Thursday 1 February 2018

Early 2018 Health Check, Maintenance and Fish Movement

I must apologise for the unusually long time between the last and this blog post… I’m sure you are all used to the inconsistencies of reporting this project, so I want to keep it within what you are familiar with, which starts with an apology for nothing, then lots of squeaky words describing the unhealthy number of images you are looking at…
I must admit to being distracted by the vacuum of Facebook which has been sucking up fairly regular bite-sized updates on the ARP FB page, but thought I’d blend them all together and give an update here on recent events as spring hurtles towards us.
Late autumn and early winter see the usual maintenance jobs being dealt with as we wrestle our Bickton site back from Mother Nature; starting with the clearance of our feeder stream that had been stifled by rush and sedge growth which was impeding the flow of our water.
Dickie Howell came along and helped for the afternoon and soon we had all our allocated water getting to where it is needed – feeding our stews. Bloody hard work, but with plenty of tea and biscuits and nattering, the job is soon done.
Shortly after, it was the turn of the lake, and over three afternoons with help from Steve Percival and Chris Harrison, the willows were taken back to the stumps and the rush beds cleared. The lake is, after all, a part of the fish farm set-up so needs to be as clear as we can keep it for when we net it.
The lead-up to Christmas and New Year is always at a different pace than the second day and thereafter of January as time starts passing at an alarming rate when minutes go by in seconds and suddenly there seems so much to do and no time.
It was intended to get an early start and ahead of the game by having this years’ health checks done in December which unfortunately had to be postponed as Shaun Leonard, the man doing the checks came down with suspected Weil’s Disease and was wiped out.
Fortunately, he recovered nicely and the fish were netted from one of the stews and delivered to him in early January. The netting and delivery of the thirty poor unfortunates was once again done by the EA guys, Jim Allan and Phil Rudd. And, the good news is they passed the health check, so that clears us for this years’ annual ‘Roach Dump’ into the Avon which will take place in late March, as usual in three different locations along the river.
Then as January fizzles out it’s time to evacuate the tanks at Project HQ and decant the roach into the stews at Bickton, apart from the one tank of one year olds we split between two long tanks to spend an additional year here. It’s all about spreading and hopefully reducing the risk element.
This is when Project HQ (my lovely garden with its putting green lawns) turns into the Somme. There is mud, pipes, pumps, mud, buckets, mud, fish poo, mud, mud and mud everywhere… Seems all I have is one whopping great water feature/swamp.
On a very serious note, and just before I let the pictures tell the rest of the story (like you haven’t scrolled down to here in the past two seconds)… This project has been going for a decade now and in all that time there have always been varying levels of success in terms of egg survival, hatch rate, growth and numbers making it to one year old, and we have agonised about the possible reasons, like health of adult spawners, pre-spawning winter conditions, early spring warmth, then summer conditions, food availability…. ZZZzzzz!!!!... Yeah, I know…, but have never been able to pinpoint what makes a good or bad year – Well, it’s happened again… This year is set to be the best in the project’s history… And I have absolutely no idea why… But I love it!... I’m sure I’ll find some boffinism when I write it all up in the book though…
Now to the pictures… Hope you like.
A clear stream means all our water gets to the stews, where it is needed. It’s amazing how quickly Mother Nature plugs it with rush growth. It’s hard, muddy work, but essential and easier with help and tea and biscuits.
Mother Nature also gets a good grip on the lake each year, with sprouting willows and marginal rush growth which, if left unchallenged, will rapidly march into the lake and quickly reclaim it. Again, hard, muddy and cold work but made much easier with a little help.
The willows we cut down to the waist a few years ago and just prior to the lake being excavated also need an annual haircut as they put out dozens of whippy branches each year which can get up to ten feet long over one spring and summer. They are, of course, covered in leaves which, if not removed before autumn, will be dropped into the lake and rapidly shorten its life and effectiveness.
All this is seasonal work determined by the time of year and each year we cross our fingers for the absence of wasp nests, the occupants of which like to object to the disturbance.
Myself, Steve Percival (right) and Chris Harrison (left) after a hard days lake clearing looking like three life-size green jelly-babies.
What you don’t see in this still shot is the rapid tippy-tapping movement of our feet as we are mid-flow doing the ‘River Dance’… Pretty soon after this was taken we were off, clicking round that lake, in perfect time…
The saddest part of each year is that thirty of our sparkling little roach have to be sent to be chopped up for a health check. It’s unavoidable and all part of the consenting process which enables us to do what we do. After all, the last thing we’d want to do is chuck a load of roach into the Avon with some sort of lurgy…. Oh, the irony…
Although we net the stew fairly casually, just to get enough to select for the health check, we still get an expectant tingle when we draw the net in wondering what we’ll see – even though we all know and have done it a hundred times before.
Jim is slightly less excited as we make him select the fish for execution, as I call out their names.
It is always good to see how vibrant and healthy they all are. We drop them into a barrel for the executioner to make his selections.
It’s also very nice to see how well the few that evaded the netting three years ago have grown on. These will be put into the lake where they’ll play their part in that element of the project.
Then it’s time for my lovely garden to get a trashing… again. Initially it is the movement of the two year olds from the long tanks into the stews to join what we moved last year.
The buckets, pumps, pipes and bubblers are all set up ready, therefore minimising the time the fish are handled and stressed.
A net of sparkling two year old Avon roach. This is the glorious visible side to the project that the general public sees through these reports but, of course, I’ll have not seen these fish for almost a year in the soupy green water of the tank – unless they die. I just have to feed and clean based upon what I remember went in there.
Up at the stews the roach are lowered in to join their cousins from last year. You’d think they’d bomb off as fast as they can but, in fact, they simply mosey off casually.
Back for the start of the one year old evacuation, when the garden really does get a hammering. Ordinarily we try to move the one year olds in two runs to the stews; so a tank and a bit per bucket, with live-bait aeration bubblers going full pelt, but because of the record high number we have this year it is having to be done in four trips.
This is what came to just one sweep of the net in one tank – then they just kept coming. Even at this young age they are unmistakably roach. The orange in the eye is just showing and the blue flank is quite distinctive. Don’t you just love ‘em?
When dropping just the one tank and splitting the contents into the two long tanks for keeping for a further year, I took the time to dabble with our little happy-snap underwater camera that I use to get the spawn pictures and was delighted with the results.
I just kept poking the camera closer to each net of fish and hoped for the best. It’s impossible to gauge the angle and focus and distance accurately. It’s just pot-luck.
Fortunately, they didn’t all shower past the lens the moment the net was lowered into the water.
In a week or so, when the water turns green, that’ll be the last I see of them for a year, unless they die.
This is one of the best of them actually being lowered just under the surface and bombing off to explore their new home… where they might be a bit disappointed.
I couldn’t resist trying to get a few really close-up shots like I manage with the spawn earlier in the year. What a group of perfect Avon Roach – all grown from those tiny little dots I photographed with the same little camera eleven months earlier.
Just look at how absolutely perfect they are. Interestingly, while some are twice the size as their tank-mates, this year we haven’t had as many whoppers and runts and such a dramatic size difference… Something else to ponder.
Reports of folks catching roach throughout the river continue to come through with increasing regularity; some with pictures and wonderful messages of appreciation for the project.
I’ve even managed a few myself…