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Water, Water Everywhere...

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The River Test at Stockbridge last week, still within its banks. The River Test at Stockbridge last week, still within its banks.

Simon Cooper is celebrating the wet winter and reckons the recent rain is as good as money in the bank.







Be careful what you wish for, or so it is said, and for those of you who may have read some of my previous scribblings will know my greatest wish was for a wet winter. By now my wishes have been granted in spades and more than one person has suggested that is all my fault. Oh well, that may be a small price to pay for great chalk stream conditions this coming season...

The map below, courtesy of the Environment Agency, shows how wet some of the region has been but we are not quite out of the woods yet. The rain has to percolate into the groundwater reserves and it is that water, absorbed into the chalk layer thousands of feet underground, from which the springs sustain the rivers over the summer months.

Currently the December reports from the groundwater sites range from below normal to exceptionally high but I suspect by the end of this month it will be exceptionally high everywhere. For those of you who fish or rely on reservoirs for your water like Ardingly, Bewl, Farmoor, Powdermill or any others you care to name, capacity is at 100% or very close.

For this report in full or any of the other four regions in southern England visit the Environment Agency South East water situation reports website HERE

For us chalk stream obsessives the really interesting aspect of these wet periods is how the water meadows start to operate of their own free will. Hardly anyone manages them today, but much of the engineering of the carriers and ditches that transported the water across the flood plain remains. However, it takes a really wet winter for them to fill up and if you flew over any of the chalk stream valleys this week you would see a river with water-filled offshoots spilling out over the meadows to either side. If you think of it in terms of human anatomy with the spine as the main river and the channels as the ribs you will get the general idea.

The photo below of the Nether Wallop meadows, taken last week is a good illustration of a small scale system.


Though not operational in any meaningful sense the flooded meadows are performing a marvellous service and it is all the more extraordinary when you reckon that the engineering dates back at far as the 17th century. 

The most grateful (and that includes me here at Nether Wallop Mill) has to be us residents; without the flood plain which acts as a giant over-spill many of us would be flooded. In fact, very few houses in chalkstream catchments are damaged by flooding; the majority of the problems (excepting new developments with names like Meadow Close and Riverview) are from springheads that burst open under floors laid in drier times.

Back in the river the flood is flushing the gravel beds clean, perfect for oxygenating the trout and salmon eggs that have been laid in the past month. The Ranunculus, caressed 24/7 by the fresh water, is getting an early growth spurt but best of all the silt and river detritus is being washed out of the river to settle in the fields where it will act as fertilizer for the meadow grasses and plants in the spring.

Out in the wet fields the herons are having the time of their lives as the hunting grounds expand many times over competing with the ducks that are in heaven, snagging worms and chomping on the sprigs of new grass that are growing on the edge of the water that remains a balmy 51F.

The only real drawback is for the river keepers who can't get on the banks for repairs; in the mud any job takes three times as long, machinery gets mired and at the end of it all the result is a Somme-like landscape. So for now it is clearing trees, sharpening scythes and painting jobs until the worst is past.

But do we complain? Certainly not, for this winter rain is as good as money in the bank.


Flyfishing.co.uk is delighted to bring you Simon’s feature, which was first published in his ‘Fishing Breaks’ Newsletter.

Simon’s company, Fishing Breaks, based in the heart of the River Test Valley, offers some of the finest chalk stream fly fishing available in the UK – and a whole lot more. Check out their website HERE



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chalk streams, Simon Cooper, Fishing Breaks

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