Tuesday 20 October 2015

2015 Fundraiser Doo and Bickton Expansion

The Avon Roach Project Annual Fundraising Event was held on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th of October, and what an event it was...
In short.... Fab’ doo, brill’ bunch of attendees, amazing list of auction lots, excellent grub, wonderful atmosphere, a nice lot of money raised to ensure the future and continuing effectiveness and, dare we say it, success of the Avon Roach Project.... and Budgie nearly didn’t make it.
However, far be it for us to do anything ‘in short’ so here is the long version (The very long version – even Google is going to creek at the seams...)... Please forgive us for possibly the longest blog with the greatest number of pictures in one hit in history, but it seems that ARP events are like busses – you wait ages for one, then a whole pile arrive at the same time – we hope you enjoy your ride on this one. We have.
As you will know ‘anxiety’ is our middle name. We can worry about not having enough to worry about, so you’ll not be surprised to hear that our stress levels are in orbit leading up to each annual fundraiser doo. This year was no different, other than being taken to a whole new level in the final week, which we’ll come to.
In June we send out a hundred and twenty something invites, then worry because we only get a handful of returns and a spattering of emails; so we get to thinking - Maybe the project has run its course, maybe the fundraiser format has run its course, maybe everyone has moved, or maybe they have all joined the Foreign Legion just to be rid of us.
We then get to writing, emailing, phoning and visiting as many potential auction lot donors as we can think of with cap in hand and fingers crossed.
Six weeks later a polite reminder is then sent to everyone on our database which prompts just a slight rustle of interest so we resign ourselves to the possibility that we’ll have to make do with a dozen attendees (including us and the waitresses) and we’ll have to buy all the auction lots ourselves......... Feeling sorry for us yet?
Then, as happens every year, the last six weeks sees the list of attendees pile up to nearly seventy; with some offering additional auction lots and wonderful messages saying they wouldn’t miss the event for the world..... Phew!
Our stress levels are still sky-high as we like to make sure everything is just perfect; lots catalogues, final letters, fishing and parking permits, fishery maps, kitchen sinks, so the time leading up to the doo always seems to gather speed and the list of things to be taken care of grows faster than we can cross them off.
Then for the week prior to the event we gear ourselves up for the final push; dotting all the t’s and crossing all the i’s... So imagine our grief when Budgie was admitted to hospital with chest pains on the Tuesday.
Just for the record – The doc’s said he had suffered a ‘cardiac incident’ and assured us it was ‘miniscule’ but were taking extra precautions due to his circumstances.
Then having had all pain removed with ‘an aspirin’ Budgie wondered why he was not simply discharged there and then. He tried to explain to the consultants that we had a fundraiser event to organise and being in hospital was very inconvenient and would jeopardise our final preparations, but they didn’t see it as he did.
The long and the short of it is that he had a stent fitted to a narrowed artery on Friday afternoon, was discharged from hospital on Saturday afternoon and arrived home at 1:30pm; just enough time for us to gather all the auction lots, catalogues, raffle prizes, pens, pads and pacemakers, and get to the hotel and begin setting the room up at 4:00pm............... Now do you feel sorry for us?
For the fishing match on the Saturday a low, clear river meant that, predictably, the fishing was patchy, but there were some nice fish and good numbers taken from throughout the stretches fished, and we are delighted to be able to boast yet again that roach featured in the catch returns for the third consecutive year. We are also pleased to be able to say that the match was won, for the first time, with a roach of one pound seven ounces, taken by long-time project supporter Mark Everard. The roach is likely to be one of the remnant population and not one of ours as even our first released will not have reached this size as yet (won’t be long though).
We would like to thank Southern Fisheries, Christchurch Angling Club and Ringwood and District Anglers Association for letting us use their stretches of the Avon for our match and in particular Chris, Steve, Ian, John and Phil for being there to welcome and guide the anglers and help out on the day.
The evening was once again AMAZING. The feel-good factor is off the scale, and we still have to pinch ourselves sometimes. We’ve come a long way from the days of sponsored haircuts, busking and bob-a-job...
The food was as good as we have ever had and the list of auction lots was said to be probably the best ever, with some kindly donated items being rare, irreplaceable gems of angling history.
It’s very humbling to think that while the core project is a local one, the people in the room supporting us and ensuring our future are from as far afield as London, Surrey, Sussex, Oxford, Devon and even Manchester, would you believe?
It’s always a little worrying (there we go again) having a room full of people and a table full of auction lots and hoping that the bidding on each item reaches a respectable level; not necessarily for the project but for those kind folks who have donated them, and other than a few exceptions the whole affair was quite remarkable. And seeing almost everyone in the room going away with at least something, be it a signed book, a rod, day guided fishing, a reel or even something from the raffle table gives us a real feeling of fulfilment and gratitude and makes Trev’s poignant end of evening speech a pleasure and honour to deliver.
We do, however, already have something to set us worrying about next years’ event as when we went to sort the menu out at the hotel for this year we tried to book next year for the usual first weekend in October, but unfortunately had already been beaten to it by a classic car club, and with our auctioneer Roy unable to make the second weekend the 2016 event has had to be booked for the last weekend in September the 24th. Guess what we’ll be thinking when we don’t get much response from the first invite mailing?
This years’ event raised a staggering £6,300, and it is this unbelievable generosity and support along with the other outside donations we receive that continues to enable so much within our project. Not only are we able to take care of all the day to day running costs, but are able to think on a far grander scale than we could ever have imagined. The Avon Roach Project is now far more than just growing fish and some folks are crediting us with helping to highlight the wider needs of rivers such as the Hants Avon.
We continue to advise and be a leading example to a growing list of similar projects, and not only roach related ones, throughout the country.
Closer to home, we continue to be involved in the ongoing habitat restoration initiatives, vital for the continuing recovery of the river, and even closer to home, we mentioned in our previous blog posts that we have our eye on the reinstatement of the lake at the head of our stews at Bickton.
The main excavation was scheduled to take place in September, but we postponed this until October as we hadn’t cleared enough of the trees and banks, which we had spent the previous winter, spring and summer doing. However, we are pleased to be able to boast that the diggers went in on the 8th October and a week later we had our lake.
We gave ourselves just one week to come up for air and catch our breath after the fundraiser weekend before plunging headlong straight back into the thick of it.
While we maybe a pair of ‘eco worriers’ we march on with shed-loads of blinkered self belief and determination which is fuelled each year by the attention we get at the fundraiser doo, and fanned almost every week by the fantastic comments and messages of support we get.
We’ll leave ‘our lake’ to slowly fill over the coming winter, then introduce some adult roach next March.
Below is what we said about it in our last blog post, which fits in here perfectly...
‘We will be able to generate a full and healthy, and relatively self-sustaining, population of roach through seeding it with various ages and sizes of our own fish. We’ll also deposit a few adults each year from the other stews just to keep the gene pool strong.
With luck and good management the roach should naturally proliferate in the lake and we’ll be able to net and crop off a percentage every few years for release into the river as they increase their own numbers, as well as collecting considerable amounts of spawn each year for depositing and hatching directly into the river.
As we do with our annual releases and spawn relocation anyway, we will do the same with what we crop from the lake and deliver to various locations far and wide, and through adult and juvenile displacement and migration along with the larval drift from the hatching of tens of thousands of eggs, the entire river will, over time, be touched by our efforts, including stretches we don’t have direct access to.
This lake will add yet another substantial string to our bow. It could turn into our very own little silver mine..... So, fingers crossed.
We might have to defend against the local otters and herons, but we know we’ll not be hindered by any snakes in the grass...
Once again we’d like to thank our great mates at the Environment Agency for their fantastic advice and support with this; also for choosing us as one of the recipients of a generous donation from the ‘EA Fisheries Improvement Fund’ through rod license income to help with habitat restoration initiatives along the river through the Avon Roach Project. Isn’t it nice to know that an element of rod license income can be channelled directly back into the environment through organisations such as ours. Talk about money well spent...
We’d also like to extend our special thanks to Dickie Howell who comes along and helps almost every week at Bickton. He is a fantastic asset to the ARP.
As we sign off now, our next job (other than to walk around our lake a lot) is to get the health checks done on the fish in our stews ready for another release next March.
Us two ‘Eco Worriers’showing almost no signs of stress – other than the glazed expressions and the buckets of sweat...

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Just some of the amazing auction lots.

Our display stand telling the story and showing pictures of the best year yet. It is among even more auction lots.... and yes that is a ‘Light Sabre’ on the table that was given for auction. However, it came without batteries. I’ll bet Luke Skywalker always carried spare batteries.... Goodness; just what is a Jedi to do...?

Mark steps up to receive the match winner’s trophy, but as usual Trev made sure it wasn’t a straight forward presentation.

Then Roy kicked off the auction and our heart rates quicken – it was enough to give a man a ‘cardiac incident...’

Trev then closes with his usual project update and list of thanks – and a very non PC gag. Still no signs of stress though, you’ll notice; other than it looks like the hotel sprinkler system has gone off all over him...

The things we have to do to get the auction lots for these events... Every year we take an afternoon out and have lunch with our dear friend Chris Yates who has supported us since before day one, and who always gives us a typical ‘Yates’ bag of goodies to auction each year. He said if this carries on he’ll end up having to strip the wallpaper as there’ll be nothing left to give. I’m sure we’ll get a few bob for that too if he signs it...

The habitat work on the river continues, and this is just a tiny section of what will end up a huge reopening of the braided channels, ditches and streams at Sopley; possibly some of the best fish fry and juvenile habitat work we have seen so far on the river. The work is set to continue into 2016, and will have a biennial maintenance program thereafter.

Only through the funds raised at our annual events and the overwhelming belief and support given to us are we able to see this overgrown, tree-tangled, boggy mess as having enormous potential for growing shed-loads of roach.

Sometimes our dogged determination and, some might say fortitude and even vision stifles any feelings of foreboding; but who in their right mind would consider trying to do anything with this – other than us two nut-jobs?

Late winter and the tree clearance was underway. The intention is to take the trees to a manageable height and deal with them on an annual maintenance basis rather than simply leaving them to shade the lake and dump half a ton of leaves every year.

Midsummer and we needed to get a small digger in the lake to cut drainage channels to help dry out the boggy black silt enough for the main excavation later in the year.

Meanwhile, tree clearance continued – and we had some proper ‘boys’ bonfires. And we had our own shed delivered (top right of picture) so we can house all our stuff like tools, fish food and of course Kelly kettle, tea and biscuits.

Then the main excavation started, but it hadn’t drained as much as we’d hoped. It was going to be very sticky.

It was pretty gooey but the diggers made short work of it; and every second of the way we were thinking‘blimey, this is Avon Roach Project at full pelt.’

The digger drivers from local firm ‘Groundwise Ltd’ really knew their stuff and levelled the lake bed perfectly and made sure the drainage channel was filled with good blue clay –about as waterproof as a welly...

On the Thursday, our great mate Gerry Higham (right) was in the area taking up an auction lot he’d won at last years’ fundraiser event, which was fishing for the week at Burgate and staying at Burgate Cottages courtesy of another great ARP supporter John Stallard. He was spending the week with our good friend Hugh Miles and as the cold north easterly winds were keeping them from the river bank until the afternoon, they came along for a grand tour of Avon Roach Project world – and what a day to choose – diggers and mud action everywhere. Gerry said it blew him away.

Of course, the visit had to include tea. Trev doesn’t need much encouragement to spill the HobNobs. And notice everyone is wearing one of our new Avon Roach Project embroidered hats.

The diggers put the final touches to the surrounding ground and we’re almost done.

Job done... The winter will make it look a lot messier and we have some work to do to repair some of the surrounding ground, but if we hear the old omelette and egg cliché one more time we’ll murder someone.

These are just some of the little fellows who will be helping to kick-start this next exciting phase of the project in March 2016. And as we have said, the roach growing and spawn collection potential here is off the scale...