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.

About Me

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