Monday, 23 November 2020

The beginning of the end and an everlasting legacy...

 

The Hampshire Avon is, arguably, in the best state now in terms of its roach for more than a generation, so it’s ‘job done’ as far as the tanks are concerned.

However, it’s quite a wrench starting to dismantle Project HQ; an entire hatchery painstakingly set up and responsible for unimaginable numbers of Avon Roach over the past decade and a half.

Now, instead of scrubbing and reinstating everything in perpetuation, it’s very strange leaving it in redundancy as the project concludes. A part of us feels compelled to carry on, given the extraordinary effectiveness, but we can’t justify the level of effort required, given the amazing roach population density now existing in the river, which is not only made up of those we have directly reintroduced, but there are strong signs of them having successfully increased their own numbers naturally with plenty of fish showing to anglers and in fry sampling that are too young to be ours, which was the whole idea. Larval drift, displacement and natural migration means they are also showing in places we haven’t had direct access to, but in nowhere near the same numbers; but, a positive sign, nonetheless, and again, all part of the plan.

We have a huge and final double helping of roach going in the river from our stews in March 2021; all being well, which will conclude our fish growing activities, but we’ll still be very active with spawning board placement and relocation throughout the river.

It has been strange having our time and movement governed by something other than the doings of our roach this year. However, like so many, it presented other opportunities.

The first lockdown enabled the book copy to be finely honed and made ready for design then print, which happened as we were finally allowed back out to play.

You’d have thought that having spent a life sentence in the print, I might have been able to handle it a little less nervously than I did. But, nope… all it did was compound everything. This book would be the definitive chronicle of the most extraordinary, ground-breaking fifteen years and we were both desperate for it to be a thing of beauty and truly representative. And, oh boy did we get what we wanted… We are both absolutely delighted with it; and immensely proud.

The link to where the book can be purchased online is here:-

www.avonroachprojectshop.co.uk

Anyone wanting an order form sent by email or post to pay by BACS or cheque, please email me at trevorharrop@talktalk.net

We decided to go ahead with a book launch/signing despite the pandemic restrictions, and make ourselves available for anyone who wanted to come along and see us. We did this in the same hotel we’ve held our annual fundraiser doo’s, and on the same Saturday in the year. Number restrictions could be dealt with by partitioning the bar and large dining area off into sections and have folks filtering through these.

Unfortunately, as well as the pandemic and all the associated inconveniences, it was possibly the wettest day of the year. It simply thumped it down with rain all day. Not ideal for the wellbeing of hundreds of books, nor those signing them. However, it was a great success and lots of folks came along and made it a wonderful afternoon… All rather strange and a little overwhelming, especially for a timid pair of little wallflowers like us.

Since then, we have been delighted with how the book has been received. Within just a few weeks, the limited run of fifty leather bound copies had sold out and the open edition has continued to sell well following a rather breath-taking initial run of interest.

We have received some eyewatering comments from folks saying how much they have enjoyed it, with some saying they are already on their second read. One said ‘half of me can’t put it down, while the other half doesn’t want it to end…’ Nice eh?

So, we'd like to thank everyone who has shown support by buying a book.

While the book was at the printers, three weeks were spent filling three skips with the dismantled filter tables, concrete and other assorted rubbish at Project HQ with a little help from project supporter Steve Percival… A fitness workout the likes I can never remember – I ended up like I was made of iron. I even had muscles in my spit by the end.

Very evident from the start was that energy and stamina were in far greater abundance when putting it all together than when taking it all apart. I was literally cursing Budgie as I dug great lumps of concrete out of the lawn, which had supported the wooden platforms upon which the tanks had sat.. ‘Even at two tonnes apiece, when full of water and our precious roach, they didn’t move though, did they?’ was his response.

The rest of this story is told with the pictures and captions below where we have included some amazing roachy images, as this is what it has all been about.

We made an arrangement with the leather binders that, as long as we’d paid for the leather and blocking guide, we’d be able to bind an initial run of 30, then bind copies either singularly or in small numbers to order after that, being as they are all bound by hand. However, before the initial 30 were bound, we’d placed an order for a further five, then another ten, then the lot. 

Not only did we pour all over the words, the font, the leading, paper, spacing, design and a million other elements; we, of course, also had a catalogue of some of the most amazing pictures that exist anywhere to choose from. However, the cover image almost chose itself as one of the most representative of the project. And, we’d be happy for our book to be judged by its cover… 


The book signing was an awesome afternoon, and we’d like to thank everyone who took the trouble to come along; in particular, Dave Taylor, for the fab photo’s. It was a strange thing and, I guess, not experienced by many folks. Having illustrated and written guest chapters in other books; always being part of the collective and ‘always the bridesmaid and never the bride’, as was once pointed out by a fellow artist; now for us to be the co-writers, illustrator, photographer, designers, publishers, gardeners, waste disposal officers, architects and bottle washers, it is all really rather special.


Thankfully nobody asked for complicated messages and all had fairly ordinary names. I was a bit nervous as I am a terrible speller, and have appalling handwriting, and had visions of people asking for all kinds of messages like ‘can you make it out to Kevin with a ‘p’ and say well done on passing his bgsdetrsfdgetrhings exams…’


Budgie’s condition means that he can’t just pick up a pen and sign the books. So, even the obvious demand for the authors signatures needed serious consideration. We could have me sign for us both, we could have me place the pen in Budgies hand, wrap mine around it and hold it and sign, or do it as he usually does, with the pen in his mouth. OK for the occasional birthday card, but we were talking about hundreds of books.

He said, ‘we have done this project together from the start, and we have done this book together, so I am determined to sign every copy in the only way I can, which is with my gob, so if you and everyone else are happy to show a little patience, I will come up with something to make that possible’.

Within a week, or so, he and his PA, Emily, had made an amazing adjustable and portable table-top lectern, which you can see in the picture… They called ‘Hannibal’. 


Our great mate, Chris Yates, has done a very generous Foreword to the book and we needed to get his signature in a few for those who had requested it, while we were meeting up for one of our lunch dates. We’d usually meet up and have a long afternoon lunch in a pub, but his daughters had forbidden him to enter a pub because of the virus, so we met at the usual pub, but sat on our fishing chairs, behind Budgie’s van, out of the breeze, in a corner of the pub car park and lunched on our own homemade grub and nattered and laughed until the sun went down; another very special day.


The initial rush was a little hard to keep up with, but once I got into a rhythm, it was fine. This lot was over just a few days.


A few days later and same again. We realised we weren’t going to end up with a garage full of books nobody wants. We also realised we were going to get our money back on the leathers, which are the thicker ones to the left in the picture.

Getting whole car boot loads of books in the post all together was always going to be an issue, but we found a very helpful and accommodating little post office up in the New Forest at Burley which eased the pain.

Goodness knows what grief I’d have gotten had our local post office remained open, where the big ugly one used to tut and sigh at you just for the awful inconvenience of making her reach and get a book of stamps from the drawer.


Our own two rather tired old tanks were cut up and put in the first skip, revealing the bases which needed clearing. The other tanks, awaiting collection by the EA, became the perfect storage units for some of the rubbish, allowing the skips to be loaded efficiently.


And here’s where it all started. My first go at concrete (with Budgie’s guidance)… Not bad for a printer. But now it all had to be bashed up and carried to the skip. So, not just fish eggs and fun. Oh my aching bones… 


Even the tables that held the filter barrels were put together so sturdily that I couldn’t unscrew them, so had to saw them into bits. Fortunately, everything could be put in fairly neat piles rather than having it all strewn about the place.


First skip full and a second load waiting on the drive. Tonnes of concrete – Budgie.


All clear, cleaned and empty. Just awaiting collection by the EA. I now see a stripey neatly cut lawn, and more runner beans and tomatoes than I can give away.


And this is what it has enabled. The roach really did reward our efforts.


And this is what we did with it. It’s easy to get caught in the moment and the image that is before us, but this picture was taken many, many years ago. And, as the clockwork symmetry of the project rolled on, the survivors of these little sparklers might now be the two pounders themselves providing tens of thousands of eggs every year to assist the continued growth and health and genetic purity of the natural population.


One of countless nets of adult roach being returned to the Avon and a small part of an overall astonishing level of recovery.


Wonderful Hampshire Avon Roach, very likely ours; and, as we say in the book, ‘now, perhaps the Avon has the chance to look forward to brighter days, rather than having to look back to see them…’


Sunday, 20 September 2020



YYYYiiipppeeeee!!!!! The Avon Roach Project book is done…

320 pages filled with 100,000 of our own words and pictures and illustrations, plus a generous foreword by our great mate Chris Yates, and we are both delighted and relieved.

The link to where you can get your copies is below, early in this blog post, rather than me bluster on for half a page about what a year it’s been… But, what a year it’s been, which I’ll come to after we’ve flogged you a book or two…

www.avonroachprojectshop.co.uk



The book cover with one of the most striking pictures we’ve ever taken, plus our very posh limited leather edition.


We have done an open hardback edition which is £25 plus £5 P&P and a very special limited leather edition of just 50 copies at £185 plus £5 P&P, which is confidently predicted, by those who know about these things, will be quite a collectors item, as indeed is the open edition itself to a lesser degree, being of such an extraordinary and unique, pioneering project.

Copies of the open edition will be with us on Monday 28th September, so can be posted out soon after that; and the leather edition a few days after that.

The book is a detailed chronicle of the extraordinary journey from elbows on knees, wondering what we could possibly do to help, to the most phenomenal level of success few could have predicted – even us two.

As we revisited the notes we kept of our journey over the years to thread into the book, even we were stunned by the sheer lunacy of the concept and the journey of discovery and achievement thereafter; and we’d lived it.

It will have your jaw hitting the floor in disbelief at some of the astonishing strokes of good and bad fortune, the amazing discoveries, the science and the antics, but all the while it will make you smile. We are confident it will make you laugh; it will make you cry, and it will make you cry laughing.

The essence of the book is captured in the two representative paragraphs we have chosen for the back cover of the dustjacket…

‘In the early days we were scared to even blink in case something bad happened while we weren’t looking.’

‘In this fast-moving progressive world of perpetual advancement, almost all the ecological standards we aspire to achieve are those of our past. Now, perhaps the Avon has the chance to look forward to brighter days, rather than having to look back to see them…’

        We enjoyed visiting the printers, and were very pleased with the print quality.



Strange seeing your own words and pictures flying out of the end of the press.


So then, what a year it’s been…

The penultimate roach stocking was planned for our usual time in March. We’d done the health checks on the roach, chosen the three locations in the river for the releases and cleared all the marginal growth from around the stews to make netting easier and more effective but, at the last minute, because of the high river levels persisting from the winter floods, we decided to postpone the releases for one week.

Then the country stopped, and the day we’d intended making the first stocking became the first day of lockdown. Dreadful, dreadful times. It really put things into perspective.

It meant that the roach were going to have to stay with us for another year. Fortunately, being livestock, I was able to obtain permission to attend the stews once a week. And, because they would reach maturity and look to spawn in April, I needed to implement ‘plan B’ which was to place spawning boards over them in the stews, have them spawn on them, which they duly did on the day we knew they would, then relocate the spawn to hatch in the nearby weir pool.

The period of lockdown enabled us to complete and finely hone the words for the book, then as restrictions relaxed, we were able to get the book printed, and although I served a life sentence in the print trade before selling up and escaping to a life in the slow lane, it was great to revisit as a client, with Budgie, who had never been inside a proper printers before, to see our own words and pictures hurtling out of the end of the press.

Then, just as we were awaiting delivery, we received a call from a supporter at one of the first locations we discovered roach spawning in the river who said ‘you must both come along and see your roach and the wonderful impact you have made on the river. It will blow your minds. It has ours.’

As we stood taking pictures, we remembered standing in exactly the same spot with hearts in our mouths pondering the impact on such a tiny remnant population, which we could then count on the fingers of three hands, if we interfere and muck it up, as we were, at the time, almost completely clueless…

The first deposit we made here was some thirteen years ago, with one year olds, so the survivors of these could well be two pounds now, which some of the beauties in the pictures below are. The last lot we stocked was a good number of three year olds, some four or five years ago. So, knowing what we do, and seeing what we were seeing, we decided it is very likely that we have played a part in what you see in these pictures.

We both agreed we’d love to have been able to include some of these images in the book.

And, of course, for every yin there is a yang – the coffee we were given was like mud… Blimey, the things we have to put up with for this project…


This picture was taken of the roach spawning when we first discovered this place, and clearly shows just how few there were.


And this is the same pool now.


Roach everywhere.


The clear conditions made for easy photography.


We could hardly believe our eyes.


We contacted the owner of the land downstream to invite him along to see and he told us he’d been watching huge shoals of roach at the bottom of his garden, just like the old days.


This is the lot in a different part of the pool, closer to the bridge we were on.


And, of course, some of them were whoppers.


Saturday, 25 January 2020

New Avon Roach Project Film


These posts are usually made up of lots of words and lots of pictures, and although we pride ourselves on a reasonable level of quality in both departments, sometimes lots of words and pictures are even better blended in a film.
We spent a day with our old mate, and avid ARP supporter, Martin Bowler and talented young filmmaker Jack Reid and the link below is the result of this.
We have made a number of films over the years, and have been pleased with all of them, and we are equally delighted with the latest and most up-to-date coverage of our efforts.
We hope you like.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Cormorants on the General Licence


 
We have probably our last chance to finally get the cormorant added to the Wild Birds General Licence, something the Avon Roach Project called for and have since campaigned for in partnership with the Angling Trust, for nearly eight years. There is to be a review, following an online public consultation which we are asking everyone to participate in.
The huge over-wintering number of European cormorants here in the UK is one of the greatest conflicts our inland fish populations face and we believe we all have a duty to take this opportunity to influence the outcome of the consultation which is open until 5th December 2019.
We (ARP and AT) have issued a joint statement and press release with links to the survey, plus a set of guidance notes to help everyone. There are also links to an Avon Roach Project evidence-based challenge document to the current policy including history, facts and recommendations (on the Cormorant section of this site) – and to an Angling Trust ‘Impact of Cormorants’ document.
All links are below:-
We mustn’t let angling apathy allow this opportunity to be lost, so please participate and encourage others to do so. This is not simply something we can assume ‘all the others’ will do. We ask that everyone does their bit. Not participating surely removes the right to bitch about it or even comment on the conflict.
Budgie and I have invested a huge amount of effort over the past decade and more and now ask for your help to preserve what we have achieved, and to help enable a more adequate level of protection of all our vulnerable inland fish populations in this country.
 
Thanking you in anticipation.

Trev and Budgie

Joint ARP and AT Statement PDF link:-

 
Public Consultation link:-

 
ARP Evidence-Based Challenge to the current Fish-Eating Birds Policy link:-

 
I made a short film with Hugh Miles a few years ago outlining the cormorant issue in this country and all the facts within it are still relevant to the current situation, so we have included the link here.

Cormorants vs Roach

Mainly made up of the European sub-species Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis, this over-wintering visitor is one of the greatest threats to our inland fish populations in the UK.


This is one of three flocks photographed passing over in the space of a few minutes one winter morning before most of us are up and about.

The size of fish they can handle is quite unbelievable.

And the big pike is gone within a minute.

Nothing is safe from them. Barbel anglers seem to be focussing all blame on another predator for the barbel decline.

Even fish too large for the cormorant sustain gruesome damage which ultimately leads to their death. Here a barbel is the unfortunate wasted victim.

In 2012 we delivered a petition of 17,000 signatures to Minister at the time, Richard Benyon, who was very supportive and said he wanted to do something significant. Unfortunately, as we all know, cabinet changes within government are unpredictable and his replacement was far less sympathetic.
We all now have the opportunity to influence the forthcoming policy review by taking part in the online public consultation survey, so please take a few moments to do so.



 


 
 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Tenth and Final Annual Fundraiser doo...

All I can say is… ‘WOW! What a doo…’
Our tenth and final annual fundraiser was held on the 5th October and was attended by a record seventy seven guests. Our minds were well and truly blown, and for all the right reasons.
As we mingled and welcomed folks on the evening, we were overwhelmed by an amazing sense of fulfilment as we discovered that many of those who had fished the friendly match throughout the day had actually caught roach from the Avon; the biggest being a whopper of three pounds three ounces. There were also five two pounders taken and loads of pounders plus a million others of all sizes, meaning all kinds of ages from throughout the widely spaced stretches we fished.
It was wonderfully satisfying and quite emotional to be able to deliver my after-dinner update and talk about an Avon full of roach and reflect on where it all started – with Budgie and me, elbows on knees, on a muddy riverbank asking ourselves ‘what can we do?’... as we pondered the fish stock survey showing roach numbers below critical mass and unable to recover unassisted… Then hatching our initial plans to try to grow some roach in a bathtub.
Now we are seeing the river in the best state in terms of its roach for a generation and perhaps on its way back to the ‘glory days’ we all thought had gone forever.
Perhaps the most encouraging signs for us, and indeed the river, are the roach that are showing that are too young to be ours and even more significant is that roach have shown in the fry sampling surveys, proving that what we started is being carried on naturally, which was the whole idea of the project.
The recovery has been steady over the years and enhanced by a few low-flow weedy summers and calm winters; plenty for us anglers to bitch about, but perfect for our roach.
We have achieved a level of success far exceeding our wildest dreams, with healthy roach population densities now throughout the river once again. Larval drift, displacement and natural migration will ensure that even the areas between our deposits we haven’t had access to will benefit from our efforts, albeit slightly more slowly.
We have another two years of roach in the system which will be stocked next March and the March after as they approach their third birthday (and there are thousands of ‘em), and we’ll continue improving the habitat and maintain some of what we have already created.
The evening meal and auction were just as special as the fishing with proper boys grub of steak pie and roast potatoes and an auction table creaking with wonderful lots donated by wonderful folks.
Although this was the last fundraiser gathering, we have provisionally booked the hotel for the same Saturday next year for the Avon Roach Project book launch, the first rough draft of which is almost complete and just needs a winter of fine tuning and honing – probably to secondary school standard - before we commit to paper.
Wish us luck…
Words cannot describe the level of emotion Budgie and I felt on the day and we’d like to thank everyone who attended, and everyone who simply just support our efforts… You are awesome!

A very happy, and surprised, Paul Gurton with his magnificent three pound three ounce match winning roach.
One of an additional five two pounders caught on the day; here with his pristine two pound six ounce beauty is Ewout Smeerdijk – If we think Cornwall or London is a long way to come to support the project, Ewout and his mate Rob come all the way from the Netherlands – their fifth time. I even grizzle about how far it is from Ringwood…
 

A relatively modest pound plusser for Frank Segrave-Daly. One of a multiple catch for Frank and one of many pounders taken on the day.

There was an uncountable number of roach of all sizes caught on the day; a far cry from the early days of the fundraiser where for the first few years roach never featured at all in anglers catches… Oh, how times have changed…

One of the most satisfying facts is that roach were caught from all the venues we fished for the match with this roach taken from the same river but in the next county, miles upstream.

The auction table creaking under the weight of the amazing lots donated by amazing folks… Yes – for an amazing project.

The guests start to arrive and the awesome atmosphere warms up.

One section of the dining room and all eagerly thumbing through the lots list and pondering the depth of pockets.

Us two nervous boys on the left of the top table creaking under the weight of the roast potatoes. The food really was off the scale.

A reminder that although some of the ‘big girls’ put in an appearance in the fishing match, they are also regulars at the spawning boards each year.

Reward for our effort and enabled by the fundraiser, these little one year olds will see their freedom in two years time. If only they knew how much effort we’d invested… Nothing, I guess, compared with the battle they’ll have ahead of them.

A year older, these are just a handful of the thousands of healthy Avon Roach due for release next March.

Hard to imagine that a pair of simple boys like us two would have such an impact on such an iconic fish species in such an iconic river… At the dinner table on the evening, as we stuffed our faces with pie, we pondered some of the more challenging moments, like the time the warmest thing for miles around was the 100w lightbulb illuminating my garage as we filled sections of scaffold bar with cement to sink the spawning boards in the faster sections of river… Oh boy, are you gonna be hearing us bitching about all those moments in the book… Brace yourselves…