Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Mid 2019 Latest


There was always going to come a time when we reviewed the situation and decide to take our foot off the gas either through success or failure and this year, for the first time in over a decade, we decided we’d not collect spawn from the river and hatch it in the tanks
Obviously, we are delighted that the reason for the change in our usual routine is because of the unimaginable level of success even we never dreamed we’d achieve. The river is now in the best state in terms of roach population density for a generation so the intense level of effort required to collect and hatch the spawn and get the little roach through the early stages of life is more than is now required by us.
So, we have decided on a slight change in our annual routine and to adopt a short-cut policy of taking a few spawning boards full of eggs and placing them to hatch directly into a couple of empty stews (the ones we netted and released the roach from in March, which would have taken the roach we’d grow in the tanks through this coming year)
We have tested the effectiveness of doing this before (the question was always going to be asked) by placing two boards in a tank and two in a stew and we calculated that we got roughly four or five times the survival by doing it the intensive way in the tanks. However, the survival rate in the stew is still a thousand times greater than if left in the river, so still well worth doing. 
The infrastructure is still there so it will enable us to operate far more moderately and less intensively so giving us some of our time and sanity back while still plonking plenty of roach into the river each year. We might even have a look around to see if we can find some of our marbles…
I know we bitch about it every year, but although extremely rewarding and effective in terms of numbers of roach we grow, it is excruciatingly all-consuming work and it was nice to have a break from the intensity.
Now roach are being caught throughout the river in numbers not seen for decades and folks are once again able to watch shoals from bridges just like the good old days. Perhaps more significantly still, I have recently been informed that sampling of this years fry in the river revealed that 5% were roach so showing the positive signs of a natural sustainability we hoped we’d trigger through our efforts. Hard to believe that not so long ago, before we got going, the roach population in the Avon was regarded as being below critical mass and unable to recover unassisted. So, Budgie an me are taking the biggest, fattest slap on the back we could ever have hoped for.
The less demanding roach duties will allow us a little more time to develop our new initiative of looking to improve gravel spawning substrate for the barbel and other gravel spawners in the river in partnership with the EA Fisheries guys.
So far this year we have mapped plenty of potential sites for consideration and we’ll be looking at how each site can be improved (or replicated), which might be through placement of in-river flow deflectors to flush water over the spawning beds to clean and prolong their effectiveness, maybe raking or even gravel-jetting to desilt key areas. It will be ongoing, but the initiative is already out of the starting blocks and has attracted some great support throughout the catchment. If successful, it might even be rolled out on other rivers.
So, back to our roach… The unusually warm April triggered the roach to spawn a few days early this year, for only the third time in all the years we’ve been doing this. Easter weekend was the time and they went to it with the usual awesome display. Even though we have been doing this for many years, the sight of the roach romping all over our artificial spawning boards still blows our little minds.
At one location, we placed spawning boards at the head of a stream to give the vastly increased population of roach that now exists there, thanks to our efforts, additional spawning substrate. We placed four, left two to hatch naturally in the stream, but moved the other two to a nearby weir pool to hatch into the main river; something we might consider doing a little more of in the future.
The spawn placed directly in the stews hatched successfully and the little roach look to be doing fine. They’ll get fed regularly on the fine powdered crumb they’d get if they were here in the tanks after the usual few weeks of brine shrimps.
Those in the other stews and our feeder stream are also doing well and now the water is warming they are feeding and growing nicely.
Once again, we’d like to thank everyone for the fab support and encouragement, and to say now I guess there is no excuse not to get the Avon Roach Project book completed – which is well underway; possibly near half written… You’ve been warned.

Spawning commences and the buzz we get every time we see this is indescribable.

It might look like a violent free-for-all, but it is far from it. The males first establish territory alongside the spawning board then defend it throughout. When the female arrives, he wants to rub his tubercle-covered body along her to induce egg release where he’ll be in prime position to fertilise, which you can see here with the large male nudging the smaller female almost clear of the water.
The significant differences in sizes of roach attending the spawning boards is a healthy indication of multiple year classes existing in the local environment.
Sometimes the action is simply explosive.
Roach love… The larger tubercle-covered male glides up to caress the female.
It sometimes appears as just a melee of writhing roach all trying to get a piece of the action and pass on their genes. This image shows some of the misdirected spawn deposited on the top of the spawning board in the commotion.
Some of the larger males were over two pounds. The one seen here is not far short of that.
Some of this years roach fry at a few weeks old and looking good, having hatched from spawning boards directly into a stew.
There will be plenty of natural food in the stew, but we’ll also supplement this with regular feeds of the special crumb as we do the roach in all the other stews.
Feeding time for some of our two year olds now growing before our very eyes in the warming water.
These are destined to be stocked into the Avon in March next year – but we haven’t told them yet.
An old picture, but our escapee roach are doing very well in our feeder stream. Just goes to prove that if we give them a chance, they’ll take it which is what we have done in the river.
One of the locations for consideration in our gravel spawning substrate improvement initiative. These are, of course, spawning chub, which were seen in early June.

 
 

Monday, 25 March 2019

2019 ROACH RELEASES


 

The gathering spring usually holds a mixture of feelings for us, but is always underpinned with excitement, anticipation and fulfilment (and shed-loads of tea and cake) as we release the annual crop of three year old roach into the river and move the tiddlers from the tanks to the stews; usually cold and muddy, sometimes even icy, giving me plenty to bitch about in these updates. However, this year, not so. Every day any roachy business was scheduled we were treated to perfect, still, mild and calm conditions – leave it with me, and I’m sure I’ll find something to whine about…


In fact, we are usually reeling from the effects of some kind of adverse seasonal delivery or other, but it has to be said that we’ve actually had the perfect follow-up winter to the scorching summer in terms of little fish survival in our rivers.
First it was the turn of the two year olds to be netted and moved from the two long tanks at Project HQ and taken to the stews to join those removed as one year olds from the other tanks a year ago. This releases the two long tanks to take some of this years one year olds – following so far?
A basic principle in all we do is to have everything prepared and ready to go before any real disturbance to the fish, so the tank water is dropped to about five inches in both, the transportation buckets and bubblers are all ready, then it’s just a case of getting it done as quickly as possible to limit the time the fish are stressed. That said, we do slow the action periodically to take a few staged photographs. The roach have never complained.
Although we have a feel for how many fish we have at all the various stages (having done it for so many years – after a while even we start to remember), it’s only when moving them that we actually get a true idea of the scale of our annual achievements in terms of numbers, when we can see them all rather than catching a glimpse of a few as we feed them.
Even though we do it every year, we are still stopped in our tracks at the sheer number and absolute stunning beauty of the glistening little roach. We are also astonished at the enormous difference in sizes of fish of the same age.
The two year olds were transported in one long day and the one year olds had to be done over two as there are so many tanks to drain and net – and we only have so many buckets and bubblers.
Soon all the tanks were empty and ready for cleaning, and once again Project HQ – formerly known as my back garden was a squelching quagmire – there, I knew I’d find something to bitch about.
The three year olds are moved over three days from the stews to the river and usually in the third week of March, which was the case this time.
We always miss a few when we net which remain in the stews and this year we were amazed at the size of some of them. Not only were they whoppers, but it was clear that they had spawned in the stews as there were also a number of one and two year olds present… Confirming the old ARP philosophy – give ‘em half a chance and they’ll take it.
As well as the usual minnows, gudgeon and stone loach, which we assume come in from our feeder stream through the inlets perhaps as larvae, this year, for the first time ever, we had a single little pike we named Malcolm. We think it might have been dropped by a bird, as we have had the odd trout dropped in the same way from the adjacent fish farm. We’ve seen no sign of Malcolm’s presence over the years and the water has been clear enough for us to have done so – we surely would have seen him strike at our roach in clear water as they were fed.
This year, as every year, we stocked at a number of different locations again over about a ten mile distance. Ironically, one stocking took place right in front of a commemorative bench placed in memory of Gerry Swanton, well known roach man of his day. We wonder what he’d have made of what we’ve done.
Although we’ve been doing this for well over a decade now, these annual roach releases still give Budgie and me a real buzz and a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. And, it still blows our little minds when we remember we have grown all these wonderful Avon Roach from eggs.
We never imagined we’d achieve the level of success we have. Our dream really is coming true. The Avon is now in the best health in terms of its roach for a generation and we are delighted to have played a significant part in it.
Once again, the EA guys, Jim Allan, Phil Rudd and Luke Kozak, were on hand to help with all the tanks and barrels and pipes and oxygen and expertise and bacon sandwiches. They really are a vital part of our team.
As usual, we’d like to extend our sincere thanks to everyone for the fab support and encouragement.
 

Project HQ ready and first tank draining. The moment that kicks the whole annual fish movement cycle off.

 
First haul of two year olds. They’ve grown well in the tanks.


Plump and healthy two year olds. It’s interesting that the size difference narrows as they grow. It’s also interesting to see that the fins on the larger ones are just beginning to show signs of colour. This time next year they’ll be bright red, indicating maturity.
An underwater close-up of them showing their paddle tails and fins.
Into the stew they go to join their brothers and sisters and cousins.
A couple of weeks later and it’s the turn of the one year olds. Again, everything is ready in advance.
Water dropped and the little roach are ready to be netted.
First scoop of sparkling little one year olds. What a sight.
It seems to be at this age that the size difference is at its greatest. Perhaps the titchy ones would not have survived in the wild. Certainly, the bigger and better swimmers they are, the better chances of survival. We know the very tiny ones, if they don’t keep up, become food for their tank-mates.
Underwater close-up of the one year olds we’ll keep for another year in the long tanks at Project HQ.
Then, the turn of the three year olds to be netted and released into the river. The first run of the net around the first stew is always an anxious time, but who knows, maybe in another decade we’ll have gotten used to it.
The roach are deposited back into the barrels from the tank on the trailer, and just look at how many there are in that one scoop. The bench behind me is a memorial to passed roach man, Gerry Swanton. We could sense his approval.
As we do every year, we have to have a little cuddle of a couple of the prettiest ones. What perfect creatures they are.
Jim Allan removes Malcolm, the pesky pike. During his time in the stew he must have felt as happy as a carp angler in a kebab shop.
Down at the river and we had to get a few more touchy-feely shots of the roach at their point of freedom.
Even though slightly high on oxygen, the roach still slide casually into the river with dignity only an Avon Roach possesses – or are we slightly biased and a bit soppy?
We think this was the biggest of the year. Obviously one that avoided us when we last netted the stew. But, what a whopper…
The first full barrel for Gerry Swanton. These roach will be looking to spawn themselves in the river in a little over a month.
Another full barrel of healthy, plump adult roach, ably assisted by EA fisheries man and great supporter of the project, Phil Rudd (what a great name for a fisheries officer – and yes, he really is that tall… Nine feet seventeen inches).
Jim Allan and me pour the last two barrels of roach into the middle reaches of the river. Those grins on our faces lasted days… Our Roach Faces.
Two very happy boys, Budgie and me, where it all began - with ‘Roach Faces’ again.
And this is where it all starts. Gorgeous Avon Roach romping all over our spawning boards.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 19 October 2018

Hot Summer - Cool Project

Well it’s certainly been a year of extremes; but then you don’t need me to tell you that (I’m going to anyway, though…). Even the England football team were popular for a while… Goodness, what is happening to this world??? Last time that happened, they won the world cup then went home and washed their cars and mowed their lawns – Oh how the world has changed…
 
Anyway, on to the roachy stuff…
Winter saw temperatures plunge to minus goodness knows with a double dumping of thick snow, setting heart rates fluttering with worry about how our little roach would handle it in the tanks and stews, then within a few weeks it was like it hadn’t happened as the roach spawning triggered throughout the river right on time and everything was reset to ‘normal’…
The tiny roach hatched nicely in the tanks and they were soon stuffing their faces with Brine Shrimps twice a day and growing like crazy.
Then, as you know, it all went off the other end of the scale as temperatures reached mid 30’s C and stayed there… Even at night, it felt like.
The same heart flutterings happened with the heat as with the ice, but with heat can come all kinds of additional waterborne nasties, especially in a heavily populated enclosed over-ground artificial environment like our tanks.
All in all, though, the roach did OK. The heat did trigger some ‘pea-soup’ algal blooms which enabled the most amazing daphnia explosions in all the tanks which as we have mentioned before we seed so they continue to feed our little roach with the live young they squirt out every couple of weeks. At one point the daphnia outnumbered the roach.
The enjoyment of the wonderful summer was punctuated by sessions wrestling our stream and stews back from Mother Nature who insists on filling them with vegetation, but with a little help we made short work of it all.
While the steaming hot conditions can have alarming disadvantages, we must remember that from a general riverine ecology perspective the warm water, low flows, prolific weed growth and abnormal abundance of bug life will mean that this will be one of the best summers for fry survival and recruitment for almost a generation… Not since 1976 have we experienced such extraordinary conditions. Couple this with the work we are doing, the habitat stuff we, and others, are involved in and the raft of other elements being dealt with, this will be a ‘fantastic’ year for the fishes in our river.
Yes, I know there is a whole world of other stuff we need to address, but it’s nice to pinch a moment to reflect with a glass half full, for a change.
Now, as the summer cools and softens into the nutty sweet scented, tawny glow of autumn it seemed really appropriate that I saw my last swallows on the day of our annual fundraiser event held on the 6th October.
Their spring arrival signifies the beginning of our frantic period and it’s fitting that their departure signifies its end.
It was once again an amazing doo. A great bunch of folks attended, we had an amazing array of auction lots on the evening – after one of the bestest ‘boys’ dinners ever… Steak and mushroom pie, vegetables and roast potatoes, followed by apple pie and custard… Proper grub…
We were delighted and again stunned by the amazing generosity of the folks in the room on the night and those who donate the auction lots. We have exclusive guided fishing days, rods, reels, pictures, books and a whole load of other stuff.
Once again, huge thanks go to Southern Fisheries for letting us have the Royalty Fishery, Christchurch Angling Club for letting us have upper and lower Winkton and Ringwood and District Anglers Association for letting us have upper and lower Severals for our friendly fishing match we held on the Saturday.
For the sixth consecutive year roach featured on the catch returns and this year, for the second time, the match was actually won with a roach.
This roach, however, was not one of ours as it will be older than our project. It was a whopper of three pounds two ounces and taken by fundraiser regular and no stranger to big roach, Mark Everard.
And, there’s more… Not only was the match won with a roach, but roach were caught throughout the river, which is now a common occurrence. One competitor sent a message afterwards telling of catching nine gorgeous roach to 1lb 6oz and said…’ I had to "take a moment" to compose myself: there was a moistening of the eyes and a few deep breaths. A previously rather barren stretch of river, now with a sustainable population of roach. What an achievement for the Avon Roach Project. The fellowship of roach anglers are forever in your debt. I can only add my humble gratitude to the many plaudits you've earned.’
As I stand there at the end of the evening giving my closing speech and thanks I get a wobble in my voice as I look around the room and tell of the roach now being caught and seen throughout the river, and I am transported back to the point Budgie and I sat face to face beside a river with a declining roach population estimated to be below critical mass and asked… ‘What can we do???’ – Well, we certainly answered that one.
What a journey, what an achievement and what an experience…
As well as continuing to grow roach, the investment in habitat improvement continues with possibly the largest and most effective excavation of a huge fry bay at Sopley on the lower part of the Avon; historically renowned for its roach, completed only a few weeks ago (end of September). This is the latest in a number initiated by the ARP over the years and a valuable accompaniment to the rest of our activities.
Off the back of our unprecedented achievements with roach (you can have a blow on this trumpet after me…) we are adding yet another string to our bow by spearheading an initiative to increase the effectiveness of vital gravel spawning sites in the Avon, improving egg and fry survival of species such as Barbel and chub, in partnership with the Environment Agency, using the same simple and pure techniques and holistic principles as we have done with the roach. Watch this space…
Thank you all once again for your fab support and encouragement – Now on to the pictures round…

A second helping of snow and sub-zero temperatures raised concerns for our little roach as it looked like winter would never end.
Dunno what all the fuss was about. The little roach didn’t even flinch… I must admit that our sighs of relief could probably be heard in the next county.
Then, as if Mother Nature had just remembered the time, Spring hurtled at us and everything was reset to ‘normal’ and the roach began spawning right on time.
Tanks full of free-swimming roach fry means panic, urgency and worry as the first few weeks are the most difficult to handle. There is literally no let-up.
Brine Shrimp Hatchery was quickly in full production for the little hatchlings. While this might be one of the most crucial elements in the lives of our little roach and the project, it really is indescribably tedious. Duller than watching paint dry or counting salt.
Satisfaction and fulfilment comes rapidly as the little roach grow before our very eyes as they gorge on protein rich shrimps, fed twice a day every day for the first two weeks.
Daphnia supply our roach with constant food between Brine Shrimp feeds in the form of their own live young. The adults, of course, are too big for our roach at this crucial time, but as they grow that changes.
As if this amateur fish farming malarkey isn’t stressful enough, summer temperatures then rocketed to the mid 90’s Fahrenheit – probably almost 100 degrees higher than just a few months earlier. This was even more of a concern than the snow and ice.
Again, dunno what all the fuss was about. The roach were all fine. We ensured good oxygenation, fairly frequent partial water changes and regular water tests for any nasties that can creep up on you almost overnight.
A lovely bonus brought on by the scorching heatwave was the stinging nettle bed in the field at the bottom of my garden died and was consumed by father and son Derek and Roger (I don’t think that’s their real names… Roger, the horse?). It meant they could come over for a scratch and a cuddle, a few mouthfuls of my hedge and of course a daily treat of carrots and apples. I love ‘em.
Despite the heat and the mozzies, work still needed to be taken care of in the form of clearing the thick rush-beds from our feeder stream and some of the marginal reeds and cress from some of the stews.
Help was on hand and we all made quick work of it. These days are always good fun and are punctuated with plenty of water for the heat and an over-abundance of jammy doughnuts and apple turnovers.
It was lovely to be able to show the guys the roach feeding in the stews, which of course are the ultimate fruits of all our labour, while we took a break and stuffed our faces.
Job Done… Well, almost. While it looks like we’ve just chucked it all in a heap on the immediate bank, after about a week of dry weather the whole lot will weigh a fraction of what it does when first removed so much easier to clear away.
I wanted a ‘group shot’ for here on the ARP web site, facebook posts and of course the ARP book, but had trouble with the remote thingy so had to rely instead on the timer thingy which gave me about three seconds to get from camera to line-up. And, despite a number of attempts, this picture is the best this doughnut-stuffed porker could manage.
Left to right – Dave Taylor, Steve Withers, Mick Leonard, Keith Gawler, Adrian Simmons and Geoff Chase.
Summer also sees me dashing about collecting auction lots for the annual fundraiser doo and every year I have a lovely afternoon with my great mate Chris Yates who always finds a few items for us. This year he gave us his actual typewriter.
We spend the afternoon drinking tea, laughing and telling our stories, as you can imagine.
This year he even let me have his secret blend of tea; a ‘cut’ of different loose-leaf teas that could only ever have been discovered by someone like Chris… And, I must say I have never tasted tea like it in my life… No more squashing a teabag against the side of a mug for me… Pure nectar.
The fundraiser was once again well attended with some regular old faces it’s always great to see (some haven’t missed a single event), and some new faces too, which is lovely.
The atmosphere, once again, was off the scale and simply impossible to describe; so, I won’t try – but it was absolutely fab.
As I mentioned in the main body copy to this blog, when I stand up in front of this room full of fantastic supporters to do my thank you’s, update and closing speech, for a moment there is a tightening of chest and throat and a wobble in my voice. The whole world just stops. There is a tremendous feeling of gratitude and almost disbelief as I’m transported back to the moment Budgie and I sat beside a once iconic river with a roach population estimated from the EA fish stock survey results as being below critical mass, so very unlikely to be able to recover unassisted in many areas of the middle reaches of the river, and we asked ourselves… ‘What can we do? There must be a way of arresting the decline. We have to do something... But what? If we try and fail, we must at least have a go’.
We still have to pinch ourselves sometimes.
A three pound two ounce roach is a very special creature, as is our Mark who despite being no stranger to big roach did what we all do in the presence of such an extraordinary critter – he just went to pieces.
I made the most of the trophy presentation (as is the norm on these evenings), but having caught a three pound roach, Mark didn’t really care what was said and how much stick he got – and who would.
Plenty of roach now feature in our annual matches and here is an example. What a belter – which might even have been born in my back garden.
The Sopley fry bay started with me spotting a possibility a few years ago; then through support for what we have already achieved, we can go to land owners and suggest we tear up a section of one of their fields. It’s amazing how land owners throughout the valley have embraced and recognise the value of schemes like this
Christchurch Angling Club who have the fishing at Sopley and the land owner, David Benton-Jones, were very supportive and indeed it was the CAC rivers team that cleared the site ready for the diggers to get in. This was the same bunch of great guys who came and helped clear our stream and stews at Bickton earlier in the summer. They are also going to be sorting the bridge over the inlet and formulating an ongoing maintenance schedule to prolong the life and effectiveness of the excavation. A proper partnership and great team effort.
In late September the diggers got to work. We invited a local rivers trust, the WCSRT, to help with admin and assist with project management. So, it became a four-way partnership; the fourth being our ever-dependable Environment Agency who enable and encourage this kind of stuff.
In less than a week the area is unrecognisable as the vision now becomes a reality.
The moment of inundation as the digger breaches the bank between river and fry bay. I must admit, it was quite a ‘moment’ for me as I stood there melting with pride as I remembered the moment I stood on the high bank and looked into an overgrown boggy tangled darkness and thought… ‘I know; that’d make a fantastic fry bay’…
This picture gives a perspective on the size of the inlet connection to the river. And, it is worth considering that even a fry bay the size of just the inlet alone would be an amazing natural sanctuary for countless thousands of fry at certain times of year.
Job done. Possibly the most effective we have ever been involved in. Mother Nature will soon repair the bruising and scarring left by the diggers.
So, back to Bickton. The stews and surrounding area are cleared and ready for the coming winter. One more cut of grass maybe, then time to wind down and perhaps even get out for a bit of fishing myself (I really have got the bug back); that’s between getting battered senseless by discount furniture and Christmas ads on the telly-box, which have already started and nobody’s even lit the first firework yet.
The whole Bickton site has once again worked beautifully and while there is an ongoing battle to stop Mother Nature reclaiming it with weekly maintenance, and obvious regular trips to feed the fish, it really isn’t as hard as I make out. Just a matter of keeping on top of it. This year in particular, we could almost watch the roach growing before our eyes.
These roach, along with two other stew-fulls, will be released into the river next March. They are just starting to show redness in the fins which indicates maturity so, all being well, they’ll be contributing to the natural spawning in the river next April. Nice thought eh?
These are our escapees who are thriving in our feeder stream at Bickton. This is the result of just a few little tiddlers getting through gaps and rat holes into the stream where they have survived, grown on and now spawn each year. It just goes to show that if we give them a chance (which is the whole idea of the project) they will take it. Same applies to those we return to the river – hopefully, give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile. Unfortunately, it is more likely to work in reverse, but still worth every ounce of effort.
The Avon now has its healthiest number of dinky barbel and chublets for many years. This is likely due, at least in part, to the monster floods of 2012 which shifted and cleaned tonnes of gravel in the river, creating perfect spawning substrate. This has without doubt led to a significant increase in egg and fry, and subsequent juvenile survival, the immediate evidence of which is there to see throughout the river.
This shows that the river will sustain a revival of fish, be it our roach, barbel and chub; and, who knows, even salmon and trout too.
 
It makes a nonsense of the scaremongers, doom and gloom merchants and self-proclaimed experts telling us our rivers are finished as the otters are eating all the barbel and the cormorants are finishing off the rest… Glasses always half empty.
Our plan, in partnership with the Environment Agency, is to gravel jet known spawning sites on a rotational basis ensuring they remain at an optimal effectiveness for gravel spawners to assist the continuation of what appears to be a promising recovery.
Once again, it shows that a positive difference can be made with simple and basic intervention. Like we say, ‘give them a chance and they will take it’.
A nice reminder of where it all starts each year for us.
And a reminder of what they might grow into if given the chance and with a heap of good luck.