24 November 2013

I spent a thoroughly enjoyable and very stimulating day yesterday at the FSC Malham Tarn Field Studies Seminar. This takes place every other year and attracts almost seventy participants drawn from academia and those engaged in private research.  We heard from around 20 speakers who dealt with topics as diverse as cave research in Littondale to an examination of otter poo at Malham.

Of particular interest was a presentation on brown trout and perch breeding at Maham Tarn. This work was supported by PBA last summer and the results seem to indicate hat there are two distinct breeding groups of trout in the tarn.  One that breeds at the inlet and one at the outlet.  This may have some relevance to Newhouses Tarn as I have noticed some trout fry in the Tarn over the past couple of years and the most likely breeding habitat is down near the outlet.  It might be interesting to seed this area with half a ton of gravel and see what happens.

We formally launched the Applied Ecology Trust that I’ve been working on for the past few months.  This Chartered Incorporated Organisation will secure funding to support a wide range of research projects to be undertaken by post-grad workers that lead to real world application of the science of Applied Ecology.  We hope to have support in place for the first grants to be made for projects to be undertaken this summer.  Contact me if you would like further details.

The dry weather of the past few days has enabled work to re-commence on painting the lodge and it now mostly has its new green top coat in place.

The Tarn is now a quiet place as the cows were brought down to winter housing on Thursday and the swans are still off on their autumn break.


16 November 2103

So far its been a fairly benign autumn with few floods and surprisingly fewer gales than we usually get up here.  As a consequence the river looks in remarkably good nick as we move into the trout spawning season.  I’ve been looking out for trout migrating up to the gravel beds around Selside, but so far have not seen many fish.  Still, it’s early as yet.  The optimum time has always been reckoned to be around 20th of December.

I talked last week about our singular lack of success in netting fish out of a reservoir near Harrogate and remarked that I thought it most unlikely that we would find the 500+ fish that the resident angling club confidently stated were present.  With the water almost drained down a final fling with the 50 meter sein net took place on Thursday and lo and behold – not a single fish was found.  That means that rather than 500 fish in a 20 acre reservoir there were actually 24, just over one fish to the acre.  No wonder we had such trouble finding the damn things.

Our own Tarn has been looking stunning in the sunny breaks we have had this week.  The swans are off on their annual autumn break so the water is almost devoid of waterfowl now.  I’ve been keeping watch for whooper swans that often use the Tarn as an overnight stop on their way further south, but so far none have appeared.  A couple of years ago I arrived at Tarn pasture early one Sunday morning and found over 30 of these magnificent birds bobbing gently out on the water.  They seemed totally unfazed by my presence and I was able to get some very satisfying photos.

With a field studies seminar taking place next Saturday I’m going to try to get the invert check for November done mid-week, but with snow forecast I’ll see what conditions are like.


No sooner has one season ended than we begin thinking and planning for the next one.  The first task is for Council and myself to discuss and agree a stocking plan for 2014.  There is more to this than just a repeat of previous seasons as account needs to be taken of the evidence obtained from the season just gone which will show how well the Tarn fished from month to month, the behaviour of members in terms of fish taken and returned and an estimate of stock remaining at season end.  Thought is also given to the mix of stock fish, how many brown trout and how many rainbows to stock.

We experimented this season with a significant increase in brown trout stocked and it will be interesting to see how many of these survive the winter.  As I have often said, it has long puzzled me where the residual stock of rainbows get to over winter.  If all were to   survive then by now we would be walking on fish, but I have almost never found a corpse in the Tarn over even the most severe of winters and neither are we seeing signs of poor fish health due to over stocking.

The work that PBA Ecology did early in the autumn on a reservoir near Harrogate is relevant here.  The water was to be drawn down to facilitate the removal of the impoundment and we were contracted to carry out a fish removal.  Our plans were based on the estimate of the resident angling club who reassured us that, on the basis of their recent stocking regime, there would be upwards of 500 fish in the water.  Despite repeated sein netting efforts we got the princely total of 14 fish from a drawn down area of no more that 20 square meters.  So where are the rest of the fish (brown and rainbow trout)?  It may be that we shall find a few more as the water further recedes, but there is absolutely no evidence of anything like the number of fish so confidently predicted.

I had a call in the week from a journalist of my acquaintance who proposes writing an article about my work for the club.  This may well appear in the Countryman magazine in a few months.  Time to find myself a publicity agent (I don’t think).

More next week.Ian

3 November 2013

I spent an absorbing day at the Dales rivers conference on Friday.  In the morning we had a series of lectures on the state of play with implementation of the Water Framework Directive including a key-note address by the head of fisheries at the EA.  It was interesting to hear of the progress that’s being made across the Dales area although it does seem that there is still far too much talking and discussion about how best to implement the Directive at the expense of actually getting stuff done on the ground.

We are fairly fortunate here on the Ribble in having a long-established Rivers Trust that has been able to marshal resources quite quickly, assess some aspects of need and begin implementing actions.  I can’t say that I agree absolutely with the Trust’s approach (far too few success criteria and too little supporting science), but credit where it is due the Trust is dynamic and its work is already making a real difference to our river.

After a splendid lunch we broke into groups to discuss key aspects of Directive implementation.  I joined the group looking at river restoration where we had a lively discussion on the importance of partnership working and the barriers that sometimes prevent this from being effective.  The topic of removal of barriers to fish migration came up and I posted a warning about the need to ensure that schemes adequately address the importance of not opening free passage to invasive species such as signal crayfish.

We concluded with a plenary session drawing together the main threads of the afternoon discussions and setting in place a process to ensure that the benefits of the day were not lost.

Turning to matters close to home, the river was in spate this morning after a filthy night so there is plenty of water to enable trout migrating up-stream to reach the spawning gravels.

Looking out of the kitchen window this afternoon I was amazed to see a sparrow hawk perched on he handle of the barrow I had left in the back garden.  As I watched it took off and crashed into a stout fir-tree beyond the garden wall.  This prompted a small flock of SBB’s to explode from the far side denying the hawk the lunch it was after.  I did just manage to get a very poor photo before it took off.

More next week.