River Work Party. The story so far. Autumn 2019
In early 2016 The Club decided to create a group dedicated to maintaining our river fisheries. Having a background of voluntary conservation work and club work parties, I put myself forward to run the new team and was duly appointed River Fisheries Manager. Dave Taylor was appointed deputy. Nearly 4 years and 130+ work parties later, here is the story of what our team has achieved.
We faced quite a task. There were overgrown car parks, plus derelict stiles, paths and swims. We had accounts of day ticket anglers demanding refunds and Members were bemoaning the decline of their favourite waters. The Clubs’ supply of tools was pretty poor and getting sufficient helpers was a struggle. Where to start? We decided on a ‘tick box’ method for prioritising jobs, whereby fisheries would be improved as equally as possible.
The list was by no means exhaustive and gave us the flexibility to undertake any tasks we felt would benefit the club. The considerations were.. 1. Can the Fishery be located? Signs and gates needed to be serviceable. 2. Is the car park usable? Some were overgrown or had surfacing issues. 3. Is the route from the car park to the riverside good enough? Some were simply impassable and/or dangerous. 4. Availability of swims. All work was to be carried out in an environmentally responsible way, having regard to the conservation status applicable at any venue.
We had our plan. Crucially, at about this time, the Committee backed the Fishery Management Team by providing funds for decent tools. That backing has been an enormous help, essential to our achievements. Most importantly, we soon recruited a few more volunteers. There was hope!
Our first jobs were certainly a varied lot. One week, at Sopley car park, we used blocks of stone left by a previous owner of my home, to build steps to the main track, replacing the old muddy slope. At Ringwood, we cut through an impassable bramble ‘jungle’ alongside the river and with the full Fishery Management Team, set about restoring the footbridge over Bickerley Millstream. First, we stripped rotten timbers and removed excess rust from the old RSJ structure. We then rustproofed the RSJs and replaced the rotten wooden slats with galvanised grating. Fairly early on, we began improving access over barbed wire fences with stiles and plastic tubing. We tackled dense scrub at Ringwood, Sopley and The Leaze. We began building crossings over ditches and muddy areas. We soon realised fisheries require varying inputs. Upper Winkton was already well cared for. Lower Winkton and parts of The Stour need little mowing, as cattle graze close to the bank. At other venues, for example, Sopley, paths pass through dense reed beds or woods and require regular cutting. Ringwood provided an unpleasant surprise in the form of Giant Hogweed, a nasty, invasive, non-native plant whose sap causes severe skin irritation.
Without doubt, Sopley has required the most work. It is huge, but it is a gem we are happy to maintain. We are very fortunate in having a good relationship with a very supportive Landowner. He has helped us in many ways, either making improvements himself or permitting us to make ours. In addition to the normal access works, he has allowed us to fence off a few areas where Members can fish uninterrupted by cattle. He greatly helped us in creating a path around the whole fishery and gave consent to the Avon Roach Project’s fry bay. More improvements are planned.
Substantial work to improve access and swims has taken place at at Upper Winkton and Redbrook. Each project kept us occupied for at least 7-8 sessions. There is more to be done. At Redbrook, wet, shady conditions accelerate the rate at which wood decays, so the walkway will soon require substantial repair. At Upper Winkton, we aim to complete our restoration of the backwater below the car park, as well as adding a couple more platforms in the wet area below the lower weir.
There are other ambitions too. I think it right to give members an idea of what these works cost. Depending on ground conditions, basic 2 scaffold board- width walkways, with anti-slip wire cost around £7.00 – £8.00 per foot, more if the ground is very soft. A platform in soft ground costs in the region of £80.00 and a stile, around £40.00, a bit less if materials can be scrounged from skips! Robust power tools are not cheap and require maintenance if they are to remain safe and reliable. Back in 2016, we saw what happens when volunteer numbers are not up to the task in hand. Many hands make light work. We now have a ‘core’ of around 5-6 regulars. A few others make it less often and are always welcome. On occasions, when chainsaw operators have been required, members with the necessary skills have stepped in. We were also extremely grateful to a Scaffolder for the bridge by the Sopley fry bay. We are always grateful for offers of help, even if you can only make occasional outings. We’d particularly like to hear from members who could turn out at Tincleton.
Currently, I publicise our tasks on Facebook. I used to use the Forum, but found very few volunteers came via that route and some members had difficulty accessing it. Should you wish to help, but don’t ‘do’ Facebook, you can always get a message to me via the office, preferably leaving an e mail address. Once the new website is functioning, I will try resuming forum postings.
We are pleased with our results so far, with most jobs going to plan. It’s great to get positive feedback from members and see Anglers benefiting from our efforts. In addition, I like to think we have helped increase day ticket revenue. Happy Christmas and a great New Year from the River Fishery Management Team.
A selection of our photos..