Monday, January 28, 2008


Waterlines is having a break for a while and will begin again on April 1.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Get well soon

The kind of fish a Grandad would definitely approve of.


Tufa ‘grows’ best when the water is falling in dark places. These dark places are always mossy and this green moss helps catch up the tufa and gives it its texture.

CaCO3 is excreted by fixing bacteria and its is these microscopic pellets that are filtered by the moss which then petrified. Next seasons moss then forms on the tufa layer and so it grows. It can also be filtered by algae and can put down an inch of drittle deposit in a season on sunken wood. Where the bacteria aren’t perennial such as the winterbourne river up top, tufa is limited.

The best way to get rid of the stuff is to pick away as much as you can, break for lunch and have another go. The break will have allowed the water to soften the rock-hard lower layers and it is much easier to remove.

This short film begins by showing a log that is starting to look like stone. The river bed has to have been scraped back, removing tons of tufa. A major build up is holding back the flow and causing the sedimentation of spawning beds. That’s where the mattock comes in. On the close up of the pure tufa piece, caddis shells can be seen hanging down, cast now in tufa.
Where gravel exists, it sets like stone, making spawning very difficult for the native trout. However another form of this strange stuff are the onchoids; small light beads of tufa that grow like snow balls as they roll downstream. They are used, when they gather in numbers, by desperate trout, trying to shed their eggs somewhere safe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Back in Business

Man Flu
I’ve been in bed almost entirely since Saturday night and only eaten 16 grapes and two oranges in that whole time. Felt much better though this morning and even enjoyed some long rifle work at the magpies feeding in the margins of the receding flood water, below the bedroom window.

Tom the gardener reported two cormorants and gave the rain fall for the month so far at 6.3 inches. That’s only ½ inch below the wettest January in his records; 1995. The overall wettest January still remains 1948.

My trees have arrived for the 400 metres of hedgerow to be planted. Our Ranger has found some DofE to plant them over two days in February and thinks he can rally 10 voluteers, so with Jan and I we could just about get it done. All the trees are being guarded and although they are still 5/metre, we want a wide hedge so the rows can be planted quite far apart.
It's going to brilliant when its grown and layed.

Monday, January 21, 2008

CSO Haddon Road

Severn Trent Water doing their bit for the environment, bless 'em.

NIRS: 00558354

One night in July

Great white truth No.1:
The appetite of the female native crayfish is suppressed during the time her eggs and larvae develop under her tail.

This was thought to be natures way of helping the vulnerable offspring survive her attentions.
Telephone call between Ben LB (English Nature) and Warren Slaney over 5 years ago:
“Morning Ben, I’ve been thinking about trying to get the native crayfish going again in the Lathkill. Can we collect numbers of natives from around the area and put them into appropriate habitat, at a stocking density similar to that found naturally”

Ben is responsible for licensing trapping, moving and handling natives and I can’t do this without his support. A couple of meetings down the line and it is decided to employ a local crayfish expert and begin a reproduction campaign, with the view that anything reared is then stocked into the river. Adults are to be trapped from a carp pond in the vicinity, where they exist in great numbers. Once the females are mated they will then be kept separate in the same way a sow is creeped, living out her external pregnancy in a little plastic crate.

Year 1 results; No crayfish reared. This was very much in line with projects in Switzerland and Spain and at home down at the aquatic lab of Sparsholt Fishery College. The results from the many £M’s was one juvenile. After a winter of thinking time the plan was for each of us to keep a buried female in a small aquarium, somewhere frequently visited in our homes. She would be raised from the bottom of the tank by means of a perforated plastic sheet, with holes large enough to let through any larvae leaving the safety of her tail. She got quite used to being peered at in my house but I never caught her doing her live offspring any harm, until that is I happened to enter my office in the early hours of the morning, after returning from poacher patrols. I turned the daylight simulation lamp on next to her tank and low and behold, she could be seen very clearly devouring her youngsters. It very quickly became evident that similar events were occurring on other peoples desks and kitchen tables. We now could plan our way forward with adaptations to the programme that would include typically low budget items such as a metre of net curtain. I’ll explain later.

Great white Truth No.1, edit.
The appetite of the female native crayfish…whist under the stresses of captivity…is not suppressed during the time her eggs and larvae develop under her tail.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Regular Rod

There is a fisherman who sold his house in Sheffield and moved to Bakewell to be near the river.

He puts so much back into the rivers and the Estate we go some way to thanking him by offering him a gold card, where, if space and season allow, he can fish most of the rivers here.
He first started fishing the Wye the year I was born, accompanying one of the best anglers I have ever known. The old bailiff, David, used to look at is as a personal challenge to find him to collect his ticket back then. This regular rod would turn up in the least fished areas and be rewarded with a gross of trout for his days sport. His secret would be David’s undoing because he was almost impossible to spot from the road, often lying down on the bank and observing the fish before catching them. It was this particular fishing style that gave him the knack of understanding why he was catching the river trout and helped him to become not only extremely proficient angler but a sharp observer of the wild life of the Derbyshire Wye Valley.
Now I am alerted to his presence on the river by a text message, detailing what part of the system he is fishing today. You develop a habit of keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the river when travelling about the Estate but I only end up spotting that olive lump with the wide brimmed hat about once in every three. I usually find him by driving along the river bank, taking care to look in every corner and behind every tree. Then its off to the fishing ‘house’ to put the world to rights over some kelly kettle tea and a garibaldi biscuit.
I hope very much that he is going to be around for the next 38 years, with those keen eyes continuing to spot the wildlife that tries its hardest not to be seen.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

BWO photo

Another Saturday of mooching; with new friends and old. I know we can do very much better but for time being this illustrates the form and colour of our 'favourite fly'. The three tails narrow its identification down to only a handful of upwings. It isn’t a Mayfly (Danica) nor is it a Caenis or a Brook Dun.

We saw them with red bodies and olives bodies today but they were all BWO.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bakewell Hatch Gates

Click on the pictures please. Phone pictures, sorry.

Welcome to Louisa, a storm heading across the Country today, bringing more rain and high winds.The time has come to take things more seriously so we opened the big gates at Bakewell this morning.

Traditionally the responsibility of the Mill Owner (for whom the weir was installed), the opening and closing of the sluice gates has become a job that just needs to be got on with. The Environment Agency say it’s too dangerous for their staff, the mill owner hasn’t got the slightest intention of opening them and the council, who inherited the huge winding key, don’t do it either.
As well as moving excess nutrients from the river bed, upstream and below, it keeps the levels lower above the weir and so stops water entering the centre of town. This happened in November 2000 and many properties were flooded. The photo shows just how close the river is to over-topping the concrete on the far bank.

I'd rather be opening gates in brood daylight. Louisa is predicted to deposit another 1.5" on an already saturated catchment. Midnight, on a wet and windy Saturady, isn't the time to be standing on the weir in a raging flood so the gates are now open and no trees block any bridge arches. The river has free passage-so I have done all I can. Fingers crossed now for the people of Bakewell.

Pollution Report

Combs Brook. Sewage fungus and a foul smell, detectable from some way off.

NIRS: 557351

Reported this morning. No call back yet.

This was first reported to the Environment Agency, in writting, over a year ago. It is a chronic pollution. As you can see from this mornings photograph, nothing has been done. The resident who is likely to be responsible for the over-flow from their septic tank...hasn't even been contacted.
The river receiving the pollution has been designated as a nitrate vulnerable zone, having a dangerously high level of nitrates already dissolved in it from Buxton Sewage Works.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Special Status for the WRT

At a meeting today, hosted by the Peak National Park Authority and in the presence of Natural England, the Wild Rainbow Trout of the Derbyshire Wye received special status and protection when it became a BAP species. The Biodiversity Action Plan status means that it joins the water vole and the white clawed crayfish as a nationally significant species, with specific local interest. This means that from now on, any one wishing to do any work in the vicinity of the Wye will be made aware of the WRT’s significant status as the only self supporting strain of rainbow trout in England. They would then have to meet certain criteria to satisfy the authorities that no harm will come to the WRT, its habitat or spawning areas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Brown lines

The family have always insisted on brown floating fly lines on their rods. The 10th Duke and his brother Lord John could see the advantages of a line the colour of their surroundings. All floating lines were dull colours until casting experts at fly fairs (who wanted their loops as visible as possible (what’s the term; sexy)) made high vis lines fashionable.
I’m not really interested if all fly lines look black against the sky when on the water because the fish should never see the fly line on the water. I am interested in the fish plunging from the surface when a false cast flashes in the sky and puts the fish down before the line lands.

No photoshop here. Click on the photos to view them properly.

Flood plane photo

Photo of the flood plane this morning just after dawn. The river is well and truly in the fields and is still rising. Would love to be involved with it all but i'm off to a meeting :(

EA survey

17th October. EA visit to River Lathkill at my request.

2 years ago this 78m length held just 2 fish . We stopped stocking it and created habitat instead. By narrowing the channel to just 1/3rd of it’s width and installing a meander, the current is energised. The EA caught 66 fish. The most startling fact isn’t that enormous increase, or the fact that these fish are all wild and will not drop out but may even spawn themselves. What amazed me was the that EA Fishery Officer advised on a quick and easy method for increasing the habitat still further. I’m hoping if I can get the EA back in 2 years they might find 100 fish. The photo shows what the river looked like as we were installing the right bank fence. The far bank fence has 770 Christmas trees acting silt filters behind the willow fence.

The survey team are collecting scales from the shoulder of each trout while at the same time measuring it. A future reading of the scales, in the EA lab at Brampton, will determine the trout's age. When set against the length of the fish, the data will give growth rates. These growth rates can identify the health of the stream or any significant problems in the population of wild brown trout. The scales grow back and the fish comes to no harm.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A view from a hill

When I host school visit’s, the kids come down to look at my river. There are a few really useful tactics that can be employed to help them understand the processes taking place that lead to water flowing down the river in front of them. A pan cleaner is presented with a flourish from a pocket. Dirty water is dribbled on the green (grass like) scouring part and we wait…and wait. Then a drip forms on underneath of the sponge and clean water starts to run out. The sponge process is immediately likened to the limestone and aquifer on the river catchment, the same river flowing past our feet.

Rivers that are left alone would naturally have all sorts of semi blockages in them, such as trees and branches, with the summer river squeezing underneath. The winter flood river will either shift the trees or spill out onto the flood plane. Megalitres of water are stored up within the valley, relieving pressure on the bigger rivers further downstream, already running like trains.

The modern river has a channel free of any blockages. It seems it is just as crucial to remove trees from the river in the headwaters as it is in the lowland rivers. Concrete and tarmac create an impermeable barrier to rain water, causing it to run off rather than seep into the ground.

There is nothing biblical about this weeks rain fall; it’s a normal January but this morning on Sky News the residents of Upton on Severn are again worried about having their homes flooded by the recent rain. Their misery is the result of three separate conscious actions; building on the flood plane, removal of large woody debris from the upper river and efficient urban drainage. The river that is so nice to live next to becomes the villain at times like this.

If I look around the side of the monitor I can see the Lathkill down there, firing through. It’s remains gin clear despite its volume but is just starting to spill its nutrient and mineral rich water over the water meadows again, for the third time this winter. These nutrients will help a superb show of wild flowers and a good crop of hay this summer, rather than ending up all over someone’s lounge floor.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wild brown trout heading to spawn.

The weir has a sluice gate to deliver a flume of water at a much lower level. Unfortunately the fish don’t use it, preferring to throw themselves at the wall of water, time and again. Some make it to the top sill, writhing in the current before finding their fins and pushing on towards the spawning gravel.
Instead of the customary grizzly bear, sticking out a paw to catch a leaping salmon, one of the many herons appeared on the weir soon after I packed away and began spiking the trout that made it to the top sill.

The best gravel is only a little way further upstream so if they can make it through, their babies will have every chance. They dont know this though. They are fighting to get as far upstream and so counteract the downstream drift of the first three years of their offspring's life.

We need to give them a fish pass!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Large Dark Olive.

Two tails. She has small eyes when compared to the male. Only he needs the long distance vision to find her; she plays her part by flying towards the columns of males, dancing under the weak afternoon winter sun. This one couldn’t be selected by size, being much the same size as the BWO floating downstream in lanes. It was picked out for photographing because of the its wings. They were held high and almost vertical, BWO wings are kicked back. Get the knack of spotting this trait of the Blue Winged Olive and you can identify the insect at 20 yards distance, while riding a galloping horse.

Isn’t she beautiful...

Minnows in the LWD

The minnow shoal wouldn’t be in residence without the large woody debris; a recent conscious management strategy to leave fallen timber in rivers rather than dragging out it out and making the river 'tidy'. Rivers acting naturally need large pieces of semi immersed fallen timber.
Only fishermen and kingfishers, spending whole days by the riverside as they do, are given the chance to look into these windows to other worlds. Be sure to take the time to look when spending time by the river. If you don’t, you have no advantage over those spending their day in the office; neither of you see.

Friday, January 11, 2008

November BWO

Tried to get film of BWO duns but the bloody fish kept

eating them. ;-)


The Lathkill is one of only a few rivers in the world that rises from limestone and runs entirely over limestone. This gives it a very high pH and makes it calcium rich. Crustacean such as Crayfish and the omnipresent Gammarus Shrimp are able to shed their exo-skeletons regularly, enabling rapid growth. There are downsides to all this CaCO3; Tufa. More later.

Hatches, dippers and a fish.

We’ve had a wet start to the year. More rain is promised, which according to Metcheck, will amount to a further four inches over the next few days. So to re-direct the water we already have and cope with the water expected, it’s off round the hatches again. This video shows two hatches on the Dukes Beat of the Lathkill.
I am afraid we had to dislodge a brown trout kelt from its convalescence in a back water but we have installed a willow branch on the far side to break up the flow and provide an alternative respite area. In a uniform channel it’s important to provide relief from the unrelenting winter flow.
The universal symbol of warning (a hazard triangle in red/white barrier tape) is an attempt to reduce the amount of small children being held over the extremely dangerous vortex by their older brothers or fathers. It sometimes works, it sometimes doesn’t.

You can always rely on the Dipper to make the most of any occasion. Here it notices we've lowered the water on the weir by sending alot through the hatch. The shrimps are high and dry for a few minutes and that is the only chance it needs for a mid afternoon feast.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

As promised

There is nothing, half so...

...much worth doing as messing about in boats.

You wont believe the problems we had getting this vid to load! The internet connection kept cutting off due to the wind blowing branches onto the phone line and shorting it. We've spent the morning up ladders, cutting away the problems. I've got wood chips in my eyes, a fat lip and a bruised cheek bone. We are both wet through.

The vid shows the storage capacity of the Lathkill flood plane. Prevoius to the river being restricted to a formal channel, creating a hay meadow and some posh fishing, the valley floor would have looked like this for most of the winter.

It is possible to see the new peninsula (below water level) now flooded and incorporated into the winter channel.

That's Jan in the boat; gently sculling down the middle of the meadow.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Writing to the syndicates,

The time has come round to write to the members of the two fishing syndicates and invite them to join again. It hasn’t been hard to find optimistic messages for the season to come and both Jan and I are really looking forward to a April 1st.

Heavy and prolonged periods of summer rain have become the norm over the last few years, making up for its absence during the winters. The rivers here are famous for their clarity, even after a lot of rain but I have detected more colour in the water lately, especially from the gritstone side of the catchement. Farming practises such as leaving ploughed land bare over the winter ,can have a detrimental effect via increased sediments. It’s our intention to reduce this sedimentation via communication with local farmers. We also aim to install silt traps on some of the worst tributaries, coupled with a commitment to clean them out regularly.

I didn’t get many Christmas trees back, although it is entirely understandable. While taking ours down and before we could get it to the door it must have dropped most of its needles. People wouldn't have wanted the back seat of the car covered in needles as well.

Nothing ventured…

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Trip to Brocs

12 years ago I made a mistake. I pleaded with the Agent for us to take our clothing allowance in waterproof coats and modern lightweight cotton, guiding clothes. It made more sense at the time rather than another tweed combo from Broc’s, the tailor, in town. However I can see now why we were fitted with a smart tweed suit every year and asked to wear it when visiting the fishermen. The penny really dropped when I walked the river up from the village back home the other day. We had dressed for the shoot in posh tweed, collar and tie but were stood down at the last moment.

My walk was interspersed with the usual calls across to the public footpath to ask that dogs running wildly along the hedge bottoms be called and kept in. This morning though, the response was far more rapid followed by more than the usual amount of apologies.
So we are off back to Broc’s tomorrow, after a break of about six years, to get fitted with the uniform appropriate of our trade; a new suit each of the same tweed. We will be recognizable as the authority to those who aren’t quite sure who the fishing rights belong too or anyone else on the watershed that requires help with matters relating to the rivers. My mistake was getting clothes suitable for comfort rather than the wellbeing of the rivers.

I'm really enjoying reading Frank Sawyer, Man of the Riverside. (ISBN 0 04 799023 6)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Village

I began to visit Youlgrave at about six. Dad brought my Brother and I up from the Derwent Valley to help out one of his office friends, on the family farm. My two main memories were the profuse amounts of farm cats and thousands of pheasants roaming the countryside. When I came back to the village, this time to assist ‘Mr White’ as trainee river keeper, I remember visiting the local shop one lunch time. The high street was full of cattle. A farmer must have been driving them from one end of the village to the other. I queued behind him in the shop! He wasn’t in any rush at all and chatted to the shopkeeper for quite a while before saying goodbye and getting back to the herd. It all seemed quite normal 20 years ago but if it happened today there would be uproar.

Laurie Lee blamed the death of the village on the motor car. The young bucks would leave the village, looking for action, unable to return due to the rapidly raising house prices. Professional people wanted to live in the country and work in the town. This could be achieved with a motor car. Today, if you’re born in the village, you are unlikely to make your home here when you fly the nest. You will have to go to one of the industrial housing projects in Clay Cross or Chesterfield. The houses are taken by '50 something' couples. He works in Sheffield in insurance; she walks her dog and listens to the Archers.

The characters (people blamed the lead in the drinking water) were more numerous. Extroverts tended to exist in greater numbers 20 years ago. We still have the odd one that howls at the moon and talks to themselves but village life has been watered down by reserve and normality. I miss some of those who weren’t afraid to be who they were.

If you ever visit my house there are two ways of finding me at home. One is to enter the village and ask anyone (apart from those walking with ski poles) where the ‘Fishkeeper’ lives. The other is to take Conksbury Lane and turn down by the White House. The White House used to have two families living there; about eight people in all. They all worked in and around the village and were part of village life. Now the house has been broken up into two, one holiday cottage and one weekend home. The holiday makers have all on to wave or say hello.

You don’t need a crystal ball or a degree in the sociology to see that the village will exist entirely for the amusement of the metropolis, in no time at all. One thing I am really glad of is that I just managed to catch some of the real village life before it was too late.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A little black book

A friend recommended that I search out a little book. It was handed to the head woodsman when a house was cleared on the Estate. It is basically a very simple day book, belonging to an estate worker as he ended his time in the great war and returned to work. What struck me was the transition was seamless. There was no counselling or anything of the kind following trench warfare. Having been through the most horrific experience where, in some cases, men were the coldest they had ever been, the most hungry, the thirstiest, in the most pain and certainly the most scared…in the same moment. The owner of the book returned to the village on a Friday and was set to work smashing rocks for mere building on the Sunday.

How an estate like Haddon must have fallen behind following four years of having no keepers to look over the all the essential seasonal jobs such as opening hatches and pulling weirs. I wonder what the place looked like and how long it took to knock back into shape.

The owner of the book was tasked with some serious weed cutting on the Bradford and Lathkill in that first summer, giving up many days claiming back open, fishable water from a river choked with weed.

Haddon is as much about the people as it is the land and buildings. The book offered a fascinating insight into what was actually achieved by this ordinary man from the village.


I only wear one badge. That’s not to say I don’t help out different groups and organisations with subscriptions or support but that little badge on the lapel of my best keepers suit says;
The Wild Trout Trust.

They are the link between bureaucracy and common sense. The former being the foundation of many large organisations and agency’s; the latter being the get stuck in mantra of the people at the business end. In this grant assisted world its all about matched funding. If you can get the ball rolling with a couple of grand, you have a much better chance of reaching your target than going cap in hand to those who apportion the money. The national purse can be encouraged to be opened occasionally if a private trust is seen to be contributing too. That’s how the WTT make my £30 into £90 and use that money to help rivers.

With Edward Twiddy in control as Chairman, I feel confident that the money we all contribute is making even more money. This all means that the next time a trout somewhere looks around for somewhere to live; there’s a choice of comfortable quarters that will keep it safe, well fed and free of pollution. If you are a fly fisherman there is absolutely no reason why that fish can’t be enjoying life in your local river or stream thanks to your membership and the Wild Trout Trust’s support and advice.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Crayfish trapping

Today I applied to the Environment Agency, through their FR2 form, to trap Signal Crayfish from the River Wye.

In the early 90’s the Wye lost its population of Native Crayfish. They aren’t believed to be native in the area, only having arrived 300 or so years ago from the south of England where they have a much longer history. However they proved to be hugely beneficial as the bin men of the river, cleaning away any dead thing and keeping down disease and most importantly that modern day enemy of all rivers; nutrients.
The banks were like the beach at Blackpool, littered with empty carapaces as the moribund crays crawled out in their disorientation, to be picked apart by crows.

The culprit? Diversification in farming.

MAFF brokered a deal for farmers, encouraging them to earn money by stocking their standing water with Signal Crayfish. A trio (two females and a male) could be mailed in a box and stocked where ever you liked. A farmer near the head waters of the Wye snapped up the offer. The rest is history and the memory of a rather crunchy river bank. We used to see thousands appearing from one alder root, pulled from the river after the floods. MAFF weren’t to know and certainly weren’t bright enough to test the waters (and the native crayfish’s ability to cope with the endemic signal crayfish plague).

The Environment Agency boffin in charge decided not to remove the crayfish. Too much of a diplomatic challenge for him, or was it that his move to a better position in the South was on the cards and he didn’t want to rock the boat?

The wretched Signals have started to breed and in an evolutionary blink of an eye they are spreading downstream to me. My plan is to set up a wall of thunder! 20 traps set below Bakewell to keep the numbers down for as long as possible, in the hope that the small introduced population of Natives in the Lathkill can survive for another blink of an eye.

Poltergeist moment

Have you ever seen the film Poltergeist? Three experts in paranormal activity visit the haunted house and enthuse with the owner over how they once catalogued the movement of some small object, over a tiny distance and over a long period of time. They open the bedroom door and see massive objects spinning round the room at great speed!

On the floor of the implement shed we visited this afternoon I once found a Barn Owl pellet. It took me ages of crawling on all fours around the floor but I found it eventually. Today we had a Poltergeist moment. The bale slave parked in the shed had changed colour from its original blue to almost complete white due to the Barn Owl guano. All over the floor were pellets; it looked like a holding pen for sheep! There must be an owl visiting each night and spending quite some time there.

We put up a box to try and temp it to raise young here this summer and shot some film to show you later.


Whirling disease causes high mortalities in rainbow trout across the world and specifically in the US. The causative agent is swallowed by the trout and migrates from the fish’s stomach to the base of the skull. If this is a young fish and the bone hasn’t been formed from cartilage then the agent burrows into the soft skull. This causes the major symptom and gives the disease it name as the fish whirl and spin around the water body. The fish will eventually die. This disease has two hosts; the fish and a worm living on the bottom of the river/rearing pond in the mud. Remove the mud and you remove the host, eliminating the problem. That’s why rainbow trout have to be a certain size before they are introduced to rearing ponds, and can only be turned out when the bone is fully formed. This is leading somewhere.

Why then can the rainbow trout breed and grow on in the Wye? Well I believe it is because the disease isn’t present but scientists in Germany believe ours, and a population in Germany that are breeding happily, have a natural immunity. The fish farming industry and those wishing to restock with rainbows in the states, would be very keen to have a whirling resistant strain available to them.

The plan is to catch up three pairs of our wild rainbows and send them off to be stripped of their eggs in the CEFAS lab in Weymouth. Then the eggs go to Germany to be hatched and the babies will then be subjected to the tests. One very useful addition to this, as far as we are concerned, is that the DNA from our fish will be checked against those in the States and we might end up with valuable information such as; where our fish really came from and is a population still there in case anything happens to ours (or vice versa).

This Saturday a couple of very competent friends have been asked to catch these six fish.

Barn Owl Boxes

OK they should have probably been up in November so the males would have somewhere to roost in during the cold Peak District winter, but we've saved the job of putting up the rest of the Barn Owl boxes until today. We have already got most of the barns and hovels hosting a box but there are a few more that could house a growing brood of owls. The ideal barn stands away from busy roads, with good hunting land around about. This means set-aside land where grass wasn't cut last season. The ideal barn would have fledging beams for the young owls who would use these internal perches to hop from.

It is a good idea to have two boxes quite close to each other. When the young get big enough she will stop sitting them and spend her time away from her brood, apart from at feeding times. Another box just keeps her safe and comfy and within earshot.

Along with another dozen ordinary nest boxes we plan to put out six barn owl boxes today, but its Heads of Department now so I've got to run...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Short Tailed Voles

I watched the ground move the other day. It was afternoon, around 3.30 and there were only 30 more alder trees to be planted before calling it a day. Although the field receiving the trees was bordered on two sides by a busy road, the field itself remained free of any human or farm animal for many months before I entered it that afternoon. It contained a small pond but most importantly it has the kind of grass that has grown tall and now droops to create little tents. Small mammals are able to feed in these tents with relative safety and eat the seeds fallen from the various plants allowed to seed here.

So with the last of the light, I could see the thousands and thousands of runs, tunnels and holes belonging to a creature you don’t normally see but one that exists in abundance here. As I stepped towards a dead nettle patch and stuck the spade into the ground, my peripheral vision was full of movement. Hundreds of them were springing all over the place to avoid me. It really was an unusual experience to see so many field voles in one place.

Ironically the small wood we are creating won’t be much use to the field vole. They do eat the alder seed heads but prefer to live amongst single and small groups of trees rather than a thick alder plantation. After a rethink we now aim to incorporate rides amongst the trees with enough sunlight penetration for the grasses to continue to grow. There is also going to be a small mowed area without any trees for wild flowers, herbs and grasses.

The River Bradford

The river rises from the Gritstone under Elton and runs through soggy pasture as The Rowlow Brook. It turns a corner and becomes the Bradford under the famous Fulwoods Rock. Cromwells men found Christopher Fulwood hiding behind the great rock and shot him for trying to rally men to the Stuart cause. It enters the Goose Home, a shallow silty dam designed for grazing geese, and feeds a sheepwash. An off shoot used to run a tape mill, feeding the new bureaucratic world with bright red tape. Then it tumbles into the Boat House Dam, its iron railings robbed to fuel the war effort in 1916. The next dam is the Mill Dale, so called because of the great white Corn Mill on its banks.

Better to be nearly right than completely wrong. Here the Parish Council get it completely wrong with their sites of meaning inscription on the lichen bridge.

Still glides the stream, and shall forever glide; The form remains, the function never dies. - William Wordsworth.

The stream dries up under the bridge every year. The form changes as nature claws back her own from the rivers industrial past and the function has died long ago when the Corn and Tape Mills were knocked down and the stone used elsewhere.

One of the few Oak trees not required to prop the roofs of all the mills over the past centuries, now shades the North bank. The river ducks under the old estate boundary and feeds the big flats at the top of Dam 4 that are the main Bradford spawning beds. On and through the dam into the next three dams, now all leaking badly and back into a gritstone river running through a limestone gorge.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What will 2008 bring?

This time last year the thought of dipping deeply into my savings to purchase a state of the art HD Video camera, to record comings and going on the river, was just about the furthest thing from my mind. Then unfortunately my greatest ally at work upsticks and moves to the other side of the country, taking with her that can do/ nothing is too much trouble attitude. Life goes on.

Every one of the last 11 years, during my time as head keeper, has surprised me with fresh experiences. It is very important for me not just to complete 1 year… 20 times and call it 20 years experience, i’ve seen riverkeepers do that. It’s much better to have 20 separate years, with each year bringing new challenges.

The Fisheries staff works hard… to get nature to work hard too. The sun is going to shine this summer so the more trees, whips and hedge plants that we get in the ground over the next few weeks, the better. The more river narrowing we complete, the less algae we will get during the summer and so the more flies will hatch and the better the fishing will be.

This year will be made different from the rest for a number of reasons, most of which aren’t yet known, but it will stand out as the year we put trees in the ground… in their thousands. Over the next ten years I aim to plant three miles of traditional English hedgerow, to give cover and food to our native animals and birds. It will define boundaries once it is properly laid but will remain a living fence, full of insects and places of sanctuary for wildlife.

Where we will be in 2009, nobody knows but our aim is to once again make the world a better place for the animals, birds, insects and fish, living in this corner of the Peak District. We are confident that the visiting fishermen will enjoy it all the more for our efforts.

A very Happy and Healthy 2008 to you all.

About Me

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