis
Rosebay Willowherb Chamerion angustifolium
Water Mint Mentha Aquatica
Water forget-me-not Myosotis Scorpio ides
Marsh-marigold Caltha palustris

The Mimulus is a naturalised import from the States. All the others are native. Insects will prefer one plant to another so this area of river bank has a diverse range of both plants and animals.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sit up straight

This is a really funny photograph. OK it has local interest because the scene is set at Batemans House in Lathkill Dale but it’s the body language that is interesting. The two on the left are in service as fishing guides. They have been offered a cup of tea and gratefully accepted. They are clearly not be used to having their photographs taken. Those three, including the man in the hat are responsible for the fish, the others in the photo are family . The lady sitting on the ground looks like a dragon! Seventeen fish killed and laid out on the grass. I want to sit down and talk to them about sustainable fishing practises…
I’ve got 1901 in my head as a date for the picture. George Bartram’s grave is so worn away over time his name is hard to pick out. Even Batemans House is a ruin but the photo remains in excellent condition.
Headley Slaney is buried in Youlgrave Cemetery and George Bartram. Buried in Over Haddon Cemetery

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hard work/attention to detail

After many hours trying Jan succeeded in catching his first mink this morning. The quality of his trapping has certainly improved and his tunnels are now some of the best I’ve seen set. I can confidently predict that very few mink will find a happy home for long on his patch. I like to think that this dog was caught right on our top boundary because he wwas working his way down the river. Lets hope we caught him quickly before too many water voles were killed.

Our Mink raft/trapping scheme is co-funded by The EA and The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Haddon Keepers run the trap line on a day to day basis and are reponsible for dispatching the mink. Ultimately it's all paid for by anglers.

3 of my favourite anglers

One spring morning I was asked to meet a guest at the hotel. He arrived on a motorbike with his fishing tackle in a rucksack on his back. He introduced himself and explained that he was deaf and couldn’t speak very well. This was back in the days when I would fish occasionally and we arranged to go out together onto my favourite section of my favourite river. He immediately surprised me by stripped off an enormous length of tippet to add to an already long leader. It was clear that he knew what he was doing and built quite a complex leader to match the type of weather, now quite blustery and wet. It ended up 16 feet long, almost twice as long as my usual one. Although we were fishing pocket water and runs between weed beds, he outfished me. It really was a new approach that I have carried with me as much as possible.

Clive used to visit the area from his home in California. His wife was from nearby Chesterfield and his only chance of keeping sane whist visiting the in-laws was to spend almost his entire visit on my rivers. He would fish and fish and fish and end the day with as much enthusiasm as he started. I fondly remember walking him off the mid summer river at mid-night after I’ve searched the banks for him, considering him drowned. He was back on the river at eight in the morning.

The Major was a long term visitor and a great friend. We would chat much more than fish and his long stays at the local holiday cottage always meant some fascinating stories from his life, like the time he went round Aintree in the National.

I’ve never liked those who try and catch a hundred fish and over do things. Anyone with a basic understanding of the river and a couple of good patterns can easily hook a hundred fish in a day. The only reason they catch that many is so they can tell people. This type of angler has some way to come. I admire anyone who can enjoy themselves fishing, not those who need it or take it for granted.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Odd one out?

This is a very significant photograph. It shows how wild trout can become extinct in a river. We came very close to just that about five years ago.

A bag and size limit encourages mature fish to be killed. Stock trout are introduced and taken as part of the bag, but look what else gets killed too. The top fish was a 3lb wild hen rainbow trout, worth 3,000 eggs on the redds in the spring and every year after. All of the other four together were worth less than a fiver. There were huge discrepancies between the two types of fish, yet they were treated the same and dispatched to fill a bag limit. The stockies were easily replaced but this wild fish could have taken seven years to grow, brown trout even longer. Our wild trout were being killed much faster than they could regenerate naturally.

Fortunately our brownies especially have made a great come back, under the protection of catch & release and careful handling from our anglers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Plover success

The project is in its 5th season and has been a terrific success. Our neighbouring farmer has instructed his farm hands to keep off the land between April 1st and June 1st. Sometimes this has meant him not harrowing and rolling because the ground was too wet before the cut off date. These little plover are clearly able to avoid the mower and will now move off the meadow into the headland and the shallow scrape ponds around the field perimeter.



To finally get to a position where there is no need to lie or be misleading in my profession has taken some time. Dishonesty is endemic in fishery management. When we were stocking the rivers we did so at night or at least in the half light of dawn so no one could see. Of course we left our tell tale vehicle track in the mowing grass but anglers wouldn’t put two and two together. ‘Do you stock the rivers Warren?’ ‘We dribble a few in from time to time to freshen things up’ was my standard answer. We stocked over 2,000 3+ fish each summer. It's easy to tell people what they want to hear and it was important to maintain the illusion of wildness; that those four 2lb brown trout each of our fishermen killed were special and their angling skills must have been worthy of the capture of these ‘5 year old’ trout, where all others had failed. The anglers paid, felt good about themselves and came back. They thought the world of us keepers. Business was booming so agents and owners were happy, everybody was pleased, except the river.

Then we started to feed the rivers. During one late winter period over ½ a ton of pelleted food was hoofed in. Those fish really grew, but when an early season rod bent into one, many others in the pool would think it feeding time and come splashing around the rod tip. What’s happening Warren ? ‘Territorial behaviour’ came my answer. I didn’t tell the truth and have my fattening up campaign rumbled. Again, everyone remained happy… except the river.

Up on the bookcase here is an old booking diary showing how we regularly sold 30 rods on many mayfly days. This was followed by a pat on the head from an agent who knew no better. I was bleating about the over fishing but didn’t make a stand until my early 30’s. Until then it was all about ‘making hay while the sun shined’, at the expense of the river.

We now have a strict twelve rod limit on our day ticket water. There’s plenty of room for them at 7 ½ miles but even our owner will not fish when all twelve rods have gone out. We don’t feed the river and haven’t for five years. The public are being asked to stop their urban feeeing too. Our fish farms are all closed and we don’t stock any adults, yearlings, babies or eggs in boxes and haven’t done for five years.

The River now comes first, at the expense of the anglers, agents, farmers, owners and keepers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One less Barn Owl


My guess is a Goshawk killed this Barn Owl. That perennial villain of the edge of woodland must have carried off its kill to feed it's young. Those Barn Owl chicks nearby will be having a lean time of it with just one parent working overtime to bring voles and mice.

EA Fish Rescue


The upper river bed dries up in the summer. Sometimes it holds on until mid summer but it always goes. The Lathkill still flows underground, through a coffin shaped subterranean ‘sough’, draining access to the rich lead veins and any hope of annual flow. Until the sough can be blocked the EA come and take the ex-brood fish, having run the winter river to spawn and their offspring, safely downstream. The method used is labour intensive for safety sake and requires a team of five. Before they can begin the sluice is opened to let off the pool, An electric current stuns the fish so they can be netted. Alec, the keeper on this patch, transports them to safer, summer quarters after a count and health check. Before the EA came to help, all these fish would just die in the mud. They catch as many as two thousand fish over their two visits.

Bank repair/habitat creation


Living willow, that is willow wands twisted around willow posts driven into the river bed, provides protection against severe erosion threatening to create an ox-bow. It also give cover to water voles and water birds as well as all sizes of trout. We are learning that it must not be installed on a fishing bank as it grows up and prohibits access but on infrequently fished banks, there is nothing better.

Mayfly 08


A great refusal at 3:36 and the cast only a second before was just about perfect.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

5th June vid


After cutting the tape with a saw Jan declined my offer to catch the first fish in a generation from Ogden Island. A two summer wild rainbow soon came up to a mayfly and was slipped back. We watched one very big brown living behind one of our croys and a shoal of large grayling would often bump into our legs whist we waded up and down. There are a couple of Club members who have their eyes on them this winter.


We sell wild trout fishing with as much interaction with the local wild life as you wish. Some anglers don’t lift their eyes from their floating fly, such is their concentration, whilst others tumble into the Hotel in the evening with stories of dippers, kingfishers, close encounters with water voles and special moments of their own. Others just have a contented look on their faces and say nowt.

Earlier in the week I was helping a guest towards understanding wild trout and how to catch them. His white trousers were grass stained with their knees an earthy mix of nature. We had spotted a trout up in the water, finning, sipping flies from the film and a good prospect on a tough day. He had learnt to turn that long leader over and drop the fly like thistledown. He was getting the hang of side casting to keep the wavy stick off the skyline but, just as you can be frightened by the closing double at darts, this chap was dropping his fly short. Off came a couple of yards from the reel and his tiny beetle landed perfectly. The fish…never moved. What came next surprised me. I was ready to go into my comforting, optimistic, encouraging mode when my guest turned to me with a huge smile on his face and said…”Now this is real fishing!”

He got it. This wasn’t the time to blame the line, or the fly or the rod, or me. He simply gave credit to the fish in front of us. It made all the forelock tugging and fussing about with corporate guests worth while.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ogden Day

Ogden Day
James Ogden. 5th June 1865. Fished the Wye in Bakewell. Used a artificial dry fly. Watched by the Head Keeper and the Estate Agent. Made law the day after. Dry fly Only rule: 143 years old today.

Ogden Island
160 yards of main river cut off from fishing by carrier. No wading here and the island is like a jungle. Not been fished for a very long time. Jan and me studied, watched, planned and grafted. Made accessible and fun for fly fishing. Bridge built over to it, which was opened today. One fish caught to close the project. Door left open for the rest of you to enjoy it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Least favourite work

If you shake his hand and say Good Morning Mr Jones…and he doesn’t say. “call me Alan” you know it’s going to be a long day. John Gierach summarises guiding beautifully and writes wonderful explanations as to why he doesn’t guide and why I should stop straight away! Unfortunately we have two corporate days, starting tomorrow and I can’t wriggle out of them this year. That said I’ve just spent a couple of very happy hours stalking trout on the mayfly spinner with quite a competent fly fisherman. The sport was good and for the first time I’ve seen this newly renovated section of river earning it‘s keep. Not only is it holding many more fish, but it’s much more interesting fishing. Well worth the effort (and it was hard work!). Vid to follow.

Poetry Please

Sunday June 1st Radio 4

There’s many a proud Wizard
In Araby or Egypt
Can read the silver writing
Of the stars as they run

And many a dark Gypsy
With a pheasant in his knapsack
Has gathered more by moonshine
Than wiser men have won

But I know a Wizardry
Can take a buried acorn
And whisper forests out of it
To tower against the sun

There’s many a magician
In Baghdad and Banaras
Can read you for a penny
What your future is to be

And a flock of crazy prophets
That by staring at the crystal
Can fill it with more fancies
Than there’s herring in the sea

But I know wizardry
Can break a freckled eggshell
And shake a throstel out of it
In every hawthorn tree

There’s many a crafty Alchemist
In Mecca and Jerusalem
And Michael Scott and Merlin
Were reckoned very wise

But I know Wizardry
Can take a wisp of sun fire
And round it to a planet
And roll it through the skies

With cities and seaports
And little shining windows
And hedgerows and gardens
And loving human eyes

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Heron wound


This fish has wriggled free from a heron’s strike. Herons use their lower bill to pierce and their upper bill to hold. The fish darkens from the entry wound forward towards and including the head, but only on one side as can be seen here. Without becoming too scientific, freshwater fish are constantly trying to get rid of water and retain salt. This osmo-regulation is reversed in marine fish. A wound like this will lead to fresh water flooding the body, meaning the fish has to constantly urinate until the wound heals. The melanism is already beginning to fade in this Brownie. He will be as right as rain by the end of the summer.

Bowers Hall CSO again

NIRS 591981

Severn Trent Water have breached their consent yet again. The screen cleaning device has failed allowing sanitary towels, toilet paper, condoms and waste nappies into the River Lathkill.



No car or bike today. A stiff walk down the rivers to meet the anglers at the hotel for an hour, then up the Wye to Bakewell. The walk will take in all three rivers and provide an opportunity to have a good close look at the summer rivers. It will also blow away some of yesterdays cob webs.

Friday, May 30, 2008


I buried her this morning under the apple trees. She was 16.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to fish


When fishing for chub the approach should be a very stealthy one or we risk scaring the fish. Why is it that a similar approach isn’t popular with trout anglers? They prefer to stand rather than crouch or sit and march up to the river, putting a long coloured line over the fish.

This stealthy angler gets a few chances at those wild trout under his nose.



He is foraging for two. The female is sitting eggs in the garden hedge and relies on his regular bill full of dandelion seed.


During an afternoons weed cutting, above Conksbury Bridge one year, I had time to take a break and watch the mayflies hatching. It was possible to see the nymphs swimming to the surface from the river bed, breaking their thorax through the film and hatch clean off through a split where our shoulder blades would be. When the weather is chilly or misty (as it was today) the duns take longer to hatch, lying still in the nymph below the surface, like a tiny thin stick. On sunny days I challenge anyone to catch it on film because it all happens so quickly. I plucked the trapped mayfly from its shuck and let it walk from my fingers for it to join the rest of the big floppy ‘S’ shapes, disappearing into the woods.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Forecast is saying the air is going to warm up tomorrow. Every leaf in the wood must have a big green drake dun underneath it, waiting to finish it’s short airborne life. The spinner is a transformation not just in colour and size but in aerial prowess. The males are able to dance up and down in the tree high columns whilst finding the lea of the wind. The females fly up underneath, copulate and back to the river. They then head upstream, sometimes up to half a mile. I followed one once, running alongside as she made a b-line for the weir. At first they dilly and dally but soon the indecision ends and they fly with absolute purpose. It’s possible to see their yellow egg sacks underneath the end of their abdomen waiting to be dipped onto the surface. They sink like stones and are soon gone from view. Her energy or her will leave her and she dies, wings flat out, her little body drifting with the flow.

The mayfly to me is the spinner. Many anglers miss the fall of imago, their appetite for catching long since sated by the hatch of duns, they turn in for dinner. They miss not only another chance to get amongst the trout but also a remarkable natural spectacle that occurs on only a few evenings each year.

Can I help you?

Weed cutting. Standing in the middle of the river, up to the waist of the chest waders and wielding a scythe gets the most attention. Any riverside job though, carried out in view of a footpath, can lead to those walkers 200 yards away stopping and lifting up their binoculars to take a look. I remember walking through a small village with a pole scythe (6m long wooden pole with scythe blade on the end) on my shoulder when a walker started taking photographs of me, paparazzi style.

Imagine being asked on a daily basis; ‘What are you doing?’ , by complete strangers as you go about your business.

I don’t like it one bit. My usual reply to those with such terrible manners is to call across and ask if I can help them, but to be honest single finger gestures are just as effective. This doesn’t give a very good impression though and I can only guess the conversation back in suburbia coffee mornings, when the incident is played out and the man in the river ‘just stuck his finger up at me’, doesn’t show us in the best of light.

A previous under keeper didn’t mind being stared at, the current one feels the same as me. Melissa was throwing balls for her dog, Webley, in our back garden yesterday. The garden has high walls around its perimeter with a footpath running down one side. A family of six, including two small children who were helped up to see, stopped and watched her while she and Webley played. So the townie coming into the country and staring at it human occupants isn’t restricted to riverside activities.

What if the shoe was on the other foot and the country people started to watch the Scaffolders and Construction Workers through binoculars? What if they approached people in the street and asked them what they were doing? The cells in the Police station would be full before the day was out.

Townies think the countryside and those in it exist for their pleasure and entertainment. Perhaps it does and we do.

About Me

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