Monday, 22 March 2021

FINAL AVON ROACH STOCKING

We knew it was going to be special, but even we were surprised at just how special it ended up being.

The week beginning March 15th (the first week of the fishing closed season, and the usual week we stock our roach into the river) started with the unpleasant task of netting the thirty unfortunates to be taken off for the health check and it was this first casual sweep of the net around a quarter of a pond, expecting just a few hundred roach at most, that revealed just how special the week ahead might be. There were so many roach that we even considered stocking additional locations – perhaps five or six instead of the usual three.

As usual, the health checks came back clean so we had the go-ahead to stock.

Looking back, we have never failed a health check. We’ve had a bit of blackspot and eye fluke and mild Echinochasmus in scale pockets, but they’ve always passed and our size to age ratio has always been comparable with historical records, so all in all us boys done good… Or we’ve just been lucky.

Unlike previous years, when the netted stews would be receiving fish from the tanks to grow on, this year was the final netting, so we were able to drop the water to assist and increase effectiveness as, usually, despite repeated sweeps of the net, there are always a few (perhaps fifty or so) which evade capture and live for a further few years in our care. This year we were aiming to remove every roach, then drop and dry the stews.

One of the most obvious things that was evident on many levels, should we have decided to continue, was the need for significant investment in desilting our feeder stream and stews and re-posting and netting them against avian predation. Not surprising after more than a decade.   

Being our final lot, we thought long and hard about where we wanted to stock which, as a result of the extraordinary level of success of our efforts over the years, now wasn’t so critical to the ongoing recovery of roach in the river. However, we were happy with the spacing of the deliveries and the continuing huge natural impact they’d have. We even had enough fish to put some where, at the beginning of the project, might have been regarded as needing them the least. However, with the rest of the river now in as good a state regarding its roach for a generation, we could afford to be generous.

The stockings happened on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a great deal of extra care and consideration having to be applied due to Covid, meaning the nettings had to be critically coordinated. The EA guys, Jim, Phil and Lewis, stepped up to the challenge and made it the amazing experience it always is. They once again not only supplied all the equipment, tanks, nets, oxygen etc. but also an astonishing level of expertise. We’ve said it before, but we could not have achieved what we have without them.

By the end, we all agreed that the story of this week would have made the perfect final chapter to the book – copies of which are still available, by the way. So, for those who still haven’t got your copy yet… Shame on you! How do you sleep at night?

We have had some eyewatering comments about it, with folks saying the simply can’t put it down; so to all who have one, we thank you very much.

Here’s the link for those who haven’t:-

www.avonroachprojectshop.co.uk

It was a very strange feeling both Budgie and I shared while dismantling elements of what we have spent a decade and a half building, maintaining and caring for. But we also agreed, the system has done its job to a level beyond what any of us could have anticipated.

This final stocking is unquestionably the greatest number of roach we have deposited in a single year. It was mind-blowing…

Although this was the ‘final’ stocking; as we have said before, there will always be an Avon Roach Project, if only in name and to enable us to advise and assist others to do what we have, and front or encourage or advise on ongoing habitat enhancement. And, you never know; there might even be an encore…

We will also uphold our promise of ensuring sufficient spawning substrate at the locations at which we have helped bolster the roach population density and look at improving gravel spawning substrate, in partnership with the EA, for species such as barbel in the Avon – now we are ‘experts’…

Again, in partnership with EA Fisheries, we are also looking at allowing adaptations of our techniques to be used in management of some stillwaters – watch this space.

We’ll let the pictures and captions tell the rest…

As well as the water being dropped slightly, work is carried out in the weeks prior to netting to remove all marginal sedge and weed growth, alive or dead, to assist the smooth running of the net.

The net in this picture has a slightly heavier lead-line, and while it also gathered quite a bit of silt, we had some dinky gudgeon, stone loach and swan mussels indicating its effectiveness.

Of course, it also has to be expertly executed as the roach don’t just give ‘emselves up, as we have found over the years.

All we needed for the health check was thirty, but a casual sweep of a corner of a pond returned this little lot. This is when we realised we were in for a very special week.

Such was the effectiveness of the netting and the extraordinary numbers of roach; we employed this floating retaining net to keep the fish in to minimise the time they are in crowded barrels and tank.

It also gave us a few moments to indulge and get some good pictures. This also shows just how big some of those we missed three years ago have grown… Proper whoppers. 

Still a very proud moment when we reflect on the fact that we have grown all these from eggs in our care. We’ve learned a great deal and come a long way over the years. From a pair of clueless crackpots eh?

The starting pistol is fired and we get them into the barrels then the oxygenated tank as quickly as we can, with the odd pause for a quick snap of the action.

Plus, of course, the obligatory cuddle of the plumpest beauties. Some moments just have to be savoured. 

Avon Roach perfection… From an egg stuck to some netting banged to a plank and chucked in the river to this – simply awesome! And so maybe not such a pair of clueless crackpots after all. 

The pace is stepped up slightly when we get to the river as we net the roach from the tanks for release… My hair isn’t as thin as that in real life, by the way…

Cameras are all around and clicking away to try to capture as many of the moments as possible, and the first dip of the net reminds us just how many roach we have.

We don’t need reminding of just how stunningly beautiful these creatures are, but are reminded at every turn… Red-finned wonders, all courtesy of our pioneering efforts.

Us two very proud boys with the first scoop of the net for the river. We still go all gooey… 

A very grateful Britford keeper Stuart Wilson with a net of roach he swears he’ll look after like they were his own kids.

And in they go; the beginning of the final stocking, and a long hard week ahead, but a week of unimaginable rewards.

First stocking done and then it starts… ‘One thing I ask you to do - one thing… Bring the f***ing Hobnobs: and you can’t even get that right…’

By the way, it might look like I’m carrying a few extra lockdown pounds…I’m not actually that fat in real life…

They say the camera adds at least eight pounds, and we had about four pointing at us that day.

Day two, and the first of many barrels are deposited in the middle reaches of the river at one of the locations from which we have historically collected spawn, and where we have seen the roach population burgeon, thanks to our efforts.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?...

Further down-river and we assess the most suitable spot to drop possibly the greatest number of roach in a single location in the projects’ history.

Just look at that little lot… Roach soup. This was one of about eight barrels.

Although small, all these will be looking to participate in spawning at the end of April, adding literally hundreds of thousands of eggs to the increasingly healthy system.

Barrel after barrel of perfect adult Avon Roach, all starting their time in our care as eggs deposited on our spawning boards… Mad eh?

There are Avon Roach Project moments that are beyond words. The unimaginable privilege and honour we both feel at having played such a significant part in the recovery of what we all thought was lost forever is indescribable.

Just one of what the EA guys estimate to be in excess of ten thousand roach deposited in the Avon over three days. Not bad going eh?

Now buy a book and read all about it…


Well… What did you expect?



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.