Archive for the ‘Watercress’ Category

Still here – the Alresford Fair

For 2016 the Alresford Fair took over Alresford Broad Street from Wednesday 2pm till Thursday after midnight, in one week in October. The massive constructions and large vehicles involved for Fairs these days mean that this timescale is needed, and the road needs to be clear of parked vehicles, so the trailers can be manoeuvred into position on the Wednesday afternoon. This was helped enormously by the Traffic Wardens from Winchester, who were present to add weight to the “No Parking” restriction granted from the Wednesday.

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Thursday morning – not an easy path for cars or lorries!

By Thursday morning the road width was significantly restricted, offering a single lane with small passing places. The Fair stalls are large, and they do take up lots of space! The conditions can be seen in the picture above. So it was quite fun to see two watercress lorries heading down Broad Street, meeting two others coming up Broad Street, and trying to cross in the middle of the Fair. It made for a small delay of about 15 minutes in any traffic passing through around 0900. The salads lorry drivers had been told to avoid Broad Street, by their bosses in Alresford Salads: they were advised to take the alternative route – but of course they ignored this. The chaos continued all morning, and whilst simple “Stop/Go” boards would have helped regulate the traffic flow along the single lane section, they were not allowed. And from later experience they would probably have been ignored by frustrated car drivers.

There were plenty of barriers and indications that Broad Street was not one where you would want to go, and many people sensibly opted out. So it was remarkable how many vehicles looking for a quick snack purchase at Tesco spent half an hour going down to the bottom and then turned round to come back! Then there was one notable young lady who refused to accept that she could not park her car in Broad Street, outside Tesco, on the grounds that it was her town! You would have thought she would therefore know that the Fair comes here every October.

The road was closed from 1300. There were people who argued about the odd two minutes showing on their car clock, but it was blocked by Fairground equipment anyway. One charming executive trying to get to Old Alresford Place said his limousine was too big and too smart to go down the diversion round Drove Lane, but we pointed out that various builders lorries and brick transporters had already been diverted down there. He was not very pleasant, but hopefully he did not get brick dust on his car.

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Finally, after 1300 the road is closed fully!

Here’s a selection of photos from the Thursday morning, showing the problems experienced by some people, and the Fairground stands.

Census reveals poor state of River Itchen

For the first time our once pristine, gin-clear English chalkstreams and rivers have been put under the microscope in a national survey to compare and investigate whether they are as healthy as they should be. And the results are truly shocking.

The 2015 Riverfly Census, undertaken by Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) has identified that there were only 14 pristine, unimpacted sites out of a total of 120 sites sampled in the survey on rivers across England.

According to fisheries charity, Salmon & Trout Conservation UK, the threat to our rivers has moved from industrial pollution to a range of subtler but equally damaging impacts from sources such as agricultural and road run-off, poorly treated sewage, septic tanks and discharges from watercress and fish farms.

Although these forms of stress are less dramatic than fish-killing chemical spills, the long-term effects on flylife such as blue-winged olives are equally profound.

Paul Knight, Chief Executive of S&TC UK explains, “Most of the rivers we analysed were impacted to some extent, although the chalk rivers were the worst.  England’s 200 or so chalkstreams form about 85% of the world’s total stock of this richly diverse and complex habitat.  Almost all of them are in a dismal state of decline. Plants, insects, fish, mammals and bird-life are suffering as a result of the loss of flylife, which plays a crucial role in the aquatic food chain. Basically lose your flylife and you will lose many other important species too.”

Even figures from the Environment Agency, show that 83% of our rivers are failing to meet the standard of ‘Good Ecological Condition’ classification, measured by the European Water Framework Directive.

Riverflies and other invertebrates are excellent indicators of the underlying ecological condition of our rivers because different species of invertebrates demonstrate different tolerances to the various forms of stress from pollution.  Traditional and less exacting methods of analysing water quality frequently struggle to capture the often combined impacts of nutrients, sediment and subtle organic enrichment on invertebrate life in our rivers.

The study was carried out by ecological consultants Aquascience Consultancy Ltd, on 120 sites in seven rain-fed rivers and five chalkstreams across the country. For the first time, the investigation used ground-breaking research and chemical analysis to accurately identify the problem.

Dr Nick Everall from Aquascience Consultancy says, “The national river survey showed a mixture of improving, stable and all too many sadly declining reaches in terms of overall ecological condition, environmental stresses and riverfly life in particular. Several rivers showed loss of condition with measures like mayfly species richness and freshwater shrimp population status over time. Breaking some of these river findings down with controlled laboratory tests has recently shown that raised levels of phosphate and sediment, akin to many of our stressed river conditions, has a detrimental impact upon the survival of early life stages of the base of the aquatic food chain for species such as the blue-winged olive.”

The Census identified that, although Hampshire’s River Avon – a chalkstream, came out best in the study, the next 6 places went to freestone rivers, mainly in the north and south west.  Three of our most highly protected SAC chalkstreams; the Itchen, the Lambourn and the Wensum, rank poorly in the Census.  These contained low riverfly richness and abundance in many reaches of these rivers. Indeed on the Itchen, populations of the blue-winged olive have collapsed, despite being relatively abundant in the early 1990s.

In addition, the River Test, which is an SSSI (one of our highest conservation classifications) showed that flylife is below that expected of a pristine river with many significant species impoverished and rarer species absent.

Freshwater shrimp (Gammerus pulex) an important element in the food chain for trout and salmon, recorded very low numbers and measured against historic Environment Agency records, are showing a long and marked decline.

Paul Knight says, “So far The Water Framework Directive’s measure of water quality struggles to capture the often combined impacts that pollution is having on the invertebrate life in our rivers.  The biometric fingerprinting we used in the Census was like examining these systems with a microscope rather than a magnifying glass and, significantly, the results showed that water quality is often insufficient to sustain the life that our target rivers historically supported.”

In his forward to the Census, keen fisherman and journalist Jeremy Paxman laments the loss of our pristine rivers and says, “Something has gone very wrong.  Yet experience tells us that almost everything in nature is connected.  A decline in flylife on rivers will have consequences.  The only way we can enlist popular support – and the possibility that someone might care enough to realise the risk we face – is to gather evidence.  That is why the Riverfly Census matters.”

Nick Measham, author of the report and S&TC UK environmental consultant, concludes, “The aim of our Census was to provide, for the first time, an accurate picture of water quality in our rivers, to gauge the problems we are facing and to identify workable solutions to restore degraded watercourses to their pristine condition.  The evidence from our Census is irrefutable. Increased human pressure is having a disastrous impact on our rivers.

“We will now challenge the Government to tackle these damaging sources of pollution before we reach the point of no return.  We have a five-point plan of action involving working with the Environment Agency, but also challenging them where necessary, especially over the urgent need to identify and regulate polluters.  However, we believe the best chance of reversing the degradation in our rivers is to work directly with those who, mostly inadvertently, are the sources of the stress on river water quality, and to show them that they can also benefit from adopting measures that protect watercourses. ”

Read the full Report here.

Comment:

The comment below is from Nick Denbow, who learned to fly-fish on the Itchen and Arle in the 80s, then studied Aquaculture at Sparsholt, before setting up the Western Caribbean Fly Fishing School in Mahahual, in the Yucatan, Mexico:

“Absolutely. This is exactly and completely what I wrote my Sparsholt thesis on in 1998. They should have listened then!
Hopefully now you are out of Europe you can have rules specific to each river individually.
A great start would be that water abstractions should only be allowed and licensed if the water is properly scrubbed to its original or better than its original quality parameters. This as far as I know still only happens in Holland.
The decline in species richness of Mayflies is almost completely due to habitat destruction. Poor river maintenance in the 90s during low water levels led to over widening and deepening of many sections of river so that they remained viable businesses as fisheries. Mayfly species distribution relies on a variety of habitats and only one of 47 in Hampshire is a burrower in silt, E. danica. Due to spending 4 years as a nymph this insect is more common on the lower stretches of any river system. The others are stone clingers, moss creepers, agile darters and laboured swimmers. Take away these habitats and replace it with silt and the bugs will move on at the rate of invertebrate drift. If this starts at the top of a river system (as that’s where most cress beds are) then you gradually remove all the favoured invertebrates from the river, gradually all the way down stream.
By creating favourable habitats on side streams or periodically in areas of micro habitat in poor quality areas it’s easy to ‘re-establish’ populations as adult (winged) may flies all migrate upstream to breed. So what I’m saying is its recoverable if the river acts together.
The lack of G. pulex, the freshwater shrimp, is not due to habitat but rather directly from chemicals used in water cress production, specifically zinc. It’s been proven for many years that the products used to spread on cress and its roots prevents crustaceans being able to build their shells. Spatial avoidance of G. pulex from areas of cress has been seen for years. Due to the Trout’s dependence on shrimps in the winter months due to lower fly hatches, it’s beleived to represent 80% of the Trout’s annual diet. Take that away and your Trout simply won’t survive the winter, which is their spawning time.”

Nick Denbow
BSc (Hons) Aquaculture and Fishery Management
STANIC Qualified instructor
The Western Caribbean Fly Fishing School, Mexico

http://www.catchafish.net, twcffs@gmail.com
00 52 1 983 7323 144

Herons in Alresford

Heron Protection

We live in Alresford surrounded by watercress beds, river streams, lakes, and fish farms. Pretty much heaven for any bird that likes the odd bit of fish for dinner, lunch, or worst of all – breakfast. The tall trees in the Avenue are much appreciated, as beautiful, attractive, part of the town heritage – and to Herons the perfect place for their nests. They do like an easy life, and for breakfast, particularly at dawn in the Summer, when all are still asleep, they tend to look around for something easy and tasty in the garden ponds round the town. There are very few of my Alresford friends who have not lost carp or goldfish from their ponds, to a marauding Heron.

At home we have a very deep pond, protected from normal aerial view by an overhanging yew tree on one side, and other trees along another side. There is a wooden fence around the open side, officially to prevent toddlers from falling in, and reeds and oxygenating plants shelter or cover the surface in the Summer. Even so we added a submerged water butt, on its side, to give a cave for the fish to hide in. We have not knowingly lost many fish, but there are maybe 30-40 in there, breeding away, so it is difficult to keep track. But you can tell when there has been a visitation – the fish do not come out of hiding for 2-3 days, not even for their morning feed.

Nevertheless, in the Autumn, when dawn is later, it becomes noticeable that there are occasional visiting herons sitting on the 6 foot fence near the pond, watching: they fly off as soon as we open the curtains. The answer to this problem has been varied: it started with putting obstacles on the lawn so their landing run was restricted; we bought a plastic Heron to stand guard, as it is said they will not poach fish from another Heron’s pond; and when all these failed we have used wooden poles to hold up metal mesh screens above the pond main surface. Still they are seen, attracted when the tree cover allows the water surface reflection to be seen from above, and the pond weed dies down.

Autumn pond protection with metal screens

Autumn pond protection with metal screens

They say you can get electronic bird scarers that detect the arrival of Herons, and sound an alarm, but they would probably wake us up all night as a result of the passing cats, hedgehogs, foxes and whatever else that visits regularly. So any further suggestions would be welcomed: the next plan is to install a green plastic net over the wooden poles.

And Heron Appreciation

One of my colleagues, Alan Franck, Editor of the magazine HazardEx, visited Alresford in the early 1980s. He remembers:

“One of the most memorable weekend walks was a winter’s day circuit to the north of Old Alresford, with a weak silvery sun illuminating a landscape of muddy ploughed fields and the stark woodland edge. We came over the brow of a hill and saw a flock of birds rising from the watercress ponds below, in the distance – but there was something unusual about their ponderous flight which caused me to take out my binoculars for a closer look. And there, in front of us, was an extraordinary sight never seen before or since. Hundreds of herons were circling up into the sky and slowly flapping off into the West.”

They were obviously returning to the Trout Farm, or flying off further afield for better pond pickings!

Another visitor

It is worth also mentioning that other visitors pass by Alresford Pond and the Trout farms round here: early one Autumn morning en route to work around 7am an unusual and large bird took off from a roost on the tops of the trees above the roundabout on the A31 above Ovington: this was very white underneath, with shaggy feather covered legs, brown upper parts, and I’m convinced it was an Osprey! This was many years ago, before Buzzards had become regular sights round here, but it did not seem to be what I know as a Buzzard.

A wartime childhood in Bishop’s Sutton

Drayton Farmhouse, at Nythe, drawn by Jim Smith

Drayton Farmhouse, at Nythe, drawn by Jim Smith

Jim Smith, who still lives in Alresford, remembers various wartime events: all these happened between Alresford and Bishop’s Sutton, where he lived with his parents in Drayton Farmhouse, just past the watercress beds in Nythe. At the time, Jim was around six years old, and years later, when he finally managed to get a sketch pad, he drew the pictures shown here of some of these events.

Frank Smith, his Dad, farmed the fields between Alresford and Bishop’s Sutton, and looked after the cress beds. The most memorable event was the crash of the Lady Luck, a USAF Flying Fortress, in September 1943, when Jim, his Dad and Uncle Alf, who was in the Marines, were out in the evening, near the watercress beds at Nythe. As dusk approached, and the first sign of anything unusual was the noise of bombers coming over at low level from the west (Nelson Trowbridge – see below – says that the rest of the crew had bailed out over Winchester). Jim says that their landing lights appeared to be switched on, lighting up the sky, and presumably also the ground in front of them. He assumes they were trying to show the pilot of the stricken aircraft the ground, despite the dusk, for him to find a suitable area of fields for a crash landing. Then the aircraft crashed, ploughing into the field near the cress beds at the top of the pond.

Lady Luck, who did not quite end up in the pond!

The crash of Lady Luck, who did not quite end up in the pond!

Almost at the same time, a parachute appeared, and the parachutist came down in one of the trees north of the pond, close to them. His parachute got caught, and the man, who turned out to have been the pilot, ended up hanging in the trees upside down. Jim’s Uncle Alf was a big man – he had size 17 feet – and managed to reach the pilot and lift him up out of the harness, and tree, down to the ground: being very grateful the pilot gave Uncle Alf his boots, which were hanging round his neck, as they used to fly in thick flight-socks. The pilot said it was not a problem for him to give the boots away, they were always lost in a crash, so he would get some new ones issued. The only trouble was the boots were size 8, so Jim’s Dad had them, they would not fit Uncle Alf’s big feet!

img182The railway, running on the embankment up the rise to Four Marks, was an easy target for passing enemy aircraft, so they would harass any trains they found steaming up the gradient. As a result there would often be a train sitting in the cutting, west of the railway bridge, hiding in the shelter of the cutting and the trees, until the driver felt that aircraft activity in the area had subsided, or any circling aircraft had given up. Others got caught on the exposed embankment, and Jim remembers one train speeding down the hill, with what appeared to be all the wheels sparking or on fire under the carriages behind. Possibly it had needed to go downhill very fast, and the driver was trying very hard to slow down! But Jim reckons the train had been machine gunned by an enemy aircraft and was on fire.

The railway bridge itself was quite low, for vehicles passing underneath, and one unfortunate tank commander only discovered the lack of headroom when he tried to open the hatch on the top of the tank just as the driver approached the bridge. This did not end well, as the bridge did not move.

Plan of the Bishop's Sutton Army camp

Plan of the Bishop’s Sutton Army camp, off Water Lane at the bottom

Jim also remembers the troops who were in a camp in Bishop’s Sutton, between Water Lane and the main road. The huts at the bottom were where they slept, and higher up there was the canteen and other common rooms. Jim was always sure of a breakfast there, so often sneaked in with the soldiers: they had sort of adopted him as a mascot. He also sold them the occasional eggs when he could find them, and achieved a good price! His Dad as the local farmer used to take the kitchen waste away for the animals to eat: there he would often get a wink and a comment that there was a sealed container in the slops that he might find useful – it would contain some sausage meat or bacon.

Postscripts:

Another comment on this area is from George Watson:

George Watson also remembers that the Alresford Volunteer Force practice rifle range used targets on the embankment of the railway, on the northwest side. Hopefully they did not shoot at these when trains were passing by, but there were various wayward shots that went over the railway, into the fields at the other side. George collected some of these bullets – with permission from the farmer – and later gave them to the Alresford Museum.

See also Nelson Trowbridge’s comments on the crash of the Lady Luck in an earlier story: https://alresfordmemories.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/flying-fortress-crash-in-alresford-pond/

In this story Nelson mentions his booklet “Lady Luck: What Really happened”. In this booklet Nelson suggests that the bomber crashed at around 5pm, so it was not dark, but could have been very overcast from the bad weather that had caused their mission to be aborted. Captain Cogswell, the pilot, bailed out, but could not have survived if the plane had been so low as to crash within 100 yards or so. It is more reasonable to assume the plane flew on, on a circular track. Nelson says the plane was reported to have veered around by 180 degrees, out of control, with one engine on fire and a wing falling off, returning to the spot where Capt Cogswell bailed out. But luckily it did not get back as far as Alresford!

Encouraging an interest in local history

An interesting book was published at the turn of the Century by the Alresford Historical

and Literary Society (http://www.alresfordhistandlit.co.uk), entitled “The Story of

Alresford”. This was written by the late Arthur Stowell, who came to live in Alresford, in

the Riverside Cottages in The Dean, in around 1980: actually around the same time as

your Editor. But Arthur was a teacher, and had a deep interest in history, so the book

sums up the many documents and accounts of the history of Alresford that Arthur found

and read over the years, to see what story he could make of life in the town over the years.

Some extracts from the book have already been used on this site, for example in

identifying a lot of people in the picture of the Alresford Home Guard in WW2. It will be

a useful source for future articles. Possibly because he was a teacher Arthur wanted to

pass on some of his enthusiasm for the town history, and finding out about history in

general, to future generations. So he has endowed a fund, that is administered by the New

Alresford Town Trustees (http://www.towntrust.org.uk), to make financial awards to

school projects that encourage children to take an interest in history, particularly the

history of the area of Alresford.

Typically the grants are up to £250. One recent donation was made to Cheriton school

for help with an activity sand-pit, where I understand the children use metal detectors

or similar to locate items buried in the sand!

The aspect of Arthur’s book that has become obvious to me is that he was looking for

any effects of the railway on the town: whereas it had significant impact on the

watercress industry and possibly the sheep sales, there do not seem to be that many

comments about it: nor of the effect when the line through Alresford closed. This might

be an interesting area for further study too.