Often when we are out on the river, the two of us spend time leaning and chatting. One would say to the other, ‘We need a croy in that flow’, while indicating a ribbon of bright water could be turned to create a new station for a fish. Absentmindedly we both begin to find stones to ‘start the job’ until we realise we are in full flow and before long the job is done.
A full appraisal, taking into account the whole of one beat as a joined up thing, is an entirely different proposition, but that what has begun on the middle river of one famous tributary. Trout living above an in-line lake make their way upstream to spawn, countering the future downstream drift of their babies. The riverbed is set with Tufa though and their way to good gravel is barred by a 15 feet high natural weir. For those fish living in this ½ mile long top section, there is no spawning nor ever was.
Hatcheries built in 1870 masked the problem and provided trout until we stopped stocking in 2003. Now we need the river to create its own stock.
The work began by carving out the tufa bed to give a summer channel, half the width of the rivers normal width. Low summer flows would now be concentrated to buffet ranunculus and make it grow. The clean 20 mm gravel contents of two large trailers were spilled into the river and pushed around to create a waiting love nest for dozens of December trout. So far so good. We should expect good flows and good weed next year, and our trout will have somewhere to lay, but what about their babies? Fry survival is crucial, so we thought back to those times when, stretched out on the bank and peering into the margins, we saw fry darting between flag iris stalks. Deducing their nursery of choice was marginal, shallow and holding many territories, and realising the flag iris gave them just that, three huge flag beds were planted where the emerging babies might find them.
Yesterday those diamonds from the Environment Agency came to survey the new river. They warmly approved our work and gave us an existing baseline population by safely stunning the fish with electric and reading their shoulder scales. They promise to return in three years and make the count again. Come the shortest day we hope to see trout spawning on our gravel, the first for one thousand years in this length and when the water warms with next year’s spring, we will be watching amongst the flag stems.