Carrying on from my previous blog entry: Improving the River – Introduction…
The first of the volunteer days arrived, but fortunately, on that first grim and gloomy March morning, the familiar figures of Andy Thomas and Mike Blackmore from the Wild Trout Trust also arrived on cue to put some semblance of order into the day (just as I put the coffee on – I guessed the wind was in the right direction!) Following the obligatory briefing over coffee, three groups were formed from the score of volunteers to undertake the varied tasks of gravel cleaning with the EA Fisheries Team’s venturi cleaners, building faggots from the number of willow trees I had felled the day before, and installing the chestnut stakes to hold the faggots in the channel to provide the new bank edge. This meant retrieving all the equipment from the back of my mobile storage shed (which it seemed my trusty Land Rover had been relegated to!)
The existing gravel riffle at the tail end of the weir pool had been compacted over the last 40 years, resulting in a shallow, fast flowing area devoid of submerged macrophyte growth. The existing concreted gravel was also mixed with fine sediment, meaning that any spawning carried out was unlikely to result in the eggs hatching. This is mainly due to the build up of fine sediment in the gravel, resulting in a lack of oxygenated water passing over the eggs. Under the competent gaze of Dr. Karen Twine (or alternatively ‘The Barbel Lady’), two venturi water pumps were fired up and the gravel cleaning commenced. A steady stream of fine silt poured to my position downstream where I was demonstrating the noble art of using a handheld post rammer without causing yourself (or anyone else) any serious injury to my group of volunteers.
Concreted gravel being notably harder to drive 4” stakes into than silt meant out of the three groups, I was the one flagging! Ade Bicknell from the EA Fisheries Team took charge of another group of volunteers, and under his expert tuition, the volunteers quickly worked their way through the piles of Willow brash I’d chopped up to make some very large faggots to be installed behind my posts on the stretch of highest bank. That quickly in fact, that someone was sent to purchase some more binding twine, and another Willow tree was pollarded to generate some more brash.
These bulky Willow faggots would be wedged in behind the stakes I was installing with some larger woody debris and wired tightly to pull them down to the bed. This would allow me to push the existing high bank edge down on top and behind them with the excavator, creating a narrowed, faster flowing channel with shallow marginal habitat, woody debris to provide some scour and a site for the introduction of some of the fifteen cubic metres of gravel currently sat in the dumper on the bank, which would increase the spawning potential of the reach.
After a lunch and a large volume of coffee had been consumed in the sun, the faggots and woody debris items were swiftly lowered down the bank behind the stakes, wherein commenced the comical spectacle of myself jumping up and down on them to wedge them in whilst doing my utmost to remain upright. Then came the time consuming job of securing them! In the afternoon sun, fencing wire, fencing staples and hammers were liberally distributed to the volunteers, and the faggots were swiftly wired in and the stakes slowly but surely knocked down to pull the faggots tight to the river bed.
Day One complete! I am greatly indebted to the volunteers from the local village, the local angling club, Angling Trust, Environment Agency, Flood Resilience Group, Clearwater Photography and the Wild Trout Trust for their help and enthusiasm.
I shall be writing up Day Two shortly!