The Association is pleased to announce that it will be working closely with Salmon and Trout Conservation UK and the Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust in 2017 on invertebrate monitoring in the Test, Itchen and Meon valleys.
NATIONAL EXPERTISE AND LOCAL ENTHUSIASM IN HARNESS
Salmon and Trout Conservation UK and the Test and Itchen Association will be working closely together in 2017 to develop further their understanding of the state of the Hampshire chalk streams. Building on Salmon and Trout’s River Fly Census work over the last two years, the Test and Itchen Association will be funding the continuation of this work in 2017 on the Test and Itchen, as well as extending it to the Meon for the first time. The work on the Meon will be done in conjunction with the Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust.
The River Fly Census involves the collection of invertebrate samples at a number of different sites in the spring and the autumn. The samples are analysed down to species level by professional freshwater biologists at Aquascience Consultancy Limited. This analysis provides a benchmark against which the future ecological state of the rivers can be judged, as well as highlighting the causes and sources of those pollutants that are adversely impacting on invertebrate species richness and abundance. In other words, it is a vital step in helping us understand the reasons behind the decline in river flies on the Hampshire chalk streams. Once the reasons for the decline are properly understood, remedial work can be effectively targeted.
Salmon and Trout bring a national perspective and an established and respected scientific methodology. The Test and Itchen Association and Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust bring the local contacts, knowledge and enthusiasm of river owners, fisherman and environmentalists with a direct stake in the future health of the iconic Hampshire chalk stream environment and the fisheries it supports. This combination of national and local interests is a potentially powerful one which Salmon and Trout will be looking to replicate elsewhere in the country in continuing their River Fly Census work. For the Test and Itchen Association, it is an opportunity to build the experience and expertise of local volunteer invertebrate monitors to enable them to continue this work in the future to professional standards. We can only really look after our rivers if we properly understand what is in them.
On 8 December, the Test and Itchen Association Board had the last of its four meetings in 2016.
One of the items on the Board’s agenda was the Association’s budget for 2017. The Board agreed three significant lines of new expenditure. The first of these was a substantial investment in invertebrate monitoring, reflecting the importance attached to river fly life by the membership. The details would be finalised before the end of the year and announced early in 2017, but the Board anticipated that the Association would work closely with other organisations which share the Association’s fishing and environmental concerns to continue the River Fly Census on the Test and Itchen and to extend it to the Meon. Funds would also be available for site specific monitoring of known or suspected sources of river pollutants and stressors to provide the evidence required to inform the design and implementation of mitigations.
The Board wanted to make high-quality monitoring sustainable. They allocated funds for the provision of training for the Association’s members to enable them to undertake monitoring at a range of different levels. With the funding available to the Environment Agency to undertake invertebrate monitoring under growing pressure, the Association and like-minded organisations needed to ensure that high quality data continued to be available. To safeguard our rivers, we needed to be confident we knew what was in them.
River keepers will form the backbone of the Association’s monitoring effort. The Board agreed to set up and fund a Keepers Bursary for 2017 to assist Hampshire river keepers who want to develop their expertise and enhance their experience. Details will be announced to the Association’s membership early in the new year.
The Association held its Autumn Members’ Day on Sunday 17 November at Kimbridge on the River Test. The day was well-attended, with some authoritative speakers in the morning, an excellent lunch and a fascinating river visit in the afternoon. There was a good turnout of owners, managers, keepers and fishermen.
The theme of the morning talks was river flies. Many members had expressed concern about the apparent decline in river fly abundance and species richness and the impact this was having on the fish which feed on them. We heard Matt Owen-Farmer talk about the Anglers RiverFly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) and its importance in signalling water quality problems requiring further, more detailed investigation. Matt also talked about his work on the River Meon, putting up an image of a 10lb plus sea trout from a beat recently leased by the Portsmouth Services Fly Fishers Association which whetted the appetite of some of those present. We then heard Dr Cyril Bennett talk about his many years of invertebrate monitoring and what it had told him about the state of the Hampshire chalk streams. Plenty to be concerned about but evidence that we are beginning to understand the causes of the decline and learning what can be done to reverse it. Cyril also told us about the recently developed RiverFly and Invertebrate Monitoring (RIIM) initiative, a more detailed species level version of ARMI, which helps pin point what is stressing a river and its invertebrates. The morning talks finished with Rupert Kelton from Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust talking us through the Test and Itchen Catchment Invertebrate Fingerprinting Study (which we had distributed to our members earlier in the year) and work that was being done to prevent sediment running off into our rivers. He concluded by outlining an ambitious bid for Lottery funding that was being put together to secure the money required to protect and develop the environmental and cultural heritage of the Test and Itchen Headwaters.
Clay Brendish, the Association’s Chairman, then led a Q and A session. One theme to emerge was the need to do more to attract young people into fly-fishing. Articles on this theme, and the other subjects covered by the speakers during the morning, will appear in the Association’s 2016 Rivers Report, which we will send to our members early in 2017.
After an excellent lunch, a hardy core headed off to the Oakley beat of the River Test at Mottisfont, just upstream from Kimbridge. Neil Swift, the National Trust keeper, showed us the extensive restoration work that had been carried out in the recent past, including raising and remodelling the river bed with the addition of substantial quantities of gravel. The results were impressive. Early indications were that invertebrates and fish were both enjoying the faster flows and more varied habitat.
Feedback on the Members’ Day was uniformly positive. We will do our best to replicate the format used on this occasion for our Members’ Days in 2017.
The Test and Itchen Association Board considered weed cut dates for the Test and Itchen in 2017 at their meeting at the end of September. They noted that the weed cuts in June, July and August 2016 had generally gone well. There had been some isolated problems, for example on the Dun, and late arrival of weed during the clear down on the Test sometimes caused frustration, but there had been no widespread, systemic problems in 2016. Cooperation between upstream and downstream neighbours generally worked well.
The Board heard that most owners and keepers on the Test wanted more of the Association’s weed cut wardening effort to be focussed on the period immediately following the clear down when most problems seemed to occur. The Board agreed that one warden would be active at the start of each weed cut period. The second would focus on the clear down. And the third warden would be on the riverbank in the period immediately after the clear down period. These arrangements would be included on the weed cut details (the “greens) circulated to the membership.
The Board noted that there was no demand from members for weed cut wardening on the Itchen.
The Board noted that most owners and keepers were content with the trial, which was in its second year, of reducing by a day the weed cut periods on the Test. But the loss of a cutting day in parts of the Upper Test (sectors A and B) had caused some significant problems in 2015 and 2016. The Board accepted a recommendation that for sectors A and B the cut days be re-instated in 2017, whilst agreeing that the shorter weed cut periods should be maintained downstream. There was no demand to change the Itchen weed cut dates which would remain the same.
The proposed 2017 weed cut dates were subsequently put out for consultation and then agreed by the Environment Agency. The finalised 2017 weed cut dates for the Test and Itchen can be found by following the links below.
2017 Weed Cut Dates – Itchen
2017 Weed Cut Dates – Test
On 2 September 2016, the Wild Trout Trust and Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust (WCSRT) ran an excellent practical river management workshop for Association members on the Test below Whitchurch. Richard Maitland was our host for the day. The aim was to restore a short stretch of the Test and show that river habitat improvement can be simple to achieve, does not need to be expensive and can be good fun, particularly when you have plenty of eager hands.
Over a dozen keepers, ranging from the vastly experienced to the aspirational, practised techniques such as tree hinging, the creation of marginal brushwood berms, and dropping hefty trees to make some big log deflectors. It was good to see so many keepers in the river, whistling through the work. Time will tell if the work has had the desired effect, but the early indications have been good.
The Association is planning to run a similar workshop on the Itchen in 2017, in collaboration with WCSRT.
The Association’s new Director spent a number of days accompanying the Association’s weed cut wardens on the Test during the June and August weed cuts, covering the river literally from source to sea.
Who are the wardens and what do they do? The wardens are Ron Dadswell and Nigel de Foubert. Keith Fisher joined the team in July. They are all volunteers. Their role is to do everything possible to ensure that the weed cut and clearing down on the Test and its tributaries takes place as smoothly as possible and within the defined time periods. They do this in a variety of ways, but enhancing and facilitating communication between those involved in the weed cut and providing information to those unclear on the requirements, is the bread and butter. They have no formal enforcement powers – and no magic wands, and need to operate through using a combination of charm and natural authority. Although they would certainly consider reporting to the Environment Agency through the Association’s office blatant or wilful transgression of the weed cut regulations for possible further investigation and prosecution, that is not the way they would choose to operate.
For the system to work, the wardens need the assistance of our members. At the most basic level, up to date contacting details for those involved in carrying out the weed cut is very helpful. The wardens also need access to the river if they are to carry out their role, although they obviously have no right of access. They will always try to contact owners/managers/keepers before going down to the river, but this is challenging without up to date contacting details. And sometimes, if there is a really serious problem developing, they need to exercise their judgement about what they can best do to help sort it out. They will always try and encourage those involved in the weed cut to start and finish as soon as possible to prevent rafts of weed coming down the river after the end of the allotted clearing off period, although they recognise that the resources available, and the amount of work required, vary enormously from one stretch of the river to another and from one cutting period to another.
Do report weed cut problems on the Test to the wardens (their contacting details are circulated with the weed cut dates), but please remember that they only operate during the June, July and August weed cut periods and the periods immediately following them. Outside those times, please contact the Association’s office with any weed related problems.
Jeremy Legge started work as the Association’s new Executive Director on I June 2016. He will be based at the Association’ s office at Kimbridge where he will be working on a part-time, two days per week equivalent basis.
Jeremy is an enthusiastic fly fisherman who cares deeply about the Hampshire chalk stream environment. He has lived near Romsey for over 20 years.
Jeremy will be responsible for implementing the strategy set by the Association’s Board. At its heart, this strategy aims to protect and develop the precious chalk stream environment and to promote the iconic fisheries to which it is home.
Jeremy is looking forward to getting started: “I am thrilled to be given this opportunity to help look after the Test, Itchen and Meon. From the day I first cast a fly on the Meon over thirty years ago, these rivers have been special to me. I have seen at first-hand how magical they are – and how fragile they can be. Nobody knows more about them than the Association’s membership. I am looking forward to getting to know as many of the members as possible and working with them to protect – and cherish – a rare and precious asset.”