It’s the habitat stupid !

I’m taking all my annual leave early this year so this will be my last post from Blighty for a couple of weeks as I’m shortly to jet off back to Oz to celebrate a significant birthday for my better half..oh.. and to catch some stupid great fish like these..

Yellowtail Kingfish - hardest fighting fish in the world IMHO
AYellowtail Kingfish caught by my aussie mate Yerbs – hardest fighting fish in the world IMHO and well worth traveling for !

However, despite the planning and packing there’s still been time to support some of the excellent work of the Rivers Week programme led by the Environment Agency in partnership with the Wild Trout Trust (WTT) and the local Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The Rivers Week programmes actively engage people in restoring the habitat so vital to successful spawning and fry recruitment. They are very similar to the fine work done in Australia’s New South Wales by the Fishers for Fish Habitat network (See here for more details.. http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/habitat/rehabilitating/fishers) and funnily enough the boss of the Aussie Network is visiting projects in both the USA and Britain later this year to see what lessons he can take back Down Under.

For my part, if it comes to a choice between habitat and hatchery, I’m always likely to come down on the side of improving the environment for natural recruitment rather than attempting to solve problems simply through endless restocking. You see most of the ills of our rivers are down to human induced factors including dredging, low flows, abstraction, poor agricultural practices, pollution and removing cover and habitat. Put some of these right and  good old Mother Nature stands more than half a chance of staging a recovery. To mis-quote the former US President Bill Clinton – ‘It’s the habitat stupid !’

Spot the habitat !
A ruined river – Spot the habitat !

Anyway, one of my last engagements for the Angling Trust was to help launch this years Rivers Week on the upper reaches of the delightful river Whitewater near Hook in Hampshire. The Whitewater is a tiny but beautiful little chalk stream that eventually joins the less lovely and once more aptly named Blackwater before flowing into my local river Loddon near Reading. Our job was to create a series of riffles and flow deflections to aid the scouring of the river bed and to create better spawning habitat for the fish and other wildlife under the expert guidance of the EA’s John Sutton and Andy Thomas who is conservation officer for the WTT. We also wanted to create more cover to offer protection from the ever present threat of predation from above in the shape of cormorants.

Hammering in the stakes to secure the woody debris flow deflectors
Hammering in the stakes to secure the woody debris flow deflectors

The work also included a mixture of coppicing and tree clearance to remove the parts overhead tree canopyand allow sunlight into the channel to encourage weed growth. We spent a fair bit of time up to our thighs in water cutting and installing large and coarse woody debris items, and re- creating pool and riffle sequences within the river channel. All these activities are designed around implementing the EU Water Framework Directive and improving the aquatic ecology of the river channel but it is so much better to involve the community in the work rather than relying on the stretched budgets of the EA to do it all for us.

Happy band of volunteers - habitat heroes
Happy band of volunteers – habitat heroes

Last year in my area the Rivers Week saw over 70 volunteers working on up to 30 habitat enhancements on the rivers Blackwater, Loddon and Whitewater. Delegates packs were produced providing the know how to enable groups to undertake habitat improvement in future.  The 2012 Loddon Rivers Week pack can be viewed at www.lfcc.org.uk

New habitat to provide cover and aid recruitment
New habitat to provide cover and aid recruitment

 

Increased flows scour the gravels clean and create great spawning habitat
Increased flows scour the gravels clean and create great spawning habitat

And its not just the Loddon tributaries that are getting the treatment as the programme moves further down the Thames catchment later in the month as you can see below.

Lower Thames Rivers Week 2013 is being held on the 25th to 30th March 2013.

 Tuesday 26th March 2013 – Chertsey Bourne, Gogmore Park, Chertsey. Surrey (TBC)

Thursday 28th March 2013 – Chalvey Ditch, Eton College, Eton, Berkshire (TBC)

Saturday 30th March 2013 – Boveney Ditch, Eton Wick, Berkshire (TBC)

It would be great if more anglers got involved so why not contact your local EA fisheries officers and ask about habitat projects in your area ? For those lucky enough to live in the West Thames region the guy to call is Matt Drew who has done a fantastic job of pulling it altogether.

Watch the video clip from Day of Rivers Week 2013..HERE..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMZH0ap9sK0&feature=youtu.be 

More information from 

Matt Drew – Fisheries Officer

Fisheries Team, Environment Agency, Red Kite House, Howbery Business Park, Crowmarsh, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BD.

Tel 01491 828 467   or email  matt.drew@environment-agency.gov.uk

And yes I did get wet and dirty too but it was great to catch up with Karen Twine, formerly 'the barbel lady' from the Great Ouse monitoring project and now a hardworking Fisheries Officer in the West Thames region
And yes I did get wet and dirty too and it was great to catch up with Karen Twine, formerly ‘the barbel lady’ from the Great Ouse monitoring project and now a hardworking Fisheries Officer in the West Thames region

I guess the question anglers and conservationists should be asking is why isn’t the EA doing more of these great projects in other areas ? Perhaps it’s time to make a fuss…

My next post will be from Sunny Sydney and will hopefully contain one or two large fishes…assuming all goes to plan !

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