Sticky Situations…

This time of year seems to drag for me, usually (and such is the case at the moment), I struggle to get any work whatsoever completed on the estate due to the saturated ground and boggy working conditions – and consequently my To Do list is growing rather than shrinking. Any work I have been doing has mainly been contract work for other land owners and managers, and even that has been a sticky mess (and nearly resulted in my trusty Land Rover getting rather wet) with the 13t 360 tracked excavator.

However, on a lunch break from carrying out some forestry on neighbouring land, I popped back to the estate for lunch and took a rod down to the river whilst I ate, resulting in a nice winter Chub of 4lb or so. Just to prove a point, this chub was caught immediately under the Laurel trees that I had reduced earlier this year on the Top River and mentioned in Run Ragged, Run. (Excuse the fishing clothing sponsored by Stihl!)

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On the plus side, not only has planning permission for the stable yard complex been granted, but the tree survey has been completed which means that I can finish removing some of the dangerous and problem trees and planting some new native species to replace those that have had to be felled!

On top of that, the Flood Defence Consent (FDC) application I sent off to the Environment Agency (EA) back in November / December 2015 was rejected on flood risk grounds. However, thanks to some negotiating, some slight amendments and the good nature of the local Fisheries Officer from the EA, it has, in part, been approved.

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Originally I applied for FDC consent to excavate a small wet woodland / fish refuge / backwater just upstream of the road bridge over the river at the most downstream point of our land. That corner of our land is covered in mature Willow trees which over shade it badly and it is prone to flooding as it is low lying. Consequently, it is of no use for grazing and I consider it to be a sacrificial area. My thinking was rather than just leave it to become a mess, I should complete some relatively easy works in order that even that piece of land provides some form of positive environmental impact. The river that borders the estate is reasonably flashy, and was (prior to the dredging carried out on it in the 1950’s to the 1970’s), a nice gravelly, fast flowing river system, typical of lowland rivers in the area (think of a smaller version of the lower River Kennet – famous for it’s barbell and chub fishing!)

One of the issues in the river is the lack of habitat for fish of all year classes (ages), mainly due to the aforementioned dredging and the systematic blockage / debris removal over those years, resulting in little in-channel habitat and no marginal habitat whatsoever, along with a trapezoidal, over-wide river channel. The work I carried out earlier in 2015 (Rivers Week – Day One with Volunteers and Rivers Week – Working Alone Again) has helped restore a more natural look and feel to the river, but there is still a lack of in-stream debris which provides areas for juvenile fish to hold up in during times of high flows and prevent those important juvenile fish from being washed downstream. If those fish wash so far downstream, there are unpassable barriers such as weirs to prevent them from returning back to the reach, which can result in native fish stocks upstream of those barriers dwindling. Another method of protecting those fish is to provide an area off the main channel (and the main flow) where they can seek refuge. Hence the decision to propose the fish refuge / backwater / wet woodland which will be connected to the main channel and will have some coarse woody debris within it for additional habitat. As the spoil arising from the excavation will be taken out of the flood plain, it also (albeit only slightly) increases the capacity of the flood plain.

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Sadly the FDC application to install a limited number of large and coarse woody debris items in the Top River channel has been refused by the EA as potentially causing a flood risk downstream. As I write, I am hoping that the EA will accept my offer to discuss the application on-site in more detail. Personally, I struggle to see how it could possibly exacerbate flooding downstream when the proposed location of the woody debris (far upstream of the village) will actually slow the velocity of the water down and prevent it from reaching the village as quickly as it currently does with a straight, wide, barren channel. However, we shall see if the site meeting can change the refusal. Watch this space!

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Whilst I have been fairly inactive recently, it seems the criminal fraternity has not! Just before Christmas I had several of the existing outbuildings and barns broken into (despite the new perimeter fencing), although nothing was taken. It’s only right that I thank the Thames Valley Police Neighbourhood Rural Crime Officer for her prompt attendance and help – it’s the third occasion since the estate was purchased in November 2014 that similar offences have occurred. I also had three males with Saluki dogs and Lurcher dogs pop up in the field on the other side of the river at dusk yesterday, who saw me coming across the river to intervene and veered off at speed. This resulted in another call to Thames Valley Police and prompt attendance by local officers again. Three males were stopped by the officers a short distance down the road close to more farmland, searched and given their marching orders. I had no doubt they were looking for hare to course, and it seems neither did the attending officers.

All the paddocks have now been rotated for grazing by the three resident horses, and even the two that were badly flooded recently have recovered. All could do with a harrow and a good roll with the tractor to level out the holes caused by the horses charging around, but I shan’t be in any rush to do it until we get some dryer weather.

Until the weather improves and the ground dries out, I shall continue to suffer from cabin fever and spending my time testing the new Nature-like Fishing Platform.

All the best,

ACC.

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