And so this long rather trout friendly winter continues into another bitterly cold week with a severe frost this morning and a temperature of minus seven last night. Our river invertebrates seem to thrive in cold water. I reported on the very encouraging results from New Inn last time and these were replicated at Turn Dub on Monday. Each sample at this site produced very good numbers of baetis and heptagenia many of these were small creatures that will provide good foraging for emerging trout alevins. The real delight of the check at Turn Dub was a giant among stoneflies. This creeper measured in excess of 3/4 inch and is the largest example I have yet found at this site.
Those of you with pachyderm like memories will recall that last spring we spent a lot of time up at Ling Ghyll working on a project to conserve native crayfish. If you didn't manage to visit the site last year it's coming to a screen near you next Sunday. BBC Countryfile spent last Monday at Horton in the company of Neil Handy and Paul Bradley filming at both Ling Ghyll and the old Bransghyll hatchery. It should be one of the main features on the programme and will highlight the brilliant work that Neil and Paul have been doing over the past 10 years to preserve native crayfish in the Ribble valley.
Finally, it looks like the Woodland Trust will begin work in February on the conservation project at Turn Dub that we organised last Autumn. This should result in a thousand native hardwood trees being planted between the Dub and the site of the new bridleway bridge at Far Moor. They will also put some alder and willow into the wildlife area at the foot of the Tarn to act as a wind break and further enhance the cover. By the time this is completed we shall be almost into the new fishing season. How time flies!
Despite the bitter cold and fairly high water yesterday I managed to get the invertebrate check done at New Inn. It seems that our native river flies thrive in very cold water as each sample produced prodigious numbers of baetis nymphs and very good populations of the other six families that are found at this site. I got some truly enormous gammarus (shrimp) some of which seemed to be in the process of mating. Water quality is superb with high levels of oxygen and a fairly neutral pH. Conditions could not be better for nurturing trout alevins as they begin to emerge from the redds over the next few weeks.
Rain over night has lifted the river enough to make sampling at Turn Dub today too much of a risk so an early morning assault on this site is planned for tomorrow.
Readers of the Dalesman should look out for an article on yours truly round about March. This will include some photos and focus on my work for the MAA and the efforts the club has made to preserve native trout in the upper Ribble.
It's always good to see other clubs achieving success and expanding. I had a fairly long conversation with the Hon Sec of Settle Anglers in the local supermarket yesterday afternoon. He confirmed the news I had heard they they have just signed a lease on a reservoir above Settle and are busy assessing what they have got. It looks like a decent brown trout water, but since the reservoir feeds the Leeds and Liverpool canal draw down in summer may be a problem. Settle Anglers are now hoping for a continuation of the wet summers we have had here over the past couple of years.
Returning to media matters, keep an eye on BBC Countryfile over the next few weeks. You may see something familiar.
The stubborn fingers of the icy grip of winter have finally been prised from the valley and the Tarn is slowly returning to its normal fluid state. It's been a month now since we saw much grass and the local rabbit population has been much in evidence around the house looking for those illusive bits of greenery exposed by the relative warmth from the buildings.
The river which had been down to summer drought levels was in spate yesterday. Nothing too severe and not enough to pose any serious risk to the trout redds that we hope are now full of ova, but enough to clear the ice flows and debris that filled the back eddys and quieter beats. It seems that we may be in for a warmer spell over he next week or so before a return to colder conditions with more snow.
A look at the crayfish in the hatchery yesterday revealed not a single animal lost over the past month which is remarkable. In fact most of the females are now carrying eggs and barring any unforseen disaster this rescued population should return safely to their south Yorkshire home in the spring.
I am determined to do an invertebrate check this week. It's a couple of months since the last one was done which is far too long, but too much water in November and far too much snow in December prevented me from safely getting to the check sites. It will be interesting to see what effect if any this icy weather has had on the riverfly population. Strangely there were flies dancing in a brief sunny interlude this morning in the back garden.
Its been three weskit weather here this past week with night time temperatures reaching as low as minus 12 and daytime temperature not much better. We still have a lot of snow lying with the threat of more today. I went down to the hatchery on Friday just to check that everything was running. Our founding fathers really did know what they were about when they established the old hatching house and fish ponds at Brants Ghyll. Because the water emerges from its long journey underground only a couple of hundred yards above the hatchery site the water is always at a constant temperature summer and winter. The spawning channel and ponds are ice free despite the intense cold and there is even signs of life in the water plants in the channel. I took a few photographs some of which you may see in a future “Dalesman” article that is currently in preparation.
The Tarn is frozen solid with a deep layer of duck egg blue ice right down to the duck wall. How the overwintering fish will fare in this prolonged freeze up I can only wait and see, but there should be sufficient depth for them to descend to relatively warm water. The big concern is that the dissolved oxygen in the water will become depleted and the fish will suffocate. My normal method of combating this is to break holes in the ice with a sledge hammer, but this year the ice is far too thick to even contemplate doing this. Time will tell.
As for other wild life the local rabbits are having a tough time and are coming in close to the house to feed. This is much to the delight of the farm cats who now have ready meals delivered to the door. I went to the woodshed on Thursday and found a half eaten rabbit on the log pile. The top garden is alive with birds after the nuts seed and fat that we have been putting out daily. We are now visited by a wood pecker whose orange legs flash like beacons against the blanket of snow. With the pond frozen my ducks have taken to bathing in their water bucket and seem to enjoy the warm water so much that arguments break out from time to time when one outstays its turn in the bucket. The good news is that I have found no fox prints in my local wanderings so it looks as though they are absent from this bank of the river this winter and the swans may breed in peace in the summer. Summer, now there's a thought.
Right, that's Christmas over for another year and we are already into a new decade. As you get older it seems to me that you only have to blink and you miss a year. Childhood memories seem to be composed of interminable summers and long days spent in stuffy classrooms distracted from the wit of Shakespear or the nuances of Keats by the sound of leather on willow filtering through a dusty windows and counterpointing the drone of Mrs Ralph as she tried to instil in yet another gang of spotty adolescent boys the merits and joys of English literature. We won't even mention Charlie Tofts whose approach to teaching maths was similar to the English abroad and to shout ever louder if you didn't get the point of compound fractions or calculus the first time round. I never did and I share with Paul Merton the fine distinction of failing CSE maths which Paul asserts leaves us both less mathmatically literate than a monkey. Old Charlie would often end a maths lesson a quivering, spittal drenched wreck looking like the aftermath of an audition for Nosferatu.
This past couple of weeks has seen us with the most snow I can recall here at Horton in the past 11 years. In fact I was talking to a local farmer up by the Tarn on Thursday and he reckoned that this was the most prolonged spell of wintry weather in the past 20 years. The Tarn is frozen solid and the swans have removed to the slightly warmer environs of Turn Dub which remains unfrozen as the water is warmed (relatively) by its journey underground from Ingleborough. There are a number of hare tracks in the snow near the Tarn, but so far no evidence of the fox that left tracks here last winter. The Lodge has really benefited from the insulation that we installed at the start of the year and it feels remarkably warm inside despite the sub zero temperatures just a few inches the other side of the wood work. If there were any waterfowl on the Tarn it would be a very comfortable place to sit and watch them.
The birds are flocking to the bird tables and feeders in the garden. They seem to have set meal times with an early morning feed (breakfast?) followed by a mid morning snack and a much longer blow out at around 2pm. I know when the raisin supply has run out as a large female blackbird bounces up and down on the roof of the bird table clucking, scolding and flapping her wings. A re stocking of raisins restores calm.
I have seen very little sign of life in the river, but it's really been too difficult to get down to the bankside anywhere but at New Inn. Our wild brownies will be well on with spawning now and I am very hopeful that this cold calm weather will encourage a bumper year for young trout. There have been no damaging spates and provided we get a steady thaw the trout redds should remain undisturbed when winter loosens its grip. In the meantime the conditions here are pretty well deal for spawning although how any creature can contemplate sex when it's this damn cold beats me.